Decision 2008 - my choice

Wow, what a competition, huh?
On the one hand we have the seasoned veteran. We all thought he was out of this thing, yet he's been surging lately. He's experienced, battle-tested. We know his ups and we know his downs, because he's been doing this long enough to have been thoroughly scrutinized. In fact, he's been at this longer than most anyone vying for the position. In some ways he's extremely difficult NOT to like: all-American values, self-sacrifice for the cause, that charmingly goofy grin... And yet, for someone so well-known he's strangely unpredictable. He has a way of rankling those on his own side. He sometimes pleases his opponents more than his supporters - something many of his supporters don't easily forget.
And then there's the other guy... the new kid. He's young, almost dashing you might say (certainly compared to his opponent). He's charismatic, with an infectious fire in his belly, a boundless energy, and (as Al Gore might put it) a certain "gravitas." Many look at him and can't help thinking that he's one of those rare, gifted leaders who just has that "it" factor: the intangible, natural, and rare gift for getting it done that outweighs his rather glaring lack of experience. Of course, there is that experience problem: we hardly know the guy. He's barely had a chance to do anything of significance, and his opponents are all too quick to question whether we should hand the "scepter" of responsibility to one about whom we know so little. After all, it looked like he had this thing all sewn up, but suddenly we have a neck-and-neck race again. And in the end the job is not about charisma or gravitas - it's about results.
And that, my friends, is the choice before us. It's a choice that's splitting our unified masses almost right down the middle. Arguments rage, tempers flare, blogs overheat and the news outlets won't let the competition go. But it will be over soon - it must be. For soon, the choice will be made.
Many people are interested in my personal choice, and I'm going to reveal it here. I've kept my cards close to the vest for months now, but with the Fall season getting underway in earnest it's time to endorse my candidate openly. So, in 2008, my vote goes to...

...Kevin Riley for Cal's starting quarterback. Sure he's young, inexperienced (as he showed today in Cal's 42-7 beatdown of Colorado State), and prone to bonehead mistakes. But he's not the only one: our receivers are young too, and the more Riley gets to work with them the brighter football is going to look in Strawberry Canyon for years to come.

Sophomore quarterback Kevin Riley

This has been a very difficult choice. Veteran 5th-year Senior Nate Longshore has led the Bears to many impressive wins over his long career, including 2007's heart-stopping last-second victory over Dennis Dixon's Ducks in Eugene (which netted me a free lunch at Newport Bay, courtesy of rabid Duck guy Scott Stuart). Longshore runs the offense with poise - but his penchant for forcing the ball in late-game situations has cost us too many wins over the years.

Senior quarterback Nate Longshore

Truth be told, in a wild Pac-10 this season my beloved Golden Bears (who currently stand at 1-0 in the conference, 3-1 overall) can finish anywhere from Rose Bowl glory to 6th-place doldrums. Reality will likely be somewhere in between. But I'm not sure we have a noticeably stronger chance of victory with Nate at the controls than Kevin, so in that case my vote is for the future: Kevin Riley for starting QB!

Of course this particular decision rests on the shoulders of a very small electorate: 1 voter, to be precise. And the man who holds that all-important vote will spend a lot of time in the film room before Arizona State rolls into Berkeley next Saturday. So coach Tedford: put in the work, and then go with your gut.

Cal coach Jeff "The Electorate" Tedford

And no matter who lines up under center on Saturday, may Oski have cause to dance deliriously, may the cannon on Tightwad Hill melt from overuse, and may Dennis Erickson return to Tempe with an even whiter head of hair than he has now.


Affluenza hurts

Between teaching a class at George Fox University and kicking off another year of ministry activity at the church, it's been a busy couple weeks for me. Still, this blog needs another post, and since I didn't have a Cal football game today to be embroiled with (the Bears had a bye week after a bad loss last Saturday), today's the day to get the next post up.

In my (precious few) free moments lately I've been doing some thinking about the current economic crisis. Massive government bailouts, wildly swinging stock markets, and even the government takeover of a major insurance company (AIG) have dominated headlines. What's going on? As one might expect both presidential candidates have weighed in with some typically vague explanations. But yesterday John McCain caught my attention when he delivered a speech in which he got more specific, laying the blame for our current economic woes right at the doorstep of mortgage lenders and the investment banking industry. Out of greed, he said, the lenders enabled themselves to offer bad loans to consumers which were then invested in by banks. Now that the bottom is dropping out, we're all paying for their avarice.

While I appreciate hearing something direct and specific from a presidential candidate, I think Sen. McCain missed the real culprit in the current financial crisis: us. He is partially right, in that greed in the financial services industry is part of the problem. But the economy isn't an investment bank or a lender, the economy is you and me. And we're kidding ourselves if we don't think we are largely to blame here.

A lot of the current problem can be traced back to 10-15 years ago when US lenders pressured authorities to relax lending standards so they could do more business. Low documentation and no documentation systems, 100% financing and other "creative financing" options, relaxation of underwriting standards... all of this was designed to allow lenders to make more loans - loans to people they never would have loaned money to a few years before. Now, is this greed? Sure it is. More loans mean more commissions for brokers.

But before we make an easy scapegoat of the entire home lending industry (I'm surprised the press hasn't started popularizing the term "big investing"), let's look in the mirror. After all, mortgages don't just appear out of nowhere - someone has to take out the loan for there be a mortgage in the first place. And just who was it that was entering all those zero-down, double-mortgaged, creatively financed loans? Greedy consumers. Who was taking out 110% of the equity in their houses? Greedy consumers. Who was it that jumped at the chance to buy a house they couldn't have purchased a few years ago, just because a few rules changed? Yep, greedy consumers. Just because some commission-paid broker tells me he can get me into that house I'm lusting after doesn't mean it's a good move on my part. And if I'm foolish enough to do it anyway, can I really put all the blame on the "greedy broker"? It isn't just dastardly Wall Street tycoons or Gollum-like mortgage brokers who are at fault here - there was plenty of greed right in our bathroom mirrors.

The reason I've been bugged about all this is I see a nation screaming for a scapegoat, not facing itself in the mirror. We're pressuring the federal government to fix the problem and "go get the bad guys." Now, the government has a role to play especially where laws were broken. But Nancy Pelosi, George Bush, Barack Obama, and John McCain aren't going to fix the basic moral problem in our nation: we deny absolute values (like the good postmodernists we are) and then things like greed, now unchecked, run amok.

And run amok it has. America has experienced an epidemic outbreak of affluenza. Consider the indicators, which I turned up via some simple web searching of places like the Federal Reserve and US Dept. of Commerce:

  • Consumer debt (doesn't include people's houses) was $2.4 trillion in 2006. That's $19,000 of non-mortgage debt per US household.

  • Mortgage debt increased 84% (from $7 trillion to $12.8 trillion) between 2000 and 2006. That's almost doubling in just 6 years. This statistic is the result of the relaxed lending standards I noted above, and it's the source of our current financial crisis.

  • Credit card debt alone tripled between 1990 and 2000.

  • In 2001, the percentage of Americans who filed for bankruptcy exceeded that of Great Depression. That year more Americans filed for bankruptcy than graduated from college.
Americans have an affluenza problem - we gotta' have it all now, and we'll borrow like crazy to get it. This makes us easy targets for unscrupulous lenders (our greed makes us easy prey for their greed) and it leaves us financially incapable of weathering difficult times. Soon housing prices dip or some other reality hits and we find we have more debt than assets. Consumer confidence wanes, investing markets buckle, and voila: you've got a crisis. Until we the people decide the problem is looking at us from the mirror, and until we determine to live differently, these kids of problems won't go away. We need to train ourselves to borrow less, spend less, and save more. Thankfully, programs like Financial Peace University (which we host at Harvest) and Crown Financial Ministries teach people how to do exactly that.

And we need to stop demanding that Washington remove the symptoms of our affluenza if we're not willing to attack the root of the disease. That only further moves our government toward practical socialism, which is the worst thing we can do to our economy in the long run.

Borrow less, spend less, save more. Too bad that slogan wouldn't win anyone the White House.

Politics, Persuading, and the Moral Law

I just saw this article, which is a more thorough, and more eloquent, version of the point I've been making with regard to Christians and politics. It's nice to find someone else who agrees with you, and does an even better job explaining himself! The article is long, but I recommend the read - well worth it.

The main point the author makes is that we concerned Christians need to frame our arguments in terms that are accessible to non-Christian Americans. We're deeply concerned about things like abortion, and the breakdown of marriage & family. So we need to learn how to make the case that abortion & family breakdown are bad for our country, whether you're a Bible-believing Christian or not.

The way to do so is to utilize Moral Law - the innate sense all people have of right and wrong, which is accessible through reason. This is the tool C.S. Lewis used so effectively to impact the thinking of millions of secular people in Book 1 of his classic Mere Christianity. And as I wrote previously, it's the tool William Wilberforce used in his anti-slavery crusade, and it's the tool MLK used with such success during the Civil Rights era.

A sample from the article, which illustrates the difference between making a purely "religious" argument and making a more broadly accessible, moral argument:

"Rather than argue that abortion is contrary to God’s law and that we need to bring the Constitution into conformity with God’s law, social conservatives should argue that as a matter of scientific fact the child in a mother’s womb is a whole, living human being, and that as a matter of moral truth the direct killing of any peaceable human being is gravely unjust..."

And another sample:
"Nor should social conservatives be afraid to argue for maintaining marriage’s structure. If marriage isn’t the union of one man and one woman coming together as husband and wife to become father and mother to any children their marital love may bring, then social conservatives should demand that their opponents explain what marriage is. Is it simply the union of any consenting pair of sexually active adults? If so, then why only two? And why does it have to be exclusive and permanent—why not open or temporary “marriage”? Indeed, if marriage isn’t about a bodily union, then why limit it to sexual relationships at all? How about codependent relatives? How are marriage and children connected? Do children need mothers and fathers, or not? These debates can and, in fact, must be had at the level of reason."
I daresay we "social conservatives" need to learn how to use the valuable tool of Moral Law and reason, which are both accessible by those around us, as we make the great proposal that there is a better way to live. Maybe a great place to start is to read Book 1 of Mere Christianity to get a sense of what arguing from Moral Law looks like, from a man who did it so well.

See, Now THIS Is Why I Love Oregon

Just back from a week's vacation: 5 days in the mountains and 2 at the coast. Stunning surroundings, and since pictures are worth a thousand words...

Our cabin was in the trees just above the RV in this picture - right on the McKenzie River. We fell asleep each night to the rush of water on rocks - very soothing.

With Cal's football season opener right around the corner, we took advantage of the many bear statues to stir up some Golden Bear mojo!

I spent one afternoon hiking the 4 miles around Clear Lake, which is the headwaters of the McKenzie. And man, is it CLEAR! The water is so fresh and cold (43 degrees!) that it loooks like a swimming pool...

Note the 4 submerged tree trunks clearly visible in the center of the above picture. The trees date back 3,000 years to when the lake was originally formed by a lava flow. They're still preserved, being submerged in such cold water for so long.

Trail through the lava field... From the lake the water flows into the McKenzie, and then just a little downriver it spills over two lava dams to create two of Oregon's more beautiful waterfalls:

Then it was off to Newport on the Oregon coast for 2 days, including a run through the famous Oregon Coast Aquarium where Elizabeth and Tommy made friends with a very curious Sea Otter:

And finally, a climb to the top of the (still operational) Yaquina Head Lighthouse:
More vacation pictures on Amy's blog.

We returned home Saturday night just in time to watch the Golden Bears overcome enough early-season jitters to beat a decent Michigan State team. Tommy: give them Bears a high-5! Great way to end a vacation!

(Check out our tailback, #4 Jahvid Best, in the video below around the 2:15 mark and after. That's called SPEED baby! The 2 plays of the game occur at 8:45 and 10:15 in this 12 minute video)

Cal vs MSU Highlights from sam walton on Vimeo.

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