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I was 14 years old during the summer of Woodstock. The highlight of my summer was six weeks at summer camp at the Baylor School campus on the banks of the Tennessee river just outside Chattanooga.

It really wasn’t until the next year that I was aware of Woodstock. But when the movie and the album were released, I was enthralled.

This “where-are-they-now” piece from NBC brought a smile to my face. The two 20-something kids who wound up on the album cover didn’t turn out to be political radicals. They got married two years later, in 1971, and 38 years later, they’re still married.

Take five minutes and watch.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

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I recall a small, but significant moment in a taxicab ride in Changsha about twelve years ago. My oldest daughter and I had been in Changsha, Hunan Province for about a week, and I had noticed that every cab we got into had a pendant hanging from the rearview mirror with a portrait of Mao in a red-and-gold frame.

The cult of Mao had largely receded in the rest of China. The only place to find copies of The Little Red Book of Chairman Mao was at flea markets and souvenir shops. So I asked our driver why every taxi cab had a picture of Mao hanging from the rearview mirror. His reply startled me. He explained that the cab drivers believed Mao had proved himself to be a powerful figure – in fact, more powerful than the older, more traditional local gods and Buddhas of China. After all, explained the driver, he had challenged all of the older gods – closed their temples, attempted to rid China of superstition – and yet had not been struck down. Mao had, in fact, lived a long, full life. Ergo, he must be more powerful than all of the gods he had challenged and beat.

Thus, the taxicabs all had a picture of Mao as a sort of talisman – to invoke his spirit and power for protection and favor.

Changsha is in the south of China. It is the capital of Hunan province, Mao’s home. The taxicabs in Beijing, far to the north, do not show the same universal reverence for his image.

I mention this as a way to introduce two books on China, one just re-published, which I recommend.

The first is Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom by Katherine Paterson. Paterson is one of the most gifted authors of children’s books over the past 50 years. She has twice won the Newbery Award (in 1977 for Bridge to Terabithia, and in 1981 for Jacob Have I Loved). Paterson was born in China and spent her early childhood there.

In 1983, she published Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom, which is a historical novel set in the years 1850 to 1853. The backdrop is the great Taiping Rebellion – a civil war which rocked China for 14 years and left 20 to 30 million dead. It is the American Civil War times twenty. It is almost unknown outside of China. Americans are preoccupied with the history of our own Civil War (which occurred at almost the same time).

The Taiping Rebellion was led by Hong Xiuquan (in Paterson’s novel referred to as Hung Hsiu-Ch’uan). In China the family name is the first character and is usually the shorthand way to refer to someone. Hong (or Hung) lived at the time and place where western missionaries were first entering China and making the first attempts to translate the Bible into Chinese. Hong was a young 22 year old teacher and student when he first encountered translations and summaries of the Bible in Chinese. Over the next several years, he had a series of vivid dreams in which he saw Confucius being punished for not teaching about the one God, and saw God the Heavenly Father on his throne, with Jesus standing beside him. In his dreams, Hong reported that they commissioned him to rid China of demon worship. Hong began to preach throughout the county where he lived, gained a following, and followed through on his exhortations by destroying idols and temples throughout the countryside.

Paterson’s novel opens as a young boy (Wang Lee) is kidnapped from his impoverished rural village by bandits (former soldiers, deserters from the Imperial army) and then sold into slavery, only to be purchased by a kindly young gentleman who turns out to be a follower of Hong and part of a rebel group. Actually, the young gentleman turns out to be a young lady, Mei Lin, who in a very effective disguise had been recruiting followers for the Way of Heavenly Peace (the Taiping).

The rest of the novel is the odyssey of these two improbable friends and followers of Hong (Wang remains skeptical, Mei Lin is more fervent) as the Taiping Rebellion grows, fights and defeats the Imperial armies, and eventually captures the important Imperial capital city of Nanking and makes it the center of their Heavenly Kingdom. The horrors of war are real and grim. There is death, both in battle and from intrigue. Soldiers and civilians are killed. The strange religious teachings of Hong are taught and repeated throughout the Heavenly Army. So strange, so similar to the teachings of the Bible and yet so tragically different and misused by the leaders of the Taiping.

The book has a reassuring, if slightly improbably ending. But after all the horrors that Wang and Mei Lin experience (both together and apart), it seems churlish to begrudge them some measure of happiness. Some of the incidents, implied and alluded to, will be disturbing to some readers. They should be disturbing. The realities of war and rebellion (and this particular war and rebellion) cannot be glossed over. In the end, to have read this book (and to have re-read it now ten years later) is to understand China and the Chinese reaction and reception to Christianity perhaps a bit better. The first encounter went so tragically awry. The subsequent events of the 20th century, from the violent attacks on Christians in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 to the expulsion of all western missionaries by Mao’s People’s Republic in the 1950’s are in part explained by the horrible consequences of China’s first encounter with Christianity.

The survival and explosive growth of the Chinese house church movement in the 1970s and later is all the more remarkable, and all the more unexpected, given what had preceded it.

What is also remarkable is that Paterson crafted her tale 13 years before Jonathan Spence published his award-winning history of Hong Xiuquan in 1996: God’s Chinese Son.

I read Spence’s history of the leader of the Taiping rebellion when it was published, and then had the great good fortune to be able to visit the palace of Hong Xiuquan in Nanjing in 1999 when my oldest daughter and I journeyed to China to complete the adoption of our daughter Sarah. We had quite an adventure attempting to navigate Nanjing completely on our own and were astonished to discover that we were the only westerners in Nanjing visiting the museum on that particular day.

The entrance to the Taiping palace is dominated by a large bust of Hong Xiuquan. The Chinese communists judge him favorably for having led an early rebellion against the Imperial government of the Manchu. They largely gloss over the religious dimensions of the rebellion.

I commend both of these books to anyone who has an interest in China and who wishes to understand China better, especially the difficult history of Christianity in China.

Paterson’s tale is haunting and personal. The events of the rebellion seen through the eyes of two young people. It would be a thought-provoking read for students high school up through adult.

Spence’s history has a bit more emotional distance, but is a riveting tale none-the-less. Western missionaries were puzzled by Hong – and could not quite decide whether to endorse and encourage him for his appreciation of God and invocation of Jesus as God’s son, or to denounce and reject him for his heretical, megalomaniacal pronouncement that he himself was Jesus’ younger brother. 150 years later, it is still difficult to understand Hong Xiuquan and to decide what to make of him.

Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom, by Katherine Paterson, has just been re-released after being out of print for a number of years. It is a 263 page paperback and sells for $12.95.

God’s Chinese Son, by Prof. Jonathan
Spence,
remains in print, 12 years after it was first published. It is a paperback, 430 pages and sells for $17.95. Either (or both) can be purchased directly from Greenleaf Press by clicking the links in this review. Or you can browse the selection of books on China on our website.

– Rob Shearer, Publisher
Greenleaf Press

PS: Readers of this review may receive a 10% discount on the purchase of either or both of these books by entering the coupon code CHINA during the checkout process. The coupon can only be redeemed once per customer.

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“Ever since arriving at the Longville church for today’s event, the governor has been sprinting through his “New Louisiana” stump speech, a self-promotional recap of his 10 months in office, at the relentless pace expected of a guy who graduated from Brown at 21, completed his Rhodes scholarship at 23, ran Louisiana’s Health and Hospitals department at 25, presided over the University of Louisiana system at 28 and served in Washington as an assistant secretary of health and human services and two-term U.S. congressman before becoming the country’s first Indian-American governor at the advanced age of 36. Swimming in his blue blazer, the 5-foot-11, 135-pound Jindal looks more like a bashful science-fair contestant than the latest successor to flamboyant Louisiana Gov. Huey Long, and if it weren’t for Jindal’s lavish Southern drawl, he’d risk sounding more like one, too; this morning’s remarks, like nearly everything he says, have consisted largely of the phrase “a couple of things” followed by a flurry of details, statistics and multipart plans.”

read the rest at the Newsweek site.

I’ve been following Governor Jindal since his first run for governor. He’s very impressive.

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An eloquent response from the Iraqi ambassador to the United States.

He condemned the actions of the shoe-throwing reporter as reprehensible and an insult to Iraqis.

“It diminished us as a nation. We are better than that.”

 httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElEN4i2V9v8

hat tip to Gateway Pundit.

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In May of 1972, members of the German resistance group, the Red Army Faction (RAF) bombed the US Army Officers Club in Heidelberg, West Germany killing three and wounding five.

In January of 1977, an RAF commando group attacked the US Army base in Giessen in an attempt to capture nuclear weapons.

In June, 1979, the RAF attempted to assassinate the Commander of NATO, US General Alexander Haig.

In August of 1981, a carbomb exploded at the US Air Force base in Rammstein, Germany

In September of 1981, RAF commandos fired a rocket propelled grenade attack against the car carrying the US Army’s West German Commander Frederick J. Kroesen. He narrowly escaped.

In August 1985, a car bomb exploded in the parking lot across from the base commander’s building at Rhein-Main Air Force Base killing an American soldier and an American civilian and wounded 20.

Clearly, our attempts to pacify and continue to occupy Germany have failed. All US troops should be withdrawn immediately (re-deployed elsewhere?) and the West Germans should be left to work out whatever arrangements they can with the East Germans and the Russians.

Right?

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This is a brand new memoir from Orson Bean – published in September of 2008. Bean is best known as a Broadway and television actor. His career spans six decades. He had a seven-year-run on To Tell the Truth, and was Johnny Carson’s favorite guest host (and guest – he appeared over 200 times). In his own words: “Having pursued sex, drugs, and the demon rum to their traditional excess, he subsequently proceeded to (as the saying goes) find God.”

And love. He has been married to actress Alley Mills since 1993.

He’s also a gifted writer, with a wry, blunt wit.

The premise of M@IL for Mikey: An older, recovered alcoholic agrees to sponsor the son of one of his friends. The book consists of the letters/messages he sends over the course of two years as the young man struggles to stay clean and sober. We get only Mr. Bean’s messages – but can pretty easily discern the kinds of things the younger man is writing and asking about. This is a wonderful literary device, used effectively by C.S. Lewis in Letters to Malcolm and, more comically, in The Screwtape Letters.

Synopsis: Bean reveals the details of his own personal struggle as he offers sage and blunt advice to Mikey. He counsels Mikey on how to handle his new job and his relationships and never fails to offer encouragement and a closing admonition to “keep going to meetings.”

Along the way, we are allowed to read over the shoulder as Bean recounts his personal odyssey. Bean is matter-of-fact and brutally honest as he attempts to repair a strained relationship with his adult daughter, deal with the lingering effects of his own childhood (his mother drank, his dad was cruel and abusive). And the reader is drawn, irresistibly into Bean’s life as he acquires a stray dog, muses about quantum physics and the big bang theory, and befriends a never-married teacher at a local farmer’s market. This leads to a pivotal event, when, for the first time since his baptism as an infant, he is persuaded (with much kicking and screaming) into going to church with her.

In the book’s ‘M@IL messages’ Bean starts out by asserting his clear belief in God – but with a great deal of skepticism about religion in general and genuine puzzlement at the story of Jesus. As he discusses his childhood, his marriages, his children, and his own problems, Bean shows us his inner life and turmoil. He frankly discusses his battle with his own ego:

“Your ego doesn’t want you turning your life over to a higher power. He wants to keep on running things even if it kills you. He’s clever, Mikey, like the snake with the apple. He’ll make you forget to go to a meeting. He’ll convince you the dames will think you’re a wuss if you order a 7-UP.

He’s the damn devil, Mike, your ego. He hates God because when you turn your life over to him, he’s screwed. He loses his job.”

Parts of the book are laugh-out-loud funny. Parts will leave you misty-eyed.

Bean describes his motivation in writing the book this way:

“Not long ago, I was guesting on a TV show. Between takes, I sat in my canvas chair, reading a copy of C.S. Lewis’ great book, Mere Christianity. I can’t tell you how many people, crew and actors alike, came over to ask me about it. There seems to be a hunger out there, even in the television business.”

“I didn’t want a Christian house to publish my little book. What I’ve written is aimed at folks who are interested, but suspicious. They keep sniffing around, but are terrified of becoming Ned Flanders.”

Ned Flanders, for the culturally cloistered, is the too-nice-to-be-true Christian neighbor to Homer, Marge, & Bart on the Simpsons.

Some will find the language and some of the stories rough. Some may even be offended. Bean didn’t write the book for them.

To quote the author, M@IL for MIKEY was written for “the many who rarely set foot in a church but have a feeling deep down that Something created and loves them. MIKEY was written for those millions.

This will make a wonderful gift, and perhaps a way to start a significant conversation with someone you love, and want to share the good news with.

But be warned, it is “an odd sort of recovery memoir. . .”

M@IL for MIKEY
is a hardback, 176 pages and sells for $18.95. You can order it directly from Greenleaf Press by clicking on the book cover or any of the title links in this message.

10% discount offer – use the coupon code MIKEY at check out and 10% will be automatically deducted from your order.
Discount coupon can only be used once per customer and applies only to the title M@IL for MIKEY.

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

Greenleaf Press

PS: Bean describes in some detail his impressions of that first ever visit to church as an adult. He like the contemporary music and the upbeat songs, and then says:

. . . the last one is my favorite: “I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you, it’s all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about you, it’s all about you, Jesus.”

PPS: A very fervent hat-tip to the gentle bloggers at Powerline, where a posting by Scott Johnson entitled How Orson Bean found God first brought this excellent book to my attention. I thought so much of the lengthy piece by Orson Bean quoted there that I printed it out and used it as the conclusion to the sermon I preached week before last.

PPPS: I’m an elder at my local church, and about twice a year, I preach the message, when our pastor is out of town. We have a gifted webmaster, and he’s uploaded the sermon I preached on Dec 7 (Our Identify as Slaves of Christ) to www.sermoncloud.com– where you can download it or listen to it online.

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Kay Brooks has turned over the rock that is the Nashville Peace & Justice Center and found all sorts of interesting things.

One of the member organizations that caught my eye was “The Emma Center” which describes itself as  “dedicated to the memory of Emma Goldman, 20th century feminist.”

Let us not mince words. Emma Goldman was not just a feminist, she was an anarchist. And she was not just a feminist-anarchist, she was a terrorist.

Yes, she was the founder of Mother Earth magazine but her life was not dedicated to the search for a better recipe for granola.

In 1892, she and her lover, Alexander Berkman, plotted to assassinate Henry Clay Frick, whose company at one point controlled 80% of the coal mines in Pennsylvania. Berkman attacked Frick in his office and but for poor marksmanship, would have murdered him. He wound up sentenced to 22 years for attempted murder. She was not charged, only because they had been careful to leave no evidence linking her to the crime and Berkman was the only one who could have testified to her involvement. But her complicity is undisputed.

In 1901, when President McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist, authorities quickly discovered that the assasin had ties to Emma Goldman. He had approached her for advice and books. She was arrested, but later released. She then publicly defended McKinley assasin (Czolgosz) in a published article in which she compared Czolgosz to Marcus Junius Brutus, the killer of Julius Caesar, and called McKinley the “president of the money kings and trust magnates.

Charming lady.

A young Justice Department employee, 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover wrote in 1919 that “Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman are, beyond doubt, two of the most dangerous anarchists in this country and [a] return to the community will result in undue harm.” The government then invoked the 1918 Anarchist Exclusion Act and deported both Goldman and Berkman to Russia, along with over two hundred others.

Nashville Center for Peace and Justice indeed!

By tieing themselves to Emma Goldman, they are throwing in their lot with the founders of political terrorism and assasination.

– Rob Shearer

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The Bible (and thus, Christianity) has a great deal to say about wealth and posessions.

We need to remind ourselves of these things as the US and World economy shudder under repeated shocks and blows. Many are tempted th blame the greed of the rich for the economic crisis. Others point at class structure and inequality. Still others, peeking out from under their tinfoil caps, blame the international bankers, the Bilderburgers, the tri-lateral commission, the neo-cons, and even the venerable elders of Zion!

The Bible, it has often been noted, does not condemn wealth or money. Money is NOT the root of all evil. The “love of money” is the root of all evil.

Wealth is a pitfall. It is the great co-dependant facilitator. Wealth helps to mask loneliness, unhappiness, and even guilt. If you dull your senses often enough, and long enough then the conscience can be reduced to a minor, mostly manageable annoyance.

It is quite easy to mis-use wealth – as a it is any of God’s gifts. The greed and corruption of the wealthy are fearlessly condemned by the prophets God sent to Israel and Judah. Read Amos. Read Hosea.

But make no mistake, no amount of greed, corruption, indifference, or self-indulgence on the part of the wealthy EVER justifies theft.

The wealthy should be more charitable. It does not follow that the rest of us may steal their wealth. And if it is a great moral evil for an individual to steal (a sin against the eighth commandment, to be precise), then it is no more justified for the government to steal in our name or on our behalf.

I am increasingly troubled that the political discourse on economic issues is turning to the expedient of taxing the rich and giving money to the poor.

The rich should give generously to the poor. But neither the poor nor the government are justified in stealing from the rich.

– Rob Shearer

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Ben Cunningham’s blog (TaxingTennessee) excerpted and linked to an interesting item this morning on Pajama’s Media titled, “There’s no such thing as government money.” One sentence jumped out it me. It neatly summarized the tendency of government employees to spend every penny appropriated and always seek increased budgets. In particular government employees and agencies tend to go on a spending spree during the last month of the fiscal year to insure that every dollar was spent. This is a deeply entrenched habit of government fiscal behavior – but it can be broken.

In my six years as City Manager in Mt. Juliet, I was most proud that my team of department heads managed to turn unspent money back in to the city’s general fund every year for six straight years. The amount averaged about 6%. We were able to do this because of a conscious decision on the part of the senior staff that this was the right thing to do, and my pledge to them that they would not be penalized when the next year’s budget was being formulated. To back that up, we froze purchase orders about 5 days into the last month of the fiscal year. The finance department had orders NOT to issue ANY purchase orders. Emergencies and exceptions had to be negotiated with the City Manager. It worked. We saved the City about $2.5 million over six years.

There is another innovative practice I have heard about, but never got a chance to implement. In Oregon, City Manager Scott Lazenby has led his city in adopting a two-year budget. Department heads are ecouraged to economize wherever possible. Any operating funds NOT spent during the first fiscal year are kept in the department budget and can be used for capital projects (subject to approval by the City Manager and City Council). It appears to work well.

My $.02 is that if leaders (both elected and appointed) pay attention, lay out the ground rules clearly, and lead by example that the budget excesses can be avoided.

– Rob Shearer

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