Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

According to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the civilian to soldier death ratio in wars fought since the mid-20th century has been 10:1, meaning ten civilian deaths for every soldier death.

Where is their memorial?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

War and Obedience

"The economy of war requires of every soldier an implicit submission to his superior; and this submission is required of every gradation of rank to that above it. This system may be necessary to hostile operations, but I think it is unquestionably adverse to intellectual and moral excellence.

The very nature of unconditional obedience implies the relinquishment of the use of the reasoning powers. Little more is required of the soldier than that he be obedient and brave. His obedience is that of an animal, which is moved by a goad or a bit, without judgment or volition of his own; and his bravery is that of a mastiff [dog], which fights whatever mastiff others put before him. - It is obvious that in such agency, the intellect and the understanding have little part. Now I think that this is important. He who, with whatever motive, resigns the direction of his conduct implicitly to another, surely cannot retain that erectness and independence of mind, that manly consciousness of mental freedom, which is one of the highest privileges of our nature. The rational being becomes reduced in the intellectual scale: an encroachment is made upon the integrity of its independence. God has given us, individually, capacities for the regulation of our individual conduct. To resign its direction, therefore, to the despotism of another, appears to be an unmanly and unjustifiable relinquishment of the privileges which He has granted to us. Referring simply to the conclusions of reason, I think those conclusions would be, that military obedience must be pernicious to the mind. And if we proceed from reasoning to facts, I believe that our conclusions will be confirmed. Is the military character distinguished by intellectual eminence? Is it not distinguished by intellectual inferiority? I speak of course of the exercise of intellect, and I believe that if we look around us, we shall find that no class of men, in a parallel rank in society, exercise it less, or less honorably to human nature, than the military profession. I do not, however, attribute the want of intellectual excellence solely to the implicit submissions of a military life. Nor do I say that this want is so much the fault of the soldier, and of the circumstances to which he is subjected. We attribute this evil, also, to its rightful parent. The resignation of our actions to the direction of a foreign will, is made so familiar to us by war, and is mingled with so many associations which reconcile it, that I am afraid lest the reader should not contemplate it with sufficient abstraction. - Let him remember that in nothing but in war do we submit to it.

It becomes a subject yet more serious, if military obedience requires the relinquishment of our moral agency, - if it requires us to do, not only what may be opposed to our will, but what is opposed to our consciences. And it does require this; a soldier must obey, how criminal soever the command, and how criminal soever he knows it to be. It is certain that of those who compose armies many commit actions which they believe to be wicked, and which they would not commit but for the obligations of a military life. Although a soldier determinately believes that the war is unjust, although he is convinced that his particular part of the service is atrociously criminal, still he must proceed - he must prosecute the purposes of injustice or robbery; he must participate in the guilt, and be himself a robber. When we have sacrificed thus much of principle, what do we retain? If we abandon all use of our perceptions of good and evil, to what purpose has the capacity of perception been given? It were as well to possess no sense of right and wrong, as to prevent ourselves from the pursuit or rejection of them. To abandon some of the most exalted privileges which Heaven has granted to mankind, to refuse the acceptance of them, and to throw them back, as it were, upon the Donor, is surely little other than profane. He who hid a talent was of old punished for his wickedness; what then is the offence of him who refuses to receive it? Such a resignation of our moral agency is not contended for or tolerated in any one other circumstance of life. War stands upon this pinnacle of human depravity alone. She, only, in the supremacy of crime, has told us that she has abolished even the obligation to be virtuous.

To what a situation is a rational and responsible being reduced, who commits actions, good or bad, mischievous or beneficial, at the word of another? I can conceive no greater degradation. It is the lowest, the final abjectness of the moral nature. It is this if we abate the glitter of war, and if we add this glitter it is nothing more. Surely the dignity of reason, and the light of revelation, and our responsibility to God, should make us pause before we become the voluntary subjects of this monstrous system.

I do not know, indeed, under what circumstances of responsibility a man supposes himself to be placed, who thus abandons and violates his own sense of rectitude and of his duties. Either he is responsible for his actions or he is not; and the question is a serious one to determine. Christianity has certainly never stated any cases in which personal responsibility ceases. If she admits such cases, she has at least not told us so; but she has told us, explicitly and repeatedly, that she does require individual obedience and impose individual responsibility. She has made no exceptions to the imperativeness of her obligations, whether we are required to neglect them or not; and I can discover in her sanctions, no reasons to suppose that in her final adjudications she admits the plea that another required us to do that which she required us to forbear. - But it may be feared, it may be believed, that how little soever religion will abate of the responsibility of those who obey, she will impose not a little upon those who command. They, at least, are answerable for the enormities of war; unless, indeed, any one shall tell me that responsibility attaches nowhere; that that which would be wickedness in another man, is innocence in a soldier; and that Heaven has granted to the directors of war a privileged immunity, by virtue of which crime incurs no guilt and receives no punishment."

-- Jonathan Dymond (1798-1828), An Inquiry into the Accordancy of War with the Principles of Christianity,
and an Examination of the Philosophical Reasoning by which it is Defended, with Observations on some of the Causes of War and on some of its Effects

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Danger of Allegorical Bible Interpretation

This is an excerpt from a larger article about Harold Camping written in 2002 by James R. White of the Christian Research Institute ( Every Christian ought to read it, whether you know or care about Harold Camping or not. There has been a lot of criticism--and rightfully so--of Harold Camping's attempt to predict "the day and the hour." But what underlies that prediction is an entire approach to Biblical interpretation which is not unique to Mr. Camping. The same method of allegorical Bible interpretation is fairly widespread, particularly in Charismatic and Pentecostal churches. I have seen it used to make the Bible say things which the text was never intended to say. I have seen this approach used to invent or justify all kinds of spurious theological ideas and I have seen the detrimental real-world consequences.

The single most important lesson I ever learned about studying the Bible was to ask this question: "What did it mean to the original hearers?" That should always be our starting point in Bible study. When we untether scriptures from their original context, we open ourselves up to the type of error which has now caused Camping and his followers embarrassment and ruin.

How has Camping arrived at the conclusion that the church has been destroyed? There is one simple answer: unfettered, inconsistent, arbitrary, and, at times, incoherent allegorical interpretation of the text of Scripture. Camping has long taught the view, popularized by Origen in the early church, that first sees a basic, literal meaning anyone can understand. More important is the moral meaning, which requires more insight. Most important is the “real” meaning, or the “spiritual” meaning, which requires spiritual insight and knowledge. According to Camping, every passage of the Bible has some relevance to the gospel message.

This becomes the basis, then, for his allegorical interpretations where anything in the Bible becomes “fair game” to be made into a picture of whatever Harold Camping desires. For example, to substantiate his current teachings against the church, Camping has used the two witnesses of Revelation 11, Jerusalem, Judea, all of Old Testament Israel, Hezekiah’s life, and the boat the disciples used in John 21 as “pictures” of the church. Within less than the span of five verses Peter can “represent” the church as a whole, a disciple, and Christ. There is no limitation to what can be “seen” with such “interpretation.”

Allegorical interpretation contrasts with the grammatical-historical method, which first determines a passage’s meaning by reference to its language, context, and background. When we read the biblical text, we wish to know what the original author intended to convey to his original audience in his own context. Until we determine this, we truly have no basis for asking other questions, such as, “What does this mean to me today?”

Allegorical interpretation ignores the grammar and original context of the Scriptures, which is why it must be rejected as a valid method of interpretation. It is simply unverifiable. In other words, no person using the allegorical method can honestly and logically affirm that his or her conclusions are actually based upon the text that is being interpreted. Because the actual meaning of the text is ignored, the allegorical meaning can have no more weight than one invests in the allegorical interpreter. Since each allegorical interpreter may “see” or “feel” something different in the text, allegorical interpretations can never be verified by others working with the same text (unlike real biblical exegesis, where the work of generations of scholars verifies and reverifies the conclusions already reached).

The result of this fatal flaw in the system is that no allegorical interpretation can claim the authority of the original text. This is because the source of the interpretation is not the text itself but the mind of the interpreter who “sees” things in it. Allegorical interpretation cannot compel anyone else to belief since it is personally derived, and the people who accept it do so only because they accept the word of the interpreter, not because they invest any authority in the text itself. Allegorical interpretations have no more authority than the one announcing them.

Allegorical interpretation destroys the authority of the text of Scripture. No one using this method can honestly say, “The Word of God says,” for their system replaces the meaning of the text (which is communicated through grammar, lexical meanings, context, and background) with the more-or-less relevant insights and imagination of the interpreter.

Christians believe the Scriptures are “God breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16–17), and therefore are authoritative by nature. When the allegorical interpreter ignores the text, the source of Scripture’s authority is replaced by the thoughts of mere men and women. This leads to every kind of abuse of God’s Word. False teachers often utilize such unverifiable forms of “interpretation” as a cover in order to replace biblical truth with their own false doctrines. Untaught and unstable believers (2 Pet. 3:16) are often susceptible to the “smooth speech” of such teachers, and without solid knowledge of how to properly interpret the Bible, they accept false conclusions, which are presented with great confidence and power. So when we point out Camping’s erroneous use of allegorical interpretation, we are not merely arguing about obtuse, insignificant points of theology. We are defending the very authority of the Scripture, for a Bible that cannot communicate God’s truth consistently to each generation cannot be a solid foundation for the faith.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Street Fair

As Carla and I were out goofing around today, we stumbled upon the University District Street Fair--an annual event in Seattle. Several street blocks near the University of Washington are closed off from traffic and lined with hundreds of booths selling jewelry and hand-made soap and tie-dyed apparel and cute hats for children and objects d'art and junk food (lots of junk food). Street musicians compete with acrobats and magicians for tips from passersby.

Normally, I hate crowds, but as we strolled along in the flow of the dense throng--surrounded by college kids and street people and hippies and pagans and "respectable" folks--I felt a deep sense of joy. God loves these people. All of them. They are treasures--the work of His hand.

My favorite spot was a street block set aside for religious and activist groups. There were annoyed-looking Vegans and animal rights activists with photos of factory chicken farms; there were Scientologists giving free e-meter readings and Atheists loudly mocking the non-rapture of May 21st (I good-naturedly chided them that they were going for the low-hanging fruit on that one and they good-naturedly agreed). A tarot card reader was gazing into the face of his customer with an expression of deep caring and concern. I happened to meet eyes with a young man at the Muslim booth and we both spontaneously smiled broadly at each other and nodded--an unspoken pledge of acceptance. One sight caused me to giggle uncontrollably: Sandwiched in-between booths promoting the Humanist Club of Washington and a Buddhist temple (replete with real live monks) was a pair of suit-and-tie Jehovah's Witnesses, looking completely miserable. I could almost read their minds by the expressions on their faces: "What the hell are we doing here?" (Jehovah's Witnesses tend to be terrified of demons and of coming into contact with anything that might be demonically charged which, in their view, is pretty much any other religion).

The street fair was a microcosm of humankind: Beautiful and ridiculous and creative and confused and slightly dangerous and constantly searching and utterly, utterly, utterly beloved.

The Day and the Hour

Here's a fun book... I bought a copy a few years ago. The author has compiled "the end is near" prophesies given over the last 2,000 years. If Harold Camping had only perused it, he might have realized that he is one in a long line...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

As I awoke this morning, I heard Jesus. He reminded me that following Him is a dance, not a march.

Monday, May 16, 2011


'Budrus' is now out on DVD and is available from Netflix. It is a powerful and moving film about peacemaking and nonviolent resistance to injustice.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On Marginalization and Leadership

Carla and I were once invited, by the pastor of the church we belonged to at the time, to attend a big denominational conference on "Emerging Leaders." Since we were emerging as leaders within our church, it seemed like good timing. Also, the three of us had an inkling that Carla and I might be called to eventually plant a church (this particular denomination places a high priority on church planting). We were quite excited to go.

Once at the conference, however, our excitement turned to disappointment as we realized that "emerging leaders" was a euphemism for "young leaders"--as in, twenty-somethings. Since we were over 40, Carla and I were clearly outside the intended demographic and thus, undesirable. We were has-beens; past our prime. We felt excluded. During one of the Q&A sessions, I brought this up to the man heading the conference, who was also in charge of leadership development for the denomination. I specifically asked for his views on the place and value of elders in leadership. He replied that he was only interested in "investing" in young adults. These were the leaders he was looking for. Carla and I left feeling marginalized and dejected. Our pastor was apologetic.

It is exciting to see young people being encouraged and mentored for leadership. Young people bring passion, vigor and relevance to the dominant media culture. But, in my observation, they also tend to bring impatience, inexperience and not- yet-fully-formed personal character. I have seen much damage caused by immature leaders who were sent out to plant and pastor churches.

A few years later, Carla and I became Quakers and joined a Quaker meeting which had more elderly people in it than I had ever interacted with in a church. Contrary to the stereotype of cranky old people "stuck in their ways", we found these elderly Friends to be warm, open and pliable to the Spirit. The crucible of time has developed in them tremendous reserves of wisdom, patience and character. But they do tire more easily and tend not to be up on Twitter and Facebook.

It seems to me that what works best in leadership is a partnership of old and young. The older ones provide steadiness, the younger ones provide energy. The younger ones push their elders a bit, the elders pull the young leaders back a bit.

Timothy needs a Paul and Paul needs a Timothy.

Additionally, who are we to limit whom God can use? I'm certain that the leader of that conference, if consulted by God, would never have suggested Abraham and Sarah as candidates to conceive the child of the promise. But God often doesn't do things according to our assumptions and methodologies. Instead of filtering people according to our parameters, shouldn't we instead simply look for whom God is using and bless them? This is why I like the Quaker term of "recording" ministers, as opposed to "ordaining" them. It puts the emphasis on observing and noting what God is doing, rather than asking God's blessing upon what we are doing.

The "Emerging Leaders" conference was a valuable learning experience for me. As a heterosexual middle-class American white male, marginalization is something I have not had a lot of personal experience with--certainly not compared to my gay or female or poor or non-white friends. I've tried to hold on to the memory of what it felt like to be told that I was ontologically unsuitable, so that I can endeavor to never make anyone else feel that way.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Quote of the Day

"If Saudi Arabia were a democracy, Osama bin Laden would have become a politician instead of a terrorist." - Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf on the need for democracy in the Arab nations.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Confronting Islamophobia

Last night Carla, some friend and I went to hear Feisal Abdul Rauf (Imam of the "ground zero mosque") speak at St. Mark's Episcopal church in Seattle as part of a conference entitled Confronting Islamophobia.

It was very good. Rauf comes across as a humble, intelligent, eloquent and godly man (I found out later that he has a masters degree in Physics). One of his goals is to promote a moderate, spiritual form of Islam (he is a Sufi) which emphasizes a deep relationship with God "from the inside out instead of from the outside in." He has worked for the U.S. State Department, travelling to Muslim countries to promote moderation and democracy.

There were a few protestors across the street, holding up placards and a smattering of police officers posted in the church. How sad.

There was lots of Q&A. Some of those asking questions were rather rude, but Rauf was patient and unoffended. When, in answer to a question, he shared his own story about how he had a personal encounter with the presence of God as a young man, it was riveting (and not at all unlike many Christian testimonies--including my own).

I spoke with him briefly afterwards and when I mentioned that I am a Quaker he told me he has many Quaker friends and that he spoke recently at the Friends Meeting of Washington D.C.

Tonight's session was videotaped and hopefully St. Mark's will make the video available. If so, I will post excerpts here. For now, here is a local news report:
Controversial Muslim leader speaks about Islamophobia

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Bin Laden's Strategy

From Wikipedia's article about Osama bin Laden:
"Osama's overall strategy against much larger enemies such as the Soviet Union and United States was to lure them into a long War of Attrition in Muslim countries, attracting large numbers of jihadists who would never surrender. He believed this would lead to economic collapse of the enemy nation. Al-Qaeda manuals clearly outline this strategy. The Soviet Union collapsed following years of fighting in Afghanistan, and several prominent authors have stated that the United States was on the verge of suffering the same fate, losing countless trillions of dollars to the ongoing conflict. In this sense, some have credited Osama as the one person who was successful in his fight against both of the world superpowers."

And our leaders fell for it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Modern-day Prophets

A couple of weeks ago at our Sunday morning Bible study at North Seattle Friends, the topic of prophets came up. We discussed that the primary message of the Old Testament prophets to their people and leaders was about God's desire for "social justice"--caring for the poor, seeking fairness for the marginalized, living lives of integrity, etc.

Someone asked, "Are their any prophets like that nowadays?" The one who immediately sprang to mind was Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a prophet, very much cut from the same cloth as the OT prophets. He confronted a nation about it's sins and injustices. Everyone in the study agreed. Then I mentioned Gandhi. I believe Gandhi was also a prophet, used by God. Gandhi confronted a "Christian" nation about the egregious sins and injustices it was committing against the Indian people. Gandhi's message still challenges us today. No one at the study had a problem with the idea of Gandhi as prophet. This is just one more reason why I love Quakers.

"But," I can hear someone out there saying, "Gandhi wasn't even a Christian!" True, in the sense that he didn't profess Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. Then again, neither did Isaiah, or Amos, or Jeremiah or any other of the Old Testament prophets. And perhaps Gandhi was a follower of Jesus to a much greater degree than many nowadays who do profess to be Christian, including some who have a national stage.

What was the core message of Gandhi, King and the OT prophets? Micah summed it up nicely: "He has shown you what is good and what the Lord require of you: To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Americans celebrate the death of Bin Laden

'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked..." - Ezekiel 33:11

Thought for the Day

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." — Dom Helder Camara (Roman Catholic Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil)