Saturday, March 15, 2008

Any Way Saturday
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Can you say "BraveHeart"?
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The Catholic population of our county is approximately 2% - you read that correctly, two percent. Most Catholic students in the area High Schools have very few friends who are Catholic, like them. There are several large Evangelical Christian church youth-groups in the area. Some of the Catholic students' friends belong to these groups. As a result, the Catholic students get invited to events of many kinds. It is hard for them and their parents to avoid this. So, I try to be pro-active and get other parents to accompany me and groups of teens so they have adults they can talk to about what they're hearing and experiencing and help them put it in the context of their own belief system.

As a result, ten thousand screaming teen-agers are my companions this week-end as I attend a teen event called Acquire the Fire. It actually started last evening, Friday. There is a lot of evangelical preaching, and several top Christian bands and artists. Pray for me, and hope I find my ear-plugs.
uncle jim
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for your consideration, I offer you this from The Wired Word
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N.Y. Governor Resigns amid Scandal

The Wired Word for March 16, 2008

In the News

On Wednesday, first-term New York Governor Eliot Spitzer announced he was stepping down from the office effective Monday, March 17. The resignation followed the news earlier in the week that he had been identified by an FBI wiretap as a recent client of a pricy prostitution ring, the Emperors Club VIP.

In announcing his intention to leave office, Spitzer said, "Over the course of my public life I have insisted people take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself. For this reason I am resigning as governor." He added, "I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me. I will try once again outside of politics to serve the common good."

Investigators said that Spitzer was a repeat customer of the prostitution service and may have spent as much as $80,000 on call girls over an extended period.

The claim against Spitzer, while serious enough in its own right, also reeks of hypocrisy since during his time as the Empire State's attorney general, when his crusading methods earned him the title "the sheriff of Wall Street," he shut down at least two sex rings as well. In that role, Spitzer also zealously prosecuted corporate white-collar crime, shady financial dealing and executives who received overly generous compensation. Yet it was his own position of personal wealth that made it possible for him to patronize the up-market sex service.

Spitzer's illicit activity came to light after a bank noticed frequent cash transfers from several of his accounts and filed a suspicious-activity report with the Internal Revenue Service. When the IRS realized the accounts were connected to the New York governor, they notified the FBI, which joined the case to investigate the possibility of government corruption.

As of this writing (on Thursday), Spitzer had not yet been indicted but charges related to either the prostitution or the money-laundering or both are possible. If it is the former, Spitzer could be charged under the Mann Act, which forbids "transportation of a person across state lines for purposes of prostitution." In one instance, say investigators, Spitzer arranged for a prostitute to travel from New York to Washington for their sexual encounter. If it is the latter, which is even more likely, he could be charged with tax fraud. Reportedly, Spitzer paid for his trysts by moving money into a shell corporation set up by the Emperors Club.

Whatever happens legally, however, most observers say that Spitzer's standing is irreparably damaged and that his political career is over.

Many people wonder why Spitzer would have taken such a risk to begin with. He had a reputation as a squeaky-clean reformer who demanded high ethics of others. He was in a very public position of high responsibility. He was a rising star in the Democratic Party, and some had even suggested his name as a possible vice-presidential candidate. He is a husband and father. With so much at stake, why would he engage in behavior with such potentially explosive consequences?

Psychologists, say that powerful people who tempt fate often have a blind spot about the risk, a certain arrogance that makes them think they are beyond reproach and can get away with it. "The very drive that works for them to achieve and accomplish and be successful involves taking a certain risk or living in the fast lane in order to get ahead," said New Jersey psychologist Stanley Teitelbaum, commenting on Spitzer's behavior for ABC News. "That same quality leaves them driving in the wrong lane."

A growing body of research also reveals that people in general have "cold" and "hot" emotional states, and that an enormous mental gulf separates the two. When we are hungry, angry, excited or sexually aroused, which are hot emotional states, we find it difficult to consider the consequences of our behavior. Conversely, when we are not under the thrall of a hot state, we find it difficult to imagine to what extremes we might go to satisfy those drives. In other words, when in a hot state, we tend to be shortsighted, impulsive and unable to give proper weight to the risks our emotions might lead us to take. When in a cold state, we cannot imagine that we might go to risky extremes.

That research would suggest that Spitzer-in-a-cold-state would find the behavior of Spitzer-in-a-hot-state as baffling as do people who thought they knew him and are now flabbergasted at his dalliance with prostitutes.

More on this story may be found at these links:,8599,1721882,00.html,8599,1721492,00.html

The Big Questions

1. Because of his public position, Spitzer had more to lose when he decided to engage in illicit and illegal behavior than does the average person, but should an average person's similar behavior be any less blameworthy? Should Spitzer's position make him more blameworthy? Explain your answer.

2. The hot state/cold state research suggests that when in a hot state, we are more prone to behavior that Christianity labels as "sinful." Should it be considered a mitigating factor when we do wrong under the influence of anger, zeal, lust or similar hot-state emotions? Does that make us any less responsible for our wrongdoing? Why or why not?

3. When someone in a position of public trust falls into the very kind of wrongdoing he or she has publicly fought against, how should we judge his or her former "good works"? In other words, is the good the person has done still good even after that person has done something contradictory or is it only hypocrisy?

4. Some might characterize a person's dalliance with a prostitute as "yielding to temptation." But if a person has no religious convictions (we are not suggesting that Spitzer does not), is that behavior actually yielding to temptation or is it living as an unspiritual person? If that is the case, what forces are there beside the threat of prosecution to keep that person from doing wrong?

5. Are all human beings a mixed bag of good and evil motives and desires, and if so, what are the spiritual implications of that?

6. When we who follow Jesus are faced with a serious temptation to do wrong, how can our faith be employed to help us resist it? How do we receive the help of the Lord?

Confronting the News with Scripture

Here are some Bible verses to guide our discussion:

2 Samuel 11:3-4

"David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, 'This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.' So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her." (For context, read 11:1- 27.)

This is the Bible's description of King David engaging in behavior every bit as bad as what Spitzer allegedly did (and even worse, as David eventually had Bathsheba's husband killed). It is a case of a person in a high position using the resources at his disposal because of his position of public trust to give free rein to his passion. And look at the risk mentioned in just in these verses: He used messengers to bring Bathsheba to him. They must have at least suspected what was up, and there was no guarantee that they would keep their mouths shut. To use the psychological description explained earlier in this lesson, this is David-in-a-hot-state.

Like Spitzer, David paid for his self-serving actions with huge negative consequences.

Questions: Do you think that when David was rising to fame and power, he ever imagined that he would behave as he did here? What steps could he have taken to have prevented him from getting into this tempting situation to begin with?

Mark 14:67-68

"When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, 'You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.' But he denied it, saying, 'I do not know or understand what you are talking about.'" (For context, read 14:29-31, 66-72.)

Peter ended up being a great disciple, a powerful spokesperson and ambassador for Christ, and a leader in the early church. But this earlier incident where he denied being a follower of Jesus shows that even moral, faithful people with good intentions can get into situations where they act not on their higher motivations but on lower ones -- fear, in this case.

Questions: How do you think you would have acted if you had been in Peter's sandals? Why?

1 John 2:16

"... for all that is in the world -- the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches -- comes not from the Father but from the world." (For context, read 2:15-17.)

The New Testament often speaks of a dichotomy of life, where what is good comes from God and what is not good comes from the "world." This is a translation of the Greek word kosmos, which originally referred to the creation as the harmonious whole that God created but by this point, refers to the creation as distorted by sin. The world in John's view is both a deluded realm that is enslaved to wickedness and also the theater where God's salvation is enacted. But the values that salvation brings are from God, not from the distortion of sin.

Questions: What helps us detect when we are being swayed by the lure of sin? What counter-measures are available to Christians?

Psalm 1:6

"... for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." (For context, read 1:1-6.)

As adults, many of us have come to accept that right and wrong is not as clear-cut as we had thought when we were kids. We've encountered complex situations where the line between right and wrong sometimes seemed blurred. Sometimes we've been forced to make choices, not between good and bad, but between two lousy solutions, neither one of them good. We've come to understand such terms as "the lesser of two evils" and "moral dilemmas."

Against that viewpoint, Psalm 1 presents life in black-and-white terms. It indicates that a person is either good and righteous or bad and wicked, with no category in between. From the perspective of this psalm -- and many other passages in the Bible -- people are either godly or not. There are no fence sitters. And not only that, but the psalmist maintains that the godly will prosper while the ungodly will perish!

Few of us would claim that there are only very righteous and very wicked people in the world. In fact, most of us would be reluctant to put ourselves in either of those categories. But you see where this psalm is going: It's saying that there are some moral absolutes in life, that certain things are always right and other things are always wrong. There is a clarity and absoluteness about the laws of God in this life that we are sometimes reluctant to admit. Yes, there are some things about God's ways that are unclear to us but about the majority of the way God has laid out before us, there is no ambiguity at all.

Questions: How does the biblical view of right and wrong help you steer clear of wrongdoing? How does it help you when you are in a "hot" state?

Questions for Further Discussion

1. Evaluate this statement: "The line between good and evil doesn't lie between 'us' and 'them' but right through the heart of each one of us."

2. What does it mean to say that a person's greatest strength is so often his or her greatest weakness?

3. If instead of patronizing a call-girl, Spitzer had instead chosen a mistress, chances are his political career would not be as seriously jeopardized. Some people would be inclined to say it was a private matter between him and his wife. But should the judgment of him be any different? Should the consequences be any different? Why or why not?

4. If you could ask Spitzer one question about his current situation, what would it be?

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Melody said...

I think you are doing a good thing with those kids; not trying to isolate them into a sealed-off little Catholic world, but teaching them to put things in the context of their own beliefs. (Would be kind of hard anyway to only socialize with Catholics given they are such a small percentage there.) Some groups have pretty aggressive prosilytizing efforts, so it is important for kids to be secure and well-informed in their own faith.

uncle jim said...

thanks mel,
it is the aim.
it is impossible to keep the others' views away from them, but we can provide a forum to discuss our differences.
there are 3 catholic parishes in the whole county.
the high schools the kids from our parish attend are from several different school systems.
in fact i can count 10 different high schools that would each have a few of our parish children in them. that doesn't give them many chances to connect except at parish related activities - that is for those whose parents get them there.
uncle jim