Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day - thoughts on worldly and godly simplicity

Memorial Day is supposedly to remember people who have died for America and all its wonderful things. But it's really to forget those killed, robbed, and terrorized so that we can be at ease at the expense of those invaded, bombed, and dominated. Let's not complicate our minds with such unwelcome thoughts, plague our ears with their cries, or trouble our eyes with the misery and destruction we visit upon them. Let's remember and dwell on the blood of our own to hide ourselves from the guilty awareness of the blood of others. Let's keep it simple.

In the Proverbs, such simplicity is not praised. We looked it up, and the word comes from a Hebrew word meaning to be wide open. And, indeed, along this line, Proverbs 22:3 says, "The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, but the simple go on, and are punished for it." This kind of simplicity is achieved by just disregarding anything that seems to complicate things and interfere with our taking the path of least resistance. It guarantees that we will "follow a multitude to do evil," as Moses warns us not to do.

On the other hand, Paul writes that he's afraid of our being seduced from the simplicity that is in Christ. We have two different simplicities here.

The simplicity in Christ is expressed in several ways. In Luke 10:25-42, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" gets two answers - the Samaritan shows mercy on the man beaten and left for dead, and Mary sits down and listens to Jesus instead of running around and being busy with many things. These are both the one essential thing, the answer to the question, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

In Philippians 3, Paul wrote that we are the true circumcision who worship in the spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh. These three in one arise from the one act of circumcision performed on us by God, as he causes our own many devices and complications to wither - specifically our worship of our own understanding, our glorying in all the kingdoms of this world with their flags and creeds and big plans, and our boundless confidence in our flesh and that of other people.

In this Paul is restating the same three essentials given in Micah 6:8, which reads, "What does the Lord require of you, O man, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" This is pretty simple guidance. It doesn't consider whether it covers our butts or exposes them, gains the favor of the honored men of this world, or makes us stand out so that we get hammered in. It considers simply whether it is just, whether it is merciful, and whether it is done by walking with our God, humbly, rather than in our own conceit or the wisdom of this world (Psalm 1). In short, are we doing this in the company of the God of truth?

This simplicity certainly comes into conflict with the world's simplicity, which is always to seek our own ease and the good opinion of those around us who can punish or reward us - which invariably means doing injustice to those who can't.

So there are two simplicities. One arises from ourselves and from this world, which the world will praise us for walking in, and which our own lust for ease and the praise of men will enjoy. And we finance this by disregarding or grinding up whoever is not in a position to gratify our lusts and to give us the honor and praise of this world. The way to live like that is to keep it simple - to take care not to examine too closely anything that we're thinking, saying, and doing. To do that, also hiding from ourselves that we are hiding that way, we keep entertained and distracted from such self-examination with many duties and even noble actions to feed our pride and self-delusion.

The simplicity of Christ is to know, as C. S. Lewis pointed out in Mere Christianity, that there is really only one question - "Is it true?" As Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 2, God goes so far as to raise up the Antichrist in order to send strong delusion upon all who do not receive the love of the truth, so as to get them condemned and removed from his house.

It is indeed very simple. Salvation depends on receiving the love of the truth - nothing else. That all must receive it reminds us that nobody has this love in ourselves naturally, because the truth says to each of us, "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:24-25).

The simplicity of this world reduces everything to how I keep my life in this world. The simplicity of Christ reduces everything to how I follow Jesus through his death into his resurrection each day.

The simplicity of this world requires me to be stupid, not to notice whom I devour and betray into the hands of other predators so that I can live at their expense. It has no time for justice, mercy, and walking humbly with God, who if I walk with him will have lots to say about the things I have to do to live that way.

The simplicity of Christ requires me to hear the only wise God in everything and become wise at any cost. Justice, mercy, and humilty are all that matter. And yet, with these things God will give me all the other little things I need (Matthew 6:24-33), because doesn't my Father in heaven know that I need all these things that the world thinks it can get only by pushing him and everyone else out of the way?

These two simplicities have nothing in common. Which will we choose?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Another car lesson

Jacob's hoopdie finally cashed its chips a week ago, and he needs to get to school and work - but not in style, while the insurance is in my budget. So we looked for a suitable car and found a 1976 Honda Civic wagon. It's a pleasure to see simplicity under the hood, even a carburetor! And it even has a manual choke, and aged as I am, I have never owned a car before with a manual choke.

The guy put new seats in it. I guess that if you want nice seats for a 1976 Honda you don't get a wide choice of colors anymore. These are BRIGHT yellow and subdued royal blue. As the seller explained, he had to paint the car to match. So it's a BRIGHT yellow car, which Jacob likes because the cops laugh when they see it instead of pulling him over.

But when I went to DMV, I found that the seller had said wrong that it didn't need smog. 1975 is the last year you don't need it smogged. And he had a bad check on the last registration - that would be $469 - which DMV had a mind to collect at this strategic moment. It certainly looked like I got ripped off.

However, one fact out of place was that the seller had happily accepted a check for the car, and people who are cheating you commonly don't do that! With used cars between private parties, in God we trust but all others pay cash, as the saying is. So I called the guy with the bad news and he did seem genuinely astonished at both items. We agreed to meet after his work to get the car smogged and the bad check squared away.

He had never deposited my check, because the bank said they were going to put a hold on it, so he returned it to me, I put it in my pocket, and we drove to the smog shop. The car flunked of course, so off they went elsewhere, performed some magic which did indeed make it run better and stop backfiring, and they returned with a real live smog certificate. We went to my bank and I gave him green money less the bad check, and I got the good reg from DMV. And they were nearly empty this morning, so I was in and out of there in less than 10 minutes.

So everything turned out fine. The seller had thought it didn't need smog because he misunderstood what the smog tech told him last time when he told him it was the last year, going backwards, that needed smog. He had given the money to his brother to pay DMV, who kept the money and wrote the bouncing check, without of course revealing what he had done.

Moreover, they managed to push it through smog without changing the distributor cap, which was bad, and the car was acting like that was a problem. I didn't like the rotor either, so for ten bucks I replaced them both, so I have cause to think the rest of the engine isn't too bad, though I do plan to look at the plugs.

In conversation as we waited at the smog shop, the seller talked about how he had become a Christian just threee years before and that he had been "a real bad guy." I saw that I had had a narrow escape from doing grave injustice to this delicate person, and a lot of damage, by assuming that things meant what they didn't mean although they looked that way. I would have, too, if the love of money, pride, and such like had had as much of a hold on me as they used to. It's still bad enough, but praise be to God, I seem not to be as insane as I used to be. Life is better if we walk in the Lord's counsel and not in what our ears hear and our eyes see (Isaiah 42).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Songs of Ascents

The Songs of Ascents, Psalms 120-134, have been among my favorites for a long time, since Bob Mumford's little book drew my attention to them when I first became a Christian 35 years ago. But when I encountered them in my normal reading cycle a week ago, I noticed for the first time that since they are songs of ascents, and ascent is always accomplished by humbling ourselves (Luke 14:7-11), then they must indeed be guides in how to humble ourselves so that God may lift us up.

So I have begun reading them again with that truth in view, and sure enough, I've been noticing some things. I bet you will too. After some further reflection, I plan to start a series on them.

The Bible tells us all the time to humble ourselves so that we might ascend. It would be amazing if there were no specific intructions on how to do that. So, readers, your homework, if you wish to accept it, is the Songs of Ascents, Psalms 120-134. I hope to hear from you on what you find.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

More news on Stephen

Stephen was invited to visit his half brother and family in a couple of weeks for about a month, so he will soon be on his way.

Also his story should soon be getting some publicity, and legal action may soon begin against Canyon Ridge Hospital and two psychiatrists there. He has talked some more about his experience during his imprisonment at Canyon Ridge. It's pretty shocking, and yet entirely believable and clearly routine. Those not strongly supported by their parents, as he was, have it a lot worse even than he did. We may well be pursuing this on behalf of those so treated at Canyon Ridge as a class.

It's good for any victim's mental health if he can act on his own behalf instead of being simply the object of other people's actions. People's personalities disintegrate, and they become subject to the domination of others, if they can be shown that they have no autonomy, no boundaries that anyone is bound to observe. That, of course, is why Canyon Ridge and the attending psychiatrist - and later on Curtis Rouanzoin - sought to impress upon Stephen and me their power and his helplessness in order to subdue us to their will.

Whenever we set out to establish that people are helpless in our hands in this way, we are trying to prove to them that we are their God. We're being antichrists. It is the way of every torturer, and ultimately always his point - as Pilate put it, "Do you not know that I have the power to release you, and the power to crucify you?" Whatever good we think we're accomplishing for people when we act that way, we are always abusing and destroying them. Always.

I'm still awaiting further word from the school district. Their "Claims Liability Administrator" sent me a note a month ago saying I would be hearing from them soon. It does not seem that they want to be contentious, but it is not yet clear whether they are stalling. Certainly we need to get everything resolved by September.

Stephen is really doing better. He even brings up math questions at times these days, with good thinking.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"My heart is steadfast" (Psalm 108)

Last Sunday evening we read in Psalm 39 how to play it when our passions have us in torment. When David kept silence and his pain grew worse, he prayed, "Lord, make me know how transient I am."

That's very contrary to the usual way of thinking, that in order to be confident and steadfast we need feel strong and impressive. That's why people fortify themselves with dope, drink, indignation, and other such mood-altering drugs. Knowing that the way of deliverance is actually to come face up to our weakness has many benefits. Deliverance from various addictions is certainly one of these unexpected bennies.

In Psalm 108, David rejoices in the opposite condition, "My heart is steadfast." But then, instead of boasting, he rejoices in God and gives thanks and praise to him. You can't do that unless you know that steadfastnbess is truly foreign to yourself and that it's cause for thanksgiving to God, its source. So then, only those who really know their frailty and weakness can safely be made steadfast - free from conceit, boasting, and contempt for others. Thus, as Paul wrote, my strength is made perfect in weakness. Let us then learn of our weakness in every way possible, not hiding from it or trying to do away with it ourselves anymore.

Friday, May 04, 2007

"Love It or Leave It!"

I have made a mistake in coming to America. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people. Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make that choice in security.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, on returning to Germany in 1939

What if loving it means to will its defeat? We face the choice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer today in the US - the author of the first great genocide of the 21st century, the continuation and acceleration of the closing genocide of the 20th under Bill Clinton. Three years after the Abu Ghraib photos, the National Association of Evangelicals got around to saying there is something wrong with torture. Would we have seen even that pitiful result if the empire were winning? Like those Germans who conformed to Hitler, are Christians here real disciples to any degree if they can't say no to mass murder and those who practice it, who befriend torturers knowing that their fathers killed Jesus in just that way?

In our Bibles we read that God's people were often enticed to serve Molech and other gods that drink the blood of children, and so it is not new to see American Christians enamored of the militarism that devours thousands of American children along with the hundreds of thousands of ragheads that they can't be bothered counting. But God always rescued his people from spreading their legs to the demons in those times by bringing calamity on them and on their gods of bloodshed. Surely the only hope that Christians in the US will find some redemption from their thralldom to this world is to be humiliated in their bloody-handed adultery by the failure of the worldly power that they adore.

But if I am going to say such truth, don't I have to say it here among them? It is here that some have to find the courage to stand in the truth of Christ, and so here is where I must do so if I am to do my duty.

The assault on my son, most recently by his psychologist and his mother, in order to impose upon him the modern drug culture so as not to actually have to love him and fight for him, warns me what the world will do to me if I dare to walk in truth. I know there's lots more where this came from. I can understand why anyone would want to make a deal rather than having to endure these floods of Belial, as Palm 18 describes it.

But indeed it is easier to stand than to fall down before wickedness, because it is easier to face the world's worst with God than to have the easiest ride without him. However difficult it may seem, the Christian life never works except as far as it becomes the way of least resistance.

"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

Over 30 years ago, a friend of my mother asked me, "How can I not be a shithead?" I didn't have a good answer for her, and six months later she took a shameful course and wrecked her life. You remember failures like that. That's a question it's worth working a lifetime to get the answer to, for myself and others. Do I have a good enough answer? I'm afraid not yet. But I'm working on it, as you're reading here.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Unplanned excitement

I couldn't go to the Jewish Voice for Peace conference because I had to stay with my son for the weekend, who with his mother's approval had been threatened by his psychologist with being flung into a mental hospital and drugged by force, and I have had to dismiss the psychologist, who did not want to go quietly.

However, his mother was unwilling to come to blows in court in order to support the psychologist. So the psychologist seems gone, but it clearly offends him that I have successfuly opposed his will, and it would be rash to trust him to accept his proper place quietly and not to try further mischief. So there do remain some loose ends to tie up.

The proverb is true indeed: "There are many plans in a man's heart, but the Lord's counsel, that shall stand." Good things have happened through these hard times, but my plans to see the JVP folks didn't happen, so I can bring no report on the conference.

Since today was the day I gave Dr. Rouanzoin the word, in advance of the Thursday appointment in which my son and I were to be bullied together, I took the day off work and spent time with my son, who now wants to avoid his mother as he wants to avoid the school district, since she wanted to do him as the school district had done. We went to visit his old preschool, today where he was last seen 11 years ago. He was instantly recognized after all these years, and they showed him around, and he spent quite some time pushing little kids on the swings. It was a great visit, and very good for both of us.

I may have more reflections on this crisis later, but for now, back to regular programming.