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Nobly Save or Meanly Lose

November 26th, 2015 No comments

lincolnThe origins of our current observance of Thanksgiving are in this proclamation by President Lincoln. The year 1863 witnessed the turning point of the Civil War at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. It was the year Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery where he prayed that the sacrifice of the soldiers would result in a new birth of freedom: freedom for the millions who were held in bondage and not even considered human by many of their countrymen. That freedom was long and hard-fought and still not perfect, but it adds to the American sense of itself as the beacon of liberty in the world.

Americans in the years since the Civil War have sacrificed much to create a world where people can live free. The offering of American blood and treasure for the liberation of the oppressed once made the United States the envy of the world, and the model for the hopes of the downtrodden. But side by side with American generosity there sadly has always existed an ugliness that today is manifest in bigoted nativist super patriotism.

Lincoln saw the tragedy of the Civil War as God’s wrath upon Americans’ “national perverseness and disobedience”. For him, the terrible losses in the war were tragic but necessary sacrifices. Lincoln believed that the American experiment was “the last, best hope of earth”. He appealed to history in urging the preservation of the union.

The union was preserved but the struggle for the hope Lincoln pointed to goes on. What Lincoln envisioned was larger than the abolition of slavery, as great as that was. Today we may give thanks in whatever way we see best, or not at all. This is a blessing afforded us out of the experience of those who learned from bitter history that people must be left free to worship (or not) as their conscience dictates. How we relate to a larger reality may divide us, but what ought to unite us is the principle that we can do so without fear. We must never forget that our freedom depends upon the freedom of others.

Read the words of Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation below, and unite with him in his concern for “all those who have become widows, orphans. mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged.”

Abraham Lincoln: Proclamation 106 – Thanksgiving Day, 1863

The American Presidency Project contains the most comprehensive collection of resources pertaining to the study of the President of the United States. Compiled by John Woolley and Gerhard Peters

The Bell Struck Twelve

November 24th, 2015 No comments

ignorance and want

Man’s children: Ignorance and Want

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

“Oh, Man, look here! Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit, are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The bell struck twelve.

A Muslim Marine’s retort to Donald Trump

November 23rd, 2015 No comments

A Muslim Marine’s retort to Donald Trump – BBC News

A former US Marine who inspired an online campaign by Muslim-Americans who oppose the idea of a religion-specific identification card says he’s had hundreds of messages of support from serving members of the US armed forces. Tayyib Rashid’s post was prompted by remarks by Donald Trump, the presidential candidate who’s leading his Republican opposition in many early polls.

What does the Bible really say about taking in Syrian refugees?

November 22nd, 2015 No comments

bonhoeffer again

There is an article making the rounds on social media that seems to have traction among conservatives who are seeking a way to justify turning their backs on Syrian refugees and still feel good about it.

What does the Bible really say about taking in Syrian refugees?

Unfortunately, this article doesn’t deliver on its promise of telling the reader what the Bible really says, in fact it almost skips the Bible entirely and the one Biblical reference it does make doesn’t say what the author says it does. It is in fact correctly categorized on the referenced page: Politics.

The basic argument appears to be that scripture differentiates between the role of the state and the responsibilities of individuals. There is no passage in scripture that differentiates between what God requires of the state (really not a Biblical concept) and the individual (also, curiously, a concept predominant in modernity but mostly foreign to the Biblical writers). Biblical references to nations point to what we would consider ethnicities (usually “us” vs. “them”: Jews vs. gentiles, Jews vs. Greeks, Greeks vs. barbarians, etc.) and not socio-political entities confined to a geographical area. The nation-state we are familiar didn’t come into existence until the eighteenth century. Of course people are individuals and each is either blessed or cursed by God, but the understanding of the Biblical writers would have been community-centric. If one sinned all suffered, and if one was blessed, all were blessed. In our time, the welfare of the individual is of the utmost importance. In ancient times it was the community (extended family) that was preeminent. As Spock pointed out: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” It is misleading to say that “Scripture draws a clear line between the responsibility of the individual and the role of the state.” One may infer from certain passages within a hermeneutical framework the responsibility of the individual and the state, but it is far from clear or explicit.

The author references Romans 13 as the basis for his argument. I wonder if Mr. Calabrese has ever actually read the chapter. He writes, “French is quoting Romans 13, which lays out clear lines of responsibility for governments – particularly the imperative to protect the innocent from wrongdoers.” Well, not really. Here is what it says,

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7 ESV)

These verses enjoin Christians to submit to the lawful authority of the ruler (unspecified), because according to the Apostle Paul, “he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4 ESV) So, yes one might presume that would include protecting the innocent, but it is hardly explicit, and it doesn’t infer that the safety of God’s people overrules God’s demand for justice and mercy. The very clear message of the Bible throughout is that the people’s safety is in God alone.  The three Jewish servants Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, faced with the fiery furnace for choosing to obey God before the King, answered the King’s query about who could save them from from death with confidence that God was able to save them. “But if not,” they continued, “be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:18 ESV) They were more concerned with obedience to God than to the king (of a city that, by the way, God had told the Jewish exiles through the Prophet Jeremiah 29:4-7 they were to serve faithfully) to the point that they were willing to die a horrific death.

Further, God’s commands, in both the Old and the New Testament are almost always addressed in the plural, signifying universality. Kings and rulers do have responsibilities to the people (and to God) but those responsibilities are intended to facilitate God’s redemption of creation, to create a people who will exemplify God’s character and be “a light for the nations.” (Is. 49:6) God doesn’t have a different standard of justice for the government and the people. That would have been a distinction the Biblical writers could not have imagined. God’s commands are addressed to everyone and everyone is responsible for obedience. This is true whether or not they have specific knowledge of the written law. Indeed, Paul writes of those who haven’t received the law, “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20 ESV) The verses in Chapter 13 don’t in any way lay out clear lines of responsibility for governments as opposed to what is required of individuals. They admonish the believer to obey the law in order to avoid just punishment. And, these verses relieve neither the Christian nor the Church (nor the government) from God’s demand that his people practice justice and mercy, especially toward the stranger, the widow, and the orphan.

There are a number of passages in scripture that call upon believers to submit to lawful authority but there are also a number of  passages that support defying the state when it contradicts God’s commandments (as above). And underneath all of this is the theological reality that Christians are sojourners, owing no allegiance to the earthly state, but whose “citizenship is in heaven.” (Php. 3:20) The people of God obey the laws of men as foreigners obey the laws of the land they are travelling in. But they have no other ruler than God himself.

In fact, the overall conclusion must be that God demands justice and mercy from his people regardless of what the state does or does not do.

Here’s what the Bible really says:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46 ESV)

Don’t be fooled. Bonhoeffer warns, “Silence [inaction] in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

 

The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, 1960

November 21st, 2015 No comments

Created at the height of the Cold War, in the Age of McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare, when mass hysteria about the communist threat overruled reason creating an atmosphere of fear that would eventually lead the US into Vietnam, this short film offers a terrifying glimpse of the consequences of a poisoned political atmosphere.

Please take the time to watch (it is about 25 minutes long). Consider the fear-mongering and division being created today by demagogues, and consider whether we might actually be able to learn something from history.

“They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find: themselves.”

“They RAPE!” “They are DISEASED!”

November 20th, 2015 No comments

jewish refugees

History helps us keep the perspective that the sky is no more falling now than it was in 1939 (we are, overall, probably much safer today that we were in 1939). Ignoring history allows us to feel that each crisis is a threat we have never experienced, and that we need to do something drastic (probably foolish and destructive of our liberty) in response. Just the mentality conducive to the machinations of demagogues. Ignoring history also allows us to ignore the price that has already been paid for mass stupidity.

November 20th, 2015 No comments

I know that many of you guys are uncomfortable with specifically Christian posts, but I do have a master’s degree in Christianity and I think it is important to point out that not only does turning our backs on those in need violate American secular ideals but it violates the standard of justice and mercy established in the Bible. None of these passages is taken out of context, and none of them comes with the caveat, “only if you feel safe.” And I might point out that there are a number of ways to make the Biblical case for welcoming the stranger, and none (that I can think of) that would justify turning our backs on them.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV)

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.

The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. (Psalm 146:5-9 ESV)

This is the New Testament version:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ (Matthew 25:41-45 ESV)

Escalation, 1968

November 19th, 2015 No comments

This short film is quite disturbing and not for children. But it is a lot deeper and more thoughtful that it first appears. And also prescient, in many ways.

Real Courage

November 18th, 2015 No comments

Doesn’t it seem at least interesting that the bellicose jingoists who want us to believe they are so tough are afraid of widows and three year old orphans while faith leaders both Catholic and Protestant, who have no military power and renounce violence, are calling on the faithful to be courageous and merciful?


“…as if it were the only harvest ever known under the skies that had not been sown…”

November 15th, 2015 No comments

A_Tale_of_Two_Cities_10

 

A French priest, exiled by the French Revolution:

This dialogue had taken place at Mr. Lorry’s usual desk, with Monseigneur swarming within a yard or two of it, boastful of what he would do to avenge himself on the rascal-people before long. It was too much the way of Monseigneur under his reverses as a refugee, and it was much too much the way of native British orthodoxy, to talk of this terrible Revolution as if it were the only harvest ever known under the skies that had not been sown—as if nothing had ever been done, or omitted to be done, that had led to it—as if observers of the wretched millions in France, and of the misused and perverted resources that should have made them prosperous, had not seen it inevitably coming, years before, and had not in plain words recorded what they saw. Such vapouring, combined with the extravagant plots of Monseigneur for the restoration of a state of things that had utterly exhausted itself, and worn out Heaven and earth as well as itself, was hard to be endured without some remonstrance by any sane man who knew the truth. And it was such vapouring all about his ears, like a troublesome confusion of blood in his own head, added to a latent uneasiness in his mind, which had already made Charles Darnay restless, and which still kept him so.

Among the talkers, was Stryver, of the King’s Bench Bar, far on his way to state promotion, and, therefore, loud on the theme: broaching to Monseigneur, his devices for blowing the people up and exterminating them from the face of the earth, and doing without them: and for accomplishing many similar objects akin in their nature to the abolition of eagles by sprinkling salt on the tails of the race.

  • Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859
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