Restarting, with what could be the final post

I am back to writing, and have built a new page design as part of the re-launch.  But the cartoon below may make all future posts irrelevant.

I’ve been reading Wondermark cartoons for a while.  Intellectually irreverent.

2015-11-20-1176politicWondermark

This also explains why I’ve (almost completely) abandoned Facebook.  More on that in another post (if you really think that this was the end, then you don’t know me very well 😀 )

 

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The Presidential Speech You Didn’t Hear

 

Recently, President Obama gave a speech that would astound most Americans.  The topic was faith.  He made three points to answer the question,

“So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious (sic) for their own murderous ends?”

His three points?  Humility, freedom of religion, and the universality of the Golden Rule to most religions and all of mankind.

He strongly condemns those who abuse religion for their own purposes:

“We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.”

He quotes Colossians 3:14.

He says, “Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.”

In his closing remarks, he made the following appeal:

“If we are properly humble, if we drop to our knees on occasion, we will acknowledge that we never fully know God’s purpose. We can never fully fathom His amazing grace. “We see through a glass, darkly” — grappling with the expanse of His awesome love. But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required: To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.”

WOW!  Why didn’t we hear about this speech in the news?

Well, you did.  You just didn’t hear about this part of the speech.  See, these were the key points from his speech at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast.

Why didn’t you hear about these points that most Americans, and certainly all Christians should be able to agree with?  Because the Twitterverse exploded in real time over a brief aside in his introductory remarks, and the right-wing blogosphere was in full attack before he began his first point.

Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, said in a statement that Mr. Obama was trying to “deflect guilt from Muslim madmen.” He said the president’s comparisons were “insulting” and “pernicious.”  Mr. Gilmore said the comments go “further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”

and

“The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said Jim Gilmore, the former Republican governor of Virginia. “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States.” (New York Times, 2/5/15)

DOUBLE-WOW!!! What could be so heinous as to offend “every believing Christian in the US?” 

Warning:  The following quote can be highly offensive–please don’t read while eating, or in the presence of young children:

“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Yup.  That’s it.  The headlines have screamed how Obama has said Christians are just as bad as ISIL!  How the President is defending radical Islamists.  The pundits left out the next sentence, where he condemned violence under guise of religion in India.  They also totally ignored the next words out of his mouth, which led to him introducing his three main points, which were a spiritual (Christian, but watered down for a national ecumenical audience) response to the violence in the name of religion running rampant in our world:

“So this is not unique to one group or one religion.  There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.”

This point is crucial!  See, I read this as the President saying we should be on guard to ensure that we don’t twist our beliefs to our advantage, at the expense of others.

Me?  I see a great example of introspection and humility.  Jesus spent much of his latter ministry challenging the pious religious leaders of his day to examine themselves–a message which we should all continue to heed today.  Unfortunately, many American Christians today consider ourselves as superior to all others, as God’s chosen people, above criticism.  As the frothing commentators seem to clearly demonstrate, from our high horse, it’s easy to see that the atrocities of ISIL are a whole different level of ugly than anything we could ever do.  How dare the President drag up 1000 year old history and try to call us righteous Christians?  That was then.  We’re better than that now (interestingly enough, the point of typically liberal Washington Post commentator Eugene Robinson).

Bull.

Of all people, Christians should be the first to take a hard look inside, because we have a unique theology that tells us that even when we are inhabited by the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, we are still fighting a battle against our sinful human nature (see Romans 7:14-24).

Sure, we can point out that Christians such as William Wilberforce led the abolitionist movement.  But read Dr. King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.”  This amazing document was penned in response to CHRISTIAN leaders who challenged his actions in standing up for human rights.  Just a few sentences before his “verbal rape” (yes, Star Parker really said that!), the President made the point that faith has, and is being used for both good and evil:

“…we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another — to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife.  We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. Brantly and his colleagues have done.  We see faith driving us to do right.

But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.”

Seems like his critics are doing the latter–they’re playing upon America’s polarization to drum up dissent, by twisting the President’s faith (professing Christian, and demonstrating more Christ-likeness in words and action than many of his critics) as a wedge… or a weapon.

I hate to break it to the former governor of Virginia, but this Christian is not offended by the President’s remarks.  I am in agreement with them.  I’m offended by all the people who are attacking him for speaking truth, while ignoring his broader points.  We American Christians can’t claim any moral high ground here.  Here’s a picture from less than 100 years ago.

jesse-washington-lot13093-no.38

That’s the body of Jesse Washington.  The full account of his lynching is here, but the short version of the story is that, after a questionable murder trial in Waco, Texas, Jesse was declared guilty, grabbed by a mob, dragged into the street to this tree, doused in oil, had his fingers and genitals cut off, was hung from the tree over a bonfire, where he was repeatedly lowered and raised over the next two hours, while he burned to death in the celebratory atmosphere of 10,ooo spectators.

Here’s another one (sorry, no pics of this one):  According to the Associated Press coverage of her death, “Mary Turner had made ‘unwise remarks’ about the execution of her husband, and that ‘the people, in their indignant mood, took exception to her remarks, as well as her attitude’.”  How did they take exception?

“There, before a crowd that included women and children, Mary was stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the grown, gave a cry, and was stomped to death. The Constitution’s coverage of the killing was subheaded-lined: ‘Fury of the People Is Unrestrained.” (Wikipedia, “Mary Turner”)

Betcha most of those folks went to church next Sunday.

“Yeah, but those stories don’t have anything to do with Christianity!”  Except they came from a time when it was common to teach in church that blacks were subhuman (click the link “carroll.pdf” on the page to download your very own copy of the book “The Negro a Beast…0r…In the Image of God”).

“Yeah, but that was 100 years ago.”  Well, first, the President’s point was that atrocities were committed by people who claimed to be Christians, and claimed to have Biblical justification for their heinous acts.  Second, just Google Christian Identity.  This hosed up, racist hatred is whitewashed “in the name of Jesus” and claims to use Scripture to justify their vile beliefs.  And there are thousands of adherents to this and similar beliefs in our world today.

 “So are you blaming all Christians for these lynchings, Jim Crow laws, and nutball white supremacists?”  No.  But I hope I’ve presented enough evidence to get you off your horse.

Or should we explore all the Jews killed during the Crusades–in the name of Jesus?

 

 

What if it is true?

I’m a white, Protestant, middle class man.  I grew up in a redneck town, attended a predominantly white high school, paid for my own college, have had two successful careers that have allowed me to live a very comfortable life, that I worked hard for.  It’s pretty easy for me to argue that racism is dead, that equal opportunity is out there, and that black people need to quit (fill in the blank) and work hard, and they can be successful just like me.  As a matter of fact, I wrote a paper on that very same subject 20+ years ago in Freshman English at Lincoln University (my undergrad alma mater, and a historically black college).

But I also spent 23 years in the Army and became friends and comrades with many blacks from many different backgrounds from around the US.  I had a Master Sergeant that worked for me who was pulled over multiple times while we worked together in Des Moines, IA, for “driving while black.”  I’ve seen enough similar occurrences to know that it wasn’t an isolated situation.

In my years of leadership I’ve studied human behavior, particularly in situations of conflict, and learned that true progress can only be achieved when we begin by recognizing the existence of positions that may not align with our own.  I’ve also become very aware that a person’s perception becomes his or her reality, no matter how illogical it might seem to an observer.

Many, many black people in our country today are hurt, afraid, enraged, distrusting, and myriad other emotions.  They believe the system is prejudiced against them.  Rather than taking that as a condemnation of all us white folks, what if we stopped first to listen–not to form our argument as to how they are wrong, but to hear their perspective, to seek 1st to understand what makes this perception real to them?   What if, instead of immediately shouting back “You’re WRONG!” and launching into whatever flavor of justification we prefer/believe, we stopped to consider, “What if it is true?”

“Truth” + irrelevance = FAIL

The Christian world is all knotted up right now in a bout of self-torture over a recent New York Times interview with Brian Houston, pastor of Hillsong Church.  The reporter asked Houston to clarify Hillsong’s position on gay marriage.  Houston refused to take the bait, in part because his church has a presence in LA and NYC, and is being effective at ministering to the gay community in those two cities.  His response:

“It’s very easy to reduce what you think about homosexuality to just a public statement, and that would keep a lot of people happy,” he said, “but we feel at this point, that it is an ongoing conversation, that the real issues in people’s lives are too important for us just to reduce it down to a yes or no answer in a media outlet. So we’re on the journey with it.”

The reaction to this response was swift and strong from the evangelical conservatives, led by the Southern Baptist Convention.  In his blog post, Andrew Walker (no relation), SBC Director of Policy Studies for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, takes Houston to task for being accommodating to culture by not declaring an unequivocal Biblical stand in opposition to gay marriage, and homosexuality in general.  Conservative evangelicals hate the concept of cultural relevance, and believe Christians need to be clear, blunt, and unbending in declaring the “truth” found in the Bible.  In Andrew Walker’s words:

a non-answer is an answer. Let’s be very clear on that. It’s also a very vapid answer. What we’re seeing in many corners of evangelicalism is a pliability that makes Christianity an obsequious servant to whatever the reigning zeitgeist is. With non-answers like this, it isn’t Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of the Father. Culture is.

Apparently Walker and other evangelicals who are offended by Houston’s choice not to reply to a loaded question have forgotten Jesus’ answers to the chief priests in Matthew 21:23-27.  The religious leaders ask Jesus a loaded question:  “On whose authority are you saying and doing what you’re doing?”  Knowing that the question was loaded, Jesus artfully dodged the question by responding with a loaded question of his own.  When the religious leaders dodged Jesus’ question, he refused to answer theirs.

The NYT question to Houston was a loaded one–any answer was going to bring about division and controversy.  Here is where Houston erred in the eyes of Mr. Walker, and most other raging evangelical commentators:  He chose to avoid an answer that, while affirming Biblical truth (as even Mr. Houston interprets it, as indicated in this press release in response to the firestorm) didn’t poke sinners in the eye with a sharp stick.  These critics love to throw about a small phrase from Ephesians 4:15, devoid of context*:  “speaking the truth in love,” as in “The Bible demands that we declare loudly that homosexuals are sinners, and that by doing so we are showing them how much we love them by saving them from Hell.”

News flash for Mr. Walker and his friends:  Pretty much every coherent homosexual in the western world is abundantly clear on the evangelical position that homosexuality is a sin (not just any sin, but an abomination!), and that gay marriage is an affront to God, marriage, and Focus on the Family.  Your friends at Westboro Baptist are leading the charge in communicating the anti-relevance message.  We don’t need Mr. Houston to pile on.

18 months ago I articulated my views on gay marriage, so I’m not going to expound on that point.  Truth is, this post isn’t so much about gay marriage as it is about cultural relevance and the Christian church.  Houston’s critics will tell you, either indirectly or overtly, that their job is to present God’s truths so that everyone who does not know God as Lord and Savior will realize they are sinners, repent, and accept God’s forgiveness.  Any efforts to connect with the culture in a meaningful way is derided as accommodation, and diluting the gospel, most often with the stated or implied motive of attaining or maintaining popularity, which equals dollars.** These critics proudly proclaim that they would gladly see current society burn in hell before they would give up their primary mission of proclaiming “God’s truth.” (Walker:  A church in exile (and that’s how I’d describe the current placement of confessional evangelicalism) is one that is faithful amidst the culture, regardless of whether that culture looks more like America or more like Babylon. It knows that it may lose the culture, but that it cannot lose the Gospel. So be it.”)

There’s a problem with that approach, and it is most clearly seen in the example of missionaries of the past 200 years who left Western churches to “take the Gospel” to the unchurched in other parts of the world.  Whether it was Central America, Africa, or Alaska, those missionaries who refused to be relevant to the culture they were trying to reach, found themselves first trying to convert their audience to Western modernity before they could convert them to Christianity.  Most failed outright; some made initial headway (usually by force) in trying to force the people to change their culture, and in so doing, created long-lasting problems that we are still trying to undo today.  All created a distrust and fear of the Church.  On the other hand, missionaries that realized that you don’t have to be a Western European or American to be loved by God and be a part of his Kingdom have planted churches that are growing and thriving.  Those missionaries realized that the Truth of God is meaningful to all cultures, and does not have to be framed in the context of the culture that sent them.

More simply put:  the SBC’s message that “God abhors your sinful behavior and will send you to hell for all eternity if you don’t stop doing _____” is completely meaningless to someone who has no clue who God is, or why the person should care what God thinks.  Our culture doesn’t know God–they only know the church.  And their primary understanding of the church is that they hate homosexuals.  Somewhere along the way, evangelicals in America have lost sight of the Great Commission to “go and make disciples.”  Making disciples involves building a relationship.  That’s hard work.  Before we can help someone become a disciple of Jesus, we have to get to know them and help them get to know Jesus well enough that they would desire to follow him.  It’s going to be hard to do that with homosexuals when our initial message is “God hates you and is going to send you to hell if you don’t stop having homosexual sex.”

Evangelicals love to point to John 8’s account of the adulterous woman to justify their actions, citing Jesus in verse 11 telling the woman “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  However, they lose sight of the fact that he only made this statement after he saved the woman’s life, and told her that he didn’t condemn her.

Brian Houston chose to avoid a trap, in order to continue building relationships with people who he wants to help know Jesus, so that he can help them become disciples of Jesus.  He is condemned by fellow Christ followers who would prefer that he alienate these people by “speaking the truth.”  While the SBC message may be factually correct, its disdain for cultural relevance means that they will become less and less effective at the Church’s primary mission of making disciples.  To those who feel the need to “speak the truth” on this (or any other) sin issue, I would recommend they consider following Houston’s example.  You see, Houston is choosing to speak Truth–in the form of Jesus himself.  Because, it is Jesus, not the SBC, who takes away the sins of the world.

__________________________________________________________

* Too bad most folks don’t read all of Ephesians 4.  Paul’s discussion about spiritual maturity and church unity might clarify that this oft-quoted phrase is not a license to castigate nonbelievers, but a plea for Christians  to quit acting like babies and instead to treat each other as integral parts of the same body of Christ.

**Many commenters immediately attributed Houston’s approach, despite his clear statement that a simple yes/no answer would diminish the importance of the conversation, to a perceived greed and desire to preserve the wealth of his church.  Their evidence:  Houston’s church is big, and it has a huge influence in the Contemporary Christian music genre.  Therefore Houston’s motives must be greedy, selfish, and devoid of Christ.  I wonder how many of those who grabbed their keyboard and thesaurus to launch their scathing attacks on a Christian brother on Friday, finished their worship set Sunday morning with Oceans (a Hillsong original which is immensely popular with contemporary worship services around the country)?  Their immediate association of Houston’s lack of alignment with their thoughts to the astounding success and impact his church is having around the world is curious, and without further evidence seems to be a glaring fallacy of logic.

Scared of Ebola? Then you haven’t heard about THIS!

People are freaking out–right now my news feed is blowing up because somebody barfed in the Pentagon parking lot, causing officials to seal off one entrance, and quarantine a busload of people headed to some jarhead’s change of command ceremony.

While we’re spazzing out about whether or not to buy online this year, because the person at the shipping dock might have had Ebola (seriously–I’ve seen this concern!  I’m afraid these folks might just starve to death if they figure out the same problem could occur at the store.  “THIS JUST IN:  Walmart might be an Ebola vector!”)-  If we’re taking such drastic action to protect against the spread of this deadly virus, the CDC should be proactive to prevent THOUSANDS of deaths this year alone from a much more heinous killer, that’s already breached our shores.

Barricade all KFCs.

I’m serious!  Ebola has killed ONE person in the US, and TWO MORE are infected because of DIRECT contact with the deceased victim.  Meanwhile, an average of SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND Americans die ANNUALLY from heart disease!  The three leading contributors to heart disease are high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol levels, and smoking.

Six. Hundred. Thousand. Per. Year.  That’s the equivalent of the entire population of Portland Oregon or Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Wait, you don’t care about people dying, as long as it’s not you?  Ok, then choke on this number:  the CDC estimates that heart disease costs $108.9 BILLION per year!

Now, we can’t outlaw tobacco, because, well, it’s too big to fail.  But the smaller fast food chains like KFC are nothing more than disease-dispensers.

This whole Ebola scare in the US is a prime example of irrational thinking driving imbecilic behavior.   If we really were worried, we’d start outlawing fried foods.  Ebola is a real problem in West Africa.  In the US, it’s just fodder to feed our irrational need for drama.

Want to be inspired?

Too many people today are frustrated by the injustice and evil in our world, and all too often are resigned to defeat, because the opposition seems to big, too powerful, too pervasive to fight.  Attempts to resist seem futile at best, and more often than not, appear to only offer personal pain and persecution.  So we do nothing, except maybe complain.  All the while, we are aching on the inside, because somebody ought to do something!  Maybe that ache is more because our own lives seem pointless in the face of the real things that matter–the bigger battle of good vs. evil, justice vs. brutality–yet we can’t seem to muster the courage to follow our passion into our purpose.

I was blessed in my years living in Alaska to have a friend, and a mentor, who was also a storyteller.  He often shared with me the stories he was working on, while we met each week to share coffee and life together, helping one another (ok, mostly him helping me) navigate our own stories.  Over the past year, Rick shared with me the most amazing story that he was living, while preparing to write his latest book.  Late night satellite phone conversations to interview guerrilla leaders hiding in the jungles on the other side of the world, researching exotic languages and the history of a country where people lived the most austere lives, fighting against nature and an oppressive government to liberate a nation–the things that young (and old) boys’ fantasies are made of!  Rick was preparing to tell the story of a man who did what he was made to do, and in the process has provided relief to over 1 million people engaged in a brutal struggle against evil in a place most of us can’t even find on a map.

I just finished the product.  In “Rangers in the Gap: Act with Courage. Never Surrender”, Rick tells the story of Dave Eubanks, a child of missionaries who becomes a successful US Army Special Forces officer, but finds his real purpose in life as the founder of the Free Burma Rangers.  Dave, and his teams are leading what might possibly the most radical, unconventional guerrilla campaign in history.  Against impossible odds, what began as one man has become 260 teams, defending the displaced ethnic people groups being ravaged in Myanmar (Burma), while simultaneously fighting a war against evil itself, using the only weapon that will defeat it.

I’d encourage you to download the Kindle book linked above to get the full story.  If you can’t, at least check out the Free Burma Rangers web page.   The story is inspiring.  Hopefully it’s inspiring enough to challenge each one of us to step into the role we were each given, to make a real difference in the world around us.

Un-knot your undies, at least on my behalf

The internet and my Facebook page are exploding with posts, memes, and articles apoplectic over the “cuts in military retirement and disability pay” in the appropriations bill on its way to the President for signature.

As a disabled veteran whose military pension is his primary source of income, I am fully qualified to tell all of the pundits to “just chill.”

First, NO ONE’S BENEFITS ARE BEING CUT.  That’s right, no one will be earning a single dollar less than what they are entitled to.  Not people already retired, not those who are on active duty and might someday retire (which, by the way, is only a small portion of those who actually serve in the military.

What the bill does is set a limit on the COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT effective in JANUARY 2016 (that’s two years from now).  Cost of living adjustments were never part of the entitlement, folks, just like they’re not guaranteed for the vast majority of defined-benefit pension plans, public or private, in the US (Great Britain, by law, guarantees inflation adjustments to pensions–but that’s socialism, so we don’t want to do that).  In most years, the DoD budget includes increases to pension benefits to adjust for inflation, and I’m glad they do, but retirees have never been “guaranteed” a COLA, and right now, it’s important for our nation to cut deficit spending.

What Congress just approved, was a bill that set the 2016 COLA  to 1% less than the inflation rate, and then only for retirees between the ages of 40 and 62 (like me).  The thought here is that many, but certainly not all, of these retirees go on to start second careers, so they are not solely surviving on their retirement checks.  I’m 48, so this change will affect me for 12 years, beginning two years from now (assuming Congress takes no further action in the next 14 years, which is not a valid assumption, as sooner or later, the political and economic winds will change, and Congress will adjust the appropriation to address this, if history is any indicator).  Let’s make this a little more concrete:  For simple calculation purposes, let’s say I receive a pension equal to $40k/year, and that inflation averages 3% per year.  ASSUMING (which isn’t valid, but we’ll do it, to make the point) that Congress were planning an annual COLA equal to inflation, my pension would increase 3% per year, but this bill changes that increase to only 2% per year.  Beginning in 2016, and through 2027 (when I will turn 62–man, I’m getting old), my real income would decrease slightly, although my nominal pension will continue go up.  How much?  In that 12 year period, I’ll receive a TOTAL of $10, 729 than if my COLA had matched inflation.  However, since there is no guarantee of inflation-proofing with military retirement, or most other defined-benefit pensions, for that matter, I’m NOT losing money, I’m just not receiving as much inflation protection as I would like.  The bill also provides for a one-time catchup when I turn 62, so that from that age on, when I’m less likely to be working, and more likely to truly need that pension to provide for myself, it will then maintain real spending power for the rest of my life.  I haven’t really taken the time to do the math, and I haven’t found the actual bill to read the details of the catchup provision, but I’m comfortable that my analysis is close enough for purposes of discussion, as well as for my long-term financial planning.

Most of our country has been up in arms about the runaway federal budget deficits.  We don’t typically want to pay more taxes, and most insist that the government should live within its means, which means cutting spending.  This budget deal cuts spending.  The problem seems to be that we are all for cutting government spending, unless it’s on something WE think is important!  Here’s the rub:  for every government dollar being spent, SOMEBODY thinks that expenditure is important.  In 2010, a bipartisan commission took a hard look at fiscal reform to address deficit spending and develop proposals to put the federal budget on track for long-term prosperity and economic health.  They did good work, and on page 45 of their final report they recommended the very actions established in this bill for reforming federal workforce retirement programs.

We’ve been demanding reform.  Now we’re getting it.  The pain is widespread; veterans should not be exempt.  I’ll leave you with some thoughts from the Preamble of the report cited above.  This is the collective work of some very smart people from across our political spectrum who devoted themselves to difficult, careful study of the problem, and what it’s going to take to solve it:

 The problem is real.  The solution will be painful.  There is no easy way out.  Everything must be on the table.  And Washington must lead….  we share a common belief that America’s long-term fiscal gap is unsustainable and, if left unchecked, will see our children and grandchildren living in a poorer, weaker nation…. None of us likes every element of our plan, and each of us had to tolerate provisions we previously or presently oppose in order to reach a principled compromise.  We were willing to put our differences aside to forge a plan because our nation will certainly be lost without one…. In the weeks and months to come, countless advocacy groups and special interests will try mightily through expensive, dramatic, and heart-wrenching media assaults to exempt themselves from shared sacrifice and common purpose.  The national interest, not special interests, must prevail. We urge leaders and citizens with principled concerns about any of our recommendations to follow what we call the Becerra Rule:  Don’t shoot down an idea without offering a better idea in its place.

Many of you probably have already forgotten about this commission or its report.  It didn’t catch on.  Seems everybody had some favorite program that was targeted in their recommendations, just as the authors predicted.  So we just abandoned it, and kept right on spending.  It’s too bad.  This was probably one of the best efforts put forward by our national leadership in quite some time.

It seems to me that what we really have is a terminal case of selfishness.  We demand sacrifice from all others, so that we can preserve what we have.  In the end, no one is really willing to sacrifice themselves, so we continue full speed ahead on the course we’re on.   I’m not playing that game.  If by reducing the amount of annual increase I will see in my pension, we can start reining in the spending that has resulted in a national debt which former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen cited as the most significant threat to our national security (see cited report, page 20), then I’m willing to make a bit of sacrifice for the benefit of our nation.  Please don’t be offended on my behalf.