Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Anarchy at a Church Work Day

Brian announced in church that there would be a work day on Saturday and put out a list of things that needed to be done for people to sign up. Somewhere along the line, Ken and I got the idea that we were in charge of cooking breakfast before the work started. Then we found out that Tom and Rich were in charge of breakfast. So I wrote Tom to let him know that I’d help him, but he said he would be going out of town that day. Meantime, Rich, who hadn’t heard anything, said he’d be happy to head up breakfast, which was fine with us because he can put together wonderful meals in his sleep. Then he went to Costco and bought enough food for twice the number that eventually showed up—a week early. Oops.
Ken and I showed up at 6:30 to cook breakfast. No Rich. Neither of us had a key. Wait—didn’t we see a car come in? Sure enough, it was Tom, who opened the church, unlocked all the doors, and went on his way out of town.
We looked in the kitchen: no eggs, no bacon, no Bisquick, only frozen hash browns, and we didn’t know how those should be cooked. So we set up the tables and chairs. Then Rich showed up. He’d had to dig his wheelbarrow out of his shed for the work day.
Apart from Rich telling us how we should cook the eggs and bacon and hash browns, we pretty much worked in silence. Eventually everything was ready to eat, the people showed up, and the food got eaten—well, most of it.
Daniel and Kim had brought their kids, and while Daniel went to work on Brian’s to-do list, Kim and the girls cleaned up the kitchen while I struck the makeshift dining room. The kitchen crew discovered that half of the bacon had never been taken out of the oven and was now completely charred. Oops.
At that point, I had to leave to chase the buck, but as I drove off, I saw everyone hard at work—even the slight lady who first came to our church a few weeks ago and her son, who looked to be about six years old. And when I came to church the next morning, everything was shipshape.
No surprise. This is the way God designed the system.
Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and be wise! Even though they have no prince, governor, or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter. (Prov 6:6-8)
One of the greatest blessings of common grace, the goodness God bestows on everyone, his foes as well as his friends, is what I call the market: as an old song put it, “You must die to live / You must give to gain / You must lose to win.” A corollary of this is that people who desire a common goal will gladly work together to reach it. You don’t have to be a Christian to be a willing worker.
It is true that some people willingly work together to reach ungodly goals. Every person alive has probably done so at some point. This is why we need God’s wisdom—written in his Word and imparted by the Holy Spirit and godly counselors—to keep godly goals always before us.
It’s also true that some will pursue selfish ends instead of working for the common good.
But if a bunch of nobodies can whip a church facility into shape in a few hours without coercion and really without leadership that goes beyond setting the goals and teaching the ignorant how to reach them, there’s every reason to believe that the church can bring justice and prosperity to any society by peaceful means.
Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men order their people around, and yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you, those who are the greatest should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.”

If we are to see the knowledge of the glory of the Lord cover the earth like the water covers the seas, we need to live up to the name of Jacob, “the supplanter,” supplanting the coercive institutions of the state with voluntary, service-based institutions as individuals, families, churches, and larger societies. If we build a city on a hill that truly reflects Jesus, burned bacon and all, people will come and surrender to him, and if they don’t they will have no cause to charge us with mistreating our neighbors.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Bomb-Bomb-Bomb, Bomb-Bomb a Church?

I became a loyal listener to Rush Limbaugh in the fall of 1991, when his star was still rising and he had the patina of a supporter of the free market despite his support for the War on Drugs. This was when “free market,” “big business,” and even “Nazi” were synonymous in the minds of most Americans, and despite my strong and radical disagreement with him now, I have to hand it to him: back then he was bucking the tide of popular opinion.
Part of the Limbaugh brand has always been over-the-top humor. The most memorable example from that first year came in the spring of 1992, after a kerfluffle at a veterans’ hospital in Cincinnati in which an orderly got into trouble for using iodine to paint smiley faces on the ends of the penises of anesthetized patients. After reading a news report about the incident, Rush said, “I thought I’d see what the problem was, so I painted a face on the end of my penis. When I got to work, someone said, ‘Hey Rush—why the long face?’”
What I didn’t know when I became what I thought of as a dittohead with some reservations was that a year or so before, during or in the run up to Desert Storm, Rush had been playing a takeoff on the Beach Boys’ famous song “Barbara Ann,” which begins “Ba-Ba-Ba, Ba-Barbara Ann … Take my hand.” Rush’s version was “Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iraq … Take Kuwait back.” However—true confessions time—I thought it was a hoot when I did hear it
It was Rush’s groundbreaking work that John McCain—the darling of American evangelicals in that election—took to a new level in 2008 with his infamous “Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran” quip.
Fast forward to last week. A friend told me about an interview with an Iranian Christian he had heard on Focus on the Family, so I read the transcript of the interview and was not disappointed. Naghmeh Abedini was born to an Iranian family that immigrated to the United States. Appalled by the moral degradation they saw in California, the parents moved the family to Boise, where Naghmeh and her brother became Christians while still in grade school. Years later, she visited Iran, met Saeed, a Muslim-background Christian man, and married him, and the couple began planting house churches and opening orphanages.
What do you think of their wedding?
They allowed us our wedding certificate says, "Muslim born, but Christian Protestant." And we had this amazing, in the middle of Tehran, there was a church called Central Assembly. Right in front of one of the largest mosques, by Tehran University, we had a huge celebration of our wedding. But it was really much, much of a[n] Evangelical crusade. We passed out 300 Jesus films and Bibles.
Makes mine look pretty tame.
Persecution broke out when Mahmoud Ahmedinejad became president, so they emigrated from Iran, but they returned periodically to strengthen local believers and help with the orphanages. On one of those visits Saeed was arrested and is currently in the third year of an eight-year prison sentence. Life for him is both tough and fruitful in ways it has never been for me:
But the first four or five months was the hardest, was when he was interrogated and beaten and told to deny Christ, which he hasn’t. And of course, over the last few years, he’s led people to Christ. He was leading people to Christ in Evin prison, so they exiled him to another prison …. He was in the lion’s den there. He was fighting for his life. He was covered with lice and just sick and he was just really sick. He was hurting. He was bleeding, internal bleeding. And people were trying to take his life. But interesting enough, the rough guys in the prison had dreams about this Jesus. And they came and asked Saeed, “Can you tell us?”
And so, Saeed wasn’t even the first one initiating. They asked about Jesus. They accepted Jesus and they start[ed] protecting him. They became his guards.
How does Naghmeh view her husband’s persecutors?
Jim [Daly]: It’s hard for us to think of that in terms of ISIS and what they’re doing. But literally, God can change people that are perpetrating these horrible acts. He can change their heart, can’t He?
Naghmeh: He can. You know, we should want justice, because there’s people that are defenseless and we should act as the body of Christ and around those that are persecuted and around the ones who are hurting them.
But even if they are our enemy, what are we supposed to do? We’re supposed to wash their feet and love them and pray for them. And it is such an balance, what Jesus did on the cross. There’s the justice of God that has to be paid and then there’s the mercy. And as Christians, we have to have both.
Our president says that “all options are on the table” as far as dealing with Iran. Take a look at this and think of what an atomic blast would mean for the church Naghmeh was married in, for the orphans in the orphanages she helped found, and probably for her husband in prison.
Then again, maybe it won’t be an atomic attack. That would mean the collateral damage could still smile afterwards.

Is anything we do as Christians worth unleashing this kind of hell on our neighbors? I don’t grant that the Great War of 1917-1945 was just, but even if I did, that means that this year is the seventieth anniversary of the last good major war. The big ones since—Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the Global War on Terror—have at best failed to achieve peace and safety and have unarguably left us worse off than if we had done nothing.
We had no dog in the fight in Korea: thousands died on both sides, and even with (or, more likely, because of) conscription, South Korea cannot (or will not or is not being permitted to) defend itself. Millions of dollars and thousands of lives have been lost needlessly, and it’s not over yet.
When Saigon fell in 1975, the effect was the same as if it had fallen in 1955: Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos were communist, and Christians were persecuted; the difference was that a million or so Vietnamese had died violent deaths and millions more had been maimed by atrocities committed by both sides, much of the land was poisoned by Agent Orange, and the victors were angry and vengeful. Billions of dollars and countless lives had been wasted for nothing. Vietnam is no paradise today, but it is no better for the war having been fought there.
We had no interest in Kuwait when Saddam, our “ally” up to that point, invaded. The war allowed a massive propaganda coup that “kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all”—meaning that “my country, right or wrong” was now the American credo and “love your neighbor as yourself” was out the window—but the final result set the stage for sanctions that killed half a million innocent Iraqis and ultimately brought about 9/11. (Or maybe not. I find it interesting that both Osama and the West use the deaths-from-sanctions meme to justify killing innocent people in 9/11 and the GWOT, respectively. I’ve heard American conservative evangelicals deny the meme, but only to blame the deaths on Saddam and so justify the invasion.)
And the GWOT needs no introduction: thousands of combatants and countless innocents dead and maimed, trillions of dollars transferred to the military-industrial complex, more jihadists recruited per week than there were in the world in 2001, and what was once the land of the free now the home of the surveilled.
So what can we expect from military action against Iran? Will the Muslims there be more or less inclined to tolerate their Christian neighbors? Do our brothers and sisters there need less tolerance?
More importantly, what about the history of the last seventy years tells you that the final result of a war will be better than no war?
“Ah,” you say, “but if we don’t act, they’ll do us dirt, first by obliterating Israel.”
So what? If we have no ally in the Middle East at all, is that worse than having an ally that makes everyone else there hate us?
“But don’t you care about the Jews”?
Of course I care about the Jews. But I’m not excited about protecting them no matter what they do if they don’t even pay taxes to Washington. If they want my tax money to protect them, let them immigrate, or at least apply for statehood and start paying taxes. We can absorb them, and most of them will be good neighbors. But if they want to live over there, let them protect themselves. They’ve got enough atomic weapons to turn Iran into glass and carte blanche from Uncle Sam to make more. Iran is no threat to them.
Given a choice between Rush Limbaugh and Naghmeh Abedini, I think we should listen to her, even if he can make us laugh. Our strategy against ISIS and Iran needs to be the weapons of the Spirit: prayer and outreach. And if we’re to have the resources for outreach, we need to stop giving them to the war machine.

Eschewing war may mean lice and beatings—and I’m the world’s worst pansy, so I’m not saying I can handle either gracefully—but that seems better to me than taking the eternal consequences of killing innocents in church.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Nineteen Eight-Four: Tragedy or Comedy?

One of the benefits of my editing job is that I get to learn new things from my clients. Not too long ago my new tidbit was the word bildungsroman, a term that has been around long enough that Webster’s Online rates it as an English word. I guess I don’t travel in the right circles: when I looked it up, I was expecting it to be treated as a German word, but it’s not.
Anyway, for those of you who haven’t learned the term yet, a bildungsroman is a coming-of-age novel, “a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character.” A tragedy in that genre would, I suppose, involve a protagonist who either refused to grow up or grew up crooked. But I would guess that most bildungsromans are comedies: the protagonist learns his lesson and lives happily ever after.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The elevator-talk version of the plot is this: the protagonist, Winston Smith, a formerly married man who is becoming increasingly skeptical of the ruling authorities, and Julia, a female co-worker, another anti-authoritarian, fall in love and have a series of conjugal trysts. The authorities catch them in flagrante delicto (another word that I would have expected to be italicized) and use what would today be called “enhanced rehabilitation” to turn them against each other. After their return to society, the lovers meet, but the affair is dead, and the protagonist decides to join the side of the the authorities.
From the time I was first able to read the book and understand it in the late 1960s, I have always thought of it as a tragedy: the authorities, whose evil is limited only by their incompetence, employ torture to break Winston's will, they take away from him everything that gives his life meaning, and he ends up gladly becoming one of them.
I was not the only one who read it that way. When anyone said, “This is like something out of Nineteen Eighty-Four,” everyone I knew or had ever even heard of would immediately know that the speaker was talking about dystopia, tyranny, evil.
But that was before the year 1984, and it was certainly before “9/11 changed everything.”
I wonder if my conservative Christian brethren would now read the book as a comedy, a triumph of good over evil. Would they not point out that Winston and Julia were involved in an extramarital affair, and if the purpose of the civil government is to punish evildoers, it was fulfilling its job by having its eyes everywhere, capturing them, and persuading them by whatever means to end that affair? Perhaps more importantly, Winston and Julia were contemptuous of authority, doing everything they could to avoid being subject to it. Doesn’t the book’s final line, “He [Winston] loved Big Brother,” describe perfectly the attitude all subjects are to have toward the powers that be, ordained of God? Aren’t those who would read the novel as a tragedy thereby glorifying sexual immorality and rebellion?
The shift in reading from tragedy to triumph may indeed indicate that the American evangelical church is maturing in Christ, that it has taken the gloves off and is urging the powers that be, ordained of God, to unsheath the sword against evildoers. But I find it not irrelevant that today’s “mature” church matches the surrounding culture (one denounced both inside and outside of churches as sexually immoral) in rates of abortion, divorce, bastardy, and fornication—not to mention plain old, garden-variety, let’s-stop-attending-church apostasy—a feat it had not achieved in the days when the book’s title was synonymous with hell on earth.
As the American evangelical church celebrates the establishment of an imperialist police state that not only makes Orwell’s nightmare seem tame by comparison but is getting to the point at which it defies parody, let me suggest that if Jesus reads Nineteen Eighty-Four as a comedy, we are on the verge of a turning to Christ in this nation that is beyond our wildest dreams as the spy state leaves evil nowhere to hide and uses enhanced methods to convince people of their need to submit to authority. Libertarians and anarchists will either become statists or be left behind, but rank-and-file Americans will turn to him in droves.
Or, if that omniscient state turns against us, we could be on the verge of persecution beyond our wildest imagination. In that case, if the saying that the church grows fastest where the persecution is the worst is true, we’re in for massive turning to Christ that way too.
But if Jesus reads the book as a tragedy, American evangelicalism has some serious thinking to do.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The War on Drugs Is Anti Family

There’s a story making its way around conservative circles that goes something like this:
It appears that it now takes not only a village but a country to raise a child. Which puts me in mind of an exchange some years ago between Sen. Phil Gramm and a federal bureaucrat who wanted to expand a program of government child care. Gramm opined that mothers and fathers are best equipped for child-rearing because they love their children more. The official objected, saying, “I love your children as much as you do, Senator.” To which Gramm responded, “I am very pleased to hear that. What are their names?”
This story has the ring of truth about it, and it’s a handy intro for today’s rant, so I’ll assume it is pretty close to true. I was reminded of it when I read this from Larry Tomczak:
CBS News in L.A. ran an investigative report showing adults buying marijuana, selling it to kids in broad daylight and the kids then smoking the dope just minutes after leaving school! Is our Nation’s Capital with its terrible drug problems ready for this as they’ve just legalized dope?
Am I the only one who thinks Mr. Tomczak has just put on his “It takes a village—wait, no, it takes the government—to raise a child” suit here? Is he going to tell me he loves those “kids” more than their parents do?
I can hear him protest that it’s wrong for kids to smoke dope and that any parent who would let his (more likely a her with an AWOL man) kid smoke dope doesn’t love that kid. And I would agree that such a parent could do much better.
But it is those parents, not Mr. Tomczak, who taught that kid to tie his shoes. That kid isn’t welcome at Mr. Tomczak’s refrigerator 24/7. Mr. Tomczak doesn’t listen to him cry all night or take him to the emergency room when things go wrong. He doesn’t know that kid’s name.
So no, Mr. Tomczak, I don’t believe you love those kids more than their parents do.
A parent that lets a kid get to the point where he wants to smoke dope has already failed. But the same goes for self-destructive behaviors that are presently legal. Hasn’t a parent whose children eat themselves into obesity, spend hours playing video games, or dabble in sexual behavior failed them? Is Mr. Tomczak going to crusade against grocery stores, software dealers, and every form of media in the nation?
Put another way, is everything in others’ private lives his business?
The site for which Mr. Tomczak writes is big on fighting Islam. Good for them: Islam is a false religion at best, barbarism at worst. Does Mr. Tomczak love Muslim children more than their parents do? Or is he just more concerned with kids smoking dope than with kids following their parents into Islam?
Mr. Tomczak’s position is not without irony: “Our Founding Father, George Washington once warned us, ‘An uninformed populace is easily enslaved.’ We need to awaken!” Is Mr. Tomczak informed that George Washington grew hemp?
“But the hemp he grew had only one-twentieth to one-sixtieth the amount of THC that drug Cannabis has,” he replies. That is probably true. However, proof of the wisdom of George Washington and the folly of Mr. Tomczak and his ilk is that the kind of hemp George Washington grew is just as illegal in “the land of the free” as is its more potent subspecies. “An uninformed populace”—that is to say, one “informed” by the establishment—has allowed itself to be enslaved, and that in the name of protecting the children.
“So do we just let kids smoke dope?”
In a word, yes. Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” What you feed your kid or let him do in the confines of your house is your business. Jesus commands me to make my life so attractive to you that you’ll ask me, or at least allow me to tell you, what makes it so wonderful. At that point I’ll point you to Jesus, which is necessarily away from wasting time and poisoning your body. But until I can do that, ya pays yer money, ya takes yer choice, and ya faces the Lord of the universe who will call you to account for everything you’ve done.
Any program that usurps the sovereignty of the family is by definition anti family. That some families are detrimental to their members is beyond question, as is the folly of thinking that the iron fist of the state is the best way to deal with that detriment. The War on Drugs makes the state sovereign over parents. It is for that reason anti family.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Why Christians Might Should Join ISIS

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God.
If the powers that be have been instituted by God, does it behoove us to know who the powers that be will be in, say five years, and make sure we’re on their good side?
Let’s go back forty-three years to Vietnam and say you’re a nineteen-year-old Vietnamese Christian. The assumption I’ve always operated on has been that the Viet Cong were godless, bloodthirsty communists and Christians should have fought against them if they were to join the war effort at all. But you have to admit that anyone who knew or even guessed in 19721 that Uncle Sam would not win that war would necessarily have concluded that once the war was over, the powers that be according to Romans 13 would have been the communists.2 So if you know the communists will be in power in a few years, shouldn’t you help them come to power?
It didn’t take supernatural powers to predict the outcome of the Vietnam war. I can remember standing in the middle of Willamette Avenue, Adair Air Force Station, ten miles north of Corvallis, Oregon, in the late summer or fall of 1968 with a group of fellow high schoolaged Air Force brats, lamenting that it didn’t seem like our government was really interested in winning the war: if they were, wouldn’t they have won by now?3 Twelve years later, after the war was over, I heard the daughter of an Air Force fighter pilot quote her father as having said during the war that he knew how to win it single-handedly: “I should load my fighter up with bombs and rockets and drop them all on Washington, DC.” At no time between 1968 and the end of the war can I remember thinking Uncle Sam would win it.
We know that after Saigon fell, the communists made life miserable for Christians. (They still do, though non-government agents do also.) I for one have no trouble believing that an idealistic communist (or anyone who is zealous to see his version of justice realized), knowing that Christians in the US were fervently behind the war effort, would consider it his solemn duty to kill or imprison those who collaborated with the invaders who napalmed, bombed, shot, and otherwise killed and maimed his family and friends. If Christians had helped the communists come to power, might that have mitigated the backlash after the war? Could they not have been Daniel and his three friends, the mucky-mucks in a godless government that so many Christians aspire to be (or defend themselves as being)?
Let’s look at a situation in the Bible where the command is clear.
Let’s say you’re a nineteen-year-old male Jew in 586 or so BC and you hear Jeremiah say this:
Tell the people of Jerusalem that the Lord says, ‘I will give you a choice between two courses of action. One will result in life; the other will result in death. Those who stay in this city will die in battle or of starvation or disease. Those who leave the city and surrender to the Babylonians who are besieging it will live. They will escape with their lives. For I, the Lord, say that I am determined not to deliver this city but to bring disaster on it. It will be handed over to the king of Babylon and he will destroy it with fire. (21:8-11)
What do you do? If surrendering to the Babylonians is a good idea, wouldn’t joining their army be an even better idea?
After all, by that time many Judahites had been deported to Babylon. Maybe if you joined the army, you’d be allowed to stay in Judah. You might even have the chance to play Obadiah to Babylon’s Ahab and hide people in caves or otherwise protect them from the occupying army; you might keep some babies from being dashed on the rocks (Ps 137:8-9). If you become an officer, they’ll pay for your college and you can earn a pension. What could possibly go wrong? It might be your platoon that goes into the Holy of Holies and destroys the Ark of the Covenant and the cherubim, but the glory of the Lord has already departed from the temple (Ezek 11:23), so that would be no biggie.
So whether Vietnam or the Middle East, if it’s plain that Uncle Sam isn’t going to win, why not join his enemies? Or, more to the point for you, dear reader, why would a Christian fight for him?
Uncle Sam has no idea how to win the wars he is fighting today. He has no idea even what a win would look like, and hasn’t for years:
Even those who support McChrystal and his strategy of counterinsurgency know that whatever the general manages to accomplish in Afghanistan, it's going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm. "It's not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win," says Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, who serves as chief of operations for McChrystal. "This is going to end in an argument."
The same could have been said of Iraq.
We have an economy that exports weapons, pornography, and not much else (oh, and software), with $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities, a shrinking economy, a growing proportion of the population not only net tax consumers but the least healthy we have ever seen, and we’re going to win what wars?
If ISIS ever comes over here, anyone with a long-range plan for his life will join them.
Unless the world runs on ethical dominion and not on power. Unless the voice we are to be guided by is not necessarily the voice of the person holding the most powerful weapons in the area. Unless “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10), and uniforms and badges and titles don’t change the standard by which we are judged.
The world certainly doesn’t need ISIS. It doesn’t need Uncle Sam either. What it needs is Jesus, Jesus’ body, the church, living for him only and not taking one godless side against another.
For [the church] my tears shall fall,
for her my prayers ascend,
to her my cares and toils be given,
till toils and cares shall end.

1I have chosen 1972 because it was the year I came to Christ, and it was the year my draft lottery number, somewhere in the 200s, was drawn. After coming to Christ, I spent hours at different times wondering what I would have done had I been drafted. I’m glad it didn’t happen, because I never came up with a good answer.
2Have you ever noticed that God always seems to ordain the winners of armed conflicts as the powers that be? Who says might doesn’t make right?

3There is a narrative going around to the effect that the Viet Cong’s 1968 Tet offensive was a disaster for the Viet Cong and a great victory for Uncle Sam’s forces, but the US media presented it to the home folks as the exact opposite. We may or may not have known or cared about the offensive.