“They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:7)

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When Iran, a nation where people held candlelight vigils in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, were themselves the target of a terrorist attack last week many Americans (including the Trump administration) added insult to injury and called it karma.

Apparently these Americans, reveling in a terrorist attack, are unable to differentiate between Saudi Arabian hijackers (Sunni Arabs) and Iranian civilians (Persian Shites) mercilessly gunned down in Tehran.  I guess to them terrorism is only bad when American and European people are the targets?

What’s worse is the missed opportunity to defeat a common enemy (ISIS) and also to bridge a divide between two nations that should never happened in the first place.  This is probably because we have selective memory and remember the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 (when 52 American diplomats were taken hostage) yet not the decades of meddling by our government that led up to it.

Americans forget that we drew first blood in the conflict with Iran when our government (via the CIA) participated in the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1953.  It was called “Operation Ajax,” it was intended to serve British oil interests, and ended with our installing brutal monarchal rule under Mohammed Reza who was called the Shah (or king) of Iran.

With all the outrage over alleged Russian interfere in our election, and our own history of revolution against kings, it should be easy to understand what came next.  The Iranians took their country back, the Shah escaped to the United States to avoid accountability, our government refused to send him back to stand trial in Iran, and in response they took our diplomats hostage.

The great irony here is that the only Americans harmed were the eight U.S servicemen killed and four wounded in a helicopter crash during a bungled military operation to rescue the hostages.  That’s not to mention the one Iranian civilian, who was guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was killed by an Army Ranger’s shoulder-fired rocket.

Yet, despite our own casualties being self-inflicted, since then the U.S. government has made it their policy to do harm to the Iranian people.  For example, there is a reason why some in our government knew Saddam Hussain had chemical weapons: we enabled him to use them against the Iranians.

The Iran-Iraq war, started in the 1980’s when Iraq invaded Iran, was a bloody conflict that cost more than a million lives.  In response to the carnage Henry Kissenger, a former U.S. Secretary of State, smirked, “it is a pity they both can’t lose.”

It is little wonder that the Iranian leaders would seek a nuclear deterrence given our past (and present) aggression.  From their perspective it is simply a matter of survival given that U.S. leaders regularly threaten.  For example, long-term Senator John McCain who thought singing “bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran” was funny and praised the leader of a Marxist terrorist organization that has murdered thousands of Iranians.

McCain actually met with the leadership of Mujahedin-e khalq (MEK) to express his hopes that they would someday rule in Iran.  The thought of this is horrifying to a secular Iranian friend of mine.  My friend, while not a fan of the current Iranian government, says that she (and most other Iranians) do not want the MEK in power and are shocked​ that a prominent U.S. politician would openly support terrorism.

How quickly the American public forgets that our government (including McCain) also gave support (direct or indirect) to Osama Bin Laden when he was fighting a holy war against the Soviet Union.  Of course they do remember the blowback when the terrorist we helped to create turned his attention on us as a result of our meddling in his own part of the world.  Talk about karma.

And, no surprise, U.S. interventions (supported by then Secretary of State, Hillary “we came, we saw, he died” Clinton, and none other than John McCain) have also resulted in the formation of ISIS.  It is obvious that our leadership never learns from the blowback and the American public—putting it too lightly—is woefully ignorant of the misdeeds supposedly done on their behalf around the world.

Any slight hope that the Trump administration would take a more sensible approach has pretty much disappeared when they responded to the terrorist attacks with political opportunism rather than solidarity against ISIS (who claimed responsibility for the attacks in the Iranian capital Tehran) and, in the process, we are driving further away many Iranians who once looked upon America as great despite our numerous violations of their sovereignty.

We put a travel ban on Iran who has never once attacked the American homeland and has only fought in defense against the attacks of the U.S. and our regional allies.  But then no travel ban is applied to Saudi Arabia or any of the other countries where the 9/11 hijackers came from.  It is absurd that we are still signing weapons deals with a nation that doesn’t allow women to drive, uses beheadings as punishment, funds the spread of Wahabbism worldwide, and backs ISIS, while opposing a nation merely fighting to keep us out.

Given our inability to admit hypocrisy or even to recognize our own mistakes, it is likely only a matter of time before the next group of U.S. supported “dissidents” and “freedom fighters” accomplish their objectives and then turn their bloodthirsty eyes on us, like Bin Laden did, and make their mission putting a permanent end to our hegemonic ambitions.

Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.  We are still sowing wind, covertly killing anyone (including the murder of civilian scientists) who stands in the way of our global dominance, supporting terrorism against those who do not want to be our puppets, and will likely reap still another whirlwind as a result.

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Rudolf Diesel: Thoughts about Idealism, Despair, Progress, Politics and Hope

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Diesel powers the world economy.  I never considered the extent to which that is true until watching a documentary (click here to view it) about this type of internal combustion engine.  It is named after the inventor, a French-German mechanical engineer, Rudolf Diesel, and is the reason why global trade is possible to the extent it is.

Early Diesel design, circa 1897

In considering the story of Diesel, his brilliant invention and the results, I could not help but see the pattern all too common with innovators.  Diesel’s life turned tragic, he was found floating in the North Sea, dead of an apparent suicide, and likely a result of his despair over the unintended consequences of his own design.

According to biographical accounts, Diesel was a utopian idealist who had hopes that his invention would be a catalyst for social change, free the common man and break corporate monopolies.  Unfortunately, while a revolution for transportation, Diesel power did not achieve the lofty social vision. 

Worse, the Diesel engine found use as a part in an efficient killing machine, the German U-boat, and this no doubt grieved the pacifist inventor.

Here are some observations…

#1) What is intended for good can often be used for evil.

Diesel had never intended his invention be used as a means of terrorizing North Atlantic shipping lanes.  And, likewise, many scientists and inventors had regrets related to their greatest contribution to the world.

German U-boat, the original stealth weapon 

There are lists from K-cups to A-bombs online and many others.  For example, Henry Ford seemed to dislike the vast social changes and consumerist mindset made possible by his manufacturing revolution that helped automobiles become a fixture of American life.  Even this media, the internet, once thought to be the beginnings of an information age, has become a cesspool of pornography and ill-founded claims.

I worry about this as a blogger.  Once my thoughts are out there they cannot be contained again.  Will someone pick up my words and run with them in a direction I never intended?  It is a potential outcome that could scare a sensitive soul into silence and is at least a reason for me to be prayerful in what I post here.

I believe there are many people who do not thoroughly think through the potential unintended consequences of the ideas they promote.  There are many government programs and social movements intended for good that might actually be creating more problems than the one that they were intended to solve.

Which takes me to a second point…

#2) Yesterday’s revolution is today’s loathed source of inequality and evil.

It is ironic that the invention that did actually outcompete coal for market supremacy is now enemy #1 for many.  The internal combustion engine won in the marketplace because it was by far the cheapest most efficient means to power transportation and still remains. 

Given there are no steam powered cars, tractors, trains and ships anymore, it is clear that internal combustion is the best bang for the buck and remains to be rivaled.  Diesel powered locomotives and ocean going container ships are extremely powerful while being very economical.    

109,000-horsepower Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C

Diesel power still outperforms hybrid technology—A loaded Diesel powered class 8 truck is more efficient pound for pound than a Prius.

Think about it: It takes one gallon of fuel to move an 80,000lb truck five to seven miles.  A 2016 Prius, by comparison, carries a weight of around 4000lbs can go anywhere from 50 to 58 miles on a gallon of fuel.  It may seem the Toyota is greener until you consider that it is moving twenty times less weight.  Twenty Prius cars combined together, after dividing their individual consumption by twenty, would consume 2.5 to 2.9 gallons of fuel.  Now, obviously, combining Diesel and hybrid technology on the scale of class 8 truck would undoubtedly yield even greater results if fuel economy were the only concern, but the point remains that Diesel power is extremely efficient and effective—and only more so the larger the application.

So what’s the problem?

Well, the current popular perception is that the petroleum industry “big oil” is the enemy and conspires to hold back technology that would dramatically increase efficiency.  Worse than that, we are told that petroleum power is a source of global climate change and a threat to the global ecology.  Poor Diesel would be driven even further into despair if half this is true.  We fight over oil.

 #3) Progressive aims of our time are at odds with each other or self-contradictory.

Globalism, higher standard of living for more people and environmentalist ‘green’ movements are at odds with each other.  Pushing one direction will almost invariably come at the cost of the others. 

Progressive politicians may tout an idea of a ‘green economy’ as a jobs creator, but the reality has been that wind and solar energy can only remain competitive through heavy use of government subsidies.  Beyond that, even with the help, domestic ‘green’ manufacturing is unsustainable against foreign competition.  At best we will merely replace jobs lost by the heavy regulations placed on fossil fuels and raise costs of living across the board.

Furthermore, it was the progressive policies of the past century that have created the current conditions.  Government policies like the Rural Electrification Act, the Interstate highway system and trade agreements have actually moved us away from a more sustainable less polluting lifestyle.  Our cheap and easy movement from place to place has harmed community and local markets.

Rural Electrification Act propaganda poster.

It is hard to know how the current landscape would look had the progressives of yesterday had not literally paved the way for suburban sprawl, the trucking industry (that currently employs me) and driven us to embrace a coal powered grid.  But I do suspect more of our food would be locally grown, more of our products locally produced and solar energy far more the norm in places utilities would be to costly to maintain unless mandated by law.

In final analysis things might not be as dismal as they seem.

It is easy to focus on the negative without considering the good.  The means of today are likely as unsustainable as the means of yesterday and therefore the progress of the past century might not be the end of us after all.  The only consistent reality in the past two centuries has been that markets constantly change.

Canal boats an all the infrastructure to support them were soon replaced by steam power and railroads.  In Pennsylvania the lumber industry rose in prominence before a rapid decline after the states wooded mountains were reduced to stubble.  The coal industry once put food on the table for boat loads of immigrants before cheap efficient oil and a multitude other factors conspired against it.

Bay State Mills, Lawrence, built 1845.

Manufacturing, from the once mighty water powered textile mills of the New England states to the formerly unstoppable domestic steel industry, has also migrated following cheaper labor and energy.  Each time promoting deep consternation and fear.  But so far the Luddites have yet to have the last laugh and a new balance is eventually found that usually benefits everyone.

Certainly the overconfidence and optimism about today’s new solution may become the big disappointment of tomorrow.  Yet, do we really wish to go back to a time when a transatlantic voyage was only something a religious zealot or crazy Viking explorer would do?  Would we really rather spend most of our time scrounging for just enough to eat as to avoid the possibility of mechanized warfare?

Nobody knows for certain why Diesel died... 

However, what is certain is that his invention changed the world and provided a means for interstate commerce and global trade that never existed before.  The pacifying effect of global trade, economic benefits of an expanded market place and inexpensive power are largely unappreciated.  But we probably do have Diesel to thank for helping create the long peace and prosperity of our time.

Maersk, Triple-E design, Diesel powered, container ship

In an age of information overload, where we know about beheadings in the Middle East before the people the next town over would have heard a century ago, it is difficult for our finite minds to contextualize and easy to become overwhelmed.  This, with an accompanying loss of faith, could be why middle-aged American white males are committing suicide (supposedly the most privileged in the world) and at an alarmingly increasing rate. 

Diesel’s pessimism about the future in retrospect seems to have been premature and his nightmarish perception of reality overstated.  In like manner many of our modern fears and despair inducing thoughts about the future could be negativity bias and nothing more.  Every generation seems to believe that the world is falling apart and still here we are.

Whatever the case, ignore the fear-mongering propaganda of the punditry and politicians.  Embrace temperance, a spiritual quality developed through faith, over mindless reaction and fearful impulse.  Trust God to secure the future, we can only live one day at a time and never ever lose hope!  If you are depressed about events in the world today, I invite you to see the higher perspective:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Perhaps the greater of two evils will be elected come November and drive the nation to complete ruin.  

Who knows besides God?

We may all die tomorrow, we will all die eventually, our work blown away in the wind of time and forgotten.  Everything comes to pass, nothing will remain as we know it today, but there is hope beyond all hope found in an eternal perspective.  So look up, because the sun is still shining and the future remains bright!

Do you see the light and feel the warmth of hope eternal?

If not, my prayer is for the blind to see…

Who Are The True Children Of Abraham?

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Over half a century ago there was a refugee crisis. 

Vast numbers of people crossed the Mediterranean Sea. These refugees landed in a place where the inhabitants viewed them as illegal aliens, a threat to their way of life and dangerous. 

There were terrorist bombings and assassinations perpetrated by those emerging from the sea—trying to gain a foothold.  The native people were overwhelmed, they were unable to repel the invasion—driven from their ancestral homes and into poverty.

To many this happening is a fulfillment of prophecy and miracle from God.  They use success in battle as evidence that God is on the side of the victors, they use Scriptural promises made to Abraham as proof texts, and urge the Christian church to fall in line. 

But Jesus warned of false prophets who “will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24) 

So, how do we know the difference between a miracle of God and deception?  Are the nationalistic ambitions of some today reflective of the new covenant or is that a return to bondage?  Is our new covenant one of physical reality or spiritual?  Who are the true children of God? 

#1) Jesus says clearly that children of Abraham by blood who do not believe are children of the devil, not God…

“‘Abraham is our father,’ they answered.

‘If you were Abraham’s children,’ said Jesus, ‘then you would do what Abraham did.  As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.  Abraham did not do such things.  You are doing the works of your own father.’

‘We are not illegitimate children,’ they protested. ‘The only Father we have is God himself.’ 

Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God.  I have not come on my own; God sent me.  Why is my language not clear to you?  Because you are unable to hear what I say.  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!  Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?  Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.  The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.'” (John 8:39-47)

Jesus tells these ‘Jews’ that the true children of Abraham do as he did.  Jesus suggests they are illegitimate children.  They claim to be children of God because of their biological lineage and Jesus dismisses them as children of the devil.

Do we agree with them? Is God and Abraham their father? Or do we agree with Jesus?

#2) Paul says the old covenant will “soon disappear” and be replaced by the new and superior covenant of Jesus…

“But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.  For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.  But God found fault with the people and said: ‘The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.  By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:6-13)

This is where historical context matters.

The text above was written before the destruction of the temple and final ending of the inferior covenant’s sacrificial system. 

Jesus represented the ending of the age, the fullness of a time, and a better way.  The old covenant has disappeared, we live in the fulfillment of that prophecy above and should not look backwards.

A covenant is an agreement only good when both sides keep the terms.  Paul clearly says that the old covenant was broken and God “turned away” from the people who broke the contract.  

Nobody under the new covenant should be pining for a return of the old…

“We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:13-17)

Do you live in the freedom of the new covenant or do you remain with Moses in dullness of mind and persistent lacking of understanding?

#3) The physical or outward circumcision does not mean anything to God, the true circumcision is something internal and spiritual… 

“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.  No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29)

Paul harkens back to the conditional promise given in Deuteronomy (chapter 30) where assurance is given “when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul” that He “will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

What circumcision is important to you?  That of religious devotion and performed by human hands? 

Or that circumcision of heart performed by spiritual means?

Physical circumcision is a cultural and religious tradition only—it is a ritual performed by men and has not real value to God.  The true circumcision is the one performed by God when people “return” to Him and live in obedience to His voice.

#4) The true sheep hear His voice, the false teachers are unable to comprehend and despite their diligent study of Scripture…

“The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’

Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.'” (John 10:24-27)

“And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.  You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:37-40)

We see these descendants of Abraham, even with their diligent study of Scripture, did not know God’s word or voice and did not accept Jesus.  They are not heirs of the promise to Abraham and are not the true children of God.

#5) The book of Revelation and 1 John tells us physical descendants of Abraham who did not obey Jesus are not children of the covenant, they are damned liars…

“Who is the liar?  It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ.  Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son.  No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:22-23)

“I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” (Revelation 3:9)

Can the language of Scripture be anymore explicit?

Those who have rejected Jesus are the “antichrist” and seperated from God the Father.  These are people who “claim to be Jews” yet really “are of the synagogue of Satan” and liars.  We want to share no part in their self-deception.

#6) Those who accept Jesus are the true seed of Abraham and the rightful heirs, not an ethnic group determined by bloodline…

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-2)

The early church dealt with the same issues we do today.  Some wanted, due to religious heritage and ethnic background, to think of themselves as superior.  But that is an idea in direct opposition to Scripture. 

In Jesus the importance of physical bloodlines is wiped away completely.  All who share the faith of Abraham are the real heirs of the promise and true children of God.

#7) So, what about Zionism and the resurrected state of Israel?

Many are bewitched and made fools   (Galatians 3) by those in the church peddling the old covenant.  Sensational claims grab our attention and sensational eschatology has become the biggest distraction from teaching true obedience to Jesus in many churches.

The book of Revelation does give a prophecy of the resurrected and seemingly invincible beast that emerges from the sea…

“One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed.  The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast.  People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, ‘Who is like the beast?  Who can wage war against it?'” (Revelation 13:3-4)

In the prior chapter we learn it is at war with the true offspring of God’s promise…

“Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”  (Revelation 12:17)

I don’t claim to know for certain what the beast is in the passages above.  But I see that the “offspring” are defined as those who have a testimony about Jesus.  I do also know that the antichrist is clearly defined in Scripture as those who have rejected Jesus as the son of God and we should have no part in their deception. 

According to Scripture true descendants of Abraham are those who have heard, believed and followed after Jesus.  The real circumcision is not one of a religious ritual, not one of a physical nation, but one of obedience and heart. 

Coincidentally the modern state of Israel was formed May 15, 1947 or precisely 69 years and a day ago from the date of this post.

Truth and Hypocrisy

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In the midst of this age of information overload is it any surprise that deep thinking people give up on the idea of discernable truth?

Competive and contradictory claims assail us from all angles. Advocates on all sides are seemingly equally convinced that they see more clearly than those who of a different perspective. 

We would be persuaded, they say, if we just opened our minds, examined the facts fairly and were honest with ourselves.  But, despite their confidence, to me often all sides seem to lack a clear perspective and bring a bias that is only obvious to those on the other side.

Hypocrisy in Action

How is it the same people who want to string up leaders as war criminals are the same who demand only compassion and understanding for a woman who aborts a life because pregnancy is inconvenient?

How is it that gun owners and passionate pro-lifers are some of the same saying that we should judge all Syrian refugees as a potential terrorist and protest to keep them out rather than value them as individuals as they demand for themselves?

Everyone is convinced in their own minds.  Everyone believes that they think rationally and most can give reasons for what they believe.  But somehow everyone, including some very smart people on both sides, cannot agree on everything and oftentimes we vehemently disagree.

Even those who claim the same religious texts as their guidebook to life arrive at vastly different conclusions about what it says—often with perspective each claiming they are authentic and the others are the imposters.  Both come with carefully crafted theologies and neither side shaken from the moorings of base assumptions that lurk somewhere outside the realm of their conscious thought.

Muslims see terrorism as the result of western intervention.  They can point to the fact that terrorist organizations like Islamic State and al-Qaeda were nurtured to life or a direct consequence of foreign policy decisions of the United States of America.  Many Americans, by contrast, see radicalization as a genetic flaw of Islamic faith and downplay their own responsibility.

We tend to see only the noble intentions of those who share our own particular ideological alignment.  The same people who demand absolute accountability for others are often the most creative at manipulating the evidence in order to absolve themselves of even shared guilt.

Meanwhile, with a smug satisfaction (that I cannot know is genuine or facetious) I sit here thinking I know something and maybe I do?

Could it be that none of us can claim to have a complete picture of the truth and that all of us share some in creating this flawed reality?

I know it is more comfortable to assume our perspective is infallible and the we ourselves have no major fault.  It is easy to outsource blame for the problems of the world, wash our own hands of responsibility, and pretend it is moral to distance ourselves sanctimoniously.  However, isn’t that exactly what is wrong with the other side?

I say we all resolve all the more to clean our own side of the street.  Lead the world by making no excuses and being an example.  If you wish for people to be open to your own perspective try to see theirs.  If you do not wish to be judged wholesale by the actions of a few bad actors then do not judge others that way.

Truth in Action

I believe there is truth to be found, but it is not something we profess so much as what we practice.  The truth is the love that we live and not a proposition that is only possible when others do our bidding.  Truth is our walk in consistent love not our words in hypocritical judgment.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  (Matthew 7:1-5)

Do we give up on describing truth?  No.  I believe that there is some value in trying to put truth into words and arguing for what we believe is right and good.  However, we must always speak in humility and be as brutal to ourselves as we are to those who see things differently.

Religions of Peace and of Violence

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Okay, I’m breaking a rule here, I’m going to mention a political figure and have tried to avoid politics on this blog.  Still, I do feel inclined to weigh in on a recent furor over something President Obama recently said:

“So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

The President continued on to talk about religious violence in India.  (Click here for the transcript)  But, it is the remarks highlighted in bold above that are the center of controversy, it has offended some of my Christian friends and initially annoyed me for various reasons.  Obama has this propensity for lecturing or condescension and I’m not sure he’s earned the right to speak about high horses.  However, on second thought, after reading some of the commentary in response and what seems to be either ignorance or denial of history, I am reconsidering my first impression.

There is, among my Christian friends, widespread denial or downplaying of violence done in the name of Christ.  That alone would be excusable, but that coupled with harsh judgments against Muslims and demands they denounce terrorism, seems a bit hypocritical.  Many Americans do not want themselves to be associated with the foreign policy of present and past US Presidential Administrations, let alone told they themselves need to apologize personally for every misdeed an American has done.  So why do we ask others to do what we don’t do?

What is the/a religion of peace?

One of those litmus test questions I see frequently asked as it pertains to terrorism and Islam, is “do you think Islam is a religion of peace?”  The phrase “religion of peace” is also often used sarcastically or to parody government leaders who use that phrase as part of trying to distinguish between terrorists and other Muslims.  But one place I don’t see that question asked is as it pertains to Christian history and Biblical religion.  Would Christianity pass the same test and be considered a “religion of peace” to an objective observer?  The answer might change depending on perspective.

Is Christianity a religion of peace?

Many Christians will claim that the Bible is their ultimate authority.  But then I have to wonder if they have ever actually read their Bibles when they recoil in horror at the mention of Sharia law.  The Christian Bible is full of bloodshed in the name of God.  There are instructions to kill every inhabitant of conquered lands, specifically every man, woman, child, sometimes even the livestock, and often times sparing the virgin women as war brides.  You can read this for yourself in the books of Numbers 31 and 1 Samuel 15.  By Biblical law disobedience to parents, picking up sticks on the wrong day of the week, adultery and blasphemy merited a death sentence by stoning. 

I can anticipate, because of prior experience in discussions, that the paragraph above could elicit howls of protest and that Jesus marked a change.  Yet, if we look at Christian history after Christ, it is evident many did not get the memo and the it is hard to even know where to begin.  History like the Salem witch trials, Gnadenhutten massacre, Manifest destiny, Jewish persecution, Anabaptist persecution, countless bloody wars between Christian people groups and many other examples besides the Crusades and the Inquisition or slavery and Jim Crow could be cited as Christian violence.  Much of it, from slavery to antisemitism, justified by Biblical passages and perspectives.

For those who would argue this use of Scripture is wrong and that Jesus taught peace rather the sword, that too could be questioned.  Christian theology is not very tolerant of unbelievers.  The Gospels teach that one must repent of sin, they must accept Jesus as Savior and Lord or they will be condemned for eternity.  Beyond that, consider Matthew 10:34 where he says: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  That doesn’t sound very peaceable. 

If the Bible and Christian history is so awful, why be a Christian?

I think that would be the next good question after all I just described.  After all, if I value woman’s rights, oppose genocide and slavery, shouldn’t I be looking elsewhere for my answers?  The simple answer is that I do look elsewhere.  I am not a Biblical fundamentalist, in that I do not see the Bible as the ultimate authority and instead look to the Spirit of God that was found in Jesus.  It is true, Jesus, as I quoted, did not promise peace on earth, but Jesus did set a different example to be followed:

“Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”  (John 18:36 NIV)

Jesus gave a different kind of leadership model to his followers:

“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:25-28 NIV)

Jesus did not just build off of existing traditions or reform Hebrew religion, he changed the entire paradigm of faith and turned the established system upside down.  He supersedes the law of Moses with a standard radically different, in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ he goes beyond retributive “eye for an eye” justice of Biblical law and totally rewrites the script:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:38-48 NIV)

This was not just an amendment, it was a radical departure from the law of Moses and the establishing of a completely new system.  Christianity was never intended to be built on institutions, hierarchies of men or religious texts and any other form of top down power.  It was to be defined by grace, forgiveness, servant leadership and respect for all people, as Paul explains:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  (Romans 12:14-18 NIV)

And goes further…

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  (Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)

In light of everything else Jesus said and did, I doubt his comment “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” was to inspire Christian use of the sword. He was sharing a message that was a threat to the order of the day. His message split Judaism into two and changed the world.

Why did Christianity become so violent?

“There is a history of Christianity: the first three centuries of Christianity; it was a radical pacifist religion, which is why it was persecuted, it was the religion of the poor and the suffering, and Jesus was the symbol of the poor and the suffering…” (Noam Chomsky)

My faith is simple.  History is complex.  Christianity started as “a religion of women, children and slaves,” according to an early critic, but somewhere along the way it was corrupted (or “hijacked” in the words of the President) and became another excuse for violence.  To me the corruption begins whenever the leading of Jesus through the Spirit is replaced by anything, be that a charismatic leader, a dogma, a committee, and even the books of the Bible themselves.  If Jesus (what he represents) is not the center of Christian faith, then what is left is nothing but a ritual, a dead religion and a reasoning that soon becomes an excuse for violence.

So, President Obama, while I disagree with him on many things, does make a legitimate point and it would be biased for him to exempt those who have corrupted Christianity for their own “murderous ends” from his critique.  I am not personally offended, because my own faith is not violent and therefore I know those who used the name of Christ as their justification do not represent me. 

I likewise do not judge Muslim individuals by what others do in the name of their religion.  It is not my job to judge, it is my job to show the true way of Jesus and bring forgiveness and love to all people.

For the Love of Truth

Standard

“Truth does not need a bodyguard”  (Rhonda Strite)

The news out of Paris today (read here) is a reminder again of the power of ideas.  Twelve people are dead and apparently in killed defense of something deemed sacred.  Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper that showed less than flattering images of the prophet Muhammad, was the target of assassins today who apparently yelled “we have avenged the prophet” and fled the scene.

I do not believe these murderers speak for all Muslims nor even for the one they claim to have avenged and who should all be left to speak for themselves.  However, what the violence does speak for is the power of ideas.  It is obvious those responsible have been influenced to believe that prophets of God need to be honored by spilling of blood.  It is an idea that ‘truth’ must be defended by violence.

Defending the Image of Our God

This idea of violence in the name of honor isn’t exclusively religious territory either.  In fact, it is a quite common theme in personal romances gone sour.  I don’t even know where to start a list of popular songs about the angry and jilted person taking out their wrath on the vehicle of the a former lover who insulted their dignity by choosing to be intimately involved with someone else.  It is the same sentiment that leads a man to kill his wife and her new boyfriend in a fit of rage.  It is a defense of honor. It is an idea that the other person did damage to you or the reputation of what you value and now deserves to be harmed in return. But this kind of behavior does beg a question about character and specifically the character of a person who thinks violence is their right when insulted.

Since I am not an expert on Islamic teachings, I will leave that analysis to those who are and stick to what I do know.  What I do know well are teachings of another man who is recognized as a prophet by Muslims and that is the man named Jesus. The one who is called both “word” and “truth” in the Bible:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:14)

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know  my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”  (John 14:6-7)

We, in this age of democracy and freedom of the press, can easily forget history. But there was a time not too long ago when insulting a king could cost a person their head.  Throughout human history leaders have demanded, upon penalty of death, that their image be honored and even worshipped. In the time Jesus lived and his followers after it was no exception.  There is speculation that the last book of the Bible was written in response to imperial cult in Rome to encourage believers who had to choose between faith and physical life.

A Different Image of God

Jesus was also referred to as a “king” or “lord” in scripture and yet one quite different from others in example.  He was was the king who served in the lowliest capacity and in a way that even confounded his most loyal followers.  He claimed a different type of leadership, a leadership by example and a radical idea even today in a day of competing individual rights:

“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:25-28)

It is really an impossible standard in human terms.  Even self-proclaimed Christians are seemingly not able to live out this standard.  I am often caused to wonder about this commitment when I see outrage expressed over a song being played that openly calls religion a lie and overt concern with individual rights among those claiming to be of Christian faith.  It would appear the image of Jesus some claim to defend with their anger is more like the prophet Muhammad than the man described as being stripped naked, beaten mercilessly without a word, humiliated and killed like a common criminal.

Killing as a response to blasphemy is not unique to Islamists and was taught as part of the law of Moses in the Bible.  This Biblical law was enforced in ‘Christian’ United Kingdom (fully up until 1697 and in part until 1921) before falling out of favor.  We could blame religion for this idea of killing to honor or defend a person and idea, but that would be ignorant of the many examples of those who killed only because they themselves felt disrespected.  People have killed in the name of ideas ranging from defense of the Constitution of the United States to Imperialism and Marxism.

Does real truth need to be defended by killing those who dishonor it?

I believe an idea that needs us to kill to defend it is a weakling idea.  A god established on the blood of those who offend is a puny god indeed.  Unfortunately people like little gods and that includes many “people of the book” who confuse Bible for God and their own ideas for truth.  They confine God to the understanding of their own mind and the work of their own hands.  These are the fundamentalists who take offense on behalf of ‘truth’ and kill to defend it.  But I believe in a truth greater than my own mind, one that frees me of need to kill others to defend it and is personified in our following the ultimate example of self-sacrifice:

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  (John 8:31-32)

Many have killed in the name of Jesus.  Many feel God is honored in their defense of prophets or books.  Many study the scripture diligently without ever finding the word of God despite their best efforts and that is in fact recorded in the Christian scripture in John 5:16-47.  But there is another way to live.  I believe in a “way” a “truth” and “life” that is bigger than mere human knowledge.  I believe in an advocate that is beyond my own efforts to religiously memorize texts or methods.  The truth is a spiritual person and teacher, not a book or religion:

“If you love me, keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be  in you. […] But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  (John 14:15-17, 26)

A Different Defense and Truth

The bigger view is that God can speak for himself and real truth does not need murder to protect it.  Silencing the voices that oppose us is a weak defense.  Do not kill the messenger and think you are defending truth.  Instead, speak the truth with love, because God is love.  There are many ideas that people use as justification to kill, but just one that is worth dying for and that is love.

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”  (Luke 12:11-12)

The law brings judgement, but the Spirit brings love and life. That should be our source and guide to all truth.