Archive | September, 2011

Are Christian Zionists Doing Israel any favors?

September 23, 2011

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A question: Does “pro-Israel” equal “anti-Palestinian”? Must we always bow before the blustering Benjamin Netanyahu, bent as he is on “creating facts” by building more Israeli settlements? It seems the answer for one presidential candidate, Rick Perry, is an unequivocal yes: “As a Christian, I have a clear directive to support Israel. So from my perspective, it’s pretty easy. Both as an American, and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel.” Israel is always right; the Palestinians are always wrong. It goes without saying that the United States should veto any Palestinian application for statehood in the UN. Perry is echoing the theology of Christian Zionist John Hagee, the head of Christians United for Israel.

How intriguing. One survey suggests that Perry is more “Zionist” than most Israeli’s, 70 percent of whom believe their nation should accept the decision if the UN recognizes a Palestinian state. Perhaps they remember that modern Zionism began as a secular movement and that the United Nations foresaw both Palestinian and Jewish nations in the 1940’s. Perhaps they see the impracticality and immorality of oppressing legitimate Palestinian rights. Perhaps they remember that their own forefather, Abraham, was once a “stranger” in the Promised Land.

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Video of the month: The president reads Psalm 46

September 18, 2011

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President Obama read this psalm in New York on the 9-11 tenth anniversary. Hear the words and then replay them. They’re good words. We might even want to take them seriously.

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Interrogation verses torture: One is good and necessary; the other is terrible and desctructive

September 14, 2011

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I’ve been in e-mail contact with Jennifer Bryson after she found my obscure internet rants when Terry Jones threatened to burn the Qur’an. I soon discovered that her education makes mine look like glorified day care: she got a BA after studying political science at Stamford, an MA in European intellectual history at Yale, and a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and civilizations — again at Yale. She also did a stint at Karl Marx University during the 1980’s in the old East Germany (I’ve been meaning to ask her what that was like), before they ripped down the wall. She’s worked at the Defense Department and she now directs the Islam and Civil Society Project at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey. And she likes dogs. And cats. And gardening. She’s a veritable advertisement for gentleness.

Imagine my near out-of-body shock when I learned a little detail about her DOD stint: She was a Guantanamo interrogator. Whuh? “Our” Jennifer?

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My personal September 11th

September 11, 2011

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’m remembering the descent into the surreal. Radio reports told of crashing planes and dropping towers, of Pentagon flames and building evacuations, of stranded passengers in isolated airports – and, behind it all, there was the leering face of a would-be Messiah-like figure, invoking religion, polluting its name, and wrapping faith in veils of smoke and fireballs. I’m remembering my own rage, my own lust for revenge, and my own recovery. I remember reconciling two streams of thinking and emerging wiser.

As usual, many fingers have wagged during this commemorative week: “We should have done this; we should have done that …” I’ll spare us that and simply reflect: How should a follower of Christ respond to such events? What is the role of a people with dual citizenship in Heaven, which bonds us to those of many nationalities, and an Earthly country? How do we work through our understandable emotions in light of the Gospel? How does our heavenly citizenship play out in in our national citizenship?

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The Nightmare of the Dark Side

September 6, 2011

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Attempts at psychoanalyzing politicians are almost inevitably unfair and fruitless. Their protective smiles halt us at their personality’s foyer. They’re evaluating us: Potential ally? Political friend? Foe? Keep them all close – especially the enemies.

Yet part of me longs to reach out and walk with Dick Cheney, once an articulate conservative spokesmen and capable minority whip. Most accounts portray him as a stellar defense secretary. I enjoyed listening to him though I usually disagreed with him. What happened, Mr. Vice President? Was it the mood-swinging heart medication? Was it the haunting images of falling buildings and thousands of deaths? Is there lingering guilt? Do you feel, in your heart of hearts, that the government failed its most basic task: protecting its citizens? Did you make a silent pledge: Never again! Surely you must know that others – such as Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell – felt the same burdens and made similar pledges. Surely you understand that their differing advice stemmed from the same sense of obligation. So why the cheap shots against your former colleagues in your latest book? Why the vindictiveness?

But, of course, I will never see your heart – and I don’t need to. You’d smile the protective smile even if we were to meet, and that’s your right.

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When the lights blink off and the basement turns foul

September 1, 2011

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We became statistics this week, data on grids, facts in a file. We were among four million households for whom the lights blinked off when Hurricane Irene wheeled up the East Coast and, according to one television announcer, struck its ultimate “target,” Connecticut. I guess North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and all points north could relax. We Nutmegers threw ourselves on this grenade so everyone else could party … except we walked the primrose path compared with Vermonters and those mourning a loved one’s loss.

Yet still, I can pause. I can use this experience and appreciate how the New Testament writers viewed hardship. They embraced it, harnessed it, and used it for God’s glory as well as their benefit. Redemptive hardship flows from the ultimate hardship, the cross: Jesus seized its agony and transformed it into an emancipating act. We see it again in Romans 5:1-5, which begins with Christ and ends with hope anchored in his character: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” And there’s James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

I once prayed evasive prayers because I misread the seventh word in James 1:2: “whenever” mutated into “if” (“… if you face trials of many kinds …”). Capture that escape clause: If implied “maybe,” and “maybe” hinted “maybe not.” Thus my prayers: “Look at my past, Lord. I’ve been good. I’ve laughed at earthquakes. How about we skip the upcoming crash?” I missed James’ point. He wasn’t arguing over whether we suffer, but how. He revolutionizes the experience. We’re no longer fate-ruled Stoics or impotent combatants shaking our fists at the wind; our very trials are now “pure joy” because they lead to perseverance culminating in maturity and completion. Everyone suffers tribulations this side of the second coming. The relevant question: Will we be so tuned in to God that we’ll consider them “pure joy,” knowing that our Lord works through them?

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