Category: America

To my pastor

It’s been a while since I’ve written you directly.  I’ve included you on a few other things that I thought you might be interested in, but I’ve fallen behind in rattling your cage.  Or mine.  It’s all a matter of perspective…

First, I enjoyed the sermon today.  Not often that you hear Darfur mentioned from a Baptist pulpit, or the heresies of prosperity and wellness theology reprimanded.  Speaking of Baptists, I read in yesterday’s newspaper that the Missouri SBC had purged some churches for their dealings with churches that weren’t on the “approved” list.  Has the SBC always been capable of thinning the herd?  I thought participation was voluntary on the part of churches sending their messengers.

We attended a Catholic funeral mass yesterday in Little Rock.  My son’s swim coach for the last 4 years died at 57 after a long battle with cancer.  See for the obituary and comments.  What struck me most about the service was its elegant simplicity.  No giant video screens.  No canned music.  No carpet or padded pews.  It was easy to listen to the message while gazing at the crucifix and stained glass windows.  No worries about anyone bumping into the camera or following the pastor’s motion back and forth from the pulpit.  No clapping.  On the downside, there was an ample amount of silliness about the Pope and Mary.

At one point, everyone (who knew what to do) recited a prayer with their arms extended and palms upward.  It was a bit ritualistic in that it wasn’t done at the prompting of the Holy Spirit (or whatever spirit moves people to do such things spontaneously), but I’m starting to wonder if I was a bit too reactive about your similar gestures in an ealier e-mail.  Maybe we’re all wired to react that way, and I’m just too stubborn to give in to it.  It’s an interesting dilemna, one that the Catholics have cheerfully avoided dealing with — when do we eschew certain behaviors because even infidels and pagans indulge in it?  Seems like we Baptists are a pretty reluctant lot when it comes to incorporating the worship practices of other religions and cultures.  Or at least we used to be.  Is there a pattern as to what we adopt and what we disown?

The priest at the funeral opened his remarks this way.  There was an old preacher who realized he was dying, so he summoned two members of his congregation to his home.  One was a lawyer and the other an IRS auditor.  Neither of the men were particularly close to the preacher, so they were a bit confused about the request, but complied anyway.  On arriving, they were seated outside the preacher’s bedroom for what seemed like hours.  Finally, the men were ushered in and the preacher weakly motioned for them to sit on either side of his deathbed.  He grasped their hands and then laid back down with a satisfied smile on his face.  As the preacher’s breathing grew fainter, the lawyer finally broke his silence and asked him why they had been called to be with him during his final moments.  He opened his eyes and whispered, “Jesus was one of three men crucified that day, and like our Lord, I want to die between two thieves!”  After the laughter died down, the priest continued, “While it is important how a man dies, it is even more important how he lives…”

A couple of weeks ago, the church bulletin mentioned something about “prayer walking.”  I had never heard of it until then, but shortly after, it was mentioned as a regular practice of the now less-than-reverend Ted Haggard’s church, where they would encircle municipal buildings and spray them with water and exhort evil spirits to depart.  Is this a new fad?  Is there a historical/traditional basis for it?  Is it similar to the Catholic procession where the transformed wafer is carried from one place to another?

Finally, my daughter came home from UCA this weekend.  She attends a Conway SBC that I won’t name.  Lately, her SS teacher and many of her close friends have engaged in something she calls “spiritual cleansing” where they methodically and very thoroughly confess all manner of extremely intimate things to each other.  She looked over the literature involved and was reluctant to participate (she is her mother and father’s daughter!).  The result has been that those who have been “spiritually cleansed” are now less friendly towards Jennifer than before.  I guess my question for you is, how prevalent is this movement?  She brought home the paperwork involved and most of it is copyrighted by a John W. Gilliom.  I Googled the name but did not find anything.  She is expected to document a personal inventory of her involvement with the occult (including yoga, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny), generational sins we parents have passed along (including anxiety, fear and hypocrisy) , her exposure to false teaching (most of which are spelled out, but there are also checkboxes for “other”), drug use (Prozac didn’t make the list), moral failure (this gets very detailed, including lust and fantasy, but only when they persist for “a period of two weeks or more”), emotional pain, spousal and family member emotional/physical/spiritual/sexual abuse (the paperwork asks for names and details), and wrong feelings against God.  All in all, there are about 40 pages of lists and forms to fill out, and special prayers to recite.  The more I read as I worked on this e-mail, the more it freaked me out.  Who is this guy and what is he trying to do?  For example, in the section where you’re supposed to check off exposure to false teaching, he mentions things as general as being a member of a cult, but then zeros in on obscure (to me) but detailed things like Echkankar, Father Divine, Roy Masters (who in the heck is Roy Masters?), and Silva mind control.

She doesn’t know if her pastor is aware of this going on at the church or not.  Should she ask him about it?

Hope you have time to read all this.  I value our correspondence…

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Space: the final affront

I’ve been thinking about your theory lately, that the never-ending war in Iraq exists because GW needs/wants to avenge his father’s honor after Uncle Saddam tried to kill him (can’t imagine why, can you?)…  It’s an interesting idea, but I just can’t accept that a US President can order the world’s most lethal military into action on such a whimsical notion.  There has to be a cabal surrounding him who are equally motivated in selling such an adventure by wrapping it in the trappings of a bonafide justification.  What would motivate such a cabal?  Surely not GW’s petty frat-boy notions about family honor.  Who is completely devoted to GW?  Only the Religious Right invests the totality of their blind faith in this president as their rock-star messiah and I do not think his inner circles are populated by true believers from that distant fringe.  Are America’s top military leaders and planners so eager to fight anyone, anywhere, that they will abandon all reason and jump at the feeblest excuses for war?  Perhaps, but I hope not or we are surely witnesses to the last days of this corrupt, mercenary empire (see postscript below).  Who lurks in the dark shadows of the People’s house?  Who are the puppet masters controlling the strings of an obviously inept GW?  Where do their true loyalties lie and how are they able to influence senators and congressmen from both parties to fall in line behind whatever foolish notions GW fancies today but maybe not tomorrow?  Are they beholden to corporate behemoths who care nothing for a nation’s self-interests?  Are they agents of foreign governments who care only about their nation’s self-interests?  I think GW’s motivations may indeed be based on un-Christian, pampered-aristocracy ideas of family honor, but if so, there are sinister forces in his immediate background who are able to bend those ideas and grossly misuse the great power we Americans bestow on our presidents, for nefarious purposes surely not in the best interests of this nation or even this planet.  If the powers that be have so rigged the election process that they can never again lose, God help us all…

PS — I read this while flying back from New Orleans two days ago:

“Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power.”  An excerpt from a new National Space Policy signed by President George W. Bush, which asserts the United States’ right to deny access to outer space to anyone it deems “hostile to U.S. interests”  (Newsweek, Oct. 30 2006, p. 25)

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What if?

It’s Sunday, October 8, and I’ve been reading letters and opinions in today’s paper.  One side is right.  Everyone else is wrong.  I’ve also been thinking all day about the tragedy last week at the Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania…

If the Amish had responded as America did after September 11, they would have immediately burned down the killer’s home.  If his wife and children were still inside, too bad — that’s what happens.  “Collateral damage” in bloodless, abstract war terms.  Then they would have marched into town and torched the hardware store where he bought supplies for his deadly rampage.  And the diner where he occasionally ate breakfast.  If nearby buildings caught fire, too bad — they weren’t intentionally targeted and besides, they shouldn’t have been so close…

Before the smoke cleared, they would have looked around to see what else they could destroy in their quest to make Lancaster County safe for the Amish.  The killer worked for a dairy, so they would butcher the cows and poison the pastures.  Wasn’t the right dairy?  Too bad, but according to anonymous experts (in undisclosed locations), all dairy farmers hate the Amish way of life…

How did the Amish really react last week?  A Presbyterian pastor visited the home of one of the Amish girls who was killed.  He found the mother preparing her daughter’s body for burial.  In the background, the girl’s grandfather was reminding the rest of the family about the importance of forgiving her killer.  It was a scene that moved the pastor to tears.

The Amish have initiated relief efforts to help the families of the girls who were killed and wounded, and to help the family of the man who killed them.  Thursday, the long funeral procession of black horse-drawn buggies passed in front of that man’s house.  And the house is still there…

What would the world think of us now, five years after September 11, if America had been more like the Amish?

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Muslim and American?

For several months now, a provocative question-and-answer (Q&A) essay has been circulating on the Internet and by e-mail.  The essay asks the question “Can a good Muslim be a good American?” and then emphatically answers “NO!”

A few days ago, the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) offered its position on each of the points raised in the essay.  ABTS was established in 1960 by American Southern Baptists for the training of Christian workers throughout the Arab world.  What follows is the original Q&A essay, with ABTS’ comments inserted after each point.

I have injected some minor changes here and there to facilitate reading this “dialog” between the anonymous Q&A author and the seminary.  ABTS has reviewed those edits and this is offered for your consideration with their blessings.

Q&A’s opening question:  Can a good Muslim be a good American?

Q&A’s answer #1:  Theologically, no, because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon god of Arabia.

 ABTS:  As indicated by the name of Muhammad’s father “Abdallah,” Allah is the Arabic name for God probably used by Arab Christians long before Islam.  Most likely its root is the Syriac word “Allaha” which was used by Syriac Christians since the second century.

ABTS:  With this in mind, if “Allah” comes from the name of the moon god of Arabia, then it may be argued that “Elohim” is the plural version of “El,” a Semitic pagan head divinity; and that “Theos” is the generic name of any Greek Divinity; and that virtually every other appellation of God in European languages, such as “Dieu,” “God,” “Gott” and others were adopted into Christianity from pagan religions and rites of the regions that adopted the Christian religion.

Q&A’s answer #2:  Religiously, no.  Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam (Quran, 2:256).

ABTS:  Looked at from this angle, it can be argued that neither does Judaism accept the legitimacy of Christianity or Islam.  Nor does Christianity accept the legitimacy of Islam while it restricts itself to a specific interpretation of Judaism that may be described as Christo-centric.   A historical reflection can lead to the argument that Islam’s institution of Dhimmi status guarantees more religious tolerance for minorities than Christianity did in the Medieval period.

Q&A’s answer #3:  Scripturally, no.  Because his allegiance is to the five pillars of Islam and the Quran (Koran).

ABTS:  Often times we miss the point and tend to throw out the baby with the bath water.  Perhaps we need to carefully look at the purpose behind the five pillars, which includes:  1) Proclamation of God’s oneness; 2) Prayer; 3) Fasting; 4) Pilgrimage; and 4) Almsgiving.  Probably we Christians can take heed from this and strengthen our own commitment to our Lord.

Q&A’s answer #4:  Geographically, no.  Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day.

ABTS:  Here again, perhaps we need to be reminded of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3-4).  How many of us Christians tend to worship that which is in contradiction with the Word of God and the Spirit of the Christian message?  Arab Christians may argue here that certain non-Arab Christians allow politics – an allegiance that is not to God – to over-rule the Spirit of God’s Word, jeopardizing God’s work in our part of the world.

Q&A’s answer #5:  Socially, no.  Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews.

ABTS:  Friends, we accuse Jehovah Witness of using isolated verses from the Bible to argue their case.  The “herewith and hereby” finality of these declarations indicates that whoever put together these statements does not have a thorough knowledge of the Koran which is evident in highlighting isolated verses of the Medinan sections of the Koran.  A careful review of the Koran will reveal full statements that are very positive towards Christians and Jews.  The Koran does not – in any verse – forbid Muslims from “making friends” with them.  To the contrary, the Koran recommends that those who hear Muhammad’s message and don’t believe it should go and ask Christians and Jews to confirm that his message is along the same line.

Q&A’s answer #6:  Politically, no.  Because he must submit to the mullah (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and destruction of America, the great Satan.

ABTS:  The Imams of Islam call for allegiance to God above any political power, which is equally true in the Bible.  The difference however is that Islam is willing to take up arms to defend and promote that stance.  But a primary principle of the “JIHAD” is that every means of peaceful struggle should be used before any resort to force.

ABTS:  Apparently some of us are focusing on the glass half empty and as such may be leading the world to the brink of disaster and destruction.  Christians are called to be people of peace and conflict resolution.  Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

ABTS:  As Christians we are responsible for every word we speak – and as such we are responsible too to attain a holistic view of a situation before coming up with a verdict.  An in-depth search into the factors that lead Islam to carry arms may be quite illuminating.   This is one frustrating aspect for us Christian Arabs particularly as we see some of our own non-Arab sisters and brothers in Christ diverting from the Spirit of Christianity and such values as justice and mercy, treading instead in uninformed paths that are political in origin and merely serve to negatively influence the spreading of the Gospel in our part of the world.

Q&A’s answer #7:  Domestically, no, because he is instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Quran 4:34).

ABTS:  Here again, it must be clarified that a Muslim is not “instructed” to marry four women but rather is “permitted” to do so on condition that he treats each of them equally and fairly.  This reflects medieval tribal norms that were current in Arabia at the time of the rise of Islam.  It does not justify these teachings, but at least places them in context.  On the other hand, the more “spiritual” Muslims of today will not favor polygamy, and certainly scourging one’s wife is viewed as barbaric by educated Muslims.  The problem is not religious.  It is cultural and depends on people’s level of education.

ABTS:  Perhaps this warrants a reflection on one’s own non-Muslim society and the increasing number of divorces and remarriages, not to mention the tolerance for sexual immorality and adultery that is widespread in non-Muslim societies.  How do we think that Muslims view these aspects of Western cultures?  The same applies for domestic violence – particularly in North America.   

Q&A’s answer #8:  Intellectually, no, because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt.

ABTS:  Perhaps we need to advise the writer of these statements to check their facts first including the degree to which current US Politics are a reflection or an application of Biblical principles.  For instance, what is the point of having “In God we trust” on the U.S. Dollar bill, but then ignore principles of justice and mercy?   

ABTS:  Then again, the Muslim belief that the Bible is corrupt is a matter of practice not doctrine, and consequently it is a matter of discussion at the level of dialogue.  It is highly advisable that such conclusions should not be drawn without a thorough knowledge of Islam and its history.  They are as disturbing to Muslims as Christians are disturbed when non-Christians make cliché statements about Christianity.

Q&A’s answer #9:  Philosophically, no, because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist.  Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.

ABTS:  Once more we kindly recommend a thorough and in-depth study of the on-the-ground realities including North American support to dictatorial Islamic regimes in various countries and regions of the world.  One anticipated outcome is a reflection on how overly abused and misused is the term “democracy” in our day today.  Perhaps, the concept of democracy needs to be revisited to highlight the striking variance between the concept itself and its application.

Q&A’s answer #10:  Spiritually, no, because when we declare “one nation under God,” the Christian’s God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as heavenly father, nor is he ever called love in The Quran’s 99 excellent names.

ABTS:  Here again, a more in-depth study of the Koran (Qur’an) reveals the presence of such synonyms as “Rahman,” “RahIm,” and “Wadud” which mean respectively merciful, compassionate and loving.  Moreover, Muslims have an understanding of God as a “Kind God.”   

Q&A’s conclusion:  Therefore after much study and deliberation…. perhaps we should be very suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country.  They obviously cannot be both “good” Muslims and good Americans.  Call it what you wish…it’s still the truth!

ABTS:  In reality, the afore-mentioned statements reveal that not much in-depth study has been made.  We are Arab Christians who live in a majority culture and amongst our team are people who have done thorough studies and earned doctorate degrees in the field of Islamics.  Moreover our Institute of Middle East Studies holds annual Middle East Conferences with the objective of creating a better understanding of Islam and Muslims.  May I kindly take this opportunity to invite the “writer” and others who are interested in gaining a better understanding of our context to attend these events?  Our next conference is scheduled to be held at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary during the period June 18 – 23, 2007.

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How do I love thee?


Yesterday morning (April 27, 2006), Democratic Congressman from Illinois Rahm Emanuel asked and was given permission to address the House for one minute.  Mr. Emanuel said, “Mr. Speaker, investigators have recently uncovered a letter from the Republican leadership to special interest lobbyists.”  He then read the following letter:

Dear Lobbyists,

How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth of thy oil wells, for thou shall have $14.5 billion to drill them.
I love thee to the heights of thy drug profits,
For the Medicare bill gives you $139 billion in profits.
I love thee for thy golf courses, private jets and retirement jobs.
I love thee for thy donations, libations and vacations.
For now we must part, and I call it reform.
But remember, in December, once we get past November,
The travel ban expires, and I’ll meet you at the tees.
Yours forever, cause I can’t quit you,

The Republican Congress.

[Congressional Record: April 27, 2006 (House)]
[Page H1873]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []

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Shock & awe

Shocked!  World leaders are “shocked” by the outcome of the Palestinian democratic elections.  Cable TV’s faux news experts are breathlessly analyzing “what it all means” when people half a world away won’t vote the way we want them to…

Let’s  see if we can break it down:  With great fanfare and general acclamation (by those same world leaders) Fatah assumes management of an occupied Palestine after Israel tires of the administrative headaches, the expense, and the really bad PR that goes along with subjugating a conquered people.   The natives are restless, but Fatah maintains the status quo on West Bank and Gaza reservations (Bantustans really) for nearly a decade, while the Israelis build off-limit luxury condos and Olympic-sized swimming pools on confiscasted Palestinian land.  Fanatical fundamentalists on all sides use violence to undermine any attempts at diplomacy and dialogue.  Hamas appears on the political stage (there is ample evidence it is nurtured by Israel’s right-wing Likud party to counter Fatah’s rising popularity and power).

Palestinian teenagers start throwing rocks at Israeli tanks and soldiers.  Israel then systematically disrupts and demolishes Fatah’s civil infrastructure (police stations, schools, hospitals, roads, government offices, etc.) and humiliates and sidelines its once-important leaders.   It assassinates a seemingly endless supply of Hamas leaders, using American helicopters to fire rockets into dense civilian populations (to kill an old man in a wheelchair).  It builds a Berlin-like wall that separates Palestinian workers from their jobs and farmers from their fields.  It looks the other way while its illegal settlers terrorize Palestinian villagers and poison their wells and uproot their olive trees.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, our barely-elected King George decrees that Fatah must rule over the Palestinians effectively and honestly and, at the same time, suppress Hamas completely.  Disarmed and disorganized and increasingly corrupt, Fatah is unable to comply and resorts to Mafia-like tactics to cling to its diminishing power.  Hamas steps into the void created by an impotent Fatah and delivers essential social services and a reputation for standing up to Israel and its American benefactors.  The Palestinians, like their Iraqi cousins a thousand miles to the East, refuse to be sheep-like in the face of overwhelming military force…

But then an election comes along and suddenly everyone is shocked and awed that the Palestinians voted for Hamas?  I would venture that our “world leaders” (read rich white Westerners with grandiose visions of empire) are just upset that the millions of dollars they doled out to Fatah didn’t produce the results they wanted.  And probably shocked to rediscover that you can’t always buy votes in a democratic election.

There’s a lesson in this for Americans.  At this point in our nation’s history, we are continuously re-electing more than 90% of our incumbent politicians, even when we know that these lifetime “representatives” are paying more attention to lobbyists like Jack Abramoff than they are to their own constituent voters.  Seems like we’re all satisfied as long as they toss us an occasional bone like a highway project or a parking garage or a bridge to an uninhabited Alaskan island.  Or when they scare us to death with fantastical post-9/11 doomsday predictions…  Or when they trot out their top diplomats to convince us that imaginary WMDs are an excuse to start wars…  Average citizens like you or me have precious little influence when powerful outside forces are openly throwing lavish perks and tons of cash at the men and women we elect.  The only weapon we have left in our arsenal of constitutional democracy is our vote.  While we still have it, we should wield it as decisively as the Palestinians just did.

All the sanctimonious hand-wringing in Washington about reform is sickening.  Folks, that’s our job!  Reforming our political process is up to us, not the pompous windbags beholden to their corporate and foreign-government handlers.  Let’s throw the current set of bums out and replace them with a new set of bums.  And if the new crop is not any better, then let’s repeat the process with brutal regularity until we get it right and they get the message.  Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?  It’s way past time for American voters to get their own act together and really shock some world leaders…

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Political catechism

I had always wondered how our nation’s founders (terrorist insurgents that they were) argued the merits of their rebellion to a profoundly Christian population, so I did a little Googling on the subject.  Turns out to still be a pretty hot topic (732,000 hits).  Anyway, I came across an interesting essay at  Near the end of it, the author quotes “A Political Catechism” written by Francis Hopkinson in 1777.  Hopkinson was a signer of the Declaration of Independence (and a church choir leader, musician, noted poet and literary figure).  His catechism is most ironic and relevant to our own world disorder:

Q. What is war?

A. The curse of mankind; the mother of famine and pestilence; the source of complicated miseries; and the undistinguishing destroyer of the human species.

Q. How is war divided?

A. Into offensive and defensive.

 Q. What is the general object of an offensive war? . . .

A. [F]or the most part, it is undertaken to gratify the ambition of a prince, who wishes to subject to his arbitrary will a people whom God created free, and to gain an uncontrolled dominion over their rights and property. . . .

Q. What is defensive war?

A. It is to take up arms in opposition to the invasions of usurped power and bravely suffer present hardships and encounter present dangers, to secure the rights of humanity and the blessings of freedom, to generations yet unborn.

Q. Is even defensive war justifiable in a religious view?

A. The foundation of war is laid in the wickedness of mankind . . . . God has given man wit to contrive, power to execute, and freedom of will to direct his conduct. It cannot be but that some, from a depravity of will, will abuse these privileges and exert these powers to the injury of others: and the oppressed would have no safety nor redress but by exerting the same powers in their defence: and it is our duty to set a proper value upon and defend to the utmost our just rights and the blessings of life: otherwise a few miscreants [unprincipled individuals] would tyrannize over the rest of mankind, and make the passive multitude the slaves of their power. Thus it is that defensive is not only justifiable, but an indispensable duty.

Q. Is it upon these principles that the people of America are resisting the arms of Great Britain, and opposing force with force?

 A. Strictly so. . . . And may Heaven prosper their virtuous undertaking!

Q. But it has often been said, that America is in a state of rebellion. Tell me, therefore, what is Rebellion?

A. It is when a great number of people, headed by one or more factious leaders, aim at deposing their lawful prince without any just cause of complaint in order to place another on his throne.

Q. Is this the case of the Americans?

A. Far otherwise.

Cheers, everyone!  In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship and never in want.  May you live to be a hundred years, with one extra year to repent.

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