Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hard to top - Moshe Machover on Norman Finkelstein

President Holtschneider
DePaul University
1 E. Jackson Boulevard.,
Chicago, Ilinois
United States of America

Dear President Holtschneider:

I am an Israeli Jew. Your action in denying tenure to Dr Finkelstein has reminded me of another decision, made long ago regarding a compatriot of mine, Yeshua of Nazareth.

Intervening in an inter-Jewish dispute, Pontius Pilate, acting out of cowardice, succumbed to the pressure of the more powerful Jewish faction against the powerless dissident Jew.

Now you have done the same.

Go, wash your hands.

Professor Moshe' Machover
Houghton Street
London WC2A 2AE

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Pomona Bible Study

I was invited to a Bible study by someone who liked the way I prayed in church about Iraq. Not many in churches like how I pray about Iraq. In the same way, the woman that I plan to marry soon met me 4 years ago because she was sitting behind me in the Vietnamese restaurant and heard me answering my son about Iraq.

I'm reminded that integrity does pay.

We were in Romans 6, and especially verse 14, which says that sin will have no dominion over us. We've all found Romans 6:14 pretty difficult. Paul seems to have been hallucinating, because sin seems to have lots of dominion over us. But maybe he really wasn't hallucinating, since in the next chapter he talks about how sin relentlessly rides his butt and brings him into bondage all the time.

Well then, what was he talking about? As we talked about it, I saw as never before that Isaiah 1 describes specifically what sin not having dominion over us looks like. It happens as we reason together with God. Sin has no dominion over us if we're in Christ because we have this relationship in which we can talk with God and he talks back, bringing us to our senses and breaking our bewitchments. It is as Joel puts it, one of Paul's favorite verses, "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." From what? Lots of things, but not much, if sin is not one of them.

Sin has no dominion over us when we're calling on the Lord and being saved, and that's a constant thing. Being saved is not some theological "truth," but a condition of being rescued continually, since we're always in trouble. "Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him from them all."

This all fell together for me as I was talking and listening in there, even though no one else really saw all of this either. You know Jesus is in the midst of us when he's showing you stuff which no one in the room including you understands. So long as they want me around, I believe I'll be back.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

California Dreaming

Listening to the Mamas and the Papas tune at Amanda's graduation party last night, I realized that the song is a lament from exile, recalling Psalm 137. But I live in California and California will do for now, but California ain't no California. I was reminded that being born again - without which, Jesus says, we can't even see the kingdom of heaven - really means among other things being born again to a new home, a new birthplace. Thus if we don't leave behind family, lands, children, and even ourselves for our new home where we've never been, we're not fit to be disciples of Jesus. We're certainly not sons of Abraham and of his faith if we don't go out from our home in this world as he did.

My friend realized one day that there was a problem with his being distressed to the point of being weepy when the University of Michigan lost a football game. He asked the Lord about it, and he promptly heard the healing word, "You think that's where you're from." But Jesus gave his disciples a prayer which begins, "Our Father who is in heaven." That's where our Father is, so that's where our home is, where we're from - if we are indeed his disciples.

When we know this is so, God is not ashamed to be called our God (Hebrews 11:13-16). But if we think we're from here, and that this is our land and country, he is ashamed to be called our God. Rightly so, too, because if we count this world or any nation, religious group, family, or whatever to be our home, then we are always denying our Father in heaven.

This denial will certainly show up in our deeds. Our hearts being at home in this world is what makes us want to bomb people for Jesus and build walls against them so as to protect ourselves and our earthly treasures from them and to seize what is theirs - a Jesus of our own invention, not proclaimed by the apostles, that teaches a "gospel" of good news in the success of whatever group we identify with in this world.

As we're waving its flag and glorying in its supposed magnificence - its "pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is from the world" - we won't be glorying in Christ Jesus, who never waved anybody's flag, and who was crucified by those who did not appreciate him for that. We certainly will not be "putting no confidence in the flesh." We won't be "worshipping God in the Spirit," the Spirit which glorifies God in Jesus Christ and never any power of this world. If we get these things wrong, then as Paul states in Philippians 3:2-3, we are not the "true circumcision," but are instead of "the dogs, the evil workers, the mutilation" - religious people that he emphatically warns to beware of. Look it up.

It's time to consider our ways, to examine ourselves in light of the gospel proclaimed by Jesus and his apostles to see if we're in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). That's not the gospel of our own heads or of "Christian leaders" who don't talk, act, live, or die much like Jesus - and whom the world does not dishonor as it dishonored Jesus because they belong to it and the world therefore loves them.

All kinds of places, people, and things in this world - including ourselves - want to claim the place of home in our hearts. Some of them are suitable temporary stops, like Elim in the wilderness. But if you don't want God to be ashamed of you, if you don't want to eventually be eternally ashamed of yourself, you will count them all seducers and enemies of real life when they even suggest that they might be anything more, as we look up to our home where we've never been - our Father who is in heaven.

"I will lift up my eyes to the hills - from whence comes my help?"

I will lift up my eyes to the hills - from whence comes my help?
My help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord your keeper; the Lord your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.

Psalm 121

When Adam was alone and needed a companion, God showed him all the animals first. None would do, and then he was ready for God to put him into a deep sleep and make him a companion from his own side. Here, too, we lift up our eyes to the hills and see that there is no help there, and then we're ready to see where our help comes from - God willing.

But what if we won't humble ourselves that way and we just grope for a bigger hammer? That is the usual way, the broad and easy way that many take. We have to humble ourselves to agree that there is no help in the hills or anything else that we can reach ourselves.

If we do that, the blessings that follow are for us. If they're not, it might not be because the psalm is not true. Maybe we're still expecting our help from the hills, or worse, not looking up at all but to our own selves.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

"He that winks the eye causes trouble"

I think it was Will Rogers that said, "Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment." Wisdom is to receive instruction and love reproof, so as to receive as much good judgment as possible from the experience and bad judgment of others, instead of having to learn it all on our own dime. Who can afford that many dimes, and isn't there enough bitterness in life as it is? But as Rogers pointed out elsewhere, "Some men learn by listening, while others have to pee on the electric fence for themselves."

But sometimes, in God's mercy, we can learn by doing right - as the psalm says, "Good understanding is to those who do."

Yesterday I hooked up a flight home for Stephen, and Continental's software screwed up. Knowing he was a 14-year-old child, who could not fly unaccompanied, it routed him through the last flight out of Houston and didn't charge me the extra $95 for unaccompanied minors, somehow forgetting that age 14 must fly as an unaccompanied minor. The thought that I might leave well enough alone did cross my mind.

However, I remembered how it is written, "He who winks the eye causes trouble." I looked and foresaw trouble when he reached the ticket counter, so I called them to have them straighten it out. The guy on the phone had redone it and was about to put it through with the extra charge when Continental's phone system abruptly tossed me off the back of the truck, as such big phone systems sometimes do.

Back to the beginning, another wait through some odious "music" - not that Continental is worse than usual that way. Only the Internal Revenue Service plays really good music while you wait. But then the lady that answered hooked me up and, figuring that the airline had screwed up and ought to eat it, decided not to add the extra. So this time I saved a hundred bucks for doing right, besides the trouble Stephen won't see when he gets to the airport in Montgomery.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

"I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war"

In my trouble I cried to the Lord, and he answered me.
Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.
What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue?
Sharp arrows of the warrior, with the coals of the broom tree.

Woe is me, for I sojourn in Meshech, for I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
Too long has my soul had its dwelling with those who hate peace.
I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war.

- Psalm 120

On my way to drop off Stephen for his trip to Alabama Thursday, I stopped by the district office of Chino Valley Unified School District to tell them that since I hadn't heard from them, I would have to assume they did not want to come to an agreement if I didn't hear from them by the following Friday (June 8). Saturday I got their rejection of my claim, mailed Friday morning June 1, stating that the full board had decided this on May 3rd, a month before, but had not told me.

I clearly must now sue CVUSD for damages to establish safety for Stephen and to deter them from such conduct in future. Indeed, until this is done, it's not possible for the district to do their job and educate Stephen, because he can have no assurance that they will not do something like it again, and so how can we even get started together. But what a drag it is!

I have certainly delighted in war myself. A big reason for doing so is that war really is such a drag that only by drugging ourselves with lust for battle can we bring ourselves to do it when we must - unless we get our help from God to do what we must even if it's no fun.

It's impossible to love war and conflict unless we're being proud. That's undoubtedly why this first of the Songs of Ascents confronts the love of war and calls us to humble ourselves in order to become the embodiment of peace, as does James chapter 4.

The psalm begins with his trouble, which is lying lips and a deceitful tongue. It's not too clear whether it's his own lying lips and deceitful tongue or other people's, but I vote for both - that's certainly my experience. At the end he further describes his trouble, those who hate peace and are for war, but isn't our own love of war our biggest trouble? It leads to conceit and arrogance, and that has to lead to shame.

It is impossible to delight in war without having lying lips and a deceitful tongue. We have to lie about our lust for war, we have to lie to wage a war which God doesn't send us to, and we have to lie to ourselves and others about the people we're warring against to justify your own criminality.

Here's some news for us war lovers from the middle of the psalm. The reward for the deceitful, war-loving tongue is "Sharp arrows of the warrior, with the coals of the broom tree." God's judgment is that if we love war he'll give us all the war we can stomach.

They all marched off rejoicing in August 1914, knowing that they'd have a glorious time kicking the other guy's butt for a few months and then come home to the kisses of the pretty girls. Well, after 4 years of receiving sharp arrows of the warrior, they went home in 1918 with a different point of view.

The Nazis, too, marched off to dreams of martial glory. 2 million people assembled in Berlin to cheer Hitler after the fall of France in 1940. Another 5 years of sharp arrows of the warrior and coals of the broom tree, specifically British and American incendiary bombs making firestorms in their cities, taught those millions the downside of war.

The proud man gets high on fighting. Winning at war is a drug that substitutes for right relationships with God and others. The humble man wants to avoid fighting, not because he is a coward but because it's a disgraceful act that brings punishment, unless God requires it - and then it is still very dangerous, enticing to pride and consequent shame and punishment.

I've come to see that attacking people and appeasing them, without reference to God's will, are actually very much the same thing. Either path involves reliance on lying lips and a deceitful tongue. Whether we go to war, as I am compelled to do in this case, or whether we yield, as Isaac did when the Philistines argued with him about the wells he had dug, we have to be humbling ourselves under God's hand, which amounts to always taking care to yield to the truth at every point. As I go to trial against the Chino Valley Unified School District, may I learn more and more to keep this in mind.

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