Friendship without Borders

My mother had heart surgery on December 23.  I have been mostly staying at my parent’s house while she recovers; so I haven’t posted anything in the last week.

My friend Charles sent this story about a group called Sojourners who visit persons detained under very bleak circumstances while appeals for asylum are being investigated.  The group of visitors is from the Riverside Church, a church with a famous history in Manhattan.

Here is a brief excerpt from the story:

Curley tells them that they have seen the worst of America, and she apologizes for that.

No, they say, smiling. They have seen the best of America.

Because in their darkest moment, when they lay on their bunks in the detention center despairing that even God had forgotten them, a miracle happened. A stranger walked into their lives. She would lift their hearts with her weekly visits.

A Lesson from Hanukkah

The history behind Hanukkah starts with a ruler who wanted to unify people by abolishing religious distinctions.  He was not entirely opposed to all religious observance, he just wanted to abolish religions he considered primitive and superstitious, such as Judaism.  Antiochus was convinced that Hellenism, the Greek way of life was superior to all others; and he thought it his duty to enlighten the city of Jerusalem.

Many of the leaders and people in Jerusalem went along with the program of Hellenism, to a point.  But for Antiochus, it was not enough that the youth of Jerusalem learned to speak Greek,  study philosophy, and exercise in a public gymnasium.  He wanted them to renounce and totally abandon the faith of their ancestors.

Antiochus was especially against the religious identification of children.  He banned, under penalty of death, Jewish parents from marking their children as belonging to the covenant.  He also banned the Torah and adherence to its precepts–especially the “superstitious” rules about food.

The Macabee brothers rose up against Antiochus and, against all odds, defeated his armies.  The Jews celebrated the rededication of the temple after it had been defiled by Antiochus.  They found only one small container of oil that had not been defiled by Antiochus–enough to light a lamp for one day.

It took a week to find and crush new olives to prepare new oil–but miraculously the oil from the one jar burned for a full eight days.

Eight candles are now used to celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah (Hebrew for dedication), plus a ninth candle in the center to light the other candle.

No Compromise? (part 2)

Our political climate is intolerant of compromise.  Two people who tried to bring people together are finding out how hard it is to do.

Richard Cizik tried to lead evangelical Christians to compassionate action on a broader range of problems than abortion and traditional marriage.  For example, he believed that if Christians believe in creation, they should be more concerned about preserving God’s good creation than in trying to caluculate how long ago the world was made.  He also led in efforts to fight AIDS and human trafficking.

Some of his critics thought he was leading the faithful away from “moral issues”–as though issues that effect the life, death, and dignity of all people are not moral issues.  Two years ago they tried to oust him from his job as leader of the National Association of Evangelicals due to his embracing of “Creation Care.”  The plan backfired.  It turned out most evangelicals are fond of this planet.

This week, they finally got him.  On an interview with Terry Gross on NPR, he said he was opposed to same-sex marriage–but maybe civil unions weren’t a bad idea.  His enemies demanded–and got–his resignation.  Nicholas Kristoph called Cizik a “huggable evangelical” and said his resignation made for a sad day.

On the other side of the fence, supporters of gay rights are furious with president-elect Obama for asking Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration.  Why?  Because Warren is opposed to gay marriage and abortions that are not medically necessary.  Obama’s stated position is that he does not favor same-sex marriage, but he does favor civil unions.

Rick Warren has raised millions of dollars to fight AIDS in Africa, and has encouraged the faithful to support progressive causes.   In fact, he helped get Obama elected when he invited both candidates to a forum at his church.  The president is returning the favor and strenghtening the personal friendship and political alliance he has made (more).  What some would call compromise and bringing people together, others would call betrayal.

Is Compromise Possible?


I am stuck between two generations. Many people of my father’s generation cannot comprehend why anyone would approve of homosexual relationships–and many of my kids’ generation cannot fathom why anyone could possible be opposed to two people loving each other just because they happen to be of the same sex.

The Film “Trembling Before G-D” is a documentary about orthodox Jewish rabbis caught in this same bind.  They are trying to remain faithful to their binding traditions and laws; and at the same time to give compassionate spiritual guidance to gay members of their congregations.

Their Holy Book–the book of Leviticus in particular, the central book of the Torah–is responsible for the prohibition against “a man lying with a man as with a woman.”  They can’t deny the teachings of the Torah without denying their faith; nor can they deny their responsibility to teach the Torah in a way that enhances life and affirms human dignity.

They various rabbis struggle with multiple possible answers, none entirely satisfactory.  Two of their answers in particular intrigue me.  One said to the man he was counseling,

Everything you do throughout the day for your partner, acts of kindness, taking care of him, being faithful–that’s all good, it’s mikvot.  It’s just  that one thing you do that’s forbidden–

The other rabbi said,

“A woman comes to me with a question about a chicken.  I first say to her, ‘Tell me about your family.'”

I assume the question is whether the chicken is kosher, whether she can serve it to her family.  Maybe it fell out of a grocery bag into the street or something.  But his questions about her family mean his answer must be tailored to her needs and circumstances.  If her family is wealthy enough to buy another chicken, maybe he will counsel her to give it to a gentile neighbor.  But if her family is poor and her children need the nourishment, he will find a way to make the chicken kosher.

[Disclaimer: I saw this film over a year ago; the quotes above are from memory, and may not be verbatim.  See it yourself and tell me how close I got!]

Full Moon Over the Fertile Crescent


Klint sent this picture from Iraq.  The moon was the closest to earth that it has been in several years last week.  We made sure our grandson got a good look at it.  He has been a fan of the moon since he was one year old.

Erich Honecker

Hmm–this is a post I started and never got around to finishing . . .  These are some things I collected just a couple months ago, when we were still gloating over the collapse of socialism.

Until 1990, East Germany was locked in the grip of communist rule. When East Germany’s communist government collapsed, former Party Chief Erich Honecker found himself without a job, without a home, without good health, without a pension and without a friend in the whole country, except for his wife, Margot.

In spite of the nationwide hatred of the former dictator, the family of Lutheran pastor Uwe Holmer took Erich and Margot Honecker into their own home to live with them. This act of compassion is even more amazing when you take into account that Johannes Holmer, the oldest son in the family, had been denied entrance to a university because of his Christian faith. In fact, the official denial had been approved by the former Minister of Education-Margot Honecker herself!  God’s Mission Promises

In January of 1990 after the fall of the Berlin wall Erich Honecker, the brutal and hated dictator of East Germany, found himself sick and homeless. So despised was he that no one could be found to provide him shelter. They contacted Pastor Uwe Holmer who directed a church-run convalescent center in the village of Lobetal. Pastor Holmer had bitter memories of Honecker and his regime.

Honecker had personally presided over the building of the wall, the wall that separated Holmer’s family and kept him from attending his own father’s funeral. He had even greater reason to resent Honecker’s wife, who ran the East German ministry of education.

Holmer’s ten children had been denied admission to any university because of their faith. It would be easy for Pastor Holmer to turn Honecker away because the church’s retirement home was full and had a long waiting list. But because Honecker’s need was urgent, Pastor Holmer decided he had no choice but to shelter the couple under his own roof!

Pastor Holmer’s charity was not shared by the rest of the country. Hate mail poured in. Some members of his own church threatened to leave or cut back their giving. Pastor Holmer defended his actions in a letter to the newspaper. “In Lobetal,” he wrote, “there is a sculpture of Jesus inviting people to himself and crying out, ‘Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ We have been commanded by our Lord Jesus to follow him and to receive all those who are weary and heavy laden, in spirit and in body, but especially the homeless… What Jesus asked his disciples to do is equally binding on us.”  Creed

Honecker im Kirchenasyl. Gesprach mit Uwe Holmer (British Library Direct)

Uwe Holmer wurde 1955 Landpfarrer und erlebte die Zwangskollektivierung in seiner ersten Pfarrstelle Loissow (Mecklenburg); später wurde er Leiter und damit auch Bürgermeister der Hoffnungstaler Anstalten in Lobetal, sie waren 1905 eingerichtet worden, um Obdachlosen einen neuen Anfang zu ermöglichen; „Hier werde ich gebraucht” war seine Antwort auf Fragen, ob er nicht lieber in den Westen Deutschlands gehen wolle; sieben seiner 10 Kinder kamen in Mecklenburg zur Welt, keines von ihnen durfte zur DDR-Zeit eine höhere Schule besuchen; am 30. Januar 1990, wurde Erich Honecker, der ehemalige Partei- und Regierungschef der DDR, und seine Frau Margot, von der Pfarrersfamilie Holmer im brandenburgischen Lobetal aufgenommen; die Honeckers waren zu diesem Zeitpunkt praktisch obdachlos, weil sie in Wandlitz kein Wohnrecht mehr hatten und keiner ihrer Genossen bereit war, ihnen Asyl an zu bieten; „Vergebung statt Rache” praktizierte die Pfarrersfamilie im Selbstverständnis ihrer christlichen Überzeugung und stellte dem Ehepaar Honecker einen Teil ihrer Wohnung zur Verfügung; im Ruhestand ging Holmer nach Mecklenburg zurück und baute u. a. mit einem Freund eine Suchtklinik mit SOS-Station für Alkoholkranke auf; als Aushilfsseelsorger reiste er von Zeit zu Zeit nach Kasachstan und Kirgisistan, um an Bibelschulen zu lehren; Pastor Uwe Holmer fand es unwürdig, dass die Urne mit den sterblichen Überresten Erich Honeckers zehn Jahre nach dessen Tod noch immer in der Wohnung von Witwe Margot Honecker in Chile steht. „Im Saarland sollte es Ämter geben, die einen würdigen, sicheren Platz für seine Beisetzung finden”, sagte Holmer der “Bild”-Zeitung.  Chronik

NY Times mentions H’s lawyer

  • “The Wall will be standing in 50 and even in 100 years, if the reasons for it are not removed.” (Berlin, 19 January 1989) (Original: “Die Mauer wird in 50 und auch in 100 Jahren noch bestehen bleiben, wenn die dazu vorhandenen Gründe noch nicht beseitigt sind“)
  • “Neither an ox nor a donkey is able to stop the progress of socialism.” (A rhyming couplet in the original German: “Den Sozialismus in seinem Lauf, halten weder Ochs noch Esel auf“, Berlin, 7 October 1989)
  • “The future belongs to socialism” (Original: Die Zukunft gehört dem Sozialismus) (early 1980s) (Wiki)
  • Candles behind the Wall

    by John-Peter Pham

    Candles behind the Wall
    Barbara von der Heydt
    William B. Eerdmans, 1993
    266 pp. Cloth: $19.95
    [ purchase this book ]

    Since the collapse of the Soviet empire, legion has been the number of studies and theories seeking to explain how and why its end came about as it did. However, few are as convincing as that put forth by Barbara von der Heydt in her new book, Candles behind the Wall: Heroes of the Peaceful Revolution That Shattered Communism. Von der Heydt’s thesis can be summed up in a phrase: communism failed because it was unable to make people forget about God.  Acton Institute

  • Third Sunday in Advent

    Here are a couple of selections from Sundays Readings:

    Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

    The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
    because the LORD has anointed me;
    he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
    to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
    to provide for those who mourn in Zion-
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
    the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
    They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
    They shall build up the ancient ruins,
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
    they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

    The Song of Mary Magnificat
    Luke 1:46-55

    My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
    my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
    for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
    From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
    the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
    He has mercy on those who fear him *
    in every generation.
    He has shown the strength of his arm, *
    he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
    He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
    and has lifted up the lowly.
    He has filled the hungry with good things, *
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
    He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
    for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
    The promise he made to our fathers, *
    to Abraham and his children for ever.

    From the Lectionary Page.

    Give Your Possessions to the Poor and Drink the Best Wine First

    Those two sayings sum up the life of following Jesus.  Jesus told a young rich man who wanted to follow him, to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.  Why did he say that?

    First, because the poor needed it.  The rich man wanted to sign up to assist Jesus in his mission, part of which was to proclaim good news to the poor.  Think about that–if you are poor, what better news could there be?

    “Some Wall Street wizard cashed in all his chips just before the crash–and he wants you to have the profits.”

    Second, the young man’s possessions were dragging him down. What Jesus was really saying to him was

    “Right here and now, I’m setting you free.  You don’t need all that.  Let it go.”

    The second saying, “Drink the best wine first” wasn’t said by Jesus; it was said about him.  Jesus attended a wedding, maybe of one of his sisters, and when they ran out of beverage, he turned water in to wine.  If you’ve ever been to a wedding, no doubt you heard the preacher say, “Our Lord adorned this manner of life with his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. ”

    The caterer said, “Woah!–everybody else serves the best wine first, but you saved the best wine for last.”

    I’m not a connoisseur of wine–I didn’t grow up in California or France–I grew up in Carrie Nation territory; but I take turning water into wine as a metaphor.  Jesus wants us to enjoy life.  His presence is a celebration.  He didn’t tell people to give up their possessions because he wanted them to live an austere, ascetic existence.

    He knew that possessions can possess us and keep us from enjoying life to its fullest.

    Four Thumbs Up

    Well, I spent my annual cinema budget last night.  My wife and I invited our pastor (the Vagabond Professor) and his wife to see “The Boy in Striped Pajamas” with us.  The movie was very well done and very moving.  I don’t know if you can say a movie about a concentration camp and the holocaust is enjoyable, but we all agreed it is an important film–up there with Schindler’s list–and worth seeing.  The Vagabond Professor provides his own review and reflections at his site.

    The Boy in Striped Pajamas

    The Boy in Striped Pajamas

    The Boy in Striped Pajamas

    Loren, from the German Stammtish, where I go to practice my smiling and nodding skills, recommends the film “The Boy in Striped Pajamas.”

    It is about an 8-year-old boy Bruno, the son of a Nazi officer who befriends a Jewish boy he meets across the fence that keeps Shmu’el inside a concentration camp.  It has been compared to “Schindler’s List” and other similar films.

    I try to go to the theater at least once a year and see a real movie the old fashioned way.  Well, the year is running out . . .

    Do you think this should be my movie for this year?

    Has anyone else seen it?

    Scottish Hospitality

    Margaret, the Berkely Scott hersel, published a story illustrating the Doric speech of NE Scotland.  Here is a brief excerpt:

    Aifter we hid oor fish n’chips, Sybil said she wid affy like a bath. Weel, fit she actually said, wis, “Gee you guys, after all I’ve been through today, I’d really love to soak in a tub!”  But we hidna a bath, an’ the best we wid offer, as Dad said, “Ye kin sweel yer face at the kitchen sink.  Fit’s a’ the wap aboot?  We’ll pit tee the kettle an’ ye kin hae a bowlie o’ het watter.  We, oorels, tak a bath in front o’ the fire on Fridays, an’ changes oor shift.  An’ ye want tae wash yer hair an’ a’?  Losh be here, gin ye dee that, ma quine, ye’ll be smoarin’ wi’ the caul’ the morn!”

    You can read more at her site here.  Click on the link to “Scottish Hospitality” for a pdf file of the story, or click on “short excerpt” to hear her narration.

    The students in my phonetics class gave reports this morning on their observations of children’s speech.  We all had fun with this project.  We were all glad to learn that all the children were above average–or at least normal for their age.  They were saying things like, “Mor naenas piz” and “Ai wub ju!”

    Advent Reading

    November 30 was the first Sunday in Advent.  I meant to post an Advent reading, but I was out of town and away from a computer.  Here is a selection from next Sunday’s reading, from the prophet Isaiah:

    Get you up to a high mountain,
    O Zion, herald of good tidings;
    lift up your voice with strength,
    O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
    lift it up, do not fear;
    say to the cities of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
    See, the Lord GOD comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
    his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
    He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms,
    and carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead the mother sheep.

    You can read the rest of this readings, and others at The Lectionary Page.