Saturday, January 14, 2017

Open Letter to an Impassioned Democrat

Dear S__,

Whenever I go on Facebook, I’m reminded that you are unhappy about the results of the recent election. Maybe I should be more specific: I see a dozen posts from you that state in great detail how unhappy you are with the election.

I don’t feel all of your pain, but I do feel some of it. I didn’t vote for Mr. Trump either, but I found his opponents’ platforms even worse, so if I had to be stuck with one of the choices I was given, I got the one I disliked least. I happen to know that you didn’t get your first choice either, but your second choice was, shall we say, good enough for government work. And most voters agreed.

But posting anti-Trump memes on Facebook isn’t going to help your cause. (Writing posts on a blog that no one reads won’t help mine either, but my asthma is acting up, the only inhaler I have is steroids, and so I can’t sleep, and I have to do something, so here I am.) Unless you can do something more constructive than post on Facebook, you’re stuck with four years of Mr. Trump’s boot on your neck, or the death of everything you’ve worked for in the last eight years, or however you care to characterize the disaster that awaits you beginning on January 20.

I would like to propose to you a mission that, should you decide to accept it, will result in a better world for you and those you love.

I want you to write your state-level elected officials and tell them to pass legislation that states unequivocally that residents of your state will not submit to either a Trump presidency or laws passed by the current Republican Congress. That is, your state will secede and become its own nation. If you’re not sure how to word the letter, I’m happy to help you.

Until you tell me you have done so, I am going to unfollow you on Facebook. I won’t unfriend you, because I am honored that you friended me to begin with, but I can’t be party to you wasting your time and mine griping about the Trump presidency when there is something you can do to change things so they are more to your liking.

(If there were enough people who think like me, I’d organize my own secession movement. We can about fill a football stadium. You can draw on the majority of people who voted last November.)

If you look at Politico’s map of the state-by-state election results, you will see that with the exception of Texas, all the richest states in the USA went for Clinton. That tells me that if those states were to secede and form their own nation, that nation would be richer and better educated than the remaining USA. And, of course, you would no longer have the poorer, less educated folks telling you what to do.

In fact, if you really wanted to shed the dead weight, you could simply secede at the municipal level. Look here:

I defy you to find a blue county on that map that isn’t wealthier and better educated—that is, both more urban and more urbane—than the contiguous red counties. Why would you want to be “united” with people who are inferior to you? Would it not be far better to leave them behind, forge your own path, and then, once they come begging to be admitted to your socialist paradise, decide for yourselves under what terms to admit them, if at all?

Would a highly urban state be at a disadvantage? Not at all—look at Monaco, the richest nation per capita in the world, and Singapore, an economic powerhouse by any definition. Both are entirely urban.

Could secession be done peaceably? Of course—look at Czechoslovakia’s division into the Czech Republic, which is more free market, and Slovakia, which is more socialist. Not a shot was fired.

Would the remaining USA resist secession violently, as in 1861? I can’t guarantee that they wouldn’t, but I promise that I would come to you and do my best to stand between their tanks and you if they did. Much of the support for Mr. Trump came from people who simply want you and your friends out of their faces. They’re happy to let you do as you wish. And they certainly don’t want you in a position to outvote them in the future. So I would expect them to do all they could to speed up the secession process.

The resulting urban nation—which would probably become a federation of city-states—would need to import food from the USA, and the new, highly rural USA would need to import technology from the federation, so it would be in everyone’s best interests for trade barriers to be low. I would hope that the advantages that would accrue to the resulting USA from the secession would influence the protectionist Mr. Trump to make sure that the federation had access to food.

So please, S__, write your elected officials. Take the zeal with which you publish Facebook memes and turn it to constructive activity. Be a force for good.

I hope I can resume following you soon.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

After the Election Is Stolen

Surprise, surprise.

The political class, those who today cloak their rapacity in the authority supposedly granted them by Romans 13, are deathly afraid that someone they don’t like will take up that authority, so they are threatening to kill members of the Electoral College who vote for Donald Trump. If enough electors change their votes, Congress could give the presidency to Hillary Clinton on January 6.

It doesn’t look like the establishment will co-opt Trump to their satisfaction. They may still be able to assassinate him, but the “Russia swung the election to Trump” meme has gained so much traction that

electors interested in living out their natural lives will probably “do what’s best for the nation” and vote for an “experienced statesman” rather than a “racist, buffoonish demagogue.” Between Trump, Pence, and Clinton, the safe money says it will be Hillary Clinton putting her hand on the Bible and swearing to uphold the Constitution come January 20.

So evangelicals—who last March would never vote for a serial polygamist with no principles but change their tune in November and carry the flag of said unprincipled polygamist to victory—suddenly find themselves as two-time losers: they lose credibility because they abandon their principles, then they lose the election anyway. The Libertarian Party, the “party of principle” that abandoned its principles and still can’t get 10% of the vote, would be a suitable home for today’s Trumpista evangelicals.

What to do now? Step one: revamp your theology.

Stop beginning your theology of government with Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13–14. Remember what happened to the men who wrote those words: they were both executed by the very people they told us to honor. Clearly they did not mean that we were to regard those murderers, or any other politicians, as our leaders, or our citizenship as in any place but heaven.

Instead, start where the Bible starts, with Genesis 12, where Pharaoh, the biblical paragon of pretension to God’s heavenly throne, simply abducts Abraham’s wife. (Or Genesis 10, where Nimrod is “a mighty hunter before the Lord,” whatever that means; I don’t get the impression God’s people would want to be under his dominion.)

Note how Abraham works outside the political system to rescue Lot in Genesis 14, accepting bread from the priest Melkizedek but refusing to take even a sandal strap from the king of Sodom. 

Remember that yes, Joseph did save his people through the political system, but his descendants spent four centuries in slavery to that same system, and God had to (well, OK …) work miracles to bring about deliverance.

Notice that among all the commands given from Exodus 20 to the end of Deuteronomy, there were no taxes: the tithe and the poor laws and all the rest of the assessments were all voluntary; God specifies no agents to check on who was giving how much. “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord, “I will repay.”

Notice that when Moses acknowledges that the people will want a king later on, he specifies that the king is to operate under the same rules as those he rules (Deut 17)—he was to be a brother, not a Big Brother, not a father, and certainly not a despot.

Notice that during the period of the judges, when “there was no king in Israel,” the land had peace for forty years twice and eighty years once.

Notice that God gave Israel the monarchy as a curse, not as a blessing (1 Sam 8). Notice that most of the kings of Israel and Judah “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” Could this be why the psalmist says, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal man who cannot save”? Ask yourself: Does the history of the monarchies of Israel and Judah, to say nothing of the history of other governments, look more like Romans 13 or like “The kings of the earth rise up, and their rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his Messiah”?

What does the destruction of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue by the rock not made by human hands (Dan 2) mean, if not that God’s ways are not man’s ways and that our weapons are not the weapons of the world and that the church will take dominion over the world not by might, nor by power, but by God’s Spirit, through God’s people serving each other and their neighbors with love?

What do Jesus’ words “it is not to be that way with you” (Luke 22:25–26) mean, if not that his people are not to lord it over their neighbors the way politicians do, thus disqualifying the political process as a tool of dominion?

The Clinton presidency will present us with unfamiliar challenges. More than ever American evangelicals will be like the Romans to whom Paul wrote and the diaspora to whom Peter wrote. Those in power will be our increasingly intractable enemies. But Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who mistreat us. That’s a tall order that will take all our resources to fulfill. Let’s not waste our time considering those people our leaders.

The same holds true if the election is not stolen.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Why of Donald Trump’s Atrocious Presidency and How to Fight It

You probably didn’t hear it here first, but here’s my version:
Donald Trump’s presidency will make Evangelicaldom regret every handclap it raised in support of it.
The why is simple: Mr. Trump does not believe in private property. He will go after it with a vengeance.
People who believe in private property do not—cannot, by definition—support eminent domain, restricted trade, restricted migration, import tariffs, tax-funded education, standing armies, and the war on drugs. Mr. Trump not only supports these things, it was his support for these things that got him elected.
This is not to say that his opponent in the election would have done better. But just as rape is not as bad as murder yet is still an atrocity, Mr. Trump being not as bad as Mrs. Clinton does not make his stated policies less atrocious.
Mr. Trump has, commendably, lamented the expropriation of Christians who refused to play ball with the LGBTQ community, but he has done so by calling said expropriation a violation of religious freedom. My take is that anyone who thinks that fighting Roe v. Wade or Obergefell by playing the “religious freedom” card is hopelessly naïve. No one I have ever heard bleat about their religious freedom would grant religious freedom to anyone who said their religion allowed them to abort full-term fetuses or marry an animal or burn their widowed mother on their father’s funeral pyre. Hillary Clinton was right: the phrase “religious freedom” is simply code for Christian supremacism. Mr. Trump will support Christians’ “religious freedom” only as long as it serves his concept of the “greater good.”
We can depend on Mr. Trump to use eminent domain to dispossess the politically less powerful of their property. He will do so by claiming, probably correctly, that those he oppresses—and that’s the right word—are refusing reasonable offers for their property in hopes of getting a better offer later. Usually foregoing a lesser pleasure in the present in the hope of a greater pleasure in the future is considered a virtue. Deferred gratification is, after all, the mechanism that builds capital.
But while collectivists like Mr. Trump acknowledge your right to pass up the latest car or epic vacation today to build the capital to start a business (or buy a better car or vacation) tomorrow—and, of course, to run the risk that the business or the vacation or the car won’t work out as planned—they deny you the right to wait to see if you can get a better price for your property than what they are offering. And they deny you that right at gunpoint.
We can look forward to systematic violations of the right of the politically unconnected to associate with whom they please, as well as to the deportation of politically unconnected law-abiding people. Mr. Trump’s wall will be as effective at keeping unwilling business owners in as it will be in keeping willing workers out. This will result in the flight of all but politically connected capital and to higher prices on goods and services we currently import or pay illegal immigrants for. I would not rule out a military draft, including females, and a senseless war or two just for good measure.
Mr. Trump did us a yuuge favor during his campaign by showing us how to talk about the Establishment and how to talk to it, and most importantly, how to view it. We’ve seen that we don’t have to kowtow to a naked emperor anymore.
Well, come January Mr. Trump will be the Establishment. One would hope that he would expect and tolerate dissent couched in the terms he used when he was on the outside, but I think we can expect him to be just like the Clintonistas, who went from being pro free speech when they were out of power to thought police once in power. Mr. Trump will likely not tolerate dissent couched in the terms he used in his dissent.
Fortunately, Jesus calls us to a higher standard of discourse than Mr. Trump used in his campaign. And though Mr. Trump made great use of his lack of principles in his campaign, Jesus calls us to have principles.
Specifically, he calls us to obey the words “Do not steal.” Every abomination Mr. Trump will unleash on his subjects can be seen as theft, whether of property (eminent domain and restrictions on migration and investment), labor (taxes), or time and safety (the draft).
The church needs to stand firm for property rights, especially those rights of the politically less connected.
How this can happen when the vast majority of Christians send their children to tax-funded schools and have no qualms about paying into and benefiting from a Social Security system that subsidizes homosexual marriage I don’t know. Having given away the argument by not opposing theft themselves, evangelicals by and large have no moral legs to stand on in opposition to government atrocities.
Which is why I think the next four years will be atrocious.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Hanoi Quill Pig

Greetings from Hanoi! I’m here on a tour that dropped into my lap on short notice, and as soon as it landed, I knew I had to come. So here I am, unable to sleep in the middle of the night because of jet lag, in the hotel café listening to Paul McCartney performing “Got to Get You into My Life” on Spotify and communicating with my vast readership of a handful or two.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
— T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral
I don’t know what Jane Fonda’s motivations were for coming here during the unpleasantness.


But I think I know what motivated some people I admired at the time to not come:

Well, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He’s got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun,
We’re gonna have a whole lotta fun.
And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.
In a word, it was self-preservation.
Compare this to someone who actually suffered for acting on what he at least said he believed.

Click image for video.
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me.”
My tour has involved bringing with me things that I thought might raise eyebrows at the customs table, so I spent much of the flight here trying to come up with a truthful answer for Mr. Customs Man if he didn’t “Don’t touch my bags, if you please.”
Well, surprise! On the plane they gave us no long form that takes fifteen minutes to fill out, as they do on descent into the Land of the Free. There was no inquisition at the immigration stand, and it was a straight shot from there to the taxi stand. There was a notice on the wall of what qualified as “nothing to declare,” but beyond that it was the honor system.
My taxi was what I imagine Uber to be: $25 for a straight-shot 45-minute ride in a spacious, clean Toyota Camry, bottled water for the taking, soft music on a top-class audio system. My driver didn’t speak English, but good service with a smile speaks volumes.
The road between the airport and the city were wide and straight and middle-of-the-night empty. The city is clean. The hotel staff bends over backwards to make us feel at home. I’d been told that Vietnamese are standoffish, but I’ve got two pieces of evidence that that’s not quite true, taken during a recent trip to Old Hanoi in the lobby of the hotel.
One of these people is the manager of the hotel.
One of these people hadn't moved since the previous picture was taken.
While I don’t see a sign advertising a private school on every block, as I did in Kathmandu, private schools operate openly (even if they need to be licensed). Home schooling is illegal, but that’s no worse than Germany and Singapore.
I jumped at the chance to come here because part of me wants to be a champion of those who have suffered injustice, but I’ve been disabused of any idea that such is even needed anymore. Hanoi is full of Americans who are here simply to have a good time, and they spend much more money than I will by any standard. Very few people I’ve seen are old enough to remember the war. I may be the only person in the city who hasn’t moved on from it yet.
But the vestiges remain. The first I saw was at Hanoi Bible College, which has been run by the Christian and Missionary Alliance. They have recently celebrated their centenary.

“During the years 1965-1972, the US bombed the north of Vietnam, and God’s people in the church had to evacuate. The number of believers was very small. At that time there were only 5-7 believers. After that the number of believers who came to worship was 20-30 old people, including about 15 children, and 5-6 Chinese-Vietnamese people. The situation of 20-30 believers gathering lasted a long time, until the 1980s.”

In a window overlooking a street that is turned into an extension of a lake park on weekends is a commemoration of seventy years since Ho Chi Minh issued the call for his countrymen to fight for independence. In the fine print, he says, “No! / We would rather sacrifice all / but definitely not / suffer the loss of our country / and definitely / not suffer being slaves.” Patrick Henry, anyone?
The closest I ever came to coming to Viet Nam (the name means “Viet people,” not to be confused with the other ethnic groups found within the borders of the current nation-state) during the war was a dream I had in maybe 1971 that I was in combat here. I was terrified and oh, so grateful to wake up. A couple of real-life events I have run away from full speed have convinced me that I do not have the courage to be a soldier.
So I need to take my hat off to anyone who came here believing he was serving his country and the cause of good. But I believe those they fought needed even more courage, fighting as they were with fewer and less-powerful weapons.
But courage, as important as it is, isn’t everything. You have to be courageous in a just cause. I can understand Ho’s bravery and that of his troops as he attempted to throw off the yoke of French imperialism. But he wanted to replace French imperialism with the very communism that had claimed tens of millions of innocent victims in the USSR.
Fortunately for everyone, though the American military failed to achieve the “peace with honor” that Nixon was aiming for, its retreat did achieve peace in the long term. After an understandable, if not justifiable, bloody purge of those who had collaborated (or were suspected of collaborating—more innocent victims of communism) with those who had bombed, shot, burned, maimed, killed, and orphaned hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people, destroyed property, and polluted the land and water with chemicals that are causing birth defects to this day, Viet Nam is at a tolerable level of peace.
The French, the communists, the American invaders, and today’s government share the fundamental assumption that keeps Viet Nam from being truly great: the idea that people and their property are up for grabs by the political class. They have forgotten, if they ever cared, that God said, “Do not steal.” He didn’t make an exception for people in uniforms or representatives at the United Nations. The evangelicals who shared in the bombing of the Hanoi Bible College seem to have considered themselves exceptions to that rule.
Only when Christians en masse claim the birthright that they have to their bodies and property and, even before that, their responsibility to honor others’ rights to their lives and their property, will we see the peoples of the world come to Christ: let me suggest that when we see that justice rolls down like waters, righteousness in Christ will be as abundant as an ever-flowing stream.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ugly Ducklings

Sermon preached at Meadowood Senior Living, November 13, 2016

Many people have said that there is really only one story in the world. Christians would say that that is because all good stories somehow reflect the story of Jesus. Surely the story of Jesus fits in with all good stories.

The story of the ugly duckling has endured for centuries because we can identify with the ugly duckling. We all feel at some point like the world doesn’t appreciate us. We long for someone to see that we really are good people and that the world is wrong to look down on us. We long to be vindicated, to have people know that we are right and they are wrong, to be able to say to the world, “You don’t appreciate me because you’re asking the wrong questions. I’m not an ugly duckling; I’m a beautiful swan.”

And Jesus, of course, is the ultimate ugly duckling: “He had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him.” “The stone which the builders discarded has become the cornerstone.” “God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

This is the template from which our ugly duckling story comes, and the Bible promises that those who pledge allegiance to God’s ugly duckling will someday be vindicated as Jesus was.

Today I’d like to take a look at the ugly duckling of the Book of Psalms, Psalm 83. I call it the ugly duckling because hardly anyone pays any attention to it. I once suggested to some Christian leaders that maybe Psalm 83 would be a good Scripture passage to do as a choral reading in church, and the response was a guffaw; one man said, “No hope there,” and that was that.

To be sure, Psalm 83 doesn’t offer the comfort that we get from Psalm 23 or the down-to-earth wisdom of Psalm 1, and Handel didn’t include it in his Messiah, as he did Psalm 2, but it’s in the Bible for a reason. It’s what’s called an imprecatory psalm, a psalm that calls on God to harm people. It’s asking God to curse people. As Christians, we are called to bless, not to curse, yet Jesus also says that he has come to fulfill all Scripture, not to do away with it. So imprecatory psalms do have a place in the New Covenant, and I’ll try to explain what that is.

So let’s see how Jesus, God’s ugly duckling, fulfills this ugly duckling of the Book of Psalms.

83 A song, a psalm of Asaph. O God, do not be silent! Do not ignore us! Do not be inactive, O God! For look, your enemies are making a commotion; those who hate you are hostile. They carefully plot against your people, and make plans to harm the ones you cherish. They say, “Come on, let’s annihilate them so they are no longer a nation! Then the name of Israel will be remembered no more.” Yes, they devise a unified strategy; they form an alliance against you.

Here we are back in the world of Psalm 2 (“Why do the nations so furiously rage together?”):

The kings of the earth form a united front; the rulers collaborate against the Lord and his anointed king. They say, “Let’s tear off the shackles they’ve put on us! Let’s free ourselves from their ropes!”

We are in the world of Psalm 2, and we see that the emphasis is on the kings of the earth wanting to get out from under the Lord’s rule. In Ps 83, though, the surrounding nations are out to do active harm to God’s people. In Ps 2 we’re reminded that we live in a world full of rebels. Every human being wants to do his own thing, to determine by himself and for himself what is wrong and what is right. No one wants God looking over his shoulder and keeping track of everything we do.

Here in Ps 83, though, the rebels are not content to turn their backs on God. Now they want to go after God’s people. We see that in places where people who leave Islam to follow Jesus are disowned by their families, fired from their jobs, imprisoned, tortured, and sometimes killed. We see it in animist villages, where the other villagers are convinced that the local spirits dispense good crops or whatever on an all-or-nothing basis; the spirits say, “Unless everyone in this village does as we say, we won’t do good things for anybody,” and they get angry at the whole village because some of the villagers are Christian and don’t obey the spirit’s rules. And we see it here in the USA when Christians are fined and lose their livelihoods because they refuse to profit from—not tolerate, not participate in, but profit from—activities they consider immoral.

People these days complain that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is intolerant, that he unashamedly proclaims himself a jealous God who punishes those who rebel against him—as if a totally good God is somehow supposed to tolerate rebellion against what is good—but the other gods out there are just as intolerant, just as jealous, and just as vengeful against those who will not serve them.

So here in Ps 83, we have God’s people being attacked precisely because they belong to God. “Your enemies are making a commotion; those who hate you are hostile. They carefully plot against your people, and make plans to harm the ones you cherish.” Rule number one for imprecations, for calling down curses on enemies: they have to be God’s enemies, and they have to be causing harm to God’s people and God’s causes. He doesn’t want us calling down curses on whoever the Eagles are playing.

And we have to remember that even the godless rulers of this world, the ones we hear about in Ps 2 or Rom 13 or 1 Pet 2, are “God’s servants to do [us] good.” They may “do [us] good” by cutting our heads off or crucifying us upside-down, as they did to the men who wrote Rom 13 and 1 Pet 2, but Rom 8:28 says that God works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose, so we have to be willing to follow our commander’s orders, even when he sends us on suicide missions. We have to believe that “Precious in the Lord’s sight is the death of his holy ones,” and that he will reward those who are willing to die for his causes. (That includes putting up with inconveniences, which is sometimes harder than dying.)

[This united front] includes the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon, and Amalek, Philistia and the inhabitants of Tyre. Even Assyria has allied with them, lending its strength to the descendants of Lot.

Here the list of enemies begins with those who should have been Israel’s friends. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the brother of the Israelites’ patriarch Jacob. The Ishmaelites were descendants of Jacob’s father’s half-brother. The Moabites were descendants of Jacob’s second cousin. Jesus promised us that “a man’s enemies will be the members of his household,” and that’s why he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” We have no guarantee that these people who are close to us are not going to turn against God’s causes, and we have to be willing to pray imprecatory prayers against them if they do. At the very least, we have to be willing to accept what happens to them if God decides to punish them.

It’s one thing when the Philistines and Assyrians oppose us. They were people groups before the time of Abraham, so we expect them to be nasty, and we’re glad to call down curses on them because they’re not our people. But our own families can be God’s enemies just as those we have no peaceful dealings with. Are we willing to call curses down on those we love?

Does it hurt yet? It hurts me. There are many people who have been good to me who are rebels against God. Do I love God more than I love them? Am I willing to pray what the psalmist prays? It gets harder:

Do to them as you did to Midian – as you did to Sisera and Jabin at the Kishon River! They were destroyed at Endor; their corpses were like manure on the ground. Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, and all their rulers like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said, “Let’s take over the pastures of God!”

Here the psalmist recounts some of the great victories that God supernaturally gave Israel over the Midianites, enemies that were much stronger than they were. We hear of the victory over Sisera and Jabin, where a woman put the commander of the enemy’s army to sleep in her tent and then ran a tent peg through his head. Oreb and Zeeb were the commanders of the army that Gideon’s small band of men were able to defeat because the Midianite soldiers killed each other, and Zebah and Zalmunna were the kings whom Gideon executed. Again, they weren’t just personal enemies. They were enemies of God, who said, “Let’s take over the pastures of God!” They not only wanted God to leave them alone, they wanted to displace God’s people.

O my God, make them like dead thistles, like dead weeds blown away by the wind! Like the fire that burns down the forest, or the flames that consume the mountainsides, chase them with your gale winds, and terrify them with your windstorm. Cover their faces with shame, so they might seek you, O Lord. May they be humiliated and continually terrified! May they die in shame! Then they will know that you alone are the Lord, the sovereign king over all the earth.

Here we have more of the blood and guts this psalm is famous for: “make them like dead thistles … dead weeds … chase them … terrify them … Cover their faces with shame … May they be humiliated and continually terrified! May they die in shame!” Blood and guts! No hope here!

Not so fast. Maybe you caught the two rays of hope in this passage? “Cover their faces with shame”—Why?—“so they might seek you. … Then they will know that you alone are the Lord, the sovereign king over all the earth.”

This psalm is a prayer that is prompted by the danger that God’s people find themselves in, and it does urge God to use lethal force, but it is ultimately a prayer that God will vindicate himself, that people will know who he really is. He’s not an ugly duckling; he’s a swan. If you’re looking for a good-looking duckling, you won’t find God. (I don’t have time to go into this, but good-looking duckling religions are those that give you a bunch of rules that you can follow to curry favor with whatever is in charge.) But if you take God on his own terms, you’ll find a thing of beauty.

And, of course, we are all rebels against God. We are all guilty of opposing what God is doing. We all deserve to have Jesus pray Ps 83 against us. But he doesn’t. Instead, he allowed us to act out our rebellion by calling him the ultimate ugly duckling and killing him. He did that so that his people would not have to suffer the curses we’ve been talking about. And we deserve to suffer even worse curses, but God raised him from the dead to show that he really is the ultimate swan and to let us know that we can still seek God, that we can know for sure that he is the sovereign king over all the earth, and that he can forgive our rebellion against him and bless us rather than curse us if we repent, and we can be not only his subjects but his children.

May God grant us such repentant hearts. Amen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

On the Election

Someone whose sense I trust asked me what I thought about the election, so I'll tell you what I told him.

I woke up at 2:30 and purposely didn't check the results until I went to my men's group meeting at 6; I let them tell me. The last I had (thought I had) heard, the electoral vote was close, so I was thinking that even if Trump won by, say, 5, the establishment could get a handful of electors to "vote their conscience" and vote for Killery even though their state had gone for Trump, but I think the gap is large enough that they'll be "content" to cut their losses and plan for 2020.

I think I feel like folks in Syria and Iraq feel after a wave of bomb attacks when a bomb hits a part of the house they're not in. Things aren't good, and we need to prepare for something worse the next time around, but we need to be grateful for things as they are.

I don't think Trump is any less a foe of the voluntary society (what people used to understand libertarianism to be) than Clinton, but we may have more room to work. A 40% tariff on imports, bad as it is, is light years more tolerable than nuclear war with Russia or even Iran.

I'm reminded of a cartoon I saw after the hurricane that smashed Haiti only grazed Florida. It was of "the hand of God" between the hurricane and Florida. God has been merciful to us: Trump will damage things, but he won't destroy everything. I think I need to learn how to be loyal opposition here. As long as there is taxation, I must be in the opposition, but I need to learn how to package that opposition so that I can state it in terms of common goals: "You say this is what you want, but the route you're taking to get it" -- whether through eminent domain or tariffs or limiting migration (as opposed to ending the welfare state) -- "is less likely to succeed than removing all vestiges, to say nothing of the substance, of privilege and power from the ruling class."

How to do that when he and most Americans consider taxation a sacred duty when I consider it the abomination that makes all others possible I don't know yet. Let's see where we are in four years.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why Bootleggers Love Baptists

For the purposes of this post, a bootlegger is anyone involved in a commercial activity of questionable moral value, e.g., commercial gambling, sex, or mind-altering substances. A Baptist is anyone who wants to use “the sword” of Romans 13:1–7 to prevent the bootlegger from bootlegging.

“That ought to be a crime! There should be a law against it!”

One of the consequences—Or was it a cause?—of Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil is the human tendency to believe in salvation by law: if we just make a law against bad things, we can muster our forces against the evil and it will go away.

Armed with Romans 13, Christians, especially since the Progressive era of the mid-nineteenth century, have tried to use political power to wipe out social evils. In doing so they have inadvertently attempted to do God one better: the evils they are attempting to wipe out are evils that God has nowhere said he wants us to eradicate by force.

This is not to say that social evils are not evil. Gambling is a zero-sum perversion of mutually beneficial investment in businesses that offer evidence, but no guarantee, of success. Intoxication is a perversion of the pleasure that accompanies a stomach full of nutritious food. Prostitution is a perversion of marital love.

But God has nowhere commanded his people to use force to eradicate these evils. The Bible speaks to menstruation, wet dreams, and defecation, so it’s not as if he was shy about telling what to do about gambling and prostitution and intoxication. And in fact he does tell us what to do: “Preach the gospel to all creation.”

We are to do our best to convince our neighbors to abandon evil practices. And while “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” is not in the Bible, at least not in as many words, if two and two make four, we will be most likely to convince people to make the right decision from the heart if they know we don’t threaten them.

So sometimes less is more. “Vengeance is mine. I will repay. Let the dead bury their own dead. You follow me.”

There’s another, a “two and two make four,” reason to avoid taking the sword against bootleggers. By doing so we play into the hands of the most ruthless among them.

By arresting the Fantines (i.e., desperate women) and the Xaviera Hollanders (i.e., those who do it for fun) among the sex workers, we eliminate the competition for those who kidnap women and enslave them. By arresting the people who grow pot in their basements and sell it on the streets, we eliminate the competition for the cartels, who are not averse to using their profits to set up political entities: can you say warlord?

And by outlawing penny-ante card games and online poker, we eliminate the competition for brick-and-mortar gambling establishments, which are also not averse to setting up political entities. Hmm, gambling and politics. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—do you suppose they have any connection to legal, cartelized gambling money?

Enough said.

When God said, “Do not steal,” he meant it. What people do with their property is their business until they put their neighbors’ lives and property in credible danger. We may wish that they did something better with it than what they’re doing, but God has not called us to confiscate their property for some “higher purpose.”

We are to do for them what we want them to do for us: first, leave us and our property alone, and only in that context, help us when we ask for it.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Should Christian Men Be Pussies?

The impetus for this post comes from an article I read an hour or so ago on the recommendation of a friend. While the entire article is excellent, the section that made me sit up and take notice was this one, quotes from and comments about David Murrow’s Why Men Hate to Go to Church:

Murrow sees some good in [contemporary “praise and worship,” “P&W”] music, [but] overall he thinks [it] may have even less appeal to men than the hymns of old, and “has harmed men’s worship more than it has helped … With hymns, God is out there. He’s big. Powerful. Dangerous. He’s a leader. With P&W, God is at my side. He’s close. Intimate. Safe. He’s a lover. Most people assume this shift to greater intimacy in worship has been a good thing. On many levels, it has been. But it ignores a deep need in men.” ...

[In P&W music] men are to relate primarily to God as a lover, and Murrow observes that the kind of language used in praise and worship songs – “Your love is extravagant/Your friendship, it is intimate/ I feel I’m moving to the rhythm of Your grace/Your fragrance is intoxicating in this secret place” – “force[s] a man to express his affection to God using words he would never, ever, ever say to another guy. Even a guy he loves. Even a guy named Jesus.”

That reminded me of a song the accompaniment band in which I play bass led the congregation in last week. (Do you see the contradiction inherent in that sentence? Since when do accompanists lead?) One line that stuck in my craw then and has been an ear worm since is, “Your name is honey on my lips.” Words like that will be sung no matter where in the church building I am; I play in the band so I don’t have to sing them. I’m certainly glad my atheist, beer-chuggin’ libertarian friends weren’t in church for the occasion.

After reading the article I went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. Blame the Brazilian kebabs I had for dinner or the potato chips I snuck just before I went to bed. Blame my guilt at not being able to say that Jesus’ name is honey on my lips. Blame my ingratitude to God that I go to church with men who would rather follow Ahab to an imperialist war than to share the ignominy of Christ with Micaiah when I wish I were in Nepal with the men who told me they’d rather follow Micaiah. Blame my sins that I won’t talk about here.

But suddenly I remembered that the orchestration class my wife was teaching on Friday was interrupted when the dean came into the room, turned off the lights, and said, “We are on lockdown,” and barricaded the doors. The students went to the back of the room and cowered, not knowing what was up, terrified that there was a shooter on campus. After half an hour they were informed that there had been an armed robbery in the town and the perps were still at large, but it was another forty-five minutes before the lockdown was lifted and class could resume, but of course by then the class period was essentially over. I don’t know what the hourly tuition at that school works out to, but I’ll bet that if I got that much per hour for my work, we could be in the market for a decent house, not the shacks we’ve been looking at.

The thought of Christian young men in the prime of life cowering in a classroom like a bunch of elementary school students waiting for a shooter to show up turns my stomach. If a shooter lets loose in any public space where there is a Christian man, I say he’d better hit the Christian within the first five seconds, because after that, Mr. Epitome of Gentlemanliness will have unconcealed his carry and blown the perp’s brains out. (The other better solution, which may be right, for all I know, is to do it the Amish way: you go about your business—none of this lockdown stuff—and what happens, happens.)

The rise of the US police state has brought with it a pussyization of men, including Christian men. Instead of “Everybody cower!” the word should have been, “There has been an armed robbery in town. Men, we need you to stand outside the buildings for a while,” with the understanding being that those men—I’m talking about the students as well as the faculty here—were armed and knew how to use those weapons properly. Those robbers should have known before they got to the campus—and the truly sad part is that there is no evidence they ever even went in the direction of the campus—that they would be outnumbered and outgunned dozens to one if they dared to set foot there.

But no, while in every society I can think of until recently any man worth the name would have considered himself the primary defender of his family and the weak members of his community, American pussies are proud to leave defense to “the few, the proud,” the people in uniform. And, frankly, I’m part of the problem. The word gun is not one I utter with affection. No wonder every day is Honor the Vets Day or Honor the Police Day or Support Our Troops Day—they’re the only men left in society who truly act the part. (Well, there’s the Duck Dynasty hunting crowd, but only the rubes in Flyover Country respect them, and besides, most of them are military or police veterans.)

The taxman may take our money and use it for things we think are abhorrent—like late-term abortion, like imperialist war, like the godless indoctrination centers we call schools, like queer marriage, like crony capitalism and colonial and postcolonial dictatorships overseas, and like a secret police and spy network that always seems to have connections with the “lone nuts” who commit atrocities—but dammit, the taxman is the only one we can trust to protect us. We can’t be trusted to be the “armed American behind every blade of grass” who made Japan’s Admiral Yamamoto reluctant to bomb Pearl Harbor and utterly opposed to any talk of invading the US mainland.

Maybe if churches offered firearms safety courses instead of gooey songs about Jesus, we’d see more men in church.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Beer and Faith

I was going to begin this post with the quote from Benjamin Franklin to the effect that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, but it seems that he never said it. So I have to begin a bit more prosaically.

We have had to move out of our house, and we are trying to do it on the cheap, so we have ended up having to do a lot of running around and heavy lifting. Between age and the hot weather, it is very tiring.

Much more frustrating, though, is that we have not found a place to move to. Not only that, we don’t know how we are going to finance the work we’ve wanted to do since we were married, helping churches in cultural minority groups to incorporate local music styles into the life of the church. And I really think the message I’ve been trying to get across in this blog is something that would help the church more effectively fulfill the Great Commission, but so far it has been just me and the tumbleweed out here in the wilderness.

On Friday, after a long day of chasing down a truck to borrow and then moving our beds, I was pretty much worn out. I didn’t care what I ate for dinner. All I knew was that I wanted to wash it down with a bottle of beer.

Now the owner of the truck is a good friend, and he always has beer on hand, but I don’t feel like our relationship is such that I can simply show up and ask him for a beer. And I don’t feel like our budget allows me to buy it. So I was resigned to, I don’t know, yet another Chick Fil-A dinner and ice water.

We arrived with the truck, my friend’s wife invited us for dinner—my wife had been craving green beans, and there they were in the mélange—and got my wife some ice water. There was a bottle of beer right there on the table in an insulated sleeve, but it was my friend’s, and his wife offered me … ice water.

The darkest hour is just before dawn. Resurrection power works best in graveyards. Name your cliché, it fit. Before I could open my mouth to thank them for the gracious offer—after all, it was hot and my mouth was dry—my friend grabbed a beer out of the fridge and put it in an insulated sleeve just for me and my drinking pleasure.

This was a growing experience for me.

I’ve always pooh-poohed the “God of the parking spaces.” With people being killed and tortured and jailed for their faith in Christ, others having lost their families and jobs because they follow Jesus, others driven from their homes by war or brigands, others suffering from diseases and disabilities, others going years without being able to find employment that pays their bills or that matches their gifts, how selfish can it be to pray that God will provide a parking space close to the store or, get real, beer for dinner?

If the most important thing I’ve got going in my life is what I drink with dinner, then I can hear Morgan Freeman in The Bucket List saying, “I’ve seen swimming pools deeper than you.” But like I said, Ginny and I both are searching for ways to use our gifts for the kingdom.

Maybe the lesson I should be taking away from this is that wanting to do what we want to do “for the Lord” is just as selfish as wanting a good parking space or beer with dinner. But what I took away was the prayer I prayed with Ginny after we finally got the old house cleaned up: “Lord, if you were kind enough to answer my selfish longing for beer for dinner, I think I can trust you to find us a house that will allow us to be close to a church we can serve in and close to neighbors we can reach for you, and you can lead us to people who can profit from our gifts.”

Maybe that beer was, if not proof then at least good evidence that God loves me.

Or we may both die or be stricken with Alzheimer’s tomorrow. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. But those moments of optimism were a foretaste of heaven.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Theologizing Fidel Castro

I have a real-life, flesh-and-blood question for my conservative evangelical friends who believe that it is a Christian’s duty to “honor authority.”

In 1956, Fulgencia Batista was Cuba’s head of state and Fidel Castro was a revolutionary. Castro and Che Guevara and their gangs would show up in villages, say to the people, “Do as we say or we’ll kill you,” and do as they pleased.

Castro was, we would agree, a rebel against God, a murderer, and a thief.

Three years later, Batista was history and Castro was the head of state. Before long, he had a representative at the United Nations. And he was still sending his agents—now they had official uniforms and a chain of command that ran all the way to the UN—to the villages to tell the people, “Do as we say or we’ll kill you,” and to do as they pleased.

Same people, same actions, same victims. Same rebel against God. But now Castro is the power that be, ordained of God, right?

As such, according to Romans 13, Castro “hold[s] no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. … He is God’s servant to do [Cuban Christians] good. … He does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. … [He is God’s servant], who give[s his] full time to governing.” Not “would be if he followed God’s law”: is.

Let’s leave aside his closing of churches and otherwise stifling of dissent and concentrate only on the issue of taxation as defined in Romans 13. (Yes, I’m being snarky. Neither “taxes” nor “revenue” is defined, so they can include anything.)

If he can take away whatever tangible property he chooses, to say nothing of liberty and life, in 1959 as God’s ordained agent, why could he not do it in 1956 as God’s future ordained agent?

Why would his victory over Batista not have vindicated any prediction (prophecy?) he might have made that he would become leader?

Would it have been wrong for a Christian who realized that God was going to give Cuba into Castro’s hands—to ordain him as his servant—to have joined up with him before the march into Havana?

If it was wrong to join him before the march on Havana, why is it OK to take a job in his government now?

If it was right to forcibly oppose Castro when he was a revolutionary, why is it wrong to forcibly oppose him now?

And if it was wrong for Castro to do as he chose with people’s property in 1956, why is it OK in 1959?

If it’s not OK for Castro to have free rein over people’s property in 1959, why not?

I would suggest that anyone who gives Romans 13 precedence over the prohibition against stealing in Exodus 20:15 and the statement in Psalm 2 that the kings of the earth are unalterably opposed to the Lord and his Messiah is morally paralyzed in the face of the Castros (and Maos—Mao’s story differs from Castro’s only in the details) of this world. Only when Christians refuse to carry out the immoral decrees of the powers that be, however ordained of God they might be, will the church be able to wage war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).