Me and My Big Mouth

We’re sure that this is what Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky is saying to himself after the fiasco (which SEA-TAC is finally reversing) in which the Rabbi threatened to sue the airport for not including a menorah with the Christmas trees at the airport. The airport, of course, responded by ordering the removal of the trees, which resulted in an uproar.

Jewish leaders would do themselves many favours if they would make a few well placed phone calls to Christian ones (not the liberals!) before they threaten to take this kind of action. Any self-respecting evangelical would not only love to see a menorah in the airport, they might even help pay for it. As we noted last year, Jewish symbolism is quite the thing amongst evangelicals these days. Besides, a menorah has much stronger religious symbolism than a Christmas tree any day of the week. (Use of the evergreen as a symbol of eternal life is Masonic, in case you didn’t know.)

The Rabbi’s reaction points to a central problem, even amongst the orthodox: many Jews reflexively believe that the “Christian culture” around them always wants to persecute them, so their default reaction is to want to secularise it. By now it should be obvious that the interest of neither Jew nor Christian is served by this kind of thing. In the UK, even Muslims are stirring about supporting a religious celebration of Christmas along with Christian. And why not, with verses from the Qu’ran such as this:

When the angels said, ‘O Mary, ALLAH gives thee glad tidings of a son through a word from HIM; his name shall be the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, honoured in this world and in the next, and of those who are granted nearness to God; ‘And he shall speak to the people in the cradle, and when of middle age, and he shall be of the righteous. She said, ‘My Lord, how shall I have a son, when no man has touch me? He said, ‘Such is the way of ALLAH. HE creates what HE pleases. When HE decrees a thing HE says to it ‘Be,’ and it is; (Sura 3:45-47)

That’s more than most liberals can manage!

Eating Rudolph

This is the time of year when the minds of the very young turn to Santa Claus. Cookies and milk appear near the fireplace. Mall Santas experience full employment. And “The Night Before Christmas” gets recited ad nauseam. Eventually somebody breaks the news that there is no Santa Claus, but as long as the gifts keep coming, everybody’s happy except those who pay the credit card bills.

Early on in this blog, I was challenged about whether I had ever travelled outside of the U.S. Part of my problem in life is that I have spent too much time there for my own good as an American, although others have spent far more. I learned too much to be impressed by the boomer pseudosophisticates that overpopulate our country, so they cause me misery.

One of those places was Finland, which I had the thrill of visiting in January. In addition to flying to Helsinki, I had to take an internal flight north to Kuopio. We took off in a blinding snowstorm; they deiced the wings at least twice and even the Finns were getting nervous. (If you want to see a taste of the weather I experienced, take a look at a video I made while I was there).

I arrived there to find my luggage was following me at a distance. Replacing clothing in Finland was dreadfully expensive; my business host told the airline that I passed out when I saw the prices there in an attempt to get them to pay for the replacement clothing. (They did reimburse me.)

In the middle of all of this excitement, my host took me to a restaurant where I found out something that I never found out listening to Ray Conniff Christmas albums.

Rudolph is tasty. So are Dancer and Prancer and Comet and Vixen…

Yes, boys and girls, the Finns (and anyone else in Europe who orders the stuff) eat reindeer. It started with the Lapps, those hardy people who live above the Arctic Circle, and spread southward. Reindeer are raised for the express purpose of being eaten, just like cattle and sheep.

And the meat? It’s excellent, very lean, does not have the strong taste of venison, and contains nutrients absent in other meats. The Finns think highly of the stuff, which is one reason why it’s expensive even by Finnish standards. I agree, it’s excellent meat.

As a Christian, the whole Santa Claus thing smacks of deception. But eating reindeer puts the whole legend in a new light. For example, Finnair advertises itself as Santa Claus’ airline. This is more than a cute idea; since the Finns have devoured the reindeer, Santa doesn’t have a lot of choice. Besides, it’s a lot faster.

Getting this delicacy into most of the U.S. has been problematic. The Alaskans would love for the FDA to approve its distribution for interstate commerce, since the caribou is basically the same thing. Legalising this would help the native Alaskans, which is surely the equitable thing to do. (Opening up ANWR would do the same thing, but racial justice isn’t as high on the liberals’ list as they would like for you to think.) Unfortunately the caribou is considered an exotic animal, so for the time being dining on it is restricted to Alaska itself.

Chances are, getting this changed is probably an uphill battle in the land of the free and the home of the Braves. The whole business of Santa and his reindeer is too sentimental for people to think of the idea of children eating the reindeer before they have a chance to consider the possibility that they fly. We are a strange people; one minute we bawl about religious fundamentalists believing the things they do, the next we deny ourselves the pleasure of eating Santa’s prime movers.

But so it is. This Christmas, with visions of reindeer meat coming off of the grill, I will have to content myself with turkey while hoping that someday my countrymen will know the truth and the truth will set them free–and not just about reindeer meat.

The Problem with Americans Negotiating

The Iraq Study Group report highlights something that deserves better treatment than it receives in our political/media system: the problem with Americans negotiating for anything.

Basically, Americans look at negotiating with Iran, Syria or anyone else the same way they do business deals: the negotiators go in, they apply whatever skills they have at “doing the deal,” but they get the deal done. Failing to do so results in the perception that the negotiations were a failure, and thus the negotiators are failures. This is a tag no American can stand to be stuck with. People in other cultures are just as keen in “getting something done” in negotiations. But they approach the problem with two very different perspectives than Americans do. The first is a longer view of time than Americans have, which isn’t saying much since Americans define the “long term” as after lunch. The second is that most people outside the U.S.–especially in non-Western cultures–put a higher degree of value on relationship developing first before they get down to business.

The reason for the second is simple: without the imposition of the legal and social system that exists within the U.S., they start with a complete lack of trust for the opposite side. That trust has to be developed, which takes place with the development of a relationship. If and only if and when that relationship is developed–and that can take a lot of time–substantive negotiations can begin. It’s easier for foreigners to walk away from a deal for the reason that “they can’t trust these people” than it is for Americans.

We found this out in arms negotiations with the Soviets. The Americans were under higher pressure to “get the deal done” than the Soviets were, which automatically strengthened the Soviets’ position. Only Ronald Reagan managed to bring himself to realise that he couldn’t trust the Soviets and thus curtail negotiations with them until his own position was stronger. The memory of this deeply influences George W. Bush, which is why he is adverse to starting discussions with Iran and Syria.

A more productive approach would be to have a meeting in a venue where concrete results weren’t expected. In an American context, this means a golf course. Let’s say that Bush invites Ahmadinejad to Medina G&CC near Chicago. Since the clubhouse looks like a mosque, Ahmadinejad would think he was winning up front, which would make him overconfident, a besetting weakness of him. But on a golf course the two could size each other up face to face, watching as each other deals with the ups and downs of the game and each other. Then Bush could figure out how he might like to proceed based on what he saw himself rather than something stupid his advisers might come up with.

This example is a little lighthearted but my intent is to illustrate the importance and possibility of relationship building before serious haggling begins. It may take time, a lot more time than Americans are used to giving such things these days. (This wasn’t always the case in the past.) But it would be time well spent. My Sudanese imam friend used to tell me that, when his mother went to market, she would haggle so hard with the vendors that he would become embarrassed. We’re entering a region of expert negotiators. We need to show some wisdom ourselves.

James Baker: Steady Cash Flow is King

As you might expect, we’re not surprised that James Baker’s committee has supported the “right of return” and a Middle East peace conference without Israel.

Baker’s thinking is exactly the same as the reason Russia got into bed with Iran: cash flow. The oil industry’s main source of raw material is the Persian Gulf, and many in that business have felt that Israel was the main source of instability of that supply as an irritant to their clients, the Arabs. This line of thinking is blind to the serious problems of Arab and Islamic politics, not the least of which is the Sunni-Shi’a divide and the ongoing rivallry of Iran with its neighbours across the Gulf.

Will the U.S. give in to this line of thinking? It would be the supreme irony that liberals, who generally hate the oil industry, are considering giving into the oil industry’s longest running urban legend (get rid of Israel and you get rid of the problems in the Persian Gulf) to further their own ambitions. But, as they say, politics makes for strange bedfellows.

It is time to pray!

Flying with a Corpse Used Not to be News

The story–which Drudge dutifully linked to–of a British Airways passenger who suffered a fatal heart attack and whose body traversed the Atlantic is one of those things the Internet magnifies. Before the Net, it would have barely deserved a notice.

For me, it brought back memories of a commercial competitor. Joost Werner Jansz was a Dutch engineer who invented theHydroblok” hydraulic pile driving hammer. In 1979, he was returning home with his wife from a business trip to the U.S. (the Offshore Technology Conference, I think) and suffered a heart attack. KLM opted to leave his body next to his wife, who rode back to Amsterdam next to her dead husband. (BA relocated the body of their dead passenger body.)

First class passengers might find the thought of riding with a corpse hard to take, but sooner or later all of them (along with everyone else) will take a ride into eternity.

Our prayers go out to the widow on the BA flight. For the rest of us, click here.

They’d Still Rather Take Riyadh. And Riyadh Knows It.

Last year we stated that Iran’s greater objective than wiping Israel off of the map was to take control of both sides of the Persian Gulf, which would include Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the other Gulf states. Such an assesment was and is a minority view, both by those who support Israel (the evangelicals) and Americans who would as soon see Israel wiped off of the map themselves (James Baker.)

It looks like this is in point of fact the case, and that Saudi Arabia has no intention of allowing this to happen. This explains their support of the Sunnis in Iraq and the Christians and other non-Shi’a groups in Lebanon. The Sunni-Shi’a divide is not only religious but geopolitical.

This kind of thing does in fact screw up a lot of people’s plans for the Middle East. It makes the Islamicists job impossible because it calls into question who in fact is the real leader of Islam (and that is the central problem of Islamic politics.) Oil people dislike the endless instability of their product’s supply. And those who are looking for democracy in the Middle East can’t handle the fact that holding power is like winning to Vince Lombardi: it isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Democracy and representative government are real nuisances to power holding, something the U.S. will find out the hard way if it ever elects Hillary Clinton as President.

There are some who think that the U.S. invaded Iraq to create (or at least make worse) this problem. Unfortunately our government just isn’t that clever. Clever or not, the natural divisions of Islam and the Middle East are the only thing that stand in the way of Islamicist victory, and we should be thankful that Genesis 16:12 continues to come true.

And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.

An Advent Reflection

Although the Thanksgiving holiday is past, we as Christians should not make it an end of being thankful. Being thankful to God for all of the blessings that He has given us—especially the gift of redemption by His Son Jesus Christ—must be a part of our daily living. The same psalm that says “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song,” (Psalm 95:2) also reminds us that “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” (Psalm 95:7b-11) The children of Israel did not enter into the Promised Land because of their ingratitude at some of the greatest wonders recorded in Scripture. We must never take God’s blessing for granted.

But now we turn to the Christmas season. We gear up for shopping in crowded malls, travelling in jammed airports with intrusive security, setting out enough Christmas decorations to compete with Opryland, and the endless round of Christmas parties whose main legacy is an expanded waistline. Somewhere, the birth of our precious Saviour gets lost in the shuffle.

In the years before Evangelicalism came to prominence—and with it the discarding of the liturgical year—Christians regarded the time running up to Christmas as a penitential one, a time to seek special atonement from God. Such a season is referred to as Advent, coming from the Latin meaning “coming towards” (Christmas, the birth of the Saviour.) Advent also was intended to remind people that, just as Jesus had come once to redeem us, he will come again to reign as our King in every sense of the word. A popular Advent hymn by Charles Wesley reflects this thinking:

Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.

The Incarnation is one of the great miracles of human history. The reality that God became one of us sets Christianity apart from every other religion and cult. But, just as He came once, He will come again. With the signs around us, that return cannot be far. It’s something we need to remember and celebrate in all of our holiday activity.

The Problem with Christians and AIDS Activism

Today, of course, is AIDS awareness day. However, many Christians are unsympathetic to the whole epidemic, and this has subjected them to attack from the likes of Rick Warren, to say nothing of those on the left.

The basic problem, as is the case with many things, is political.

Back in the 1980’s, gay activists made the decision to couple AIDS awareness and the advancement of the gay agenda. You do one, you accept the other. Their idea was to play on people’s sympathies to advance themselves. In doing this they made suffering and dying from AIDS for homosexuals what martyrdom is for jihadis, i.e., a sacrament.

The backwash for this was that those who had no sympathies with the homosexual agenda don’t have any for AIDS either, even though most AIDS sufferers outside the developed world didn’t acquire the disease from homosex, and many not even voluntarily. As was the case with gay marriage, the leadership of the homosexual community isn’t as clever as it thinks it is.

This, to my mind, is the central reason why curing AIDS is so far down the list of most Christians’ agenda. It’s unfair for those in the developed world, where the best long-term hope comes from the abstinence programmes that Christian churches advocate. But the developed world and the Third World frequently run at cross-purposes with each other. And if that conflict isn’t resolved–a scenario that influenced The Island Chronicles–the AIDS business will fall further down people’s agenda than it already has.

A Brief Pictoral Representation of the U.S. Adventure in the Middle East

cat-eagle.jpg
The eagle is strong and noble. But the cat should never be underestimated.

The Basic Problem(s) with the Episcopal Church

We found the whole report entitled “Is the Episcopal Church Growing (or Declining?)” a fascinating one to digest, not only from a ministry professional standpoint but as an analysis of the present state of the TEC. (“Present” may be a stretch; the report stops in 2002, just before the firestorm erupted over Vickie Gene Robinson’s consecration.) Some of its conclusions, especially those regarding the birthrate, were reflected in the new Presiding Bishop’s recent interview with the New York Times.
There are two statements that we found of particular interest.

As long as we are a predominantly white denomination with aging, affluent, highly educated members, growth will be increasingly difficult.

TEC’s core demographics have always been its greatest strength and weakness at the same time. As a strength, it creates a snob appeal to the denomination that no other can match, which has fuelled more of its growth than it cares to admit. (Strange, a supposedly Christian organisation, representing a religion that has humility as a hallmark, appealing to pride!) As a weakness, it draws its membership from a group that is less likely to yield to the demands of the Gospel, and all the while yield a smaller portion of its income, than others, as I found out growing up. The birthrate analysis the report makes speaks for itself.

Unfortunately what will happen is that the upper reaches of our society, as they progressively secularise, will find religion increasingly dispensible? (This is a position they will regret in eternity, but for now…) Compounded by the TEC’s compulsion to conform to this world in every respect, the result will be a “product” that is undifferentiated from the one they find at the country club, coffee house, bath house and pub. So why bother?

And this leads to the second item of interest:

But it will require much more than business as usual to expand into other constituencies (the less educated, immigrants, Hispanics, the unchurched). It will take new churches and a new openness among our existing parishes. It will take having something to offer newcomers that changes lives.

Changed lives…now that’s the tricky part! TEC has been weak on that for a long time, even before the liberals overwhelmed the likes of Henry Louttit back in the 1960’s. Radical changes were already impolite; the left’s takeover, dominated by Fruedian determinism (that bad potty training!) put paid to the whole idea that a person needed to be fundamentally different once he or she became a Christian.

The report’s attempt to put a happy face on things notwithstanding, we just don’t see a major improvement in things, even though we have to admit that the siren song of Anglicanism–even in the debased form it has in the TEC–is a strong one, frequently in spite of itself. Our biggest worry is that the urge to coform to this world will metasticise into parts of Christianity that were heretofore immune to it.

Do not conform to the fashion of this world; but be transformed by the complete change that has come over your minds, so that you may discern what God’s will is–all that is good, acceptable, and perfect. (Romans 12:2)