Friday, March 11, 2016

Chicago, Free Speech, and the Silencing of the Trump Campaign Event

There will be those among you reading this who may be celebrating the cancellation of the appearance by candidate Donald J. Trump, which had been scheduled for this evening at the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion.  This is unfortunate, and it does not bode well for the future of this country.  Please allow me to tell you my reasons for making such a statement.  There are, as well, some of you who are celebrating who have made the accusation that Mr. Trump is little more than a fascist, even going so far as to equate him as being on a par with Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.  You are wrong; and I have replied to some of you, on another forum, by asking, "Where are Mr. Trump's Brown Shirts?"  That is not an idle question, and the silencing of his speech tonight may mark a step in a direction I know none of us wants to see our country take, but which may be taking place all the same, unless things change.  Again, please allow me to elaborate.

Those of you who know me know that I "came of age" politically during the late 1960's and early 1970's, as part of the time when the struggle for Civil Rights was taking place, and especially during the protests against the war in Vietnam.  I voted for the first time in the presidential election of 1972 for Senator George McGovern, who lost in a landslide to President Richard M. Nixon. Four years later, I voted for the candidate of the Socialist Workers Party, Peter Camejo, who was later the Green Party candidate for governor in California, and, in 2004, was Ralph Nader's vice-presidential running mate in his independent bid for election as President.  I mention all of this simply as a way of saying that I am no stranger to the politics of protest, to the need for free speech, and for a desire to reform our society for the better.  That my personal political position has moved toward the center is more the result of my recognition that genuine change cannot truly be accomplished by imposition from without; it must be the result of an inner regeneration, by the laying aside of who we were before and by being renewed in the spirit of our mind, as St. Paul writes to the Church in Ephesus.  Put another way, you cannot legislate morality; at least, not to the depths of one's being.

Civil society rests upon civility: upon respect for the other person, even when we disagree.  Once upon a time, and that not so very long ago, this went without saying.  Across the political spectrum, there was an almost-universally shared respect for the rights accorded by the Constitution, including the right to the freedom of speech accorded by the First Amendment.  In a quotation sometimes attributed to Voltaire, to Patrick Henry, and to Evelyn Beatrice Hall, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," we expressed something that approached the sacred in political discourse: the right to be allowed to speak our mind, even in the face of opposition, even when the message was massively unpopular.  Indeed, sometimes the more unpopular the message, the more important it was to express it - at least, that's how it seemed to its proponents.  Even when protests were met with counter-protests, there was an expectation of civility, and that the law was meant to protect both sides of the argument - both sides had a right to be heard. There were exceptions; there are always exceptions - but it was unthinkable to "infiltrate" a rally being held by one side by opponents with the express purpose of disrupting the event, with the goal of effectively silencing those whose point of view was one with which we disagreed.  We might be noisy and disruptive outside; we might silently protest inside; but it was a "given" that those who acted disruptively to silence the speaker or speakers with whom we disagreed could just as easily do the same to us; and how could we know how to refute their arguments if they were not given the opportunity to state their case?  Alas, the silencing of Mr.Trump at the rally tonight, as was the case earlier in the campaign season when "activists" from the "Black Lives Matter" organization disrupted a rally for candidate Bernie Sanders, ultimately preventing him from addressing his supporters, shows that the earlier civility is no longer operative in the political arena today.  That is, as I have said, unfortunate, and does not bode well for us as a country.  How can we reason together and find a way forward together if we cannot state our positions to each other?  We have to be willing to listen to each other, even if we do not agree.

If that was all, however, I probably wouldn't be writing at this time.  Far more troubling, although definitely related, is the reality that the disruption achieved at the Trump event tonight is due, in part, to the efforts of organizations opposed to the candidacy of Mr. Trump to deliberately and intentionally disrupt the event. These include paid "community organizers" on the left - I won't dignify their organizations by naming names, but if you pay any attention at all, you don't need me to point them out for you - and it is part of my duty to point out just how dangerous this activity can be for us as a society and people.  Remember my question earlier, "Where are the Brown Shirts?"  As I was back then, I have continued to be a student of history, something many of you, my fellow Americans, either have forgotten or were never really taught.  As such, you might not know how the Brown Shirts in Germany or the Black Shirts, their counterparts in Italy, came into being.  Do you know what functions they were formed to serve?  Initially, they had two roles to fulfill: to protect the meetings held by their party (the National Socialist German Worker's Party, in the case of the Brown Shirts) against efforts by the leftists to disrupt their meetings; and to break up the meetings and rallies held by the parties on the left. Now, the turmoil in post-World War One Germany was such that it is probably impossible to say who came first: the thugs on the left, or the thugs on the right; and it's most likely that the two more or less came into being simultaneously, in response to the general unrest in which the politics and economy of Weimar Germany operated.  The same cannot be said for the situation we are faced with today.  There are no Brown Shirts operating openly - at least, not yet. However, the same cannot be said for the disruptive forces and organizations on the left - the "evil twins" of any nascent Brown Shirts of today.  I am not a prophet; but at a certain point it takes no special talent to read the signs of the times.  As a watchman on the wall, I must say that, unless there are changes made to the way things are taking place, we are heading for troubles that will lead us away from civility and freedom, and into the fires of hatred and repression unthinkable for America even fifty years ago, when Freedom Riders were facing off with hooded Klansmen and antiwar protesters were shot and killed by the National Guard. Let us hope and pray that all the candidates, Mr. Trump included, will urgently call upon their followers for mutual respect and restraint; and that each of us will do our part in laboring to restrain our baser instincts, consider others as being better than ourselves, and renew our commitment to loving our neighbors, even when we do not agree with their choice of candidate.  Otherwise, may the Lord have mercy on us, for we are lost...

Friday, December 18, 2015

What to Do If Syrian Refugees Relocate Into Your Neighborhood

     If you have a Facebook page, the chances are good that you've seen this meme; probably more than once, and perhaps more than you'd care to see it - not because you object to what it says, necessarily, but simply because seeing it over and over again begins to feel as if you're being bludgeoned. Other than acute overexposure, however, there really isn't anything objectionable to the message being conveyed here. The small print sets out the crux of the matter, at least for those of us who profess the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, as it urges us, as Christians, to follow the example of the Good Samaritan, and to not be like, "the other guy"; a misnomer, given that, in the parable as our Lord taught it involves two other "guys" - a priest of the Temple and a Levite. But before this becomes a Bible study or a commentary, let's agree that the meme encourages us, rightly, not to panic in the event that we find ourselves living in the vicinity of refugees from Syria (or elsewhere in the Middle East); and to react to them as neighbors should when encountering people in need: by reaching out to them to meet their needs, beginning at the practical level, and continuing to the higher levels of friendship and community, insofar as all are willing to partake and receive.

     Now, if this was all there was to the matter, I wouldn't be writing, as the meme is quite clear on its own. But part of the conversation that has taken place in response to this idea appearing on various timelines speaks of a fear that the act of reaching out to a refugee family will put the person showing the hospitality of a neighbor to a refugee at risk of harm, or even of death.  Sometimes the recent tragedy in San Bernardino, California, in which fourteen people were killed and twenty-two were injured when two self-professed jihadis attacked a Christmas party attended by coworkers and their families, many of whom had done for one of the shooters what the meme calls for us to do as neighbors, is mentioned as a reason for caution, or even for the rejection of showing the kindness the meme suggests. Friends have expressed their concern for the "good people" they know, not wanting them to put themselves in harm's way - an understandable sentiment, to be sure. How, then, should we respond?
     To me, the answer to this question is twofold. The first approach is by analogy, and considers the act of giving, especially (but not exclusively) in its charitable sense. Usually, when you give someone a gift, it's theirs, and no longer yours. You don't own it any more, and they can do what they want with it - no strings attached.  A common example - and a common dilemma - is the person on the street corner with a cardboard sign, asking for help. We have a tendency, first of all, to want to keep what we have for ourselves, don't we? "After all," we say to ourselves, "I've worked too hard to just throw my money away!" Of course, when we throw our money away on ourselves, well, that's different, isn't it? So we must begin by overcoming this selfishness, in which we are assisted by recalling our Lord's teaching, as summarized by the statement, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35) The next obstacle is the thought that the recipient of our charity will not use what we intend to give for the stated purpose - usually, for something to eat. We think, "They'll just use it to buy drugs, or booze! Why should I give them money when they'll only use it for their destruction?" Having talked ourselves into giving, we can just as easily talk ourselves out of it again, unless we also grasp this aspect, which is also the relevant point when it comes to our discussion about the risk of helping Muslim refugees: our part is not to decide what the recipient of our alms might do with them; our part is to decide to give, We will not be held accountable if the recipient takes the money we had given them to buy food and uses it for some other purpose; they will be the ones who answer for their actions, as we will be for ours. If we had the opportunity to give alms to a beggar and did nothing, because our hearts were hardened, we shall suffer the consequences for our failure to show compassion; and, in the same way, if we have the opportunity to show compassion to a refugee because our hearts were fearful, we will bear the consequences for our failure to love our neighbor as we love ourselves - another commandment given to us by our Lord.
     The second approach is more direct. Christians have been at risk of torture and death since the day our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. From the Day of Pentecost, when the Church was established by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and disciples gathered together, until the Edict of Milan was issued in the year of our Lord 313 by the Emperor Constantine the Great, Christians were persecuted by various emperors, governors, and other imperial officials. As the Gospel was brought to new lands by missionaries, many more were martyred for their faith: some upon encountering pagan peoples, and, as Islam began to spread, when Christians and Muslims came into contention. Persecutions and martyrdom continue to this very day and hour - the Syrian refugees whom some people say we should fear might very well be Syrian Christians fleeing the persecution that has driven the Church from the place where it has been for almost two thousand years. Hundreds of thousands of Christians suffered at the hands of the Bolsheviks, with uncounted numbers of martyrs within the last one hundred years in every land where the yoke of Communist oppression has fallen. Dying for the sake of Christ is not new; and it is not old. Those of us in the western world have been blessed with safety and prosperity - and perhaps we have grown soft, and have forgotten, even as we are aware of the history of the martyrs, that to be a Christian has been, and is supposed to be, at some level, a dangerous thing. Our adversary, the devil, does not need to attack us with any intensity if we are only going through the motions when it comes to living our faith in Christ; but when we begin to take it seriously, we threaten his dominion, and we should not be surprised if the attacks and temptations we experience begin to increase. Perhaps how we respond to the danger of the refugees is part of that temptation. Is our fear of death greater than our love?
     Which brings us to this: If we know who we are as Christians, we should not fear death, except to the extent that we are not ready to stand before God to give an account for our lives. Apart from being judged, however, death is not the end: it is simply the doorway by which we depart from this life and enter into the life to come. Let me put it another way: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS DEATH. Granted, at some point, for some reason, our bodies cease to function, and the person we are, as a combination of immortal soul and mortal body, is no longer present as such in this material world. We describe that state as, "death"; but such a death is not the end. As Christians, we know that we do not cease to exist, for Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death.  Death is no longer something to fear, but rather something for which we need to prepare, so that we might be ready to meet our God.  So, if our lives in this world are cut short as were the lives of those fourteen who died at the hands of a coworker whom they had befriended in San Bernardino, what have we lost? NOTHING. It would be better, I think, to reach out with the love of Christ to meet the needs of the refugee family next door, or down the street, even if that causes my death at their hands, because of their hatred, than to do nothing because of my fear. Who knows whether our showing them Christ's love - even if we never get the chance to speak of Him to them - might be a step toward overcoming their hatred - or their fears?  Let us do the right thing, and trust in the Lord, being fearless in the grace of God; and let us love our neighbor, no matter where he, or she, or they, may be from, as we love ourselves.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Politicians and Character

       Anyone who knows me knows that I am a political junkie.  I don't know when it started; it could have been as early as junior high.  By the time I was in high school, politics seemed unavoidable - and I don't mean the student council level kind, although I was elected to serve on what was called the, "Council of Twenty-Five." (Ours was an experimental school at the time, and we did a lot of things that were, well, unusual.) The Vietnam War was raging on, with over half a million men fighting for... what?  We were given all sorts of reasons - and that's not the purpose of this post, so it's
Richard Nixon was elected as President
in the 1968 election in part because he
told the American people that he had
"a secret plan to end the war."
probably best not to go there right now! (Maybe another time...) But I know I couldn't wait to vote, and if I recall correctly, the voting age was lowered from twenty-one to eighteen years of age around that time.  That meant that I was able to vote in the 1972 election, and I still remember waiting in line for hours to cast my vote for... well, it wasn't the winner, I'll say that much, anyway.  But since that election, I have only failed to vote one time: in 1996.  We were living in California - San Francisco, to be exact - and I knew that every candidate I would have supported and every ballot proposition option I would have selected was a lost cause, a moderate drop that would be quickly swallowed up and lost in the midst of a sea of progressivism. Even so, that never prevented me from being vocal. I still recall a letter I received from the member of Congress who represented the district in which we lived, to whom I had written to express my views on a particular issue, asking that the vote to be cast soon take my stance into consideration.  I think the word, "snotty" is all I want to say of the tone of what was expressed in the reply.  Probably best to move on.  Anyway, if you go back a ways in the archive of this blog, you'll find a sample or two of some political thoughts.  On election day, my family knows that I'll be glued to the television set, up all night watching the returns as the votes are tallied.  Want to know how serious it can be?  Remember the referendum in Scotland in September, 2014? I stayed up all night and into the early hours of the morning, counting votes, until every last district had reported in.  Scotland!  Okay, our family is Scots-Irish, so there's a bit of a connection; but while a sane and sensible person would have been content to go to bed at a normal hour and get up in the morning to find that a majority of those voting had opted to remain in union with the rest of Great Britain, that wasn't how it was for me...
       So far in this campaign cycle, I've seen (or heard) the majority of both Republican debates (the main events, that is: I missed the "matinee" event which preceded the first major debate), and the majority of the Democrat debate, which took place just a bit over a week ago.  Frankly, the Republican debates are still too much of a circus - there are too many participants to take them all seriously.  We need someone like Gordon Ramsey to choose at least one, or maybe two, at the end of each debate, and have them turn in their microphones, and get off of the stage, and not return. Cut the
"Right. Your poll numbers are lower than
a sheep's bollocks. Hand over your
microphone and leave Hell's Stage."
number down to five.  That's still too many, but it's at least on the fringe of being manageable.  As for the Democrat debate, they started with five, but there's already been some sorting out done there, as well, with former Senator Webb withdrawing earlier this week from the contest.  That's too bad. He brought a great deal of integrity, and more than a few good ideas, in my opinion, to the discussion - when he could get a word in edgewise.  I know some commentators have dismissed him as a "whiner" for objecting to how much time was being given to others, but I thought he had a point. As I was listening, it was clear that the moderator, Mr. Cooper, was either unwilling or unable to restrain Mrs. Clinton, who repeatedly blew down the verbal "stop signs" he attempted to give her, time after time.  It was hard not to conclude that, to some degree, this was not so much a debate as a showcase, with the other four there to serve as "window dressing" against which to display Mrs. Clinton at her finest.
       The "highlight" of the debate for many was the moment when Senator Sanders gallantly sprang to Mrs. Clinton's defense regarding the email server issue, saying that the American people have had enough of the matter, and that it is time to move on.  I remember distinctly saying (I talk back to the radio or television from time to time, especially during moments such as these), "You don't speak for me, Bernie! I haven't had enough!"  Mind you, it's not that I want the details: but the entire issue is of concern to me, because it speaks to the character of the former Secretary of State as a candidate for the office of President of the United States.  Did she break the law?  Even if she did not, did she act as if she was above the law, or as if the law did not apply to her?  Did she at any time treat sensitive information in a casual or even careless manner?  If she did any of these things as the Secretary of State, would she feel in any way constrained from doing the same, or worse, if she became the President?  Did she lie about what she did?  Why did the story that she told change over time?  Why did she say at first that she didn't, and then later admit that she did?  How did she not know about the second server?  Who ordered the first server to be erased? Why wasn't the second server erased?  I mean, the list could go on, and on, and on; and that's just about the email issue.  There are others, perhaps even more important, such as what happened in Benghazi, where four Americans, including our Ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, died in a violent attack by Islamic militants on the American diplomatic compound and at another nearby location on September 11, 2012. Ten others were injured by the attacks, which occurred after requests for increased security had been denied by the U.S. Department of State, led by Secretary Clinton at that time.
       My point is not to examine the particulars of these or other criticisms made by the moderator during the debate, or by other candidates for the Democrat nomination, or by Republican candidates, or by pundits in the media.  Obviously, I have been giving this a good deal of thought, trying to decide, first of all, whether to even say anything at all.  Now, having decided that I want to make a statement that the issue is one of character, more than of content, I have to say that my thought process took a most unexpected turn this past Sunday morning.  Quite often, I will wake up before my alarm goes off to start the day, rising to get dressed and do the preparation prayers for Holy Communion - the "yellow book" and the "blue book," for those familiar with the Jordanville booklets containing the "Canons for Holy Communion" with its yellow cover, and the "Order of Preparation for Holy Communion," with its pale blue cover. Usually, I will use the time to reflect on the theme of the sermon that will be delivered after the Gospel has been read during the Divine Liturgy.  This past Sunday ran pretty much true to form, until, all of a sudden - and with no discernible connection to the sermon that I could ascertain - I realized that my focus on the character of candidate Clinton was entirely misplaced.  Has she done things that were foolish?  I have done worse.  Has she done things that were dangerous, if only potentially?  I have done worse.  Has she been wicked, a servant of evil?  There is no way I can answer that question for her or about her; but for myself, the answer, I am ashamed to say, has to be, "yes." How, then, can I presume to question or challenge her character, when my sins are undoubtedly greater, more wicked, more vile?    
       Anyone who knows me knows that I am a political junkie.  However, they also know - at least, they should know - that I do not endorse candidates, or parties, or ballot propositions.  It is not my place to use the pulpit, or the teaching authority entrusted to me, to tell you what to do in such situations. The Church is not, and should not be, a political agent.  Certainly, we have a duty and a responsibility to proclaim what is moral and acceptable and pleasing to God, and to warn of what is immoral, and therefore not pleasing to God.  The Church should be active in shaping your conscience; and, as Jiminy Cricket famously advised Pinocchio, "Let your conscience be your guide." That's good advice, as long as you are doing your best to bring your heart and mind and soul closer to knowing and doing the will of God; and if you are regular in your attendance in the worship services of the Church, are attentive to your prayers both in the worship services and in your home, if you are giving from the bounty God has entrusted to you for the needs of others, and laboring to turn away from the sins that always seem to trip you up, your conscience will not fail to give you the advice you need when it comes to knowing how to vote on any particular issue, or how to choose between the candidates for the office for which you are about to cast your vote.  Does the person support or oppose the positions you hold on matters which are of the greatest importance, or not?  Can the person be trusted to keep their word, or not?  Find out all you can, pray all the while, and then make the best decision you can make.  I will be doing my best to do the same.  We may not always arrive at the same conclusions! But we can't go wrong if we do it that way, if we fulfill our duties as citizens in this way.  It's complicated at times: are we citizens of this world, or of the world to come?  Sometimes, the answer to that question is simply, "yes"; and in holding dual citizenship, if only for a brief while, we are called upon to carry out our duties in both realms, rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's. May the God Who calls us and gives us grace to respond to His love with love grant to each of us, as the time for the crucial decisions to choose our leaders for the years ahead, and especially for the President of our nation, the remembrance that those who are seeking our support are also sinners, just like us - and that we are called to be merciful, as we hope to receive mercy.  May no harsh words pass our lips, may no anger, dismay, fear or despair trouble us in heart, mind or spirit, and may God raise up a person worthy of His blessing and our support when the time comes for us to cast our votes.
       Oh, and, don't worry.  I'm sure this isn't the last time I'll have something to say before Election Day arrives in November, 2016!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Should Christians Support the State of Israel?

       As Americans, we are often told that our country should support the state of Israel, if only because it is the only democracy in the Middle East (which ignores Egypt, Lebanon, and, at least ostensibly, Syria). We are also told that Israel is our only ally in the region; and when it is pointed out that we have, or have had, other allies in the Middle East, then Israel becomes our only "reliable" ally. For the moment, let's pretend that no American military personnel were killed by Israeli air strikes in Egyptian waters; friends don't attack friends, after all. Similarly, we will pretend that the Israeli government has never spied on our government; because allies don't do that to each other - right? So let's accept as valid the premise that it is in our country's best interests to support the state of Israel.
       But it has to be said that much of the unspoken argument for this support comes, not from a geopolitical perspective, but rather from one based in religion. Now, no one will be surprised if a majority of Americans who are Jewish favor American support for Israel. (It would be more surprising to find Jewish-Americans who are opposed to support for Israel, although there are surely some who hold this position.) Likewise, few will be surprised to find that there is widespread support for Israel among American Protestants, and especially Evangelicals. Why? And is this support warranted?
       Part of the story has to be told from the time immediately after the end of the Second World War. The attempt by the Nazis to exterminate the "undesirables" they found in Germany and in the  regions of Europe and Asia which they conquered - Communists, homosexuals, those found to be physically crippled or mentally incompetent, and, of course, the Jews - led to the deaths of millions of people. Add to this the utter destruction of countless cities, towns, and villages, and there were hundreds of thousands of displaced peoples with no homes to which they might return; and, in the case of the Jews, even if their homes were still intact, the treatment they had received at the hands of their "neighbors" was itself an incentive to find a new place to live. As such, many Jews sought to emigrate to Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jewish people.  Centuries before, Palestine had been incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, having been a battleground between Christians and Muslims who both sought to control Jerusalem and the surrounding area, each religious group asserting its own claims to the Holy Land, in addition to the claims made by the Jews, as the heirs of Abraham, to whom the land had been given by God.  The Jewish refugees were welcomed by some of the Arab residents of Palestine, but while the Arab Christians might not have objected, and perhaps some of the Muslims might even have been willing to accept some Jewish settlement, many other Arabs did not, and tensions rose.  In time, the difficulty of maintaining order in the region led the British, who had taken charge in Palestine according to a mandate from the League of Nations in 1920 after the end of the First World War, and who had been confirmed in the same mandate by the United Nations after the Second World War, to announce on February 7, 1947, that it would terminate its participation in the mandate, returning it to the United Nations to administer. An eleven-nation Special Committee appointed by the United Nations to study the question reported on August 31, 1947, that the mandate should be terminated and that Palestine should be granted independence at the earliest possible date, with the territory being partitioned between the Arabs and the Jews. The vote for independence was unanimous; but the motion for partition received only seven votes in favor.  On November 29, 1947, U.N. Resolution 181, which called for an end to the mandate by no later than August 1, 1948, and which created three zones - one under Arab control, one under Jewish control, and an internationally-controlled zone containing Jerusalem - was approved with thirty-three votes in favor, thirteen votes opposed, and ten abstentions. The representatives of the Palestinian Jews accepted the partition; the leaders of the neighboring Arab states, all of whom voted against partition, obviously, did not. The United States voted in favor of partition, as did the Soviet Union, and the vast majority of its allies. On May 14, 1948, hours before the mandate was to come to an end, David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister-elect of the nascent State of Israel, issued a declaration of the existence of that state's existence, effective as of midnight on May 15, 1948, when the U.N. mandate expired and British authority in Palestine was no longer in effect. Eleven minutes after midnight on the fifteenth of May President Truman recognized the provisional Jewish authority as the de facto authority of the new Jewish state.  After the first Arab-
Israeli War, which began on May 15th with the invasion of Palestine by armies from Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, and Iraq, supported by contingents from Yemen, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, and ended March 10, 1949 (the ceasefire being ratified on July 20, 1949), the new state found itself in control of all the areas set aside for the Jews under the partition plan, plus almost sixty percent of the Arab areas, including West Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank of the Jordan River. In the midst of the war, the provisional government was replaced by a government elected on January 25, 1949; and the United States formally recognized the State of Israel on January 31, 1949.
       There is no denying the horrific experience of the Holocaust, or the need for a safe refuge for the Jewish refugees in the postwar world, or the logic which concludes that the best, and perhaps only, way to protect the Jews against any recurrence of any acts of antisemitism as was displayed by the Nazis is a Jewish state which has the power to act to protect its people against any enemies who might seek their annihilation. There is also no denying that the uphill battles against seemingly overwhelming odds fought time and again by the armed forces and people of Israel against those who sought their destruction is worthy of some admiration. The stunning victories of the Six Day War in 1967, and the hard-fought battles of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, for example, might well be described as legendary.  But the history and the reasons so far are all geopolitical and secular.  Is there any outstanding reason for deliberate Christian support for the state of Israel?
       As best as I can determine, Christian support for the state of Israel has as much, or more, to do with Christian eschatology as it has to do with any secular reasons, as good as these reasons may (or may not) be.  As I follow this line of reasoning, in order for our Lord Jesus Christ to return - the "Second Coming," as it is sometimes described - it is necessary for the following "pieces," among others (the list is not exhaustive) to be in place:

  1. Israel had to exist as a state. Thus, for many, the declaration of May 14/15, 1947, started the "countdown clock" for the initiation of the "end times," setting the stage for our Lord's return.
  2. The Temple in Jerusalem had to be rebuilt.  There are some additional cultic requirements associated with the reconsecration of a rebuilt Temple, if and when that happens, steps toward the fulfilling of which are reportedly being pursued by certain American protestants; but central to this is that Israel must, obviously, continue to exist, and continue to remain in control of the Temple Mount and the City of Jerusalem.
       Additionally, there may, or may not, be an invasion of Israel from the north by the forces of "Gog and Magog," sometimes associated with Russia and its allies; there may or may not have been a restoration of the Roman Empire in the form of a European union of some sort, although the current European Union is larger than the ten states usually identified as constituting the renewed Roman Empire; and there may, or may not, have been a battle fought at "Armageddon," although the exact location is unknown, and subject to speculation.  
       Are they right?  Who knows?  I know I don't.  But we've certainly had more than our share lately of the "end of the world" prophecies that have fallen flat on their faces: the "end"of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012, and the "blood moon" last month; these sorts of predictions have been going on, and influencing people for generation after generation.  Now, when I was asked about the Mayan calendar, and the blood moon, and this prediction, and that prophecy, I would give the same reply: "You know, when the disciples asked, 'What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?' He said to them, 'But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.' So if our Lord didn't know, or wouldn't tell, we aren't meant to know anything more than that we are to focus our attention on doing what we are supposed to be doing.  That way, if we depart this life before He returns, no worries; and if we're doing what we're supposed to be doing when He returns, no worries.  It's win-win either way."  I think the same is true for these concerns for the "need" for there to be a state, in the man-made, secular sense, of Israel: we're worrying about something over which we have no control, when God can, and will, make what needs to happen happen, when it needs to happen.  It's not as if our Lord is lurking anxiously somewhere overhead in the clouds, waiting for us to somehow make all the arrangements in order for Him to return.  Rather, if He tarries, it is to give us the time we need to repent of our sins, and to confess them, and to take the steps needed to transform our lives, to turn away from the ways of the world and embrace instead the ways of the kingdom of heaven. He delays as an act of mercy and compassion, and not because we've yet to rebuild the Temple of Solomon, or breed a perfect red heifer, or meet any other condition someone thinks humans have to do in order for our Lord to return.
       So, should Christians support the state of Israel?  That's a question each of us will have to decide on its merits: but I think we can do so without having to be concerned about whether or not our support will have any influence on whether, or when, our Lord will return.  Rest easy, brethren!  God will make that decision on His own; and all we need to do is to decide what is right in terms of how our friends and allies in Israel are doing in relation to us, to their neighbors, and to the people who live within their borders: Jews and non-Jews alike.  Let us also remember that, when we cast things in terms of Jews and Arabs, it is all too easy to fall into the false assumption that "Arab" means "Muslim."  In many instances, especially in many places in the Holy Land, that "Arab" or "Palestinian" is a Christian; quite often, an Orthodox Christian.  Sadly, the recent turmoil has caused many of our Christian brothers to flee their ancestral homes - an aspect of the tragedy in the Middle East all too often overlooked; and one which the policies of the Israeli government should more often be held accountable, but is not.  May the Lord God have mercy on us all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"How Doth the Little Busy Bee..."

Yesterday, in the early evening, as I was getting out of our pool (yes, it's still warm enough for us to enjoy a swim: the water was a perfect seventy-eight degrees, and the air temperature was just a few degrees warmer as the sun was just a few minutes from setting), I happened to notice a bee struggling against the surface of the water.  It's not unusual to find a bee which has perished in the pool, as well as any number of other insects which have, for whatever reason, strayed too close to the water, and become trapped as a result of the surface tension exerted by the water.  It's surface tension which helps hold a drop of water together; and it is that same force which can cling to an object, or an organism, making it impossible for it to escape.  Whenever I'm able to do so, I try to rescue these helpless creatures, whether a bee, or a beetle, or a spider, or an ant, lifting them out of the water and placing them onto the ground.  Sometimes I have to think long and hard about it! There are some bugs and beasties I'd just as soon not save, although I generally do, anyway.  I've never come across a black widow spider or a scorpion in need of being saved from drowning.  I don't know what I would do if I did encounter one in the pool, as these are two critters where the policy around the property is, basically, "stomp first, ask questions later."  

Having placed the bee on the cool deck, I then watched from the edge of the water, wondering whether it had been pulled from the water in time.  At first, it seemed that my efforts had been in vain: the bee was trapped on its back, as if even the surface tension of the water around it on the decking was such that it could not break free and right itself. I nudged it gently (and carefully!) to set it upright, and then resumed my vigil. The bee alternated between grooming itself - which wasn't an unexpected reaction - and staggering about in a manner which almost suggested that it was intoxicated, or, I feared, had been poisoned; perhaps by the chlorine present in the pool as a
disinfectant. Chlorine, after all, is a component of many insecticides.  In particular, I couldn't help but notice how the bee kept elevating its abdomen, while at the same time dragging its hindmost legs, with their prominent pollen pouches.  It wandered about erratically, at times heading directly toward the pool.  I was prepared to deflect it from such a path, but it never became necessary to do so.  It moved in fits and starts, sometimes looking as if it was improving, and other times looking as if it was getting worse. I lost count of the number of times it staggered and fell into one of the cracks that separates one segment of the pavement from the next, like a drunken sailor who keeps falling off a curb - a very high curb - and then stepping back up, only to fall off again.  As I watched it, I couldn't help but wonder: was it in pain? Was it aware that something was wrong? Was it confused, as we might be, finding ourselves unable to control our bodies in a normal fashion?

This went on for quite a while, and I realized that I was more than a little concerned for the well-being of this little bee; so much so that I started to pray, asking the Lord to heal the bee. Almost immediately I felt more than a little embarrassed, and, still having a sense of being in the presence of the Lord, I said, "Is it wrong, or foolish, to pray for a bee?  After all, it is one of Thy creatures; and we were to be the stewards of Thy creation, which would include the bee..." To be honest, I felt more than a little guilty, given that we are the ones who established and maintain an "attractive nuisance" that has lured many a bee to its demise...

Now, please understand that I take no credit whatsoever for what happened next: the glory is God's, and God's alone. The bee ceased its staggering, and began moving both normally and purposefully along the deck. I could see its proboscis was extended into the shallow irregular indentations which are the effective features of a cool deck, and I knew, without exactly knowing how I knew (although this isn't rocket science) that the bee was in search of water, and was probably finding some; the deck was damp, but only just. Slowly and carefully, coming as close to the bee as I could without disturbing it, I let drops of water fall from my fingertips to the deck, and then waited, hoping the bee would find them. Finally - it seemed to take forever - the bee came to one of the resulting puddles, stopped there for a long pause, and then, suddenly and unexpectedly flew straight up into the air about ten feet before moving off to the southwest, and out of sight.

Is there a point to this story?  If there is, I think it is this: Every time we hear the accounts of saints living in harmony with various animals - St. Zosimas and the lion, who helps him bury St. Mary of Egypt; St. Seraphim of Sarov and the bear who was his companion - and every time we see the many
photographs that make their way to places such as FaceBook these days of monastics in peaceful scenes with wild animals, we should recall that, at one time, the animals lived without fear of us, and were obedient to us, until we ceased to be obedient to God.  Now, they have reason to fear us, separated from God as we are, even after we have been baptized into Christ's death, and raised to new life in Him Who, having risen from the dead, has broken the power of death, which can no longer exert any hold upon Him.  We still have so far to go before we are transformed into His likeness; and yet, when we love, when we reach out to help, when we remember what might have been, and mourn for what we have lost, and give thanks to God for not abandoning us, but rather establishing a way for us to return to Him, what peace, what joy, what awe, what wonder is ours!  The bee will not remember what was done for it; it would be foolish to think otherwise. That is not in the bee's nature. But I will remember - at least, I hope I will remember - what it might have been like to be able to reach out with the power and the authority of God to heal, if only for a fleeting moment, one tiny, tiny part of a world which groans as it awaits its deliverance, and the incredible sense of being a servant of the saving love of God for a tiny creature in His world.