Tuesday, January 26, 2010

From the Ashes

I recently posted a question on facebook that asked, "Why is it that people blame God when tragedy strikes?" It was really a rhetorical comment based on feedback I had read recently referencing the earthquake situation in Haiti. I had read some responses to a news blog surrounding the comments made by Pat Robertson. In those comments he basically said that it was Haiti's own fault that tragedy had befallen them because of a "pact they made with the devil" back in the 1700's. What I find more interesting than Robertson's statement itself, is the variety of responses that come because of it. It's interesting in that, for all the religious apathy that seems to exist across the board, a lot of people have a lot to say about one persons religious opinion.
One person opined that people shake their fist at God when tragedy occurs for much the same reason that they praise Him when fortune falls. Which isn't really an answer as much as an observation. My son reasoned that it was because people tend to shirk responsibility for their own actions, but then he went on to say that no fault for the quake, as well as the ensuing loss of life could be attributed to the people of Haiti. That in any instance, whether we were practicing Christians, or practicing voodoo, we should set aside our beliefs, and that utilizing the "Golden Rule" to effect relief was our responsibility. While I certainly mirror his belief that we, as compassionate individuals with the means, have a responsibility to respond and help all we can with the effects of this "natural disaster", I must also agree that another comment he made..."Ignoring the effects that ones actions have on their own life as well as the lives of others, there are those who put on their blinders and ignore the likely possibility that we are more often than not responsible for the circumstances we find ourselves in, good or bad"...is true, and applicable here as well. He wasn't applying that reasoning to the Haitians, but rather to those who blame God. I think truthfully, we must apply it to the Haitians as well. To do this, however, one must peel the layers of that onion back many levels to understand the "responsibility" that exists. To be sure, the people of Haiti certainly did not cause the natural disaster any more than the people of New Orleans caused Katrina, nor do I believe they deserved it. But, as he also stated, "they were ill prepared for the effects of it". Truly then it must be asked, who/what is responsible for this state of being "ill prepared"? Preparation is affected by a lifestyle as well as a physical act. Being proper (or rather improper) stewards of the resources at hand is often the culprit. So one can't "exclude natural disasters" when you look at the total outcome of a situation referencing blame. Not that assessing blame helps in the situation at hand, but it might possibly avert the magnitude of it from occurring in the future. Again I fall back on the example of the natural disaster that befell the U.S. The leadership of New Orleans had resources allotted to them in prior times that could have been (and were designated to be) used to strengthened known weaknesses in the levies. However, they weren't. So, in that instance, the "uncontrollable" became more devastating because of the "controllable". Who is to blame for that, and what is the fundamental reason for the diversion of funds? Did they utilize the golden rule? I think it is safe to say that the people of Haiti have embraced a religious lifestyle for centuries that is not conducive to progress, and the obvious benefits of that progress. They have but two social/economic classes of people there. Those that "had" and lived in opulence, and those who "had not" and lived in poverty and ignorance. They've had more civil strife there since their "liberation" than virtually any country on the planet. Conversely, why is it that The United States is the most powerful nation in the world? Could it be that our religious and moral background has produced the schools, technology, and social infrastructure necessary to elevate a people to economic prosperity? And the benefit from the effects that prosperity has on things like architectural integrity, building codes, vehicle safety measures, laws, disaster plans, human rights, etc.? All of which are the physical results of a strong moral/social structure as produced by our Judeo/Christian beliefs, (which belief's incidentally, formulated the "golden rule"). While I do not necessarily subscribe to Pat Robertson's "pact with the devil" statement, I sincerely doubt that the comment was made from a state of senility, as my son suggested. But rather Pat's firm belief in the responsibility, or accountability if you will, of the Haitian people for their own predicament, as seen from a different perspective. Embrace the golden calf, and you become God's enemy. Enmity with God may no longer result in judgmental annihilation (as evidenced by the New Testament), but it is separation. God will not protect a people, as a whole, who do not recognize Him. And whether you believe in an unseen force of the universe or not, no matter how you drop the apple, it still falls down. Though my son quotes, "God IS our refuge and strength....and we don't fear though it's waters roar, and foam, and it's mountains quake", I'm not sure he understands it's not because we (Christians) believe it won't/can't happen to us....but rather, because we know that if it does happen we have a better place to go. Those that "believe on Him", possess a peace that promotes sensibility. A sensibility that says that though we do not fear death, we live our lives in such a fashion that we don't promote it unnecessarily. If you've read previous blogs of mine , you may begin to understand my perspective that, while as Christians we should be tolerant of the ignorance of unbelief, and the obvious social/economic outcome of that ignorance, we also shouldn't allow that tolerance to over shadow the truth of it's effects and our responsibility to combat it. Whether our effort be through religious invocation prior to it's outcome, or humanitarian efforts after it. A solemn fact is, the majority of the relief that will come to the Haitian people will come from organizations sponsored by the Christian Church worldwide,in one fashion or another. This same church has been sending missionaries to Haiti for three hundred years, attempting through religious persuasion, to bring a level of educational progress that might have softened the death toll. Now, there are no coo doe's that should be realized from this, but you can be sure there will be less media play for it than from the sports/media moguls that offer assistance, as well as less negative fallout after it's all said and done. And lastly, what religious state of mind does one suppose better edifies "The Golden Rule"? The blood letting of chickens, and burning of an effigy in ritual sacrifice for protection, or the solemn prayer, and efforts of a christian missionary to educate? My heart grieves for the massive loss of human life, as well as the chronic ignorance that made the majority of it possible. It also grieves for the general lack of understanding of the root foundation of "The Golden Rule". As well as the state of the spiritual (or non-spiritual) system that will exist in this country once we are socialized, and all traces of God removed from our national governing philosophy because believers are brainwashed into believing that to express ourselves "implicitly" is not "politically correct". Thereby dissolving the foundations of the golden rule, as well as the country that used it as its basic principle of inception. Lessons learned are lost if they are not taken into practical consideration. If Haiti can be taken as an example of a nation that has turned its back on the One True God, and has suffered for the ignorance of that position in the manner I've described, we in this country have much to consider about the path we are on. The "half full cup" side of the equation is that, given the total destruction of the infrastructure of Haiti's culture, and the proximity of the U.S. to her, the positive Christian nature of our influence in rebuilding our southern sister may serve as an example for the world to see. Where we failed in expressing our benevolence in waging war on another's behalf, rebuilding a third world country with little to offer in return after a natural disaster may show the world that the United States isn't the monster they perceive us to be, and that the backbone of our efforts truly are altruistic. We care. In any case, one can be sure that the Haiti that rises from the ashes will be better than the one destroyed. And as every good thing comes from God, He will get the Glory.

Friday, January 22, 2010

When it Rains

The Old Testament outlines a covenant based on judgment. Serve Me, or suffer the consequences. This is seen in the plagues, floods, and the genocide of war as noted in scripture. However, the New Testament ushered in a new covenant based on Grace. Love Me, and I will protect you and offer you hope. Acknowledge Me, do the very best you can to follow the rules I establish, accept that your failure to be perfect is expected and yet the debt of punishment that failure invokes is covered by Grace, and the Blood of Jesus. For this faith you will dwell with me for eternity. I do not believe that the loving God I serve deliberately sets out any longer to destroy thousands of innocents at a time. Especially when He promised in scripture it would never happen again. But push him away, deliberately, and one can no longer expect His protection. Kick Him out of our schools, and we pave the way for evil to come in and kill our children. Remove Him from our government, and we open the road for a moral collapse of the system we live by. Erase Him from our nation, and we are at the mercy of the random events of nature. Haiti pushed God away a long time ago...why blame Him now for not protecting them from a tectonic shift that occurred thirty five miles beneath the surface? We have received many wake-up calls in the last few years. We, as a nation, are not protected from the evils man inflicts on one another, witnessed by the 9/11 attacks, nor the ravages of nature, as witnessed by Katrina. And now, so very close by, we have witnessed the total collapse of an extreme example of a nation that has turned away from God. Whether He specifically caused it, or not, only He knows. We do know, however, that He didn't stop it from happening. If one believes He exists, one has to ask themselves why. I'd rather live my life as though His Word were true, and in the end never know it wasn't, than disregard it now, and exist forever wishing it weren't. Rain falls on the just, and the unjust alike....the question is, do you have an umbrella?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010



Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley


This is the poem that gave artistic license to the current movie “Invictus”. I’ve seen the critics copy of it, and am here to tell you that it is a fine movie. Centered around Nelson Mandela, the President of South Africa released after 27 some odd years in prison, and responsible for the democratic turn-around of that country from its Apartheid background, the movie renders a fine example of Christian Grace. I’ve not studied Mandela’s spiritual background, I suppose it to be Christian in origin, given the portrayal of his character in the movie, yet the movie isn’t touted as a religious vehicle. Any more so than the aforementioned poem is. The author William Ernest Henley, suffered from tuberculosis as a boy, and the poem appears to come from the inspiration lent by the fortitude that allowed him to conquer his infirmities. It’s final two lines…”I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul” at first glance might tend to preclude a dependence on God, yet a master is not sovereign, nor a captain a creator, so I have no problem with the spiritual aspect of the poem. At any rate, given that this particular poem isn’t a factual representation of the literary example given by Mandela to the rugby team captain, but rather another quote from an American president is, it isn’t the Nexis of the movies inspiration to me.

For there is much about the film that does inspire. Twenty seven years in prison would definitely conquer most men. Mandela combating apartheid, bigotry, and prejudice successfully upon his release is monumental at the least. His use of a national sports team as a tool to chip away at the barriers between the past, and present was a stroke of genius. And yet there is one point, for me, that stands out more than any other. That is grace, and the forgiveness that comes from it’s expression.

During his campaign for the presidency, Mandela understood that his opposition was the “enemy”. Yet, after achieving success, he recognized that his opposition maintained control over essential aspects of the countries government, and therefore must be worked with, rather than against. To succor that oppositions good will, his plan was to support the one symbol of unity the preceding establishment had utilized, to wit, the rugby team.

Many of his own supporters lobbied to remove the team from existence, out of spite, and revenge, more than anything. Simply because, now, as the ruling power, they could. And yet Mandela, in spite of the fact that this very team represented the white political majority of the past, as well as all the persecution, prejudice, and pain that went along with it, chose to champion them, and in fact inspire them to do better. As a gift of balm for the wounds of the past, he made winning the rugby World Cup his mission for those first few years of his presidency. He understood the principle of “heaping burning coals on your enemies head”.

At first glance, that statement in itself reeks of revenge, and vindication. Yet, if a person were to conduct a valid study of the referenced Christian scripture, they would find the source of this strategy of doing good to overcome evil sound. “But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.” Romans 12:20

I have a mentor that I have had the pleasure of sitting at the knee of from time to time. He originates from Lebanon, is a converted Muslim, has a doctorate in Christian theology, is fluent in Hebrew, and describes this scenario from scripture as thus: In the ancient cities, and villages of the Middle East, due to the sparseness of these villages, as well as the importance of life giving fire, it was a common practice to offer passing strangers a coal from the communal hearth. This communal hearth was maintained by the village, and kept perpetually burning. Travelers often didn’t possess the means to start a fire, and when they ventured into town, whether they might later prove to be enemies, or not, they were presented with a bowl of embers from the hearth, which custom of the time involved carrying balanced on the head. They were offered a spot within the protective walls of the village, and treated as brothers. The Hebrew words for “enemy, and stranger” are loosely synonymous, and derive from the same root word. So when we treat a stranger, or an enemy, with kindness, rather than hostility, by giving them something so important of ourselves, as life sustaining fire, or the likes, we offer them an alternative to what they might have expected from us in view of the circumstances. A stranger comes, expecting wariness, or hostility, and is offered a place at the hearth, he becomes a friend. An enemy comes, expecting perhaps at the least hostility, and at the worst open warfare, yet receives instead kindness, he may very well change his perspective on the situation, and become an ally.

This is Grace applied. And while I admit that I have been aware of this explanation of the scripture, and it’s applied intent, for some years, this is by far the best example of it applied in the real world that I have observed. In fact, as I watched the movie, and Mandela explained to his constituents his reasoning for re-instating the rugby team, I turned to my wife, and exclaimed to her these very words….” Heaping burning coals on their heads, that’s what it means! " The success of the practice is history. A nation was re-united, and a shining example of ambivalence, and grace was presented to the world in real time. An ancient rite, applied in modern times, lends credibility to the golden rule…”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Would that we could, and would, continue the lesson………..Unconquered Grace