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Book Review: God’s Reign and the End of Empires

My review of Antonio Gonzalez’s excellent work, God’s Reign and the End of Empires is available now at Englewood Review of Books.

Many, many thanks to Chris Smith at ERB for the opportunity to engage this great text. I hope you take a few moments to look over the review and maybe even read the book yourself.

Looking back at it, I think there are a couple minor points I would adjust, not really change. Essentially I’d want to emphasize a couple of points. And I missed some grammatical goofs. Oops. But, overall, I think my excitement over the text is evident. Here’s the opening to the review.

Not many Americans would list the US among the world’s empires. Why should they? We declared independence from England, went to war to keep that independence, and established a government to avoid a monarchy. We’re a Republic, not an empire.

But that’s a limited understanding of the term empire. An empire is not necessarily just what you read about in the history books on Babylon, Persia, Rome, or China. Empire is more general, having to do with power, control, authority, monopolization of violence, marking out distinct classes of people, and of course, economics. So the term can be applied broadly, especially to large, active, and globally influential governments around the world. We can talk about the American empire, the English empire, Israeli empire; Iraqi,  Brazilian, Australian, European, Asian empire; whatever it may be.

Whether or not those empires are good or do good, are just or act in the interest of justice, is constantly up for discussion. While all earthly empires are man-made and therefore tied to the nature of fallen humanity (sinful), there are times we see them doing good, acting justly.  In the last few decades there has been an upswing in the number of conversations on the relationship of Christianity to Empire or global empires. There are many who want complete separation from the empires of the world, while others see the need for integration and involvement. Antonio Gonzalez’s recent work, God’s Reign and the End of Empires, is a very timely addition to the discussion. The focus of the book is clear:

When trusting in God’s creative activity in history and building up alternative communities from the grassroots, there is no need to submit to the tyranny of empire. Another world is possible and it begins now, wherever people change the nature of their social relationships and liberate themselves from oppression and violence. (17)

Read the rest of the review at ERB. Let me know what you think, either in the comments there or over here.

First Baptist Dallas

The following rant is brought to you by the following articles:

First: Christianity Today

Second: Church Executive

Just being honest.

I don’t care one tiny bit about where Tim Tebow does and does not speak.

But when I hear about a church spending $130 Million on a building campaign, I get pissed off. That is money stolen from poor and homeless people, from hungry children unable to eat day-to-day, from programs that would have helped people survive. That is money stolen opportunities to stop God knows how many abortions, not by political campaigns but by caring for the impoverished mothers-to-be so desperate that abortion was the only way.

And for what? Leather seats for the large dollar contributors while many families within the community have no furniture at all to sit or sleep on? Even get some designating seating, like box seats for folks who pay a little more? Numerous wide-screen TVs to read the songs lauding how much you love the Jesus who told you to give it all up and take care of the poor, the widows, the sick, and the imprisoned? A large fountain that pumps a massive number of gallons of water when people have no clean water to drink?

No. I don’t know this church or the people there. But I do know the attitude and mentality behind these massive building projects, and they disgust me. First Baptist Dallas is not the only one to have done such a thing. And it won’t be the last. Maybe in 10 or 20 years a church will engage in a project that will make us wonder how any church was able to build anything good with only $130 Million.

And it makes me angry.

“Oh, Eddie. You’re being judgmental.”

Well, yes. But not in the sense of me judging them self righteously or hypocritically (weren’t you just judging me, by the way). When fellow disciples of Jesus are committing acts that defame the very name and teachings of Jesus, Christians absolutely must speak up and call for repentance. If they want to defend their actions, then by all means.

You have to understand that this very mentality behind the audacious building projects is one that says material accumulation and success is a sign of God’s blessing. That was also the sentiment in the south among Christian slaveholders: the more successful they were, the more blessed they had been by God, which then justified continuing the practice of slavery. A vicious, evil circle.

Hopefully, one day I can articulate this better. But right now I’m angry. I’m angry that this is yet another big church spending a ton of money on material possessions and status, taking away incredibly valuable resources from organizations and people desperately needing them, all in the name of Jesus when in reality it spits in his face and drags his name through the dirt. I want to voice my position here more clearly, more calmly, but I just needed to digitally vent for now.

I hate that I don’t have the money to help people who could be helped by money. Money isn’t the answer to everything, and it doesn’t make the world rotate. But, for some, help is needed in a monetary, financial way. I don’t have that at my disposal. So, yes, I get ticked off when Christians who do have coffers of cash use it for building projects like this when there are friends who are being foreclosed on and will be homeless soon. Or when they write over a large check so First Baptist Dallas can have a 150 foot screen when a friend is in desperate need of special medical help that no insurance will take care of. Sure, I can help my friends eat because we have chickens and eggs we can help them with. But, what good is the chicken if they have no stove to cook it one because they couldn’t afford their gas or electric bill?

Again, sorry, I’m upset. If it was $100,000 for a new auditorium or building to take care of kids, whatever. That’s the individual church’s choice based on their needs within their communities. They decide. But this, $130 Million for what First Baptist Dallas is doing? Where exactly is Jesus in all of it?

I see money. I see a show. I see a sham.

I see myself needing to step up, step out, and sacrifice and invest more in my own community, among the people here. I see myself being humbled by the grace and teachings of Jesus to where I can and must shrug this off and live out the truth so that maybe others will see the truth as well, and we can get closer to this never happening again.

The travails of buying local

Just some semi-random thoughts on the travails of buying local.

I love to support our local small businesses. Buying from local folks and sources is important to us. As much as we can, we want to support local people. Not just the local economy, but the people. If it’s food, you know where the food came from, what went into growing it and getting it ready for sale, and you promote that ideal.

But, there can be definite downsides. Buying local is not the same as buying quality. And by quality I mean ethically or naturally grown or produced; sustainability; a consciousness to take care of everyone involved in the process, from production to consumption to the environment.

I like sandwiches. When I am able, I like to check out the different local sandwich shops and delis around here. Some are better than others. Some are way more expensive than others. Sequoia Sandwich Company is amazing, with a pretty good median price range for the amount of food you get. Big Popy’s Deli is great, with a fun atmosphere, and an exquisite selection of un-crappified cherry sodas (good stuff, not the syrups and junk). They are very pricey, though, and the amount of food struggles to justify it.

But, back to the point of the post.

I recently checked out a local sandwich shop that very recently opened up two blocks away. They actually replaced a Quiznos that left. I heard good things about them. So I walked over, saw they had a Deep Pit Sandwich and wanted to give that a try. I had a choice of salsa or BBQ sauce, and I went with BBQ sauce. I also asked that it be toasted.

Done. Sandwich ordered. I walked over to to register, and I get to watch them make the sandwich. The young man who took my order grabbed what was the deep pit, wrapped in some sort of parchment paper. He tossed that into a microwave for 15 seconds. Then he walked over to the bre…

Wait. What? The microwave? Oh, that’s no good.

He got the bread ready with some sauce and cheese, grabbed the nuked meat, placed it on the bread,  then ran it through the toasting contraption. While waiting, the gentleman at the register grabbed my BBQ sauce. It looked pretty good; and not in a packet. I asked, “Say, is this a homemade sauce?” He told me, “No. It’s from … um … a Smart & Final brand.”

Dang.

Even though their prices were just a tad more than that of Subway or Quiznos, the quality just wasn’t there. I am willing to pay more for quality local food. But, it needs to be quality. If it costs $1-2 more for a sandwich that’s ultimately no different than that of Subway–poorly raised and processed chickens and cattle, GMO packed grains and produce, using a microwave as a heating element, and not even purchasing their produce or ingredients from local sources–from my perspective that is not supporting local businesses.

The food and restaurant industry as a whole is a complicated mess of inhumanity. There are gems out there, but they have to use street diligence and word of mouth promotions to fight against the billionaire marketing machines. I want to support and promote those local businesses that have quality products and services who are dwarfed and stepped on by the giants. I want them to have a chance.

February 2013 Farm Pictorial

Thought I would present some snapshots of some of the growth going on around here.

Here are some pluot branches, looking very promising. This was an attempt at growing 3 trees in 1 hole. Went very well last year in their first year of growth. I’m expecting a fairly good output in this second year.

3 in 1 hole Pluots

Here’s our peach tree in it’s infancy stage. Had four peaches last year. Good outlook in 2013.

Peaches Budding

This is our apricot tree. We actually got this one a little later than the others, but it had several nice apricots on it.

Apricots Budding

The nectarines should come out nicely.

Nectarines Budding

The asian pear is a wild one we’ll have to keep an eye on. Last year (same as the others, it’s first year), it had tons of fruit growing. Tons! But they all fell. Good thing. Those branches would never have handled the weight. I think I tasted one of the bigger ones. Definitely a good tree to have.

Asian Pear Budding

Now for the nuts. No. Not me. The trees.

First up is the hazelnuts. As long as we can keep the geese away from the upper branches, we’ll be alright.

Hazelnut Budding

Hall’s Hardy almonds. These are beauties. We’re in the heart of almond country. I think they’ll be fine.

Hall's Hardy Almond Budding

And here’s another almond variety, called Price.

Price Almond Budding

This is a pecan tree we’ve actually had for a few years, but it’s starting to have some life.

Pecan Budding

We have some other trees growing, like the apples, pistachios, walnuts and an olive tree, but they aren’t showing as well as these are right now. They need a little more time. But, I’ll be sure to snap some photos of them as they grow.

Just so you don’t get any romantic ideas about farms, let’s be real. Here’s what happens to grapes when the aforementioned geese get to them:

Grapes Eaten

Oh yeah. I’m sure they were tasty.

And, here’s a random shot of a bee trying to enjoy the strawberries.

Bee on the strawberries

Oh. I did get a better shot of the goose egg. Here’s a comparison. The egg on the left is an average sized blue Easter Egger contribution.

goose ee eggs

There you have it.

Farm update: February 2013

Just wanted to pass along an update on the farm.

As winter is coming to an end, the weather starts to warm up here in California’s central valley. We haven’t had our last freeze yet, but the temps in general are going to go up. And that means so much.

One of our geese laid an egg. They don’t have a long egg laying period, and ours will only lay up to 40 per goose. We did confirm we do have a gander. So we will only have three laying geese.  The egg was massive, and as expected, she found a spot to somewhat bury it, trying to cover it up. Still found it, though.

Our chickens are starting to get in the laying mood. As we move out of the cold weather, more and more eggs are showing up. We are not going to treat our chickens poorly and force them to lay constantly like the big factory farms do. There, after a year of production, the hens are deemed useless. They lived a short, horrible life. We believe in treating God’s creatures with respect and dignity. We treat them well, they’ll treat us well. Even the ones we will process for meat will have lived a quality life, eating quality food.

We will be ordering some more ducks, and we will be receiving turkeys in April. The adventures, baby.

We have an opportunity to possibly pick up a goat who is pregnant. We’ll keep you posted on that front. I will have to figure out a good pen and housing situation, though.

And our trees. The hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, and walnuts all have those beautiful new buds creeping out all over the trees. The fruit trees are starting to show their new year’s life as well. Especially the pluots. This will be such a fun year watching these tees continue to grow. Plus, the chickens will appreciate the extra shade they’ll get.

There is also a lot going on behind the scenes. Not to sound like an Obama campaign poster but there is a lot of hope and change going on. I hope to have a new Schleitheim Farm website up and running which will cover the plans and opportunities. For now I don’t want to say too much and start making promises before I can assure you they will happen.

Stay tuned. More to come.

Subtle Racism is dangerous

“Christianity,” he said, “made everything the best of its kind.”

Most folks probably read that and said, “Amen,” right? Sounds like preacher talking. Which is true.

Some who tend to be a little more skeptical may be wondering about that statement. And exactly what does it have to do with the title of this post?

That statement comes to life a bit more when we find out who said it. And when he said it. And why he said it.

A preacher did say that; a preacher by the name of Joseph Wilson, father of late President Woodrow Wilson. (You’re probably tracking with me now.)

Joseph Wilson was a southern, Presbyterian preacher who was also proslavery. And when he said Christianity “made everything the best of its kind,” he very well included the institution of slavery.

For my potential Masters Thesis later next year (I like to get a head start on research papers), I’m studying up on pacifist or nonresistant Christian abolitionist groups not directly related to William Garrison. I am really interested in groups in the south before the Civil War. As a part of these studies I’ve been encountering proslavery Christians and engaging their mentality, message, and practice. I am not calling it a justification of slavery because I am not wholly convinced the Christian slaveholders in the south (at least the majority) would have thought of the connection of Christianity and slavery as something that needed to be justified. Slavery was a part of the American way, and the American way was imbued with Christianity.

“Antebellum evangelicals did not believe in biblical literalism as twenty-first century Americans understand it. The frequency of positive biblical references to slavery definitely bolstered southern confidence, and southern evangelicals had no doubts that the Bible supported their position and that abolitionism had been defeated. But the southern evangelicals expected the Bible to be in perfect harmony with beliefs about contemporary science, history, political freedom, economics, and even current events. Southerners did not simply stamp slavery ‘Bible approved.’ They articulated how slavery fit into the ‘genius of the American system,’ and how slavery was only right as part of that system.” (John Patrick Daly, When Slavery Was Called Freedom)

This sort of attitude reveals a more subtle racism. It’s definitely not as overt as some of our historic friends who said that whites were superior and blacks inferior, if they were people at all. No, I’m not talking about Hitler, but of people like Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln.

Subtle racism is very dangerous. When it hides, when it parades as something more comfortable, it takes control of a society. It tricks people, much like the statement from Joseph Wilson above can trick a reader or listener if they don’t have their eyes and ears open.

As of 2009, blacks (including hispanic blacks) made up less than 14% of the US population. But non-Hispanic blacks alone made up just under 40% of the prison population. (Here’s an excellent PDF for the numbers.)

How is that possible? Are blacks more prone to being criminals? Is there some black gene that causes a predisposition to crime and incarceration?

Be very careful how you answer those questions. That is exactly how powerful and dangerous subtle racism is. Racism is a grave evil from the dawn of humanity, and it does it’s best work when it seeps in as a philosophy, a mentality. Then when it has grabbed hold of enough minds and hearts it steps out of its shell and ravages a society.

Don’t be offended but fools believe slavery in the US ended with the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment. That is incredibly wrong. Slavery lived on for many decades afterwards, just taking on different shapes and forms. You’ll read or hear about de facto slavery. And this was especially the case with incarcerations and the prison system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But, there are plenty who will argue (myself included) that this subtle, hidden form of slavery and racism lives on today and point right at the prison system as proof positive.

Subtle racism, which I’m certain goes by many names, is a pervasive problem that we Christians have to face and deal with. I know it’s going to keep popping up in my studies, but am hoping to find where these Quaker, Mennonite, and other groups were active, and providing an example of love and hope, and a voice of light in the darkness. I want to see what we can learn and implement within our own communities to help our society, the people in our society, have ears to hear and eyes to see, and to repent of this evil.

Poverty, Prisons, and War in the State of the Union

There were three topics I was looking for in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night: poverty, prisons, and war. Continue reading

Don’t (Le) Mis the Point

We have not watched the latest movie rendition of Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables. I have seen comments from folks who have seen the film, and they are incredibly favorable. I think there were some negative views on Russell Crowe’s singing abilities, but not enough to make us think it’ll be a bad experience when we finally enjoy the film.

But one comment that kept creeping up was a depiction of the film as a great display of God’s grace. While that may be a great Christian theme, I sure hope that’s not what the film actually focuses on. And I wouldn’t want the classic Les Miserables to suffer a whitewashed fate at the hands of people unwilling to have eyes to see or ears to hear. More importantly, I wouldn’t want my fellow Christian brothers and sisters to only have a message of “God’s grace” as the takeaway from a story with so much more it’s trying to tell people.

In the preface to the copy of Hugo’s original story, I found these words:

So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to divine destiny; so long as the three great problems of the century–the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light–are unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world;–in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Miserables cannot fail to be of use.

We have to remember the context of the film and story. At the time there was massive poverty and a great disparity between the poor and wealthy who were in control. There were these “three great problems”: a constructed pauperism, women in hunger, and children as outcasts. All three of which were portrayed in the musical as well as prior films (though not as much in the Liam Neeson edition). Not mention the problem of the prison system.

These grave problems were at the heart of Hugo’s story then. These same problems are on a much more global scale today; much of that has to do with our ability to know what’s going on around the world quite quickly. We are more informed about the problems around the globe. Hugo’s story now has no less relevance so long as we don’t domesticate it. As long as we watch or listen with open eyes and ears, we will see the struggles and the problems, and also the message of hope. Let’s avoid whitewashing the realities in our society, and heed to messages from stories such as these. That’s how we can break through and make real change happen in our communities.

The 2nd Amendment and Gun Rights issue continues

There is a freshman state representative in Texas’s District 93 by the name of Matt Krause. This is a dear Christian brother that I happen to know from back in our undergrad days in Southern California. He finally breached political barriers and began his career in Texas state congress.

On his campaign page (which is still where www.mattkrause.org redirects to) he lists several Issues. One of those issues is, lo and behold, the Second Amendment. Here’s how it reads:

2nd AMENDMENT: I believe the right for each individual Texan to keep and bear arms is an inalienable and undeniable right. A well-armed citizenry is a good check and balance against an overzealous government. The 2nd Amendment is the catalyst for a society of freedom and liberty.

For Representative Krause, the Second Amendment is obviously extremely important. Among his first bill filings was H.B. 938, the so-called “Come and Take It” Firearm Protection Bill. But I think we need to look at his position a little more intentionally.

I believe the right for each individual Texan to keep and bear arms is an inalienable and undeniable right.

While that may be a determination of man, is that something you find in Scripture? Is that something Jesus talked about? Did Paul communicate that somewhere? Peter? To call something inalienable and undeniable is to assign it some sort of divine stature. The words of man will pass away, but not the words of God. The only commands or rights that can be universal must come from God the Creator. Is the right to keep and bear arms one of those?

We Christians who happen to be American need to keep our focus on Jesus and his Kingdom. Our appeal should always be to the words, teaching, life, death, resurrection, and second coming of the Messiah, the King.

A well-armed citizenry is a good check and balance against an overzealous government.

This is one particular interpretation of the Second Amendment (known in some writings as the Insurrectionist Theory). It wasn’t the case in the late 18th Century, and it’s still not the case today. The point of the Second Amendment was to ensure southern slaveholding states could protect themselves, with an armed militia, against slave insurrections and rebellions.

To hold such a view today, particularly for the many Christians in America who do, is to live in a fear opposed to the teachings of Jesus. Is our safety and security in our own hands? Are we the ones who determine when we live, when we die, who God puts in our lives at certain times?

But, for the sake of argument, let’s for a minute take the angle that someone was able to present a case from the teachings of Jesus that justified, or even commanded, Christians bearings arms.

Aside from the un-Christian paranoia, the idea of the citizenry versus an overzealous government is unrealistic. Perhaps back in the late 1700s it would have been easier for a state militia to defend themselves against an overzealous federal government (though you’d have to consider what the government’s military/militia would have looked like). It would have been muskets and maybe canons (government) against muskets (state citizenry/militia). Today, even if you grant the citizenry a cache of assault weapons, the government will come with armored tanks, fighter planes, attack helicopters, and drones. Exactly what good will the hunting rifles be then? There’s no check and balance there.

Further, it assumes the point of owning the weapons is to use them against other humans. What happened to having the guns for hunting? Hunting humans now? In fact they would be other Americans. And these other Americans would be well trained. Not only that, they would be well meaning by some standards. They would love their country and be willing to defend it against those seeking to do it harm.

The 2nd Amendment is the catalyst for a society of freedom and liberty.

That is a tremendous amount of importance placed on the Second Amendment. Guns and weapons are the catalyst for freedom and liberty? Guns? The threat of fatality? Fear? Violence? That’s foundational to freedom and liberty? Not justice, or dissent, or responsibility, or opportunity, or health, or equality. No. Bloodshed.

Jesus was clear: “All who take hold of the sword will die by the sword” (Mt. xxvi.52). A society that is built on violence will die by violence.

While I disagree with Rep. Krause, his words are not an anomaly among Christians in America. Sadly enough. But who will respond? Who will enter the discussion? Who will present a positive case for Christians bearing arms using an exegetical examination of the Scriptures? Or is bearing arms against other fellow humans merely the idea of man?

A blessed reminder, from Luke vi

And he came down with them and stood on a level place, and a large crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all of Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast district of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases, and those who were troubled by unclean spirits were cured. And the whole crowd was seeking to touch him, because power was going out from him and healing them all.

And he lifted up his eyes to his disciples and said,

Blessed are the poor,
because yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are those who are hungry now,
because you will be satisfied.
Blessed are those who weep now,
because you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.
For their fathers used to do the same things to the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich,
because you have received your comfort.
Woe to you who are satisfied now,
because you will be hungry.
Woe, you who laugh now,
because you will mourn and weep.
Woe whenever all people speak well of you,
for their fathers used to do the same things to the false prophets.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from the one who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic also. Give to everyone who asks you, and from the one who takes away your things, do not ask for them back. And just as you want people to do to you do the same to them.

And if you love those who love you, what kind of credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good to those who do good to you, what kind of credit is that to you? Even the sinners do the same! And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive back, what kind of credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may get back an equal amount! But love your enemies, and do good, and lend expecting back nothing, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful!

- Jesus (recorded in Luke vi.17-36)

Thank you, Jesus,
our great God come in the flesh,
taking on the humanity you gave me,
and making clear through your words and deeds,
through your commands and example,
what I am to do and say as your disciple.

May I love my enemies as you commanded.

May I take your words seriously as you desired.

May I bear the Good News today as you expected.

May I sacrifice my life for even the worst of terrorists as you did.

Amen.

Oh those grad school perks

While I’m a Real Books apologist (Real Books being those items that are made of cloth and paper, sometimes other materials, with words literally printed on the pages), I can’t necessarily get every book I need or want to read in a Real Book format.

Currently we have a Nook (1st generation, old school) as an actual e-reader and the Kindle app on the iPad. The Nook has helped me out a lot. And e-ink is a great reading medium for a digital device.

But, the Nook has serious limitations. Hopefully within the next couple of months I’ll be picking up the Kindle Paperwhite. It’ll be a better experience, and will help me read at night.

For those Real Books I can’t get, many have turned up as e-books or PDFs. Now I get to benefit from one of the well known college and grad school perks: library access.

Via the library e-book selection, I’ve been able to get my (digital) hands on some excellent texts that will fit right into my studies:

There are more, but these are some exciting reads. I’m humbled by this opportunity in so many levels. I get to study more, learn more, get rid of some of my misguidedness and ignorance (there’s a lot there, so I don’t want to say all), and test my voice more in the community.

I just need to make sure my voice doesn’t get stuck in the ivory tower. If we can’t communicate information and truths, and engage with the people in our communities, then what’s the point? If all this learning isn’t meant for change, then it’s a vain pursuit.

On Abortion, Value, and Life

On 23 January, Mary Elizabeth Williams put forth a fairly short article titled, “So what if abortion ends life?” The subtitle gives only a hint at content of the article: “I believe that life starts at conception. And it’s never stopped me from being pro-choice.”

Feel free to read it before you go through the rest of my piece here. However, what I’m writing now isn’t a review or thorough commentary of the article. I will only touch on a couple vital points.

At the very core of what Ms. Williams said, the fundamental element to her argument, is so clear: “Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal.”

The belief that all life is not equal is why she values one life over another. It’s why she can “put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time,” and can call the baby “a life worth sacrificing.” It’s why she and she alone becomes the final arbiter over who’s life is more valuable and therefore who is more worthy of living. She decides who gets to be sacrificed.

That belief circles back not just to self, but to mankind.

Humans, created by God, in God’s image, set the value of life. We, whether individually or within some sort of group, decide who’s life is more valuable than others.

This is purely human-centered, not God-centered. A human, a created being, gets to act like the Creator and decide what value another has. This is where hate lives. This is where racism thrives. This is where arrogance breeds offspring. This is where humans become gods. It is a characteristic of fallen humanity, embracing the results of the sin of Adam.

But this is not where it ends. Before the rest of my progressive, more pro-choice or pro-abortion favoring friends totally cast me aside, and before the applause from the conservative, more pro-life or anti-abortion favoring line of friends becomes too loud, we need to be clear. At no time before this paragraph did I mention abortion (please excuse the use of the word in citing the title of her article). While that was the focus of her piece, and we’ve been talking about a fetus and a baby, this fundamental ideology, that all life is not equal, applies in all cases discussing life.

If we support the death penalty, the execution of a life, we humans are assigning value to that life that is less than our own. If we go to war and seek to kill someone we consider a terrorist, as with Usama bin Laden, we are assigning a value to their life that is less than ours. When we purchase a gun to protect our family, when we have extra change but don’t give it to the homeless man who asked us for some, when we buy the cup of coffee knowing the oppression of a people involved in getting us that coffee, when we buy chocolates for our sweetheart knowing the chocolate was tainted by child slaves, we assign a value to those people that is at some level less than the value we give our own lives.

The very same attitude and ideology that can bring Ms. Williams to the place where she gets to decide who’s life is more valuable and who is worth sacrificing is the exact same attitude and ideology behind the decision to execute another man. Or to go after a terrorist out of vengeance and kill non-participating men, women, and children along the way. It’s the same attitude and ideology that allows us to kill an intruder or someone we consider a threat. It’s the same attitude and ideology behind our disdain for homeless people. It’s the same attitude and ideology underlying our turning away from the evils of slavery and oppression and support them with our appetites and pocketbooks . . . the only vote that makes a real difference.

So many of us who have fought for the so-called pro-life position have hypocritically shown an unequal level of concern and respect for the lives God created among those already born.

So many of us who have fought for the so-called pro-choice position have hypocritically shown an unequal level of concern and respect for the lives God created in the wombs of pregnant women.

We Christians should know better. We must know better. How are we to display the truth to the world when it’s filled to the core with a lie? How can we show them an alternative when we act like those embracing the fallen ways?

If our focus is the Kingdom of God and not the fleeting governmental and political systems created not by God but by fallen, sinful creatures, then we will see everyone not through our selfish, fallen eyes but through God’s perfect, Creative eyes. Then, instead of deciding who lives and who dies as if we created them in the first place, we can be obedient to our Lord, our Master, our Messiah, Jesus, and love everyone.

Revolution and Rebellion: Winners even get to define words

You know the old saying: winners write the history books.

As a (wannabe) historian, I’ve often taken exception to that axiom. Not that I don’t believe it’s true. The evidence is substantial, especially when we expand “winners” to “powers that be.”

In Texas, that saying is quite literal. The Texas Board of Education–a.k.a. the powers that be–has a lot of power and control over what goes into the textbooks they choose to use. Authors and editors are quick to play along because there is big money involved. When Texas decides on a textbook, much of the rest of the country follows suit. Back in 2009/2010, the Board was perilously close to eliminating one Thurgood Marshall from the historical record. You know, the same Thurgood Marshall who argued for the plaintiffs in Brown vs. Board of Education to overturn Plessy vs. Ferguson and tore apart the government’s foundation for racist segregation practices, and who a decade later would become the first black Supreme Court justice.

Oh. Why are we even talking about him? No real history there. No need to have kids waste their time with that sort of stuff; especially black kids.

Last I heard, Thurgood Marshall survived the textbook cuts. He still exists. Brown v. Board of Education still happened.

But, winners and the powers that be don’t limit themselves to just writing textbooks. They know they can push their authority and control a little further by defining the words we use. When George W. Bush was President, there was a major controversy over the US torturing prisoners. The administration redefined torture to justify the acts they committed on their prisoners during the war on terror. (You can read over the approved “interrogation techniques” as laid out by the administration itself and judge for yourself what was and was not torture.) Even today, with President Obama using drones to bomb targets in Pakistan, Yemen, and various other nations, his administration avoids his attacks being labeled as war crimes because they are not official wars. By controlling definitions, the powers that be ensure they will continue to be the winners.

And it’s a funny thing how the words revolution and rebellion are no exception.

. . . even as late as 1775 John Adams denied that the Continental Congress was engaging in rebellion. “[T]he people of this continent have the utmost abhorrence of treason and rebellion,” he said.. . . [The Founding Fathers] associated the word revolution, derived from astronomy, with ordered and prescribed movement and considered themselves engaged in an orderly and legally justified endeavor. (Bogus, The Hidden History of the Second Amendment, 395; article here)

Fascinating. Granted, the two terms are different, though at times wrongly interchanged. A revolution has to do with an overthrow or replacement of a government or political system. A rebellion is more the act of resistance or defiance to a government or ruler. Revolutions tend to be looked at favorably. Rebellions tend to have a negative vibe. Why is that exactly?

In general, the answer is far more simple than some make it out to be. A successful rebellion results in a revolution. If a group of rebels fails to achieve their goal, they are simply rebels. And because the revolution never happend, and there was no change in the powers, the powers brand the rebels treasonous, traitors, and work their magic to silence their dissent. But if the rebels are successful, they become revolutionaries. As the new powers, they decide who the revolutionaries are and who are, or were, the traitors.

If the outmanned, outclassed, and outgunned colonials would have failed against the British, their rebellion against the empire would have been just that: a squelched rebellion of a rabble group of traitors. Instead, because of the victory, we remember what that rabble did as the American Revolution, and those men as revolutionaries.

In the quote above, how John Adams characterized what the founders were doing–as revolution and not rebellion–falls in line with the winner’s attitude. As a leader, among the group of many leaders, he defined the parameters by which the history to come would be known. If they were merely rebels, then what they were doing and going to do to the British Empire was merely the misguided, whine-filled complaining of an angry band of subjects. But, as revolutionaries, they were the enlightened leaders, guiding their fellow oppressed peoples to liberty.

Makes a world of difference when you say it a certain way. Kind of like propaganda.

Poll: Why did the south secede?

In December of 1860, South Carolina decided to secede from the Union. In the few months following, another 10 states in the south also agreed to secession. The question: what was the reason given by these states to separate from their northern brethren?







WWJLD? bracelets anyone

Recently, David French wrote about the not-controversial-enough subject of Christians and self-defense. He has a piece from 25 January 2013, which really is just a slightly revised reposting of his original article on 27 July 2012.

What’s significant about his article is just how insignificant it is. Or, they are. Or, whatever. Don’t take that the wrong way. By insignificant I do not mean he fails to make an argument that needs to be looked at. I do not mean what he says doesn’t deserve a response.

By insignificant I mean there is absolutely nothing new here. And that’s significant.

. . . he spent a semi-thorough 5 paragraphs on the Old Testament, but only three pithy sentences on the New Testament. How is that a Christian argument?

Where is the reflection that David has taken the time to review the extensive amount of counter arguments and interpretations of the passages and concepts he brought up. Where is the evidence that he’s had discussions about these points with Christians from pacifist or non-violent legacies? Are we really to believe the passages he focused on have never been discussed by non-violent folks?

I will grant this (though, let it be known, I am not saying David French is necessarily doing the same thing here): there are some, from the justified violence side of town, who teach that there a passages that pacifists avoid and don’t talk about. Apparently we are incapable of dealing with these texts that ultimately condemn our beliefs. Now, they do this either unknowingly (they have simply never encountered our writings or discussions of these passages), or knowingly, which means they are lying and misleading their congregation.

I know all too well one particular case, but cannot say if the pastor was misleading his audience knowingly or unknowingly. We know pastors can sometimes get talking and end up saying a little bit much, even if they don’t believe it. During a midweek Bible Study session he gave a teaching called, How Can Peace Loving Christians Carry Guns and Go To War?  (Sermon Audio link) During the teaching he denigrated and insulted pacifism and pacifists. And toward the end he said,

Let’s look at some New Testament passages that look favorably on the bearing of arms, and soldiering as such. Not a major push . . . It’s certainly not condemning in the sense that the pacifists say that it is. I don’t hear them ever talk about the verses that we’re going to look at, because they’re pretty convincing as far as I can tell.

He said it: “I don’t hear them ever talk about the verses that we’re going to look at.”

What were those passages? First, he talked about John the Baptists in Luke iii.14, when the Roman soldiers talk to him while he was baptizing at the Jordan. Second, Jesus telling his apostles to buy swords. And third, Paul talking about Christians using a soldier as a metaphor or illustration. (I guess a fourth, which he included as an aside, is “the argument from silence,” pointing out that no passage in all of Scripture explicitly tells us not to take up arms or go to war.)

Straight to the point: of course we talk about these passages. They’ve been written about and discussed from the pacifist perspective for centuries. Last year I even reviewed a book about Early Church discussions of war, military, self-defense, etc. (The Early Church on Killing) where these particular points were covered. I’m not the only pacifist in this town; did he not talk to anyone? Did he not do a Google search? Was Amazon.com no help at all?

Hopefully I didn’t digress too long there. But the point I’m making circles right back to what David French failed to do: if he tried to find pacifist discussions of those passages he mentioned, then at the very least he did not show it. But it’s sadly all too typical.

But there is a second major point that Mr. French lays out so clearly. In his original article, what he referenced in the second article as “the Christian argument for self defense,” he spent a semi-thorough 5 paragraphs on the Old Testament, but only three pithy sentences on the New Testament. How is that a Christian argument? Where is the reflection of the extensive teachings and example of Jesus? Where is exegesis of John’s Apocalypse? What happened to the words of Peter, James, Paul, Luke? He spent more time with John Locke than he did Jesus of Nazareth. How is that a Christian argument?

But that again is sadly typical. One of the most important aspects of Anabaptism that I quickly latched onto was that Jesus was the center of it all. Jesus is at the core of the faith, and his life, teachings, death, resurrection, ascension, and mission for the Church are the focus for Christians. We start with Jesus. We’re Christians; why would we start anywhere else?

Folks on the side of a justified (or even mandated) Christian use of violence need to engage the writings and teachings and sermons of pacifists. Otherwise they’ll be on the outskirts of relevance. Our relationship to violence is an incredibly important issue. And instead of a positive, reflective, exegetical reading and presentation of the teachings of Jesus and Scripture to understand that relationship to violence and how we as Christians must deal act in the world, folks like Mr. French simply present the same old monologue. We’re simply supposed to read it, understand that we were wrong, and make sure we’re ready to hurt somebody we consider a threat to our well being.

Don’t be ready to love, to speak truth, to speak and act like Jesus told us to. No. No. No. We need to put on our WWJLD? bracelets–What Would John Locke Do?–and feel justified when we “destroy” people.

I still have no idea what the guy from Lost has to do with any of this. I know he was a man of faith, but he really wasn’t a Christian on and off the island.

 

See. We have this thing about oaths

We’re Anabaptists. And, well, we have this thing about taking oaths. It’s our thing.

Will David pointed out a peculiar state bill that Arizona Republican Representatives have proposed. Instead of just summing it up, it’s short enough to simply post here and let you see for yourself (sorry, but the original is in all caps; politicians do like to yell). Here is HB 2467:

BEGINNING IN THE 2013‑2014 SCHOOL YEAR, IN ADDITION TO FULFILLING THE COURSE OF STUDY AND ASSESSMENT REQUIREMENTS PRESCRIBED IN THIS CHAPTER, BEFORE A PUPIL IS ALLOWED TO GRADUATE FROM A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL IN THIS STATE, THE PRINCIPAL OR HEAD TEACHER OF THE SCHOOL SHALL VERIFY IN WRITING THAT THE PUPIL HAS RECITED THE FOLLOWING OATH:

I, _________, DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR THAT I WILL SUPPORT AND DEFEND THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES AGAINST ALL ENEMIES, FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC, THAT I WILL BEAR TRUE FAITH AND ALLEGIANCE TO THE SAME; THAT I TAKE THIS OBLIGATION FREELY, WITHOUT ANY MENTAL RESERVATION OR PURPOSE OF EVASION; AND THAT I WILL WELL AND FAITHFULLY DISCHARGE THESE DUTIES; SO HELP ME GOD. 

Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Athiest, focused on the fact that this bill does not allow for any exemptions. Another bill, HB 2284, requires the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance for first through twelfth graders, however with the an exception:

AT THE REQUEST OF A PARENT, A PUPIL SHALL BE EXCUSED FROM THE REQUIREMENT

That’s not written into the language of HB 2467. Maybe it will be there later. Maybe they just forgot it.

For Mr. Mehta, his main concern is the “so help me god” clause (though he mentioned a possible update of the language so atheists could particip ate). For me, it’s the whole thing. This is indoctrination, pure and simple. That can’t even be argued. I remember my high school days, and it was during that second half of the Sophomore year, on through the Senior days where I saw the most growth in kids promoting anarchist ideals. Some of them were just lemmings of the anarchist bands and likely wouldn’t have survived real scrutiny, but others did know their stuff. Granted, Rage Against the Machine was big in the mid-to-late 90s. That helped.

There is bound to be a clash of ideologies. I guess that’s why they want to make sure to get them young. Is there some other reason for this proposal?

Those clear words in the oath ought to make any disciple of Jesus cringe. “Support and defend the Constitution,” which supported the institution of slavery? “I will bear true faith and allegiance to the [Constitution],” even though the Messiah, our King, the creator of all things, calls for those without limitation or hesitation. In fact, that last god clause assumes a relationship between god and this oath. That is very dangerous.

Why do we have to force our children to recite these oaths and pledges? Are we teaching them how to think or what to think? All it does is drive an even larger wedge between our kids and those of the rest of the world. It breeds a hatred for others, even at a subtle level, where they are the enemy and killing them, a threat to the Constitution, is not only justified, but necessary.

This goes against the very teachings of Jesus. But I imagine I will be among the minority of Christians in saying so.

Will it even pass? I doubt it. But, who knows. If it does, it will be a case where I will not advocate Christian parents in Arizona pulling their kids out and homeschooling. Instead I will support them and their child intentionally not reciting the pledge or the oath. Stand up to the control tactics. Stand up to the powers that be with the truth of Jesus and his message.

Let it come. Let it pass. Let’s see the people of God stand up.

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