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5.31.2006    |    "every knee should bow"
The famous quotation is taken from Phillipians 2:10: "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow." The church has taken this advice to heart, and, at least since the liturgy became the creation of men and not God, some form of kneeling has been part of the Mass.

The practice of kneeling continues in many Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches today. And, like much of what is man- and not God-made, has become a source for legalistic squabbling.

From First Things, we learn from Joseph Bottum of a current brouhaha brewing in the Diocese of Orange (County), California. It brings me back to one of the reasons I left the Catholic Church: modern-day Pharisees substituting their notion of what God demands for what God actually demands. In my case it was at a sparsely-attended Mass in rural Virginia, during which the priest loudly chastised a Filipino woman who was on her knees, praying the Rosary, when the rest of us were standing.

In other words, to preserve the forms of the Mass, the priest saw fit to yell at a woman who was showing the deepest reverance to God. If not to His self-annointed representative on Earth, the priest. That priest was a fool, but he is all to common among men of the cloth -- and not just Catholics. They confuse man-made requirements with what God tells us, time and again, He really wants:
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
Kneeling, or not kneeling, is not the issue. The issue is being in awe of a loving God. For some of us, that means falling to our knees, in humility, knowing that we are unworthy of the sacrifice He made of His son on our behalf.

For others, it means standing quietly, in contrition. What truly matters is what is within our hearts. Not our posture.
5.29.2006    |    Those gone before
Today we remember those who have gone before, and shed their life's blood so that we can do frivolous things like go shopping and out to eat. And some very un-frivolous things such as speak our minds without fear and worship, or not, according to our conscience.

The American experiment has survived insurrection, treason, and the stain of human bondage and racism. It will survive now, even as we are engaged in a questionable war which we choose to fight in half-hearted fashion, schizoid, not really knowing if our armed forces are meant to kill or rebuild.

One of the glories that is America is that we may voice our opinions on this and most any other subject, and to hell with any government agent, or government critic, who disagrees.

On a lighter (but not really) note, one of the things I like to do on Memorial Day is watch my favorite World War II epic: Band of Brothers, based on the travails of Easy Company in the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment -- Rangers. Dick Winters, the protaganist, exemplified what is best about the American fighting man. And what is best among our officers and noncoms: leadership, meaning exactly that: Being in front, and up front with your men, and never, ever, ordering them to do something that you are not able and willing to do yourself. Or that you've already done.

There is not an iota of doubt that WWII was a good and just war. Even if some of the things our men did were less than fully honorable, when viewed from the safety of our homes half a century later.

At the time and place, our men did what they had to do to preserve our freedom. And make no mistake -- nothing less than our freedom was at stake. As it is today.

To those who have served; to those who are serving, and, especially, to those who have given their lives for us: Thank you, and may God bless you.
5.27.2006    |    God of Vengeance?
Many cradle Christians are surprised when I, a cradle Jew, tell them that I believe that God is unchanging. That His mercy has always been accompanied by His justice -- justice often including the bloodiest kind of vengeance wrought upon those who defy Him. Including His chosen people, who suffer mightily when they defy His commandments.

I've heard, times without number, "our God is a God of love; not like that Hebrew God of vengeance." Well, here's a news flash: God is eternal. Numbers 23:19:
God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Now, one may believe that the New Testament negated the Old, but one may also believe the moon is made of Swiss cheese. Does not make it so. The New fulfilled prophesies made in the Old, but didn't negate it.

God is love, or course. But love does not exclude righteous judgment. In fact, love demands justice in the form of punishment for those who deny God. Else we put God in the position of loving evil as much as He loves the good. When our Lord told us not to judge, lest we be judged, he was speaking of the here and now. God remains our judge, and He will extract vengeance. Revelation 20:12:
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.
According to what they had done. As my thermodynamics professor used to tell us about God's Second Law of Thermodynamics (yes, He's the Author of those, too...), T.A.N.S.T.A.A.F.L. "Tanstaafl", which isn't a Finnish word for breakfast. Stands for There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

Sooner or later, we all pay for our sins. Best to cast them off now, while we have the chance.

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5.25.2006    |    This should not be needed
This being an organization named Anglicans for Israel. Why should it not be needed? Consider AFI's stated aims:
1. To resist the call for a boycott of Israel.

2. To support the people of Israel and to secure defensible borders for the State of Israel.

3. To promote bonds of fellowship and interfaith understanding between Anglicans and the Jewish people.

4. To recall the Church to G-d’s Covenant with the Jewish people and to call the Church to affirm the centrality of Israel to the Jewish faith.

5. To call Anglicans to repentance for the wrongs-of both word and deed- inflicted by Christians on the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.

6. To fight all libels against Israel and the Jewish people and their State.

7. To promote reconciliation and ties of friendship between the people of Israel and the righteous Arabs who oppose terrorism and wish to have peaceful relations with Israel.

8. To protect the Christian communities threatened by Islamic extremism in the Middle East.

9. To bring the Church back to an understanding of the Jewish roots of our faith.
Any confessionally Christian church that claims Scripture as its basis should have zero difficulty with any or all of these aims.

Anglicans are not, generally, considered as evangelical or as fundamentalist in their beliefs. And yet, once you get past the proto-catholic liturgy and its traditions, the Book of Common Prayer is solidly based on Scripture. As is the Anglican Communion. Errors made by the Church of England or the Episcopal Church USA, in apparent active denial of its biblical heritage, don't change that heritage.

Anglicans are a little conflicted, these days. They've got the CoE and other "modern" churches in the Northern Hemisphere pulling them into some postmodern, non-biblical world. Working against this are the Southerners, mainly Africans, who are staunch conservatives -- as in wishing to conserve the biblical heritage of the Communion.

Among other things, what this translates to is, in some of the more "modern" parishes, especially in the U.K. and U.S., a disdain for any notion of messianic thought. Thought that requires that Israel be reconstituted as a nation-state, and including and in-gathering of all Jews from among the nations.

One might think that any church that professed itself Christian would support Israel. One would be wrong, and AFI gives witness to the double standard and worse that afflicts some of today's "Christians."
5.22.2006    |    I was in prison and you came to me
These are the words of Jesus Christ from Matthew (25:36). They are simple words whose meaning is clear in the context of Matthew 25. Jesus tells us to visit and care for "the least of these my brothers." From this simple instruction comes necessary ministries to prisoners.

One effective ministry in my area is the Good News Jail & Prison Ministry, whose purposes are
visitation program for the benefit of inmates of institutions in the State; witnessing to inmates and their families; aiding in a physical and spiritual rehabilitation of men and women upon their release from an institution; and provision of an educational program within the institutions to encourage continuance of formal education among the inmates, as permitted by said institutions.
You'd think even atheists would appreciate this kind of love to sinners in prison. You would be mistaken. The ACLU, ever vigilant to ensure that their comfort in secular humanism is not disturbed, objects to this ministry.

And, they do what they do best: stop people from helping people. In this instance, as related by this story in the Washington Post, the claim is made that ministering to prisoners "threatens the constitutional separation of church and state." Nevermind that Good News' contract with the Alexandria (Virginia) jail includes arranging "services for everything from Christmas to Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah." From Chaplain John Poffenberger of Good News:
In jail, you don't have to convince inmates that they have to get help from something bigger than themselves. It's that God sense that comes when they get into trouble. They need help, and they need it from someone more powerful than themselves.
Some folks can't abide the thought that there is a greater Power than themselves. Among such, the ever-vigilant ACLU. ACLU hasn't filed suit (yet); they're just bullying Virginia jailers to stop allowing Good News to provide comfort and hope. As for such assistance from Good News being "unconstitutional," this is nonsense. The First Amendment reads, on this subject:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
Good News is a Christian ministry, that is certain. But inmates are not required to attend services organized by Good News. Inmates are not required to convert if they are not already Christian. Inmates are, merely, being provided with a greater opportunity for their "free exercise" of religion. Which is one civil liberty that the ACLU does not support.

The ACLU isn't simply against God, although they are surely that. They are high-minded, self-righteous elitists who don't care about the welfare of "the least of these."

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5.20.2006    |    "nothing unclean will ever enter"
John's Revelation looks, at first reading, as though it was composed while the author was on an acid trip. But this is a Jewish author, writing with Jewish sensibilities, about the savior who, as Scripture tells us, came from the Jews.

The point is that to approach Revelation as one might approach a newspaper story misses much of the point. God's glory is based on some hard facts, but neither John, nor I, nor you, have the proper words to describe the ultimate glory that awaits those who are chosen to sit by the throne.

The description of the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21is a case in point. In 21:3 we get a reprise of God's covenant with Israel, this time the new Israel:
"Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
Immanuel, God with us, as prophesied by Isaiah (7:14). This prophecy is usually taken to refer to the birth of Jesus, as it does. But it also refers to the joining of God, the He Who Is of Torah, with those chosen for salvation.

Here's where we separate, as Jesus told us, the sheep from the goats. And we, of necessity, return to a very Jewish reading of how God's grace must work in us: to live moral lives, to follow our saviour Jesus, our king, in our hearts, minds, and souls. Revelation 21:27
But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
Note that "nothing unclean will ever enter it." This is a restatement of the Mosaic Law, as personified in the Lamb of God, Jesus. Those who are called to follow Jesus must follow Him in all ways. At least attempt to do so.

We fail, of course. We still sin. But, I believe that once we are called to follow Jesus Christ, God begins His work to purify us. Part of this sanctification must be that we sin less, and when we do sin, we bloody well know it. And, in good Jewish fashion, are guilty over our failures.
5.19.2006    |    The name of God: noun or verb?
Not a trick question at all. God is given static names, proper nouns, by those who prefer reading Scripture as though it were a precise rendering of events, a veritable "who, what, where, when, and why" of God's revelation. On the other hand, this is not how God introduces Himself to Moses in Exodus. Exodus 3:
13Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" 14God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"
In other words, God tells us that He is called by an action: to be.

In the original Hebrew, this is rendered as the tetragamon yod-hey-vav-hey. This is normally given the English meaning "LORD" (as against "God", which is rendered elohim in Hebrew). Yod-hey-vav-hey is unpronounceable in Jewish tradition; that is, the vowel marks were never known, and only the high priest was actually allowed to utter the holy name of God. In modern Judaism, the tetragamon is pronounced "adonai," which actually means "my Lord." But this is a term that might also reasonably be applied to, say, a (human) lord of the manor. It's used as a pale substitute for the unpronounceable name of God.

Thanks to German translators, the Name of God was incorrectly rendered "YHWH," which became the familiar, though even more misleading, "Yahweh," then, transliterated with further error into English as "Jehovah." Might as well have called Him Joe.

The point is that God is an action, a state of being and becoming. He is not a "Yahweh," or "Jehovah," or anything that we should underestand to have the static properties of a proper noun. To best represent Him to our limited senses, the name of God takes the form of a verb.

God simply is, was, and will be.
5.18.2006    |    "Who am I to object?"
N.T. Wright published, in 1998, an excellent essay on the birth of Jesus and its place in Christian belief. The eesence? Christian beliefs depend on Jesus' ministry, passion, and resurrection. Not on miracle stories of his birth.

Of course, Jesus had to first be God incarnate in human form in order to preach and to die for our sins. But Bishop Wright argues that the story's pretty much the same without the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke. His conclusion:
I have come to believe that the God of Israel, the world's creator, was personally and fully revealed in and as Jesus of Nazareth, I hold open my historical judgment and say: If that's what God deemed appropriate, who am I to object?

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5.17.2006    |    Nothing to see here, move along...
The buzz surrounding the about-to-be-released movie "Da Vinci Code" is amusing, and our church is no exception: we were treated to a glossy pamphlet debunking the book/movie.

Sometimes it's best to simply ignore things. This movie appears to support this thesis. According to this story, the movie bombed in Cannes. The brutal truth appears to be that if a movie tries to trash basic Christian beliefs, it will be talked up as a must-see. Even if it is a bad movie, bad in the technical sense. As "Da Vinci" appears to be.

Three things. First and foremost, this is just a movie, a trifle, a work of fiction. Second, you don't have to pay good money to see it. Third, and last, the more Christians complain about the movie, the more it's going to appear as if there was some truth behind it that we wish to cover up. In this regard, silence is golden.

Nothing to see here, move along...
5.16.2006    |    Sojourners, all
In light of the President's be-all-things-to-all-men speech on immigration last night, this post from last month remains timely:

In this life we are sojourners, all. We live by the grace of God, on, as it were, time borrowed from Him. Since this life is also the province of Satan, we must protect ourselves from others of our fallen kind. This protection includes artificial divisions of the earthly kingdom into nations.

Like it or not, this is the world in which we live. We in America are fortunate; we've got just about the best nation on earth. Millions of foreigners must agree, they keep trying to get in by legal and other means. The question of the day is, how should a Christian deal with those who sneak across our borders?

Scripture provides the most reliable source, as usual. My favorite verse on how to treat strangers among us is Exodus 22:21: "You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt." That's God Who is speaking.

On the flip side, it is also incumbent on those who choose to live among us to obey our laws. If a worker from Mexico starts his life among us by breaking our immigration law, then what should we do? First, as Christians, love him, treat him and his family with dignity. But this love can't include turning a blind eye to his breaking of our law. We must take steps to turn a lawbreaker into a legal immigrant or, failing this, send him back from whence he came.

As an aside, the debate talks of illegal "immigrants." To me, the son of immigrants, this is a misnomer. An immigrant is one who willingly joins our society, and not just for a job, but with the full intent of becoming one of us. This very much includes, as a first principle, obeying our laws. Others who come because they need jobs, but for no other reason, that's fine. No one should be forced to become an American citizen. But this economic need does not justify breaking our law.

So, what to do with those sojourners among us who break our laws? If the only law broken is the one that forbade them entry in the first place, send them back to their native land, with their families if possible. As for those who have split families, some here legally, some not, we must make exceptions based on compassion and allow some "illegals" to stay.

There are other exceptions, of course. Those who flee political persecution should always be given refuge. For example, it is to our shame that we don't allow all Cubans in, without the legal hairsplitting "wet-foot, dry-foot" of the Clintonistas. But then, Fidel is a darling of our so-called liberal intelligentsia...

What about the 10-12 million who are here illegally now? As a practical matter, there's not much you can do, except enforce the laws already on the books: when you catch illegal workers, deport them, and fine their employers if they reasonably should have known their workers were not legal immigrants.

The other thing we must do is tighten our borders. A lot. We need to slow down the flow of people who cross our borders illegally. There's no point in mopping up the floor if you first don't turn off the faucet.
5.15.2006    |    Experts on sin
One of my favorite stained glass bluegrass gospel songs has a line that goes something like this:
You're not too bad to come in, and you're not too good to stay out
That's come in, or stay out, of church.

It gets at one of the foundational purposes for our Christian church: a place where sinners learn about salvation. And, as we should all know by now, the first steps in salvation are knowing what is sin, and then knowing that we are sinners. This simple thought, that seems to escape many who attend church, always on their best behavior, is, as usual, best expressed in the Gospel. From Matthew: 9
10And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 12But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
A church, in different words, is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. Bible-based churches learn about sin, from the Fall in Genesis to the ultimate betrayal of the Son of God in the Gospels. Paul is also quite vocal about what constitutes a Christian life, and perhaps has led to the misconception shared by many that we must be pure as the driven snow to show our faces in the museum on Sunday morn.

Well, fellow sinners, if the Bible teaches us nothing else, we should become experts in knowing sin. With God's unwarranted grace, we may, just may, learn that there is One who has suffered, bled, and died a heinous death on the cross for our sins.

Those who are on the outside, or those who think themselves too good to need saving, may not know sin. But sin knows them. And will find them in the end.

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5.13.2006    |    "practices of discrimination."
This is what the Archbishop of Southern Africa has called objections to the ordination of an openly homosexual bishop. As a successor for the much-loved lefty, Desmond Tutu ("Fidel, love your ways..."), this moke is confusing biblical fidelity with racial discrimination. From the laudatory (natch) story in today's WaPo, we get the by-now tired comparison:
Twelve years ago, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu successfully fought for the end of legalized racism in apartheid South Africa. Now, his successor, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, has turned his sights on his own church and says the time has come to abandon its "practices of discrimination."
Ndungane is bitterly opposed by many, if not most, senior Anglicans in Africa. They, apparently, haven't thrown out their Bibles, or dismissed clear statements on homosexual behavior:
Romans 1:27:...and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

1 Corinthians 6:9: Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality...
Christians should not discriminate against anyone on the basis of race. In the public square, Christians must also not seek to impose, by force, their views on nonbelievers. But we must never give up trying to impose, by reason and by our acts, our views of morality and of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ.

To applaud the appointment of one who flagrantly violates Scripture to bishop is, itself, sinful. As Paul also writes, in 1 Timothy 3:2, "an overseer [bishop] must be above reproach." I sincerely doubt that St. Paul would have considered an active homosexual to "be above reproach."

Neither, then, should we. So, we must ask the likes of Ndungane, What is the foundation, exactly, for a church that denies black-letter scripture? Such a church is built on sand, and should not claim the label of Christian.

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5.12.2006    |    Rabbi, control thyself
Perhaps it is religion, taken to extremes, that is the root of all evil. I am usually harshly critical of Muslims who use their religion as the justification for their violence and suppression of women. Today, it's my people's turn: rabbis acting badly.

The rabbis in question are two eminent sages from Israel, who have embarked on a tour to America. One of the purposes for which appears to be fund raising. Well, to make money, you've got to spend money, the saying goes. So, these holy of holies have spent many dollars to ensure that their sense of modesty isn't offended on the flight to America.

According to this story, our holy rollers
concluded an agreement with El Al that would see them enjoy a woman-free and movie-free flight.

The Gerrer Rebbe, a Hassidic leader who will fly abroad on Sunday, asked El Al that no air stewardesses be aboard the flight.

El Al complied with the rabbi's request and on Sunday's flight to the United States only males will look after passengers.

The rabbis asked that the flight from Israel adhere to the strictest standards of modesty. Their aides agreed with El Al officials that they will not have to see women during flight.

The rabbis bought all first class tickets on the flight to make sure no businesswomen are on board.

It was also decided that no films will be screened during the flight. Moreover, the backs of first class seats will be covered with plastic so that the rabbis won't even have to see the television screens.
I'm all for modesty, but at what expense? And at whose? If these holy rollers can't abide looking at women or popular entertainment, perhaps they should simply blindfold themselves.

This is a triumph of religious legalism over decency and common sense. Not only that, it's an offence against God, who created both men and women in His image. Who are these men that they can't abide to look at a woman? How weak they must be in spirit to go to such lengths to avoid the slightest temptation.

I'm hardly a saint, and can't go about giving lectures on how to stay pure. But I do know that the world can't be changed to suit my requirements. And I've learned, the hard way, that moral living must start from within.
5.10.2006    |    "Jewish perceptions of reality"
There is a piece in yesterday's WaPo that is almost a parody of the sensitive and most likely politically liberal American multiculturalist.  

Given his affiliation as "professor of religion and Jewish studies at George Washington University" there's a good chance that he is also Jewish.

Mr. Eisen's religion might not matter, except for the fact that he comes across as one who must make apologies for Jews wanting their God-given homeland, Israel. And for doing what, for a Jew (or for anyone who recognizes the difference between right and wrong), should be unforgiveable: writing of the moral equivalence of Israel and the millions upon millions of Muslims who have never accepted Israel's right to exist and who adhere to a religion whose stated goal is to have dominion over all who are not Muslims.

One of the weaknesses of those who think both sides to the Israel-Arab struggle are morally equivalent is the excessive importance they place on perceptions.  From  Eisen's piece, this is stated baldly as:
what matters here is Jewish perceptions of reality, not necessarily the reality itself
This is, to say the least, nonsense.  It is willfully stupid, given the history of the Jewish people since the Romans massacred the Jewish population of Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE.

In the roughly two millenia since then, Jews have survived as minorities in foreign lands.  Sometimes Jews did well; sometimes they were slaughtered.  But always, until the last 200 or so years, it was at the sufferance of their gentile overlords.  And, until the re-creation of the State of Israel in 1948, Jews had no nation that was theirs.

This is not "perception." It is the harshest kind of reality, a reality of living apart and, often, despised. Any Jew should know this. Any human being should know this.

Arabs have 22 (or 23 if one counts "Palestine") nations, and, as the map shows, somewhat more territory than the Jews.  An hellacious amount more. 
Arabs and Muslims have controlled their destiny, more or less, for centuries.  That they are not very good at governing is neither here nor there.  They've got their nations, and, by happy coincidence, much unearned oil wealth.  Those nations are theirs to run well or ruin. 

Given this geographic and geopolitical imbalance, it can only be weakness of mind that makes a self-hating Jew such as Eisen write this mush:
Muslims have turned to violence because they see it as the only way to defend themselves.
Poor babies, being bullied by a tiny patch of arid land, by a Jewish population that they outnumber by many, many millions. Facts are inconvenient for those who would make equals of good and evil. 

Not that Israel is without sin, or that she should not be held to account for her actions.  Just that Jews have, since their diaspora, have been willing and able to live in peace -- if only they are left in peace.   Muslims have a sacred duty to convert Jews.  Or, if they will not convert, rule over them, with Jews again becoming second class citizens, accepting dhimmi status.   If Jews don't submit willingly to conversion or dhimmitude, they are to be killed. This is the truth of the Koran.

Ignoring this, Eisner, without irony, and, to me, without any surprise at all, concludes:
The ones who respond most positively to my thinking are Muslim clerics.
Shouldn't wonder.  To the Muslims, fools such as Eisner are what the Soviets used to call the "useful idiots" in the West -- those who would help defeat freedom.

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5.08.2006    |    “Londonistan”
There is a must-read q&a with British writer Melanie Phillips. It may be found at NRO, and it gives a brief but encompassing snapshot of what the fruits of some modern -isms have been in Britain. And which may lie in store for America.

The most virulent of these -isms are Islamism and multiculturalism. The first of which is the enemy of our shared Judeo-Christian heritage. The second of which is the driving force behind Britain's muddleheaded embrace of Islamists who would destroy our freedoms from within.

As Ms. Phillips illustrates, the harm done, and yet to come, is the result of self-inflicted wounds:
The government is very much to blame because it denied the significance of what was going on and allowed it to grow under its nose. Amazingly, even since the London bombings last July the government and the security establishment still refuse to acknowledge the religious nature of Islamist terrorism. The thinking goes: Al Qaeda bad, Muslim Brotherhood not so bad; indeed, we can use the Brotherhood to divert young Muslims away from terrorism! This is called British sophistication.
Over on this side of the Pond, it's called "nuance." And it is every bit as much a cancer on our foundations of liberty as it appears to be in Britain.

It is time we awake from our slumber; acknowledge that those who preach submission to Islam are the enemies of free men and women. And they make cowards of us if we refuse to call them such: enemies.
5.07.2006    |    The Senator
A United States senator worships at our church. He's elderly, and belongs to the political party for which I never vote for. He's liberal, politically, and, at least to me, has an unsavory reputation. In short, he's the sort of man that I was predisposed to dislike. Intensely.

The Senator is, as am I, a Baptist. He's been one much longer than I, and, he's an old-school Southern Baptist. What this means is that he's an enthusiastic "Amen!" praise-giver. In a way that is unique in our white-bread, affluent suburban Baptist congregation.

Here's what's important: I now love this man. Anyone who can confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and do so, unapologetically, and without care that he's the only one shouting out his "Amens!", is my brother in Christ.

I still don't agree with him politically. But that is just not important. Jesus Christ, and His cross that atones for our sins, are. My sins. The Senator's sins. He and I are one in Christ Jesus.

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5.05.2006    |    "God Bless Everyone -- No Exceptions!"
This morning on my walkabout, I noticed this bumper sticker: "God Bless Everyone -- No Exceptions!" Googling this expression of a loving but blind God, I came up with this website, Turn-left.com, with its "Liberal Christian Bumper Stickers."

The problem isn't the sentiment on many of these so-called "liberal" Christian signs. It is the sheer hypocrisy of those who place their politics above Jesus Christ accusing conservative Christians of doing the same. Examples of hypocrisy include "Do you really think Jesus would be a Republican? (red in the original, for emphasis, I suppose...), and "Pro-Life/Pro-Democrat."

So, we must assume that those who buy this last bumper sticker are among the small percentage of Democrats who actually don't agree with a "woman's right to choose" to kill her baby. Or, they are merely lying.

Some of the sentiments are pacifist silliness, such as the high-school sophomoric "what part of 'Thou shalt not kill" don't you understand?" Then there are a few (very) select quotations from John Paul II, including "Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of men." Except, of course, when "violence and arms" are the only things that can defeat slavery, communism, fascism, and, we pray, Islamism. Not to mention that there is very, very, little of the late JPII's beliefs that would pass muster among those on the Christian left.

Other sentiments are those which are shared by most, if not all, confessing Christians. Most of us know that when we go to war, it should only be when lesser means at conflict resolution have failed. And that war is the only means to protect the innocent. If we don't go to war, and tyrants continue to kill the innocent, shame on us.

Those who ignore the suffering of the innocent and place these sanctimonious statements on their vehicles are not worth arguing with. We go to war not for empire, or oil, or because we can conquer and kill our fellow men. We go to war, or we should, only as a last resort. Reasonable people may agree, or disagree, on the current war in Iraq -- but not on the absolutist grounds that we should never go to war.

Getting back to the "God bless everyone" nonsense, it should be true that all Christians would wish for all men and women to merit those blessings. The truth, which should be self-evident, is that many, if not most, people around the world go out of their way to turn away from God and His teachings -- especially those revealed by His Son.

God will surely bless those who fear Him, love Him, and do His will. Everyone is certainly eligible. But since we are all born captive to sin, not all will earn God's blessing. And, if anything is assured, it is that God hates sin, and can not turn a blind eye to those who persist in their sin. Such will never be blessed, unless and until they truly repent.

Which brings me to the conclusion, where I have to state that I can share some ground with the lefties, when they feature one of my personal favorite Scripture verses from the prophet Micah (6:8):
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,[b]
and to walk humbly with your God?
Unfortunately for the bumper-sticker crowd, the context of Micah 6 includes the destruction, by God, of those who do not walk in His ways.

Which very much seems to include some "liberal" Christians.

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5.03.2006    |    Yom Ha'atzmaut
Today is yom ha'atzmaut, the Day of Independence, celebrating 58 years of the modern State of Israel. Contrary to what those on the left may say or believe (the two are not necessarily at all the same things), Jews have always lived in the Holy Land, and have for 3,000 and more years. That Israel has not been a distinctive nation-state for most of those years is neither here nor there.

The modern Israel may have been created out of a sense of European guilt for the nearly-successful genocide of the Jewish people. So, a national home was necessary to help assuage that guilt. But guilt alone can't explain the rightness of restoring Israel as a nation among nations. Nor can it explain how a geographically tiny nation has been able to survive while surrounded by Arab populations who have been trying to kill them from the first day. And who, incidentally, turned down an independent Palestinian Arab state at the Partition.

Part of the rightness of modern Israel is that it sits on land that had been promised by God to the Jews. Given that the victor nations in World War II were predominantly Christian (even Soviet Russia, albeit not officially), this was not unimportant. Quite the opposite. For unbelievers among the victorious Allies, they could simply accept that there was secular justice in providing a safe haven for persecuted Jews.

So, today we are 58 years into what some might say presages the Second Coming of Christ, or, for some observant Jews, the first coming of the messiah. Other, highly pious Jews, think that modern Israel has no right to exist without the messiah first coming. And a pretty large majority of the world's Muslims would be just as happy if there were no Jews in the Middle East whatsoever. They just disagree among themselves as how best to achieve that goal.

I'm not an objective observer, of course, being born Jewish, and being a Zionist. But I'd like to share what one of my favorite goyim has to say about Israel today. From Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus:
A lot of people—particularly on the extreme left and the extreme right—lament that the U.S. is yoked to Israel. I thought of this when Iran announced that, if America acts against it, it will respond by attacking Israel. Whether we like it or not, we are yoked to Israel. We are also yoked to decency, liberty, and the survival of humanity. A country that will turn its back on Israel in these times—in any time since 1948, really—is a country that, in a way, has decided against humanity.
Happy anniversary, Israel. May you have many more; at least until Yehoshua the Nazarene returns to claim what is his. That's Jesus Christ, my brothers and sisters.
5.01.2006    |    Pope Pius XII
If the only thing you knew about Pope Pius XII was from the mainstream media, you might be excused for thinking that Pio XII was nothing but a lackey of the Nazis, a willing accomplice to the Holocaust. On the other hand, the truth is harder to see, and, for those of us who still love the Roman Church, a bit of a relief.

Just a couple of extracts. First, from a message sent by Golda Meir, minister of foreign affairs, and later prime minister of Israel, on the occasion of Pius' death in 1958 (source: A Question of Judgment: Pius XII & the Jews, By Dr. Joseph L. Lichten):
We share the grief of the world over the death of His Holiness Pius XII. During a generation of wars and dissensions, he affirmed the high ideals of peace and compassion. During the ten years of Nazi terror, when our people went through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and to commiserate with their victims. The life of our time has been enriched by a voice which expressed the great moral truths above the tumults of daily conflicts. We grieve over the loss of a great defender of peace.
Then, from this article at the Jewish Virtual Library:
The vindication of Pius XII has been established principally by Jewish writers and from Israeli archives. It is now established that the Pope supervised a rescue network which saved 860,000 Jewish lives - more than all the international agencies put together.
Especially note that "more than all the international agencies put together." Not to mention more than Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, the two wartime leaders who, God be thanked, won the war, but basically denied real steps (like bombing railroad tracks leading to death camps; like allowing more Jewish refugees into their nations) that could have saved Jewish lives. Many Jewish lives.

Pope Pius XII did not say much in public. But the European Church did quite a bit. For which I, at least, am thankful.

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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.