Two New eBooks at Amazon Kindle!

FacebookMySpaceTwitterDiggDeliciousStumbleuponRSS Feed

My wife and I aren't much for buying souvenirs, but we've purchased a few nice items here and there that we still own and still like. I have a set of carved elephants I bought in Thailand. They rank at the top of my list, probably because I like animals more than because they’re souvenirs. But then again, they’re well made, and it’s interesting to glance at them in my office and know some person in Thailand crafted them from a block of wood.

In one view, souvenirs aren’t worth much. In fact, I’ll offer a definition of a souvenir: “An item that makes you smile when you see it on the tourist shop shelf and makes you frown with befuddlement when you see it at home."

But in another view, they’re treasured remembrances of good experiences long ago and maybe in far away places. Nothing wrong with that.

So whatever happened to souvenirs? We’ve been privileged to travel to a few places and almost without exception the “souvenirs” one finds are items made somewhere else.

Why would I want to buy a souvenir in Thailand if the souvenir was made in Taiwan (or wherever) and can be found in every tourist shop this side of the equator? And probably points south too.

I was out and about in Cyprus today and found souvenirs made of everything-non-Cyprus and made everywhere-but-Cyprus. But this is not a Cypriot issue. I’ve seen this in the Bangkok, the Holy Land, Manila, Paris, Berlin, a host of Caribbean island ports, and more. I’ve seen this in virtually every tourist trap in the United States too.

Here’s what passes for souvenirs: trinkets, cheap, non-locally made, same ol same ol, plastic or soap stone, baseball caps and t-shirts (Do we really need more? Is “I’ve Been To Paphos” a good buy?), factory made, items that have nothing to do with the locale or culture, gag gifts. Gag gifts? Yes.

My favorite store name in Cyprus is “Romantic Supermarket and Suvenirs.” I’m not into their “suvenirs,” but they do have some romantic cashews and chocolate candy bars that are pretty good.

Of course, in some if not most destinations you can find shops that offer higher-end, which is to say expensive, souvenirs. But even in these shops many of the items and much of the art comes from non-local craftsmen or artists.

If I’m going to buy a souvenir I’d like it to be something that actually originated in country and represents the local culture. Folk art is great, but again, it’s hard to find, at least without going out of the way to non-tourist areas, something you cannot always do.

Well, so much for this ode to souvenirs with character. Original souvenirs, we hardly knew ye.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow Dr. Rogers at

I’m spending the week in Cyprus working with SAT-7 staff and board members and interacting at least here and there with Cypriots. The SAT-7 staff and board are an international group—Lebanese, Egyptian, Danish, English, Irish, American, Swedish, Palestinian, Syrian, Jordanian, and more. They speak a list of languages, Arabic mostly and English always as a second language, so they’re a smart assembly of people.

All the staff and board members, like me, bring their cultural backgrounds to the table. We can’t help it. Our culture is part of who we are and part of what makes us individually intrinsically interesting.

My interest in culture, which simply means “way of life,” began in high school and went into orbit in college. Culture encompasses anthropology and social science, which typically includes language, religion, politics, and economics. (Though one scholar, Henry Van Til, argued religion comes first and defined culture as “religion externalized.”) Culture is about human beings, their ethnicity, nationality, race, gender, and most importantly, worldview.

Culture shows up in how we eat, what we wear, how we marry and bury, what music we like, and how we rear our children. It’s a filter and an amplifier through which we view the world and life and everything within it.

Culture is powerful, sometimes it seems near overwhelmingly so. Though I concede it's an incredibly powerful influence, I do not believe in “cultural determinism.” This is the idea that where we live or how we’re raised dictates all that we are thereafter. My theology doesn’t let me go there. For Christians, for example, God places us “In the World,” but commands us to be “Not of the World” even as we go “Into the World.”(John 17). The idea and reality of the Christian faith belies the idea of cultural determinism, or for that matter, economic or any other determinism.

True Christian faith, empowered by the Holy Spirit, enables anyone to change, to become something different than they were before. This doesn’t mean all cultural practices are bad or wrong or must change with Christian faith. It simply means that some things must change and can change with God’s intervention. Theologians call it conversion, being “born again,” along with the sanctification (Romans 12:2) process that should follow thereafter.

So culture is, and when you travel, culture is fun. I enjoy hearing accents, seeing different dress, eating food I don’t recognize, not being able to get ice in my drinks, trying to understand why my approach to resolving an issue is so perplexing to my friends, or vice versa, hearing-but-not-understanding—and that’s in English, watching how spouses relate to one another, seeing wedding rings on right hands, driving on the left side of the road, not being able to find Half-and-Half, or in fact, seeing wrinkled brows when I say “cream.” I enjoy finding shampoo affixed to the wall in little dispensers, showering using a hose apparatus, surfing through television channels in Arabic, Russian, Greek, English, and I-don’t-know-what-that-one-was.

Culture is one of God’s blessings. It makes human beings different. So it makes us as varied as flowers in the wilderness and, therefore, forever fascinating. What a boring place the world would be if we were all alike.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow Dr. Rogers at

Gunmen surprised worshippers and seized a Baghdad church during an evening Sunday service. Before it was over more than 60 people, including the priest, were killed when government security forces stormed the church to free the more than 100 Iraqi Catholics who’d been captured. Eventually, the eight assailants involved were also killed.

This didn’t happen due to “forces beyond our control.” It didn’t happen because of unruly weather. It happened because people made bad choices. It was an avoidable tragedy, so why did God allow it?

Tragedy is a conversational word that means disaster, sadness, or unexpected developments that victimize human happiness, wellbeing, and even lives.

Theodicy is a less often used word that means a vindication of divine justice in allowing evil, suffering, or tragedies to exist.

Tragedies we’ve seen, perhaps experienced, and all-too-painfully understand. Theodicy, the idea that God has a reason for tragedies, the idea that God allows or, even more discomforting, directs tragedies is not so easy to understand.

Yet if we believe in the God of the Bible we must acknowledge his sovereignty, omniscience, and omnipotence. He is in control. He knows all things. Nothing is a surprise or an accident to him. He is all-powerful, so nothing happens outside of his will or influence. Not 9/11, not this senseless brutality against innocent churchgoers.

In the wake of earthquakes or tsunamis taking the lives of tens of thousands of people, including children, the idea that God could have thwarted these so-called “natural” disasters is a difficult theological pill to swallow. In the face of wars that decimate entire populations of people, the idea that God could have stopped the carnage seems to beg the question of God’s purported love and compassion for people. In the after-shock of senseless violence and unnecessary death, the thought that God could have prevented the tragedy tests our faith.

So some question God’s existence, some his goodness. Some, like Job’s wife, simply want to curse God and die.

Yet in the Book of Job, the oldest scriptural writings, God does not answer all of Job’s questions. God reminds Job and us that he, God, is great. That he is good.  That he is just.  That he is love.  God is big—bigger than our circumstances, bigger than suicide bombers, terrorists, or well-armed thugs.

Theodicy, in the end, requires faith—faith in a God whose goal is to reconcile us with him, even through tragedies. This, in turn, requires a right understanding of theology. To interpret properly the world and its volatile events we must know who God is, what comprises his character, and what he wills for the world in which we live.

Tragedy is abrupt and often life altering. Theodicy can meet our rational need to know why and our emotional need for comfort.  Theology provides us with understanding of a God who is not mean, vindictive, arbitrary, or clueless but a God who is love, righteous, and peace.

I don’t know why these particular church worshippers were made victims of this tragedy. But I don’t believe in bad luck, the fates, or whimsical deities. I believe in the God of the Bible who will bring all things to account.

We should pray for the Iraqi families devastated by this tragedy. And we can ask God to bring them in contact with Christians who can testify to God’s goodness in the face of evil.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010


Originally posted as “Theology and Technology,” in “Making a Difference" #437.

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow Dr. Rogers at


A spate of articles hit the media this week reporting that Dr. Robert H. Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral filed for bankruptcy protection. Church leaders blamed the economy, drops in attendance, and a large mortgage debt, some $30 million left over from building expansion. According to the church leaders, then, the church has problems and money is the culprit.

But money isn’t usually an organization’s primary problem. Money is more of a symptom than a cause. Sure, some organizations or corporations can truly be caught in the unpredictable vagaries of the marketplace, but imoney is generally a secondary issue.

It’s not unlike couples telling marriage counselors they’re having sex-related problems in their marriage. Again, could be, maybe; perhaps there are genuine, discrete problems rooted strictly in sex. But not usually. Experienced marriage counselors know there’s almost always something else, some other breakdown in the couple’s life or relationship, a primary problem that generates a secondary or contingent sex problem. Money problems in marriage and in organizations are like that too.

The real issue at the Crystal Cathedral is not money but leadership. I visited the Cathedral last winter and wrote about my impressions at the time. I think what I said then holds true today. Dr. Robert H. Schuller didn’t know when to let go. I doubt he was clueless on these mathers—he’s too gifted for that to be the case. No, he either didn’t want to or couldn’t let go.

Dr. Schuller, to give him credit, tried to leave in 2006 when he transferred leadership to his son, Robert A. Schuller. But it didn’t work. Son was gone less than three years later. Despite news coverage no one’s quite sure why. But whatever the surface issues the real problem was leadership again.

At the time, rather than conduct a national search for a pastor capable of leading the church, Dr. Schuller returned and stayed long past a time when he, because of age, could be effective in the pulpit and in leadership. He didn’t change, apparently didn’t let his son change things, and didn’t respond to cultural shifts in the Christian community.

None of this is intended as disrespect for Dr. Schuller. He’s a pastor who accomplished many good things, and whom he is and what he seemed to do in mishandling leadership are all quite human.

But the issue is still leadership. Great leaders know when to leave. Unless God removes them in some way, great leaders leave a legacy to build upon and they leave with their head up.

In football, Tony Dungy, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, is an example of a great leader who knew when to leave and left gracefully. Bobby Bowden, formerly of the Florida State University Seminoles, is an example of a good leader who didn’t know when to leave, was eventually forced out, and left a legacy of public bitterness and ungraciousness in the process. It’s too bad, because in almost every other way Bobby Bowden is a good man of great achievements.

Dr. Robert A. Schuller is a good man of great achievements, but he didn’t handle well the leadership succession imperative that comes to every leader. Rev. Jerry Falwell planned well, and when God called him home, the plans worked perfectly for the good of the ministries Dr. Falwell led. Rev. Billy Graham planned well, and when advancing age began taking its toll, the planned transition to son Franklin worked admirably.

Money is the great equalizer, so if leaders misstep the mistakes sometimes show up in the bottom line. The Crystal Cathedral needs funds to continue operation, but what it needs more is a vibrant, visionary new leader. Here’s hoping those who care for the Crystal Cathedral ministry realize this and launch not a fundraising campaign but a leadership search.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010


*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow Dr. Rogers at


Halloween is strange in more ways than one. It’s a holiday, so to speak, that started Good, became Bad, and has now turned increasingly Ugly. Yet some of the Good remains.

The Good

Halloween, insofar as it’s about children, innocence, harmless fantasy, candy, and fun is a good thing. That’s the Halloween I grew up with and that’s the Halloween our children experienced. It’s costumes and laughter, silliness, and excitement about how much chocolate you bagged.

Good Halloween is parents, grandparents, or older siblings or friends or relatives standing at the end of driveways waiting for unrecognizable, sort of, children to return. It’s telling them not to run on uneven sidewalks with masks on their face, inevitably being ignored, and inevitably picking someone up, along with their spilled candy. I’ve done this at least a hundred times.

Good Halloween is pumpkin carving, candles, and low-level scary things like black cats in the dark, sheet-ghosts, and big dark Victorian houses.

The annual Pumpkin Carving Night my wife initiated is now about 15 years old, at least. Ten, fifteen, twenty family members and friends show up. We’ve watched girlfriends come and go and a couple of them come and never go—now one of them brings along our baby grandson. It’s a great night of frivolous frivolity. And in a few words, it’s just “good clean fun.” Or maybe not so clean because it produces tons of pumpkin innards.

Halloween can be Good.

The Bad

Halloween has been a suspect holiday from a Christian point of view for a long time. It began, though, as “Holy” or “Hallow’s Eve,” (Halloween) the evening before a church-established holiday called “All Saints' Day,” on which martyrs were remembered. In the early centuries of the church, so many people were martyred for their faith that a special holiday was needed to honor them.

In the Eighth Century, things took a wrong turn. Hallow’s Eve began to be associated with pagan beliefs, including the Celtic festival Samhain. On this day people believed the dead came back and walked among the living. It wasn’t long before people engaged this day by wearing masks, dressing as the dead, introducing bloody sacrifices of animals or even human beings, and worshipping or otherwise practicing the occult, along with attempts to contact the dead, evil spirits, and the Devil himself. Superstitions ran amok.

Costumes became symbols of ghosts and goblins. “Trick or Treat” originated in the belief dead souls were hungry, so food was put out to appease them, or they might respond angrily…with a trick. Jack-o-lanterns were born around Druid religious fires built to ward off evil spirits. People carried home some of the “sacred” fire in hollow vegetables.

It’s too bad we’ve lost the sense of respect represented in All Saints or All Hallow’s Day. Thinking about the martyrs of the faith would be a meaningful reminder in an age that believes nothing significant has gone before. And by the way, it’s of more than passing historical interest that Martin Luther chose October 31, 1517 as the day to post his “95 Theses” on the Wittenberg Door.

Halloween can be Bad.

The Ugly

To say things have gone from bad to worse for Halloween in the past, say, twenty-five years doesn’t cut it. It’s gone from bad to ugly.

Urban centers are especially vulnerable, but virtually every region of the country has experienced the horror of children discovering razor blades embedded in apples or poison in candy. Who could do this? Yet it happens.

Cities like Detroit have been forced to introduce curfews or even suspend Halloween events in an attempt to control burning on Devil’s Night or Fright Night. The New Jersey Department of Education has designated the third week of October “Violence and Vandalism Week,” and conducts awareness programs to warn parents. School districts across the country have cancelled Halloween festivities in the name of safety for children.

Meanwhile, Halloween in the marketplace has become a celebration of the ghoulishness, vulgarity, gore, slashers, sensuality even for young children, mutilation, and gaudy Mardi Gras-like orgy. In neighborhoods, malicious pranks have increased, as have juvenile delinquency and property destruction. No longer do a group of boys coax a cow onto the school rooftop. Now they break windows, set fire to laboratories, or assault passers-by, all in the name of Halloween.

Halloween can be Ugly.

So What Now?

Has Halloween become an increasingly threatening nemesis of our children? Should we ignore or maybe resist it?

Many Christian families take a “Total Withdrawal” approach and no longer observe Halloween other than perhaps via church-sponsored Halloween-alternative events. Other Christian families opt for a “Selective Participation” approach, looking upon Halloween like everything else, as a matter for spiritual discernment. Still others abandon Halloween because they don't like the high sugar content and low nutrition value of typical Halloween candy.

Our family applied the Selective Participation approach, and I think it worked well. I'm not against all Halloween celebrations and certainly not against children enjoying dress-up fantasy and candy. Nor am I against some scary entertainment, though horror in general is not my thing and I admire Stephen King more as an author than as horror-king. Some of Halloween is fun, but I'm usually glad each year when the day has come and gone because much in the media run-up is grotesque theatre of the absurd.

Halloween is part of cultural change. It requires us to apply our faith in a way that "tests the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1). Only in this way will we be able to maintain a biblical view of the world in the time in which God has placed us.

Talk about all this with your children in light of God's Word. Make Halloween, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, into something that's positive for your kids. Make Halloween a teaching moment.

Halloween is now the second-highest money making holiday of the year. It’s not going to go away. So we have to discern what’s good and enjoy. Teach your kids, line upon line, precept upon precept.

And oh, our annual Pumpkin Carving Night is tonight.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow Dr. Rogers at


I just voted via absentee ballot in my home state of Michigan, a state that’s behind the times with no early voting privilege available. This should change.

I’ll be in Cyprus on Election Day, yet I could not vote early, at least not easily. I had to drive to the local township clerk’s office, secure an absentee ballot by affirming that I’d be out of the community the entire Election Day, and vote on a ballot to be submitted by 8:00 pm November 2.

Now some could argue what’s the difference? I got to vote, and if an early voting option had been available I’d have simply followed a different path to the same end. Fair enough. But there’s still certain criteria under which one must qualify to be allowed an absentee ballot. Fortunately I fit the out-of-community item. But what if I simply wanted to vote early for a variety of other legitimate but not approved reasons? Then I’d have been disenfranchised.

Some 32 states and the District of Columbia permit early voting, generally 10 to 14 days prior to an election. “No excuse” absentee voting is offered in 30 states.

The first absentee ballots were made available to Civil War soldiers in 1864. State approval of “no excuse” absentee voting and early voting options has grown steadily in the past twenty years.

Early voting is convenient—typically no long lines. It’s generally quicker. The electorate likes it: 15% voted early in the 2000 election, 20% in 2004, and about 25% in 2006. In the 2008 presidential election, about one-third of all votes cast were submitted via some non-traditional voting format, i.e. something other than standing in a line on Election Day in order to cast a ballot.

Some people argue early voting results in partisan bias. When it was first tried, maybe, in that only certain kinds of voters tended to participate. Now, though, as early voting has become more common, a more diverse cross-section of the public vote early. No clear partisan advantage can be consistently demonstrated.

Some argue early voting increases state election costs, and people argue on both sides of the encourages/discourages turnout debate. Yet states have found ways to keep costs contained and turnout results tend to follow known electoral patterns regardless of when people vote.

There clearly is, though, one downside of voting early. Thankfully it’s rare, but it’s still possible. It’s not a disadvantage for local, state, or federal governments necessarily, but it could be a bummer for the one who voted early.

What if you vote, say, 12 days before the election and something untoward develops in the campaign on the last day or two before Election Day? What if this development significantly changed your attitude toward the candidate for whom you voted? What if you now wished you’d voted differently, but your vote’s already been counted?

In 2000, just four days before the national presidential election, a DUI story broke about then-Governor and candidate George W. Bush. This story changed some peoples’ minds about Mr. Bush. How many is difficult to determine, and he did, after a few months and a court case, win the election anyway. But it nearly sank his campaign.

Still, as long as voter fraud can be prevented, and it has been thus far, states should adopt an early voting option. If the point is to get people to take their democratic responsibilities and privileges seriously and to vote, why not make it as easy for them as possible?

Early voting seems to be an option whose time has come. I vote for adoption of early voting in the State of Michigan.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow Dr. Rogers at