The Supralapsarian Dilemma

9 02 2011

“When the Boston Lighthouse was first built in 1716, the Massachusetts Bay Colony forbid the use of a lightning  rod for fear that such an instrument would be viewed by the powers of heaven as intent to interfere with divine strokes.  After the lighthouse was struck and damaged by lightning some 12 times in ten years, twice setting it on fire, a lightning rod was installed.  The justification was that a lighthouse, reaching skyward higher than any other structure, was too much of a temptation for the powers above.  Thereafter, the Boston Lighthouse suffered no serious injury due to lightning.” (Elinor De Wire, Guardians Of The Lights; Stories Of U.S. Lighthouse Keepers, 1995, p.108)

In their humble belief in the sovereignty of God, the authorities decided that every lightning strike was predestined by God and therefore should not be hindered by mortal man.  In their arrogant disbelief in the sovereignty of God, they determined that they were, as well as all of humanity, above and outside of that same power, even thinking that they were capable of hindering an act of God.  Why affix a lightning rod, when it might contradict the intentions of God?  They might as well have asked why they constructed a lighthouse at all, if human innovation against the forces of nature are a rebellion against God.  They neither considered that the lightning rod, as well as the lighthouse, were part of the same course of history, and that every last part of it, from beginning to end, was within his power.  Even the lighthouse keeper was a product of that destiny, moved to guide ships safely out to sea.

[fiction]

And somewhere out there the great cruise liner, the RMS Olympic, passed just close enough to glimpse the intermittent light from the lighthouse.  This massive ship, among the most advanced in its time, slowly chugged along the coast on its pleasure tour of the New England coast.  One might say that it was well-stocked with libations.  Perhaps it was too well-stocked, for a poor hapless passenger found himself in the unlikely position of examining the outer hull of the ship during a very rapid descent into the ocean, and, to make matters worse, the only ones to notice this event were a small collection of philosophers standing at the rail, pondering the significance of his fate.

They were five men of a society of thinkers who came to believe themselves to be merely fictional characters, whose destiny was predetermined by an all-powerful author of some sort.  They were the Authorians.  They were the only members of their society.  It is for this reason that the victim was especially unfortunate.  Had they been merely philosophers, we might fear that these thinkers would spend far too much time thinking about the problem, not doing enough about it until it was too late.  Being fatalists, they assured the demise of the intoxicated swimmer.

This group of five had been discussing the fine merits of their philosophy to one of their newest members, John Basques, who was, by virtue of his need to avert his attention elsewhere, the primary witness of the fall of the man.  The other heads did not turn until the splash was heard, and Basques’ eyes widened perceptibly.  Basques was a wiry little man badly in need of a wife, but his insufficiency in stature was generally unappealing to many women, and the remaining women were already taken or otherwise indisposed to marry him.  This had the effect of lending him far more time for the company of other men, and for a man like Basques, such men were usually either divorced or actively, though unwittingly, in pursuit of divorce.  Such clueless men have many opinions to offer, but little practical handiness around the house, what little time they spend there.  Doubtless, they thought themselves splendid husbands, though they could not understand why their wives were so upset at being left at home alone all evening, every evening, after being left home alone all day while these men were at work.  Needless to say, going on a cruise without their wives didn’t help much, either, but that would be beside the point.  The real point is that a man who had been aboard the ship was now in the water and swiftly trailing behind the ship.

“I say, that’s a bit of a trouble!” exclaimed Basques.  He started forward, when a hand grabbed him firmly by the arm.

“Never mind that,” said another of the group, a mustached man named Calvin Del.  “The hand of the author is at work, here.  You do not think that he would have fallen into the sea were it not his destiny.”

“His destiny?!” exclaimed Basques, “The author did not make him fall into the sea!  Don’t you take me for a fool.”

“John,” said Del to Basques, “It is not necessary to intervene.  Had it been the author’s will, then that man would have been saved anyway, or, better yet, not have fallen at all.”

Basques looked back and forth incredulously between the faces of the other four, noting their silent assent.  Destiny seemed a sturdy and decent thing when circumstances were fair, but calamity shook it to its core, and the proscription to interfere with that calamity made it utterly repugnant.  “You men are mad!” scolded Basques, “We’ll discuss this later, but I will not stand by and let a fellow person die under my passive watch.”  With that, he made haste for the ship’s bridge, running as fast as he could, yelling “Man overboard!  Man overboard!”  A security officer stopped him before he got there, promising to relay the information to the captain.  Painfully long moments passed by, until the guard emerged from the bridge and relayed a message from the captain.

“Captain says we can’t turn this behemoth around and retrace our line of travel.  Would take too long, and we’d likely as not miss our man.  By the time we got turned about, we’d not be in the same place any more.  We’d be going back the same direction, but we might pass by miles.  We’ll be dropping anchor and hailing the Coast Guard.  They can retrace our steps better than we can.  If they don’t find the poor soul by tomorrow, then we’ll continue on our way,” explained the guard.

“Poor soul!” exclaimed Basques, “I wish more could be done.”

The gentle rumble from the boilers ground to a low murmur, hardly impacting the momentum of the ship noticeably.  On deck, shuffleboard games continued, and objectless mafficking continued unabated.  No one noticed the lowering of the anchor.  The captain of the ship, an admirably concerned fellow with a trim white beard and ponytail, emerged from the helm, passing directly by Basques without acknowledgment, followed at the heels by two deck hands.  They made their way down to the deck, where they headed straight to the stern and out of sight.  Two other men stepped outside and gazed back in the direction from which the ship had come, and then they quickly disappeared back inside again.  Soft music that had been playing over the house speakers truncated, and someone announced the situation to the passengers.  All were instructed to return to their cabins promptly, where the floor managers would take role and attempt to discover the identity of the victim.  Even members of the crew were required to check-in.

By the time Basques reached his cabin, his roommate, Del, was already there, waiting.  The other members of the group waited by their open doorways, smoking cigars nervously.  Del eased the door to within an inch of closing, and said to Basques in a low voice, “Now, John, I know you’re only trying to be helpful, but surely you must understand that the will of the author predestines the fate of the whole world, and not just the handful of us who believe.  I know it’s hard to accept, but these things don’t escape the author’s design.”

Basques, still uncomprehending of the man’s utter insensitivity, stammered for a moment and then replied, “But Cal, my man, surely you did not expect me to do nothing?  I could not stand by and let a good and innocent man be left to die out there.  What kind of creed is it that commands us to do nothing?”

“It is not for us to decide who is good and who is evil, ” replied Del.

“Then I claim ignorance,” replied Basques.  “You seem to think the man condemned because he happened to fall into the drink.  You seem to have decided that the man is evil.  I, for one, don’t know.  I only know that he is one in need of saving.”

“Then let the author save him,” countered Del.

“Author or no author, I am duty-bound to serve my fellow man,” replied Basques.  “Now, I don’t know any more whether I like this ideal of ours that all things are under the design of a higher power.  Even so, I like to think that I am under no obligation to sit idly by and let disaster befall my neighbor.  Am I required to do absolutely nothing?  Why do I even bother to feed myself?  If I strike you in the nose, then was it by decree of the author?  Answer me now, because I’m tempted to find out.”

Del took an unconscious step backward.  “Now, John, we are the protagonists.  Not everyone is like us.  We did not fall overboard, because we are the primary characters in the plot.  We are the good guys.”

“Good!  Ha!  Fat lot of good you are!  You think you’re a good guy, because you stood around with your hands in your pockets and did nothing!  You think that the author smiles favorably upon you because nothing particularly bad has happened to you yet.  The cruise is still young, dear Cal.  Misfortune visits everyone, sooner or later.  When it comes knocking at your door, I hope, for your sake, that your neighbor does not ascribe to your beliefs.”  Basques was about to say more, but the floor manager appeared in the doorway and took their count.  Then they were free to leave, which they did, promptly.  The other members of the society were waiting for them outside.  One of them gave Del a questioning glance, and was returned with an evasive look.

“Let’s hit the galley for a bite to eat, shall we?” suggested the leader of the group.  The rest mumbled their assent.

Lunch was an awkward affair.  The members largely attempted polite conversation over the usual heady philosophical debate.  No one wanted to acknowledge the elephant in the room, who was Basques.  The leader of the group, a man named Martin Shirr, was about to say something, finally, when a uniformed officer invited himself to sit with them.  The sailor identified himself as Jacques, the first mate of the ship.  “Well,” he began, “The count has been finished.  A couple dozen passengers had to be tracked when they failed to show for roll call.  We finally narrowed down the list to a single individual, a man named Adam Boxer.  His wife, Dora, hasn’t been able to find him since the alert, and she’s worried about him.  He was a tall, skinny fellow in his forties, wearing a solid red polo shirt and white slacks.  Is this the man that you saw?”

“My memory is a little unclear on his attire, but I believe he looked something like that,” replied Basques.

“Well, then, gentlemen, I thank you for your help.  Hopefully we can find this man and be on with our journey shortly,” said the first mate, beginning to rise.

“Is there hope?” asked Basques, eagerly.

The sailor ran his fingers across his close-cropped head and replied, “Well, that remains to be seen.  The captain has, himself, left the ship on a dinghy to search for the man.”

“Left the ship!” exclaimed one of their party.

“Yes, well, he is a man of principle.  He would rather leave the entire ship at my command than leave a single lost soul adrift in the ocean.  I believe he will be out there for quite a while, unless he finds the victim,” explained the sailor, with a subtle pride.

Del looked at Shirr and mumbled, “Our fate is tied with that of an antagonist?”

“What?” begged the sailor, “By Jove, what are you talking about?  Who are you calling an antagonist?”

Shirr chose his words carefully, “Well, you see, sir, we are a philosophical group that believes our world is fated at the hand of an author, of sorts, one who exists in a higher sense than ourselves.  You might call him a god.  We call him an author, because we believe that our destiny, even our own choices, are at his mercy.”

The sailor rubbed his chin and replied, “Ah, I see.  So you have taken it upon yourselves as the heroes in this plot to help save a drowning man.”

There followed a moment of awkward silence.

“Ah, well, you see, sir,” struggled Shirr, “We believe that all things are under control, whether they be fortune or misfortune.  We do not normally presume to alter the fate as determined by one who knows better.”

The sailor had to think about it for a moment, before he replied, “So this is not a normal response for you?  Normally, you would have abandoned the man in need?”

“You might call him an antagonist, sir,” explained Shirr.

“And you are the protagonist?” exclaimed the sailor with delight.  “Why, however could you know that you are not the antagonist, while victim may actually be the protagonist?”

“Well,” explained Shirr, talking mostly to the table top, “We must examine ourselves carefully to determine if we might be among the chosen ones.”

“Take no care at all!” exclaimed the sailor.  “I wouldn’t choose you!  What kind of hero would not help a neighbor in need?  Bosh, man!  If I were like you, I would not need to steer the ship.  Let the author steer it, himself.  Surely there must be enough elect on a ship this size to warrant a safe journey, regardless.  This I’ve got to tell the captain!  Why, we’ve been going about this all wrong!  Why, we’ve been wasting hours at the helm, when we could be down here nipping at the bottle, chumming it up with old friends.  Let your author steer the ship.”  He let out a shameless laugh.  “No, I’ll tell you what.  Your destiny is in my hands, I’ll tell you.  You can move around on this ship all you like.  You are free to do as you choose, here, but I control the over-all destiny of your whole world…at least, until the captain gets back.  That’s destiny for you.  It’s all the destiny I know.  I don’t need a higher power to determine when I burp.  He can tell me when to die, but I’ll do as I choose until then.”  With that, he stood and left the room.

The group of five were inconsolable.  They were a meek bunch, not used to impolite words.  Shortly, they seemed to think that the author was calling them to pursue other ends, so they stood and wandered off by themselves.  Each was certain that he was the only one whose faith was shaken.  They were nearly apostate by sundown, as they anxiously awaited the return of the captain in his dinghy.

All eyes were astern in the darkening dusk.  Hope was nearly gone by the time that boat came abreast of the ship.  On deck were two sailors, the captain and a soaked man in a red shirt and soggy white slacks.  Greeting the victim was a flustered wife, accusing him of his drunkenness.  The victim replied that his wife was to blame for opening the bottle and tempting him to fall off of the wagon.  One would think that at the uncorking of that bottle all of the world’s evils were unleashed upon the world.  A man could hardly be blamed for drinking too much, and, having drunk too much, could hardly be blamed for sitting on a rail and falling overboard.  Even the witnesses claimed absolution from attempting rescue.  It would seem no one was to blame for their own actions.  All were victims of fate.

Basques turned to Del, on his left, and said, “Cal, I must leave the group.”

“Why?” replied the disheartened Del, “Your man survived.  He was not condemned by the author.”

“Yes, but he could have been.  Some are not so lucky, ” replied Basques, “I cannot accept an author like that.”  He began to walk away.

“I believe you are a protagonist,” said Del, to his back, “even if you do not believe it.  I am more certain of you than I am of myself.”

Basques paused, then replied over his shoulder, “Thank you, Cal.”

When Basques began to walk away again, Del called to him, “Oh, do reconsider, won’t you?  Surely you did foresee such a possibility as this?”

“Yes, I did, Cal,” said Basques, “but I was not ready for this.”

“Will you think it over.”

“I will, Cal.  I will.”  And then John Basques returned to his room.

I suppose I should mention that, although they were shockingly wrong in the application of their philosophy, they were also astoundingly correct, at least in principle.  For they were quite right.  They are, indeed, characters whose destiny is in the hands of an author.  They have found it easy to accept salvation by my word, but they would not have easily accepted failure by that word.  Basques would have been no less a protagonist had he failed.  His comrades correctly assumed that the man overboard was caused by the destiny of my choice, which is why they thought not to override it.  However, they incorrectly assumed that they were powerful enough to override that destiny at all.  They were not.  They generally did not see that their intervention was as much a part of their destiny as was the fall of the man the victim’s own destiny.  They did not see that being a protagonist had much less to do with things going right for them, than that they would respond rightly to the things that happened to them.

I suppose I could be blamed for having a man fall overboard, but I could also be credited for giving the man any life at all.  Anyway, this is my story, and I have every right to tell it as I see fit.

[/fiction]





Everyone a Pastor

13 10 2010

Following a man has always been easier than following God.  Even so, he is still only a man.  If we closely emulate his strengths, then we may closely emulate his faults.  But, choose whom we will to follow, our leader never goes to Hell on our behalf.  He goes there for himself, and we go to our own fate.

Following a man has always been so much easier than taking responsibility for our own faith, that we have an innate tendency to venerate our spiritual leaders, as though they were anything better than just another lost soul.  He is but one man among peers.  We sent him off to get his education.  He returned to impart his wisdom to us.  If he taught us for an hour every Sunday, then we sat through fifty-two hours of sermons per year and five-hundred-twenty hours each decade.  By our early thirties, we would have listened to 15,600 solid hours of preaching.  If there were anything left for him to teach us that he had not already discussed, then we ought to dismiss him for his negligence.  We ought, by all rights, to have learned enough to be our own preachers.

Can you say “amen” to that?

To borrow the cliché, our man of the cloth is all too often more cloth than man.  He looks good in the pulpit, but his character tends to be shallow.  It is his fault for expecting to be the shepherd of his flock.  Only Christ is the shepherd.  It is our fault for putting him on a pedestal, as though the platform were raised for his honor, and not merely so that we could see him better.  We should call no man “father” except our Father in Heaven.  A pastor is a peer among equals.

When a layman commits adultery against his wife, we condemn him, but we are not shaken.  When a pastor does such a thing, our church splits, some leave that church, and some leave all church, entirely.  When a pastor falls, we are shaken.  Yet, a pastor is just a theologically educated member of the congregation.  But, so are we.

He distances himself from his people.  He needs that air of infallibility.  If he related to us as one of us, then we might see his faults.  We hold him in such a critical esteem, that his would be the first faults we found, even before our own.  Yet, he is only a man, and he is only human.  Considering the pressure, considering the lack of moral support, and considering the lack of mentoring, one might conclude that the pastor lives an act.  He must, even if he is sincere.  He lives the best that he can, and he hides the rest, or he loses his job.  Such is the fact of the matter.  In this, there grows a weakness.  Quite possibly the shakiest faith in the church is the one that stands behind the pulpit.  The weakest in the group stands to be the backbone.

The disparity between the pastor and the laity is a two-part problem.  Firstly, the pastor has no pastor.  The second problem is like the first, that the congregation has no congregation.  We do not work on Sunday, but the pastor might only work on Sunday.  We turn to him for guidance, but he has no one.  He does not sit in church every Sunday and listen to anyone’s sermon.  He is alone.  God is his only guidance.  Even so, God should be our guidance, also.  He is called to speak the truth, but so are we.  He is called to reach the lost, but we are, also.  We are pastors to a lost world, but we act like spectators.  Our message is as bad as our worship, being nothing but lip service, and only a lip service within the walls of the church building, at that.

We are the preachers who do not preach.  He is the laity that does not listen.  We have led him through his fear for our approval.  We have failed to follow, because we have not emulated him to the world.  We watch him like a television.  We sing a few songs.  We chat a little, and then we go home.

We are only peers among pastors.  No man is above us.  No one is beneath us.  We are all responsible for working out our own faith, with the fear and trembling of a man tottering above the flames of Hell.  Only one man has paid the price for us, and he isn’t the pastor.  Only I am responsible for finding my salvation.  We are in this together.  We are judged separately.

Every single one of us has some insight that you lack.  Every single one of us needs support that only you can give.  We are all pastors.  We are all laity.  We were all lost.  We are all found.





The Soapbox and the Train

16 05 2010

True story: a woman dropped her coat on the ground, just below a platform.  She climbed down to retrieve her coat, and some complete stranger jumped down and rudely shoved her, attempting to force her back onto the platform in a hurry.  Several bystanders stood there and watched.  In the next moment, he was dead, and she was critically injured, but alive.  All of this, because of a mere coat.  To save that material article, she climbed onto the subway tracks.  Then the man climbed onto the tracks to save her.  Most would say that the coat wasn’t worth it.  Some might even say that the woman wasn’t worth it.

But that was just a subway, and he tried by physical means.  It was only a matter of life and death, nothing more.  In another time and another place, a man stood on a soapbox and preached at a passing crowd.  This is also a true story.  He told the world that they were sinners and needed to repent.  He said that they needed Jesus.  He warned them that they were going to Hell.  A man with good intentions stopped to argue with him.  In fact, the man who wished to take him to task was no less than a pastor.  He asked the man on the soapbox why he was being so mean-spirited, why he didn’t just show people the love of God.  Fortunately, the man on the soapbox ignored him.

Let’s take the two true stories and merge them for the sake of analogy.  A woman drops her coat on the train tracks, and in a moment of carelessness, she places exceedingly high priority on a temporary piece of property at the expense of something far greater.  A coat is until the next paycheck, but death is forever.  A man on the platform yells and screams at her to abandon the coat and move to safety.  He warns her of impending doom.  The other people around him mostly do nothing, same as before.  One man stops and accuses him of being unloving, harsh and overly critical.  According to the detractor, all of this yelling and screaming is only bound to chase her farther onto the tracks.  “She’ll never come to safety if you keep on like that,” he says.  At some later time, we might even make the suggestion that the police come and arrest the shouter for “hate speech.”  The liberal says that a loving God would surely not let a train come and crush a person flat, simply because she followed her own tendencies.  What harm did she do anyone?  How did her actions justify the punishment?

Yet, God’s moral laws are no more flexible than his physical laws.  She stood on the tracks when the train came, and she was to be crushed by it.  We don’t fault the train.  We don’t fault God.  We place the blame squarely on the woman.  She should have known better.

There’s a popular little lie that makes its rounds among believers that we should, “preach the gospel to the world, using words, if necessary.”  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by people speaking the message (Romans 10:17).  If no one speaks it, then no one is going to hear it.  Somehow, we are expected to simply be nice people, without ever really getting to the marrow of what we believe to be not only the truth, but a dire truth, at that.  In any other dire situation, we would be expected to go out of our way to convey the danger of the matter to the potential victims as quickly and as loudly as we possibly could.  Yet, somehow, when it comes to the only thing more important than life or death, being Heaven and Hell, we are expected to simply show people the love of God, without ever broaching the subject of the other person’s future of burning in Hell for all of eternity.

Focus on Heaven, they say.  Don’t scare them with the stuff about Hell.  So our victim is bending over to pick up her coat, and the man on the platform is calling to her seductively, telling her how wonderful it would be if she could stand up there on the platform with him, instead of being down there on the dirty old tracks, like that.  Her response?  Yes, of course it would be nice to stand on the platform, instead, but she’s going to get her coat first.  Yes, it would be nice to get into Heaven, but I’ve got time, and I’m going to enjoy life first.  In the end, the woman still gets crushed, but at least the man didn’t get hurt in the process.

That’s what it’s all about, anyway, isn’t it?  We try to win people to Christ in the way that is least likely to get us hurt.  The train comes.  We don’t mention it.  We act like there’s no hurry.  We behave as though there were no threat.  We even pass laws against telling people that they are going to be utterly destroyed if they don’t get out of harm’s way.  That’s hate speech.  But, love is not always polite.

Jesus was often rude.  He spent much time railing against the teachers who led people astray.  In his case, he was so determined to save a person, that, like the good fellow who tried to rescue the woman, he died trying.  As in that case, more often than not, Christ’s own attempts to save people are for naught.  In the end the train comes, and there is Hell to pay.  Even so, he still hopped down from his high place and died in the attempt.  Futile effort is better than the nightmare of having done nothing.

It doesn’t have to be futile, though.  There was always some slim chance that the person might be saved.  In fact, sometimes the hero is rewarded with another soul rescued, a life saved from imminent doom.  We are not that hero.  We are only asked to speak the warning from our place of relative safety.  Our job will not always be this easy.  For now, the bystanders only ridicule us for speaking of the train and the danger.  For now, we are only made to endure a little scorn.  The time is coming when the masses will drag us away and put us in prison, that the woman may remain on the tracks until her execution.  That is, they will do so if we continue to warn.  As it is, we mostly stand and stare, like an audience at a horror film.

And we think we are virtuous for our gentleness.





Signs and Wonders to the Muslim Heart

1 07 2009

The way into the Muslim heart is through signs and wonders.

My brother, a chaplain in the United States Air Force recently returned from Iraq with some interesting news.  Firstly, I must say that military clergy are very much restricted in how they share the gospel, so much so that they hardly seem representative of a free country.  Great pains are taken in policy to assure that they do not force their religion on anyone, to the point that they cannot share their beliefs with the people of that nation unless specifically asked to do so.

An Iraqi man and his son came in to the military hospital with burn injuries.  Apparently, the Iraqi hospital was next to useless in terms of receiving real care.  The son was seriously burned over his body because he had fallen into the open cooking fire in their house.  The father had burned his own hands pulling his son out of the fire.  The father was worried that he would lose his job because he hadn’t been able to tell his workplace that he was in the hospital.  He was also worried that he wouldn’t be able to do his job anyway, because of the injuries to his hands.  My brother prayed for him and also had his workplace notified that the reason he wasn’t showing up to work was that he was in the hospital.  The father also asked him to pray for his son, who was in a different section of the hospital.  The son had blood poisoning  (septicemia), and was bloated, lying there hooked up to tubes.  My brother had seen a lot of people at the burn unit he had worked at for a while, and many died even though he prayed for them.  Since the father had asked him to pray for the boy, and there was no one around except a Catholic nurse, he anointed the boy with oil and prayed the Scriptures in Jesus’ name.  During or after the prayer, he felt the power of God surge through his body and out through his hand to the boy.  This told him that something significant was happening.  It was some time later that he encountered the two again.  They were really excited to see him.  The man’s hand was totally healed.  The boy was totally healthy and the only remnant of his injuries was the appearance of new skin.

In another case, a young Muslim man had serious wounds and was continually in a lot of pain.  He asked my brother to pray for him, and he did.  The next day was his day off (he got one day off per week).  When he returned the second day after the prayer, he found that the Muslims had been excitedly asking where he was all during his day off.  He found the man that he had prayed for, who had been in continual pain, and the pain had completely cleared after the prayer and stayed away permanently.   One Muslim man made the sign of the cross after my brother spoke and prayed with him, and the interpreter was flabbergasted and told him later that it was basically a statement of conversion.  By the time his tour was up and he had to return home, the Iraqis were bringing their friends to come and see this “Christian imam,” to whose prayers God listened.

The way into the heart of the Muslim is through signs and wonders.  Consequently, any effective witness in their world must be full of the Spirit and ready to pray for miracles.  The result of their faith, the sort of faith that germinates from a seed to a fully grown mustard plant with the water of the Holy Spirit, is that more miracles are likely to take place among them in testimony of Christ than would otherwise be seen in the western world.  Americans have been infected with a bad case of Hollywood.  Miracles are for entertainment purposes, not for conviction, in the eye of the American unbeliever.  Consequently, miracles are less likely to happen on this continent in the testimony of our Lord.

When Napoleon invaded Egypt, I’ve heard it said that his opponents roused the native population against him using magic tricks of the illusionist sort.  His response was to send in his own magicians to counter the spiritualist claims of his enemies.  This brings us to the dark flip side of the coin.  The way into the Muslim heart, even for Satan, is through signs and wonders.  In the last days, the Antichrist will use sorcery to bring the Muslims into his kingdom.  I feel entirely convinced that, while he himself will be a westerner, he will be proclaimed the Twelfth Imam, returned, by the Shiite clergy of Iran.  I’ve been saying this since before Iran began asserting itself  to become the blemish that it is today.  The false prophet of the Antichrist will be an Iranian leader, for certain.  In those days, it will be much like the battles between Moses and the Pharaoh’s magicians, for God will send two witnesses to wage war against the Antichrist through miracles of the Heavenly kind.  After all, the way into the Muslim, Arabic, and Persian heart is through signs and wonders.

We have before us both a great opportunity and a tremendous nightmare.  Either we will face this challenge with missionaries with the courage to pray for the impossible, or we will bypass this battleground and cede it directly to the enemy.  We could have the advantage of arriving first, before the enemy comes, but this moment will fade.  I’ve tried to avoid getting into End Times prophecy, because I’ve literally been writing about it since I was four years old, and I’m rather burned-out with the whole thing, but I felt this much needed to be said.  Tomorrow’s Napoleon, tomorrow’s Hitler and tomorrow’s Stalin will wage a war of sorcery, unlike anything the world has yet seen.  Will Christians rise to the battle, armed with faith and power?

Or will they watch television all night?

I know it’s frustrating, because it’s something that goes beyond us.  All we can do is pray, and there’s no guarantee that anything will come of it.  Even so, I tend to think that it must be worth the effort.

hallwaysig





Worms in the Wood

30 05 2009

Change always brings the crazies out of the woodwork.  Here, you’ve got one man walking through town naked, telling everyone that some Middle Eastern nation is going to kill, destroy and maim.  The end is near, they say.  There, you’ve got a man lying on his side for days next to a street, talking to a cake made with mud, babbling something about how the country has lost its faith in God, bringing down wrath upon everyone.  The end is near, and the sky is falling.  One man even married a prostitute, just so he could write verses about her and compare her to the sinfulness of the country.  We’re all going to Hell in a hand basket, and we forgot to pack a lunch.  The country was once founded in faith, dominated by one set of beliefs, but something external worked its way in.  The country once served a higher calling but now serves only itself.  The people who once were in love with God, who founded the country for the sole purpose of unifying under one religious code, now love only themselves and revile any rules that would suggest that they not do exactly as they please.  Now we’ve got self-proclaimed prophets and conspiracy theorists trying to make everyone afraid that the end is near, because their religion is waning, and they’re afraid of seeing the country change.

 I could be talking about the United States of America, but I’m not, yet.  When the ancient nations of Israel and Judea were adopting the beliefs and lifestyles of the nations around them, compromising faith and purity, all kinds of people claimed to have a word from the Lord, threatening punishment.  The prophet, Joel, told that an army would come from the north and take over the region, that they would be unstoppable.  The prophet, Isaiah, said that Babylon would prevail and take his entire nation into exile.  Yet, even though that nation of Judea was, in fact, far less faithful than it had been in times past, it was still far more in league with the laws of Yahweh than was the nation that came to conquer it.  Prophets predicted judgment on God’s nation, which still retained some faith, but where were the prophets of Babylon, which never had any such faith?  Seemingly, the nation that had never followed God was getting rewarded at the expense of a nation that had once followed God, and even yet still followed him a little.

 Why is it that a man is deeply angered and hurt by the woman he loves, who once loved him but turns her back on him, but he is unmoved by a woman on the street who never loved him in the first place?

 Joel was right, though.  Assyria from the north conquered Israel and led them out with cruel hooks through their jaws, like fish.  Isaiah was right, too.  Babylon besieged Judea until the people started to eat their own children, and then the Judeans were taken away and scattered.

 Ever notice how loud the religious conservatives are getting?  Notice how they portend disasters and coming storms; how they believe that there will be a great war in the Middle East and calamity will befall the United States?  Ever wonder why a halfway Christian nation would expect the wrath of its own God, while the same God fairly ignores the faithlessness of pagan nations like Nepal and China?  To some, it seems like the whining of a losing team.  Ground that the Christians could once take for granted is now probably lost forever.  To others, it seems like history repeating itself.

 We love those who love us.  We are most easily hurt by those we love the most.  We believe that God loves us, but we don’t seem to think that he has feelings, ironically.  God is only love, never resentful, right?  He only rewards, but he never punishes, right?  We expect him to let the country slide until it has completely lost its faith and looks exactly like the nations that never believed, and then we think he might do something about it.  Punishing a faithless nation is like beating a dog that hasn’t got a clue that it did anything wrong.  Try yelling at a coyote, “Bad dog!”  What do you think it would do?  If you’re lucky, it would walk away.  You can’t train a dog that has no loyalty.

 Yes, the End-Times crowd is really in their wheelhouse now.  The nation is on the brink of falling into a pit that it can never crawl out of.  We’ve got industrialized infanticide and legitimized homosexuality.  Some despot, somewhere, is itching to show us a little divine nuclear punishment.  The screams of the religious right keep getting louder.  Their tactics seem to get nuttier by the day.  They’ve been stricken from the schools and the textbooks.  They’ve been defeated at the polls and denounced by the press.  They’ve been censored here and there, yet they keep coming through with their absurd claims of conspiracy.  They claim that the government is out to silence them.  I can’t imagine why they would think that…just because it’s true.  You start changing society, and the voices of the old way warn of bloody murder.

 The only problem, though, is how starkly frequent the nuts prove to be right.  The only thing worse than crazy people everywhere warning the world of impending doom is crazy people everywhere accurately warning the world of impending doom.

ripplesig





Death Trap Highway

7 02 2009

They call it Death Trap Highway, and for good reason. It’s a long desert road in the middle of nowhere, connecting a small desert city with the nearest thriving coastal metropolis. On one side, there’s a dry mountain range, and on the other is an endless expanse of joshua trees and rocks. All kinds of things die out there, coyotes being the least of them. If your car runs fine everywhere else, it might still die out on that road. More importantly, though, it’s a common place for people to die. I remember that one night, years ago as a kid, when we arrived at the scene of a car accident, and my Dad tried valiantly to resuscitate a little girl. One car, loaded with kids, half of them dead, and another car with two dead adults just sat there, smoking. It was a futile effort, though. There was no reviving the kid. My Dad spent the next two days in bed. He didn’t come out for anything. What was the cause of the accident? The mother of the family, who was one of the drivers, said that she swerved to avoid an animal in the road. In all likelihood, she either fell asleep at the wheel or was a little intoxicated. Their funeral was not a solemn stoic one, the way white people do it, but a raging torrent of emotion, wailing and crying.

That funeral could have been ours. Was it nearly half a decade later? Yes, I suppose it was. We were on that same highway, now with a large billboard naming it “Death Trap Highway,” in memory of some other people who also managed to die there. My mom was driving, and she was clearly in her happy place. We passed a sign that said “Lane ends, merge left,” and she didn’t merge left. We passed over a couple of slanted arrows on the road, pointing left, and she kept driving straight ahead. I looked over at her, and she was staring straight ahead, but her mind was somewhere miles away.

“Um, Mom?” I said, “Are you going to change lanes?”

Up ahead, my Dad and I both saw the lane end quite abruptly at a pile of rocks. We were headed straight for it at the speed of seventy-five miles per hour. My mom didn’t even flinch. Very anxious, my Dad started pleading with her to change lanes. It was like watching a captive plead to his tormentors to stop whipping him. I saw reality dawn on my mom’s face, as she snapped out of her reverie. Rather than change lanes, though, she took her eyes completely off of the road and drilled my dad with an angry stare (for several seconds, mind you) and proceeded to scold him for his tone of voice.

“Look, Babe, I’m just trying to tell you to change lanes before we go off the road!” he pleaded.

He was looking at the road. She wasn’t. He began to get more anxious. I kept looking back and forth between the pile of rocks and them. My dad had a look of horror like I’ve never seen before, with his feet on the seat and his knees drawn up to his chest, he was biting his fingers and getting red in the face. She was giving him a lecture about how she didn’t appreciate being talked to like that.

Then, I think the thing that convinced me that we were about to die was when she turned her head back to the road, looking straight at the pile of rocks, expressionless, yet she looked like she was determined to stay in that lane just to show us who was boss. “I can’t believe it,” I thought, “She’s really going to do it. She’s really going to drive straight into the rocks.”

At the last possible moment, she began to get over. We missed the rock pile by a foot, went off the road and did about a hundred yards in the dirt, before making asphalt again. I won’t say what I was thinking after that, but it’s safe to say that my way of thinking was forever changed by it.

I wish I could say that it was an aberration in human nature, but it’s not. Every single one of us drives our own Death Trap Highway. It’s a dangerous life, and death is inevitable, but when someone tells us that we’ve made a mortal mistake, how often do we continue in the same path, refusing to change, sacrificing everything for the sake of our stubborn pride? And we even fail to protect our pride. Who can possibly respect a decision like that?! Instead of making an objective decision and steering safely away from harm, we scold the person who tries to warn us of it. We don’t like the angry way they told us (though, seldom is it really all that bad), or we pretend that they are wrong. We cast the blame on them. Then, we continue along the same path.

If a person is going to Hell, and I warn them of it, in all likelihood, they’ll cast me as an intolerant bigot. They’ll accuse me of being insecure and trying to comfort myself by winning others to my faith. Nothing could be further from the truth. We could be perfectly at ease, enjoying our salvation and watching you go to Hell. I mean, who wants to put up with verbal abuse from a bunch of angry heathens, when we can relax and take it easy? I’m okay; you’re going to Hell, but that doesn’t hurt me. I’ve lost count of the number of people who lambaste Christians who make even the barest attempt at sharing their faith.

And they call us the intolerant ones.

Look, it isn’t easy for someone to warn you of your sin. Truth be told, no one really wants to have to be the one to do it. Next time, when a Christian wants to share his faith with you, be polite and listen, whether you’re already a believer or not. We’re not doing it for ourselves. We’re doing it because we think you might be headed for trouble and we hate to see it happen to a nice person like you.

Truth be told, if I try to proselytize you, then it’s only because I like you. Just take the compliment, okay?

xerosig





The hypocrisy of fighting proselytization

28 08 2008

There are those who think it a sin to try to convince others of one’s own religious beliefs.

I take that back. There are those who think that tying to convince others of one’s own religious beliefs is a sin, so long as those religious beliefs are Christian. These same people make no mention of other religious groups, so I must conclude that they are concerned only with Christians. In Iran, such people are prominent, being the highest political leaders in the nation. There, it is a crime punishable by death either to convert to Christianity or to attempt to convert another to it. I’m not going to waste time writing about Iran, here. I don’t speak Persian, and if I did, this blog would never get inside the country anyway. No, I am talking about a particularly open-minded class of American who believes that it is a Christian’s foremost duty to keep his religious beliefs to himself. We can talk football. We can discuss politics. We can even have a chat about the Eightfold Path. If we mention the name of Jesus in any other context than that of an expletive, then we’ve crossed the line into that deep and dangerous gray area of, and I quote, “shoving your religion down my throat.”

Ah, yes…America is built on the free exchange of ideas. We hold firmly to the value of free speech. In fact, we extend it so far as to say that the freedom of speech inherent in painting oneself green and running naked on the White House lawn is a sacred rite. Well, maybe not completely naked. However, any effort to share Christian values is not seen as free speech, but as an attempt to stifle others. I have been told not to share my faith, or that if I do that I am only reacting out of insecurity about my beliefs. The irony in this is that in telling me this, these same people have attempted to share their own beliefs with me, as an effort to actually change my behavior! (Gasp! Oh, the horror!) Oh, wait…I forgot, it’s okay for them to try to get me to change my views and actions, but the reverse is a form of oppression.

Let’s face it, folks: telling people that it’s wrong to share their views in an attempt to convince others is a self-contradictory lie. Yes, it’s even self-contradictory if they are Christians who share their beliefs. I know it’s convenient to have a double-standard, though.

Then there’s this notion that I’m full of myself if I think I have the truth and you don’t. Hmm…someone didn’t think that one through too carefully. Oh, wait, I forgot, I’m full of myself if I’m a Christian and I think I have the truth and you don’t. I knew I was missing something. Yes, because it would be silly to assume that I’d be trying to convince you of something that I did not believe in.

No, no, you have the truth. I’m wrong. I’m only trying to convince you otherwise.

You’re right. You have the truth. I have the truth. They both completely contradict each other, but neither of us are wrong! The laws of reason and logic just twisted themselves into a Gordian knot to accommodate you, and I am an ass!

(Deep breath) The person who tells me that I can not insist on having the truth that someone else does not, must, himself not believe that he has the truth that I do not, or he would be contradicting himself. I must therefore assume that he knows that he is wrong, and that he is attempting to convince me of something that even he does not believe, in which case I will not believe him. Therefore, I might logically continue to believe that I am right. I can not be proven wrong simply because I am wrong to believe that I am right. It’s a baseless argument.

I believe that the odds are that any given person reading this post is more likely on their way to Hell than Heaven.

Oops…I just did it. I shoved my religion down your throat.

Comments? Oh, well, if you agree with me, then there is nothing to say. If you disagree with me, then your only point would be that it is wrong to attempt to share your views with others, so I will spare you the temptation of betraying your own beliefs by posting a comment.