Archive for March, 2016

Politicizing Christ

March 27, 2016

An old friend of mine posted this article on Facebook this morning.  It has been many years, decades, even, since we were last able to sit down and have a theological conversation.  I know that our trajectories in terms of theology diverge rather markedly in some areas, and this article is a good reminder of that.

The article purports to give ten reasons why Jesus himself would not be accepted as a political candidate by evangelicals today.  We’ll ignore the fact that Jesus is not a political candidate, and that when He returns it isn’t going to be a matter of whether evangelicals support him or not.  The fact is that his own people rejected him – I have no doubt that both liberals and conservatives would find reasons to reject him today as well.

But the rationale the article lays out is just so bizarre at times.

Free healthcare.  The Gospels account many instances where Jesus grants healing.  Such healings continued after his death and resurrection and ascension.  But it’s also likely (if not obvious) that not everybody was healed.  Jesus’ main purpose was not to provide free healthcare and healing, but rather to give signs that reinforced what He said.  Healings were not in and of themselves his purpose, but they pointed to the greater, perfect healing that his death and resurrection would promise to all who believed in him.

Let’s presume for a moment that free healthcare was Jesus’ main point.  If such were true, it would be no means mean that any attempt to give free healthcare is the same as Jesus’ free healthcare.  Jesus’ free healthcare was actually free.  Free healthcare as conceived and implemented here in the USA is anything but free.  It comes with a high cost that is hidden and distributed soas to make it appear that it is free.  Jesus was pretty keen on honesty as well as healthcare.  Let’s be honest about who is really capable of offering free healthcare.

Class warfare.  Jesus did not come to pit the poor against the rich.  Nor did He mandate state-sponsored wealth redistribution.  He was vocal about caring for all people – not just poor people.  Jesus loved the rich young man, after all!  (Mark 10:17ff)  Jesus warned of the dangers of riches more than he attacked the rich for being rich.  Being rich is problematic only in how those riches can waylay and distract us from our trust in God.  Those riches are not problematic in and of themselves just because not everyone has them equally.

Immigrants & the poor.  Jesus stood behind the social mandates of the Old Testament.  Our love of neighbor is best defined by how we treat the least of these.  Caring for the poor and for the foreigner is a major theme throughout Scripture, but at the same time God created social and cultural practices that effectively isolated the Hebrews from much of the surrounding nations and cultures.  He created them as a very separate people, not by building walls but by dictating aspects of their everyday life that marked them as unique and that necessarily separated them.

And again, Jesus did not argue that the State should redistribute wealth to the poor, but rather that each individual should take seriously their personal obligation to be of assistance to the marginalized in their society.  You can’t translate Scripture’s call to this kind of holiness into a public policy mandate for a secular government.  Not even the theocracy of Israel was successful in doing that!  I, personally, need to take steps to care for the poor and marginalized around me.  Jesus makes this clear.  He does not make clear that a bureaucrat somewhere on the other side of the country should take my money forcibly to redistribute it to those that they see fit to.

Taxes.  I don’t have a problem with taxes nor do I know any conservatives who do.  Do I like them?  Not particularly – but that’s because I feel I no longer have any meaningful input into how they are spent.  Decisions are made locally and nationally on spending that are not dependent on tax revenues but on political agendas.  Accountability is pretty low in these regards because the solution is always available to raise taxes.  I’m happy to pay my share towards the services and amenities I enjoy, but I also don’t think this requires me to unquestioningly and uncritically allow others to dictate what my share is and how it is used, particularly in a country where I ostensibly have the right to protest and be involved.  I believe this attitude is consistent with Jesus’ teaching as well as Romans 13.

And all of this ignores the basic issue that Jesus is responding to a trap laid by the religious authorities in an effort to get Jesus to advocate not paying taxes, a Roman criminal offense.

Protests at churches.  Churches have always been places where confrontations with the larger culture have occurred (or even begun), so I’m not sure what the point is here.  And Jesus didn’t ransack the Temple because of social policy!  He drove out moneychangers and animal sellers because the Temple was not an appropriate place for such activity.  He didn’t claim that they were cheating or oppressing people, but rather that they were misusing God’s house.

Name-calling.  I think we need to be careful here.  There is a fundamental difference between mudslinging on a political or personal level, and the authoritative judgments of the Son of God.  Did Jesus call every religious leader names?  Of course not.  He doesn’t call Nicodemus names in John 3.  Why does the author specify Graham and Falwell?  Are there evangelical leaders the author doesn’t think would earn Jesus’ negative attention?  I’m sure there are.

Death penalty/Soft crime – Jesus at all times and in all ways upheld the Old Testament.  He never contradicted it but only clarified it.  As such, He was apparently not anti-death penalty.  Jesus didn’t stop the execution of the woman caught in adultery – he clarified the reasons that the religious leaders had specifically brought her to Jesus and made an issue of it in front of him (yet hadn’t, for some reason, brought the man as well).  Oh, and since the Jews weren’t technically allowed to execute someone for a religious offense, the woman likely wasn’t in mortal danger.

What is the goal in dealing with crime?  Is it to make the criminal suffer, or is it to restore that person to right behavior?  I suspect that we like to think that our ideas about crime are restorative – we put people in prison so that they have time to reconsider their life choices and rehabilitate themselves.  Statistics are pretty clear that this generally isn’t happening.  Which leads me to think that our ideas about crime and punishment are punitive.  We simply want to punish.  We want that person to suffer because we suffered.

Jesus makes clear that God the Father’s goal is restorative.  He is concerned with finding the lost sheep, restoring the prodigal son rather than sentencing him to hard labor simply because it feels good.  The author also fails to mention that Jesus does pronounce sentence on the woman – go and sin no more.

Christians of all stripes need to recognize that simply demanding that crime be punished is counter to our faith.  We don’t imprison or fine or castigate because it feels good (or at least we shouldn’t).  Rather we do these things as regrettable necessities towards the end of restoration, towards changing someone’s life.  Jesus is able to do this without executing the woman or imprisoning her.  This doesn’t make him soft on crime – it makes him hard on sin.

Loving enemies. I would again stress the importance of not trying to translate individual attitudes into national policies.  I am not to hate my enemy.  My nation cannot hate an enemy – a nation is an abstraction and extension of the citizens (at least in theory).  I am not to hate my enemy, but I am not commanded to let him kill me, either.  God is pretty big on national defense in the Old Testament, and in fact takes action against his people sometimes because they don’t trust his ability to protect them from their enemies.

I don’t find the Biblical call to love our enemies inconsistent with a national defense policy.  It should guide how we craft such a policy and for what reasons.  It should truly be defense, the ability to protect ourselves against forceful aggression when other means of resolving the situation have failed.

Gun control.  Jesus came to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice, the spotless, divine lamb of God.  We have to understand this first and foremost.  What does He tell Pontius Pilate during his interrogation?  In Matthew 26:43 Jesus claims that his heavenly Father could and would send more than 12 legions of angels at Jesus’ request.  That’s 72,000 angels.  It isn’t that Jesus isn’t capable of defending himself (or being defended) but rather that He is obediently waiving that capability.  The Matthew 5 text the author cites has nothing to do with force – it has everything to do with the state of our heart.  We are not free to discount or hate someone who disagrees with us, even if they threaten us.  While we may be free to defend ourselves, we do so as such – in defense, not in hatred.

Whether I carry a gun (or a stick, or a pocket-knife) is not the issue.  The issue is the state of my heart, because the state of my heart towards others will determine how (and whether) I use that gun or stick or knife.  We might also consider Jesus’ curious words in Luke 22:35-38.

Kingdom of God.  I agree with this completely.  Yes, the Kingdom of God is here and now not just there and then, and we are to take seriously our role as citizens of that kingdom here and now, not just there and then.

 

I dislike attempts to co-opt Jesus  from either side of the political spectrum.  What He does and promises is far beyond what any of us can conceive of, and I have no doubt beyond what most of us are comfortable contemplating within our sin-soaked experience.  There will be plenty of liberals and conservatives shocked and offended at the Kingdom of God.  I just pray that they’re all inside of it when it is fully revealed!

 

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Reading Ramblings – April 3, 2016

March 27, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Easter – April 3, 2016

Texts: Acts 5:12-20; Psalm 148; Revelation 1:4-18; John 20:19-31

Context: The readings continue with the account of Easter, but also with the implications of Easter. Jesus rose from the dead and this is miraculous enough. But by the power of the resurrected Christ additional wonders were being performed in Jerusalem. The disciples who hid for fear of their lives are now living testimonies to the resurrected Savior through whom they receive divine power.

Acts 5:12-20 – For the duration of the liturgical season of Easter the Old Testament lessons will be replaced with excerpts from the book of Acts. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles was written by Luke, the second half of the Gospel of Luke. Whereas the Gospel focuses on the ministry of Jesus, Acts focuses on the early Church in the aftermath of the resurrection and ascension.

Signs and wonders continue to fill Jerusalem as the disciples are empowered by God the Holy Spirit to perform signs and wonders, including healings. Their testimony, supported by their miracles, win many converts and convince many people that Jesus is indeed resurrected and the promised Messiah. It wasn’t that the disciples had no opposition, but rather that the opposition could not stand against them. The resurrection of Jesus had turned the tables decisively, and in those first weeks and months afterwards, the Holy Spirit made it clear to many the truth of the disciples’ claims.

Psalm 148 – God is to be praised, and this psalm worthily leads the charge in this respect. The psalm elicits praise from all of creation, beginning with the highest beings and moving down to the lowest. The heavenly realms and angelic beings are summoned to praise first (vs.1-2), followed by the celestial lights (vs.3-6). After this earthly creation is summoned to worship, beginning with those creatures first made – fish (v.7), and continuing on to the beasts of the ground (v.10). Along the way the elements are exhorted to praise God (v.8) as well as creation in general (v.9). Finally humanity is called upon to praise the Lord, beginning with royalty and moving to those considered least among mankind – the elderly and the very young (vs.11-12).

God is to be praised because He has raised up a “horn of salvation” for his people. This is a term that denotes strength and protection. Literally, a horn would be thought of in terms of an ox horn – a symbol of strength and power. The altar of the Lord had four horns on it, which were to provide sanctuary and protection to anyone who held on to them. In terms of Easter, Jesus is the horn of our salvation, our source of strength and hope and power. His resurrection from the dead is our source of strength as we live our lives and look forward to eternity.

Revelation 1:4-18 – John introduces this writing to his audience, seven congregations in Asia Minor. The beginning of the letter indicates the recipients – the seven churches to be named in the coming chapters – as well as those who are sending the letter – John himself but also from the Trinity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Verses 5-7 break into praise of God the Son, the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of all creation. He is worthy of honor because he has saved us from our sins, conveying to us a heavenly inheritance that will last forever. This savior will be returning – an issue that perhaps some Christians were beginning to doubt after decades of waiting for Jesus’ return. They had assumed He would have returned by now, but John assures them that He is coming still.

John then goes on to describe his encounter with the resurrected and glorified Christ (vs.12-18). Some of the description should bring to mind Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration – particularly references to white and shining aspects of Jesus. This is not the Jesus of the post-resurrection appearances. This is Jesus at the end of days, in full glory and honor. He is a terrifying sight, but He assures John that he is not to fear. Having died and been raised again, Jesus now holds the keys to death itself.

John 20:19-31 – We continue reading John’s account of that first Easter Sunday. Jesus has first appeared to Mary Magdalen in the garden outside of his tomb (vs.11-18). Now later that day, Jesus appears to his disciples. He has instructed them to meet him in Galilee but it seems that He can’t wait that long. He can’t wait to see them again, to show them that He is alive and to infuse them with hope and joy. He does not leave them to suffer in grief and doubt. He comes to them quickly.

Doubting Thomas gets a bad rap, and this episode should also make it clear to skeptics today that the disciples were not the sort of people to just assume any fanciful idea that was pitched to them. Thomas remains skeptical despite the unified testimony of the other 10 disciples, plus the women. He remains skeptical despite their claims of angelic announcements and empty tombs and Jesus himself alive and in their midst. He will not fall prey to wishful thinking!

But he does not give up meeting with the apostles either. And so it is that the next time they are all together – this time with Thomas – Jesus appears again. His instructions to journey to Galilee have apparently been postponed as they are in the same small room a week later. When Thomas encounters the risen Christ his response is immediate: he confesses Jesus to be his Lord and his God. Yes, Thomas is blessed to have seen this with his own eyes. But such visual confirmation is also not necessary, and Jesus makes it clear that there will be many who believe without such an encounter. In other words, the accounts that the Holy Spirit will cause to be written about Jesus’ life and ministry, his death and resurrection, are themselves sufficient. They are intended to function as reliable eye-witness testimony capable of bringing others to faith.

John clarifies this at the end of the chapter. He has not written down everything he could, but he has written down enough – guided by the Holy Spirit – so that the reader or hearer can reasonably be convinced of the divinity of Jesus. This belief is not idle or intellectual – it is a belief that conveys life.

There are many uncertain things in life. But we are called to put our faith and trust in a man who is more than a man, and who predicted his resurrection as proof of our reconciliation, our forgiveness by God the Father. By trusting that Jesus’ death is for us, we receive the same life that Jesus demonstrates on Easter and the weeks following that lead to his ascension.

We have been given reliable testimony. Were it not for the amazing nature of the claims – that a man rose from the dead who claimed to be the Son of God – we wouldn’t think twice about accepting the Gospels as reliable historical documents. In and of themselves there is nothing that suggests they aren’t true. It is only the remarkable claim that Jesus rose from the dead – a claim that flatly contradicts our modern secular insistence that death is the end, that there is no God, that there is no life to come, and therefore that we are free to live as we please here and now.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! For you! Today and for eternity!

Enough Evidence

March 26, 2016

Thanks to Chris and Janelle, even from long distance, for sending this article on Easter eve.

I’ll ignore the obvious error immediately made in the article.  No, actually, we don’t know that dead people always always always stay dead and are never heard from again.  How many stories are there of people who were ruled clinically dead, only to return to life?  These are usually short periods of time we’re talking about…a few minutes or a few hours at the most.  They point not so much to the uncertainty of death’s finality as our own inability to clearly determine under what circumstances a person is definitely dead.  This is not the case with Jesus.  He is dead.  Verified by the soldiers assigned to ensure his death (or face their own for failure!).  Verified by intelligent men like Joseph of Arimathea who received the body and wrapped it hastily for burial.  Verified by three days in the tomb, after a brutal scourging and hours hanging on a cross punctured by nails through hands and feet.  Jesus doesn’t simply come out of the tomb and hobble around a bit, weakened by dehydration, loss of blood, muscle destruction and other associated symptoms of his ordeal.  None of those things are mentioned.  He appears so healthy that Mary Magdalene presumes that he is the gardener when she first sees him.

Is the evidence of the resurrection adequate?  I guess that depends on what sort of evidence you like.  Were we talking about anything other than the bodily resurrection of a man who claimed to be the Son of God incarnate and who predicted the events of his death and resurrection, the question would be moot.  Historians and students don’t bat an eye at events in history for which we have far less corroboration than the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The author favors a word count rather than specifying four eye-witness accounts to Jesus alive again, plus St. Paul, who refers to hundreds of other people who saw Jesus alive again after his death and burial.  That’s hardly an inconsequential reference, considering that many if not most of those people Paul makes mention to were still alive at the time he wrote his letter to the Corinthians.

Four eye-witness testimonies to the events of Easter day.  Those eye-witness accounts in and of themselves – all 3000 words or so of them – make reference to over a dozen witnesses on Easter day alone (the women that morning at the tomb, the 11 apostles,  the two men en route to Emmaus).  That’s a lot of people agreeing that a man who had been executed and buried was now alive again.  Hundreds more over the course of the next 40 days or so before Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

So the historical record is considerably beefier than the author presents it.  Remember as well that these claims of the resurrection were being made in the exact same city where Jesus had been crucified and buried just a few short days earlier!  It’s not as though Jesus was executed and buried in Jerusalem, and somebody in Rome starts to claim that Jesus has appeared alive to them.  The claim is made in Jerusalem.  Where Jesus was killed.  Where He was buried.  Where the tomb still was.

Do you seriously think that if people could have just wandered out to the tomb to see Jesus’ body still in it, that stories of the resurrection would have taken hold?  Do you seriously think that if people could have produced the body, people would continue to claim Jesus was resurrected?   It’s not as though people were used to people coming back from the dead, as though they expected it and were unimpressed by it.  Clearly Jesus’ own disciples and closest followers were not expecting an empty tomb on Easter morning.

For 2000 years people have attempted to come up with alternate explanations to the resurrection.  These explanations are hopelessly more complicated and convoluted than the idea of resurrection itself.  Christianity is the only religion in the world that points to a single historical event and says that if this didn’t happen, our religion disappears.  It would seem to be childishly easy then to disprove Christianity.

Unless the resurrection really happened.  Unless the people who wrote the Gospels simply stated what they knew.  The man was dead and buried, and now is alive again.  What else is there to say?  Do you think they were worried about complicated explanations?  Would they have pressed Jesus for details about exactly how this happened?  Even if they had, and had recorded them, would that be enough for skeptics today?  Hardly.

The claim is made that a man who was dead predicted his resurrection from the dead and that it came to pass.  On that basis everything else the man said and did is treated as true and divine.

We could have x-rays and video tapes and multiple camera angles and infra-red sensors and satellite imagery and people would still refuse to believe.  There would always be some way of rejecting the reality of the resurrection.  Some way of arguing that the evidence was tampered with, that we didn’t have enough data to be certain.

Something very unusual happened that first Easter morning.  It radically transformed the lives of those who had been closest to Jesus prior to his death.  It was a message that was compelling to thousands of Jews very familiar with the events of Jesus’ death and burial, and intelligent and skeptical enough to investigate for themselves the allegations of resurrection.  We can claim that we know without a shadow of a doubt that a resurrection from the dead is not possible.  Of course nobody can honestly make that claim.  At best we can claim that in 99.99% of deaths, the person doesn’t come back to life.  With one notable exception.  An exception that still lacks credible alternative explanations after 2000 years.

Maybe this Easter it’s time to accept the historical record, and this miraculous exception to what we expect.  If it’s true, there is such great reason to celebrate that it will change your life forever.

He is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Jesus’ Obituary

March 25, 2016

Appropriate if incomplete, on this Good Friday.  Courtesy of Vanity Fair.

Book Review – Stories of Our Favorite Hymns

March 24, 2016

Stories of Our Favorite Hymnsby Christopher Idle

Thanks to Ruth, who gifted me with a library copy of this book after a Bible study discussion a few weeks ago. It’s a quick read, covering about 55 different hymns.  Some of them I wasn’t familiar with as they aren’t a part of my Lutheran hymnody tradition (or just aren’t sung very often!).  Others are beloved classics.  The author combines some biographical data with other anecdotes about the various songs and authors.  It isn’t a very in-depth coverage, but it sheds some light on songs that we’ve sung all our lives and the people who wrote them (and the same people who wrote many of them!).

Wet Bar Wednesday – Irish Jack Rose

March 23, 2016

The Jack Rose is a drink that was popular in the US in the early 20th century, based on a liquor that is less fashionable these days called applejack.  I’m going to have to find a bottle of this stuff since I enjoy hard apple cider.  Hard apple cider is distilled (traditionally by freezing it and removing the ice) to increase the alcohol content to around 30-40% (instead of the 10-12% typical of a hard cider).  Applejack is similar to a French brandy made from apples called Calvados.

The drink has fallen out of fashion despite being a favorite of 20th century figures such as John Steinbeck.  The Irish Jack Rose is the same basic drink, but with Irish whiskey added to the mix.  I used Calvados instead of applejack.  The recipe I used has a rather large amount of Irish whiskey in the mix, so you can adjust that to suit your tastes.

  • 1.5 parts Irish whiskey
  • .5 parts Calvados or applejack
  • .5 parts grenadine
  • .5 parts lime juice (some recipes call for lemon)

Mix the ingredients with ice, then strain the ice out to serve the drink straight up.  This way the drink is cold but doesn’t get excessively diluted with melting ice.  I served mine with ice because I am a barbarian.  Enjoy!

 

 

Wet Bar Wednesday – Irish Buck

March 23, 2016

Last Thursday was St. Patrick’s Day.  While I’m not Irish and I don’t own a stitch of green clothing and hate beer, I decided there had to be cocktail alternatives that would allow me to enjoy a bit o’ the Irish all the same.  This is the first of two I tried that night.

Frankly, I hate the name.  Irish Buck (or Bushmill’s Irish Buck, if you want to make it more brand-specific).  It’s a lot simpler to think of it as the Irish version of a Moscow Mule, and so I like the idea of renaming it the Dublin Mule.  That’s probably what I’ll refer to it as in my circles from now on, since the world of drink names is pretty fluid (hahaha – how clever!).

Irish Buck /Dublin Mule

  • 2 oz Irish Whiskey (I used Jameson’s, but use whatever you like)
  • 1 oz lime juice (adjust the amount to your preferred lime-y-ness)
  • 1/2 bottle of ginger beer (or ginger ale)

Combine ingredients over ice and stir to mix.  I used the copper Moscow Mule mugs as it seemed so appropriate.  It’s very smooth and tasty, equally as refreshing as a Moscow Mule!  Enjoy!

Halal

March 22, 2016

My folk sent me this article the other day and asked my thoughts on it.  I’m not familiar with the author outside of this article, but he seems to be a thoughtful, concerned Christian.

The article raises two major concerns in conjunction with halal food.  The first is that growing numbers of foodstuffs are labeled halal is a concern of continued Muslim influence even in countries where Muslims make up a tiny percentage of the overall population (1.5% of the Australian population, .9% of the US population based on 2010 Census data).  The second concern is whether or not Christians can eat halal foods without violating our faith in some respect.

Halal is a broad designation that spells out what is acceptable/permissible to Muslims.  While we typically think of it in terms of food and drink, in reality it covers most of daily life issues.  Muslims divide facets of life and behavior into five categories – compulsory, recommended, permitted, disliked/discouraged, and forbidden.  Most halal regulations regarding food have to deal with animal-related foods.  Halal rules dictate how the animal is to be killed.  However, Muslim law also states that if there are no halal food options available, Muslims are permitted to eat non-halal foods rather than starve to death.

Regarding the first concern, I don’t see much difference between halal and kosher.  Both are special designations indicating that the food should be acceptable to a particular group of people.  I don’t worry much about food being kosher or not.  I suspect that people worry about food being labeled as halal more because Islam is definitely a religion that actively seeks to expand.  Few people in the West feel threatened by Jews, and so don’t worry about kosher designations or not.  With the rising tide (or at least rising publicity) of Islam-related violence, halal takes on darker overtones for some people.

The second issue has to do with whether it is appropriate or permissible for a Christian to eat a food labeled as halal.  If it is meat in question, then the animal was executed facing Mecca while a prayer giving thanks to God was uttered by a Muslim.  The concern is whether this makes halal foods “foods sacrificed to an idol”, a topic which St. Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10.

I see 1 Corinthians 8 primarily as dealing with the impact of eating pagan food on new Christians.  Someone coming from a pagan background who sees a ‘mature’ Christian eating the same food that the recent convert is used to eating might lead the young convert to presume that their newfound Christian faith really isn’t any different than their old beliefs.  The issue is whether eating pagan food harms the faith life of another Christian.  For Paul (and therefore for all Christians!), whenever that is the issue, then the solution is simple – don’t do whatever might harm the faith of the other person.  Regardless of whether what we are doing is wrong or not, we refrain from it if we think it might confuse and mislead another person of faith.

In 1 Corinthians 10 the issue is more addressing the food itself.  The chapter begins with an exhortation to living in a God-pleasing way, as opposed to thinking that you can live like everyone else (v.6).  Those who have come to Christ may have other practices, beliefs, and actions that they need to give up because they are not appropriate to a Christian.  To ignore this is dangerous.

Then, in vs.14ff, Paul focuses on the issue of idolatry.  If you worshiped idols before, you need to realize that this is not appropriate as a Christian.  Eating food that has been explicitly sacrificed to an idol is inappropriate for a Christian who participates in the feeding of Holy Communion.  In the ancient world, where you ate was a reflection of what you believed, who you are.  We have severed this connection in many ways, but Paul leads us to think that we maybe should think about it more than we typically do.

We think about it *not* because idols and false gods are anything real – they aren’t (vs. 19-20). But what we do and what we believe are linked, and we need to take that seriously because failure to do so can put us at risk (vs. 21-23).

The practical teaching comes in the next section.  We aren’t to worry about the source of the food we eat from a theological perspective.  Is the person selling meat at that particular delicatessen Jewish?  Or Muslim?  What we’re buying is meat, not theology, and we don’t need to worry excessively about this issue.  More to point, if a Muslim were to invite me to dinner, I wouldn’t worry about whether the food was halal or not.  I would assume that it probably is, but that needn’t keep me from accepting their hospitality.  However, if the host was to specifically make a point of saying that the chicken meat had been sacrificed in praise to Allah, now I need to consider taking a pass on the chicken and just having a salad.  Is it because eating the chicken would be bad for me, somehow, as a Christian?  Of course not!  Rather, I don’t want my host to mistakenly assume that I am joining them in worship of Allah specifically by eating the chicken.

Christians are not caused to be paranoid, nor are we caused to obsess about what is or is not permitted.  We live in grace and freedom in Christ, after all!  But what we do affects not just ourselves but others.  So we clearly want to abstain from things that are inappropriate for Christians (worshiping idols), and at the same time want to be conscious of how our words and actions might be interpreted by other people.  I might not think twice about eating a halal burger or chicken breast at home, but I don’t want to take a new Christian to the international market to specifically buy halal meat because they might misunderstand what I’m doing and why.  And I likewise don’t want to eat food that someone has specifically brought to my attention is sacrificed to a false god or an idol, because I don’t want them to think that I agree with/accept/worship their god or idol in some respect.

Freedom, but freedom with responsibility.  It’s not an easy line to walk, and for that reason a good thing to keep talking about and sorting through!

 

Terror, Again

March 22, 2016

Brussels is reeling from terrorist attacks that have killed at least 30 and wounded over two hundred more.

I’ve already seen a handful of Belgian flags popping up on Facebook, similar to the French flags that dotted Facebook for a few weeks after the Paris attacks last November.  Pity that such symbolic gestures of support are meaningless.  Worse than meaningless.  They mislead people into thinking they are doing something tangible in a situation when they are not (unless they are doing other things – like insisting that political leaders be held responsible for allowing such things to continue).

I didn’t see many California state flags or US flags a while back when the couple in San Bernardino went on a shooting spree in December. But the same policies that have made the attacks in Paris and Brussels possible will allow for them to happen here.  Refusing to differentiate between legitimate refugees and anyone seeking relocation, in the misguided name of tolerance, love, non-discrimination, or whatever bunk term you want to apply is not simply foolish and misguided, it is actually lethal and dangerous.

Until our leadership is held accountable, we the people will continue to be the ones put at risk.  We can begin to demand accountability and responsible, intelligent policies now, or we can demand them after the mass funerals and eulogies of our own people.  My prayers are with the people of Belgium (including our most recent exchange student and her parents, who we were privileged to meet before her departure), but my prayers are also for my own nation.  For wisdom and the strength to use it.

Book Review – The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades

March 21, 2016

The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades

Edited by Jonathan Riley-Smith

Over a decade ago this was one of the texts that I utilized for a university special topics course I developed on the Crusades.  I decided to revisit this book, and I’m glad that I did.

The book is composed of multiple sections by various scholars in crusades study.  If you aren’t already familiar with the basic history of the crusades, I wouldn’t advise you begin with this book.  It does not do a good job of providing a chronological sketch of the major events and persons involved.  However if you’d like further study in particular areas – art, architecture, etc. – then this book might be of interest to you.  There are plenty of illustrations throughout which make it visually interesting as well.  Further, the book spends a good deal of time discussing crusading practices and tendencies that extend much further in history than the era traditionally associated with crusading.

This is a good-looking book for someone who has a good grasp of basic crusade history and wants to delve more in-depth into related subjects.