God Is with the Company of the Righteous

Today is Yom HaShoah, and I had a few thoughts I wanted to post.

First of all, we should take some time to pause and think about the atrocities of the Holocaust, and especially of those people who were victims of it. How could such a thing happen? Even if one could imagine human beings capable of such evil, how could God allow it to occur? Lots of books and movies and other forms of contemplation on this topic have been produced in intervening years, so I won’t go into that here any further. My challenge to you is, look inside yourself—darkness and sin is present in all of us; “it is lurking at the door,” as God reminds Cain in Gen 4.7. As a society, in the ways that we order our collective life and existence, the lurking beast takes on monstrous proportions, but because we are inhabitants within it, it is often insidiously unseen and unacknowledged.

Have you ever asked yourself, if you were a German in the ’30s and ’40s, would you have just gone along with what was happening? Would you have stood up? The number who did were pitifully few, and mercilessly suppressed. If nothing else, the Third Reich teaches us that we should always be looking at our society—including our governments—with wary eyes. For followers of Christ this is even more important.

Which brings me to another thing I wanted to bring up on Yom HaShoah—actually, not a thing, but a person. His name was Chiune Sempo Sugihara. I came across him sometime last year on Yad Vashem’s website, amazed that Japan of all countries had a listing under the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ section. He was a career diplomat for the imperial government of Japan and was stationed in Lithuania. Read his story for yourself, but suffice it to say, he was personally responsible for saving at least 6,000 Jewish people’s lives by approving transit visas for them so that they could flee.

Chiune Sempo SugiharaOf particular interest for me is that, while serving in the Manchurian Foreign Office earlier, he had converted to Orthodoxy. His Wikipedia article says that he resigned as deputy foreign minister in Manchuria because of the Japanese mistreatment of Chinese workers. This is someone I like to keep in my thoughts, especially today. People like him, or like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, are examples to us of how we might be authentic disciples of Christ in the midst of a world hostile to the Way.

Short Introduction to Chiune Sugihara

But did you catch that he did work in the Manchurian government? If you know your modern Asian history, you know that that is not something to brag about (although, as I said, he did quit his post there). This brings to mind the third thing I wanted to bring up today: this day is very significant as Yom HaShoah, but by accident of history, it is now of wider significance, especially for Americans, but to people around the world, as well: late last night, President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed by US operatives earlier in the day.

I’ve noticed that some people have expressed unease with the amount of celebration that has occurred in our country at the death of someone—even if it is bin Laden’s. First of all, the response of the general society is not very surprising. According to the world’s standard, and according to the President, “justice has been done”—and I don’t mean that to sound sarcastic; Osama bin Laden deserved death for what he did. But one thing has been at the forefront of my mind since the announcement—we’ve all got blood on our hands. Al Qaeda and our national security concerns have seen to that most recently, and it has been vividly displayed before our eyes almost every moment of the last nine and a half years, although the attacks on September 11th certainly didn’t bring this reality about. Maybe the killing that America has perpetrated could be justified in some way by someone (although not all of it could), but the follower of Christ is called to the renunciation of violence.

In the midst of so much violence and death—it’s so close to each of us that many do not even recognize it—what are you going to do to be God’s love in the world? God in Jesus Christ showed himself to be a God who scandalously throws down not just his power, but his right to just vengeance. How well do you know this love of God’s?

Well, Bonhoeffer wrote in a letter to his fellow disciples that “where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with human words,” and I think I’ve already said more than necessary. Think on the significance of this day, and let it impact how you live in our society.

May God bless everyone.

Book Taste As Indicator of Compatibility

Reading woman enraptured.I came across a very funny essay on book tastes in relationships on the NY Times website:

It’s Not You, It’s Your Books, by Rachel Donadio, New York Times Books.

Although it covers a range of opinions on the topic, I think I lean toward the idea that perhaps something could be learned from a comparison of favorite books (or a check to see if the other person reads at all…).

By the way, ladies, if you’re interested in my literary inclinations, you can check out my GoodReads profile here. ;-)

That Other President

Portrait of George WashingtonI was listening to Scott Simon on NPR on Saturday, and he had an amazing little segment in which he reflected on George Washington. It was really well-written, and he said some pretty profound things about him, especially how he kind of pales in comparison to Lincoln in the American imagination. Although I love Lincoln (probably my favorite president), this little piece impacted me quite a bit.

Listen to it here!

Thus inspired, I’ve collected a few quotes:

Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.

Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God.

Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity, before it is entitled to the appellation.

Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.

The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief

Samuel L. Clemensby Samuel Langhorn Clemens (1867)

Once there was a bad little boy, whose name was Jim — though, if you will notice, you will find that bad little boys are nearly always called James in your Sunday-school books. It was very strange, but still it was true, that this one was called Jim.

He didn’t have any sick mother, either — a sick mother who was pious and had the consumption, and would be glad to lie down in the grave and be at rest, but for the strong love she bore her boy, and the anxiety she felt that the world would be harsh and cold towards him when she was gone. Most bad boys in the Sunday books are named James, and have sick mothers, who teach them to say, “Now I lay me down,” etc., and sing them to sleep with sweet plaintive voices, and then kiss them goodnight, and kneel down by the bedside and weep. But it was different with this fellow. He was named Jim, and there wasn’t any thing the matter with his mother — no consumption, or any thing of that kind. She was rather stout than otherwise, and she was not pious; moreover, she was not anxious on Jim’s account. She said if he were to break his neck, it wouldn’t be much loss. She always spanked Jim to sleep, and she never kissed him goodnight; on the contrary, she boxed his ears when she was ready to leave him.

Once this little bad boy stole the key of the pantry and slipped in there and helped himself to some jam, and filled up the vessel with tar, so that his mother would never know the difference; but all at once a terrible feeling didn’t come over him, and something didn’t seem to whisper to him, “Is it right to disobey my mother? Isn’t it sinful to do this? Where do bad little boys go who gobble up their good kind mother’s jam?” and then he didn’t kneel down all alone and promise never to be wicked any more, and rise up with a light, happy heart, and go and tell his mother all about it, and beg her forgiveness, and be blessed by her with tears of pride and thankfulness in her eyes. No; that is the way with all other bad boys in the books; but it happened otherwise with this Jim, strangely enough. He ate that jam, and said it was bully, in his sinful, vulgar way; and he put in the tar, and said that was bully also, and laughed, and observed that “the old woman would get up and snort” when she found it out; and when she did find it out, he denied knowing any thing about it, and she whipped him severely, and he did the crying himself. Every thing about this boy was curious — every thing turned out differently with him from the way it does to the bad Jameses in the books.

Once he climbed up in Farmer Acorn’s apple-tree to steal apples, and the limb didn’t break, and he didn’t fall and break his arm, and get torn by the farmer’s great dog, and then languish on a sick bed for weeks, and repent and become good. Oh! no; he stole as many apples as he wanted, and came down all right; and he was all ready for the dog, too, and knocked him endways with a rock when he came to tear him. It was very strange — nothing like it ever happened in those mild little books with marbled backs, and with pictures in them of men with swallow-tailed coats, and bell-crowned hats, and pantaloons that are short in the legs, and women with the waists of their dresses under their arms and no hoops on. Nothing like it in any of the Sunday-school books.

Once he stole the teacher’s penknife, and when he was afraid it would be found out, and he would get whipped, he slipped it into George Wilson’s cap — poor Widow Wilson’s son, the moral boy, the good little boy of the village, who always obeyed his mother, and never told an untruth, and was fond of his lessons and infatuated with Sunday-school. And when the knife dropped from the cap, and poor George hung his head and blushed, as if in conscious guilt, and the grieved teacher charged the theft upon him, and was just in the very act of bringing the switch down upon his trembling shoulders, a white-haired improbable justice of the peace did not suddenly appear in their midst and strike an attitude and say, “spare this noble boy — there stands the cowering culprit! I was passing the school-door at recess, and, unseen myself, I saw the theft committed!” And then Jim didn’t get whaled, and the venerable justice didn’t read the tearful school a homily, and take George by the hand and say such a boy deserved to be exalted, and then tell him to come and make his home with him, and sweep out the office, and make fires, and run errands, and chop wood, and study law, and help his wife to do household labors, and have all the balance of the time to play, and get forty cents a month, and be happy. No; it would have happened that way in the books, but it didn’t happen that way to Jim. No meddling old clam of a justice dropped in to make trouble, and so the model boy GLeorge got threshed, and Jim was glad of it; because, you know, Jim hated moral boys. Jim said he was “down on them milksops.” Such was the coarse language of this bad, neglected boy.

But the strangest things that ever happened to Jim was the time he went boating on Sunday and didn’t get drowned, and that other time that he got caught out in the storm when he was fishing on Sunday, and didn’t get struck by lightning. Why, you might look, and look, and look through the Sunday-school books, from now till next Christmas, and you would never come across any thing like this. Oh! no; you would find that all the bad boys who go boating on Sunday invariably get drowned; and all the bad boys who get caught out in storms, when they are fishing on Sunday, infallibly get struck by lightning. Boats with bad boys in them always upset on Sunday, and it always storms when bad boys go fishing on the Sabbath. How this Jim ever escaped is a mystery to me.

This Jim bore a charmed life — that must have been the way of it. Nothing could hurt him. He even gave the elephant in the menagerie a plug of tobacco, and the elephant didn’t knock the top of his head off with his trunk. He browsed around the cupboard after essence of peppermint, and didn’t make a mistake and drink aqua fortis. He stole his father’s gun and went hunting on the Sabbath, and didn’t shoot three or four of his fingers off. He struck his little sister on the temple with his fist when he was angry, and she didn’t linger in pain through long summer days, and die with sweet words of forgiveness upon her lips that redoubled the anguish of his breaking heart. No; she got over it. He ran off and went to sea at last, and didn’t come back and find himself sad and alone in the world, his loved ones sleeping in the quiet churchyard, and the vine-embowered home of his boyhood tumbled down and gone to decay. Ah! no; he came home drunk as a piper, and got into the station-house the first thing.

And he grew up, and married, and raised a large family, and brained them all with an ax one night, and got wealthy by all manner of cheating and rascality, and now he is the infernalest wickedest scoundrel in his native village, and is universally respected, and belongs to the Legislature.

So you see there never was a bad James in the Sunday-school books that had such a streak of luck as this sinful Jim with the charmed life.

Death of the Conscience

Abbé PierreI just wanted to post a quick thought as I observe the mourning of the death of someone who many French people have been quoted as saying was France’s conscience: the Roman Catholic priest and advocate for the poor, Abbé Pierre.

I was talking to my Senior Bible class about the heroism of this man, and mentioned in particular his 1954 radio address to the nation calling for life-saving aid to the poor from the everyday people now.

What has struck me is that when you hear the people of France speak of l’abbé Pierre, it sounds like they’re talking about Jesus. Now of course, not a one of them mentions anything about God or Christianity (despite the fact that he was a priest, his motivation for helping the poor being spiritual in nature). In fact, here’s a quote from President Jacques Chirac (the language, of course, intentionally evokes the image of Christ by its employment of theologically-loaded language):

We have lost an immense figure, a conscience, an incarnation of goodness.
—(‘French homeless campaigner dies’ from the BBC)

What I’m wondering is, first of all, when will Christians start to realize that to live as Christ did is the best way to evangelize and make a difference in the world? and second, is the life of abbé Pierre actually going to make a difference in the public life of France (and perhaps Western Europe)? As I said, it was weird to hear people speak of this man in such an irreligious way. Is this cause for despair, or is his life a cause for hope for Christianity in Europe?

a sea-change / Into something rich and strange

Question: With the latest revelation regarding a conservative/Christian leader’s homosexual tendencies, is the evangelical Christian community going to change the way they view/handle/talk about homosexuality?

Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, denies most of what some guy (apparently a male prostitute) is saying he did (particularly the gay sex and the meth), but I don’t know. It looks to me like he did it all.

It seems to me that evangelicals do a lot of talk about how homosexuality is wrong, but not much to actually do anything constructive about it.

“Church forces out Haggard for ‘sexually immoral conduct’”CNN.com

Ted HaggardEven though discussions in evangelical circles regarding homosexuality as a pastoral issue have acknowledged that, statistically speaking, about one in every ten people in the pews may have homosexual inclinations (I think that’s the figure I’ve heard), the extent to which I’ve seen the evangelical church deal with the issue is condemnation and a defense of “traditional marriage.” In fact, Haggard himself has apparently spoken out strongly against gay marriage, etc.

And then, what to make of his involvement in White House policy? Add to that some comments from James Dobson and the head of the Family Research Council (“a Washington-based conservative policy group,” according to CNN), it all ends up giving me the impression that evangelicals (at least their leadership) have become engrossed in politics to the point of neglect of a real need in the body of Christ.

I personally would like to see the discourse move beyond a fear of what may or may not become legal, as well as a prejudice against those who are not 100% heterosexual, to a focus on the power of the Gospel. It seems to me that Jesus would care less about what the political wonks on Capitol Hill are cooking up or the White House agenda regarding gay marriage may be or what the Supreme Court’s decision on whether a Texas anti-sodomy law should be enforced is, and more about the real problems, the darkness in which all of us have existed our entire lives, and how God’s Kingdom has come to break its stranglehold on all our lives, even on the lives of mega-church pastors.

UPDATE: I must say, from what the article below says, I am heartened by the response of the congregation of New Life Church. Response to situations that have become horrible has usually been good, though. It’s dealing with the problem before it gets so bad that I’m wondering about…

“Colo. Minister Admits ‘Sexual Immorality’”Washington Post