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Though you will be reading this article after the New Year has begun, I am writing this on December 30th, so some random thoughts about this annual opportunity to review and regroup seem in order.

I heard a wonderful sermon today by Pastor Rick Hawks of The Chapel. He discussed the concept of resolutions and goals for the New Year, and emphasized the idea that one should formulate those goals so as to please God, and not oneself. So often, we make a resolution such as "This year, I am going to lose weight", or "I will become better organized", or a myriad of other self-improvement, inward-looking plans. Pastor Hawks' message, as I understood it, was that these typical goals are really shallow window dressing, and that only by trying to live one's life by working harder to be a better person, a better human being, and yes, a better Christian, could a true improvement be accomplished.

He also focused upon the words of the Apostle Paul, and suggested that a person should neither dwell upon past failures nor past successes, but instead focus upon the present and the future. Push yourself harder; look forward, not backward. You can begin today to make yourself a better person, a better spouse and parent, a better boss or employee, a better friend.

I thought this was a positive message, and a good way to focus one's goals for the coming year. Of course, anyone who has had the privilege to hear Rick Hawks preach understands what I am saying. He has a wonderful gift of relating the Bible to everyday life, especially to those who are finding religion at a time later in life.

On to other thoughts about 2002. The world at this time is a troubled and turbulent place, and by that comment, I'm sure most of you believe I am referring to our nation's war against terrorism in Afghanistan. However, there are clearly two other hot spots that have become, in light of our country's success against the Taliban, to be even greater threats to world peace: the increasing hostility between India and Pakistan, as well as the never-ending conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In each of these situations, we have centuries old conflicts and hatreds that continue to defy a logical resolution. Unfortunately for the world, these hostilities are heating up in a way which threatens all of us, for a global conflict could erupt if we do not have some strong leadership and deft diplomacy from both western and Arab leaders. For that reason, our President is challenged in a way that few before him have ever been. I believe he is up to the challenge,

The conflict between India and Pakistan reaches back centuries, but in modern terms can be traced to the end of British rule in India after World War II. A political compromise was forged which prevented the traditional animosity between Hindu and Moslem from erupting into a bloodbath of unimaginable proportions. The nation of Pakistan was formed and broken away from traditional India. This allowed the Moslems in traditional India to have a nation of their own, while leaving India to be governed by the substantially larger Hindu population. Nevertheless, there has been constant conflict between these nations since this post-war compromise. The reason it becomes a world problem is because both of these nations have nuclear capabilities, and are now threatening to use these weapons if either is attacked by the other. We don't need to go into the disaster that could befall the people of the world if these weapons were ever unleashed. Suffice it to say that bringing these two nations back from the brink of war is suddenly the most important foreign policy issue of the new century.

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians seems to be never-ending, and yet the current melt down has ramifications which reach far beyond what we are used to seeing in this region. It all started with the failure of the Clinton peace initiative, which was ill-advised, yet still, miraculously, had a chance of success if Yassir Arafat had been able to "pull the trigger" and accept what was a historic offer by the Israelis. The sad reality is that Arafat appears to lack the authority to bring about true peace in the region. As a result of the failure of those negotiations, a return to serious violence occurred, Ehud Barak lost power in Israel, and Ariel Sharon, a major hawk, became the new leader of the Israelis. It seems that Sharon and Arafat truly hate each other, and that neither man has the ability or desire to bring about a lasting peace in the region. However, Sharon appears to be riding a wave of great popularity in Israel with a public that has lost all tolerance for the continuous terrorist attacks by radical Palestinian groups. Sharon has cracked down with a vengeance, has had real success thus far, and therefore sees little reason to negotiate at this time.

The truth is, neither of these leaders represents the ultimate answer. It is clearly time for Arafat to move on. Who will replace him is unclear, but Arafat obviously lacks the muscle or the will necessary to allow serious negotiations to occur. Trying to deal with him any longer seems futile. Sharon is a much stronger leader, but he is an ultra hard liner who seems unwilling to part with the territory that will be necessary to create an independent Palestinian state.

The United States will play a critical role in trying to broker a ceasefire between these historic rivals. The hatred has been burned deeply into a new generation of Palestinians and Israelis. Yet there are, I believe, a majority on both sides who would prefer to have peace if it can be obtained in a fair and reasonable manner. The key is and always will be the fate of Jerusalem. Both sides consider this city to be their spiritual capital. If, somehow, an international city could be created which had its own governing body that was separate from a new Palestinian state as well as Israel, the major stumbling block to peace would be resolved. The odds of that occurring any time soon are bleak, so for the time being, stabilizing the situation is the best we can hope for.

Fortunately, we have a President and a cabinet that appear to have the skill and ability to work through the current crises that exist in these distant yet vital areas of the world. It will take tremendous patience, fortitude, and leadership to bring about peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East, but I believe our country and its foreign policy is in the best possible hands.

The year 2002 will be a memorable one, I believe. We have the hope of returning from the depths of a very difficult recession, both for our nation and our state. We have the uncertainty of working through the many dangerous foreign policy issues discussed above, not to mention the ongoing effort to stamp out terrorism. We have our State's own difficult decisions that will have to be made as a result of both our Budget shortfalls as well as Property Tax Reassessment.

Yet our nation and our State have had a strong new surge of optimism and patriotism since the tragedies of September 11th. And accompanying that renewed patriotism has been a spiritual reawakening in many Americans which is causing them to take a new and closer look at religion. That alone is reason to have hope for the future of our nation and our children.

May this year prove to be a turning point in world history that took us all down the road to global peace. May America get itself back to work with an economy that is stronger and better than ever. May our State leaders find the right answers to our fiscal problems. And may you and your loved ones have a happy and prosperous new year.


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