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Archive for February, 2014

Grace vs. Works

February 26th, 2014 No comments

The heart of the gospel is grace. It is not behavior modification.

Poor people are poor simply because they are lazy and irresponsible.

February 16th, 2014 No comments

I love the guy who sent me this. But, this particular little piece has only the benefit of delineating every shibboleth of the right. Otherwise it is riddled with so many logical and moral inconsistencies that it is really not worth repeating.  It occurs to me however that we ought to look at it and take the problem described out of the political realm and place it in the moral realm as a means of instruction about who we are and ought to be.

The underlying assumption of this story is that poor people are poor simply because they are lazy and irresponsible, and that therefore they are worthy of contempt. This rings very true to the American “Gospel of Wealth” (look it up), but it is not Biblical. The Bible tells us that God favors the poor and commands his people to care for them. Jesus was the richest “ant” of them all and he gave up all of his riches for the wretchedly poor and helpless “grasshoppers.” In case you’re wondering who that is, I suggest looking in the mirror. So the question is whether we ought to base our response to the poor on conservative American ideology or on the dictates and example of God’s Word.

Story follows:

OLD  VERSION

The  ant works hard  in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.
The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed.
The  grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the cold.

MORAL OF THE OLD STORY: Be responsible for yourself!

MODERN VERSION

The ant works hard in the withering heat and the rain all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.
The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while he is cold and starving..

CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, and ABC show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food. America is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so? Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper and everybody cries when they sing, ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green …’

Occupy the Anthill stages a demonstration in front of the ant’s house where the news stations film the SEIU group singing, We shall overcome.

Then Rev Al Sharpton’s assistant has the group kneel down to pray for the grasshopper while he damns the ants. The Reverend Al can not attend as he has contractual commitments to appear on his MSNBC show for which he is paid over two million dollars a year to complain that rich people do not care.

President Obama condemns the ant and blames President Bush 43, President Bush 41, President Reagan,  Christopher Columbus, and the
Pope for the grasshopper’s plight….

Nancy Pelosi & Harry Reid exclaim in an interview on The View that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and both call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.

Finally, the EEOC drafts the Economic Equity & Anti-Grasshopper Act retroactive to the beginning of the summer. The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the Government Green Czar and given to the grasshopper .

The story ends as we see the grasshopper and his free-loading friends finishing up the last bits of the ant’s food while the government house he is in, which, as you recall, just happens to be the ant’s old house, crumbles around them because the grasshopper doesn’t maintain it. The ant has disappeared in the snow, never to be seen again.

The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident, and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the ramshackle, once prosperous and peaceful, neighborhood. The entire Nation collapses bringing the rest of the free world with it.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Be careful how you vote in 2014 and 2016.

Descent Into Darkness

February 12th, 2014 No comments

Review of A Rumor of War by Phillip Caputo.

My interest in reading this book was really two-fold. On the one hand, as I age the military experience of my youth looms larger in my consciousness. I come from this generation. And even though as I said I wasn’t in ground combat I feel I should try and understand the experience in order to be able to better understand my peers. Secondly, as a history professor at a college in a military town I interact with a number of vets of more recent wars. Their presence in my classroom reminds me that though we have gone through the motions of contrition after Vietnam we really haven’t learned anything. I feel compelled to honor their service and I think one way to do that is to expose the lingering systemic disease. So I must try to understand it.

I want you to know that I really am not a fan of war stories. Even as a veteran I have always had a kind of a pacifist streak and the more so now that I am also engaged in Christian ministry. So I really had to force myself to read this book. I have to admit that the graphic descriptions of the action and the carnage held a certain fascination. But if that was what was at the heart of this book I would never have finished it.

In his postscript the author signals that he hopes his memoir will contain some kind of a universal appeal. He wants to show what happened in Vietnam, but he also wants his readers to ask larger questions. Questions that strike at the heart of what it means to be human. He succeeds brilliantly. Caputo vividly recounts the remarkably quick journey of an ordinary, good-natured American kid to a bloodthirsty soulless savage. We watch with fascination and we are not unsympathetic. We are forced to ask ourselves if we would have, or could have, behaved any differently. We have to ask ourselves what separates us from the savagery we paint our “enemies” with.

In the end we cry. We cry for the author’s suffering and sad awakening. We cry for our brothers and sisters who too had to suffer so much tragedy. We cry for the innocents. And if we are honest we cry for our own condition. Toward the end of the book the author recounts that he sought to single-handedly bring about an end to all of the uncertainty and fear by a single act of retaliation. Caputo describes this, I think, as a kind of madness: an instinctive rebellion against the status quo brought on by exhaustion and stress. If Caputo and those like him who seek to shine light on this darkness are to be successful, I believe their accounts must bring about something like that strained condition in our own moral consciousness. We must be jarred from middle class apathy and indifference to jingoistic fear-driven interventions so that we can also begin an instinctive rebellion, not of violence, but of love.

I hope you read his book. And I hope it disgusts you. I hope it instigates a rebellion against a cruel normality. And I hope it makes you yearn, and finally work, for something higher and better in our world.

Read the review online here.

Only God is Able, Excerpts from a Sermon by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

February 7th, 2014 No comments

Let us notice finally that God is able to give us interior resources to confront the trials and difficulties of life. Each of us faces circumstances in life which compel us to carry heavy burdens or sorrow. Adversity assails us with hurricane force. Glowing sunrises are transformed into darkest night. Our highest hopes are blasted and our noblest dreams are shattered.

Christianity has never overlooked these experiences. They come inevitably. Like the rhythmic alternation in the natural order, life has the glittering sunlight of its summers and the piercing chill of winters. Days of unutterable joy are followed by days of overwhelming sorrow. Life brings periods of flooding and periods of drought. When these dark hours of life emerge, many cry out with Paul Laurence Dunbar:

A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in, A minute to smile and an hour to weep in, A pint of joy and a peck of trouble, And never a laugh but the moans come double; And that is life!

Admitting the weighty problems and staggering disappointments, Christianity affirms that God is able to give us the power to meet them. God is able to give us the inner equilibrium to stand tall amid the trials and burdens of life. God is able to provide inner peace amid outer storms. This inner stability of faith is Christ’s chief legacy to his disciples. He offers neither material resources nor a magical formula that exempts us from suffering and persecution, but he brings an imperishable gift: “Peace I leave you.” This is the peace which surpasses all human understanding.

At times we may feel that we do not need God, but on the day when the storms of disappointment rage, the winds of disaster blow, and the tidal waves of grief beat against our lives, if we do not have a deep and patient faith our emotional lives will be ripped to shreds. There is so much frustration in the world because we have relied on gods rather than God. We have genuflected before the God of science only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb, producing fears and anxieties that science can never mitigate. We have worshipped the god of pleasure only to discover that thrills play out and sensations are short lived. We have bowed before the god of money only to learn that there are such things as love and friendship that money cannot buy and that in a world of recessions, stock market crashes, and bad business investments, money is a rather uncertain deity. These transitory gods are not able to save us or bring happiness to the human heart.

Only God is able. It is faith in God that we must rediscover. With this faith we can transform bleak and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of joy and bring new light into the dark caverns of pessimism. Is someone here moving toward the twilight of life and fearful of that which we call death? Why be afraid? God is able. Is someone here on the brink of despair because of the death of a loved one, the breaking of a marriage, of the waywardness of a child? Why despair? God is able to give you the power to endure that which cannot be changed. Is someone here anxious because of bad health? Why be anxious? Come what may, God is able.

Bambi vs. Godzilla, or the so-called “Great Debate”

February 5th, 2014 No comments

I mean seriously. Does anyone really believe that the so-called “Great Debate” between Bill Nye (the science guy) and Ken Ham over the issue of evolution vs. creationism had any redeeming value whatever? Was the “truth” discovered? Did people change their minds about the issue en-masse? Hardly.

I will say this: Christians are idiots to argue about it. As soon as you try to explain scripture in scientific terms you have lost the debate. The reason for this is that the Bible is not a science book. It was never meant to document scientific processes that accompanied the origins of the universe. The biblical writers could not even have imagined the universe in terms that are commonly understood by people today.

The purpose of the biblical writings in Genesis was to record truths about God and man. They differentiate the God of the Hebrews from all of the other ideas about God prevalent at the time. They show an all powerful beginning-less God who created humans in love with dignity, rather than a cadre of erratic infantile tyrants who used humans for their own ends.

All of the things that are recorded about God and man in Genesis are true. But to make the claim that because Genesis doesn’t provide an accurate scientific description of the creation of the universe it is not true is like saying the Declaration of Independence isn’t true because it doesn’t tell you how to assemble a bicycle. Really?

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