Wednesday, February 28, 2007

T-shirt Wisdom

I went with Bill and Diane to a karaoke bar in San Clemente a couple of weeks ago. A guy had a T-shirt that proclaimed: "Your silence will not protect you!"

That's a thought. Of course it does in a way. How about when we ought to be silent? But the T-shirt is clearly talking about when we ought to speak, and instead hope by silence to stay out of trouble.

There, too, as the Dixie Chicks remind us, "It can get pretty lonely when you show yourself." If you don't show yourself, you won't be so lonely, as every coward has already figured out for himself. So how can this statement be true?

In Proverbs 31 we read, "Open your mouth for the dumb, for the judgment of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and judge the afflicted and needy." Along the same line, we read in Proverbs 24:11-12, "Deliver those who are being led away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, O hold back! If you say, 'See, we did not know this,' does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?"

So then if we protect ourselves by being silent when the helpless are ripped off, God says He will be silent when we are ripped off, giving us according to our doing. We've protected ourselves, but we have forfeited God's protection.

It is just what Jesus said, "Everyone who confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny me before men, I will deny him before my Father who is in heaven."

What else did Jesus say: "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, the least, you did it to me." And again, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me."

So then, the German women who watched indifferently as Amira Hass's mother was led away did that to Jesus. The Poles who watched indifferently while the Germans starved the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto did that to Jesus. Those who watch with approval as the Israelis do exactly the same thing to the people of Gaza right now, with the enthusiastic support of the United States government, are doing that to Jesus. Like those in Matthew 25:31-46, they think that's not so because they're inferior, and that's why Jesus says what you do to the least - whoever they are in your judgment - you're doing it to him.

Specifically, when you deny them, you're denying Jesus, and he will deny you, just as if when you confess them he will confess you.

"Your silence will not protect you!" because your silence causes God to be silent when YOU fall into trouble. Your silence does not protect you because it strips you of God's protection. You want to protect yourself? Protect others, as you want to be protected, so that God can protect you.

Well, then, if you're feeling denied and betrayed lately, here's a debugging tip. Find out every way that you're denying and betraying others, and find out how to quit doing that. That repentance will protect you for real, even if the world finds ways to make it feel otherwise.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Good comments, and answers

The 3 comments on my post about parallels to Germany and its Christians 70 years ago together raise such good points that I think they deserve their own post.

First, the consolation of faith. It's essential to understand that biblical faith is first about truth, not consolation. Religious people, represented in the Bible by the false prophets and their audiences, say in the words of Isaiah, "Speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions." As Jeremiah put it, they speak a vision of their own heart, expect the word to be fulfilled, and call that faith.

Faith is simply believing the truth. Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, you will indeed be my disciples, and you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

This is more profound than it seems, because the truth can be pretty harsh, not in the least consoling in the short term, say if that cute little mole is actually a melanoma and that lumpy lymph node nearby is a metastasis. But the truth at that moment is still a whole lot better than continuing to kid yourself, which is what most people mean by faith.

The real good news is that truth really is always good news to those who receive it. The prophets almost always give us bad news and end up with great promises. In this the one message behind each particular message is that for those who permit their ears to be acid-washed with hard truth, and act upon it, there is consoling truth - but not otherwise. So faith does give consolation, so long as I believe the distressing truth that goes before - and never otherwise.

Mr Peligrano alluded to the urge to self-destruction evident in the behavior of our leaders, and I haven't considered this enough. The Bible alludes to this quite often. Wisdom says in the Proverbs, "All who hate me love death." Urging his stubborn people to repent, Ezekiel asks, "Why will you die, O Israel?" I have seen in myself and others that when we refuse to humble ourselves and repent we do indeed become suicidal. Like Walter Mitty, we would rather die than to admit we're wrong and abandon our illusions, which are more precious to us than life itself.

As Eric Hoffer observed, when Satan said, "Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life," he did no digress to tell all he knew. All that he has, a man will give up for his life, but for the fantasies he does not have, a man will give up everything, even his life.

It really is repentance or suicide. Suicide bombing in various forms is never far from the obstinate. The movie "Independence Day" demonstrated in 1998 that American audiences were very ready to admire the suicide bomber who flew his plane into the alien ship, just as they admired the Zionists in the movie Exodus who were ready to kill all the children on the ship Exodus in the movie of the same name back in 1960. I had not considered that the urge to destroy it all, the way Zimri burned his palace down on himself, is the result of hating wisdom and refusing to repent. "All who hate me love death."

Finally, it is of course true that there are important differences between the collapse of German democracy in the 1930s and the US today, but not all are reassuring. Germany was in real distress, worse than the US at the same time, while the US today really hasn't been. People were excited about the September 11 attacks, but these were a love tap compared to what others have endured, often at American hands without melting down as Americans have, and generally without the same hysterical vengefulness. This is the consequence of narcissism, the inability to know anyone's pain but our own - a very deceiving condition.

One especially disturbing parallel is how Hitler took care to shield his own people from the cost of war by plundering the occupied lands, because he knew that hardship would lead to his overthrow, as happened to the Kaiser in 1918. In the same way, the Bush regime has learned from Vietnam to take care to shield the American people from paying any price, charging it all to future generations and by selling off the economy to creditors like CHina, Japan, and South Korea - so far as outright plunder has failed.

They went into Iraq expecting to pay for it by plundering the Iraqi economy or by getting others to pay for it as in 1991, and they said so, but it hasn't worked out that way. That's why they have to go elsewhere.

Feeding the rich at the expense of everyone else is not only because, as Bush once put it, "You're my base - the haves and the have-mores." It's why Hitler and Mussolini needed to please the industrial magnates who, if they were unhappy, might turn against them to their ruin, as in fact happened to Johnson and Nixon when the business bosses saw that the Vietnam adventure was trouble for them.

Just as Mussolini's and Hitler's were very different regimes, the American equivalent will in many ways be different. For one thing, rather than being fascist and seeking to draw people into a mass movement, it seeks to instill apathy and apolitical self-absorbtion, like Pinochet's Chile and other Latin American dictatorships and Communist Czechoslovalia in the 1970s. Bush didn't call people to mass rallies and enthusiasm in September 2001 but to trust him, believe everything he said, and to go shopping.

Bush and Cheney's abuse of the Constitution has never been to respond to any real need. It has all been to conceal incompetence and to avoid accountability. When rulers trust in secrecy and refuse to be accountable, they're always protecting themselves, and never the rest of us - just like you and me when we hide our failures from others.

In no family, business, or any other enterprise has that ever contributed to the solution of any real problem - except one: for those in charge to stay that way no matter how badly they screw up, even if that ruins the rest of us.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Be good to snotty noses, be good to people

I've had some snotty noses in my life lately, and they have again given me instruction and reproof.

If you want your snotty nose to recover quickly and avoid earaches and sinus infections, your snotty nose demands two things of you: 1) Don't snuffle! 2) Blow gently, never hard!

If you ignore this advice and mistreat your snotty nose, you can expect sinus trouble and maybe an earache, and your snotty nose will stay that way a long time.

But this is not really about the care of snotty noses. I've been reminded again that people need the same consideration: 1) We can't cork them up so they don't run just because their snot doesn't look good, and 2) We can't use unjust or unnecessary roughness to unplug them.

When I ignore this advice, headaches and ear trouble abound all the way around, and people don't get better. It would be good for me if I could attain to this wisdom enough to apply it consistently. Unfortunately, my skill with sick people still falls far short of my skill with snotty noses. I have not yet learned as I should from those noses, even my own!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Why are Americans kissing off their republic more easily than the Germans did in the 1930s?

The comparison between the loss of American constitutional government and the collapse of Weimar is apt. Let's recall that its Constitution was never formally annulled by Hitler, who ruled under Hindenburg's emergency decree.This prompts two thoughts.

One is that the US resistance is less because the roots of the current American authoritarianism, which is not really fascism, are much deeper and more fundamental to the American character than Nazism was to Germany. The US was founded on the twin pillars of genocide and slavery and has never wandered far from these principles in 400 years. Its constitutional liberties are an important adornment, but in crisis the old standbys trump.

The tremendous guilt engendered by America's fundamental betrayal of its self-asserted identity as the light of the nations has always made Americans extremely fearful of their victims, ever since Southern plantation owners lived in dread of slave revolts and the whole nation lived in fear of the Indians whom they robbed.

Americans also pride themselves on being God's chosen, even if this is somewhat secularized in some cases, but not at all in many.

Their Bibles, in a passage quite familiar to many of them (Rev 13:10) state the fundamental creed of the Christian faith as, "Whoever leads into captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, he must be killed by it." This is so fundamental that the most secular sum it up in the true saying, "Whatever goes around comes around."

But their shining city on a hill has always lived by the dictum that their life depends on killing the Indians or whoever else they fear and want to rob, and that their freedom depends on enslaving the blacks, and now the citizens of other nations under compliant puppet regimes.

To live so falsely, especially for Christians, must generate a tremendous hysteria and eagerness to be lied to in order to hide from reality. I wrote in September 2001 to al-Quds al-Arabi that the US would turn into a brutal garrison state that would nuke the world unless it were successfully opposed and defeated. Nothing in over 5 years, unfortunately, has proven me wrong, although like some others I have done my small best.

This leads me to my second point, Bonhoeffer's statement on returning to Germany in 1939 that German Christians would have to choose between wishing for the defeat of their country so that Christian civilization might be saved or wishing for its success at the cost of civilization.

We too now face that choice.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

"Prayer Is Better than Sleep"

I was reminded this morning of this truth, preserved by Muslims in the morning call to prayer from every mosque, when my friend Bill called me early this morning with good news about himself and things to pray for.

As I considered further, I considered that sleep is essential, and prayer won't substitute for it. Psalm 127 reminds us, "It is vain for you to rise up early, to delay sitting, to eat the bread of toils; for He gives to His beloved sleep."

That's true of lots of things. Jesus says, "Do not labor for the bread that perishes but for that which leads to eternal life," but he says again that "your Father knows that you need these things." "It is better to give than to receive," but giving is only possible when we master receiving (as opposed to earning, stealing, or extorting), so that Jesus said again, "Freely you have received, therefore freely give."

So we can't say "nothing but the best," whether in things, experiences, or even people - just receive from God whatever seems good to Him, without trying to use anything to avoid needing God. He didn't make anything to serve that purpose, and it will turn to our harm if we try.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Ahlan ez-Zayyak (Welcome, how you doing?)

Even if you don't know Arabic, or just a few words like me, this video by the Kuwaiti singer Shams is truly hilarious. You gotta see it, and make sure the sound is on!

When you're done laughing, Abu Sinan has a very helpful explanation of the video, and what it means. His February 5 entry on taxes is not what you usually hear, and well worth pondering.

Monday, February 05, 2007


I just checked out the documentary Bonhoeffer (Journey Films), and we watched it in our Sunday nigfht fellowship.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who lived as a Christian, knowing that his business as a disciple and theologian was to learn how to walk with Jesus in his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Today he is held in greater honor than the Christoids of his day who rallied around the swastika. He was hanged stark naked at the Flossenberg concentration camp April 9, 1945, four weeks before the end of the war.

It's not only about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I learned a lot I didn't know about the Nazis and Hitler, how sincerely devoted to the will of God they made themselves look to German Christians. The Christian devotion in some of Hitler's speeches opens our eyes and ears to the same poison today. The snare is laid in vain in the sight of any bird.

For some education and encouragement, some sound Christian theology, and a call to follow Jesus that the likes of James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and D. James Kennedy know nothing of, hurry on down to Blockbuster and rent it!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Being weird

The world punishes you for being weird, especially if you're a kid. So parents don't want their kids to be weird, so as to keep them from needless pain.

The problem is that if God made you weird, it's really abusive for someone to punish you for being how God made you - and it's worse to be abused by those near you who should be protecting you than by the indifferent world.

If you want to walk with God and be his friend, like Abraham, you'll be weird in the world's book. For this reason Paul wrote, "All who want to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution," and Jesus said the same before him.

They don't persecute you for holding some theological position. In fact, the world expects, even demands, a certain theological bag in its religious workers. They persecute you for wanting "to live godly," which in God's book is nothing but to "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

You can't make those your first priority without being weird in this world. So if your priority is to fit in, to not be weird, you can forget about pleasing God and walking with Him. God made the world, and God is in it, but the world doesn't know God. He too is weird.

As I was walking out the door this morning to fetch Joshua, I saw the mess Gayle and I had left - not real bad, but Jacob has heard from me about leaving his crap all over. So I started to clean it up, and I was busted. Doing justice was picking up Joshua, who was already late, not spending 5 minutes to keep Jacob from being able to ride me for not doing as I say.

There's another point. As P. T. Barnum said, to be noticed you have to wiggle your ears. We can be weird in order to show off and wave one finger at the world. That's actually sucking up to the world too, which loves novelty and entertainment, and gives me a chance to be proud of how bad I am. The pride of life in every form is not of the Father, but of the world, so the world will always find some place of honor for the pride of life.

So it wasn't OK to take real time to red up the dishes, but it was OK to take 15 seconds to clear the table so Jacob can use it when he comes in.