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.
On July 7th, 2005, Islamic terrorists carried out a series of attacks targeting civilian passengers on London’s public transportation system. There were more than 700 casualties in what became known as the “7/7 Attacks”, with 56 people killed, including the 4 suicide bombers. Germaine Lindsay was one of those radical jihadists.

In the aftermath, Lewthwaite at first became a sort-of cause celeb in the Brit tabloids. She reported him missing six days after the bombings, and when it was learned that he was one of the attackers, she denied any knowledge of his activities, and in fact publicly condemned them. She defended her husband as having been a recent convert who was tricked into complicity by extremists. The white local woman who had married a black Muslim was treated sympathetically in front page stories for a time.

However, interviews with her family members, and the continuing investigation began to reveal cracks in her story. Her own early life conversion became known, and a pre-7/7 association with Mohammad Sidique Khan, ringleader of the attack, came to light. At some point in the next couple of years, she met and married suspected Islamic terrorist Habib Saleh Ghani. In 2009, she had another child which was likely Ghani’s, though no father was ever named officially.

Around that time, Lewthwaite and her children simply disappeared. Reports had her in the north of England, and then somewhere in the Middle East or Africa, possibly in Tanzania or Somalia. In February of 2012, she re-emerged, or at least her identity did. Anti-terrorist police in Kenya issued a warrant for her arrest under the name Natalie Faye Webb, and it came to light that she was an integral player in the Al-Shabaab cell of al-Qaeda.

Investigators uncovered her diary, which among other things related that she was the “devoted wife of a mujihadeen” (holy warrior), and that as such she must be discreet, obedient, and must understand that “both he and his wife would be cut off from their families” while pursuing jihad (holy war.)

Subsequent investigations have revealed that she is a leader and organizer in the cell, not usually carrying out attacks herself directly, but a key cog in the important areas of fund-raising, weapons acquisition, concealing and transporting of individuals, and more. In March of 2012, the CIA joined the hunt for Lewthwaite, who would begin stepping up her activities.

In June 2012, patrons were crowded into a bar in Mombasa, Kenya to watch a Euro 2012 match between Italy and England. The bar was attacked by Islamists who tossed grenades, and a number of people were killed and wounded. She is now wanted as having orchestrated that attack.

Today, Interpol has issued what is known as a ‘Red Alert’ on the woman born as Samantha Lewthwaite. This amounts to an international warrant for her arrest. This month, the Westgate Mall in Nairobi was attacked by Al-Shabaab. Information has surfaced that 2-3 American natives were involved, as well as a Brit female who accompanied them. This is believed now to have been Lewthwaite.

Despite some reports that a white woman was found among the dead bodies at Westgate, believed to have been one of the terrorists, early speculation that this was perhaps Lewthwaite appear to run contrary to today’s Red Alert issuance. Was the ‘White Widow’ finally brought down in Kenya, or is ‘The Most Dangerous Woman in the World’ still out there, waiting to strike yet again? Time will tell.

The tale of Samantha Lewthwaite, the young girl born into a typical Northern Irish family, is the story of a criminal and a terrorist. But it is also a cautionary tale, representative of a growing problem: the changing face of radical Islam.

Young, middle-class, white natives of European countries, especially Great Britain, as well as Canada and the United States, being seduced into the Muslim ‘faith’, indoctrinated into radicalism, and growing into less conspicuous, and thus in many concrete ways more dangerous, allies in the Islamic Jihad against the west that continues today.

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.

In that 1983 series, Bond’s yacht “Australia II” showed up with a major engineering design enhancement, a winged keel that proved to give it a significant advantage in ‘stays’, though a disadvantage in choppy seas. Still, in good conditions anyway, the Aussies now were able to fight the Americans evenly, and it showed on the course.

Australia II had dominated the challenger series and was considered a formidable match for Dennis Connor and his “Liberty” yacht acting as the American defender. The American team won the first two races in the best-of-7 series, and held a 3-1 lead looking to bring the Cup home once again for the New York Yacht Club. But then, history happened. Australia II and skipper John Bertrand won the next two races, forcing a 7th and deciding race for the first time in the competition history.

On September 26th, 1983, almost 30 years to the date ago, Connor and the crew of Liberty bolted out to an early 8 second lead. But that lead would not hold. The two crews battled hard, and the lead changed hands 3 times. On the next-to-last leg, Australia II and her hard-working crew took the lead. Down the stretch towards the finish, they continued to widen their lead as the conditions greatly favored the winged keel. The Aussies pushed across the finish line a healthy 41 seconds ahead of the Americans, and the America’s Cup was no longer America’s property.

The Royal Perth Yacht Club of Australia were now the Cup holders, and the Aussies would defend their new hardware successfully in 1987 at the Port of Perth in Fremantle Harbour, sweeping the first non-New York entry from America in 4 straight races. The San Diego Yacht Club had taken the challenger series, but her boat “Stars and Stripes“, skippered again by Connor, proved no match for the Aussie’s “Kookaburra III” yacht.

The rivalry was clearly on between the Americans and the Australians for yacht-racing supremacy. A year after the loss in Perth, Connor came back with a catamaran design in a challenge that the SDYC hosted at San Diego. The Aussies had called for the challenge in shorter than the usual 3-4 years, and ultimately paid by giving up the America’s Cup in a sweep to “Stars & Stripes 88” of the USA.

In the quarter-century since, the America’s Cup has see-sawed in and out of different hands. Four years after Connor had reclaimed it, Bill Koch and “America3” successfully defended, but would be the last American winner until 2010. Americans lost the cup again in 1995 to a team from New Zealand, and then could not even get back to the finals until 2010. In between, the Kiwi’s and a Swiss team ‘Alinghi’ had overtaken the Americans former dominance.

In 2010, ‘BMW Oracle Racing’ and the ‘Golden Gate Yacht Club’ successfully stepped up to the challenge, and finally brought the America’s Cup home with “USA-17“, sweeping “Alinghi 5” in the finals off the coast of Valencia, Spain. And so we built up to the current America’s Cup finals, where ‘Oracle Team USA’ and the GGYC are hosting in the San Francisco Bay, the first-ever races in American inland waters that bring the racing within view of the shoreline.

With a newer class of speedier boats sailing under new rules, the competition has been fierce, and accidents have been many in the challenger series leading up to these finals pitting USA’s ‘Oracle Team USA’ against the challenger’s ‘Emirates Team New Zealand’. These are now a first-to-9 wins series, and Emirates bolted to an 8-1 lead. With the America’s Cup in sight, the Americans fought back, winning 7 straight races to tie the series and set up today’s winner-take-all race.

As I type this, the deciding race is coming down to the dramatic finish. The Kiwis bolted to an early lead, and held their lead at the 2nd of 4 gates, but the Americans caught, passed, and have pulled away from them, taking a huge lead coming towards the finish. And there it is, the Americans win! Oracle ends with a massive pull away victory, and an epic series comeback. For the first time in 2 decades, America’s Cup has been won by the Americans in back-to-back competitions. All is right with the world, at least the world of expensive yachting.

Sunday Sermon: 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.

Then tell God plainly what it is that you request: healing for a sick loved one, guidance for a wayward child, wisdom for a life or work partner, success of your team or group, peace on Earth among nations. This can be a quick process undertaken in seconds. It can go on for any length of time that you choose, and can incorporate formal prayer such as the Our Father, or the rosary.

For the source in authority on the validity of intercessory prayer, you need turn only to the Bible and read the stories of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel and many more, who regularly prayed such prayers. In the New Testament’s ‘Acts of the Apostles’, it is said that while Peter was in prison, the church made earnest prayer to God on his behalf. Paul consistently asked the church to pray on his behalf, that the doors to men’s hearts might be open to his teaching.

Throughout the New Testament we read of the Holy Spirit as an intercessor. It is always appropriate, if one wishes, to pray for the Spirit to intercede on our behalf with the Father, knowing that the Father and the Spirit are actually One. The Church also teaches that we may pray for our Blessed Mother, Mary, to intercede with Jesus on behalf of our intentions. The same with the saints and other holy deceased.

Some have a problem with this idea of praying to Mary or a saint. This is a complete misunderstanding on their part. No one prays “to” Mary. All prayers are directly to God, or to Jesus Christ, the only true intercessor directly to God. Our prayers of intercession, whether by ourselves on behalf of another human, or calling on Mary or a saint or a holy person in heaven on behalf of our intention, are always directed through ourselves or that spiritual intercessor to Christ.

So who can and do we pray for, and what are the limits of effectiveness to our prayers? Those are actually the easiest questions to answer. The “who” of your intercessory prayer is individual and personal to you: who or what is so important to you, so vital, so beloved that you are driven to prayer on behalf of that person or cause? Fervent prayers on behalf of an ill or injured loved one are something recognizable to every Christian.

As to the limits on the effectiveness of our prayers, the simple answer is that there are none. Every one of your prayers when offered in the correct spirit will be heard by God. In fact, He will answer every prayer as well. You may not get the exact result that your human heart would hope for, but you need to accept that your prayer was indeed heard, and that God will indeed act on it as best for you as possible within His greater plan.

Who should we pray for? Pray for your loved ones in need: physical need when ill, especially when mortally wounded or deathly ill. No one will live forever. We all have a time. Our prayers should be, if it is possible in God’s plan, that our loved one be healed and returned to us, but that if God has a greater plan, may our loved one be free of pain, and if taken from us, that they be forgiven of any sins and taken into the peace of God’s kingdom.

Another important prayer of intercession is for lost loved ones. It is one of our responsibilities as a Christian to be regularly praying for those who we love who appear to have turned their own backs on the Lord. We should pray, of course, that they be inspired to return to Him, and to openly embrace the love that God wants for their life here on Earth. We should also pray that, should they be taken, their sins be forgiven, and that God might have mercy on their souls and make a place in His kingdom for them.

So pray for your loved ones, and for your friends, and for your co-workers. Pray for your fellow parishioners, your priests, your teachers. Pray for your teammates, your political leaders, your spiritual leaders. Pray for your family, your nation, the Church. It is always good and right to pray those intercessory prayers. But a final thought: pray for yourself. We all need it, and there is nothing selfish about it. In fact, it is your first responsibility, to make sure that you yourself are right with the Lord.

God bless you.

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?
How many times did you make a wrong turn, depend on the wrong person, fail to receive some type of anticipated support, gotten sick, lost something, run late, or had any number of other scenarios occur to interrupt and disrupt those plans?

Today, the life expectancy of an average American is up to almost 79 years. For Canadians and Brits, that number is almost 81. And for the Japanese, their life expectancy is over 82.5 years of age. In China, life expectancy is almost 73.5 years, and in India the number is at almost 65.5 years.

When people look at these numbers and see disparity between a native of China expecting to live to 73 years of age, and a Japanese native expecting 83, we wonder about that decade of difference, and we rightly try to examine the many factors that go into one group of people having a longer life, and in many cases, a better quality of life, than others.

But the fact is that whether you live in India or China or the United States, those are average numbers. They are the “expectancy” based on any individual living out a full, “natural” life span. We all know that there are people who live to be 80, 82, 85 and even higher in the United States.

To keep that expectancy number at 79 years on average, there is a trade-off. For every American who lives to 85, and there are many, there are just as many only living to 73. For everyone living into their 90’s, there are people dying in their 60’s.

How about this one? You live to be 100 years of age or more! Congratulations to you, at least assuming you have most of your mental faculties and physical capacities, adjusted for aging, of course.

So you’re 100 or over? Well, there are more than 53,000 of you right now in the United States alone. 53,000 who beat the expectancy age of 79 by 21 or more years. But all that means is that there are at least as many who have died at age 58 or less.

Now that phenomenon and those statistics may not be exact, but you get the idea – there are no guarantees. You might make 79. You might make 100. You also might make only 58, or less. And there is nothing unnatural about it. In fact, it is to be expected.

Why does God allow some people to reach 100 and others to be taken from their families at birth? Why do some die quietly in their beds in their 80’s after a mostly healthy life, while others die broken and bloodied on a battlefield thousands of miles from their homes? Who do some commit murder and go on to live 50 years in prison, while an innocent 12-year old is killed riding their bicycle outside their home?

Why do you decide you want to be a priest, enter the seminary, and end up 10 years later as a firefighter, married with 3 children? Why do you look forward to celebrating your wife’s 39th birthday with her in a couple months, planning a dinner or party, only to have her die from a massive heart attack two days after you make the reservations? Why do you move your family across town to your dream house in your ideal neighborhood, only to find the home destroyed a year later by flood, fire, or storm?

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Frankly, each of our lives is visited at some time or other by illness, loss, tragedy, and death. For some, it happens too early, or too often, or too close together, or too painfully or violently. Almost any time, it happens too soon. Sooner than we ever could expect. Sooner than we feel is justified by a benevolent God. Certainly sooner than we ourselves had ever planned.

There are dozens of atheist reasons against their belief in God. I am certainly not going to make these incorrect, flawed arguments on their behalf. But one of those reasons involves this issue of a loving, caring, just God allowing injustice, disaster, destruction, and even murder. Why wouldn’t such a God step in and intervene? How could He allow such pain and suffering?

And if indeed God has a “plan” for each of us, then was a part of that plan for us to be shot by a robber, or stabbed by a jealous lover, or run down by a drunk driver, or have our plane flown into a tower? If not, has that killer intervened in God’s plan, and if so, does that mean God Himself can have His plans thwarted?

And if we are all out here making plans for our lives, and those plans are disrupted by major injury, illness, disaster, or even death, was that God intervening and changing our lives? Is God actually sitting somewhere, waiting for us to make a plan for our lives, watching us, waiting for a chance to laugh on seeing our reaction as his greater destiny for us unfolds? And if so, what’s so funny about it, especially when it involves hurt and pain?

Simply, the answer is a resounding “no”, God is not really out there laughing at us, or waiting to laugh as we make plans that He knows are contradictory to His own, that He knows will ultimately fail. And God certainly is not doing so when that involves our pain and suffering.

There is a simple, although unsatisfying for some, answer as to the ‘when’ and ‘why’ of our ultimate destiny here on Earth. The fact is that we all have a “time” allotted to us. There is a day and an a hour and a moment out there which will be our last. The circumstances surrounding that ultimate final moment for each of us are different, and may seem arbitrary to us.

Why those circumstances? Why do some go with ease while others suffer? Why do some slip away over time while others are snatched away suddenly? The fact is, there are some questions that we must all learn to accept we will never, ever receive an answer to in this mortal, human life.

There is also a simple answer as to the similar question regarding the circumstances of our lives. Why do we make plans, sometimes rearranging our lives, investing our time and talent and treasure, building up hope inside, only to have sudden circumstances alter those carefully conceived ideas? Why would God not reward such dedication, perseverance, and discipline on our part?

The answer is that maybe He will, maybe He won’t – it all depends on what God ultimately has in store for you within His own plan. Perhaps you are being inspired by the Holy Spirit down the right path, and your plans will be rewarded. But perhaps you are making all the wrong plans for all the wrong reasons.

Do we not have a “free will” to choose for ourselves what is best for us? You do indeed have that freedom. However, there are ramifications for each of our choices and decisions. There is a price to be paid for everything. Which direction you drive home today, where you go for lunch, who you have sexual relations with, how many drinks you consume at the bar, what you choose to eat each day  – every decision matters. Those decisions may determine the final “where” and “how” as each of our ultimate “when” becomes imminent.

Every decision isn’t “life and death”, those are just the biggest decisions with the biggest ramifications. We make numerous small decisions each day, some of which we know are wrong, some of which may result in a mild chastisement from that loving God as a direct attempt to teach us a lesson.

In some of those instances, I can definitely see the Lord sitting back and having a little laugh at our relatively unharmed expense, especially when we do indeed learn those lessons. It is only my own personal belief, but I believe in a God with a sense of humor.

But the pain, suffering, destruction, and the death that comes naturally as a part of this human life on Earth? There is nothing funny about those things to our loving God. He suffers with us, indeed, he sent his only Son here specifically to suffer and die on our behalf. He knows our pain.

He asks that we accept Him as our God. He asks that we persevere to the end through whatever the challenge, trusting Him in all circumstances, no matter how challenging or unjust they may seem to us.

He asks that we believe in the truth that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience, knowing that any hurt, pain, sadness, and despair are only temporary. He asks this knowing that heaven is forever, the ultimate reward for those who do remain strong in the challenge of life’s pain and grief, and who choose to remain strong in their faith and belief in Him.

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.

At age 17, Vail joined the Guard in her home state of Kansas. Turning 23 years old in just over two weeks, she is now the section leader with her Kansas Army National Guard Medical Detachment. She is a Distinguished Honor Graduate of both the Army School of Health Sciences and the Army School of Ordnance. This is a woman who can help her country in both the dental chair and a foxhole.

In her education, Vail is now a senior at Kansas State University, with a dual major in Chemistry and Chinese – she actually speaks Chinese fluently, something picked up in her military travels. An avid outdoors woman, she is an expert archer who has run an all-girls archery clinic, and is an expert marksman with the M16 rifle in the Army.

She is CEO and founder of her own ‘Miss Outdoor’ brand and website, and spokesperson for the hunting company ‘Suburban Woodsman’. Her talent for the pageant? Singing opera style.

As you can see, Theresa Vail is far more than any beauty pageant stereotype. Her platform issue for Miss America is “Empowering Women: Overcoming Stereotypes and Breaking Barriers.” She grew up being bullied as a small child, made fun of due to some childhood dental issues.

Her father, an Army dentist, fixed her teeth at age 10, and she says the results changed her self-image and her entire life. It gave her immense confidence, and has inspired her most important life choices, including her following him into service to her country and the dental profession.

There are many people who have a problem with beauty pageants. Those individuals in general feel that pageants are exploitative of women, or that they emphasize physical beauty too much. The critics say that these pageants and the physical appearance of the women who participate in them lead young girls to feel inferior when they can’t match up to such standards, or hurt themselves trying to reach them. There are also ultra-moralists who simply think that things like a bikini element are immodest, even immoral.

In Vail’s case, there have been critics who, while supportive of the pageant experience, feel her tattoos are nothing to be celebrated. Their comments have been along the lines of the tattoos taking away from some natural beauty that they believe should be the basis of the contestant’s appeal.

One critic to come has been Donald Trump, owner of the Miss Universe Organization which runs the Miss USA pageant: “I don’t understand what’s going on with tattoos. I would certainly not want it. I would not want somebody that I’m close to to have it.

Trump is entitled to his opinion, as are the critics of beauty pageants in general, and bikini competitions in particular. As for me, I feel that there is nothing immodest or immoral about pageants or physical beauty contests. As a man, that type of opinion can be open to it’s own smirking criticism. I don’t care. I think that a beautiful woman with a beautiful body should not be viewed at all negatively, but instead as an inspiration to health.

No, not everyone will reach some perceived ideal, but there should always be examples for all of us to try and emulate to become our own personal best.

As for the tattoos, and in fact pageants as well, to me it is all about the “what” and the “where” and the “why”, and nothing at all to do with the tattoo itself. A positive message or image in an attractive location that does not take away from the rest of a person’s look? I see that as only positive. And if it makes that individual feel better about themselves, all the better, all the more inspirational. Miss Kansas’ tattoo meets the criteria in all of those ways.

Theresa Vail is a fine example for any young woman to look up to: God-loving, attractive, intelligent, educated, self-reliant. She serves her country, and is setting up her life to serve her fellow man in the medical profession.

Critics of her should frankly be ashamed of themselves. This is exactly the kind of young person that we all should be praying for more of in today’s society. No, there is nothing wrong with Theresa, and there is nothing wrong with pageants or tattoos.