Blast From the Past: They Feel The Shame

This, I suppose, is the “9/11 commemorative piece” for today, but actually I first wrote it in 2005.

It was a unique experience for my wife and I to attend the Arab Worldwide Evangelical Ministers Association (AWEMA) meeting at The Cove (Billy Graham’s conference centre) in April 2003. It was the first time we had an opportunity to get to know Christian ministers from the Arab world.

Arab Christians of all types are in a unique position. They have what is without a doubt the toughest mission field on earth. They were holding their meeting towards the end of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which they had mixed feelings about (they were glad to get rid of Saddam Hussein, excited about the possibilities for ministry, worried about the backlash.) They had divergent views of the Palestinian issue. While there we had the honour to meet the Palestinian Taysif Abu Saada, the former al-Fatah terrorist who ministers together with Moran Rosenblit, Israeli army veteran and Messianic Jew. They also have to deal with the power holder/power challenger and shame/honour dialectics that are the hallmark of Middle Eastern politics and even creep into Christian churches.

One question that was obvious was, “Is it different to minister to Muslims after 9/11?” There were divergent answers to this too. One Sudanese pastor from Florida, though, was ebullient. His church was having success in this regard. How? It was easier to minister to these people after 9/11. Why? “They feel the shame,” he replied. Many Muslims ware embarrassed by their colleagues running airplanes into buildings, killing Muslims and everyone else whom Allah had willed to be in the way at the time. They were having second thoughts.

We’ve spent a lot of time on this site discussing shame/honour. It’s especially important in the Middle East and to Muslims in general. The whole Israeli-Palestinian problem is driven by it. Most Arabs are shamed that the Jews took the land, so they’ve spent the last sixty years trying to restore their honour by getting the land back. The same problem inspired al-Qaeda with American troops being stationed in Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War. They were shamed in the #1 Muslim country being “occupied” by American troops, so they had to restore their honour. Same problem in Iraq. And on and on it goes…

Every now and then, any group of people finds itself more embarrassed by its own people than outsiders. In the West, we’re used to the idea of “self-policing.” With Muslims, it’s not the same; they have too much pride to admit that their own people are dragging them down. Occasionally one will hear a dissenting voice, as was the case with the al-Arabiya commentator after the Beslan massacre. But generally speaking Muslims, like old-line Southerners, would rather not “hang their dirty laundry out in public.”

But shame they do feel, whether at 9/11 or at the recent London bombings. Many of them aren’t proud that their co-religionists are blowing themselves and everyone around them up for any reason. They doubtless feel more shame than the London hotel operators who jacked up the prices for travellers stranded after the tube was shut down. And there may be other things at work here too.

Years ago, my Sudanese imam friend used to tell me that, while back in Sudan, he would tell his extremist Muslim colleagues, “The Christians are smarter than you. When they come, they come with hospitals, food, schools, etc. All you come with is a bunch of rules and mosques.” After the 26 December 2004 tsunami, many Christian NGO’s got involved in the relief effort with other Western governments. As a result, the image of the West improved while that of al-Qaeda didn’t, which is interesting considering that the hardest hit place–Aceh province in Indonesia–is the only province in the country to have adopted Shar’ia law.

If we as Christians plan to interact effectively with Muslims, we need to realise that many of them don’t feel any better about attacks like 9/11 or 7/7 than we do. We also need to do what our Saviour told us to do and leave the mushy self-doubt of false tolerance to others. We need to reach out as our Lord Jesus would have done to those who “feel the shame.”

The Mirage of Green Jobs

For those who look at this objectively, the dead end of green jobs stimulus is unsurprising:

Noticeably absent from President Obama‘s latest economic-stimulus package are any further attempts to create jobs through “green” energy projects, reflecting a year in which the administration’s original, loudly trumpeted efforts proved largely unfruitful.

The long delays typical with environmentally friendly projects – combined with reports of green stimulus funds being used to create jobs in China and other countries, rather than in the U.S. – appear to have killed the administration’s appetite for pushing green projects as an economic cure.

After months of hype about the potential for green energy to stimulate job growth and lead the economy out of a recession, the results turned out to be disappointing, if not dismal. About $92 billion – more than 11 percent – of Mr. Obama‘s original $814 billion of stimulus funds were targeted for renewable energy projects when the measure was pushed through Congress in early 2009.

First: any infrastructure improvement of any kind is a long term payback kind of thing.

Beyond that, out there somewhere on the left is the concept that “green jobs” will reinvigorate our economy while at the same time restoring our environment.  The facts for transforming our energy consumption habits are simple if not very inspiring to Americans:

  • The transformation from a fossil fuel economy to one where non-fossil fuel sources predominate is going to take time.
  • That transformation is going to be expensive, both in the development (or advancement) of new energy sources and in the conversion of the various “installed bases” in our economy.
  • That transformation will also involve a decrease in our standard of living, especially in regard to the density of our population.
  • No weaning our economy from fossil fuels will work without extensive development of nuclear power, which is anathema to many environmentalists.
  • It will be necessary to develop our own fossil fuel resources in the short-term, which is why cutting off offshore oil drilling and production is foolish.  The BP disaster was avoidable with currently existing technology.
  • The simplest way to encourage this transformation is to raise the taxes on fossil fuels, with emphasis on additional taxation of imported petroleum.  After that let the entrepreneurship of Americans develop the new sources and uses for non-fossil fuel energy.  Unfortunately the current administration wants all of this technology to be developed by the government, which will have the Soviet result: great laboratory and development product, mediocre implementation in production.

The reason why some or all of this agenda has not been implemented is simply because it’s unpopular with the American people.  But an administration which cares as little about real public opinion as this one would have done the country a greater service by spending political capital on this rather than health care and the other things it has wasted the last two years on.

Rating Teachers Would be Simpler Without the State Supported Monopoly

The trade union strikes back in the face of the LA Times publishing teacher performance data:

Although the Times acknowledged that this measure does “not capture everything that goes into making a good teacher,” that’s exactly how the paper used this data. In its race to create dramatic headlines, the paper sacrificed both the tenets of responsible journalism and the reputations of thousands of teachers through this deceptive presentation of complex data. What parents aren’t going to type in their child’s teacher’s name and make an instantaneous judgement?

To some extent, I’m inclined to agree with the union on this one.  Rating teachers isn’t an exact science, and the endless push for testing does encourage teachers to teach towards the test rather than giving the students an education.  Teachers are also trapped between school systems which must bring their rated performance up and at the same time work towards “outcome-based” education, which tends to encourage passing students from grade to grade.

The real problem here is that parents have few options with the state supported monopoly of public schools in the US.  Oh, yes, there are charter or magnet schools for the few who get there, and some places still have vouchers.  But the trade union hates all of these.  If schools were allowed to compete for students and parents had real choices, schools in general and teachers in particular would have to withstand the ultimate rating.

As an educator (albeit a latecomer to the party,) I’d rather take my chances with a system that gives institutional choices rather than criteria which may or may not reflect the perceived or real needs of the society at large.  The best way for those to find expression in the system is to have school choice.  The trade union hates this too, but after years of political muscle they may be coming to a point where difficult choices for their members have to be made.

Don't Burn the Qur'an. Study It!

I have to admit that the Dove World Outreach Church’s plan to burn Qur’ans on Saturday is one of the stupidest things I have heard of in a long time.

The reason is simple: it is impossible to share our Christian faith with Muslims (have meaningful dialogue, if you please) unless we have a knowledge of the basics of Islam.  In turn, it is impossible to understand Islam without a reasonable knowledge of the Qur’an.  And, when we do, we discover that a great deal of conventional wisdom (by Muslims and others) about the Qur’an falls by the wayside.  (A good example of this can be found here, concerning the alleged corruption of the Christian scriptures.)

I have had extended dialogue with Muslims over the years.  Without this knowledge I would have been unable to defend my own faith let alone discuss theirs.

Put another way, if the Dove World Outreach Church would take the Qur’an’s they have collected (the ones in English, at least) and have a course on sharing their Christian faith with Muslims, they and everyone else would be way ahead.  Muslims wouldn’t necessarily like it any better than burning the Qur’an, but the result would be change that they could believe in.

Cars That Drive Themselves: The Next Step

It’s the logical “next step” from the smart highways, cars that drive themselves:

It may sound like science fiction, but the research arm of the Transportation Department is at work on this future right now. With many modes of transportation already using automation as standard operating procedure, cars guiding themselves and avoiding crashes might not be too far off.

The key, Dr. Robert Bertini, the acting director of the Intelligent Transportation Systems program at DOT, says is not just knowing what is possible technologically, but how the technology works together, and how to make it widespread in the market.

“We envision a world with connected vehicles, that we think we can dramatically improve safety, mobility, and sustainability,” Bertini said.

The program, called IntelliDrive, has the DOT working with states, auto manufacturers, and after-market devices manufacturers. DOT has three aims: improving safety across the transportation system, improving mobility, and also improving environmental sustainability.

For those of us who have witnessed really stupid driving–and who hasn’t–the advantages of this are obvious.

The downside: what happens when the car (or whoever is really controlling it) doesn’t want you to go where you want to?

Stephen Hawking and the Arrogance of Insignificance

At the end of his piece Why God Did Not Create the Universe, Stephen Hawking makes the following statement:

Although we are puny and insignificant on the scale of the cosmos, this makes us in a sense the lords of creation.

This statement is part of a long train of inconsistent thinking on this subject.

Let’s go back to the days when the Ptolomaic universe ruled the roost.  Readers of Dante remember that earth-centred business.  Since man lived on earth, man was at the centre of the universe, which made him feel good about himself.

Then Copernicus came along and demonstrated that the solar system orbited around the sun.  Earth–and thus man–was no longer at the centre of things.  The church was upset at the idea, but that’s because it tore up its Aristotelian playhouse.  The church got over it, but Renaissance humanism didn’t grasp that man wasn’t the yardstick they thought he was.

We move on to the nineteenth century, when both geology and later Darwin showed that the earth–to say nothing of the universe–were far older than Usher’s 6,000 year chronology, which man occupied the entirety of.  Man was the “johnny come lately” par excellence.  A few people picked up on that necessary implication. This led to charts such as below, which appeared in our government’s publication Coastal Geology:

But many did not.  The nineteenth century saw the development of ideologies such as Marxism which reduced man’s worth further.  But that didn’t stop the followers of Karl and Fred from trying to conquer nature in the following century, the result of which was turning places such as Russia and Ukraine into environmental basket cases.

Now we have Hawking, while waxing melodically on how we live in a cosmos of multiple universes of which we are but one and that there is no need for a creator to explain how they arrived, informing us that our race are “lords of creation.”  Creation!

It never occurs to these secular worthies that, the more they show how diminutive our race is by comparing it with their expanding view of the universe, the more they attempt to swell themselves up with the importance of our race.  It never occurs to them that the sensible response to this kind of thing is humility, but that’s the key problem with secularism these days: for all of their obsession with reason, the conclusions they come to don’t follow the premises they set down.

Christians are aware that finite humans cannot compare to an infinite God.  There are many places in the Scriptures that set this forth; probably the most sustained discourse on the subject is found in Job 38-41.  Part of the idea behind that is to inspire humility, a decidedly Christian virtue.  But modern and post-modern people cannot bear humility, and that in turn is the cause of much of the sour blowback from our advances.  They would sooner see our planet vaporised than be humble about anything, especially themselves.

And then we’d really be insignificant.

Touch not God's Anointed

This is the fifth in a sporadic series on the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem.  The previous post was Confirmation or Chrismation?

In the previous piece we discussed the chrism, or anointing immediately after baptism. Discussing this to the newly baptised and chrismated, Cyril makes a very bold statement:

Having therefore become partakers of Christ (Hebrews 3:14), ye are properly called Christs, and of you God said, Touch not my Christs (Psalm 105:15), or anointed. Now ye have been made Christs, by receiving the antitype of the Holy Ghost; and all things have been wrought in you by imitation (lit. imaging), because ye are the images of Christ. (XXI, 1)

In addition to repeating Cyril’s concept of baptism as the antitype of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan—and the descent of the Holy Spirit having chrismation as its antitype—this passage throws out a concept that flies in the face of a lot of what passes as “Holy Ghost led ministry”: the idea that everyone who bears the label of Christian and the name of Jesus Christ is anointed.

In setting this forth Cyril invokes a verse for his pupils that has to rate one of the most misused verses in the Old Testament:

He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. (Psalms 105:14, 15)

Anyone who has watched Christian television for any length of time knows what I’m talking about. We have the very well known preacher, usually under attack for financial dealings or moral failure, who invokes this verse to stop any kind of criticism or action against him or her. Since their ministry is successful, they are “anointed,” with the implication that we aren’t and thus have no right to question or criticise what they are doing.

There are two ways of coming against this kind of thing.

The first is to consider the nature of leadership: how do we know that this or that minister is a leader, and thus deserves “special treatment”? This goes to the whole problem of authority in evangelical churches, but it also brings up this:

Not every one who says to me ‘Master! Master!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven. On ‘That Day’ many will say to me ‘Master, Master, was not it in your name that we taught, and in your name that we drove out demons, and in your name that we did many miracles?’ And then I shall say to them plainly ‘I never knew you. Go from my presence, you who live in sin.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

There’s no New Testament support to the idea that anointed people are beyond reproof on either side of eternity.

Opposed to this Cyril—and I’ve seen this point made elsewhere—sets forth what was more obvious to him than it is to us. With Greek as his primary language, Cyril proclaimed that the Christos was the “anointed one,” and that the Christians were likewise anointed. The whole act of the chrism underscored this simple fact.

And why not: if Jesus Christ dwells in us and what we do and have in this life that is of value is from and of God, then we too are partakers in his anointing, to repeat a verse that Cyril himself uses:

For we now all share in the Christ, if indeed we retain, unshaken to the end, the confidence that we had at the first. (Hebrews 3:14)

It’s worthy of note that Cyril does this in a era when the priesthood of a certain group of people was the accepted norm!

The sooner we get back to the Biblical concept that the anointing is the common property of all those called by the name of Christ the happier we will all be and the more fruitful the ministry of the church will become.

In the Middle East, Tensions Really Don't Rise at Times Like This

The Wall Street Journal, eminent publication that it is, is misleading people with opening lines like this:

Rising tensions in the Mideast cast a shadow over the start of the first direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in nearly two years Wednesday, and leaders at the Washington summit vowed to press on with negotiations.

“Rising tensions” imply an emotional reaction.  What we’re seeing here, however, are power challengers (and some power holders) who are invested in continuing conflict (or seeing the problem resolved by the total victory of one side or the other, which can only be achieved by violence) trying to completely derail the negotiating process.

For once Barack Obama comes to the party:

“The message should go out to Hamas and everybody else who is taking credit for these heinous crimes that this is not going to stop us from not only ensuring a secure Israel but also securing a longer-lasting peace,” Mr. Obama said, following a meeting with the Israeli leader.

But how does he plan to deal with those who don’t like the idea of sticking with negotiations?

If I Told You Where My Palm Beach House Is, I'd Have to Kill You

But now it can be known:

Bernadette Casey Smith, daughter of the late former CIA director William Casey, has sold Estrella del Mar, her family’s North End oceanfront house at 1240 N. Ocean Blvd. for $6.8 million, according to a warranty deed filed Thursday afternoon.

Most recently listed for $8.5 million, the 10,000-square-foot Spanish-style main house is situated on nearly one acre across from the ocean. A beach cabana is included on an additional direct oceanfront parcel. The eight-bedroom compound included a guest house and a two-bedroom staff suite.

Elizabeth Cleckner and John Pangborn, associates with Corcoran Palm Beach, represented the seller; Crissy Poorman, an agent with Sotheby’s International Realty, and Mary Ann Cleckner, a broker with Real Property Palm Beach, represented the buyer.

The house is about halfway between where I grew up and the Inlet.  I went to Palm Beach Day School with John Pangborn.

Confirmation or Chrismation?

This is the fourth in a sporadic series on the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem.  The previous post in the series is here.

One of the significant differences between the “Western” Churches (Roman Catholic, Anglican) and their “Eastern” counterparts (Orthodox, Chalcedonian and otherwise) is the varying practice of what is done to Christians after baptism. In the East, chrismation, or the anointing with oil, is performed immediately after baptism, while in the West confirmation, or the laying on of hands, is done some time afterwards. So what, or why, is there a difference?

Needless to say, Cyril, as an Eastern prelate, performs chrismation, and describes it to his now baptised and chrismated pupils as follows:

And to you in like manner, after you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, there was given an Unction , the anti-type of that wherewith Christ was anointed; and this is the Holy Ghost; of whom also the blessed Esaias, in his prophecy respecting Him, said in the person of the Lord, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me: He has sent Me to preach glad tidings to the poor. (Isaiah 61:1). (XXI, 1)

That “unction” was anointing with oil, and in fact Cyril describes a first unction before baptism as well. And anointing after baptism wasn’t a strictly Eastern practice either: Tertullian describes it as well:

After this, when we have issued from the font, we are thoroughly anointed with a blessed unction,— (a practice derived) from the old discipline, wherein on entering the priesthood, men were wont to be anointed with oil from a horn, ever since Aaron was anointed by Moses. Whence Aaron is called “Christ,” from the “chrism,” which is “the unction;” which, when made spiritual, furnished an appropriate name to the Lord, because He was “anointed” with the Spirit by God the Father; as written in the Acts: For truly they were gathered together in this city against Your Holy Son whom You have anointed. (Acts 4:27) Thus, too, in our case, the unction runs carnally, (i.e. on the body,) but profits spiritually; in the same way as the act of baptism itself too is carnal, in that we are plunged in water, but the effect spiritual, in that we are freed from sins. (On Baptism, 7)

So how did the divergence in practice of chrismation and confirmation come about? And what does this mean for those of us who are spectators to the dispute?

The first thing necessary in this debate is to discard the Roman Catholic practice of referring to Eastern chrismation as “confirmation.” The fact is that the two practices, although they have common origins, have divergent theologies, and understanding the difference is crucial in analysing their significance.

The simplest way to explain this is to look at the different Biblical typology of each. Eastern baptism in general has as its Biblical type Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. Cyril is very emphatic about the importance of this event and the baptiser:

Baptism is the end of the Old Testament, and beginning of the New. For its author was John, than whom was none greater among them that are born of women. The end he was of the Prophets: for all the Prophets and the law were until John (Matthew 11:13): but of the Gospel history he was the first-fruit. For it says, The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, etc.: John came baptising in the wilderness. You may mention Elias the Tishbite who was taken up into heaven, yet he is not greater than John: Enoch was translated, but he is not greater than John: Moses was a very great lawgiver, and all the Prophets were admirable, but not greater than John. It is not I that dare to compare Prophets with Prophets: but their Master and ours, the Lord Jesus, declared it: Among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater than John (Matthew 11:11): He says not “among them that are born of virgins,” but of women. (III, 6)

Chrismation, thus, has as its type the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove after Jesus’ baptism, as we saw earlier, with the oil anointings from the Old Testament thrown in for good measure. It’s worthy of note that Cyril is very solicitous to avoid an adoptionistic interpretation of Jesus’ baptism, which is more than one can say about many contemporary preachers.

Having been decoupled (in time at least) from baptism, confirmation has more complex origins, and is still a topic of perplexity today, as this discussion evidences. If we look for Biblical origins of a rite such as this, however, we’re pretty much forced to consider the receptions of the Holy Spirit as described in the Book of Acts. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer did this in including Acts 8:14-15 as an epistle. But this idea is not upheld by many advocates of confirmation, which begs an important question: just what, to these people, is the significance of this rite?

Noting this difference, however, brings up another topic that has generated an enormous amount of controversy over the years: when do Christians receive the Holy Spirit? If we look at the two rites on their face, chrismation tells us that Christians receive the Holy Spirit at baptism and that’s it. On the face of it, that puts the Orthodox in league with the Baptists, who have argued against a subsequent reception of the Spirit for many years.

On the other hand, confirmation speaks of a subsequent reception of the Spirit, and a sacramental one at that. Those who believe that God’s grace are channeled primarily through the sacraments, however, are forced to argue that confirmation is the sacramental encapsulation of the subsequent receptions of the Holy Spirit documented in Acts. This turns the rite into an ersatz baptism of the Holy Spirit.

A more reasonable analysis of both of these rites would be facilitated by observing that the question, “When do Christians receive the Holy Spirit?” is really the wrong question to ask. Such a question assumes that the Christian life is a static business whose course and outcome are assured by absolute assurance. That assumption is one of the cornerstones of Reformed theology, an assumption that has snuck into other parts of Protestant Christianity while no one was looking. Under that scenario, one is saved, and that’s it.

However the New Testament doesn’t support that kind of concept of the Christian life:

For whereas, considering the time that has elapsed, you ought to be teaching others, you still need some one to teach you the very alphabet of the Divine Revelation, and need again to be fed with ‘milk’ instead of with ‘solid food.’ For every one who still has to take ‘milk’ knows nothing of the Teaching of Righteousness; he is a mere infant. But ‘solid food’ is for Christians of mature faith–those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish right from wrong. Therefore, let us leave behind the elementary teaching about the Christ and press on to perfection, not always laying over again a foundation of repentance for a lifeless formality, of faith in God– teaching concerning baptisms and the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and a final judgement. Yes and, with God’s help, we will. (Hebrews 5:12-6:3)

Christian life is all about growth. I doubt there are many Christians out there who would seriously argue that the believer is totally bereft of the Holy Spirit before either their sanctification (if they follow a true Wesleyan concept) or the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been there even before they were reborn. After that the unified Godhead has come in, but his work is active and progressive in the life of the believer. That’s the whole message of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and that in turn is not an end to growth either. But the whole concept of growth is why John Wesley had to untether Christian thought from its tight Reformed mooring in order to set the stage for what has happened during the last century.

And, of course, the true purpose of the baptism in the Holy Spirit should be noted here as well, which puts many things in a new light:

But you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit shall have descended upon you, and shall be witnesses for me not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

So where does that leave us with chrismation vs. confirmation? Some will argue otherwise, but I think that the greater weight of the evidence is towards chrismation immediately after baptism. Why? Because confirmation attempts to sacramentalise something that cannot (or more precisely should not) be restricted to a certain ceremony, but is a part of the believer’s daily walk with God. There is little argument that the Holy Spirit comes in at the time of a person’s coming to Christ, and baptism is certainly a part of that.

And besides, anointing someone immediately after baptism is way cool.