Entitled and Privileged

Kids should have the privilege of going to school without being murdered. The are entitled to that.

In 1968 Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were both assassinated. A serious debate about gun control started that year, and it looked like something was going to happen. In the fifty years since then, nothing has happened. And while nothing has happened one and a half Americans have died from gunshots.

A million and a half! I can’t fathom that number; and I can’t fathom the attitude we all have, “well, there’s nothing we can do.”

I used to think a million murders constitute a genocide. I guess it’s not, because they were not singled out for their ethnicity. A disproportionate number have been poor or minority, but mostly they were random victims.

So we can’t call it genocide, but what can we call it? An atrocity? An outrage? A measure of apathy and impotence?

I know some of my fellow Christians will say, “Well there have been 45 million abortions; and that’s a holocaust.”  I will say two things:

1. I try to be consistently pro-life. I don’t think the supreme court is going to overturn Roe v. Wade, but there are things we can do to reduce the number of abortions. We can support comprehensive healthcare including pre-natal and post-natal care for mothers and children, better education including sex education, better support for adoption. These things have been proven to reduce the number of abortions.

I understand that some abortions are medically necessary. And I suppose I understand why the court ruled the only one qualified to make the decision is the mother, in consultation with her physician.

You can be pro-life and pro-woman, and pro-child, and nonviolent. You can do practical, positive things to help.

Still, I support the right of anyone to organize, march, speak out, vote, protest, get out in the streets to support causes they consider important. The first amendment is a wonderful thing. After so-called pro-life people murdered a physician in Emporia, I no longer want to be associated with confrontational movements. But I am still pro-life and pro-peace. I am against war, capital punishment, and the murder of our children, the murder of our young men, police brutality, the rejection of refugees, singling out anyone for hate and exclusion.

2. Here is my second point: it is tragic when some women feel they have no choice but to terminate a healthy pregnancy. Sometimes it happens when the developing fetus is capable of feeling pain, of responding to voices, and other human activities.

But there is no comparison between abortion and the holocaust. Fetuses may feel pain, but they don’t feel the terror of being herded into death chambers. Parents may regret the choice of an abortion, but still feel it was they right choice. They don’t watch helplessly while someone else murders children they have come to know and love. They are not deprived of their human agency by a brutal military power.

I hate to have to spell out the obvious. The holocaust and every genocide was forced on people by a military or governmental power. It was an act of state sponsored terrorism for no reason other than hate or political power. Our government upholds the constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. It does not force anyone to have an abortion.

The murder of children and teenagers, a dozen or so at a time, the massacre we seen in school shootings is an atrocity. It is a part of a larger atrocity. The murder of young black men is an atrocity. The death of children in drive by shootings is an atrocity. And we still accept the lame rationalizations. We should feel entitled to stop it.

A million and a half!

Why are we not out in the streets?

There is something we can do. The supreme court says we can’t ban handguns and congress doesn’t have the will to ban assault rifles.

There is something congress can do. They can’t regulate guns but they can regulate gun owners. They can require rigorous training, background checks, photo ID, proof of citizenship, and licensing. Law enforcement can enforce well-designed laws. Every citizen is a member of the militia. The militia is to be well-regulated.  If you say you cannot regulate gun users, you are denying the constitution.

Congress is addicted to money from the NRA. They will not do anything.  You can guarantee it. But the voters can.

We can get out in the street and demand that congress regulate the citizen militia. And we can fire those who refuse. We can make this election about one pro-life issue: separating deadly weapons from dangerous people. We may have to let some pot smokers out to make room for those who violate reasonable gun-user control laws.

The World Needs More Madrasas

Shari'ah Law: An Introduction

I’ve been reading about Shariah law because I don’t want to be ignorant, and the book is very enlightening.  I have learned that there is a long history of Islamic scholarship, and that there are four or five major schools of interpretation.  Some of these schools emphasize the letter of the law, while others emphasize the intention and purpose.  All recognize the historical context in which the laws arose, and all recognize to some degree the place of reason in understanding the laws.

Professor Kamali points out some plain statements in the Qur’an that are often ignored by advocates of harsh punishments.  For example, passages prescribing amputation of a hand for thieves or flogging for adultery, are followed by the words “unless they repent.”  Who wouldn’t repent for stealing when their hand was on the chopping block?

Kamali also frequently quotes the verse “there shall be no compulsion in religion.”  He also frequently discusses issues related to gender equality, supported by laws in the Qur’an and examples from the prophet’s life.

One of the most remarkable sections of the book, to me at least, was on the “Decline of the Madrasahs.”  The last two chapters of the book discuss the need for reform and challenging issues.  The decline of Islamic schools means that a generation of young Muslims is growing up ignorant of the Qur’an and the other sources of Shariah, as well as the history of Islamic scholarship. Consequently their ignorance makes them vulnerable to ignorant fanatics who recruit them for suicide missions.

In the discussion of that issue, Kamali makes it clear that Islamic law universally condemns both suicide and the intentionally targeting of civilians.

In reading this book I was reminded of a statement of Rabbi Gamaliel,

An ignorant person cannot be pious.  [http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter2-6.html  — the whole article is worth reading!]

I used to think this was snobbish, and I thought of Jesus appealing to fishermen, farmers, and day laborers.  But now I realize, Jesus called people from all walks of life to follow him and learn from him.  He called them to become disciples.  Jesus taught the people of the land.  In this sense, I think it is true that a Christian who willfully remains ignorant cannot be devout.

I also think of the difficulty conservative Christian centers of learning, such as Bible colleges, have in remaining conservative.  We knew a sociologist years ago who wrote his dissertation on “goal displacement” in Bible colleges.  He studied the inevitable drift away from specific doctrinal commitments and from a narrow curriculum to broader and more liberal curricula.  Most leaders of such institutions see this as a problem.  But maybe it’s not.  Maybe being narrow and dogmatic is not a virtue.  Maybe an educated person cannot remain dogmatic.  Maybe it is impossible to study the Bible (or the Talmud or the Qur’an) without raising serious questions about traditional understandings.

My colleague Wes and I went to hear a distinguished professor of genetics who has devoted his waning years to destroying something he doesn’t understand.  I asked him what background he had in the study of theology or philosophy.  He replied, “I don’t believe in fairies, so I don’t study fairiology.”

If I believed fairiology was the greatest threat to our civilization, I would study it.

Ignorance is a threat not only to civil society and peace, it is a threat to faith.  I think Hillel was right after all.

What’s Wrong with a Well-Regulated Militia?

The courts have ruled that the second-amendment upholds the right of individuals to “keep and bear arms.” Originally all adult, white male “responsible and law-abiding” citizens were members of the militia; therefore they had a right to keep and carry weapons, and use them when necessary. Individuals have a right to defend their own homes and families, the right to join together as part of the common defense, and the right to resist tyranny.

The framers of the constitution understood that all individual citizens (as defined above) were part of a well-regulated, trained, and disciplined militia.

The original drafts of the second amendment included a provision exempting persons with religious scruples from being required to own and maintain weapons. Any adult white male citizen not so exempted was expected to maintain his own supply of weapons should he be called up by his state militia.

Switzerland has a national militia. Anyone deemed “fit for service” between the age of 18 and 34 is required to purchase and keep at his home military weapons. They first go through a period of training.

A system like that would be better than what we have.

What would be wrong with a mandatory course of training, following high school graduation, say a six-week course? It could include firearms use and safety, first aid training, emergency and disaster relief training, legal matters, non-lethal self-defense strategies, anger management, and other issues. There would also be psychological testing and background checking (including juvenile offenses).

Conscientious objectors could be exempted or allowed to skip the weapons-part of the training.

This would not be a military draft; no further service would be required, but successful graduates would be allowed to own weapons and participate in the well-regulated militia as they chose.

Gun owners would be required to keep their weapons secure from use by unauthorized persons.

In effect, this would mean giving a license to possess firearms. Unlicensed possession could be prosecuted, in the same way that unauthorized possession of drugs is prosecuted.

The pro-gun lobby has been so powerful that politicians have been afraid to do anything to try to control gun violence. There are reasonable steps that can be taken to outlaw gun possession by irresponsible persons while protecting the rights of responsible citizens.

Eleven Years Ago

I’ll get back to Philippians, but I thought I’d take a minute to reflect on the events of eleven years ago today.

We had just moved from Memphis back to Kansas.  I was in about my third week of teaching at Manhattan Christian College.  My son was still in Memphis and had been in an accident.  I had been on the phone with him that morning.  I didn’t have an early morning class that day, but we did have a chapel service at 10:00 AM.

I was driving an old beat up pickup at the time, which didn’t have a working radio.  My commute to work is 27 miles.  I enjoyed the scenery on my way in.

Sonja had taken a job traveling to different cities to work in her profession as a health information coding specialist.  She had been in Milwaukee the last three weeks, working a four-day work week and coming home on weekends–and it was not working out.  On Sunday evening she drove to her sister’s house in KCK, to go to the airport early Monday morning.

Monday afternoon she showed up back in Manhattan and said “I’ll explain later.”  She had an interview at Wamego City Hospital and accepted the job.

Meanwhile I arrived on campus a little before ten.  I went into our chapel and things seemed confused.  The college president, Ken Cable, was there and explained we would be dividing into prayer groups.  I still wasn’t sure what had happened.

I heard someone mention the Twin Towers.  I said, no that was five or six years ago, and the explosion was a failure–a car bomb in the parking garage.  There were a few people killed, which is tragic enough, but it didn’t bring down the towers, and I believe they arrested the bomber.

I eventually learned what had happened.  I stayed in the chapel and prayed for a few minutes, then wandered back to the faculty building where some of my colleagues were watching a television.  We saw the second airplane hit the building then.

At some point, I believe I must have talked with my dean and told him I needed to go back to Memphis because of a family emergency.  I went home and watched TV for a while, stunned.  Then got in my truck, filled up with gas, grateful that the local gas station had not raised the price, and headed down the road with a cheap transistor radio.  I remember thinking, “I’ve got a family emergency, I don’t have time for a national crisis.”  Not a rational thought, just part of my confusion.

The skies seemed eerily calm.  It was a clear day.  At some point I noticed trails in the sky from fighter jets patrolling from nearby Fort Riley.  At that moment it seemed comforting that they were protecting us.  And I was glad Sonja was home.  She would have been stranded in Milwaukee, was it three weeks before air travel resumed?

Banned in Missouri

Kurt Vonnegut from http://www.alternativereel.com/includes/top-ten/display_review.php?id=00088
Click on image for more Kurt Vonnegut quotations.
  • I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.
  • I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that.

Are those thoughts contrary to the teaching of the Bible, or more specifically the teaching and practice of Jesus?  Evidently a school board in Republic, Missouri thought so and removed the book Slaughterhouse Five from the high school curriculum.

It’s been a while since I read the book.  I suppose there was some profanity in the language of some of the characters.  I don’t particularly like that and I tend to tune it out.  But that’s not what I remember about the book.  Slaughter House Five is one of the great anti-war books of recent times, one that makes us question our righteousness even in the one war we consider just, noble, and necessary.

My cousin read the book his senior year in high school, just before embarking on a career in the air force.  He thought it was a great book.  The questions raised by Vonnegut didn’t stop him from serving his country.  I think everyone who is going into the military should read the book.

More than a Reaction

Kit-Kat and I read David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions over the weekend.

In some ways, the title is unfortunate, because it gives the impression that the book is merely a reaction to Richard Dawkins and his buddies like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris.  I suspect that the work was already underway when pop-atheism books became best sellers.  Hart does make some reference to these authors, mainly to point out their lack of philosophical sophistication as, for example, when Dawkins  asserts that

“natural selection is the ultimate explanation for our existence.”

Hart responds,

The question of existence does not concern how it is that the present arrangement of the world came about, from causes already internal to the world, but how it is that anything (including any cause) can exist at all.

The real point of Hart’s book is indicated by part of the subtitle, “The Christian Revolution.”  The book is primarily a historical essay on the influence of the Christian Gospel.  Hart is not primarily defending the church as an institution or Christendom as an ideal civilization.  He is tracing the influence of the Gospel’s revolutionary ideas that each human being is created in the image of God and is of infinite worth.

Had our ancestors not once believed that God is love, that charity is the foundation of all virtues, that all of us are equal before the eyes of God, that to fail to feed the hungry or care for the suffering is to sin against Christ, and that Christ laid down his life for his brethren . . .

Had we not inherited a civilization based on these beliefs, we would never have come to believe in human rights, economic or social justice, or the basic human dignity.

Hart describes the basic brutality and inequality inherent in the classical civilization that Christianity replaced.  Then he describes the unspeakable horrors brought by the secular societies that replaced Christianity–the more than 100 million victims of mass murder in the 20th century.

In the process of his narration, Hart corrects many myths about Western history, including myths about witch hunts, the ignorance of the middle ages, and the antagonism between the church and science.

One essential difference between the Christian vision of reality and the post-Christian version is the definition of freedom.  In the Christian vision freedom means the opportunity to develop one’s true nature, to become what one is meant to be.  In the secular, post-Christian world, freedom means the arbitrary and spontaneous exercise of one’s choice, free from all restraints.  When secular rulers began to exercise their will uninhibited by the restraints of conscience, the results became genuinely horrendous.

What is Worse than Burning a Book?

Killing a human being is worse than burning a book, even a holy book.  A holy book may contain the words of God, but a human being reflects the image of God.  Killing a human being is a worse blasphemy against God than destroying the book of God’s words, because the book can be reconstructed.  Every human being is unique and irreplaceable.

James, who grew up in the same house with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph said that cursing or slandering a human being is the same as blasphemy.  He said it is hypocrisy to praise God with one’s tongue and then use the same tongue to curse a human being who is made in the image of God.

King Jehoiakim burned a scroll containing the words God had given his prophet Jeremiah.  Jehoiakim brought judgment on himself, but Jeremiah and his friends felt no need to be the agents of God’s vengeance.  They simply made a new copy of the scroll.  (See Jeremiah chapter 36.)

It is a serious offense to deface a book believed to contain God’s words.  But devout believers like Jeremiah know that God can defend and preserve his own book.

There is one case of book burning in the Bible; in Acts 19:19 we learn of those who had once practiced black magic burning their books of spells after they renounced their former superstitions.  They were not burning holy books of other people, they were burning their own books that now represented destructive practices.  It is more like people burning their collection of pornography today.

In the same chapter in Acts, Paul was falsely accused of blaspheming the local goddess.  One of the practitioners of Artimis worship defended the apostles saying, “These men have neither plundered temples nor blasphemed our goddess.”  Paul had his own beliefs and he defended them with reason and dialogue–but he did not resort to violence, ridicule, or disrespectful behavior.

The misguided pastor in Florida has been persuaded that burning the holy book of Islam would serve no good purpose.  But now the family of a former attorney plans to have its own Koran-burning ceremony.

These are the same people who rejoice and celebrate when soldiers die serving their country; so the thought that fanatics will kill people in response to their offense wouldn’t bother them.  I wish the media would ignore them, but since that’s not likely, the rest of us can speak up in defense of tolerance and respect.

A True Story from Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is home to thousands of distinct tribes speaking  830 living languages.  It is one of the most diverse places on the globe in terms of peoples, geography, ecology, and linguistics.  Many of the 830 languages have never been written down, have never had an alphabet.

My friend John Relyea gave his life learning, analyzing, and describing one of those languages–Aruamu–and translating the Bible into it.  His wife Marsha gave twenty-three years of her life working with John as his partner in learning and translating and in literacy training.

John died of a sudden heart attack in January of 2005, just after completing his life’s work and sending it to the printers.  In fact, April of that year was to be the celebration of the arrival of the Aruamu Bible.  After returning to the United States for John’s funeral, Marsha went back for the combined celebration and memorial service.

John and Marsha worked with Pioneer Bible Translators.  A few years before John’s death, I remember talking to a friend about their work.  I was asked, “Will they be translating Shakespeare and other great literature?”

I had two thoughts:  “I don’t see any English majors risking malaria and other dangers to bring Shakespeare to the tribes,”  and “It is certain no one will do that until they have an alphabet and literacy.”  Then I also realized, “They may have a great oral literature–but the rest of the world will never have access to it until their language is written down.”

Yale historian Lamin Sanneh argues that missionaries have done more than anyone else to preserve indigenous languages and cultures.  I remember John telling me about the adventure of learning the ways of the Aruamu people.

But don’t missionaries change native cultures? Not nearly as much as western corporations and entertainment do.  Modern missionaries are trained to respect indigenous cultures, traditions, and ways.  Do they sometimes encounter aspects of those cultures that need changing?  Of course.

About two years ago I met another Bible translator working with a different tribe in Papua New Guinea, who told of a man who said, “I wish you had brought us the Bible sooner.” He described how as a boy of about eight years he witness his mother being strangled to death by the village elders.

Why?  The boy’s father knew he was dying and couldn’t bear the thought of his wife going to another man.  One taboo of the traditional religion they then practiced involved an idol.  If any woman looked at the idol, she had violated the taboo and death was the penalty.  The dying husband asked his friends to place the idol in a location where his wife would see it–and then catch her in the act–as soon as he was buried.  The friends carried out the man’s wishes, and a little boy saw his mother cruelly taken from him.

Many traditional ways are beautiful and meaningful.  Some are deadly.  If you have the opportunity to enjoy a visit to an island paradise and enjoy the hospitality of the island people,  thank a missionary that you are not on the menu.

Government Takeover of Textbooks?

OK, not really–but there are new federal regulations that require colleges to list their textbooks with the course listing.  Since our line schedule comes out next week, I have to select books now for fall classes.  Here’s what I will be using:

For a new course on Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Life, Thought, and Influence, I will require the following:

  1. Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 8).
  2. Ethics (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 6).
  3. Stephen Haynes, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians.
  4. Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World.

The new edition of Letters and Papers is due out this June.  It is nearly twice as long as the prior English edition–and will unfortunately be much more expensive.  But the Bonhoeffer Works volumes are magnificent editions, carefully edited and translated with helpful introductions and annotations.  The English series is nearing completion, following the German editions which appeared throughout the decade of the nineties.

The book by Stephen Haynes is also new and I haven’t seen it yet–I’m walking by faith here–but I assume it is of the same quality as his two prior books on Bonhoeffer.  Finally, I am using one of Moltmann’s little volumes because the course deals with Bonhoeffer’s influence.

Professor Moltmann spoke in 2008 at the Prague Bonhoeffer congress on Bonhoeffer’s influence on his own life and theology.  He mentioned that he was originally a bit put off by the formal and “churchy” language–Moltmann himself was brought up in a secular household and came to faith as a prisoner of war after an American army chaplain gave him a New Testament and Psalms.  He joked that his first reaction to Bonhoeffer’s Life Together was that after his years in prison camp, he had had quite enough of life together.

The book Jesus Christ Today is professor Moltmann’s attempt, some forty years later, to answer a question Bonhoeffer raised in one of his prison letters,

Wer ist Jesus Christus für uns heute?  Who is Jesus Christ for us today.

One answer is given in a chapter on Jesus Christ and Torture.  Jesus Christ is the brother of the tortured and the judge of the torturer.

Filliacide

Filliacide, the killing of daughters, is not a very elegant word, but neither are the terms gendercide or femicide.  But these newly coined expressions are not as ugly as the phenomenon they describe–the selective killing of female fetuses or newborn girls solely because of their sex.  It is not a new practice–excavations of ancient Roman sites show sewers clogged with the skeletons of newborn girls, according to Rodney Stark.  John Hobbins reports these and other gruesome details of the ancient and modern practice at Ancient Hebrew Poetry.  John also points out how one factor in the history of the world has curbed the practice of killing girls because they are girls,  and that factor is the spread of the Christian faith.

Memorial to Deserters

In 2005 a memorial was erected in Ulm, Germany, to German soldiers who deserted the Nazi cause during WWII.

What do you think, did they do the right thing?

Is it right to honor them?

During WWII the Nazis executed over 15,000 deserters.

Stalin’s army executed 158,000 of their own for the same reason.

The United States executed one, private Eddie Slovik (played by Martin Sheen in the 1974 movie “The Execution of Private Slovik”).

During the civil war deserters were executed when they could be caught (as portrayed in the book and movie “Cold Mountain).  Still, over 100,000 from each side deserted.

Poison in Jest

I guess we have to be careful what we say.  Not everyone has the same sense of humor.  One of my good friends, who grew up in Mississippi, said he thought the “Obama Psalms 109” bumper stickers are just a joke.  Nobody means the president harm; Southern Republicans just want one of their own back in office.  I’m still not persuaded; I am afraid there are a few unbalanced individuals who would take the words way too seriously.

On the other hand, I was re-reading an article from a year ago about one of my own students.  The Kansas State Collegian did a feature story about Jessica Long’s passion for all things Egyptian (here).  There was a small piece of the article I had missed when I read it last year:

Long said her friends are aware of her fascination with Egyptian history and even tease her about it. One evening, while playing “Would You Rather …?” – a game in which participants choose which extreme action they would rather take –  Long’s friends decided to test her devotion to Egypt.

They asked if she would rather “push the button” to destroy Egyptian artifacts or cut out her future child’s tongue. Long chose to save the artifacts.

Now, she said, whenever her friends are tired of hearing her talk about Egypt, they say, “Jessie, push the button!” She said they are also passing the inside joke on to new friends and students.

Well, it’s a game, maybe a sick game, but the answers shouldn’t be taken too literally.  I know Jessie, and I know she wouldn’t really cut out her (future) child’s tongue.  But some reader of the Collegian thought she was serious.  He commented that she is not a Christian because “God would never give her a passion like this because he is LOVE, not a materialist. Material things mean nothing to Him.”

Of course, God cares more about people than things.  I wouldn’t say material things mean nothing to God–the creator came up with the idea of material stuff.  But the relics of the past are a little bit more than material things.  They connect us with real people who lived on this same planet.  Our knowledge of ancient civilizations makes us richer.  And by the way, our knowledge of ancient Egypt helps us understand the Bible.  After all, our spiritual ancestors spent four-hundred years as guests in Egypt.

Cyrus Gordon once commented that Ephraim Speiser’s Anchor Bible Commentary volume on Genesis was a fine contribution to the series, especially with the insights from Speiser’s knowledge of ancient Mesopotamia (aka Iraq).  The book only suffered from the neglect of Egyptian sources, because, said Gordon, “Genesis is replete with Egyptian influences.”

What Are You Thinking?

My friends in Topeka, Kansas, tell me they have seen a bumper sticker that quotes Psalm 109 in reference to president Obama.  It’s not funny.

Maybe I’m sensitive because of where I live.

I sometimes have coffee in Aggieville and wonder if the ghost of Timothy McVeigh is lurking in the shadows.  Aggieville was the first place America’s worst domestic terrorist was arrested.  It was just a bar room fight when he was a soldier stationed at nearby Fort Riley, but he went on to worse things.

A few years after that incident, McVeigh and his accomplice rented a big white truck and filled up with gas in Riley County  before they drove it to Oklahoma City and killed 19 children at America’s Kid’s Daycare Center, along with 150 adults.

During the nineties fanatics were speaking in apocalyptic terms about the evils of Bill Clinton and his wife.  They were talking about concentration camps in the Southwest and Blackhawk helicopters.  They were painting David Koresh as an innocent victim whose righteous blood called for vengeance.  For most it was just talk.  But Tim McVeigh was listening.

Or maybe it’s the hideous figure of America’s worst living hatemonger, Fred Phelps, whom I sometimes have to drive past.  Fred and family give hate speech a bad name.  In February I attended a conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls at Midwestern Baptist Seminary.  One of the seminary’s graduates had been murdered in church, and Fred and his pitiful band of followers came to picket.

After fifteen years of hate speech directed at physician George Tiller–someone finally listened.  The doctor who performed late-term abortions in Wichita was finally murdered.  It happened on a Sunday morning as he was serving as an usher at his church.

Late term abortion is a gruesome and traumatic procedure–and sometimes a tragic necessity.  Under Kansas law at the time Dr. Tiller was murdered, it was legal only when the mother’s health was endangered.  The law was not strict enough for some, but too strict for others.  But my point is this–murder was not the answer; but people kept chanting “Tiller the Killer” until someone took it seriously.

We have a peaceful way of changing national leaders every four years.  In the meantime, the Bible tells us to pray for our leaders–it doesn’t tell us to take a curse out of context and pray it.  You are entitled to your political opinions–but think about the effects of hate speech:

  1. It may set off an unbalanced person.
  2. It reflects on all Christians and makes us look like ignorant bigots.

In Romans 2:24 Paul quotes from Isaiah, in a passage referring to the people God chose to represent his love and goodness to the world–

God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.

How about that for a bumper sticker?

The Face of Socialism

Jan Palach

Jan Palach

This is the face that wanted to be the “human face of socialism.”  Jan Palach was the student who chose set himself ablaze 40 years ago to protest the brutal communist oppression of the Prague Spring.  In 1968 students and others had called for diversity and freedom of expression within the communist system.  The Soviets responded by sending in tanks.

I’m not a fan of self-immolation or any form of suicide–I do think it is better than suicide-murder; but Jan felt it was better to die standing than to kneel.

A kilometer or so further downhill from Wenceslas Square where Jan set himself on fire, in the old square is a monument to Jan Hus, another Czech martyr who five hundred years earlier had been burned alive by the enemies of freedom.

Jan Hus

Jan Hus

The two Jans are heroes of freedom to the Czechs.  The burned face of Jan Palach is the face of Soviet Socialism.

You can like or dislike President Obama’s health care proposals, including an option to buy into the public insurance plan that all politicians enjoy–but it has nothing to do with the horrors of Communist socialism.

I remember about a year ago when the republican presidential candidate suspended his campaign to rush to Washington and vote for the bank bailouts.  I remember the presidents of the auto companies flying their private jets to the Washington to ask the then republican-controlled congress for a bailout.

I don’t really know anyone who is not disgusted by the bailouts.  I don’t know whether they made the recession worse, or whether they saved the economy from total collapse.  It was a desperate response to what both political parties considered a dire emergency.  But it was not socialism.

A Difficult Topic

Imagine a frantic mother being restrained by firefighters in front of a burning house.  We can understand why she want to risk her life to save her child, but we can also understand that if the case is hopeless, at least her life should be spared.

Imagine the same scene with a twist.  The mother realizes the case is hopeless and heartbroken, sits on the ground sobbing.  Now imagine someone trying to force her into the house, risking her life in a vain attempt to save the child.

Americans are deeply divided on abortion.  Depending on how the questions are framed, about half are broadly “pro-choice” and the other half are generally “pro-life.”

The vast majority of those who oppose abortion believe it should be allowed in extreme cases: certainly to save the mother’s life, and nearly all agree it should be allowed in cases of rape or incest.  I say “nearly all,” because I know some argue that even the product of rape has a right to live; but I can’t imagine any state passing a law restricting abortion without provisions for cases of rape or incest.

My internet friend Margaret has sent a link to a thoughtful article in the NY Times by Judith Warner–you should also read the followup comments.  Earlier Margaret sent a link to an article by her writing teacher relating her tragic experience.  Margaret also related her own story in a comment here.

If these stories don’t make you sad enough, Valerie Tarico tells her own tragic story here.  Valerie is a former evangelical Christian who became an atheist.  She is less abrasive and more thoughtful than most of the outspoken atheists today.  I’ve seen firsthand enough of the dark side of evangelical Christianity, although I will probably read her book on the subject.

As I say, I’ve seen enough to be sympathetic to Valerie, but I have also seen enough of the good that people of faith do–and the good that faith does in their life–that I hope I will be a reformer rather than an apostate.

Another Church Shooting

reformation lutheran

An usher was murdered at a Lutheran church in Wichita yesterday.  Back in March, Clint Van Zandt reported,

So far this year, churches in 39 states have reported 141 incidents, including shots fired, robberies, burglaries and bomb threats. Some shooters are liberals, some conservatives, some act under the belief that God ordered them to do so while others do not believe in God or organized religion.  (Newsvine)

Yesterday’s murder was likely perpetrated by someone who believed he was doing God’s will, since the victim was the late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.  As usual, the Phred Felps family, which celebrates all murders, showed up to applaud Tiller’s murder.

Phred Felps himself is a case of how something can start out apparently good and then go awry.  In the 1960’s and ’70s he represented many African Americans in civil rights cases.   He and his daughter claim they systematically took on and dismantled the Jim Crow laws in the state (more here).  Then sometime around 1977, something snapped, and he was eventually disbarred.

I know many people who describe themselves as Pro-Life.   Most are quiet and humble.  A few have participated in quiet demonstrations, but most have never taken part in any form of public protest.  I don’t know any who approve of violence.  Of course, some will brand all who are prolife as dangerous fanatics.  Yesterday’s violence will be more than a setback for the movement.  I suspect it will quietly fade away, at least as far as being any kind of public political movement.

Maybe some will continue to work to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies and to support women who are pregnant in difficult circumstances.

steve green

The following may not seem related, but to me it is.  Last week a jury in Kentucky spared the life of Steven Green, who had been convicted of murder and rape in Iraq.  You could not imagine a more horrendous crime than the one planned and committed by Green.  If any crime ever deserved death, it was his.  Yet, the jury chose to deal a measure of mercy, giving him life without parole.

This leads me to a simple conclusion: It is time to abolish the death penalty in America.  Capital punishment might  be a deterrent where it is swift and sure, but in our system it will always be rare and agonizingly slow.  It can never be applied consistently, and so it can never be fair.

The Kentucky jury’s failure to choose execution for Green is an insult to the people of Iraq.  Than can see it only as an indication that American’s regard their lives as less valuable than the lives of others.  If capital punishment had never been an option, at least they would have had the consolation that we had given the harshest penalty possible to the perpetrator of this monstrous crime.

My further conclusion is that the only way to be pro-life is to be consistently nonviolent, and to work consistently for peaceful solutions to problems, however difficult the problems may be.

Have You Had that Talk with Your Son?

It used to be parents found it difficult to have “the talk” with their adolescent children–the talk about “the facts of life.”  I can remember when I was six or seven years old taking family road trips and stopping for a restroom break.  I remember asking my dad what those vending machines were for (the ones that said, back then, “Sold only for prevention of disease.”)

My dad would get embarrassed and say, “uh, we’ll talk about that later; they’re waiting for us in the car.”

The book of Proverbs in the Bible portrays a father talking with his son about some important facts of life, warning him of the pitfalls that await a naive young man.  Of course he warns him about being enticed by a wicked woman, the one who says,

Come, let’s drink deep of love till morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love!  My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey (Proverbs 7:18-19).

He warns his son that her house is a highway to hell (Proverbs 7: 27).  But earlier in the book he warned his son about another danger that entices many young men–violence.  The words of the foolish young men, the youth gangs that prowled the streets of ancient Palestine, are similar to the words of the foolish woman.

Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for someone’s blood, let’s waylay some harmless soul . . . throw in your lot with us, and we will share a common purse (Proverbs 1:11-14).

Today is the tenth anniversary of the murders at Columbine.  If it wasn’t hard enough to talk to your kids about sex and drugs, parents now have to talk to them about murder and violence.  But we can’t afford to be silent.

Conscience and Nursing

Lethal injection is considered a humane and sanitary means of dispatching convicted murderers.  Inserting an IV requires skill and training.  Here is what one nurse says,

Past experiences influence my belief that the essential vein will not be accessed on the first try. Despite the diminutive size of the needle, there is still pain with it’s insertion.

Worse than blood draws is the starting of an IV for either medication or for hydration. Now, we’re talking about a much larger IV needle. I have started IV’s for 30 years and never had one myself until six years ago, where it took the nurse four tries before she called another nurse to successfully start my IV. The first nurse was frustrated which only added to her difficulty with each of her next several attempts. I was so tense, that my veins went into hiding, “determined” to not be accessed by anyone!  (More here)

So, if we are going to have lethal injections we need trained professionals, specifically nurses, to do the deed.  But what if most nurses are conscientiously opposed to killing? When the federal prison in Indiana needed an executioner for Timothy McVeigh in 2001, they had to go all the way to Missouri to find a nurse willing to inject the poison cocktail.  David Pinkley was on probation in a plea bargain after stalking and threatening another man and his family.  He was willing to use his medical skills to end the life of America’s most notorious mass murderer (more here).  Presumably, he followed procedure and used an alcohol swab before delivering the potion (see Why an Alcohol Swab).

What would happen if all nurses refused to volunteer for the work of execution?  Would there be some sort of draft?  Would it be like jury duty?

Should nurses who conscientiously object be protected–or should they be fired if they refuse a summons to execution duty?

Do we want health care professionals with a conscience, or do we want doctors like Joseph Mengele and his subordinates who mindlessly followed his orders?

(More at Amnesty International)

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?