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A Tale of Two Prophets

I want to share the stories of two prophetic messages from the Old Testament and the responses to each.  In the first instance the prophet is Nathan and this story is recounted in II Samuel 12: 1 – 15.  David has committed horrific sin.  He fell in lust for Bathsheba and because he was king and kings tend to get what kings want, he insured that her husband, a loyal soldier in David’s army was killed in battle.  He had also impregnated Bathsheba.  God sent Nathan to confront David with his wicked behavior as David was apparently unaware that he had done anything wrong.  I can only imagine that Nathan must have had to cope with serious trepidation as he went to see the king.  David had already demonstrated that he was capable of ending the life of someone when it served his purpose.

Nathan went in to see David and he told him a simple story of a wealthy man who chose to take what belonged to a poor man rather than diminish his own riches.  David was furious with the behavior of the rich man in the story.  It was then that Nathan dropped the bomb that the rich man in the story was in fact David himself.  At this point David could have become irate with the prophet and had him summarily killed.  He could have made excuses and told the prophet that he after all was the king and that kings didn’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else.  Or, he could have simply ignored what the prophet had to say and sent him on his way.  David did none of those things.  He deeply repented for his behavior and went before God in humility.  He even, ultimately, accepted God’s judgement that the child born of this union with Bathsheba would die.

In I Kings 18: 20 – 19:2, we have another story.  At this time the nation was dancing the tightrope between worshipping Yahweh and the idol Baal.  The prophet Elijah comes on the scene tell the people that they must choose between the two.  He issues the challenge to the priests of Baal to have a contest on Mount Carmel to demonstrate which god is true.  In front of the people and king Ahab the competition went down.  First the priests of Baal and then Elijah would prepare an altar and a sacrifice and each would call on their god to send down fire to consume the sacrifice.  The priests of Baal prepared their sacrifice and then called on Baal for fire.  No fire came.  The priests became desperate and cried out and resorted to cutting themselves trying to illicit fire as Elijah mocked them and their god.  The fire never came.

Then it was Elijah’s turn.  Not only did Elijah prepare his altar and sacrifice, he had the whole thing soaked in water, before he offered a simple prayer to Yahweh for fire.  The fire came down and the entire sacrifice was consumed.

The message of Elijah was far more dramatic than the simple story that Nathan told to David.  However, the response is where the major difference lies.  David repented and turned even more deeply to God.  Ahab’s wife Jezebel, even though she did not personally witness the events on Mount Carmel, when she was told what had transpired swore that the prophet Elijah must die.

Two prophets of Yehweh delivered messages to God’s people who were behaving badly.  In both cases there was a need for correction.  In both cases God provided a messenger to show the way forward.  Yet, in one case the message brought the needed result and in the other the message was stridently rejected and the prophet condemned.  I believe that we can only conclude that in the second case, the problem was not with the prophet or with the content of the message.  The problem was with the person who received the message.

 

One Good Thing About the Draft

I truly find it difficult to say anything positive about the Selective Service System, also known as the Draft.  It was the bane of my existence for several years back in the late 1960s and early 70s.  But, in retrospect I must conclude that the Draft did serve a positive function.  The Draft made young men think about the realities and the morality of war in ways the many of us might not have had it not been hanging over our heads.

In my own case, I did as I was required and registered with the SSS in 1965 when I turned 18.  At that time I do recall that there was a question on the form that asked in some way shape or form if I was a “conscientious objector”.  At that point in time I was not so I answered accordingly.  For the next four years I was in college so I was exempt from being drafted.  But, that did not mean that the reality of military service was put far out of mind.  Where I went to school, all male students, unless they came from a denominational background that was pacifistic, were required to take two years of ROTC.  The last two years of ROTC were optional, but if you took that option you would be required to serve four years active duty entering the army at the rank of second lieutenant.  Much of the time spent in the first two years was dedicated to convincing us that it would really be in our best interest to continue since, “after all we were all going to be drafted as soon as we graduated anyway and wouldn’t we rather be an officer than a grunt.”

While I was in college and the Viet Nam war was escalating, I was forced to confront the moral questions surrounding that war and war in general.  As I have already stated, I was not a pacifist when I started this process.  For me, it did not take very long to decide that the particulars of the Viet Nam situation were morally unjustifiable.  But that was only the start of a journey.  I studied “just war theory” and the history of that perspective in the Church.  Just War Theory just made sense.  Certainly the Germans in WW II should not have participated in that horrible conflict.  What about me?  What about the United States?  I had to dig into history.  I had to come to the conclusion that no military action of the U.S. had ever met the criteria to make it a “Just War”.  Even in situations where the cause might have justified it the means used disqualified it.  From there I went on to question if it was conceivable that the U.S. could ever be a part of a “Just War” in the future.  I had to conclude that this given the state of world politics, modern weaponry, and the mindset of our military, this was not even a remote possibility.  Therefore I became a functional pacifist.  Just a side note here, the fact that I did spend two years in ROTC being exposed to the military mindset up close played a significant role in turning me toward pacifism.

 

I could write much more about my own experience with the Selective Service System and my do so in a separate context.  For now, I want to consider the role that the Draft played in our culture.  Because all males in my age group faced the real likelihood of being shipped off to kill and be killed in a war that was morally repugnant, all of our culture had to face this reality.  The anti-war movement became more and more powerful.  More and more of us found ways to avoid participation.  Demonstrations, non-cooperation, supporting political candidates committed to ending the war, all had the eventual impact of bring an end to a tragic involvement.  Popular music, theater, and art combined with political involvement to contribute to the cause.  However, the point was that this all took place in part because that war touched us all.  It touched us all because of the Draft.

There has been no Draft since the end of the Viet Nam war.  As a result none of the military adventures that have been embarked on since have touched so closely the majority of people living in this country.  Today it is possible for many of us to know no one who has served in the active duty military.  U.S. casualties have been nowhere near the numbers that we saw in past actions.  We disregard casualties of the nationals in the places where we have fought.  Now military action is something far more abstract and less personal.  Going to war is a political consideration and not a moral one.

I hated the Selective Service System as I fought it with all that I had.  I still absolutely believe that it is an evil institution.  But, it did one positive thing.  It made a lot of us think far more deeply about really important things that we might not have otherwise.  Since the Draft has been gone I don’t think that there is nearly enough thought being given to those issues.  As a result, politicians, multi-national corporations, and the military-industrial are able to manipulate the systems to accomplish their own sets of goals and ambitions without moral input.

Race – How We Got It Wrong

As I come to terms with the fact that I really am getting old, I must also acknowledge that a majority of people have not lived long enough to remember things that I can remember.  Some of the things that I can remember may be helpful in understanding why the world is the way that it is today.  Consider the issue of race and, I refuse to use the word Evangelical, theologically conservative Christians.  I grew up in the theologically conservative subculture of the Midwest.  That subculture was almost exclusively white.  In my home and in my church, I never heard racist language or hate speech.  My parents had attended integrated schools and my father had done outreach work in the Chicago housing projects for our church.  But, race really wasn’t talked about much.

I graduated from high school in 1965.   The civil rights movement had begun.  I even had a classmate or two who made brief trips to the south to participate in demonstrations.  I was not hostile to the movement at that point and did take some interest in it but was not really motivated or committed.  One major pivotal event in my own thought process and spiritual growth happened while I was in high school.  Sometime in my senior year I discovered the Old Testament prophets.  I had known that they were there but for the first time I read them and had some level of understanding that these books of the Bible spoke directly to what some of the issues that we were facing in the real world.  I also became vaguely aware that there were a lot of Jews and a lot of theologically liberal whites participating in the civil rights demonstrations but no theologically conservative whites.

After high school, I went on to a theologically conservative dominantly white Christian college.  While there I had new opportunities to broaden my horizons.  I was privileged to encounter two outstanding black men who had ministry that I can only describe as prophetic.  The first was Tom Skinner.  He had been a street gang leader in New York who became a Christian listening to radio.  To black audiences Tom was an evangelist, but when he came to speak at Wheaton College chapel for four days he was a prophet.  He confronted the reality that white theologically conservatives tended to criticize black leadership for not being theologically conservative enough.  Tom pointed out that there was an obvious reason.  Theologically conservative schools did not welcome black students, so they went to more theologically liberal schools where they were welcomed.  Reasonably they came out more theologically liberal.  That made sense.  Tom went on that not only were dominantly white theologically conservative schools not welcoming to blacks that in many cases these schools overtly pandered to racist attitudes in parts of the country.

 

The next prophet that I encountered was Bill Pennell.  He came to campus and spoke in a smaller and less formal setting than college chapel.  He had just written a book called, “My Friend, the Enemy:”.  In that book he explained that he as a theologically conservative black Christian leader was in a real sense a man without a country.  The people with whom he identified theologically had no interest in the injustice that he suffered as a black man.  And, those who did care about the very real injustice that he faced had little in common with him theologically.  Something was very wrong with this picture.

While I was still in college Dr. King was leading demonstrations in Chicago as well as in the south.  I had a lunch conversation with a friend who was one of the few black students at the college.  We discussed Dr. King and the fact that the movement was not regarded well on campus.  My friend’s response was basically, “They just don’t get it.”  With this input, I may not be the brightest bulb on the string, but I was seeing that white theologically  conservative Christians were getting it all wrong.  The clear substance of Scripture and the passionate advocacy of wonderful Christian brothers forced the reality that we were on the wrong side of what was going on.

Dolphus Weary wrote of his experience as a black student at a dominantly white theologically conservative college on the west coast.  He was in the dorm when the news came that Dr. King had just been assassinated in Memphis.  Loud cheers and other expressions of unfettered joy spread down the halls.  It left Dolphus shattered.

As school integration became the law of the land, I could see throughout the south that white flight schools showed up everywhere.  Most of these schools, which clearly existed only as a means of maintaining whites only schools, were associated with churches and most of them has “Christian” in their names.

I witnessed the Nixon southern strategy upend the long-standing Democratic Party dominance in the south based on a clearly racist agenda.  I saw long time Democratic congressmen change parties because the Republican Party was willing to embrace them and their racist views.  State’s Rights was just a code phrase for racism and everyone at the time knew it.  And the theologically conservative Church was just fine with all of this.

The reality of it all is that the theologically conservative Christians of the 1960s got it almost 100% wrong when it came to race in America.  And based on the conversations surrounding the most recent elections they still don’t get it.  They cannot comprehend that the injustice of the past was real.  The impact of that injustice is far reaching.  Prejudicial thought has real power in people’s lives.  Black Lives Matter is important not because somehow that suggests that other lives don’t, but because for far too many in this country black lives don’t matter.  I find it interesting that a number of my little bit younger theologically conservative Christian friends now find it quite comfortable to speak highly of Dr. King.  The truth is that they only have selective memory when it comes to what his message was and they are unaware of just how total was his reaction from their spiritual ancestors.  It is long past time for those of us who are theologically conservative Christians to accept that our spiritual ancestors were wrong and to move forward constructively to address the issues of race.  I don’t advocate reflection for the purpose of self-flaggelation.  I do advocate real repentance that requires a rejection of and turning away from past sins.

Taking a Break from Cancer

I know, there are dozens of cancer charities out there, but I think that there is a need for one more and I would like to start it.  Most of the cancer charities that currently exist raise money primarily for research.  This is certainly important, but there are real needs for the people who are dealing here and now with the reality of cancer treatment. These needs are not nearly as likely to be addressed.  Since my wife and I have been through this routine now four times, I believe that I have some insight into an area of need that I believe could be of major benefit to cancer patients and their partners/caregivers.

I first got the idea from looking at the work that is done by “Make a Wish” for kids.  The idea is to give kids with serious illness to get a break from their daily struggles and allow them to do something that they would really like to do or meet someone who is special to them.  This is a wonderful program and provides a positive diversion for families that are engaged to very difficult reality.

Adult cancer patients face a very similar reality.  They must cope with the emotional challenges in addition to their physical challenges.  The treatment may be conducted over an extended period of time.  The toll of treatment is devastating for the patient.  I have written more about this subject in earlier blogs on this site.  Treatment may lead to a cure in some cases, but even in these cases it may well take months before the patient is able to return to something that may approach their normal life.  For other patients the treatment may only push back on the cancer for a time with the full knowledge that the  likelihood of recurrence is almost certain.  For still others there may be no effective treatment available other than palliative care.

Persons in any of these three groups could really use a break for diversion from the present struggles.  The partners/caregivers also face the emotional and psychological stresses along with the patient and are in need of relief.  For those with substantial financial resources this may not present a problem.  For many of more modest means they much deal with the additional financial burdens brought on by their illness and may simply not be able to afford what might seem to many a luxury of time away.  As a result they muddle on with their difficulties without any relief.  I can speak from personal experience in this regard.  We have thought about, talked about, planned for, and hoped for an opportunity to really get away for several days but we have not been able to pull together more than a day or two.

Here is what I have come up with as a suggestion.  I propose founding a charity that would provide an opportunity for cancer patients and their partners/caregivers to get away for five days at no expense to them.  The charity would provide transportation, lodging, meals, and entertainment.  The place for the escape could be a beach or mountain resort, a place like Disney World, or possibly a cruise.  It is important that it be a place away from where they live and deal with the daily realities of their treatment.  It could be somewhere in the middle of their treatment protocol or shortly after treatment is completed.  Consideration would need to be given to their physical capabilities at the time of the travel.  For example air travel or dealing with crowds would not be wise for someone with a compromised immune system.  Or, if they are physically weakened, a long hike on the Appalachian Trail would not be feasible.  They should have major input as to what type of place that they would like to go and enjoy.

As little cash as possible would be given directly to the recipient, as this would provide the temptation to use the resource for other needed expenses.  This is intended to provide a time away without worry about the expenses.  Travel and lodging would be prepaid directly to the providers.  Meal plans should be prepaid as well as entertainment to whatever extend possible.  While it is not necessary to think in terms of luxury for this trip it should be comfortable and nice.

The charity would need to raise funds to cover these times away.  Perhaps there would be resorts, airlines, etc. that would be willing to provide in kind services as donations to the charity.  The charity would also need to develop and implement a procedure to accept and screen potential recipients.  The charity should make every effort to keep to a minimum the operational expenses of the charity.

This is just a brief overview of the things that I have been thinking about.  I would be very interested in receiving feedback about the concept or ideas that anyone might have about the implementation.  I believe that this is a solid concept, the questions relate to the possibility of making it a reality.

Postmodernity: An Unfortunate Reality

Contrary to what a majority of people in our culture may think, philosophy matters.  It matters even to people who never give philosophy a thought.  It impacts them and our culture in ways that most of us never consider.  The coming to dominance of postmodernity is a vital example.  The arrival of postmodern thought over the past half century to a  point where it now is the dominant mindset of our culture has taken place with very little conscious awareness.  Even though very few people could define postmodernity if asked it directs their thought on a daily basis.  It is my goal to deal with the mindset of postmodernity in ways that everyone can understand.  This may turn out unsatisfactorily for any academics who may read it, but I am not writing for them.

First, understand that postmodernity is not a set of conclusions or some new set of ideas that someone has come up with.  Postmodernity represents a whole new way of thinking.  When I say that it has become the dominant perspective in our culture, that means that younger people no longer think the same way that people my age think.  This newer way of thinking impacts every aspect of life, political views, religion, ethics, values, etc.  In real ways we no longer speak the same language.  Underlying thought patterns are different so conclusions may not just be different they may be totally incompatible.

So, what makes postmodernity so different?  Modernity was rational.  It placed ultimate value on humankind’s ability to reason.  In the end stages it was also naturalistic as it had managed to largely explain away the supernatural or divine.  This was not true of the early stages of modernity.  Postmodernity finds the rational to be suspect.  Greater value is placed on the experiential.  Stories are likely to hold more value and influence than syllogisms.  Modernity believed in objective Truth that we could arrive at using the reason and logic available to us.  Postmodernity believes in subjective truth which because it is subjective may vary from person to person.  What to the modernist would be a perfectly obvious reality, two mutually contradictory statements cannot both be true, is rejected by the postmodernist.  Postmodernity embraces the supernatural in all of its forms.  The distinction is made between being religious, that would be for modernists with emphasis on theology and creed, and spiritual, that is more open and defined by experience and emotion.  The difference between how these two terms are generally used is more than semantics.

 

 

Modernity certainly had its problems.  The assertion that objective Truth does exist resulted in many concluding that they had the handle on that Truth.  Therefore anyone who disagreed with them must certainly be wrong.  It resulted in intolerance and hostility that come from arrogance.  Here the problem lies with the people claiming absolute certainty and not in fact with the concept of Truth itself.  Whether it be governments, religious institutions, or individuals Truth has always needed to be handled with a substantial measure of humility.  When two competing Truth claims exist it must be remembered that one may be True and one false or they may both be false.  They simply cannot both be true.  It has been the reality of modernistic arrogance that has resulted in many rejecting the very idea of Truth.

With that said, I believe, that we must accept that postmodernity is the reality with which deal.  This simply is the way that the large majority of people in our culture now think.  We must come to understand what the reality of this way of thinking is.  We don’t have to like it.  I for one don’t like it.  My own brain will be forever locked in modern ways of thinking.  However, with that said, it does little good to lament the death of modernity.  I have done more than my share of that.  We must all learn to cope with the new world in which we find ourselves and we must realize that we need to find new ways to communicate with those who think differently from the way that we do.

Ultimately, I believe that postmodernity is a self-destructive and unworkable system.  If each individual is entitled to their own truth how can a society or any subset of that society function?  When values conflict, how can the group proceed?  Even core values like respect for others, can be rejected.  If some want to say majority rules, why?  If might or wealth dictate behavior, then one’s truth dominates all other truth.  As much as I believe postmodernity is destructive and unworkable, I must try to find ways to communicate that understanding in postmodern language since that is the language that is now being spoken by most around me.  Modernity was around for a few hundred years.  Postmodernity is just a baby.  I think that we need to find ways to turn it around or at least modify its worst elements but in the short run I am not optimistic.

Cancer – Up Close and Personal, Part 2

It has been a while since I last blogged about dealing with cancer and there has been a lot that has happened since.   After Jean had her third round of chemo, the oncologist had a scan done.  It showed that the cancer had pretty well been knocked back but he still wanted to do the additional three rounds in the hope that it would result in a longer time before things reactivated.  After the fourth treatment she started really feeling badly and developed a persistent cough and shortness of breath.  Since one of the side effects during her third cycle of treatment had been blood clots in her lungs with some of the same symptoms, she finally decided that she needed to go to the ER.  It turned out that it was a good thing that she did and that she was a whole lot sicker than even she thought.

Within the first 48 hours in the hospital she saw at least 6 doctors and specialists and had a whole battery of tests run.  This time there were no blood clots, but there was pneumonia and pleurisy in her lungs.  They ran tests to see if the problems were caused by infection, bacteria, or possibly even fungus.  As I had expected none of these were found.  The problems in her lungs were entirely caused by chemo toxicity.  Remember what I said in my first cancer blog about chemo coming as close to killing you as possible without crossing that line?  This time they came real close.  

Jean wound up in the hospital for eight days.  Not much that can really be done in the way of treatment except for giving her steroids to try to enhance the healing process.  Just a matter of time, but no one can say how much time.  The final two treatments for the cycle were cancelled.  But there are numerous questions that remain.  How much recovery can be expected?  Will she get back to feeling as well as she did say a year ago?  Apparently no one can predict that.  The next time that the cancer gets active does this take away what seems to be the only real viable treatment option?  We can always hope and pray that there is some new treatment on the horizon that becomes available between now and then.  One of the effects of this treatment and complications has been a significant cognitive decline.  Is that also one of the things that will recover over time and how much?

Jean has begun to recover.  She is feeling a little better and she is able to do some more things.  I know longer feel that I need to wait outside the bathroom door when she takes a shower.  But she still does have balance issues.  When we have substantive conversations, I need to try to remember to let her finish a thought without interrupting her because she may have problems regaining that thought.  I am still not very good at this.  As the physical problems improve, she reminded me this week that the emotional side of things is progressing more slowly.  While I have been aware of this, I have not yet figured out how I need to respond in this realm.  As a result I have not provided the support that she really needs.

We have come to some other realizations and conclusions over the past weeks.  Other people still don’t get it and they don’t know how to respond, so mostly they don’t.  As I have said before, we have been dealing with this now for over 11 years.  I know that this seems harsh, but sometimes we feel like other people have tired of our issues and they just wish that Jean would get better or go ahead and die.  I know that is not completely true but that is the feeling that we get at times.  If other people have grown tired of hearing about this, imagine how tired Jean must be of dealing with it.  There are some people who talk about the “new normal” that people who deal with cancer must adapt to and accept.  I cannot accept the idea of “new normal”.  The “new normal” is NOT normal.  It may well be a new reality, but that reality is not normal.

Jean is a woman of tremendous faith, character, strength, and intelligence.  She has been to all outside appearances a rock through all of this.  But, she is also human.  She does suffer the emotional blows that come with all that she has gone through and those are not quantifiable of visible on scans or X-rays.  She would love for there to be more support from more people who care and for those closest to her, especially me, to respond better.  And she gets tired of the fight.

I also get tired.  I fail far too often to do what I should or I do it with a bad attitude that shows.  I am in this for the long haul.  The commitment is there even when it doesn’t show.  I still need to learn how to be a better support person.  Jean needs that and she deserves that.

 

 

Economic Justice

Much is being said these days about economic justice. Everyone in public life seems to have an opinion on the subject. But when people’s opinions about economic justice are based on their personal or intuitive principals of justice, they are all at root subjective. For instance is “fairness” determined by equality of opportunity or or equality of outcome? I believe that Scripture gives us the only objective principals that guide us in the direction of understanding God’s standards of economic justice. OT law has a great deal to say about an economic order that came directly from God Himself. The context does provide limitations for us when it comes to application because we are looking at a Theocracy set in an agrarian culture. I will be speaking in terms of what I see as underlying principals. Application will be another matter.

Principal One. Economic justice under OT Law was not to be left to the good will and individual initiative of the people. It was systemic and codified into the law. Whether the portion of tithes to be set aside for the poor or the rules for planting and harvesting, Sabbath or Jubilee. All of these issues are specifically directed at creating an economic order different from anything that had existed before.

Principal Two. Provision for the basic needs of the poor needs to be built into the system. Under OT Law this is demonstrated in the laws regarding the planting and the harvesting for crops. Plant with square corners in the field and harvest with rounded corners. Harvest each field only once and leave what ripens after for the poor. Those who made loans to the poor of the nation were prohibited from charging interest on those loans. Resources allocated for the needs of the poor were created by the very operating laws of the system.

Principal Three. In a system that is economically just the rich are prohibited from building their wealth at the expense of the poor. This is demonstrated in OT Law by the prohibition against making loans with interest and by the provisions within the dictates regarding the Sabbath year. These provisions dictate that all unpaid loan balances are to be forgiven every seventh year. Further, those in a position to make loans are warned that they should not refuse a loan to anyone is need simply because the Sabbath year was approaching.

Principal Four. Neither wealth nor poverty should be inherited indefinitely. OT Law provided for this with the Year of Jubilee. Every 50 years the land was all to be returned to the descendants of those to whom the land had originally been distributed. In this way the wealth of the land was to be redistributed and resources equalized every two to three generations.

Principal Five.  God’s people are always to be kind and generous to the visitor in the land. God told His people specifically to do this keeping in mind where they themselves had come from.

Principal Six.  God does judge nations other than Israel in the OT severely when the violate His standard of economic justice. Example, according to Ezekiel, the reason for the total destruction of Sodom was their arrogance and their neglect of the poor. Ezekiel doesn’t even mention sexual sin.