Saturday, April 22, 2006

Rumsfeld and the Generals

Former President Gerald Ford has weighed in on the suggestion of some former generals that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who served in the same post during the Ford Administration, step down. According to a Washington Post article:
"I have been extremely troubled by the efforts of a group of retired generals to force the resignation of our Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld," Ford, 92, wrote. "President Bush is right to keep him in his post. It is the President's decision -- and his alone."

Ford wrote that retired generals should not decide the nation's war policies and leadership lest it set "a dangerous precedent that would severely undermine our country's long tradition of civilian control of the military."
As a student of history, I confess to mixed feelings about this situation, quite apart from the merits or deficiencies of the generals' critique of Rumsfeld's performance as defense secretary.

It is essential that active duty military personnel remain subordinate to the Commander-in-Chief, the President, and his civilian appointees. American constitutional government would be in trouble if this institutionalized tradition were breached. Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman were two chief executives who had to fight to maintain this element of the US Constitution in the face of political generals--McClellan and MacArthur, respectively--whose reckless courting of popular opinion threatened America's democratic institutions.

Nonetheless, we have a tradition in America of turning to former generals, for presidential leadership. The track record of generals-turned-pols is mixed. I count Washington and Eisenhower as among the greatest US presidents. Andrew Jackson is a hero to some; I can't agree. The remaining generals-turned-presidents form a sort of Hall of Mediocrity: William Henry Harrison (who served only a month as president); Zachary Taylor (who also died in office); and Ulysses S. Grant.

What is disturbing about the statement of the former generals calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation is that this isn't just one esteemed general throwing his hat into the political ring. It's a group of recently-retired officers offering their opinions in a way that could sow discontent among the military personnel they have just commanded, legitimizing selective obedience to orders. No matter how we feel about the war, the President, or the Secretary of Defense, selective subordination to constitutional government isn't something we want to encourage. We don't need cabals of general officers speaking out against their bosses, or evening the score with Secretaries of Defense whose policies they dislike.

Nor do we want to encourage the development of deeply politicized officer corps. The history of the world demonstrates that to be disastrous for freedom.

But, under our system, these retired former generals have as much right to speak out as any other citizen. Here, as in so many other aspects of our system of government, the restraint and self-control of people who love their country and value its Constitution are essential.

[For an interesting look Gerald Ford's views of the presidency and the Constitution, listen here.]

[Also see here.]

That'll Shut 'Em Up


NCH May Not Hold the Mayo

That's the headline I'd be tempted to write for this story.

Of course, that would overlook the far more serious aspect of the thing, which is the professionalization of high school sports. I don't like it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Beauty, Not Morality as Motive for Abstinence...

an intriguing commentary from Caroline Langston that ran on NPR yesterday.

A Proposal That Would Bring About Bi-Partisan Tax Reform in a Heartbeat

See here.

How About 'Gloomful'?

James Lileks contemplates the need to find a different word to describe a gloomy day:
Gloomy today. And there’s a word that needs rethinking; since the “-y” makes something seem silly and trivial nowadays, it detracts from the power of the thing it’s describing. Gloomorous, then.

The sun just came out, so strike that.

No, there it goes again. That’s always a strange thing to see on a gloomorous afternoon; the sun suddenly illuminates everything in glory and warmth, then steals away. Like sitting in North Korea watching State TV and suddenly the Seoul channel pushes through for a few seconds. Color! Food! Commerce! Then it’s back to 15,000 youngsters doing a synchronized ballet to commemorate the invention of the polio vaccine by the Great Leader.
That's gloomy!

The picture to the right really does portray a gloomy, gloomful, gloomorous day, doesn't it? Click on the pic to see where it came from; it's part of a collection of good photographs from Penn State and environs.

Hey, maybe that should lead us to a new word for gloomy: "It was a nittany day." Nah! It ends in "-y."

By the way, ever wondered where the "nittany" in Penn State Nittany Lions comes from? One web site says:
The word "Nittany" seems to have been derived from a Native American term meaning "single mountain." (Since a number of Algonquian-speaking tribes inhabited central Pennsylvania, the term can’t be traced to one single group.) These inhabitants applied this description to the mountain that separates Penns Valley and Nittany Valley, overlooking what is today the community of State College and Penn State’s University Park campus. The first white settlers in the 1700s apparently adopted this term, or a corruption of it, when they named that mountain, i.e., Mount Nittany or Nittany Mountain. Thus by the time Penn State admitted its first students in 1859, the word "Nittany" was already in use.
So, they're the Penn State Single Mountain Lions? Maybe there's a market for a feline

Be that as it may, the Penn State football team certainly handed Ohio State Buckeye fans a nittany, I mean, a gloomorous, day last fall.

Meckler Reviews Book Explaining Importance of Ohio in US HIstory

Ohio blogger Michael Meckler has an interesting review of a book composed of essays exploring why Ohio has played such an important role in US History, including voting for the winning presidential candidates in 36 of 38 elections, sending eight of its own to the White House--more than any other state, and living as a microcosm (in countless ways) of the country at large. I may have to order this book!

(By the way, Meckler's is one of the best blogs around.)

A New Direction Begun with a Provocative Quote

Writer and blogger Deborah White is taking one of her blogs, Heart, Soul, and Humor, in a new direction. Deborah sums up her new approach: "more faith matters, less politics"...and comments.

To initiate this new direction, Deborah shares a bizarre quote, straight out of the Creflo Dollar School of Perverted Sub-Christian Theology, from Mary J. Blige.

How about going over to Deborah's site and responding to the Blige Bilge?

Matt Brown Asks a Good Question...

...about the children born, one to Brooke Shields and her husband, the other to Katie Holmes and that guy who jumps on couches and stuff. The babies were born on the same day.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Few Final Thoughts: How Christians Might Think About the Immigration Issue: Part 4

In the first three installments of this series, I've looked at the question of immigration policy in the United States through three Biblical windows:
  • The rule of law
  • The call to justice
  • The command to treat the alien with respect and the alien's obligation obey the laws of the nation to which they emigrate
As I've insisted from the beginning, I have no intention of recommending specific policies, wanting instead to suggest ways Christians might want to consider the current debate over illegal immigration and a stance toward immigration to this country generally. So, here are a few implications of our examination of the Word of God:

1. The Christian perspective on immigration is certainly consistent with American tradition. That is, Christians will want to welcome legal immigration to America.

A few weeks ago, I presided at a wedding held in another congregation's building facilities. The church had a wedding coordinator who, along with the organist, were amazingly helpful. Before the rehearsal, I asked the coordinator to tell me a little about herself. "Well, I was born in Germany, right after the war." she said. "But my mother died when I was a baby and the Lutheran Church brought me here. I've been here ever since." (The work of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service continues to be a proud ministry of mercy today.)

One of my wife's bosses grew up in rural northwestern England, close to Wales. As a teenager, she took a job as a nanny for the family of a young business executive from America. When the exec's company moved him back to the States, she was asked to come back with them. She was seventeen and within the first week, she met her future husband. She's been here for forty-two years now and has been married nearly as long. She and her husband have raised a family here. "I haven't become a citizen yet," she says with a twinkle in her eye. "I know I should. But I am legal. I've got a green card and everything."

At least twice a week, I get a dinner or a lunch at a nearby Chipotle's. Among the hard-working employees there are a number of immigrants from Mexico who sometimes take their breaks with their spouses and children in the restaurant dining area.

All of these people have found a new life in America and done so legally. They are contributing and productive members of our society. In their faces and their stories, I see the story of my own American ancestors: The red-headed, blue-eyed Irishwoman who was my great, great grandmother; the French Huegenots who settled in New Paltz, New York in the 1600s; and others.

It's both Christian and American to welcome people from around the globe to add their contributions to the stew that is the American melting pot.

2. As a sovereign nation, the United States has the right to establish firm rules on immigration, to safeguard its borders, and to regulate the activities of all who come into the country. Indeed, the US government owes it to its citizens to do this. This must include restricting the inflow of immigrants. It also includes deporting the estimated 12-million illegal residents in the US right now. And it includes enacting safeguards that will deter the efforts of would-be terrorists.

3. Americans and our government must be committed to understanding and dealing with the injustices which I believe lay behind illegal immigration. Among them:

A Mexican government willing to accept the departure of many of its citizens as a way of sidestepping reform of their economy and their government;

American businesses so driven by the bottom line that they willingly hire illegal workers, avoiding the extension of benefits to them, underpaying them, and subjecting them to multiple risks and dangers.

Just a few thoughts. I don't know what the answers are exactly. But I pray that we'll keep looking through these three windows as we pursue solutions. John Martin of Martin's Musings for linking to this and all four installments of the immigration series. Thanks also, John, for the kind words!

First Pass at This Saturday's Bible Lesson: John 20:19-31

[This week, I was going to present a message only at our Saturday service. Instead, our servanthood team will give a special "Finding Your Passion" presentation and a Mission Fair at the Saturday and Sunday services. Both the presentation and the fair are designed to build off of our congregation's recent 40-Days to Servanthood experience, encouraging folks to find their God-given passions and ministries. But the good people of our servanthood team are planning on making the presentations]

[These "passes" are meant to help the members of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio--near Cincinnati--to prepare for worship. Since we usually use the common plan of Bible lessons, the lectionary, employed in most of the churches of the world each weekend, others may find these pieces helpful as well.]

John 20:19-31:
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

A Few General Comments:
1. This passage recounts the second and third appearances of the resurrected Jesus in John's Gospel. There is a fourth appearance to come, in John 21.

2. As Brian Stoffregen points out, in each of the resurrection appearances recorded by John:
...words and sight are important -- although neither Greek words: logos nor rhema are used. The first appearance ends with Mary announcing [aggello -- only occurrence in NT] to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord" and then telling them what Jesus had told to her (20:18).

The second appearance results in the disciples telling Thomas, "We have seen the Lord" (20:25) -- (the same words that Mary had used). The same word is used by Jesus to Thomas in v. 29: "Have you believed because you have seen me?" This suggests that believing involves more than just seeing the risen Lord. Each of these verbs is in the perfect tense, which implies a past action with continuing effect in the present. They saw something in the past and that seeing continues to affect their lives in the present.

The writer concludes the third appearance with his statement about the purpose of the declaration of his words in writing. The story does not end with "seeing the Lord," but by believing and sharing the message.
Verse-by-verse comments: v. 19: (1) The phrase "the first day of the week" is deliberate and significant. The creation motif is strong in the Gospel of John, starting with its opening echoes of Genesis' first creation account and the designation of Jesus as "the Word" who was both God and with God before the universe came into being. Jesus has come, according to both John's Gospel and the writings of Paul to usher in a new creation (Second Corinthians 5:17). The rabbis often taught that creation fell into sin on the seventh day and that God would renew His creation or create anew on a new first day, sometimes called the eighth day. (John also likes to speak of things happening on the eighth day or eight days later.)

(2) M. Craig Barnes, the wonderful preacher, suggests that disciples were afraid of their Jews not just because of the possibility of their being killed, but also because they were ashamed for their disloyalty to Jesus.

(3) "Peace be with you" was a common greeting in Old and New Testament cultures. There is though, a particular irony in its use here and a particular need the disciples would have felt for God's peace.

v. 2o: (1) Jesus allows the disciples to see His wounds, confirming evidence that the full-embodied form before them is the Savior they had seen die.

(2) After satisfying themselves that this is Jesus and He is risen, the disciples rejoice. The only basis for joy that a Christian has--indeed, the only way people can call themselves Christian--is when they too, have their own satisfaction seen, for us through the eyes of faith, that Jesus is risen. Paul writes:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (First Corinthians 15:12-19)
v. 21: (1) Jesus underscores the peace that He gives by repeating this blessing to the disciples.

(2) Through Jesus, we're deputized and empowered to share the Good News as He had been. This echoes words from Jesus' high priestly prayer found in John 17.

v. 22: This is a sort of Pentecost, when you think of it. (Acts 2) The word spirit is pneuma in the Greek of the New Testament and ruach in the Hebrew of the Old Testament. Both words can mean wind, breath, and spirit.

In the second Genesis creation account, God breathes His ruach into inanimate dust and the first man comes to life.

In the first creation account, God's Spirit, like a mighty wind, bears down on the stormy waters of primeval chaos and life comes into being.

According to John's Gospel, when Jesus exhaled His final breath on the cross, He literally "gave up His spirit." (John 19:30)

Through the impartation of His Spirit, Jesus, God-enfleshed, creates the Church, the community of believers in Him who proclaim forgiveness of sin to all who repent and turn to Christ and the need for repentance and believe to all.

v. 23: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Here, Jesus entrusts what's called "the Office of the Keys" to the Church.

Martin Luther explains this in The Small Catechism:
What is the Office of the Keys?
It is that authority which Christ gave to his church to forgive the sins of those who repent and declare to those who do not repent that their sins are not forgiven.
Christ not only conveys this frightening authority to the Church in John 20:23, but also in Matthew 18:18, where He says:
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
v. 24: (1) Thomas' nickname, the Twin or Didymus, has often been seen as an indicator of "double-mindedness" on his part. This would fit well with James' New Testament admonition to believers who don't really believe:
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:8)
That's because Thomas always struggled with unbelief.

In John 11, with word already having arrived that the Jewish authorities are intent on having their Roman overlords execute Jesus, Jesus announces that His friend Lazarus has died and He must go to him and wake him from death. Thomas says to the others, "Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Given what we know about Thomas, this isn't piety, but sarcasm. It makes no sense to him for Jesus to get closer to those who conspire against him. Nor does it dawn on him, in spite of all that he's seen to this point, that Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead.

(2) We often often call the Twin, Doubting Thomas. But as Brian Stoffregen points out, the text, in the original Greek, never speaks of Thomas as one having doubts. The battle raging inside of Thomas throughout is instead, between belief and unbelief.

v. 25: An interesting question to consider is where Thomas was when Jesus first appeared to the others? I don't know the answer to that.

v. 26: (1) A whole week has passed; it's another first day of the week. Once more, Jesus transgresses locked doors, indicating that He is no longer limited by time and space as He had been before His death and resurrection.

(2) Once again, Jesus greets the disciples with the words, "Peace be with you."

v. 27: (1) Jesus goes directly to Thomas with the evidence of His resurrection. I think that there's an important principle at play here: If we want to believe, Christ will help us to believe.

(2) Jesus doesn't tell Thomas, "don't doubt." (Although that's not a terrible translation.) He literally says, "Be not faithless; be faithful." The point is that we must make a decision whether to allow God to create faith in us or not. We must cease and desist from our resistance and ask God to do this. We must put our dukes down and let God be God.

v. 28: To me, Thomas' response is so ironic. The faithless, double-minded one issues the most emphatic and all-inclusive confession of Jesus to be found in the Gospels: "My Lord and my God!"

v. 29: These words are really about all of us who haven't seen the risen Jesus (YET) and still believe in Him.

vv. 30-31: (1) I've called this the mission statement of John's Gospel.

(2) The unspoken implication here is this: I've told you everything you need to know in order to believe in Jesus Christ. To come to faith in Christ, we don't need more evidence; we only need to surrender!

"I feel the need to add that Mark is an Ohio State grad who writes like he went to a real college. Go figure."

So writes Charlie Lehardy in a kind and witty post linking to my two most recent pieces on immigration policy. I told Charlie that whatever compositional skills I can claim were drilled into me by my excellent high school English teacher, Rosemary Leuchter.

Anyway, thanks to Charlie and to John Martin for linking again to the immigration series!

"Oh, and Mr. President, when are you thugs going to release Hao Wu?"

That would be a good way for President Bush to begin one of his conversations with visiting Chinese president, Hu Jintao, today.

Hao Wu, a Chinese blogger and fillmaker also known as Wu Hao, was abducted by Chinese government officials 58 days ago, three weeks longer than Chinese law says its citizens can be held without charge. The guy's crime appears to be his documentary work on China's underground Christian movement. Rebecca MacKinnon writes about his situation in today's Washington Post. (Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for leading me to the piece.)

For more information on Hao Wu's situation, look here.

To push for his release, you can send emails to the Chinese embassy, here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

How Christians Might Think About the Immigration Issue: Part 3

In this series, I'm viewing the immigrarion issue with which we're dealing in the United States these days through various Christian "windows." Each of these views will hopefully, help us to see our ways to formulating our own views on the subject.

So far, we've looked at the issue through two windows. We've said that:
  • Governments are ordained by God to promulgate laws that maintain order. Inherent in that is the right to maintain and safeguard borders and the inflow of immigrants.
  • God values justice, which in Biblical terms is love enacted in life.
Today, I want to look through a third window. It revolves around the Biblical understanding of the alien. Deuteronomy 10:18-19, finds God speaking a special word to his people, Israel, back during the time of Moses:
Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it, yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today. Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen. Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven.
What themes can be adduced from these words? Let me suggest a few:
  • God is the Lord of all creation.
  • For reasons known only to God, He chose a particular people, the Hebrews or Israel, to be His people. (Later, also by God's mysterious choice, the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, came from this people. Israel thus fulfilled its historic mission of being "a light to the nations." In Christ, all people have the opportunity to become part of God's eternal community: all who turn from sin and trust in Christ as Savior are part of a new community, the kingdom of God.)
  • Because God is fair, His people were to be fair to all people, even loving the alien among them because, for 430 years, they had been aliens--even slaves--in Egypt. In fact, their whole history from the time of their patriarch, Abraham, was about being aliens.
  • God loved the stranger and His people were to love the stranger too.
What we see from this and other passages of Scripture, both the Old and New Testament, is that in an ultimate sense, all people are our neighbors and today, through Jesus Christ, all people are invited into relationship with God.

In the Old Testament, this is memorably underscored in two extraordinary short books: Ruth and Jonah.
  • Ruth was a Moabite woman who married an emigre from Bethlehem, who had come to her country in the wake of a famine. (An irony in that the name of his hometown, a small village near Jerusalem, means house of bread.)
In time, Ruth's husband, her brother-in-law (who had married another Moabite women, Orpah), and her father-in-law all died in Moab. Ruth's mother-in-law, Naomi, resolved to return to Israel and Ruth went with her. Later, Ruth became the ancestress of Israel's great king, David, a reproach to any later Israelite s who might tend toward xenophobia.
  • Jonah was a prophet told by God to go to the foreign city of Nineveh and announce simply, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"
Nineveh's sins were apparently so egregious and pervasive that God lost patience with the people there. But Jonah didn't want to deliver God's message in Nineveh. He hated the Ninevites. Instead, he booked passage on a ship sailing in the Mediterranean.

You know what happened next: God sent a ferocious storm. The seasoned sailors on board wondered what was going on. Jonah said that God was mad at him and that if the crew simply tossed him into the drink, all would be well. They was reluctant to comply with Jonah's wishes, especially since it appeared that God had his eye on Jonah.

Finally though, they agreed to throw him overboard. As soon as Jonah hit the water, there was a dead calm on the sea.

Jonah, meanwhile, was swallowed by a great fish. There, he prayed for three days and then, the fish vomited Jonah out. At this point, Jonah complied with God's commission, telling the Ninevites, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" Chastened by the impending consequences of their sins, the Ninevites repented and God relented on His resolve to destroy the city. This peeved Jonah. He sulked and asked God:
“O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
In the end, God pointed out that He cared about all people, even those not numbered among His fold. Here was another reproach to xenophobia on the part of God's people. All Hebrews were called to have a certain solidarity with foreigners and aliens born of their experiences as a nomadic people.

Christians, too, consider themselves aliens and strangers. We believe that Earth is but a temporary home, that we await the consummation of God's plans when Christ will return and all believers in Christ will reside in a new heaven and a new earth. This is why the apostle Peter writes:
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. (1 Peter 2:11)
And like the nomadic patriarch of Biblical faith, Abraham, we Christians are to demonstrate hospitality to all:
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
Historically, of course, the ancient Jews, dispersed by persecution and the presence of foreign armies, often welcomed Gentile strangers who had come to believe in the God revealed to the Jews. These Gentile "God-fearers" as the New Testament calls them worshiped with the Jews in the synagogues dispersed throughout the Mediterranean basin in the first-century and became, along with many Jews, the first Christians.

But this tradition of identifying with and extending hospitality to aliens and strangers had its limits, of course. A perusal of the Old Testament passages dealing with how God's people were to interact with aliens demonstrates that these ancient "immigrants" were expected to abide by the law of the Jewish nation. Consider a few examples: must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things...(Leviticus 18:26, TNIV)

Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 13:12. TNIV)

There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them. (Joshua 8:35, TNIV)
In other words, acceptance of the foreigner did not include acceptance of the flouting of Israel's laws or of any criminality.

This definitely has implications for any Christian's consideration of the issue of immigration policy: We are to be welcoming and supportive of the strangers in our midst. But, from a Biblical, Christian perspective, no one should get a pass: Just as the host owes the guest hospitality; the guest should not be here on false pretenses or in flagrant disregard of our civil laws. That shows contempt for both the host and for the order God has established by ordaining civil government.

Tomorrow, I hope to put a bow on this series, suggesting a few implications for how Christians might think about the immigration issue after a consideration of the Bible.

[Part 1, Part 2]

I Wouldn't Want to Meet These Guys in a Dark Alley...

...or in a sunlit city park over a game board. In light of my Sunday revelation that I'm equally inept at Chess and athletics, I have to confess that these Chess Boxers intimidate me.

If someone would come up with a game that combines three-point shooting on a basketball court with Scrabble, I could be a contender.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Raid Highlights Mexico's Treatment of Migrant Workers

Migrants looking for better economic conditions have gone to...Mexico. They're from Central America and at present, there are about 500,000 of them. But, an Associated Press article says:
...though Mexico demands humane treatment for its citizens who migrate to the U.S., regardless of their legal status, Mexico provides few protections for migrants on its own soil. The issue simply isn't on the country's political agenda...

...The level of brutality Central American migrants face in Mexico was apparent Monday, when police conducting a raid for undocumented migrants near a rail yard outside Mexico City shot to death a local man, apparently because his dark skin and work clothes made officers think he was a migrant.

Virginia Sanchez, who lives near the railroad tracks that carry Central Americans north to the U.S. border, said such shootings in Tultitlan are common.

''At night, you hear the gunshots, and it's the judiciales (state police) chasing the migrants,'' she said. ''It's not fair to kill these people. It's not fair in the United States and it's not fair here.''

Meet Monroe

Alison, a regular reader of this blog and a blogger herself, has given birth to makes four.

How Christians Might Think About the Immigration Issue: Part 2

"He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

In these posts, I don't intend to push a particular agenda on immigration policy in the United States. Instead, I want to present a series of windows through which Christians might look at the issue and then make up their own minds.

The first window through which I looked was the Christian belief in law and civil authority. Christians believe that governments exist at the behest of God, even though those governments, run by human beings, may do wrong things. Governments are meant to create a modicum of the order and serenity which would exist in perfection if the barrier of sin didn't exist between God and human beings and among human beings. Governments then, have the right--and the obligation--to establish and maintain borders.

Today, I want to look at the issue of immigration through a different Christian window: Justice.

These days, the Bible's emphasis on justice is often overlooked. To some extent this may be understandable: Much of what might be appropriated directly from the Scriptures on the subject shows up in the Old Testament, coming from a time when Israel, God's people, were part of a theocratic nation. No nation in the world in 2006 is a Biblical theocracy, making the mandates for Israel's judges and kings found on the Old Testament's pages difficult to apply.

Complicating our view through the Bible's "justice window" is that in the New Testament Greek, the word for justice never appears. Its Hebrew equivalent shows up only infrequently in the Old Testament.

But, the variations of a word related to justice appear frequently in the New Testament portion of the Bible: righteousness (diakaiosune). It has the notion of rightness in our relationships with God and one another. (In fact, when the New Testament speaks of our being justified by Jesus Christ, it uses a form of this word.)

The relative absence of the word justice definitely doesn't denote an absence of concern for it on God's part. The concept of just treatment of others permeates much of the Old Testament law and prophecy, addressing not only the actions of kings, but also those of ordinary people in their interpersonal relationships. And a commitment to justice is certainly apparent in Jesus' teaching, even in His voluntary death and resurrection for a human race weighed down by the curses of sin and death.

To understand the Biblical mandate for justice, we need to study another key Biblical concept.

When asked what the greatest of God's commandments are, Jesus responded that there were two of equal importance: to love God completely and to love one's neighbor as one loves one's self.

In this response, Jesus was summarizing what the reformer Martin Luther described as "the two tables" of the Ten Commandments. By the traditional reckoning of the commandments brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses, the first table is composed of the first three commandments:
  • You shall have no other gods.
  • You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.
  • Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Each of these commandments deals with our relationships with God.

The second table is made up of the remaining seven commandments, as traditionally reckoned:
  • You shall honor your father and your mother.
  • You shall not kill.
  • You shall not commit adultery.
  • You shall not steal.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor's house.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his.
As this second table deals with our relationships with others, the two tables, you can see, correspond with the two components of Jesus' great commandment. (The verbiage of which comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, by the way.)

Love, in the Biblical understanding of the term, has a lot in common with what we mean today when we talk about justice. For the Biblical writers, love has little to do with what we feel and a lot with what we do. Love, from the standpoint of God's Word, relates to the way we live out our relationships with others. Specifically, it has to do with whether they're marked by a commitment to do for others what we would like others to do for us.

In addition to not seeing love as primarily an emotion, contrary to our usual contemporary view, the Biblical writers would also be uncomfortable with our post-Enlightenment notions of justice, which are rooted in ideas about rights and entitlements. They would prefer to speak of the responsibilities each of us have to share the undeserved blessings of God with others and to treat others with respect.

In fact, at the outset of Paul's famous commendation of servanthood rooted in the example of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:4-11), he encourages believers by saying, "let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others."

Christians are called to do this and empowered by God's Holy Spirit to do this, no matter what the circumstances of our lives. The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians:
I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. (Philippians 4:11-12)
Gratitude for God's grace and a commitment to love others as Christ has loved us is at the center of the Christian value system, no matter how our lives may be going at a particular time. Through Jesus Christ, Christians live in the confidence that they have a place in eternity. We have the assurance that a God Who, when He came to earth, didn't shirk the cross and then rose from death to give us life, will always be by our sides (Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 8:31-39; Acts 2).

The reality of God's grace operating in the lives of people who follow Christ is an objective truth. It's a solid foundation that frees Christians to risk loving their neighbor. In practical terms, that means enacting God's love and justice in the ways in which we live, vote, buy and sell, trade, hire and fire, and so on.

Of course, no Christian ever embodies this reality completely in his or her life. The siren call of inborn sin keeps on wailing in even the most saintly of Christians. (see here) The awareness that every Christian has that she or he is a sinner saved from death because of the gracious intervention of Christ on their behalf only gives us added incentive to love our neighbor and to press for justice. Saved by grace, we express our gratitude by loving others. (see here, here, and here)

How might the cause of Biblical justice--practical expression of love for neighbor born of God's love for all people--be addressed by Christians in the question of changes in immigration policy here in the United States? There are a few responses on the table these days.

1. First, there are President Bush's initial proposals in this matter. Newsweek correspondent Howard Fineman, who has followed the President's career since he was governor of Texas, is convinced that Mr. Bush sees this matter in more than economic terms. He sees it, Fineman believes, as a justice issue.

Be that as it may, many who support the President's proposals for a guest worker program believe that a decent regard for the economic conditions under which many live in Mexico and in Latin America should cause us to welcome many into the United States. They also often argue that those who have entered illegally have escaped intolerable circumstances to be productive contributors to the US economy.

The Roman Catholic Church has argued that there is a Biblical mandate to open our borders in a responsible way to as many of these guest workers as can be accommodated. It argues that doing so is a simple matter of justice.

2. Others, like Christian blogger Deborah White, argue that the real justice issue that must be engaged when addressing immigration policy is how she sees US employers interacting with potential and actual illegal immigrants. She argued in the comments section of the first installment of this series:
I hope you include in this series the Christian way to view the millions of US employers who hire these undocumented workers (at low wage with no benefits and poor working conditions) , and the Bush Administration, which knowingly and deliberately chooses to "look the other way" when employers hire illegals.
Deborah argues that "a broken US economic system that relies on below-minimum wages paid to illegals (or anyone) to make more profits" is what's behind the presence of 12-million undocumented workers and that this economy results in the unjust treatment of both US and illegal workers.

She concludes:
There is an obvious and immediate fix to illegal immigration: criminalize every employer who hires illegals. The issue would be entirely cured in three months.
3. Then, there's the rather different critique of another of yesterday's commenters, Michael Wenberg:
Certainly a number of groups and institutions are culpable beginning with our politicians who pass laws they then underfund so they cannot be enforced, to businesses that take advantage of a ready, willing, and able cheap labor pool, to union organizers who see illegal workers as a new constituency to manipulate and control, to the average American whose only value is reflected best by Wal-Mart's promise of low prices...That said, this isn't just our problem. The biggest culprit in the illegal migration of over 10% of Mexico's population into this country is the Mexican government and the families that have misruled and exploited that country for the past century. They benefit the most by exporting their workers illegally into this country because it acts like a safety valve, reducing the pressure for change by getting rid of those that would benefit most. So, what should Christians do? That's not a hard question, is it? While we are helping the poor and disadvantaged and loving our neighbors as our selves even when those "neighbors" may be a Spanish-speaking migrant worker and his family, we should also examine our own hearts and habits and reflect on the desire for low prices at any cost and then finally, we should harangue our representatives to push for a real fix to the problem, a fix that can only come by reforms in Mexico. Anything less will be just another bandaid and we will be discussing this again in another 10 years or so.
Michael thus points to injustices that he sees in Mexico (and presumably others countries) and in the United States as the main problems to be addressed.

How we best address the issue of justice and, at times, just where we see injustices is a political judgment.

But for the Christian there can be no doubt that however we parse this issue, the call to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, whether those neighbors are immigrants or American workers, consumers, and businesspeople, is one of the windows through which we must examine matters.

The Old Testament prophet says that God finds worship which in words alone tiresome. He wants people to worship Him also by the way in which they love their neighbors:
Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.(Amos 5:23-24)
[Here is the first installment of the series.]

THANKS: John Martin at Martin's Musings has linked to this post and the first installment of the series. I appreciate your recommending these pieces, John.

THANKS Dan at A Slower Pace, who has also linked to the first two installments in this series. Dan also dropped an encouraging email my way. Thanks, Dan. I hope that this series can help everybody who reads it take some fresh looks at the questions raised by the current immigration debate.

I'M HONORED...that Dr. Andrew Jackson of has chosen to link to this second piece on immigration. He already linked to the first post. (By the way, Andy's site always has interesting links on it.) Thank you!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Archbishop of Canterbury Challenges Conspiracy Kooks

...including those who think that the proclamation, "Jesus is risen!" reflects a conspiracy.

Flat Stanley Goes to Philadelphia...

and has a great time.

How Christians Might Think About the Immigration Issue: Part 1

Immigration policy has become a hot button issue. The current debate finds many people, even church leaders, weighing in with opinions.

I'm not going to give an opinion about how to approach immigration reform in this country. As I read the Bible, God's authoritative truth source, I can't find a chapter or verse that tells me whether or not to erect a wall on the border with Mexico; whether or not an amnesty or a fast-track to citizenship is the Christian approach to this matter.

But on the pages of the Bible, I do find ways of looking at this issue, windows through which we individual Christians can consider the various immigration proposals now before us and make up our own minds. To some extent, my blogging colleague, Pastor David Wayne, has "stolen my thunder" on this issue in a well-written post on his blog. I read it and thought, "That's what I was going to say."

My wife convinced me though, that I might have something else to offer here. So, here and in several subsequent posts I hope to write, I intend to talk about Biblical windows through which Christians might want to examine the immigration issue.

Window #1: Christians believe in obeying the law of civil authorities, as long as those authorities don't command us to ignore God's will for human beings. We've believed this even when civil authorities were hostile to Christian faith.

In spite of the enmity or malignant indifference of the Roman Empire toward Christianity, for example, Paul wrote to the band of Christians in ancient Rome:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing.

Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. (Romans 13:1-7)
Martin Luther said that God rules in two ways, through two kingdoms:
  • First, there's God's kingdom of grace. This is the kingdom under which Christians live. Christians believe that they've been given a new relationship with God, with others, and with themselves. Their old sinful selves have been crucified with Christ and by God's charity--His grace, they know that all believers in Christ live with God forever. That new status begins now, in this life. In the kingdom of grace, God doesn't have to coerce His people to love God or love neighbor. They seek to do so voluntarily.
  • Second, there's God's kingdom of laws. Luther says that because not all will want to voluntarily surrender to Christ, God also establishes coercive government authority. Governments exist in order to establish a baseline of mutual expectations and a modicum of order among people who live in any country or community. Governments are authorized by God to levy taxes, create police and military forces, and impose fines, all to coerce those who would otherwise "go their own way" (Acts 14:16) into involuntarily acceding to respect for God and respect for neighbor.
Christians are called to voluntarily submit to the kingdom of laws out of consideration for their neighbors. They know that unless people have come to submit to God's kingdom of grace, given to all with faith in Jesus Christ, the love of Christ controlling them, they are wont to live selfishly and to disregard the good of their neighbors. (Romans 3:9-20) So, in voluntary deference to the common good, Christians believe in obeying civil authority and the law.

Of course, whenever a governing authority commands people to do what they know is contrary to God's will for us to love God or love neighbor, Christians are obliged to resist civil authorities in whatever way is appropriate. Means of resistance could include everything from an email to a member of Congress to overt acts of rebellion, depending on the egregiousness of the command. Whether in the face of mere peer pressure or government authority, Christians are also told in God's Word:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
When confronted with the choice of either conforming to God's will or to the will of those who command us to do something against God's will, Christians know that we're called to go with God and His call to love God and neighbor every time.

Christians then, believe in obeying the law of civil authorities, even laws regarding immigration policy, so long as they don't command us to violate God's command to love God and neighbor. The practical implication of this, of course, is that governments have a right to maintain their nation's borders. Immigration restrictions are not an inherently bad thing. That's Window #1.

If the view through this window has offended you, come back here tomorrow. I suspect that what I write then will offend a whole different group of people.

THANKS: Thank you, Dr. Andrew Jackson of for linking to this piece.

THANKS Charlie Lehardy, whose blog, AnotherThink, is one of the very best around. He kindly linked to this post.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Not a Crisis of Faith...

but a crisis of purpose. At least that's what this post from Readeriam seems to describe.

I think many Christians (and others) share the sentiments with which she's wrestling. Believers especially yearn for some clear understanding of their purpose in life. We want to know what God wants us to do. I've reflected on this and I've come to believe that our purpose is as exhilaratingly and frustratingly simple as I describe it here.

None of this is to say that I don't go through periods like those described by Readeriam. I do. But I finally take solace and inspiration from sensing that God's will is a kind of magna carta of the spirit. In fact, I've always liked the way Christian contemporary music pioneer Randy Stonehill described life with Christ and with the Holy Spirit pulsating in us: a wild frontier.

Easter: It's Your Move!

[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church during Easter worship on April 16, 2006.]

Mark 16:1-8

Back when I was in junior high school, several of my friends got into Chess, momentarily sweeping me up into their enthusiasm for the game. I really tried to get into it, even convincing my parents and grandparents to buy a Chess set for me for my fourteenth birthday.

But Chess involved things I was never very good at...things like logic and strategy, even math. I remember that whenever I’d play against my buddies, some of whom were also jocks who played sports at which I was just as inept as I turned out to be at Chess, I always cringed when they’d move a piece on the board and say, “It’s your move.”

I had no idea what to do when they said that, whether I was to make the first move of the game or I was three moves into it, just about the time when they would tell me, “Check.” “It’s your move” can be an intimidating phrase! It’s part of the reason I quit playing Chess.

For centuries now, scholars have debated just where the Gospel of Mark ends. Some say that it comes to an abrupt and ambiguous halt at verse 8, the last verse of our Bible lesson for today. Others say that there was another ending beyond these verses that has been lost. Some say that no, verses 9 through 20 in our Bibles today were always there. Others disagree, saying that they were added much later.

I don’t know which of those theories are true, but I do know this: It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to know that however Mark originally ended his telling of the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, he did it with the same sort of abruptness we find at the end of our Bible lesson for today.

Consider that possibility for a moment...

Since we started looking deeply at Mark’s rendition of the Gospel story about Jesus with the beginning of the new Church Year this past November, we’ve noticed that Mark always recounts events in a breathless, Wolf Blitzer-style.

He never uses fifty words when he can use two. The only sermon of Jesus that Mark quotes is made up of nineteen words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” That’s it. (You’re not going to be blessed with that sort of brief sermon this morning, by the way.)

And most interesting of all, maybe, is the fact that Mark begins his gospel with a sentence fragment: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It’s as if, Mark was saying that all sixteen chapters of his book are just the beginning of the Gospel story and that even that Easter Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead was just a part of the beginning.

Something more needs to happen and when we come to Mark 16:8, it still hasn’t happened. Read that last verse with me out loud:
“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
The women had come to anoint Jesus’ body as would ordinarily have been done before His burial. But there had been no time to do that before the coming of the Sabbath when He died on Good Friday.

Now, they’re so stunned and terrified by their encounter with the angel and his unbelievable news that Jesus had risen from the dead, that they don’t know what to say or do.

At this moment, the moment at which our Bible lesson ends, they haven’t seen the resurrected Jesus, haven’t heard His voice, haven’t seen Him walking among them.

They’re asked to believe that what He promised would happen has actually happened, that He really has risen from the dead, giving the hope of everlasting life with God to all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus.

I can imagine Mark ending the beginning of his story of Jesus here and with a wink telling all of us, “Now, it’s your move. Will you trust this Jesus, Who never broke a single promise He made, Who healed the sick and cast out demons and raised the dead, Who showed compassion to the prostitutes and the extortionists and the foreigners, Who loved sinners all the way to the cross, and promised new life to all who follow Him?”

That’s the question that the sparse words of Mark’s Gospel put before us today: Though like the women at this point on Easter Sunday, we haven’t yet seen the risen Jesus, our call is to turn from sin and believe in Jesus, betting our whole lives on Him, just as He gave His whole life for us.

A poll released this past week tells us that most Americans don’t believe in a physical resurrection. They don’t believe that Jesus rose or that those who follow Him will either.

Those were probably the sentiments of the women when the angel first told that Jesus had risen from the dead.

But Jesus is willing to risk our disbelief and our rejection today, even as He was when He walked the earth. Just as He did with the women at the tomb, He calls us to dare to believe in Him.

On Maundy Thursday, I mentioned Billy Graham’s newest book. There, he tells another story from his ministry, one with which you may be familiar. In the summer of 1949, Graham and his team were preparing for the famous Los Angeles citywide outreach. “We believed God had led us there, and many were praying He would use the meetings to bring many to Christ. Just weeks before the mission was to start, however, I experienced a major crisis of faith--the most intense of my life.”

A friend of Graham’s, another evangelist, had started to express doubts about what was in the Bible. He was too unsophisticated, this friend told Graham. He was out of date. Nobody believed what the Bible said as he did. For months, doubts accosted Billy Graham. They came to a boil, he says, during a conference in the mountains east of Los Angeles. Alone in his room, he studied the Scriptures and then took a walk “in the moonlit forest.” Then he says:

“I knelt down with my Bible on a tree stump in front of me and began praying. I don’t recall my exact words, but my prayer went something like this: ‘O Lord, there are many things in this book I don’t understand. There are many problems in it for which I have no solution...But, Father, by faith I am going to accept [Your] Word...” He dared to believe.

Consider the story of another man. He grew up on the streets of Northern Ireland, the son of one parent who was Roman Catholic and of another who was Protestant. He watched as people from those two branches of the Church of Jesus Christ used their religion as an excuse to kill each other during his country's troubles.

He was appalled by what he saw people doing and saying in the Name of God. And yet, he found that he couldn't turn away from Jesus. He kept following Jesus and trusting Him. And just look at the world of good that Bono, the lead singer of U2, has done for the victims of AIDS and poverty in Africa because of his connection with Jesus Christ. In faith, he trusts God even if he still hasn't completely found what he's looking for.

One of the things that Mark repeatedly emphasizes in his Gospel is how the promises Jesus makes come true.

That’s underscored in our lesson today in the words of the angel who reminds the women that Jesus had already promised the disciples that after He was resurrected, He would meet them in the region close to the Sea of Galilee. “Tell Peter and the others that Jesus has gone ahead of them and will meet them there,” the angel tells the terrified women. Sure enough, the disciples would later find that to be true.

The point is that you can count on the Word of God and of God in the flesh, Jesus. When the Word from God is that Jesus Christ is risen, you can believe it. When the Word from God is that He brings forgiveness of sin and everlasting life to all who trust in Him, you can believe it.

But you and I can never know these things by hanging back, or by refusing to repent and follow, or by daring Him to prove Himself to us. It’s up to us instead to believe and follow.

Jesus is risen and He calls us to follow Him. In Christ, God has proven that He believes enough in us to die and rise for us. Now, it’s our move. It's our turn to believe in Him, to trust that the risen Savior is willing to stand with us until the end of this age and beyond.

It's our move and heaven waits for our response.

He is Risen!

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8)