Wednesday, September 20, 2017

HILLBILLY ELEGY

This book came out last year at about the same time the book White Trash came out.  The authors were interviewed on the various news and talk programs on TV. Both received about the same amount of public exposure and both books seem to be about similar topics.  As the book White Trash was about twice as thick (at the same price) as the other, as well as appearing to be the scholarly one, I chose it over the other.  However, I recently found a used copy of Hillbilly Elegy at the Half-Price book store, so I purchased it and Uni and I read it together. (I confess I had to look up "elegy."  Webster defines it as "a song or poem expressing sorrow or lamentation especially for one who is dead.")
 
Hillbilly Elegy, subtitled A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis was written by a young man named J. D. Vance, an ex-marine, a Yale Law School graduate and "a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm." This is, as the title tells us, a memoir.  The author tells us of life growing up in rust belt Ohio in a lower middle class  family with deep roots in the hills of Kentucky, from where his grandparents had migrated after WWII. Obviously, Vance has lived out "the American Dream;" he has risen above his raisings; and yet they are still with him.

Though his family's account is filled with tales of alcoholism, drug abuse, physical abuse, poverty, family breakups and struggles, it is not much different, I believe, from that of many families in America today.  And though the book was a real page-turner and well-written, Uni and I both wondered as we read, why is this book so popular; why is it still a best-seller when the other book mentioned above seems to have fallen from public view?  This question was on our minds all through the reading.  I think I have some idea.

As we were reading the stories of the family and families in the book, Uni and I were brought back to our own extended families and those among whom we grew up.  We began to realize that either of us could have written similar stories.  Often we would stop reading to tell or re-tell stories of our own pasts which were quite similar to Vance's.  We may not have had such a colorful background nor have risen quite so far, but we share much in common with the author.

It's tempting here to do a bit of comparison, to relate some tales of the pains as well as the blessings of our own family backgrounds.  I'll resist, although a search through previous posts on this blog would reveal quite a bit.  I'm sure that any who read this post could also come up with similar tales.  In fact, what impressed me was the ordinariness of Vance's story.

Which brings me back to my question: why does this book continue to be a best-seller? Why is it a best-seller at all?  I believe that the answer is that people who read books like this have no (or little) real idea about how people like Vance's family live.  They know nothing about the lower-middle class and their struggles and problems.  To those who have "made it" or who are of the second  or third generation of those who escaped the "hillbilly" life, this is like reading of an alien country.  They had to read about it through the eyes of one of their own, one who had "made it."

Vance's struggles are very much like those of many of us or at least of those we know.  He tells of his own anguish as he's bounced from family to family, of his struggles to fit in and not ever feeling like he has, of his "Mamaw" - his one anchor in all the turmoil, of his dabblings in Christianity. (We can only hope he continues in this quest.)  He pauses occasionally in his story telling to offer brief analyses and criticisms of the plight of rust-belt families.  He seems to be still trying to put it all together, as many of his readers are probably still trying to do.

I believe that while the book will be informative for those readers who have never been exposed to this sort of life, it will also be cathartic for those of us who find ourselves in these pages.

Monday, September 18, 2017

SOMETHING HAPPENED


It has been encouraging to turn on the TV news lately; we see scenes of acts of kindness and sometimes great heroism being performed by ordinary people in Texas and Louisiana after the hurricanes.  People of all colors and religions doing amazing things for one another with no regard for their differences. But then if we continue watching we also see looting, reports of scams, people trying to make a profit off the misery of their neighbors.  And then we are once again returned to the horrors of wars and genocide and "ethnic cleansing."  What's going on here?  How can human beings be capable of such contradictory behavior?

And we talk and we talk: and we talk: TV news persons, social media, everyone has an opinion.  But though we may pay attention to all the current opinions, we might find some wisdom in the writings of a 17th century thinker.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), well-known French scientist, mathematician and philosopher, was also a devout Christian. His best-known work was his PensÄ—es, a volume of loosely strung together meditions on God and man. In his observations on man, he wrote: “What sort of freak then is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, glory and refuse of the universe! . . . Is it not as clear as day that man’s condition is dual? The point is that if man had never been corrupted, he would, in his innocence, confidently enjoy both truth and felicity, and, if man had never been anything but corrupt, he would have no idea either of truth or bliss.  . . .  we have an idea of happiness but we cannot attain it. We perceive an image of the truth and possess nothing but falsehood, being equally incapable of absolute ignorance and certain knowledge; …” He then goes on to say, “ … so obvious is it that we once enjoyed a degree of perfection from which we have unhappily fallen.”

Pascal was a Jansenist, a member of a Roman Catholic sect which was highly suspect in the Church because its teachings seemed a bit too close to the Calvinistic Protestantism of his day. As a Jansenist, he held a high view of the Scripture. The above observations, though they show clear rational thinking and a knowledge of human psychology, obviously are colored by his knowledge of the Word.

Pascal understood. He understood the truth of Genesis 3. I believe we must go to this chapter of the Bible and the one preceding to really get a handle on what’s wrong.  The story in Genesis 3 begins in a garden, an apparently perfect garden. Genesis 1:31, says that all that God had made “was very good.” In this garden God placed the man that He had created (Genesis 2:7, 8), also apparently perfect and then created a woman as “a helper suitable to” him, also apparently perfect.  They were God-like beings, created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26, 27).

So the stage is set: a perfect couple in a perfect location, all the food you want to eat; a cushy job. Naked with no shame. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Problem: there’s one prohibition. They were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17), or penalty of death.

So what happened? The serpent tempts the woman. (We’re told elsewhere that this serpent is none other than Satan himself, a fallen being: Revelation 12:9). The woman takes the fruit of the forbidden tree, hands it to her man (who the Hebrew text says was “with her”), he eats it, and suddenly everything goes wrong.

Now I don’t believe this was some sort of magic tree. They gained knowledge of good and evil by disobeying. It was simply a test case. God had put them in a perfect environment. God apparently wanted the willing obedience of the man and woman. He gave them the freedom of choice to obey or disobey. And they disobeyed.

We see the results of the fall immediately: Guilt – a broken relationship with God and with each other; shame; attempts to cover the shame; and excuses.

Paul tells us in Romans 5:12, that through this act, sin (guilt) and death entered the human race. So when we look at man today we see, as Pascal did “that man’s condition is dual.” We see great acts of love, courage and heroism. We see horrible acts of hatred, cowardice and murder. Sometimes by the same person.

And we waste a lot of time and energy trying to shift the blame, just like the first man and the first woman. “The woman YOU gave to be with me – she gave it to me and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). “The serpent deceived me and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). We make ourselves (metaphorical) loin coverings of leaves to hide our nakedness (Genesis 3:17) and never do take the blame or responsibility. Sound familiar? Turn on your TV news broadcasts and/or talk radio and you’ll hear more of the same.

But the beautiful thing is that God Himself takes care of our guilt and our shame. In the Genesis’ story we read that “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and covered them.” And He’s done the same for us and our guilt and shame. “He made Him who knew no sin (Christ) to be sin (a sin offering) on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Bill Ball
      adapted from What Happened, 4/20/2007 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

IS HATE THE PROBLEM?


"And He found in the temple those selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.  And He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple with the sheep and the oxen.  And He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.  And He said to those selling the pigeons, 'Take these things out of here!  Stop making My Father's house into a shopping mall!'  And His disciples remembered that it is written, 'Zeal for your house will consume me!'" John 2:14-17.

John records this incident as occurring early in Jesus' ministry; the other Gospels record a similar event taking place in Jesus' final week.  In fact, Matthew tells us He accused the money-changers of making the temple "a den of thieves."

It doesn't take a great amount of imagination to visualize this scene.  Cattle and sheep running in all directions, confused merchants attempting to keep their animals from running away.  We can hear the mooing and baaing and the money rattling all over the floor; it's a smelly, noisy, chaotic mess.  And in the middle of it all is Jesus, violently swinging His scourge.  Is He angry?  Somehow we can't picture Him as not angry; fire is in His eyes, His voice is raised to a shout.

There are times when even the Savior seems out of control in His anger.  And this was not the only incident.

Saturday, August 12, 2017, the "Alt-right" held a rally in Charlottesville, VA. Various reasons were given for this rally, the ostensible reason being to protest the taking down of a confederate statue.  But the real motive was clear:  it was an opportunity for neo-Nazis and the KKK, along with other right-wing hate groups to have a show of force.

Others gathered to protest the rally.  The climax came when one of the "Alt-rights" drove his car into a crowd of those who were protesting them, killing a young woman and seriously injuring many more.  Had he not slammed into another car we can only assume he would have continued on his deadly mission.

Politicians, pundits and preachers immediately began to speak out on the incident.  Our President waited a while, then spoke out, placing the blame on "many sides."  Later he spoke out again, in anger, although his anger was directed mostly at the reporters who questioned him.

Many more voices have since spoken out, some criticizing the President for his failure to distance himself from the far-right, but most speaking against "hate"; many also talked about the need for our nation to "come together," whatever that means.

But is "hate" really the problem?

Webster (11th Collegiate Dictionary) defines hates as "(n) 1a: intense hostility or aversion usually from fear, anger, or sense of injury.  b: extreme dislike or antipathy:  LOATHING (vt) 1:  to feel extreme enmity toward. 2: to have a strong aversion to: find very distasteful."

We all have felt or expressed hate in some form or another, even if only by the milder definition ("I hate broccoli."), although there are many things or actions we probably hate by the stronger definition.  So why do we say that "hate" is the problem?

The Bible speaks of hate well over 100 times, often with variations that appear contradictory.  It even speaks of God Himself hating.  I don't plan to go there, but there are a few passages that relate to God's people and their responsibility.  Here are a few:
            Leviticus 19:17.  "You shall not hate your brother in your heart ... "
            Psalm 97:10.  "Hate evil, you who love the LORD."
            Amos 5:15.  "Hate evil, love good, and establish justice ... "
            Matthew 5:43, 44.  "You've heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy;' but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..."
            1 John 2:9 (also see 2:11; 3:15; 4:20)  "Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness."

If I may summarize - maybe oversimplifying a bit - we who claim to be followers of Christ have no business hating any other human being!  We are to love them all - even those who have it in for us.  And yet we are to hate evil.  We have no business tolerating it!

Was Jesus acting out of hate when He drove out the money-changers?  I believe He was:  hate for evil; hate for the defilement of His Father's house; hate for the greed that was taking advantage of the needs of pilgrims.

So back to Charlottesville.  Yes there was hate on both sides.  But we can't just decide that both sides were equally in the wrong.  We can't simply say that love equals tolerance of evil.  One side represented a horrible evil:  Nazism, the Ku Klux Clan, as well as other groups of the same kind.  These groups have a history, not of hate in the abstract, but of violent acts of evil:  gas-chambers, mass-murder, lynching:  genocide in Europe and attempted genocide in the USA.  Should we hate the evil these groups stand for?  Yes!

Were those who were protesting these groups equally responsible?  No!  Did they hate?  Yes!  Undoubtedly some transferred their hatred of evil over to hatred of evil-doers.  But it is the Alt-Right that advocates racism and terrorism; it was one of their group who committed an act of terrorism that day!

We who claim to follow Christ cannot put the blame only on an abstract "hate."  We must not simply promote a "love" that refuses to recognize genuine evil.  We must speak out against the evil that is being promoted, not only at Charlottesville, but all over our nation.

Remember Niemoller's words.  (See blog:  NIEMOLLER FOR TODAY - 12/3/16)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

ILLEGAL PEOPLE?


Are those who enter (or remain) in our country without proper documentation "Illegals"? Are they criminals?  Are they unworthy of compassion, even though they may have arrived here seeking refuge from persecution, war or poverty?  Apparently many Americans, including those who claim to be followers of Jesus, believe so.
 
On a previous post (A Child of Immigrants) - I argued that most of us Americans are "children of immigrants" as I myself am.  I pointed out that some of my ancestors may have been refugees and that those who had arrived in the 17th century did so "without official clearance from the residents who had preceded them ... "

The only comment I received was "Like the liberal blowhard of the lame stream media, you have missed the point ...  The issue is illegal immigration ..."

I replied rather tackily that I considered being identified as a "liberal blowhard" was a compliment and then forgot the comment.

Later I have had second thoughts and I realize that while I had retorted to a perceived slam against me, I had ignored what my reader was saying about the perceived danger of "illegal immigration."  So I feel I need to say more.

There are many in America who have entered this country "illegally."  There are quite a few who have entered legally but have stayed beyond the permitted time.  This may include students, tourists, those who visit for business reasons and so forth.  These would also be included among the "illegals."  Then there are many who have permanent visas, green cards or other legal papers.  Add to these the many refugees who seek refuge here - again through legal channels.  Our present administration is seeking both to rid our nation of those perceived to be illegals (especially brown, Spanish speaking ones) and to keep out those who are attempting to enter legally.  And we're told that the majority of Americans applaud these actions.

I don't know about the person who commented on my previous post, but there are many nativists who don't distinguish between those who have entered legally and those who entered illegally.

I suspect that the problem which many perceive is not a problem having to do with whether or not certain persons hold a particular piece of paper, but a problem having to do with the outward appearances of those persons.  Their skin is darker than mine; they talk funny; they wear strange head coverings or clothing; they worship differently - maybe they even worship different gods!

As I have mentioned in that previous post, my mother came to this country as a child, from Austria.  While her parents retained much of their old world culture and German accents, Mom became pretty well-integrated as an American.  She left behind much of what would distinguish her (except that in her speech she'd occasionally revert to a different word order than English).  One day I heard her complain angrily, "There are too many foreigners coming into this country!"

"Mom!" I replied.  "How can you say that?  You were a 'foreigner' once yourself."

I could see and hear her anger rising as she replied, "You know what I mean!"

Unfortunately I did know what she meant.  She meant what many of our indignant complainers of today mean, "There are too many brown-skinned, strange talking heathen coming into America."

I think it's time we white native born Christian Americans wake up to the fact that our indignation against these people may be based not on concern for their legal status, but on our own racial and religious bigotry.

But now we don't have to call them by those racial or ethnic slurs (that say more about those who use them than about those of whom they are used), we can simply call them "illegals" and self-righteously demand that our government do something about them and applaud when this happens.

Leviticus 19:33-34:  "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."

This passage does not distinguish whether the "stranger" is "legal" or "illegal."

Monday, May 1, 2017

PRAY FOR OUR PRESIDENT, 2

A few years back I published a post entitled PRAY FOR OUR PRESIDENT?  Of course our President at the time was Barack Obama, a man whom I greatly admired.  I complained in that post about the fact that many of my friends - even those who claimed to be followers of Jesus - expressed so much negativity, even hatred, toward him, much of it based on false rumors and conspiracy theories.  I felt, and still feel that the attitude held by many toward this man was totally incompatible with their professions of Christianity.

But now the situation has changed with our new President, Donald Trump.  His detractors need no rumors or conspiracy theories.  Here is a man who openly expresses his hatred toward other races and religions, toward any who oppose him and toward the news media; a man who has openly boasted of his groping of women.  And many of those who opposed Barack Obama are happily supportive of Donald Trump.

So now the shoe is on the other foot.  I now find my attitudes toward our President totally negative.  While I feel these attitudes are justified and I make no apologies or excuses, I feel that I need to follow my own advice.  And I ask my readers to do the same.  So I am reproducing the exhortation Uni and I had on that previous post: 

We have a suggestion:

“I exhort then first of all for entreaties, prayers, intercessions to be made for all persons, for kings and all those who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the presence of God our Savior, who wants all persons to be saved and to come into knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
Pau’s exhortation to Timothy seems pretty clear and straightforward.  It also seems pretty all-inclusive (the word “all” appears 5 times in these 4 verses.

We are to pray for everyone.  There doesn’t appear to be any exception.  Now I don’t believe we are expected to simply say “God bless everybody” just before we eat or crawl into bed.  We are to pray for all whom we have opportunity to know, or whose needs we know of.

And we are to pray not just general prayers, but to intercede, to plead with God on behalf of these persons.  The third word for prayer in this passage, I have translated “intercessions” because it is related to a verb translated “intercede.”  We are told in Romans 8:26, 27 that the Spirit intercedes for us, and in Romans 8:34 that Christ intercedes.  In this passage, however, we are to be the interceders.

More specifically, we are to do this “for kings and all those in authority.”  And the reason is given “in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”  Could it be any clearer?  We don’t pray for our leaders for their benefit alone, but also for our benefit.

But then Paul gives a further reason – the reason why a tranquil and quiet life is to be desired.  It is pleasing to God, because He wants everyone to be saved.  He wants those in authority to be saved, of course, but He also wants them to promote peace because apparently a peaceful environment is more conducive to evangelism.

Elsewhere in the New Testament we’re given other responsibilities toward human authority that we have as citizens of two kingdoms:  pay taxes, submit to laws, honor those in authority (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13, 17).

But here we are told to pray for them.

And there are no qualifiers given.   We aren’t told to pray only for those of a certain political party or only for those who take a particular stand on some piece of legislation.  We’re not even told to pray only for the “good” ones.  The authorities of the Roman Empire in which Paul’s readers lived were those who were already beginning to persecute them.  In a few years Paul himself would be beheaded by the very authority he prayed for.
So, how should we intercede for our President?  What should we pray for?
·         First of all, that he and his family might be genuine believers in Jesus Christ.
·         That his life would be totally committed to Jesus Christ.
·         That he would be a man of integrity.
·         That he would have wisdom for the decisions he must make.
·         That he would seek peace and justice for America and in the world.
·         That God will protect him and his family from those who wish them harm.
·         That the Christian community would pray for him.

Donald Trump desperately needs our prayers!
(We have President Trump and his family listed first on our daily prayer list. Uni)
 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

JESUS' ROUGH EDGES


I believe we usually read our Bibles too piously.  We treat the stories as though they were stiff morality tales with little if any human drama.  We seem to especially do this with the stories of Jesus.  We read the stories of His actions, we read His great teachings, but I feel we often fail to see His very real humanity, particularly as seen in His emotions.  When we read of His anger or sorrow, even His joy, we tend to think of these as the qualities of a deity and not as the emotions of a very real human being.
 
Uni and I were struck with his humanity the other morning during our reading of Matthew's Gospel.  An old story we'd read many times, but somehow we felt His emotions more in this reading.  The story is found in chapters 21-24 of Matthew's Gospel.
Jesus had entered the Jerusalem temple courtyard not long after His triumphal entry into the city and He was confronted by various groups with challenges as to His authority:  the chief priests, the scribes and elders - perhaps the whole Sanhedrin; then the Pharisees with the Herodians (a sycophantic political party); then the Sadducees.  All of these attempting to stump Him or find something with which to accuse Him.  Then the questions about the greatest commandment.  We can almost feel His impatience growing as He carefully answers, sometimes with a rebuke.  Then He turns the tables on them and hits them with a question they can't answer:  how can the Messiah be both David's son and David's Lord?  Of course they can't answer without conceding that the Messiah is both because He is God incarnate.  They are stumped!  Matthew tells us "no one was able to answer Him a word, neither did anyone question Him anymore from that day forward."  (Matthew 22:46)
And then it's Jesus' turn to really let loose.  He begins His tirade slowly and carefully at first, with a warning to both the crowds and His disciples, about the scribes and Pharisees - those expert teachers of the Law of Moses and its accumulated traditions.  He essentially tells his hearers, "Do as they say, but not as they do - they're a bunch of hypocrites!"  Then He turns to the scribes and Pharisees themselves and really blasts them!  He calls them every name in the book:  "hypocrites, blind guides, sons of Hell, sons of murderers, snakes, brood of vipers!"  We can feel the buildup of rage.  We can see the anger flashing in His eyes as He tells them that "all the guilt of all the blood of righteous persons murdered on earth" will be avenged on them.  (Matthew 23:35)
Pause for a moment.  Why was Jesus taking out His rage on these people?  He knew He was going to be crucified; He had already spoken of it a number of times.  But the leaders of the plot to murder Him were the chief priests, most of whom belonged to another party, the party of the Sadducees.  It would be those priests who would conspire with the Romans in His death.  Why didn't Jesus let His rage fall on them?  Was Jesus mistaken in His foresight of His crucifixion? No.
I suspect it was because Jesus was "theologically" more in tune with the Pharisaic party.  Perhaps He felt the priestly party was too far gone.  But the Pharisees were those who were perceived as the spiritual leaders and teachers of Israel.  They were closer to the truth and thus Jesus held them more accountable.
But immediately after this blistering tirade, we see what appears to be a total shift in Jesus' emotions.  After pronouncing His judgment, "Amen!  I'm telling you all, all these things will come upon this generation!" (Matthew 23:36), His rage turns into deep sorrow.  Perhaps the thought of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and of His people - the destruction that He had just foretold - had hit Him with unquenchable grief.
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who murders the prophets and stones those sent to her!  How often I've wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you didn't want me to.  Look, your house is left to you desolate.  For I'm telling you, you won't see me again until you say, 'blessed is the One who comes in the Name of the Lord!'"  (Matthew 27:37-39)
The tears of rage have become tears of sorrow.  Thought Matthew doesn't mention Jesus' weeping here, Luke tells us that He had wept over the city and uttered a similar lament as He approached it, on His triumphal entry.
Matthew omits the story of the widow's offering that Mark and Luke tell us occurs next (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4) but we can imagine the deep emotion still quivering in Him.
At this point Jesus leaves the temple precincts and we're told that His disciples point out to Him the beauty of the temple.  Were they attempting to  calm their Lord who was still trembling with a mixture of anger and grief?  Were they afraid?  The story continues with Jesus detailed predictions of the future destruction of Jerusalem.
I suspect that many of us are uncomfortable, even afraid, when we consider Jesus as filled with rage or sorrow.  He appears to have let His emotions take control.  That doesn't fit with our picture of "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" or of a halo-wearing, medieval- English- speaking saint.  He's too much like us!
But wasn't Jesus like us?  Didn't the Second Person of the Trinity become human like we are?  Yes, we're told that He was "without sin."  But we're not told that he was without emotion or without human weakness.  We want a nice Jesus, not one who flies off the handle or bursts into tears, not one with rough edges.  We want a two dimensional Jesus, not one as human as we are.
But there are some problems with our bland picture of Jesus.  First, it's not one that's in agreement with the facts.  Read the Gospels "again for the first time" (old corn-flakes' commercial).  You'll see a Jesus that defies our stereotypes.
Secondly, if we picture Jesus incorrectly, what does that do to our Christian life?  If we are to be imitators of Christ, if we are to do what Jesus would do, we need to get to know Him better as a human being and live as He did or would.  We may need to stop seeing the Christian life as just being nice and be unafraid to embarrass ourselves.
When was the last time you got angry and spoke out about hypocrisy or injustice?  When was the last time you wept over those you loved - your family - your neighbors - your country - your church - who were suffering the consequences of their own rejection of the truth?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A CHILD OF IMMIGRANTS

"They're bringing drugs.  They're bringing crime.  They're rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people."  Donald Trump, 6/16/2015

"I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security  to create an office to serve American Victims.  The office is called VOICE - Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement.  We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests."  Donald Trump, 2/27/2017

"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid.  As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal."  We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes."  When the "Know-Nothings get control it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics."  When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country, where they make no pretense of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy. Abraham Lincoln, 8/24/1855.

Abraham Lincoln could not have known about the "progress in degeneracy" of our day.  And though the particular groups he was speaking of may have changed somewhat (though not completely), the "degeneracy" is still progressing.  We have elected as our president a man who freely preaches racism and xenophobia in a manner no president has in my lifetime and who has attempted to block the entry of immigrants in various ways.

And when in his speech to congress Donald Trump advocated an office to particularly discriminate against immigrants as a criminal group, his groupies, of course were elated.  But sadly the media - whom he had already labeled as "fake news" and "the enemy of the American people" - simply spoke of his speech as "more presidential."  No one seemed to give a ____ about his making xenophobia a national priority and creating an office to promote it!

Why aren't we angry?  Why aren't American Christians speaking out?   Why aren't our political leaders of both parties speaking out?  I am a child of immigrants; most Americans (all the white ones) are, unless they are immigrants themselves.  Why don't these pronouncements bother us?

My mother came to this country as a child with her parents and older siblings, from Austria.  Her parents - my grandparents - got here just before the First World War.  In a few years America would be at war with their native land.  Were they refugees, fleeing war?  I don't know, but I suspect so.

My father's family came to America from England in the 1600's.  I suspect they were Puritans, as they settled in Massachusetts and almost all had biblical names.  (There were also names like, Thankful, Mercy and Deliverance.)  As Puritans they would have been fleeing their homeland for religious reasons.  And, of course, they would have landed on our shores without official clearance from the residents who had preceded them thousands of years earlier.

So what right have I as a child of immigrants to cheer the closing of our borders and the stigmatizing of immigrants?

As a follower of Jesus, how should I look at this question?   I believe that a look at the biblical story shows a long history of immigrants and refugees

We could go back to the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis.  There we find the story of Abraham, called by God to leave his home in Ur and go to the land of Canaan.  And when there he fled to Egypt because of famine.  The rest of the Book is filled with tales of flight by Abraham and his son Isaac, then Jacob, then Joseph - the whole family of Israel.  And then there is the story of Ruth, a refugee from her homeland to Israel.  And on and on.  The Old Testament is one continuous narrative of flight and migration.

And then we read in the Gospel of Matthew of Jesus, the Son of God, who himself became a refugee from the murderous campaign of Herod the Great.

" ... an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.'  So Joseph got up and took the child and his mother by night and took off for Egypt, and he stayed there until Herod's death."  Matthew 2:13-15

But it's not only the stories about immigrants in the Bible that we need to look at - it's the commands.  Over and over in the Old Testament we find commands aimed at the Israelites regarding the "stranger" or alien (some translations use the word "immigrant.")  A few:

"You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."  Exodus 22:20; 23:9

"When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him.  The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; 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

Over and over the prophets rant against Israel's oppression of "the stranger" along with her other sins that brought judgment on the nation.

And when Jesus foretells His return as the Son of Man to judge the nations, it is not their sexual misbehavior or their violence which make up the criteria for judgment, but their treatment or mistreatment of certain groups:  the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner.  Matthew 25:31-46

Add to all this, the fact that we who follow Jesus Christ are addressed as "aliens and strangers" (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11).  While we may or may not be citizens of this land," our citizenship is in Heaven, from where we are eagerly expecting a Savior - the Lord Jesus Christ!" (Philippians 3:20)  How can we not identify with those others who are also "aliens and strangers?"

So we who are both Americans and followers of Jesus, should be appalled at the "progress in degeneracy" our nation is following.  Things will probably get worse before they get better.  We need to speak out and do our part to welcome "the stranger" even though we may be going against official policy.

"We must obey God rather than man."  Acts 5:29

Thursday, February 16, 2017

JESUS WAS A RADICAL

The term "radical" is certainly in vogue, whether used as a noun or an adjective.  TV newspersons and pundits, comedians, the social media, whether of the right or left, love throwing this word around; usually - though not always - negatively to describe those with whom they disagree.  "The radical right," "the radical left."  Our former president as well as a presidential candidate, was criticized for not using the phrase "radical Islam" to describe middle eastern terrorists.

Then I saw a meme on Facebook - a photo of a Klan rally with the words "Radical Christianity" on it in bold letters.  My immediate reaction was to comment, "NO!  These people know nothing of what it means to follow Jesus." Then I started pondering the definition of the word "Radical" and what "radical Christianity" would really be.  My conclusions:
            No, the Klan is not radical Christianity!  (It's neither radical nor Christianity.)
            Radical Christianity is what every Christian should strive for!
            Jesus Himself was radical - a radical - perhaps the most radical human being who ever lived!

Before the reader picks up stones, I ask you to hear me out.  First, we should seek to define what a radical is; what does the word mean?  My dictionary (Merriam- Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition) gives a number of definitions which seem almost contradictory.  I believe the following are relevant:

radical (adj.)  [...from Latin radic, - radix root ...]
1:  of, relating to, or proceeding from a root ...
2:  of or relating to the origin:  FUNDAMENTAL
3a:  marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional:  EXTREME
  b:  tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions or institutions ...

radical (noun)
1b:  a basic principle:  FOUNDATION ... 
3:  one who is radical

How can one word convey both the ideas of getting back to the root and of departing from tradition?  I'm not sure how it can, but I see both definitions in the person of Jesus as He is portrayed in the Gospels - as He walked this earth as the God-man 2,000 years ago and as He preached and taught.  He was radical.

He was radical in His ethics and in His ethical demands.  They were, to use Mr. Webster's word "marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional."  They were "tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions or institutions ... "  Look at His sermon as recorded in Matthew, chapters 5 through 7:

"You've heard that it was said to the ancients, 'You shall not commit murder ....'  But I say to you that anyone who hates his brother, will be guilty of judgment." (5:21, 22)

"You've heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  But I say to you that anyone who looks at a woman so as to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  (5:27, 28)

And on and on with ethical demands that seem to "depart from the traditional."  Read the whole sermon.  Yet a close reading of these radical demands and their Old Testament precedents should bring us to conclude that He was taking us back to "the root," or as He says elsewhere, to "the Spirit of the (Old Testament) Law."

He was radical in His political views.  When His disciples were arguing over who was the greatest among them, He said this:

"The kings of the nations lord it over them and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.'  But not so with you!  But the one who is greatest among you should become as the youngest and the one who leads as one who serves."  (Luke 22:25, 26)

He was radical in His religious views.  He had no respect for the religious leaders of His day.  He tore into them verbally, telling them that they "shut up the Kingdom of Heaven before peoples' faces" and told them that they weren't entering the Kingdom and they were keeping out those who wanted to enter.  (Matthew 23:13.  Again read the whole chapter.)

And He made radical demands of any who desired to follow Him.  He demanded that the disciple turn his back on all relationships, that he "take up his cross," that he "say goodbye to all that he has."  (Luke 14:25-27, 33)

Jesus was a radical by anyone's definition.  He was an extremist.  He was definitely not a conservative.

So then why are we who claim to be His followers anything but radical?  We are comfortable with the status quo.  We cozy up to those in power, whether religious or political.  We are more concerned about "family values" than about Jesus' values.  We even equate the words "Christian" and "conservative."  We are cautious and afraid.  We run our churches in the same manner as "the kings of the nations" do.
 
What happened?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

LIVING FOR JESUS IN TRUMP'S AMERICA

I haven't posted anything for quite a while.  After the election in November, I posted three angry rants for which I make no apology.  My feelings have not changed much since then except to go from anger to befuddlement.
 
I'm befuddled at the thinking of some persons I know, for whom I had had great respect - even some who had quite an influence on me in my life as a Christian.  And there were some others whom I had thought that I had influenced.  I've seen their posts and shares on social media and have wondered where they are coming from - an alternative universe?  They praise our new president Donald Trump as God's man for America.  They praise the "testimonies" of Trump's minions; they seem to see a new and brighter day for America - and apparently for the church.

Yet whenever I turn on the television news I see and hear a ranting, lying, racist, misogynistic, narcissistic bully, a man whose speech and behavior is completely opposed to every-thing a follower of Christ would stand for.  And his minions support him in  this.  We're told that the lies he used last week were actually the fault of the "news media" or someone else.  And, of course, we have this great new phrase, "Alternative facts."

I could go on and on about the bizarre looniness that our new president and his minions spout.  I could go on and on about my fears regarding his actions in the next few weeks and years, but all anyone has to do is turn on the news to hear and see this circus.  I am afraid for my country.

But America is not my greatest concern.  Our nation has gone off in the wrong direction many times in the past and so far we as a nation have survived.  And even if we don't, I realize God is sovereign.  And I realize that my hope is not in America.  It may be that we who follow Jesus will have to stand alone -  even in America!

My greatest concern is for the Church of Jesus Christ and my relationship to it.  I'm speaking of the total visible church - what Paul calls "the body of Christ" and to which I belong.  I cannot understand the fact that so many who claim to be followers of Christ are infatuated with a hateful, narcissistic playground bully.

I hope that the reader will understand - this post is not simply a rant against our president or a complaint about America.  It is an expression of the dilemma I - and many of my fellow American Christians face:  how do we live for Jesus in opposition to our ungodly national leaders and not find ourselves in opposition to the Church of which a great share are infatuated with these leaders - of which church we are a part?

There are some, I fear, who feel they should separate themselves from that Church.  But we can't if we belong to Jesus Christ.  We may separate from a particular organized group (and I have done that in the past) only to find the same situation in another group.  Do we isolate ourselves from others totally? We cannot do that.

I love the Church; I love the local group of which I am a member.  I have many Christian friends in this city and others all over the world with whom I communicate.  How am I to react when our conversation turns to their love affair with Trump?  Or when it turns to their hatred for our former President?  When I find it easier to talk with my unbelieving friends than with my brothers and sisters in Christ?

I know I am not alone, that there are many who have not drunk the Kool-Aid, who have  the same dilemma I have: following Jesus demands of us that we refuse to compromise truth and yet demands that we act in love.