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1.28.2007    |    Eternal civil rights
The Christian must not judge people by any standard other than that of Jesus Christ. Jesus set a high bar, of course: nothing less than Torah and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12:
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
This re-statement of the Golden Rule works for me, and should always be in the front of our brains before we engage our mouths. I make no claims for my own success in this...

As for pre-judging a person based on skin color, the quality of his clothing, or what car he drives, Jesus also has some brief, and sufficient word. John 7:24
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.
We should all attempt to keep these simple standards in view, 24/7. And, best of all, attempt to live by them.

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1.24.2007    |    "too fine to be perceptible"
David Pryce-Jones now has a blog at NRO. It is well worth the time. Today's entry concerns the just-departed Abbé Pierre, an acclaimed holy man of the Christian persuasion.

Perhaps he was holy, that is. As is sometimes the case, what you see isn't all of what you get. in Pierre's case, this is apparently the case. From Pryce-Jones:
Abbé Pierre who has just died at the age of 94 was perhaps a good, and even a saintly, man. Certainly he looked the part, a white-bearded sage, habitually wearing a comforting French beret and a dramatic black cape. He started Emmaus in 1949, a movement to provide shelter for the homeless, and now an organisation in some 30 countries. That is to his credit. Hearing of the death, Jacques Chirac called him, "an immense figure, a conscience, a man who personified goodness." And that’s quite enough to make anyone have second thoughts.
Beware of holy man wearing sackcloth and ashes, he could have written. So, why think that this Pierre fellow was anything other than a good and holy man? Just this:
...in 1996 he came out to endorse a book called "The Founding Myths of Israeli Policy." Its author was Roger Garaudy, a veteran Stalinist, who after the Soviet collapse converted to Islam (what else?), moved to Cairo, and became a Holocaust denier. Nobody who had ever saved Jews from Nazism could conceivably have come to the support of the disgusting Garaudy. But the Abbé did. Proud to claim fifty years of friendship with Garaudy, he compared the Holocaust to what the ancient Israelites had done, and referred to Zionism as an American-based worldwide plot.
Well, guilt by association, and, by their friends ye shall know them. God will judge Abbé Pierre. In the here and now, I've my doubts about anyone who is called "good and holy." Yes, that very much includes Mother Teresa and Gandhi, both of whom I suspect of being not quite as good as their publicity would have us believe. But Pryce-Jones nails it about Pierre:
Perhaps he was in his dotage. And perhaps in his case, as in so many in a century that smoothly converted morality into a branch of public relations, the distinction between a good man and a charlatan is too fine to be perceptible.
I suggest that this is a subtle way of saying that Abbé Pierre may not be very comfortable when he comes before the throne.

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1.22.2007    |    neither angels nor demons...
...will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is a fundamental truth, and, this verse, Romans 8:38-39, as translated in the NIV, makes perfect sense. Neither that which is of heaven, nor that which is of hell, may separate us from Christ Jesus.

The NIV translation also illustrates the Jewish concept of our two natures, always at war within us: our yetzer hara, or bad instincts, fighting against our yetzer hatov, which, according to Jewish tradition, lies dormant until we attain our thirteenth year and become bar mitzvah.

Bar mitzvah meaning, literally, "son of commandment," but commonly understood to mean "son of the covenant" with God. A Jewish adult, in other words, in full communion with the believing Jewish community. Likewise, we who know Christ as Lord are sons of the New Covenant, and, in a parallel with the fight between evil and good within us, are able to "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11).

So the NIV translation would seem to be right on the mark. Unfortunately, it also does not appear to be what Paul actually wrote. A better literal translation, the English Standard Version, has this for Romans 8:38-39:
38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The King James version has something similar, "...nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers..." So, did the translators of the NIV believe that "rulers" was synonymous with "devils?" Not exactly.

The concept that I would accept is that "rulers" and "principalities" are other ways of saying the snares and delusions of this world. The world that is Satan's province, in other words. Jesus told us that "My kingdom is not of this world." It logically follows then, that that which is evil may, indeed, be found in the rulers and principalities of the here and now. The NIV "thought for thought" is, therefore, a better translation in this instance -- if one seeks to underlying meaning.

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1.13.2007    |    Salvo
Very interesting new magazine, with online content: Salvo. Their mission statement:
Blasting holes in scientific naturalism, marveling at the intricate design of the universe, and promoting life in a culture of death.

Critiquing art, music, film, television, and literature, interrupting mass media influence, and questioning the sanity of our consumerist lifestyle.

Countering destructive ideologies, replacing revisionist fictions with undeniable facts, and paring away political correctness.

Debunking the cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed the notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded our appetite for transcendence.
That business of "promoting life in a culture of death" is what all Christians ought be about. Salvo looks to be thoughtful, and insightful. I recommend giving it a tussle.


1.07.2007    |    A Christian Political Fast?
This is the title of a thought-provoking piece that appeared this past week at the Washington Post online. The essence of the question is this:
How much political involvement can Christians stomach and still remain true to their faith? A cadre of religious believers in America is considering a mal-nourishing proposal: that followers of Jesus should "fast" from politics for two years.
The author then goes on to demolish this proposal, on the fairly solid grounds that, somehow, "religion concerns what happens after one dies, politics concerns what happens in Washington, D.C."

On the other hand, Jesus told us, in no uncertain terms, "my kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). And, of course, that we must "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). Then there is this point, which the author acknowledges as having some merit:
Wedding the gospel to a particular nation-state or party is harmful to democracy and downright idolatrous for faith.
This point, in particular, is what would give me pause if I were inclined to inject my faith directly into politics. And that, I believe, is the key: "directly."

Getting back to Jesus in Matthew 22, there is some thought that Jesus was speaking tongue-in-cheek. And it's a point that is made every Sunday in church, when it comes time for the collection: we are merely returning to the faith some small portion of what has been given to us by God. No God, no Caesar. No God, no politics of any sort. Everything belongs to God is the point.

The very notion of a "fast" from politics is therefore wrong-headed. All we are, all of everything, comes from God. When we give to charity, preach the gospel to our family, friends, and neighbors, we are engaged in the world. Our faith should, our faith must, inform every political decision. In different words, our life in public is informed by and should be fueled by our faith.

As Christians, we can do no less.

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1.06.2007    |    "most abhorrent"?
First, let me say that, although I think he is an idiot of the first water, I pray for Jimmy Carter. Pray that he will read the Scriptures he seems to have forgotten in his very public persona of piety.

Nice alliteration, there, John Luke, now get to the point. The point is that I love Jimmy Carter as a fellow human being and as a lost sheep. For some reason, our worst ex-president (we just lost our best; Gerry Ford, R.I.P.) hates Israel. And, apparently, does not believe that a Jewish state has any place in the ancestral home of the Jewish people: Palestine.

Fresh evidence of Carter's blindness appears in an excerpt from "On Faith" in today's Washington Post. The excerpt in question touches only in the most marginal way "on faith." Unless one's faith is secular liberalism. Carter does mention that his Carter Center
has promoted programs that fall under the broad umbrella of peace and human rights. I see these as compatible with my Christian faith.
That's as close as it gets. His real cri du coeur is the "plight of the Palestinian people." Which, according to Carter,
represents one of the most abhorrent cases of human rights oppression on Earth. Forced from their homes and land and surrounded by walls, they live under a system of mandatory segregation, with passes required to reach their jobs, schools, pastures and fields. A unique system of military justice deprives them of any legal ability to alleviate their suffering.
One should feel pity for the Palestinian Arabs, but not for the pro-terrorist reasons Carter writes of. What is absent, asides from a sense of wretched excess (more on this below), is any notion that the Palestinian Arabs, and their Arab cousins in the Middle East, have the greatest responsibility for the current "plight."

By not recognizing the state of Israel, by making war on Israel, and by supporting terrorism, unceasing terrorism against Israel, they have, as the saying goes, made their own bed. And must now lie in it. Contra Carter, it isn't the even-handed seeming "inability of Israel and its neighbors to live in peace" that is the root cause. It is the total denial of the right of Jews to live in peace in the Middle East, except under conditions of dhimmitude, that is the self-inflicted wound of the Arabs.

As for the notion that, even though self-inflicted, the Palestinian Arabs live under "one of the most most abhorrent cases of human rights oppression on Earth", this is nonsense on stilts. The "oppression" is necessary to protect innocent civilians from state-sponsored terror. The "state" in question being the fiction that is the Palestinian Authority, led now by Hamas, who is opposed by Fatah and several other terrorist factions.

The salient difference between Hamas and Fatah? Hamas is more honest about its stated intent to destroy Israel. Fatah lies in public, at least in the English media.

As for "most abhorrent," there are quite a few situations that are much, much worse. Darfur, for starters. Women under any place where sharia is in effect, for another. How about Saudi Arabia itself, where one is not even allowed to bring in a Bible? Then there's the problem of those pesky Jews who used to live in fairly large numbers in majority Muslim nations. Virtually all of the Jews had to leave places like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and, of course, any place under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

When public moralists like Jimmy Carter libel the Jews and don't say very much at all about terrorists and the Arab mistreatment of Jews, there is truly only one plausible explanation for such a gaping double standard: anti-Semitism.

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1.05.2007    |    "we don't have to water down the Gospel"
A front-page article on those pesky fundie 'piskies appeared in yesterday's Washington Post. It's yet another article in the anthropologic vein, down among the savages type of thing.

The central point is that Episcopalians, especially from the two parishes featured in the article, The Falls Church, and Truro Church, are not usually associated with fundamentalism or pentecostals. At least not in the eyes of those who write for the secular media.

Well, to borrow a phrase, Falls and Truro are not your grandfather's Episcopal church. They are both now independent of the liberal Virginia Diocese, and are both accused of "reading the Bible as the wholly true word of God." And believing that Christ is King, God incarnate, who died on our behalf, and was resurrected from the dead.

All things that would seem to be definitional for a Christian church, if not necessarily for the political activist clubs that many Episcopal churches have become. In fact, this is remarked on, in the negative, by the skeptical authors of the Post article:
Unlike many Episcopal churches nationally, neither Truro nor The Falls Church was active in supporting the civil rights movement or in protesting the Vietnam War.
Oh, the humanity! Were not active in supporting the civil rights movement! Did not protest the Vietnam War! All they seem to do in these churches is thump their Bibles and believe in strange things, like pig farmers in Arkansas or, even, in hideously backward places like Nigeria, whose Anglican primate has taken The Falls Church and Truro Church under his pastoral care.

What has caused these two old-line Episcopal parishes, among several others, to sever their ties? From the Post, a root cause appears to be the lack of Christian belief among the Episcopal Church:
Many say the rift involves something deeper -- whether the Bible is the word of God, Jesus is the only way to heaven and tolerance is more important than truth. When he was a newly ordained priest almost 20 years ago, Wright said, he talked with several other priests about how to respond to a teenager who asked, "Do you really believe in the Resurrection of Jesus?"

"The rest of the priests agreed that it was a sticky question, and they felt that way because they didn't believe in it, but they didn't want to say so," he said. "That's where the Episcopal Church has been for the last 20 years. It's not where we are [Rev. Rick Wright, associate rector, The Falls Church]."
It is incredible to me that a priest of a Christian church, any Christian church, would think that the Resurrection of Jesus was a "sticky question." And, as Rev. Wright said, diplomatically, to say the least, is "It's not where we are."

I should hope and pray not. One may believe as one's conscience dictates. But do not claim to be a Christian if you can't answer in the affirmative to the simplest of articles of your faith. If you don't believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, died for your sins, and was resurrected to join with God the Father, then do not call yourself Christian.

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1.03.2007    |    Now that's abuse
It is not hard to know which side the ACLU is on: they're more concerned that jihadi warriors not be offended than we obtain intelligence to prevent further deaths of Americans. What is puzzling, however, are the lengths to which our own government wastes our money investigating such concerns.

For reasons that should by now not need to be stated, any time some douchbag of an Islamist terrorist at Gitmo is "offended", it becomes front-page news in our mainstream media. Today's front-page story in the WaPo is typical. It relates, among other things,
FBI agents witnessed possible mistreatment of the Koran at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including at least one instance in which an interrogator squatted over Islam's holy text in an apparent attempt to offend a captive, according to bureau documents released yesterday.

In October 2002, a Marine captain allegedly squatted over a copy of the Koran during intensive questioning of a Muslim prisoner, who was "incensed" by the tactic, according to an FBI agent.
So. Here we are, attempting to prevent these terrorists from killing us, from beheading our journalists, from mistreating women, from stoning homosexuals to death, and some of us are concerned that they become "incensed?" Boo. Hoo. They want to kill us; the ACLU doesn't want them to become upset.

As for the tactics using the "holy" Koran, well, that book is full of lies, and features, among other things, the command that infidels be converted or killed. Well, huff the multicultis, so too does the Bible. Look at all that smiting of those who a) don't follow God's commandments, or, b) get in the way of God's chosen people.

Perhaps this is so. But while Christians are told by Jesus to go forth and "baptize all nations," we are also told to pray for our enemies, not kill them. Killing aside, it gets into really foul abuse territory:
Some previously reported tactics mentioned in the new documents include wrapping a prisoner in an Israeli flag, subjecting others to extreme heat and cold, and aggressively using strobe lights on others.
Wrapping a prisoner in an Israeli flag. Oh, the humanity. This is wrong, wrong I say -- It demeans the flag of a staunch ally in the war on terror, and insults Jews.

But the ACLU doesn't give a rat's sphincter about that, now, do they?

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   |    "house of condolences"
Got to hand it to the Palestinians. They never seem to miss an opportunity to get on the wrong side of history. There is, now, in the (Christian) holy city of Bethlehem, a "house of condolences" for paleos to mourn the passing of a man who was, apparently, the best friend a terrorist could have.

This account in the Jerusalem Post is, to say the least, sickening. Not anything that the Post has done. Rather, the notion that any group of people are so evil as to cheer a monster such as Saddam, and take money from him as a reward for blowing up innocent cilivians.

From the story, the basics:
The execution of Saddam Hussein sent many Palestinians into deep mourning Saturday as they struggled to come to terms with the demise of perhaps their most steadfast ally.

Unlike much of the rest of the world, where Saddam was viewed as a brutal dictator who oppressed his people and started regional wars, in the West Bank and Gaza he was seen as a generous benefactor unafraid to fight for the Palestinian cause, even to the end.
Then there is this, from one local idiot:
"He wanted the Palestinian people to have a state and a government and to be united. But God supports us, and we pray to God to punish those who did this," said Ghanem Mezel, 72, from the town of Saeer in the southern West Bank.
Finally, in a heart-touching note, we are told that
Others were happy to hear Saddam's final words, knowing that his support for them remained unshakable until the end.
This is beyond sad; it is beyond pathetic. It shows that some Arabs are beyond salvation. Judging from the way they are even now plotting to kill each other (Hamas and Fatah, that is), the paleos are simply too ignorant and unable to distinguish the evil from the good to deserve their own state.

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1.02.2007    |    "They want victory"
Today you may find, in an abbreviated version, the heart of the reason why our investment in Iraq will not pay any dividends. Not if one expects a return in the form of a peaceful, truly democratic nation called "Iraq" that is not just a bunch of ethnic and confessional -stans cobbled together with spit and bailing wire.

The article, by the author Mark Bowden ("Black Hawk Down"), includes this quotation from Michael Sheehan, former ambassador for counter-terrorism that sums up the situation in tribal places such as Iraq:
The idea used to be that terrible countries were terrible because good, decent, innocent people were being oppressed by evil, thuggish leaders. Somalia changed that. Here you have a country where just about everybody is caught up in the fighting. You stop an old lady on the street and ask her if she wants peace, and she will say, 'Yes, of course, I pray for it daily.' All the things you would expect her to say. Then ask her if she would be willing for her clan to share power with another to have that peace, and she'll say, 'With those murderers and thieves? I'd die first.' People in these countries . . . don't want peace. They want victory. They want power. Men, women, old, and young. Somalia was the experience that taught us that people in these places bear much of the responsibility for things being the way they are. The hatred and killing continues because they want it to. Or because they don't want peace enough to stop it.
"They want victory." And will settle for nothing less. It is only the whip and the lash and the boot of the dictator that can tame those for whom clan, tribe, confession, and ethnicity trump all else. Or, put more simply, those for whom blood triumphs over reason.

This describes most of mankind. The United States is the leading, and, some might claim, the only successful version of the alternative: a nation whose founding reflects the post-Enlightenment notion that free men can create a nation built on an idea. In our case, the idea, at least in theory, is that each of us has certain, inalienable rights, vested in us not by any political entity, but by God.

Those rights may vary from telling to telling, but in our founding documents, they are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not just for Kurds. Not just for Sunni Arabs. Not just for any single group, but for all.

Iraq may never get there, but whether or not they do, I don't believe the journey is worth more American lives.

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1.01.2007    |    Koranic blues
Jonathan Tobin has a thought-provoking essay at Jerusalem Post online on the mini-flap caused by Keith Ellison's statement that he would use a Koran to be sworn into office (as a Democrat congressman from Minnesota).

Rep.-elect Ellison, other than being a Muslim, would appear to be just another left-leaning politico. Leaving aside Ellison’s professed faith, there is something problematic in the extreme for a Koran to be used as a platform for swearing an oath of office in the United States. Reason? The Koran is not just another version of the Scriptures. It is in direct contradiction to some quite fundamental points for Jews, and for Christians.

The first, and obvious divergence is that the Koran has Abraham’s covenantal seed passed through Ishmael, not Isaac. So long, tribes of Israel; hello, tribes of Arabia. The second, and fatal, flaw for any Christian American is the denial of two basic tenets of the American Founders’ shared Christian faith: that Jesus was the messiah, and that he arose from the dead to be with God, his Father.

It is one thing to not believe; it is quite another to specifically give one’s allegiance to a book that denies the basics of Americans’ beliefs.

As a final reason that the use of the Koran is troubling, there is the stated belief that all people must submit to Islam, either through conversion, or to live as second (at best!) class citizens under some form of caliphate. This, at least, is the desired end state for Islam.

What about all those wretched Christian crimes against freedom of conscience? Islamist apologists like CAIR will usually trot out the Crusades and the Inquisition by way of counter example.

It is sad but true that, throughout most of their history, Christians have behaved badly towards those who were not Christian. To say the least. And that behavior most definitely included the by-now-standard "convert or die, infidel!"

Well, that may have been true, but in the post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment world, Christianity has become what Islam merely claims for itself: a religion of peace. One may accept Christianity, or not. In nations where Christians are the majority, at least here in the West, there is no compulsion; no force.

In majority Islamic nations, this is far from the case, and in some, it is not wise or even allowed to be anything other than a Muslim. Which brings me to the conclusion: it is not the swearing on a Koran that is at issue; it is the notion that a man feels so drawn to a creed such as Islam that is intrinsically un-American.

Un-American, not because most of its adherents are not Americans. No; Un-American because the faith requires conversion or submission to Islamic authority. This violates the basic premises of the American experiment: all people, men, and women, are created equal, and all shall have freedom of conscience.


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.