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11.30.2005    |    "Christian Peacemaker Teams"
It appears that those poor, misunderstood and oppressed Iraqis have up and kidnapped a small group of useful idiots. These useful idiots call themselves "Christian Peacemaker Teams", and abuse the name "Christian" to further their anti-U.S. agenda.

To get a whiff of self-righteousness, hold your nose and go visit them here. This is a group whose core consists of guilty white liberals who never met a terrorist regime that they did not love. They will stand up and, in that hackneyed phrase, "talk truth to power", just so long as it is a one-sided truth that allows no real debate.

The small group that's been snatched is featured in today's news stories, of which one appears in the WaPo with this tidbit from the idiots' home team of "Christian Peacemakers":
"We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. government due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people."
Yes. "Illegal attack." Well, I'm not sure what the alleged illegality of our attack on Iraq has to do with Christ. If it is any and all wars that they are against, which they should be as pure pacifists, then where is their effort in Darfur? Oh, forgot. Any atrocity committed by Muslims must be acceptable. It's just us Anglos that are evil Sorry 'bout those crusades, old chums.

One thing that is certain: these idiots seemed to have had no problems with the hundreds of thousands that Saddam and his henchmen butchered over the years. To think that the United States and the United Kingdom are the real obstacles to peace is to not think at all.
11.29.2005    |    Speaking of communion...
There are quite a few things that separate Catholics from the rest of us Christians. One of the harshest on the part of Rome is their lack of hospitality at the communion table. They've got their reasons, which I don't find convincing in the least, for they are but men, and not God.

That out of the way, I can tell you from personal experience (I was Roman Catholic) that serious Catholics are among the most dedicated Christians on this planet. Serious Catholics take their Eucharist neat, and fill themselves with the glory that is Christ.

Thought I would share this editorial description of one of those "how-to" books: "How To Get The Most Out Of The Eucharist." You could call this a checklist for the Eucharist:
Serve (Obey the command that Jesus gave to his disciples at the first Eucharist.) Adore (Put aside anything that seems to rival God in importance.) Confess (Believe in God’s power to make up for your weaknesses.) Respond (Answer in gesture, word, and song in unity with the Body of Christ.) Incline (Listen with your whole being to the Word of God.) Fast (Bring your appetites and desires to the Eucharist.) Invite (Open yourself to an encounter with Jesus.) Commune (Accept the gift of Christ in the Eucharist.) Evangelize (Take him and share the Lord with others.)
Which among these things do we find abhorrent? By themselves, in their plain meanings, I say none. The problems arise when the Eucharist is fetishized and swamped with needless ritual, and when it becomes the property of priests, and not all the people. I find nothing in the Gospels where Jesus instructed us to only take communion from a priest. Given Jesus' tussles with the temple priests, this should come as no surprise. Jesus shares His body and blood with all who proclaim Him as Lord. Period. No exceptions, no special categories, no rules of engagement. At least not if we follow Scripture.

We who claim to be Protestants (prounounce this word with the accent on the second syllable to grasp its original meaning) may complain and moan about Catholic exclusivity and the fantastical claims about the "real presence" of Christ in the Eucharist. But we should never deny that Christ is real, and always with us. And that the Lord's table is but one place to allow us to focus completely on Him and His Dad.

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11.28.2005    |    Divisions
Yesterday was the start of Advent. We read Mark 13:1-37, as, apparently, did many other Christian churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran. But the point isn't the contents of the Gospel: it is the fact that this Gospel is shared by all who confess Christ as Lord.

A marvelous thing it is, surely, that the exact same passages were read 'round the world. God's Word has no respect for denominational boundaries. Which, despite what some might claim, are made by men. And hence, of no lasting value. Impermanent. But dust.

Would that all denominations that read Mark 13 today would also share real communion. I suggest that there is but a single condition on those who would partake of the Lord's Supper: confess Jesus as Lord. Notions of the particulars of communion, the various theologies concocted to explain that which is inherantly beyond our ken, are merely things to maintain control by mere mortals over that which they've no true authority.

They are dust; vanities. After all, Jesus did not tell us, in Matthew 26:26, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, to "take, and write a Master of Divinity thesis." Our Lord kept it simple. As should we.

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11.27.2005    |    Hard to disagree...
...even when it's one of the sworn enemies of Western civilization. In this case, it is Abdul Aziz Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Catchy title, no? Don't think this guy is much of a liberal, in the classic Enlightenment sense of freedom of conscience and all the other freedoms that flow from it.

Nevertheless, this moke is getting impatient with our oh so slow pacification of his beloved cesspool, Iraq. From today's WaPo, here's the gist of it:
The leader of Iraq's most powerful political party has called on the United States to let Iraqi fighters take a more aggressive role against insurgents, saying his country will only be able to defeat the insurgency when the United States lets Iraqis get tough.
Of course, since this spawn of Satan isn't a neocon (he probably hates Jews only a little less than Cindy Sheehan does) nor a card-holding member of the Republican Party, he must be ok.

That last was sarcasm, just in case there are any members of the ACLU who stumble on this blog. The point? Shiites are primitives, tribal in nature, without the morality that Christians and Jews (and Hindus and Buddhists, for that matter) take for granted. In the Muslim world, those who stray from the bounds of acceptable theology (acceptable to the beholder, that is) are subhuman. Hence, any, and all, measures, however heinous, are justified.

The statements coming from this Shiite are more than sufficient for me: let's get out and let them all kill each other. We should not sully what's left of our good name, not to mention our good nature, trying to save these people who are mired in a 7th century religion of the sword.
11.26.2005    |    Physician, heal thyself
Moses ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides, and Rambam (from his name as a Hebrew acronym), is widely acknowledged as the greatest Jewish sage. He's also the patron saint, so to speak, for Jewish doctors.

It is in this latter role that Maimonides is the subject of an article in today's Washington Post. The story is centered on the author Sherwin Nuland and his new book, Maimonides. Nuland seems to believe that there is something different about a Jew's approach to healing that marks him as separate and apart from his Christian brothers. Or, at least, this was the case for the 12th-century's sage, Maimonides. From the article:
"One who is ill has not only the right but also the duty to seek medical aid," wrote Maimonides, because, he argued, we maintain the body to support our spiritual quest to know God. Christians, on the other hand, attributed disease to supernatural causes, and through the example of Jesus and the martyrs, they placed redemptive value on suffering, Nuland argues. The Jews found that nonsense and focused on healing as a religious calling -- which gave medicine a special status and urgency within Jewish culture. Medicine, for them, was a calling, and perhaps for that reason they were renowned (even among Christians) for being very good at it. (emphasis added)
Maimonides' knowledge of Christian theology appears, well, let's be gentle, limited. As regards health and why we should maintain it, one need only turn to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:
19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Seems to me that this is what Maimonides wrote, in slightly different words. Christians attributing disease to "supernatural causes?" Let's just say that back in the 12th century, the typical Jew was likely every bit as superstitious and ignorant as the typical Christian.

The "Christian" approach to healing is not different from the "Jewish" approach (Except, of course, for those pesky Christian Scientists...). Nor is the underlying theology, that we are put on this earth to worship God and be good stewards for His creation. Which very much includes taking care of our bodies.

As for the redemptive nature of suffering, it is curious that any Jewish author would consider that the Old Testament somehow did not feature the theme of the suffering and redemption of the Jews. Ancient Israel was, if nothing else, routinely dragged through the wilderness, literally, and given into slavery more than once. The Temple was destroyed. Twice. If not directly by God, then most certainly with His permission. Ultimately, for redemptive purpose.

The story of Israel, old, and new, meaning today's disciples of Christ, is one of redemption through suffering. This has been one theme that is resolutely the same for both Jews and Christians. Maimonides, and Sherwin Nuland, do you truly think that King David did not suffer? Or the prophets? Or all Jews, throughout the Diaspora?

Think again.

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11.24.2005    |    "We hold these truths to be self-evident..."
Yes, I know. Wrong holiday. But not really, if we can consider the common thread between today, Thanksgiving, and our Declaration of Independence. That thread is the trust in Almighty God, the author of our liberty, and of the providence on which we feast.

Despite its secularization, Thanksgiving is, and always was, about one and only one thing: giving thanks. To God. For keeping us alive one more day. For providing us with whatever fare, however bountiful, however meager, that we eat this day.

An example of how the (apparently) secular-minded can remake Thanksgiving in their own image? A piece in the Gray Lady by a "history" professor at some school in Texas, to the effect that the Puritans would not have particularly liked what we consider "traditional" Thanksgiving fare. Well and good; but consider this bit about those particular colonists:
...no status-minded English colonist would have possibly highlighted his adherence to native American victuals...
My argument is not about the nature of the food. It is about how a "history" professor, and hence the snarky scare quotes, could possibly confuse the Puritans of New England with being "status-minded."

The Puritans were about their vision of Christian faith, and putting that faith into community action. A good sense of the Puritans' endeavor may be seen in the famous 1630 sermon by John Wintrop while sailing to the New World -- the "City upon a Hill" vision. These migrants were not driven by status. If anything, just the opposite -- these people were being suppressed by the powers-that-were in not-so-Jollye Olde Englande.

Although the white-hot Calvinism of the Puritans has long-since devolved into the Church of the Fluffy Bunny™, United Church of Christ branch, what we might call the Puritan virtues have become, sui generis, American virtues. Faith in God, hope for a better tomorrow, and charity towards all. Added into this Christian mix were hard work, thrift, and the willingness to adapt to our environment.

All of which we should celebrate this day, and know that these are among those truths we find to be "self-evident."

Happy Thanksgiving.

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11.23.2005    |    25 percent to 50 percent
This is the estimated percentage of homosexual men now in the pipeline for the Roman Catholic priesthood. Hmm. Perhaps this is what prompted, after a mere ten years in the making, a forthcoming "instruction" with Pope Benedict's imprimatur.

According to the story in today's Washington Post,
The document from the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education says the church deeply respects homosexuals. But it also says it "cannot admit to the seminary and the sacred orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support so-called gay culture."

"Those people find themselves, in fact, in a situation that presents a grave obstacle to a correct relationship with men and women. One cannot ignore the negative consequences that can stem from the ordination of people with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies," it said.

"If instead it is a case of homosexual tendencies that are merely the expression of a transitory problem, for example as in the case of an unfinished adolescence, they must however have been clearly overcome for at least three years before ordination as a deacon."
This "instruction" has some weight under the teaching authority of the Magisterium, but here's where we sola Scriptura folks trump their "instructions": homosexual behavior is condemned as a sin by the God through His Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

So, now that the horse has fled the barn, so to speak, the RCC gets it act together. After finding out that between one-fourth and one-half of its priests-in-training are gay. All the usual suspects will be up in arms about this 11th-hour and probably too-little, too-late effort by Rome to clean up its act. From the Post, we have unnamed "critics" warning that
...if enforced, it will likely result in seminarians lying about their orientation and will decrease the already dwindling number of priests in the United States. Estimates of the percentage of gays in U.S. seminaries and the priesthood range from 25 percent to 50 percent, according to a research review by the Rev. Donald Cozzens, an author of "The Changing Face of the Priesthood." (emphasis added)
If enforced. Well, I'm pretty sure that Pope Benedict is serious about morality, and having all these violet femme priests isn't quite copasetic or consistent with Scripture.

It's a tough call, and Benedict's the guy to make it. Perhaps the celibacy thing should be revisited in order to allow more hetero men to serve? Just asking. For now, I'm including the Roman Church in my prayers, that they may be guided to do what is both Scripturally sound and survive as a church.

And, mostly, that the RCC does not succumb and do the easy thing, look the other way, as those who wear the collar flaunt black-letter Scripture.

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11.21.2005    |    Anti-Semitism is a sin...
...against God and humanity. This is John Paul II, getting it right for the Catholic Church. Why is this so, if the Jews will not (yet) accept Jesus Christ as their Messiah?

It is simply that God is immutable, and isn't a liar. God does not make idle threats, nor does He go against His word. Ever. He made promises to Israel, that if she kept faith with His covenant, He would redeem them. Many Jews have been unfaithful, yet there's always been a core that has been true.

These faithful Jews have, for over three thousand years, given us the truth about God's infinite mercy, and about His justice. They have held fast and true to God's Word and the behavior that God expects of His people, against oppressors from without and idolators from within.

It is no surprise that what we may call "Christian ethics" is not different from "Jewish ethics." The details? Start with Exodus 20, otherwise known as the Decalogue. Then proceed to Leviticus 19. Note that instruction from God to the assembly in verse 18, that "you shall love your neighbor as yourself?" The point is that Christians and Jews do not differ markedly on behavior that is acceptable to God. We differ on the truth about the Messiah, and other things, of course. But in our insistence that there remain God-given truths about ethics, Christians and Jews share common ground. And we've both earned the hatred of the world for it.

Brothers and sisters, the Hebrew Scriptures are not just there as an historical artifact. They remain true. They remain God's witness to the world, that the Jews remain His chosen people -- along with us, the new Israel. As our Lord tells us, in John 15:18: "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you."

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11.20.2005    |    Submit
James, the brother of Jesus, tells us to submit to God. From James 4:
7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
Great advice, but advice that doesn't guarantee happiness. In the very next verse, James tells us:
9Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Why? because, as James tells us in verse 10, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." Does this mean that we have to suffer to be exalted? Short version of the answer is: yes.

Why? Because our Lord suffered, yet took joy in doing the will of His Father. Pretty harsh, for Fluffy Bunny™ Christians, who like to see only the soft, tender, freshly-shampooed Jesus. Not the bloody wretch on the cross. We suffer with the Lord, and, sometimes, for Him. Usually not, of course. Usually, when we suffer, it is because we've brung it on ourselves. Hangovers, for example, really hurt, as I can attest from past knowledge. Read it in a magazine, somewhere...

We can also find the Lord in the joy of a fresh, strong, cup of java in the a.m. And in a georgeous sunset. And in the everyday things that make up our lives, good, bad, and inbetween. But those who thank the Lord for only the good things in their lives miss the point of His sacrifice.

Suffering can be good, too. Not for its own sake. But if it leads to repentance and to submission to His will, suffering becomes a good thing.

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11.19.2005    |    Subtraction
In yesterday's post, Parsing the Trinity, I raised the notion that my understanding of the Oneness that is God is helped by thinking of the Trinity as the product of three Ones. As against thinking of it as resulting from some addition of of three entities.

Also posited is something I know as ground truth: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is very much the same God of His Son Jesus who became our Christ. Not mentioned is the God of the Muslims, "Allah."

Most apologists for this desert heresy will mumble things like, "'Allah' is just the Arabic word for God," or, the lie, that Islam is one of the "three great Abrahamic faiths." Worst informed are those who state that Islam is yet another "religion of the Book", by which they (at least Christians and Jews who say these things) mean the Holy Bible.

Firstly, "Allah" may translate as "god." But not "God," as in YHWH*. The word may be the same, but their concept of God is so different as to be unrecognizable. How so? Because Islam engaged in subtraction of God's revelation. Muslims incorporated a literal denial of Isa's (Jesus) divine nature. Then they also completely edited the Hebrew Scriptures to show that, somehow, Abraham's patrimony did not extend through Isaac, but through Ishmael.

Muslims, in short, subtracted from what we Christians know to be the Holy Scriptures, in ways that destroyed God's revelation. This is substantially different than the Jews rejection of the revelation of the Messiah, Jesus. Jews simply said, we're going to wait and see about the Messiah; we don't accept Jesus. Their Scriptures remain our Scriptures; we've just added some revealed truth. It is no accident that the Jews will be given first crack at the Throne, when Jesus returns.

As for members of all three faiths being that "People of the Book," this is only true if you use the more accurate concept that Islam regards Judaism and Christianity as faiths based on a book. Not the Book.

The Hebrew Scriptures remain God's Word, incomplete. God completed the Scriptures by the sending of His Son, and revealing His purpose. Which, through the agency of God's Holy Spirit, Christianity has now captured and completed God's Bible.

*As a side note, obervant Jews pronounce the Tetragram YHWH adonai, which literally means "my lord" in Hebrew, but is used as a stand-in for the unpronouncable name of God in the Torah.

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11.17.2005    |    Parsing the Trinity
What prompts this post is a post at one of my daily must-reads: Joe Carter's the evangelical outpost. The post shows, through Biblically-based logic, that Jews and Muslims do not worship the same God as Christians.

The post, "Bait and Switch Theology: Religious Liberty and the Monotheistic Fallacy", is not convincing. Not in the least. Joe's logic is based on the fact that Jews and Muslims deny Christ as a member of the Trinitarian God. True. That does not, however, change the nature of God. Christ is One with God; He is God. I suggest that what distinguishes us from Jews and Muslims is not the nature of the God we worship, it is the nature of our understanding of God.

Having been raised a Jew, then receiving Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit, my take on it is that I worshipped the exact same God as a Jew as I do now. God has not changed. I have, at least in my knowledge of the nature of God.

I maintain that no faithful Christian who holds Scripture to be the sole authority can make the statement that his God is different than the Deity worshipped by Jews. God IS. Period. I also maintain that far too much time and attention has been spent in parsing the various roles and attributes of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sometimes losing sight of the proverbial forest for the trees.

It actually can make your head hurt, trying to discern these differences and nuances. I always recall the advice given to me by a Jesuit, to the effect that too much study of the Trinity can make you holy -- or drive you insane. Still, I cling to the bedrock notion that, at the end of the day, the Sh'ma from Deuteronomy 6:4 that is still true: Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad -- Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. I still recite this, just before going to bed, and upon rising. Just to remind myself that some things are eternal.

Make no mistake. I believe that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God. And that Jesus, as the Christ, is my savior. For this I will be eternally (literally) thankful. But Christ, as the Son of God, is also God. As is the Father, as is the Holy Spirit. I suggest that to attach too much emphasis on their separate natures is to slip into addition, instead of multiplication.

Let me explain. The most linear way we humans can think about three entities is to add 1 + 1 + 1 to get a sum, 3. Hmm. Trinity. Means "three", doesn't it? Yes, but it also means One. A better way to imagine God's triune nature is to know that 1 x 1 x 1 is the product, 1.

The great Unity, a prime number that is perfect. God is eternal, and has certainly not changed since He first made the covenant with Abraham, or gave Moses the Law, or chose Mary to carry His only Son to join us in the mortal realm.

One. Unity. Anything more is just talk.

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11.15.2005    |    God of vengeance?
It is fascinating to hear otherwise well-informed Christians tell me that our (Christian) God is, somehow, different from that nasty old judging and smiting deity of the Hebrew Scriptures. You've likely heard it, also, how Jesus brought God around to becoming a God of mercy and love, as against the Hebrew God's "vengeance" theme. Just one example of this (allegedly) unloving God may be found in Isaiah 34:
8For it is the day of the LORD's vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.

9And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.

10It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.
Pretty harsh, eh? Not like our kindly, shepherd Lord Jesus. Well, that is certainly one point of view. But I'd also suggest that God has not really changed. Rather, our perspectives on Him, as He revealed more about Himself to us.

God has always been, and will always be, first and foremost about love. That love includes judgment against those who deny Him. But it also includes divine compassion, love without equal, for the least of us. Case in point from the Hebrew Scriptures: Psalm 113 (listen to it here):
1Praise ye the LORD. Praise, O ye servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD.

2Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and for evermore.

3From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD's name is to be praised.

4The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.

5Who is like unto the LORD our God, who dwelleth on high,

6Who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth!

7He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill;

8That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people.

9He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD
Sounds pretty much like our Lord Jesus Christ, if you ask me. Which is exactly my point: God IS. Period. He has, in fact, humbled Himself in the most basic way possible in order "to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth."

He has joined us, tasted our joys, our sorrows, our limits, and our death. He will still judge us, but, just as the Hebrew God judged ancient Israel, the judgment will be by His eternal rules, and carried out with infinite love.

And, lest we forget, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 16:22, reminds us, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha." Anathema Marantha meaning, cursed, the Lord is coming. As it says in the Nicene Creed, "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead."

With love, but by a firm set of rules. His rules. Not ours.

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11.13.2005    |    "fundamental rights and freedoms"
The Democrat's house organ, the New York Times, advises them to "fight for their vision" against that evil spawn of the "far right", SCOTUS nominee Samuel Alito. Well, they didn't use the term "evil spawn" in today's editorial. But they might as well have. From the "be strong and don't be afraid to filibuster" piece:
Conservative Republicans demonstrated that they have a clear idea of what they want for the Supreme Court. They proved that once again with their insurrection against Harriet Miers. Now Democratic senators have to show their supporters that they are no less willing to fight for their vision.
The Times version of that "vision" is to oppose even the remotest threat to abortion on demand, and to consider the willful denial of the right to life for the most helpless of our citizens, the unborn, to be "fundamental rights and freedoms."

It is fascinating how ultra-liberals can become preservers of the status quo. So long as that status quo is far enough away from the bulwark of the actual written Constitution. Which is what any justice of the Supreme Court should hold as their ultimate, and sole, authority. Hence, Roe v. Wade becomes sacred, never to be tampered with.

It's funny, but not in a ha-ha sense. If memory serves, the Times and their ilk were quite happy, leading the cheering even, when earlier "visions" of the status quo were overturned. Key example? The infamous "separate but equal" of the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision. Some precedents, it would seem, are more sacrosanct than others.

It is hard to know what actually motivates the far left. On the one hand, there is this uninformed and biased blather about "fundamental rights." On the other, the left, including the Times, is more than happy to trash actual rights enshrined in our Declaration and the Constitution.

Starting with the right to life.

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11.12.2005    |    Mixed emotions
One of the problems with many so-called "mainline" churches is that they're indistinguishable from left-leaning political clubs. A case in point is an IRS investigation of an Episcopal church, All Saints, in Pasadena, California. One of the priests gave an overtly anti-Bush sermon last year, using his moral authority as an agent of God to push his agenda.

The mixed emotions of the title result from the plain fact that the IRS is already insanely overstaffed and overpowerful. The government should leave us all alone. Especially churches. On the other hand, if all of us taxpayers are going to subsidize all churches (and synagogues and mosques and God knows what all else), then those entities must not enter the secular sphere of politics.

Put it another way: if what one hears from the pulpit of a Sunday morn is indistinguishable from a political party's line, then it does not meet the criteria for tax exemption. This should be just as true for churches on the right as it is for those on the left.

This particular branch of the Democratic Party, Episcopal Church USA Branch, has come under IRS scrutiny, and, again, there are valid arguments on both sides. Some details from an article today in the Washington Post:
The investigation was triggered by a sermon delivered Oct. 31, 2004, by Rector Emeritus George Regas that speculated about what Jesus would say to President Bush and the Democratic candidate, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) on subjects including poverty, violence and war.

In his introduction, Regas said he did not intend to tell people how to vote, but at one point, Regas imagined words Jesus would have for Bush: "Mr. President, your doctrine of a preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."
Regardless of one's position on the war, church is no place to hear sermons on political and foreign policy issues. It is a place to hear the Gospel of salvation, not to be instructed by an invocation of the intellectually lazy "what would Jesus do" rubric.

This is difficult, and all churches walk a fine line, since the Gospel very much includes "doing for the least of these." It's sort of like the Supreme Court and pornography: can't define it, but we'll know it when we see it. This particular priest crossed the line when he ventured opinions that may be correct (I don't believe they are), but have no place coming from the pulpit.

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11.11.2005    |    No more excuses
For not reading the Bible, that is. But first, a brief anecdote.

There is a saying among observant Jews about observing the Law: first perform the commandments, then believe. Many, if not most, Christians would say that this is backwards -- why would I perform these things, some of which, like keeping kosher and strictly observing the Sabbath, require a lot of effort -- if I did not believe I was doing God's will in the first place?

Because, it is answered, in time, if you are faithful to God's Word in Torah, you will see that obedience will engender faith. Which, in turn, will make obedience not only not such a burden, but a positive joy.

The same principle can be applied to the new Israel. In our case, we don't live under the Law, per se. Yet one of the things every Christian should do is to know the written source of his faith -- the Bible. We each of us should spend a little time each day with Scripture. It's easy enough to do; it's just as easy, unfortunately, to slough it off.

So, here's one method that could not be easier: the One Year Bible Online, which provides readings for each day from the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Psalms, and Proverbs. Starting on January 1st with Genesis 1:1-2:25, Matthew 1:1-2:12, Psalm 1:1-6, Proverbs 1:1-6, and ending on December 31st with Malachi 3:1-4:6, Revelation 22:1-21, Psalm 150:1-6, Proverbs 31:25-31.

As a bonus, you can listen to each selection in the NIV or KJV. NIV is the default; ESV, and other translations, are available, but some lack the "listen to" feature. Not sure about which translation? Here's the Zondervan summary of the various translations.

Couldn't be simpler. Sure, you're busy, and perhaps you already devour Scripture. But, if you are like me, there's almost always something that is, somehow, more pressing than spending time with the Bible. This is just a way of keeping God's truths at the front.

Can this become an unwelcome burden? Perhaps. But I suggest it is more likely that, like our observant Jewish brothers, our faith will sustain our interest, and even allow us to be joyful in the gift to us from God that is His Word. After all, we have it directly from His Son (in Matthew 11:30), "my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

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11.10.2005    |    Talk is cheap
Tim Kaine will be our next governor, and I blame Jerry Kilgore for running a dumb campaign. Kilgore pasted the unholy "L" for liberal label on Kaine. He was correct in so doing. Kaine however, was clever enough to hide his true beliefs behind a facade of his Catholic faith. It is also likely that the tanking popularity of George Bush, and the ego-trip campaign of Russ Potts sealed the deal (since Potts, a Republican, almost certainly drained votes selectively from Kilgore).

Tim Kaine told us that he comes by his positions against the death penalty and (or so he claims) against abortion via the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. This kind of talk does appeal to us Virginians, at least those of us who are believers in more than the unholy government. I suggest that for Kaine, it's just talk.

In this regard, Tim Kaine is a wolf in sheep's clothing. He tells us that his Catholic faith leads him to be against both abortion and the death penalty. But that he will faithfully execute (pun intended) Virginia's laws on both. What this says to me is that human life is less important to him than his need to be elected, since a large majority of Virginians favor the death penalty, and a large majority of Democrats appear to favor abortion on demand.

So Kaine got the best of both worlds: significant inroads to Virginia independents who have faith and who support the death penalty, without losing the pro-abortion Democratic base (which can be heard bleating, "capital punishment bad, 'a woman's right to choose' good").

Now, why do I call Kaine a wolf in sheep's clothing? Consider the position on abortion found on his website:
I have a faith-based opposition to abortion. As governor, I will work in good faith to reduce abortions by:

Enforcing the current Virginia restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother;
Fighting teen pregnancy through abstinence-focused education;
Ensuring women's access to health care (including legal contraception) and economic opportunity; and
Promoting adoption as an alternative for women facing unwanted pregnancies.
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Except, perhaps, for that vague "Ensuring women's access to health care", which sounds an awful lot like access to abortion clinics.

Far worse is that he has also said that he would be an "advocate" for retaining "abortion rights" in Virginia. Even if Roe v. Wade were somehow eliminated, leaving the decision on abortion to the states.

As governor, Tim Kaine could use his executive power to stop all executions. The fact that he likely will not do so means that his faith means less than a political promise. As governor, Tim Kaine could also introduce bills in the General Assembly to make access to abortion far more restrictive than it is, and requiring abstinence education as part of sex ed. Don't hold your breath on this.

Time will tell, and I hope and pray that Tim Kaine will do the right thing as governor. And not necessarily what his Democratic base might have expected him to do on abortion.

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11.09.2005    |    Blood libel
No, not the one about how Jews use the blood of Christian children to bake their Passover matzo. On a recent CSI, one of the crimes touched on the adoption of "spare" embryos. And how such an embryo wasn't a human being yet, because it hadn't been infused with blood.

Naturally, the show took some (but not too much, I thought) pain to show that, life does not begin at conception. Hence the notion of adopting embryos was, by inference, bizarre. Look, CSI is only a television show, and should not be taken too seriously. The trouble is, this particular episode had one of the good guys (the CSI team) arguing that the Catholic Church used to define the beginning of human life as when the mother could feel the baby moving (the "quickening", I suppose, although this term wasn't used).

Later in the espisode, Gil Grissom, the CSI team honcho, remarked that Leviticus 17:11 should be considered definitive if one argues about human life from a theological point of view. Roll tape, er, copy and paste from Bible Gateway:
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.
Hence, life only begins when blood infuses the embryo, which is several days after conception. At least, the Grissom character says something to this effect. Well, that must be that, eh campers?

Well, I'm no theologian, but I can read, and the context for Leviticus 17:11 is to show that human life does, of course, depend on blood; can't exist without it. Hence the prohibition on eating blood, because of its symbolic linkage with human life. This, of course, is reversed with the atoning blood of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

So, blood is necessary for human life. Does this mean that an embryo, just prior to the natural infusion of blood from the mother, is not a human life? Perhaps. But only if human life is defined narrowly as a sack of living tissue, meat. Here's where belief comes into play.

If one believes that there is a soul, then the question is, at what point in the development of the baby does he or she gain a soul? Given that our cells are programmed by something (dare I call it intelligent design?), isn't it possible that that something, that driving force, already has programmed within its wet (biological) microcircuitry that which God grants us and we call the soul?

I believe it not just possible, but a near certainty. I understand those who are skeptical, but this is my belief. Call it God's way of making us in His own image. And hence my belief, shared by the Catholic Church and many other Christians, that each unique human being is created at the moment of conception. Not before. Not a nanosecond after. At that moment.

Despite what Gil Grissom of the Las Vegas Crime Lab might say in dialogue.

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11.08.2005    |    Weddings and filthy lucre
I went to the wedding of one of my first cousin's daughters this past weekend. A lovely event, held on the Savannah River. My cousin, who is married to a prominent doctor in Savannah, Georgia, now lives rather well. The wedding, along with ancillary events, had to cost in the tens of thousands. It struck me as the modern equivalent of brides in ancient times literally wearing her dowry in the form of gold chains and coins -- demonstrating to all with eyes to see that this is the daughter of a wealthy man.

It is not that I wish to be harsh, it's just that when, during the wedding ceremony, the rabbi urged the about-to-be-married couple to go forth and do good in the world, I thought, "wouldn't it have done some good to have a very small, private ceremony, and donated to charity the money that otherwise would have been spent?"

Please mark this well: my comments have nothing to do with the fact that this is a Jewish couple, or that it was a rabbi officiating. The same words may be heard at many a Christian ceremony, with exactly the same sense of "hey, look at us, we can afford to throw money around." In fact, except for the explicity Jewish aspects of the wedding (which, to my cousin's credit, were in abundance), it could have been the wedding bash for any two wealthy wasps.

May God bless the young couple and may they quickly realize what Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:
19"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
If memory serves, Jesus attended some Jewish weddings Himself...
11.04.2005    |    Dave can do it
"Dave" is one of my favorite "political" movies, ever. Political is in non-scary scare quotes (hey, Halloween's over; on with your boring, humdrum lives...) since it is clear that "Dave" is not meant to be taken as a serious statement on politics. Anyway, it dates from 1993, the first year of Bill Clinton's first term -- before we realized the truth about Mr. and Mrs. President.

Well, Dave Kovic really does feel your pain in the movie. The Kevin Kline character (Kovic) runs a temp agency, and Dave makes it his noble goal to make sure that everyone who wants a job finds one. Even when, as in a scene from the movie's beginning, the prospective employer can't afford to pay for another worker. Economics be damned; that's real compassion.

Well, in this fun fantasy, Dave Kovic is a dead ringer for the soon-to-be dead president. So, he's basically kidnapped on the orders of Bob Alexander, the president's mean-spirited Karl Rove (so Donks might wish), Bob Alexander, played just right by Frank Langella. Well, Dave's a good guy, as defined by Hollywood. As the stand-in president, he saves a homeless shelter, and then goes completely ape and announces a jobs program whereby any American who wants a job should have one.

Even Hillary would not dream so large. But then, "Dave" is a fantasy, and, I trust, was not taken too seriously -- then, or now. Oh, just in case I didn't mention it, although it isn't stated in so many words, the nasty president that Dave Kovic doubles for is almost certainly a budget-balancing Republican. You know, balancing the budget on the backs of the poor, yadda yadda yadda. Hey, it is a Hollywood production, after all.

But here's the serious thing that I'd like all hard-hearted, budget-balancing, green-eyeshade-wearing folks to reflect on: it's when Dave as president waxes about the simple yet profound human dignity of someone who has, finally, found a job, and done a decent day's work for wages. Anyone who has ever been out of work, or even only threatened with being out of work, knows this feeling. I do.

Yes, I know. Businesses can't stay in business if they simply pay people for showing up and it has no positive effect on the bottom line. But it's usually not that simple. There's all sorts of things that can be adjusted. Perhaps the CEO cuts his salary by a few million? Perhaps the school district finds a way to make do without repainting the teachers' lounges? And on, and on...there's always ways to save.

The message? More like a question than a sermon. What price should we put on human dignity? Does everything in life have to be reflected in a set of balanced books? Perhaps I'm getting soft in my old age, but if we can afford millions for a useless bridge to nowhere in Alaska, not to mention billions for useless pork and a lot of corporate welfare, surely there's something we can reprogram in the name of human dignity?
11.03.2005    |    ad majorem dei gloriam, redux
Even Jesus accepted earthly, man-made glory. When Jesus is at Bethany, Mark's gospel tells us, in chapter 14:
3...in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4There were some who said to themselves indignantly, "Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor." And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, "Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.
Oftentimes our reaction to modern "glory" is quite the same as those who complained about this woman's "waste" of a perfume that cost the equivalent of a working man's yearly wages. Why shouldn't this go to the poor, rather than exalt Jesus? Did not Jesus himself favor the poor?

Well, depends on who you ask, and how one interprets Scripture. The notion that "Jesus made a decision for the poor" is Marxist nonsense. Jesus made a decision for all, rich, poor, and in between. However, it is also clear that he knew that earthly riches can be a snare, and cause us to take our eyes away from the prize. Which is to inherit his crown, of course. After death. And, no, you can't take your earthly possessions with you on that trip.

The Gospels are have Jesus speaking of shedding our earthly goods, to thereby gain the kingdom of heaven. Speaking to a rich young man, Jesus sums it up (Matthew 19:21):
Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
In short, by embracing earthly poverty, you gain heaven. So, why did Jesus allow himself to be, in effect, glorified by the pouring of fabulously expensive perfume over his head? Was this of a type that would encourage the building of lavish cathedrals filled with frescoes, statues, icons, and a lot of pious bric-a-brac?

I don't think so. The annointing of Jesus has more to do with foretelling his imminent death. It also has to do with the lesson that we, each of us, give glory to God, through His Son, in ways that make sense for us in our own circumstances. This woman had the ointment, she gave it all for Jesus' glory, in the most direct manner possible.

What is most telling is Jesus' response to the woman's critics: "you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them." In other words, don't complain about the glory given to God, even if some of it seems wasteful or is kitschy trash. Assume that those who provided it meant to glorify God, and perhaps that will inspire us to do the same in our own way.

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11.02.2005    |    What a coincidence...
...that an image of Jesus appears to look like a Romanian Orthodox priest. Who would've thunk it? Found, via the Crusty Curmudgeon, this lovely story of an image of Jesus, Peter, and Paul found on an old wooden wardrobe.

Well, it is certainly possible that God would have sent an image of his Son to decorate the wardrobe of this elderly Romanian couple. This, however, is the sort of thing that borders on idolatry, as in worship of an icon. In this instance, something that looks like a typical Orthodox bearded priest.

This is voodoo Christianity, people. It cheapens the real faith that so many have, because it makes at least the silent claim that one needs apparitions and supernatural manifestations to sustain our faith.

The Gospel message is necessary, and it is sufficient. It is stunning in its simplicity, and challenging to our notions of how the world of life, and death, should operate. But apparently did not in the instance of our Savior.

In that regard, more than the simple telling of the Gospel message of Christ's atoning death, and His resurrection, is less. Claimed apparitions, such as this one in Romania, detract from the awesome power of Christ's message.

As regards the Gospel, more is less, and less is more.

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About this site and the author

Welcome. My name is John Luke Rich, (very) struggling Christian. The focus here is Christianity in its many varieties, its fussing and feuding, how it impacts our lives and our society, with detours to consider it with other faiths (or lack thereof).

Call this blog my way of evangelizing on the internet.

Putting it differently, we're only here on this earth a short time. It's the rest of eternity that we should be most concerned about. Call it the care and feeding of our souls.

I was born Jewish, and born again in Christ Jesus over thirty years ago. First as a Roman Catholic; now a Calvinist by persuasion and a Baptist by denomination. But I'm hardly a poster boy for doctrinal rigidity.

I believe that Scripture is the rock on which all Christian churches must stand -- or sink if they are not so grounded. I believe that we are saved by faith, but hardly in a vacuum. That faith is a gift from God, through no agency on our part -- although we sometimes turn a deaf ear and choose to ignore God's knocking on the door.

To be Christian is to evangelize. Those who think it not their part to evangelize perhaps haven't truly understood what our Lord told us in Matthew 28. We must preach the Gospel as best we are able. Using words if necessary.

Though my faith waxes and wanes, it never seems to go away. Sometimes I wish it would, to give me some peace of mind. But then, Jesus never said that walking with Him was going to be easy...

Final note: I also blog as Jack Rich on cultural, political and other things over at Wrong Side of the Tracks

Thanks for stopping by.