Saturday, March 29, 2014

G-d's Not Dead: In Theatres this Week

How Far Would You go… to Defend Your Belief

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

THYME Magazine: Faith and Persecution

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume VII, Issue XIV

Faith and Persecution

I will never forget the first Nepali I ever met. His name was Prem Pradahn and I sat across from him at a Thanksgiving meal over thirty years ago. He came to Faith while serving in the British Air Force and returned to his native land eager to share the new hope he had found in Christ. Although he walked with a limp from an injury sustained in the service, Prem would walk for miles to visit villages in the mountains where he would say to anyone who would listen: "I have heard a new thing! I have heard about a man who died and came to life again!"

For this simple, but eloquent statement of Good News, Pradahn ran afoul of Nepal's strict 'anti-conversion laws.' He spent seven years in prison. Like Paul in the early church, he had a dream or a vision of the Risen Christ! This sustained him as he somehow survived an incarceration that most people did not survive. The prison he was in was notorious as a place that few came out of again. But not only did Prem did survive!, He lived to undertake new things. He gathered unwanted children into homes and taught them the wonderful story. Now he found himself revered by his community as an educator and was able to influence countless young lives. If the Apostolic age is not past, here is a man who could rightly be called one.

Though we have been blessed to live in a nation founded on principles that protected religious freedom, history tells us that Faith has from the very beginnings put the faithful at odds with the prevailing culture. The sons of Isaac living in Egypt were suppressed and enslaved, as a Pharaoh saw them as a threat. Their miraculous deliverance and elevation to a nation of promise occurred surrounded by hostile threat. Moses saw things go from bad to worse as he negotiated with the Egyptians for the freedom of his people. Though Abraham had received the promise that his descendents would be a blessing to the nations, the nations to this day (and sadly, even so-called 'Christian' nations), do not return blessing to them. Those nations who did encourage their Jewish communities enjoyed the rich creativity they brought to the lands they inhabited. Those who surpressed them missed the blessing.

First Century Christians also were ostracized. The Roman Emperor Claudius [Acts 18:2] ordered all the Jews out of Rome, and similarly the Christians were seen as owing their primary allegiance, not to the Emperor, but to the Divine! The persecuted church grew and affirmed the value of human life. Unwanted babies thrown into the Tiber River were rescued and raised by people of Faith in an ongoing ethic reminiscent of the story of Moses. Moses, you will recall, was cast adrift in the Nile as the Egyptians attempted to force population control on the Hebrews by ordering the killing of their babies. Moses survived thanks to the quick thinking of his older sister Miriam and became the instrument of Divine Deliverance for his people. Faith, in its purest form, has always sought to deliver people from their present (and often wretched) state. Thus it often finds itself at odds with the civil authorities.

In most recent history, as so-called 'Christian' nations succombed to philosophies such as those of the National Socialists in Germany and the Marxists in other places; you see the rise of "Righteous Gentiles." These people arose, motivated by Faith, to protect their neighbors from regimes intent on destroying the people G-d had called his own. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church in Germany endured similar dangers. In fact, a history of the Twentieth Century needs to include the near obliteration of the House of Israel and the rise of new philosophies of dystopia that sought to replace those ideals found in dependence on the Divine. That Century also saw a new nation of Israel reborn in the ashes of the Century's most terrible war. The Middle-East's only representative government exists there, as does a marvelous land of innovation and wonder.

Our own nation's early history is filled with stories of those fleeing persecution who established new communities of Faith on her shores. Pilgrims, Moravians, Catholics and Anabaptists all came to America seeking the freedom to live by their Faith. Virginia's own history, first as an Anglican colony and later as adopters of statutes of religious freedom, sets the stage for the First Amendment of the Constitution. Here the Federal government is prohibited from establishing a state church and is clearly prohibited from restricting the rights of CITIZENS to actively practice their Faith! Again, one wonders at the modern overemphasis of the 'establishment' clause and the relative lack of concern about recent infringements upon 'free exercise!' In a schoolroom somewhere in America, elementary school children sing "Praises to Obama." Their teachers instruct them to do so! "Obama's Gonna Change the World" they sing in a rousing song taught to them by their teachers. Michelle Malkin has assembled much evidence of such "lessons" being taught around the country. Sadly, this is not some isolated incident. Its recurrence suggests that it was suggested as a 'lesson plan.'

In a movie clip from late 1930's Germany, nicely dressed schoolchildren sit in their orderly desks and sing: "Adolph Hitler is our lord!" Again, their teachers have coerced them to participate in the lauding of an earthly leader in a manner that I, and many others, would believe to be reserved for the Divine! So, as the secular state writhes at the thought of students seeing a Creche or a Menorah, or G-d forbid, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, they blatantly usurp the place of Faith in the lives of young students. It is not always 'Praises to Obama,' but rather in subtle suggestions in lesson plans that 'your parents are not always right,' and that unbridled sexual expression is normal and desirible. Here a civil authority and morality seek to usurp the guiding principles of Faith, and their traditional repository, the family. Condoms and clinics supposedly 'free' you from such archaic constraints. To be sure, there are still many good people of Faith teaching in government schools, and their influence is to be celebrated, but one must honestly acknowledge other influences as well.

Homeschooling has emerged as a very logical response to government schools that overreach their boundaries. I have homeschooled, and I have known scores of homeschooled young people. Educators often complained that they lacked 'socialization,' but my experience is that most of these children were successfully involved in youth sports. If anything, they enjoyed a BROADER socialization, being able to relate to ADULTS as well as PEERS. I have had a few homeschooled young people work alongside me in the studio. When you can confidently hand the key to your shop to someone one third of your age, and entrust that same young person with client contact, such 'socialization' arguments ring hollow. Recently a German family sought asylum in the United States because the state was going to forcibly remove their homeschooled children from their home! The Obama administration sided with the German authorities rather than the Constitutional principles espoused in the First Amendment. Thankfully public outcry stopped the administration's attempt to deport the Romeikes, who simply sought to educate their own children in accordance with their own values.[1.]

Constitutional Attorney Mike Farris defended the family. His advocacy of homeschool perotection goes back for decades. He was shunned by some of his political colleagues for this during his unsuccessfu bid to become Attorney General of Virginia. I supported him. Here it must be pointed out that there has for some time existed an antagonism towards homeschooling on the part of the political establishment. That homeschooling exists largely to underscore the primary role of family in transmitting Faith makes this problematic. Test scores and other statistics would indicate that, if anything, homeschooling provides a healthy alternative to government schools. The real reason for such animosity is probably best characterized by this quote from Virginia Senator Mark Warner, who supposed he was off-mike when he said it: "One of the things you are going to see is a coalition that is just about completely taken over the Republican Party in this state and if they have their way it's going to take over the state government. It is made up of the Christian Coalition, but not just them. It is made up of the right-to-lifers, but not just them. It's made up of the NRA, but not just them. It is made up of the home-schoolers, but not just them. It's made up of a whole coalition of people that have all sorts of differing views that I think most of us in this room would find threatening to what it means to be an American." [2.]

So we see a continued marginalization of Faith under the guise of 'tolerance.' The fear that someone might be 'offended' by the practice of, or a symbol of Faith becomes the overriding principle for government or court intervention. No matter that little Johnny cannot understand why he cannot put Jesus on a poster for school, it might 'offend.' Also, no matter that your personal convictions are that G-d narrowly defines 'marriage.' If you refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple, or refuse to photograph their wedding, you might run afoul of 'anti-discrimination laws.' No matter that if you decline, several of your competitors are more than ready to offer their services, Faith cannot trump the imposition of a 'civil morality.' The cases of Elane Photography, Aaron and Melissa Klein (Sweet Cakes by Melissa), Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood Specialties and Ocean Grove Pavilion [3.] all spring from government encroachment on conscience, and as such are government reigning in religious freedom. The result is not necessarily more freedom. Consider the Catholic Charities of Massachusetts who folded their operations rather than place children with same-sex adoptive couples. Who won? Certainly not the children who lost a fine agency dedicated to helping them. Gay couples? Yes, they won a symbolic victory, but they had other government placement agencies who would already place with them. The big loser, (aside from the children), is that part of the First Amendment guaranteeing the free exercise of religion.

The argument may be made that a pluralistic society requires a 'religion neutral' public square. May I suggest that that is simply not what is happening. By excluding values, the state simply promotes another set of values. Witness the tone of so many 'anti-bullying' initiatives that are more concerned with promoting homosexuality as 'normal' than creating a climate of mutual respect. The same school that prohibits Menorahs and Creches may be very likely to introduce Muslim practices in the guise of 'multiculturalism.' I once saw a fourth grade curriculum that celebrated Aztec human sacrifice... even going so far as to say that heart surgery was advanced by the knowledge gained by ripping out the victims' still-beating hearts! Thankfully such abuses and double standards are still more of the exception than the norm for most students. Still, is it unreasonable to look at the perpondrance of evidence and point out the civil society's instances of embracing hostility to Faith? Certainly respect for other students is to be desired and cultivated, and students benefit from learning about other cultures, but they can do so in an enviroment that celebrates, rather than derides their own.

The radicals of the 1960's have become the academics of the Twenty-first Century. Judge Robert Bork describes this quite well in Slouching Towards Gomorrah! [4.] Classical roots of culture are regularly derided or ignored as 'modern' issue such as gender politics become the stuff of literature and learning. [5.] What becomes quite evident is that such thinkers are all to honest in saying that Faith in the public square is a great impediment to the societal re-creation they would like to accomplish. How else do you explain the focused attacks on Faith expression, 'family values' and Classical foundations? Again, I give you Senator Mark Warner's "off-mike" statement: "One of the things you are going to see is a coalition that is just about completely taken over the Republican Party in this state and if they have their way it's going to take over the state government. It is made up of the Christian Coalition, but not just them. It is made up of the right-to-lifers, but not just them. It's made up of the NRA, but not just them. It is made up of the home-schoolers, but not just them. It's made up of a whole coalition of people that have all sorts of differing views that I think most of us in this room would find threatening to what it means to be an American." [6.] Add that to President Obama's remarks about Pennsylvanians "clinging to their guns and religion" and you may see a pattern here. A literal reading of the first two amendments finds "guns and religion" clearly enumerated as rights of citizens. The state may not establish itself over the church and the citizen, in the Second Amendment, does NOT surrender all power to the state.

So, the "bitter clingers" might really be those who brood over the fact that our founding Fathers very nicely created checks and balances against the centralized state that they so desire. Politicians who fume about their inability to rule by executive order would do well to remember that it protects THEM from their opponents as well. For over two-hundred years, the United States was a magnet for people fleeing the oppression of tyrants and centralized states. Many of these immigrants were religious refugees. Though far from perfect, the state that purposefully restricted itself and protected liberties became a "Nation of Nations." You are free to believe (or NOT to believe) as your conscience dictates. This is in great contrast to most of the world where to be of a minority religion is to be ostracized if not outright persecuted. Coptic Christians in Egypt, as well as a host of minorities caught in the re-bordering of places like the Balkans, look longingly at the freedom we seem all too ready to cast aside. Would that we preserve it!

The Persecuted Church Around the World

"This has been a traumatic 48 hours for American Pastor Saeed Abedini.

Nearly two weeks ago he was moved from his prison cell to a local private hospital and promised medical care. Then, two days ago, Iranian guards banned visits from his family, shackled him, and ordered that he return to his prison cell untreated.

This was devastating for Pastor Saeed and his family. He needs to undergo surgery for internal injuries he sustained from prison beatings.

You immediately took to Facebook and Twitter to share what had happened. Thousands began praying in earnest for Pastor Saeed.

Just yesterday we learned that Iranian prison officials reversed course calling the whole ordeal a "mistake."

Pastor Saeed is now unshackled, but while he remains in the hospital, he is still not receiving critical treatment. He still desperately needs surgery and to be released to his family in the U.S." -- Jordan Sekulow

Sign the Petition [click to read]. Our current administration has ignored the horrific treatment of this man, a U. S. Citizen. Visit Voice of the Martyrs [click to read] to learn more about persecution around the world. Persecuted Christians around the world need your Awareness, your Prayers and your Action. Here are practical ways to Get Involved [click to read].

Beware of the Curse of 'Slacktivism'

"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." - 1 John 3:16-18

You've signed petitions, "shared" statuses, tweeted and posted, but are you really making a difference? Wake Forest University Anthropology professor Karin Frederic warns: "Social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube seem like powerful tools for change. They help activists spread awareness, create networks of solidarity and mobilize people quickly and efficiently. Thousands of people can ‘like’ a campaign within 24 hours. That’s really appealing, but it’s often quite shallow and it can detract attention from efforts that could be more useful, effective and sustainable."

This is a blog, it has a 'related' Facebook page, so I write this mostly to myself, but here is an astounding fact: 'Placebo Activism' can make you feel involved and aware, but a healthy reality check would include asking yourself if you are really in the game? "Am I sponsoring a child or a ministry in some difficult area of the world? Does my church regularly highlight the difficulties of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world?" As Fredric reminds us: "We need to ensure that giving is less about us and the image we can project to our friends, and more about those people in the world who really need support. Does a hungry child really care if you ‘like’ a Facebook page?" [7.]

Arguments Began Yesterday [click to read] in the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties. This is an important case for religious freedom and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, arguing in favor of the mandate requiring companies to provide contraceptive coverage, faced some pretty tough questions from the justices.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

THYME Magazine: A Case for Vision

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume VII, Issue XIII

A Case for Vision X

Over the past nine weeks we have been exploring the case for vision. The complete series may be seen here:

A Case for Vision I [click to read]
A Case for Vision II [click to read]
A Case for Vision III [click to read]
A Case for Vision IV [click to read]
A Case for Vision V [click to read]
A Case for Vision VI [click to read]
A Case for Vision VII [click to read]
A Case for Vision VIII [click to read]
A Case for Vision IX [click to read]

"We Can Build That"

The president’s statement two years ago that “You didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen” is a very concise summary of the danger posed by modern progressive liberalism to the heart of the American idea and experience, as represented by its Constitution, founding principles, and the reasons for its modern success." -- C. Boyden Gray.

In an article entitled We Can Build That [click to read], in The American Conservative, Gray examines the often dismissed case for enlightened self interest and the Scottish Enlightenment's exploration of greed as a private vice, but a public benefit. He cites Bernard de Mandeville's The Fable of the Bees: or Private Vices,Public Benefits. Modern thought is quick to come down on "corporate greed," even as it promotes a hedonistic level of "self expression." Again, Gray's article shows that human nature is more like a spirited Arabian horse. The energy and spirit of the animal might well be gentled to some noble purpose. Indeed, Adam Smith asserts:

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

But, earlier in this series, A Case for Vision, it was rightly stated that markets will provide slavery and destructive things as well as food, clothing and shelter. Just as a bridle is necessary if one is to employ the energy of a fine horse, the Golden Rule and the Rule of Law are essential components of the process. Perhaps the biggest myopia in progressive thinking is the thought that private morality is somewhat irrelevant. Corporations are evil because they operate in the realm of self-interest, but government is somehow going to operate on a higher plane because there is no "profit motive."

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the fallacy of such thinking is with an historical example. In the days of William H. Howland [click to read] the city of Toronto moved from a lawless society to one influenced by the private morality of its great mayor:

"Because of his great compassion for the poor, he was elected as Mayor of Toronto in 1885, with a strong mandate to clean up the city. Howland signaled his arrival in the mayor’s office by installing a twelve-foot banner on the wall, reading, "Except the Lord Build the City, the Watchman Wakes but in Vain". Despite fierce opposition, Howland was so successful, that Toronto became nicknamed "Toronto the Good". As champion of the poor, Howland and his Alliance friend, Rev. John Salmon, would tramp the lanes and alleys, feeding the poor, praying over the sick, and comforting the sad. With a population of just 104,000, Toronto had over 800 licensed and unlicensed saloons. Over half of all criminal offenses recorded in 1885 were related to drunkenness." -- Reverend Ed Hird

Reverend Hird goes on to document the work of Howland to enforce laws already on the books and improve sanitation services to the city. The work of Howland actually resulted in a decrease in saloon business. Now the interests of the people were redirected into the providing of nobler things. On the eve of his reelection, a group of saloon owners hired all the taxis in an effort to keep people from the polls. Women had recently been enfranchised, however, and great numbers of them trudged to the polls through the snow to give Howland a resounding victory.

The moral of the story is that Howland's private sense of morality led him to press against the corruption rampant in the city government. The revivals happening in the city enlightened the self-interests of citizens, who turned from drunkenness to the building up of community and home. It is a story that has often replayed itself in the affairs of humanity. It speaks of a balance we in our time might do well to regain. I recommend The Reverend Ed Hird's excellent article: William H. Howland [click to read] as an example we might emulate.

"Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar.

Then brought he me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without unto the utter gate by the way that looketh eastward; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side.

And when the man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the waters were to the ankles.

Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters; the waters were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters were to the loins.

Afterward he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over.

And he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen this? Then he brought me, and caused me to return to the brink of the river.

Now when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other.

Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed.

And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh.

And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand upon it from Engedi even unto Eneglaim; they shall be a place to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many.

But the miry places thereof and the marishes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt.

And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine." -- Ezekiel 47:1-12

We are in need of a Great Miracle today. Other generations have faced times like this as well. In previous times of national peril, our LEADERS called for prayer. Today it is necessary for people of faith everywhere to pick up that fallen standard and lift it high. If we will prepare our own hearts, like soil for the planting, HE will plant the seed. If we will cultivate what G-d plants, nurturing it to maturity, HE will provide the bountiful harvest. If we will prepare the land, G-d promises to HEAL it. History (REAL history, that is) is filled with stories of just such promise being realized in the lives of ordinary men and women.

But to participate in promise requires a relationship. G-d is not some abstract concept, but rather He is the Author/Creator of the Universe. He has a NAME... a Name so Holy as not to be uttered lightly on Earth, but a Name, to be KNOWN by. And how shall I find this G-d? There are men and women in this world who converse with Him in prayer. It is through relationship with THEM that we may be introduced to the Magnificent One, the G-d of Redemption. I am at best a poor disciple of His, but I am His disciple. You should not be introduced to Him by some formula in the writings of man, but rather in the Inspired Words of His Own Testimony. That is why I, and many more of His disciples stand ready to open the Holy Scriptures WITH YOU. In them you will find the Life and Light I speak of. The Food Channel cannot actually nourish you. You must step into the room where the meals are served.

An Earthly author cannot see the 'Great Miracle' that you, the reader, desperately need. But we CAN go together to the Master, who indeed knows what will nourish each of us. It is highly likely that you know someone who knows the Master, who can take you to the place where He can meet you with healing and nourishment. As I write this I pray that that person might indeed come to mind. Before I came to faith I was keenly aware that there was a certain brightness and clarity about the lives of certain people I knew. Later I realized that some of them had indeed been praying for me. Yet, you might be reading this and G-d's Holy Spirit may be speaking to you and you are not sure who to go to. You may comment to this and it will not be published. I moderate all comments. Thus if you would like to know G-d as Reedemer, let me know in the comment block how to get in touch. It will not be made public. It is my desire that you be able to find the 'Living Water' that you so deeply desire.

The greatest miracle is not the parting of the sea or the feeding of thousands, it is the transformation of the human heart. That is the miracle that gives us access to G-d. It is in knowing G-d that we will find far more than we were looking for in the first place!

The Story of Amazing Grace

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Stones of Remembrance...

Remembering G-d's Mighty Works in Our Lives

Angus Dei (Lamb of G-d), by Kristina Elaine Riley. [1.]

One of the greatest challenges to our Faith is our forgetfulness. Pastor Seth Hankee preached our sermon this past Sunday about how the people were instructed to remember the great things G-d had done for them. G-d separated the Jordan, as He had the Red Sea, for the people to walk across and gave them the following command:

"And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying, Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.

Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man: And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the Lord your G-d into the midst of Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel: That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones?

Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever. And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, as the Lord spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there.

And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day." -- Joshua 4:1-9

The Passover meal had already been instituted as testimony to G-d's redemption, so that a child would ask: "Why is this Night Different from all Other Nights?" The story in a meal gave illustration to the miracle that had carried the people out of Egypt.

 For the Christian, remembering deliverance from sin is the greatest miracle. In preparation for Easter, the Church observes Lent, reminding us of the deliverance Jesus brought us by way of the cross: 

"Ash Wednesday emphasizes two themes: our sinfulness before G-d and our human mortality. The service focuses on both themes, helping us to realize that both have been triumphed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During some Ash Wednesday services, the minister will lightly rub the sign of the cross with ashes onto the foreheads of worshipers. The use of ashes as a sign of mortality and repentance has a long history in Jewish and Christian worship. Historically, ashes signified purification and sorrow for sins."-- —Adapted from The United Methodist Book of Worship

So it is very important to tell our stories of redemption, using reminders that will stir our minds to recall times when we were vividly aware of the Divine reaching out to touch our lives. Pastor Seth showed us a little children's book he had saved from his first house... on closer examination you could see the tire print on the page, a reminder of how when a car careened into his living room, it had narrowly missed hitting his wife and young child. Certainly G-d had protected his young family and that little book now told a much bigger story!

So now it is time to commit ourselves to the telling of the great stories, the ones that end in redemption and deliverance from our present condition. The Book of Judges follows the Book of Joshua and gives a sober warning: "And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being an hundred and ten years old. And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathheres, in the mount of Ephraim, on the north side of the hill Gaash. And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel." -- Judges 2:8-10

The importance of stories and their redemptive narrative cannot be emphasized enough. Passing the torch must always be a priority in every generation.

1. "I did this with a sheet of 8.5"x11" computer paper some ashes from my fire place and canola oil. I mixed up some of the oil and ashes similar to how they are mixed on Ash Wednesday and painted them on the paper in a cross then sprinkled the rest of the dry ashes on top. I then found one of the music compositions for "Agnus Dei," Latin for Lamb of G-d, on [click to read] and cut out strictly the music overlaying it and changing the opacity over the picture of my ash cross. Then I added the Latin words meaning, "Lamb of G-d, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us, grant us peace." This piece is to remind us that we are sinners made up of dust, but G-d loved us so much, he took mercy on us sending His son as a sacrificial lamb, to take away our sins. If we believe and accept his sacrifice we are granted this eternal peace and life with Him. May the Lord bless you all and lead you closer to Him during this season of Lent, looking forward to the promise of Easter. Amen." -- Kristina Elaine Riley

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

THYME Magazine: A Case for Vision IX

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume VII, Issue XII

A Case for Vision IX
© 2014 The Kirchman Studio.

So why do nations fail? While a case can be made for institutional integrity, it is also clear that simply transplanting working institutions (such as the U. S. Constitution) into other societies does not necessarily guarantee success. Post-Colonial Africa testifies starkly to this, as do the wreckages of a succession of Socialist Utopia/Dystopias. If better institutions can be constructed, what are they to be made of? Acemoglu and Robinson argue for good institutions, but cannot tell us what the foundations should be. Even those who would argue that the "American" solution is the right one need to confont the reality of America today. America is in Decline. As her leaders saddle her with $17 Trillion in debt, she becomes increasingly weaker as an agent for providing for the basic security of the society. Her leaders are content to entrust our energy production to unfriendly regimes in the Middle-East, our financial and manufacturing security to unfriendly regimes in Asia and our physical security to a despot-heavy United Nations. How did we get to this point? In this conclusion to the series: A Case for Vision, we will look at some possible reasons.

As America grew increasingly secure in its prosperity, it turned its energies increasingly towards a 'consumer mentality.' Note that this is in stark contrast to the earlier mindset that America was to be a blessing to the rest of the world. The drive to send missionaries, provide clean water and cure disease took a back seat to building bigger houses and bigger televisions. Now we could outsource our manufacturing, enjoying more and cheaper goods. No longer would we have to live next to 'dirty' old factories. They could be converted into trendy botiques, lofts and coffee shops. Sadly, those jobs they created went away too! No worry!, everyone can go to college now. The problem is that the Professional sector grows only insofar as it is the supportive branch of the creation of real productivity. No problem. After college you can work/hang out in the trendy coffee shop. Gratification became a larger motivating force than the securing of Faith and Freedom. The Mall and the Multiplex Theater replaced the church and the armory at the center of the commons. Manufacturing centers could be re-purposed as shopping areas too. Religion diminished as a force for living everyday life, becoming an inspirational hour for refreshment rather than a challenge to be lived throughout the week. Hillary Clinton carefully crafted her own description of Religious Freedom to narrowly define it as the 'private practice of Faith.' Her description actually perscribes its exclusion from the public square! [1.]

Next came a sense of 'entitlement.' How else do you explain unmarried Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke DEMANDING that her school, a Faith institution run by the Jesuits, provide HER with recreational contraceptives? [2.] That she was invited to speak at the Democrat Convention and now is exploring a run for Congress speaks volumes to this new sense of 'entitlement!' There is something fundamentally wrong here... far more than the economic reality that she, as a law student, can anticipate far more income than I will ever see. She does not NEED Georgetown University to provide her with recreational contraceptives. The real travesty is that while the church is being told that it has no place in the commons, those in the commons are all to eager to place such limitations and demands on the house of Faith! A major retailer, a major furniture manufacturer and a chicken sandwich restaurant who seek to live their faith in the marketplace are all under attack. This is not an accident. The inclination of mankind towards morality has been repackaged in electric cars, cloth grocery bags and tilting at the windmill of 'Global Warming.' Stewardship of the earth, a noble thing in and of itself, can attain the status of civil Religion. Traditional Religion can get out of the way of our pursuit of Hedonism. Why should we cry out to G-d if we can make government our provider?

Finally, there is a wrongly placed national pride. This is the arrogant assertion that we somehow no longer need to rely on Divine Providence, humbly petitioning Heaven for our daily bread. We can do it all ourselves if we somehow correctly organize the commons. Thus we eschew the functions of Faith and Defense rightly performed in the commons as the commons takes upon itself to do the work of G-d! But what is the result? May I suggest it is nothing but a high-tech serfdom. Because 'we' can change the climate, we will do so by strangling the very engines of industry and ingenuity that have actually improved man's stewardship of the world (actually we've simply placed our manufacturing offshore. Our 'clean' Priuses receiving toxic batteries from a Chinese factory that would not meet the standards of our own EPA). [3.] We come to the conclusion that 'we' must alone end Acquired Immune Deficiency and balance the temperature of the planet. We will pay carbon taxes to despot regimes while stifling the energy production that will free us to advance to the next generation of propulsion! We forget the wisdom of Samuel Morse, who telegraphed: "What hath G-d Wrought?" upon the successful operation of the telegraph. We forget humility.

And yet, if you are reading this, you might realize that we might indeed pursue a better course. We might look to Bless future generations rather than feather our own nests. We might pursue our science with humble faith as opposed to arrogance, looking to a G-d who I believe is all too eager to reveal new secrets to trustworthy men and women. We might, as we realize the roots of our prosperity, seek to share those roots with our fellow man. We will not kick against Constitutions that limit institutions, seeing that the limitless resource of Divine Revelation can indeed fuel our aspirations. What drew me to Asmus and Gruden's work was their optimism in presenting a universally implementable strategy for improving the human condition. What compelled me to write this series was the burning sense that I was holding in my hands a map, if you will, showing the location of treasure far greater than the Count of Monte Cristo's map to the lost treasure of Sparta. Like the old priest, I want to press it into the hands of someone who will use it for good.

Crocus 1
Spring Crocus.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thoughts About Ash Wednesday and Lent

A Time For Reflection and Redirection

Sunset in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Guest Post by M. K. Hand

You might notice people walking around with cross-shaped smudges on their foreheads. There is no "mystical" attribute assigned to this practice. The ashes are a physical reminder of our need for repentance, and a symbol of the dependency of humans on G-d's mercy through Jesus Christ.

Why ashes? The Bible speaks of man returning to dust and ashes (from whence he came), and Job smeared himself with dust and ashes as a symbol of atonement. Also, in the Old Testament, animals were sacrificed to G-d for atonement, and they were burnt to ashes. When Jesus came as a living sacrifice, the Law was no longer applicable, and animal sacrifices were no longer needed for atonement. Jesus was the final sacrifice...He ushered us into a time of Grace through Faith, once and for all.

Lent, the season leading up to Easter, is a time of increased attention to charity (love), prayer, and fasting for Christians. It is a special time to reflect, repent and rejoice. It prepares our hearts to fully take in and celebrate the sacrifice, atonement, and grace made possible by Jesus' crucifixion, and the restoration of our relationship, broken by our sin, with the Father. Many people fast, give up something meaningful to them, or turn away from a sin that has taken hold of their life; fasting is also a way to identify with the sacrifice made by Jesus at Calvary. May this time leading up to Easter be a time of reflection, repentance, and rejoicing for you!

"Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your G-d: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil." ~ Joel 2:12-13

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

THYME Magazine: A Case for Vision VIII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume VII, Issue XI

A Case for Vision VIII
© 2014 The Kirchman Studio.

What model best advances a society? What will propel us to new frontiers in creativity and to meet the needs of humankind most effectively? Again, history provides examples to learn from. We know intuitively that the American Revolution didn't happen in a vacuum. We know that John Locke's writings provided a model for Jefferson, but like any great work there is more to its creation than first meets the eye. If one takes a magnifying glass and looks closely, what might we learn? Before Bristol could revitalize itself, before the good of eliminating slavery could be accomplished that would necessitate Bristol's revitalization, there was profound societal change that would usher it in. In their book The Poverty of Nations [click to read] Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus present the story behind the story, as it were. In 1688 England experienced its Glorious Revolution, where leaders of Parliament asked William of Orange to invade England and take the throne from James II. With an army of fifteen thousand Dutch soldiers, William overthrew James II who did not even resist his removal. The Glorious Revolution had the effect of limiting the king's power while vesting the power to govern in Parliament. Here we have a representative body assume real power and a firm check against absolute monarchy. The result was a greater pluralism in representation and what Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson hail as: "the world's first set of inclusive political institutions" in their book: Why Nations Fail. [1.]

William of Orange had been schooled in the thought of the Reformation. That Revolution, though many think of it as 'merely' spiritual, actually caused a paradigm shift in the culture as men and women were encouraged to pursue relationship with the Divine through each one's reading of the Scripture. The result was that personal literacy was encouraged, education flourished and everyone in the society was now able to work with new ideas. Jewish culture already encouraged such individual study and those cities in Europe who encouraged their Jewish communities rather than surpress them enjoyed the fruits of inventiveness and industry as well. Conversely, those who's cultures maintained the creative sector in the hands of a powerful few often surpressed this wonderful culture of creativity. The pograms of Czarist Russia and the Inquisition of Spain ultimately had the effect of squelching the healthy freedom of inquiry and exchange of ideas that propelled Post-reformation Northern Europe forward. Religious Freedom was a necessary byproduct of Reformation. It did come into being in at least limited form in some countries of Northern Europe. The desire for Religious Freedom spurred a number of diverse Faith communities to come to the new world. New England's Pilgrims and Maryland's Catholics sought it. The Anabaptists and the Presbyterians who crossed Virginia's Blue Ridge did as well. [2.]

The advancement of human freedoms seen in the Eighteenth Century might well be seen in the light of the quest for Religious Freedom. The First Amendment of our Constitution, if you read it in its entirety (not just, as some do, for the 'Establishment' clause), places Religious Freedom as a basic right and prohibits government from infringing upon it. It is a 'Negative Liberty' to be sure, but an essential one. The First Amendment also protects thought and speech from government 'oversight.' That is why the recent selective enforcement actions of the Internal Revenue Service are so unconstitutional. In surpressing Conservative and Religious speech they have become an agency of the government to trample on a hard-won expression of a basic human right! [3.]

"Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our G-d be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it." -- Psalm 94:16, 17

In 1776, more than a hundred years after the Glorious Revolution, Adam Smith wrote in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations: "That security, which the laws of Great Britian give to every man that he shall enjoy the fruits of his own labor, is alone sufficient to make any country flourish. The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition, when suffered to exert itself with freedom and security, is so powerful a principle, that it alone, and without any assistance, not only is capable of carrying on the society of wealth and prosperity but of surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions with which the folly of human laws too often encumbers its operations; though the effect of these obstructions is always more or less either to encroach upon its freedom or to diminish its security. In Great Britain industry is perfectly secure; and though it is far from being perfectly free, it is as free or freer than in any other part of Europe."  [4.] The Eighteenth Century saw the results of mankind loosed from the bonds of serfdom where he toiled under the oversight of a Lord for protection and also loosed from the constraints of the 'Divine Right of Kings,' also a supposed provider of protection. The grim reality was that such 'protection' included the obligation to fight in the king's wars, be they righteous or capricious. Meno Simonsz had resisted this policy and he and his followers endured much persecution for it. [5.]

The American Experiment owes much to the migration of persecuted Religious people to her shores. The Pilgrims landed in Massachussetts and proceeded to build their community. At first they held all things in the commons, no doubt seeing it necesary to be unified in carving out a new life in the frontier, but after a disasterous start this changed. William Bradford assigned each family their own plot of ground and since everyone 'owned' his productivity; productivity soared. The starvation and lackluster participation of some citizens in the common agriculture was changed as each man pushed his own farm to thrive. [6.] The new model, seen in the Jamestown colony as well, placed the armory in the commons but placed industry in private hands. Now a man had incentive to learn better methods, since he and his family would literally reap the benefits. This was not so much 'rugged individualism' as modern writers often surmise, but a cooperation of free individuals each pursuing their own industry, but coming together to protect themselves from common threats and coming together to bring in their bountiful harvests. Next to the armory, in the center of the commons, was the church. Faith was even more essential than dry powder for the security of the community.

When the Moravians setled in the Piedmont of North Carolina to peacefully farm, they built the town of Bethabara. At the center of Bethabara was the Gemeinhaus, where the Moravians met for worship. There was a bell that was rung several times a day to remind the faithful to pray. Bethabara was never attacked by Native Americans and in fact developed good relationships with the surrounding tribes. They later learned that hostile factions in those tribes had indeed organized a number of attacks on Bethabara in its earlier days. Sneaking up on the little community they had assumed they had been scouted out when they heard the ringing of the village bell and they rapidly reatreated! The Moravians, in fact, long enjoyed good relations with nations like the Cherokee, since single Moravians lived as a longhouse people, much as the Native Americans. There was, in fact, a large Moravian Cherokee settlement in the pre-removal era. Sadly, they were massacred in the buildup to the Cherokee Removal. The Moravians became for a time a major force in world evangelism, living the promise of the Gospel among people around the globe. [7.]

Acemoglu and Robinson note that some institutions produce great freedom and advancement while others do not. They seem to argue that institutions can be perfected but are at a loss as to how this actually happens. In the Nineteen-sixties nations around the world seemed poised to participate in the American Experiment. Colonialism was coming to an end. In African nations freed from colonialism. Beautiful African delegates in traditional robes met in gleaming new assembly halls as they proudly presided over an entire Continent emerging from Colonialism. The U. S. Constitution was frequently used as a model as these nations set a new course. National Geographic photos and articles from the period paint the picture of a bright future emerging. But as Uganda, once the 'Pearl of Africa' sank into horrible despotism; tribalism intermixed with 'anticolonial' Marxist politics resulting in the wholesale slaughter of millions; much of Africa descended into a new Post-Colonial period of darkness. Hutus and Tutsis warred in a costly conflict that destroyed their society. What happened? The models were good. But something was lacking in the foundation. Acemoglu and Robinson have no explaination as to why some institutions succeed and other, similar institutions fail. Asmus and Gruden present a compelling case that the whole model includes soundness in the culture, a soundness rooted in faith. (to be continued)



Scale model of Massanutten Resort by the Kirchman Studio.