Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Most Dangerous Woman in the World

However you may personally think that the most dangerous woman in the world is supposed to look, it probably is nothing like this 29-year old Northern Irish white mother of three.

Samantha Lewthwaite, also notoriously known as the "White Widow", is arguably the holder of that 'Most Dangerous Woman in the World' title. The current internationally wanted fugitive has certainly earned a nomination for the title.

She was born in Banbridge, County Down, on December 5th, 1983 to parents who met when her father, a British Army soldier, was stationed in her mother's native Northern Ireland during the 1970's.

The family moved to Aylesbury, a town about 45 miles northwest of London, when she was a small girl, and it was there that she attended school. But it was not to remain a happy family life. At age 10, her parents separated. Friends say that she was greatly affected and disillusioned by the split, and gradually sought comfort in relationships with her Muslim neighbors, whom she felt had a stronger family ethic.

During her teenage years she seriously began to turn to Islam herself, and at about age 17 she officially converted, taking on the name 'Sherafiyah' in her new faith. She enrolled at the School of Oriental and African Studies near the British Museum, and began work towards a degree in Religion and Politics.

Sometime in 2001, she 'met' a man named Germaine Lindsay online in an Islamic internet chatroom. They soon met in person, and by October of 2002 the couple married using Islamic names, 'Asmantara' for her, and 'Jamal' for him. Though using an official Islamic ceremony, the wedding did not take place in a mosque or other licensed location, and so was never officially registered. Her parents, who never approved of her conversion, did not attend.

The pair would have two children together (she is now believed to have 3-4 kids altogether), but much as her childhood, her own family was not destined for a life of happy togetherness.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

America's Cup 2013 Ends in a Winner-Take-All

I've been a big sports fan for most of my life, so even as a kid and teenager had heard of the America's Cup. I knew that somewhere in the world, we raced boats against the world's best, and that we always won. That's about it.

The first time that I can remember actually following the event in TV sports reports and shows, in magazines, and in our local papers was in 1977. That was when Ted Turner, yes THE Ted Turner of CNN fame, skippered "Courageous" to her 2nd straight victory in the event.

That victory made it 107 straight years that a team from the United States had won the event. Not since the very first series of races held way back in 1851 when the Royal Yacht Squadron of England had defeated a team from the New York Yacht Club off the Isle of Wight had the Americans suffered the agony of defeat. The New Yorkers defeated the Brits in 1870 to claim the Cup, and it was in American hands ever since.

In 1980, the New York Yacht Club would again take the honors as the America representatives in the race series, a distinction that was theirs for every single America's Cup challenge to that point. Again, the NYYC came up victorious with "Freedom", taking the series by 4-1 over a team led by Alan Bond of Australia, who was challenging for the 2nd straight finals.

The America's Cup seemed to be becoming more a tradition and celebration than a sporting event, as every 3-4 years the USA's best had been taking on some challenger or other from England or Canada or Australia and beating them, usually handily. But something was different about that Aussie Bond, and he showed in 1983 off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island just what that difference was.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Intercessory Prayer

Welcome back to the "Sunday Sermon" series, a former regular feature here, yet another that was allowed to drift by the wayside. Previously, the series was the one time each week where I was sure to post something of a spiritual nature.

Beginning with today's post on "intercessory prayer", these weekly featured posts will become more focused. Each Sunday, opportunity allowing, I will be writing on a specific element of the Christian faith experience.

There are few better places to begin than that most basic element, something that should be a part of every Christian's regular lifestyle, prayer. In particular, I want to examine "intercessory prayer", those times where we pray on behalf of others.

Is intercessory prayer effective? Can you really pray for someone else? Where does that idea, that tradition come from, and is the idea supported by the Church? If intercessory prayer is both accepted and effective, for whom should I be praying? Don't I have enough going on in my own life to pray for - why don't they pray for themselves?

To speak of intercessory prayer we must first define prayer itself. While there are many forms and functions of prayer, the Church teaches that vital to the prayer experience is attentiveness of the heart. One needs to be entirely submissive to the Word, willing and able to be obedient to God. With a right heart, prepared to accept whatever is God's will, you begin your prayers.

The Christian begins his or her prayers, in fact will begin each activity, their very daily life, by making the Sign of the Cross. As you enter into the form of your prayer, let God know that you come to him, not for yourself, but for another or others, in prayer humbly and fervently.

Let him know that you are fully repentant in the knowledge that you yourself are a sinner. Also, you are willing to accept whatever His plan will be, even if that should be something other than what you hope to see as a result of this prayer.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What's So Funny, God?

There is a famous old Yiddish proverb that has had many takes on it over the years, widely attributed to Israel Furman in 1968, which is itself a take on the Bible's Psalm 33:10 verse reading "The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples."

That saying of Furman's? "Man plans, and God laughs."

The actual translation of the Yiddish would be that man proposes, and God disposes. In other words, we can make all the plans that we want here on Earth in regards to our lives, but in the end it will be God's plan that will come to pass, whether or not that coincides with our own plans, hopes, and dreams.

The saying came to me this morning as I contemplated a recent dual tragedy which has struck a family that I know personally. They suffered a sudden, recent, untimely death, and now immediately on top of that tragedy have suffered yet another major blow. Without going into details, still fresh and painful for many, there are a number of people suffering because of these twin tragedies right now, and a few whose lives have been completely devastated.

How do we possibly make sense of such apparently senseless tragedy? How can any of that be a part of God's plan for those individuals, for that family? And what does it have to do with that old Yiddish saying that I mention in the beginning of this piece?

No matter what age, we all make plans. Young people plan on where they're going to meet after school, what they're going to do this weekend. Students plan on what courses they are going to sign up for in the next semester or school year. Folks make plans for with whom they want to begin or continue a relationship, how many children to have, their career choice, where they are going on vacation, what's for dinner tonight, and much more.

But how many plans have you made in your life, small or large, only to have something intervene to delay, change, or completely thwart those sometimes well-conceived plans?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

American Beauty: Nothing Wrong With Tats or Pageants

"God, grant me the courage to change the things I can."

That idea is taken from the famous "Serenity Prayer", and it also is the motto that the current Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, has adopted as her own personal inspiration to guide her in life.

During the preliminary events to the Miss America Pageant, Vail has gained much publicity this past week, some of it good, some of it not so much, for the thing that separates her from any other contestant in the pageant's history.

Vail has a tattoo.

We're not just talking any old tattoo either. Not a little image on the shoulder or calf. We're talking a full-blown phrase tattooed all the way down the right side of her torso. The tattoo reads with the text of that serenity prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference."

She actually has two tattoos, though it is this largest which gains the most attention. She also has tattooed on her left shoulder the insignia of the unit she serves in the U.S. Army Dental Corps, along with the letter 'D', for her Dad. You see, not only is Vail a beauty pageant contestant, she is also a member of the Army National Guard.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Real American Hero: Ty Carter

There are 80 of them as of today, the living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award that a member of the American military can receive. 11 earned their medals in World War II, and 11 more in the Korean War, while 53, by far the highest number, earned their honors in Vietnam.

Carter is one of the 5 younger generation of recipients who have earned their honors in the War in Afghanistan. And he is the most recent as well, having received his CMO three weeks ago for actions that he took almost four years ago now in the United States Army.

Ty Carter was born in the beautiful and peaceful Pacific Northwest region of our country, in Spokane, Washington on January 25th, 1980. His family moved to the Bay area of California a year later, but then went back to Spokane in 1991. Ty graduated from high school there in 1998, and in October of that year he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

In his Marine service, Ty Carter trained at the Marine Corps Combat Engineer School, served a stint in Okinawa, Japan as an intel clerk, and then in 1999 was sent to Primary Marksmanship Instructor School after showing promise in previous weapons' marksmanship training. The skill would turn out to be invaluable during his later heroic action.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How Long Will We "Never Forget"?

For the past 11 years on this date, we've all heard, spoke, typed a now familiar refrain: "Never Forget!"

What we must never forget, of course, are the attacks against our nation on September 11th, 2001 by radical Islamists bringing their war against western civilization right to our doorsteps.

Today, I heard a couple of different things that made me realize just how difficult a proposition that it is to actually "never forget" something, even something as big as 9/11.

First, on my drive in to work this morning, I was listening to a radio station when the usual cast of morning show hosts began to discuss the date, and to go over their memories of that Tuesday morning. Those of us who experienced it can remember clearly what an absolutely gorgeous, perfect morning it was - clear skies and comfortable temperatures. The kind of day you give thanks to the Lord for blessing us with.

Then everything changed, in a span of just 17 minutes between 8:46 and 9:03am, when those sons of Muhammad crashed a pair of hijacked airliners into each of the iconic Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on the waterfront of Manhattan island in New York City. Just over a half hour later, a 3rd airliner crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a 4th crashed into a field in Pennsylvania a half hour after that.

The United States of America was under attack on our own shores for the first time in 60 years, the first time since World War II, when the Japanese decimated the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The ensuing chaos, the grounding of flights across the nation's skies, the collapse of the iconic towers, the growing numbers of people lost and killed. Firefighters, police officers, other rescue workers, and regular citizens putting their lives on the line to attempt and effect rescues.

How could anyone who lived through it ever forget all that.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Christianity Clearly Under Attack in America

When you see the atrocities taking place in Syria today, as well as in other areas of the Middle East, involving the burning of Christian churches and the destruction of entire Christian communities, it really makes you thankful that you live here, in America.

America, where Christians are safe. Not only safe, but where Christian ideals are front and center, a difference maker, a vital, indispensable part of our founding principles. You know, America, the protector of religious freedom.

 The nation founded by leaders such as George Washington, who once told the Delaware Indian chiefs "You do well to learn our arts and our ways of life and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ." Such as Thomas Jefferson, who said "I am a real Christian - that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ." Such as Benjamin Franklin, who said "As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see."

The United States of America, a nation clearly founded by Christian men and women, and clearly built up over the centuries by many more of the same, such as Abraham Lincoln: "Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty."

Yet it is here, in that very America, where a large, increasingly hostile, increasingly antagonistic segment of society is actively moving on the attack against Christian morals and ethics. I believe that we are seeing the beginnings of an attempt to erase the practice of the Christian faith itself in America and around the globe. If it falls here in the United States, what other nation can hope to keep the faith standing?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pray for Peace

Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation.

Today, Pope Francis called on all Catholics, in fact all people interested in peace, to pray for Syria in the wake of the terrible atrocities and death that have visited this cradle of Christianity and which threaten to explode even further in the coming days and weeks.

Those three words: forgiveness, dialogue, and reconciliation are what the Pope said today are the necessary ingredients for true peace. This is true in Syria, the whole Middle East, throughout the world, and in our own individual lives.

Forgiveness is the beginning. Who has hurt you in your life? Everyone has been hurt, and some of that pain has left long-lasting scars, sometimes even open, festering wounds. How do you even begin to consider ever forgiving anyone who has hurt you so deeply?

Consider this: God created you in His image and likeness. He loves you unquestioningly. Yet you still sin. You still deny him, or ignore him, or place your desires above his. He sent his own Son to us, and allowed him to suffer and die for those sins. In doing so, he forgave it all. His only Son paid the price for you.

If God can forgive you after all your sins, and can take such a drastic measure to ensure your redemption, how can you not forgive another weak human being who has fallen short and hurt you?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Down the Stretch They Come!

For hardcore baseball fans like myself, this is the most wonderful time of the year. The weather will begin to turn cooler, daylight will fade faster, but the pennant races will be heating up and the stars will come out to shine as the MLB regular season comes to a climax this month.

Tonight, those races really begin to get going with tremendous matchups that have post-season implications for both teams involved taking place in four cities, and with games involving potential playoff contenders also happening in at least a half dozen other locales.

Perhaps no more directly important series of games will be taking place this weekend than the 3-game set at Busch Stadium between the host Saint Louis Cardinals and visiting Pittsburgh Pirates.

Pittsburgh enters the series in first place in the National League Central Division, a game and a half in front of the second place Cards. So the battle for that title is a head-to-head one, fairly clear-cut. But not totally clear-cut, since the Cincinnati Reds sit just three games off the pace. The Reds will take part in another of those big weekend series, as they host the NL West Division leaders, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Those are by far the two biggest series taking place this weekend in the NL, and there are also a pair of biggies in the American League.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

EWTN News Nightly

On Tuesday evening, anchor Colleen Carroll Campbell signed on to the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) live at 6pm EDT to launch the latest, and perhaps most ambitious and necessary, Catholic television since the network began over three decades ago.

For one night in each of the next few weeks, and then ultimately on an as-advertised nightly basis later in the fall, the world will begin receiving coverage of the stop news stories of the day with a Catholic Christian perspective on "EWTN News Nightly."

Colleen, a fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center is a particularly astute choice to become the first "face" of this type of program on the largest religious media network in the world. She is a respected journalist, author, broadcaster, and also the lone female speech writer to President George W. Bush. She has published a pair of books: 2002's "The New Faithful" and her new release "My Sisters the Saints" published last year.

Colleen has experience with EWTN previously, where she has become noted for her interview program "Faith & Culture" since 2006, which is still airing regularly. In it, she goes one-on-one each episode with a leading Catholic intellectual leader on a wide variety of important issues.

She is also the exact type of woman that far-left liberals love to hate: an attractive, articulate, intelligent female who is an unashamed spokesperson for her faith. Her style is far more accommodating than attacking. She presents her opinions with a soft, easy clarity that can be disarming to modern television viewers and radio listeners who have become used to the ravenous and bitter tone in much of today's media talking heads and pundits.

On the first night of broadcasting, "News Nightly" began and highlighted it's coverage with an in-depth and multi-faceted coverage of the current crisis in Lybia. True to its Catholic mission, EWTN not only covered the news story straight, but also discussed effects of the crisis on the Christian community in the area.

It was fairly obvious that this was a dipping of the network's collective feet in the water, production wise. My guess is there will be some tweaks to the set and the style as the show does indeed move to true nightly status. But it was all-in-all an exciting opening night for anyone looking for something different in the way our news stories are presented.

I am personally looking forward to becoming a regular viewer of this program as it grows, already having set my DVR to record the next episode. I would encourage not only all Catholics and other Christians, but anyone interested in a somewhat different but no less important take on top news stories to give "EWTN News Nightly" a try.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Syrian Cesspool

I put up this map of Syria as the primary graphic accompaniment to this story in order to show people just where the country is located in relation to the rest of the cesspool that is the Middle East.

Syria lies just to the northeast of Israel, our lone reliable ally in the region, and the single nation that we need to be concerned with helping there. It lies up against the western border of Iraq, still a dangerous place in itself, despite our efforts of the past decade.

Now, like every nation, Syria has a long, deep, rich history that cannot be perfectly encapsulated in any short blurb of a story. But perhaps most importantly, today it is the site of major internal conflict between the Islamic Sunni and Shia factions and their allies.

For nearly five decades, from 1963-2011, Syria was under Emergency Law, ostensibly due to the ongoing tensions and at times war with Israel over the Golan Heights. This effectively suspended most constitutional protections for its citizens.

Bashar al-Assad, currently accused by the Obama administration of using chemical weapons on his own citizens, has been President since 2000, when he took over the reigns from his father who had served for 30 years.

In December of 2010, what has become known as the 'Arab Spring' began, a series of both violent and non-violent uprisings, demonstrations, protests, riots, and civil wars across the Arab world.

The aims were to overthrow and end the rule of authoritarian regimes that were politically corrupt and that in many cases stood accused of committing human rights violations. The movement has resulted thus far in the overthrowing of regimes in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

All This Twerking's Got Me Smirking

In case you were wondering, that's former 'tween' star Miley Cyrus in the picture to the left. A few years ago, you and your kids knew her as the star of the "Hannah Montana" franchise from Disney Channel.

Those days are apparently long gone, at least as far as Miley herself is concerned. Last week in a performance on the MTV Video Music Awards that could perhaps be described as a sad attempt at being raunchy, she decided to come out of her pop queen shell and start twerking in public.

What the heck is "twerking", you might be asking? Well, according to the Oxford Dictionary Online, 'twerking' is "to dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance."

First introduced in the early-90's, the word is of dubious origin, but likely a contraction of the words 'twist' and 'jerk', and was used in that decade in the lyrics of some hip-hop songs.

While I could never be accused of having been a prude to this point in my life, and can certainly appreciate a beautiful, fit, young woman exploring her sexuality and trying to bring a former kiddie image to a more mature one, something just struck me as being very wrong with that Miley Cyrus performance.