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Riding the Tiger

Scene from Gazi Scrolls of Bengal depicting legend of Pir Gazi and his tiger (18th or 19th Century) (PD-Art l Old-100)

“He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount.”

-Chinese proverb

A torch-bearing mob chants rhythmically “Blood and Soil” and “Jews Will Not Replace Us” as it winds its way through the dark.  The scene is not from Nazi Germany.  But it bodes ill for those who believe in justice, equality, and the rule of law.

New Lows

Nearly 10 months have passed since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.  We have sunk to new lows in that time [1].

  • Pres. Trump has placed unqualified family members and acquaintances in positions of power, regardless of racist leanings, and has waived relevant conflicts of interest.  He continues to resist disclosing his own income tax returns, despite earlier promises.
  • Pres. Trump has dismissed the advice of America’s intelligence agencies, trivializing the probe into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election at every turn [2].
  • Pres. Trump regularly vilifies the mainstream media, challenging the trustworthiness of its reporting, in an effort to undermine any criticism of himself.  Every unfavorable fact is labeled “fake news”.  Meanwhile, Pres. Trump baselessly claims that his phone was illegally tapped by former Pres. Barack Obama, and that millions of immigrants voted illegally.
  • Pres. Trump submitted a budget slashing medical research, education, public housing, and aid to the poor.
  • Pres. Trump issued a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that did not mention Jews, and most recently threatened North Korea with nuclear war, while the world held its breath [3].

And these are just a few of the highlights.

Pres. Trump has now added to the list a defense of the white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and Ku Klux Klansmen who marched in Charlottesville, VA [4].  However, a demonstration in favor of bigotry is not the moral equivalent of a demonstration against it [5].

Why?

Which begs the question:  Why have Christians failed to take notice of the unethical behavior, constant dissembling, and worse?  Why has evangelical support for this president not wavered? Read more…

Sheep Amid Wolves

Mosaic at Immanuelskirken (Immanuel Church), Copenhagen, Denmark, Author Ib Rasmussen (PD)

“ ‘Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves’ ” (Matt. 10: 16).

Pres. Bashar al-Assad’s war on the people of Syria is well publicized.  A new report indicates 50% – 80% of Christians in Syria and Iraq have fled for their lives since the Syrian civil war began in 2011 [1].

But there are other less publicized conflicts in which Christian lives are being lost.

  • Sudan     In seeking to establish a uniformly Arabic and Islamic population, Pres. Omar al-Bashir has targeted South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur for extermination [4].  Native men, women, and children – many Christian – are killed daily.  Since 2012, over 4000 bombs have been dropped in the region.  Children have learned to run for cover at the sound of an approaching bomb.  But there is nowhere left to hide.  The displaced are living in refugee camps with meager supplies, and the limited medical aid Doctors Without Borders and similar organizations are permitted to provide [5].  Meanwhile, Sudan and 16 other African nations are experiencing the second year of a drought (and related food shortages) which have imperiled over 38 million people [6].
  • Nigeria     Pres. Muhammadu Buhari has failed to deliver on his promise to deal with serious human rights violations [2].  These include “disappearances”, arbitrary arrests, and torture.  Though Boko Haram is on the wane, most of the 2.5 million displaced in the country lack adequate food, shelter, and healthcare.
  • Myanmar (Burma)     Ongoing conflict between government forces and rebel groups has made an estimated 100,000 Christians refugees in Malaysia [3].

The persecution of Christians is a fact of life in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Eritrea.  And yet the Christian faith burns strong. Read more…

Refiner’s Fire – Silver

“Washing table” at Laurion silver mines which supplied ancient Athens, Author Heinz Schmitz, Source Eigenes Bild (CC BY-SA 2.5 Generic)

Mentioned in the Book of Genesis, silver has long been prized.  Slag heaps in Anatolia attest that this precious metal has been separated from lead since the Bronze Age.

Refining is the method of removing impurities from the metal.  It is important not to overheat silver in the refining process.  This requires close attention to the molten metal.  While overheating will not destroy silver, it can make the metal unworkable.

Temperatures as high as 1450 degrees Fahrenheit are necessary to vaporize impurities which then form on the surface of the silver as dross.  Purified molten silver will shine with a mirror-like quality when ready to pour.

Refiner’s fire is often used as a metaphor for spiritual purification in the Bible.

David described God as having “tested us…refined us as silver is refined” (Ps. 66: 10).  The prophet, Isaiah, spoke of God as purging out dross, and removing all alloy (Is. 1: 25).  We are told by Malachi that the Messiah in the last days “will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver” (Mal. 3: 3). Read more…

Undeserving

“The Young Beggar” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (c. 1648), Louvre Museum (PD- Art, Old-100)

“Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed”

-Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam AHH (1850)

Social Darwinism – now discredited – was a late 19th Century theory by Herbert Spencer that human beings were subject in society to the same pressures of natural selection applicable to plants and animals.

Capitalism, like nature, was viewed to be red in tooth and claw.  Survival of the fittest governed.  Pity was counter-productive.

According to this theory, members of the wealthy upper class were inherently superior, as their status in society demonstrated.  Members of the lower classes were considered inherently deficient.

Social Darwinism was used to justify racism, imperialism, and a laissez-faire attitude toward societal ills like poverty and child labor.  Not to be forgotten, the theory was, also, closely associated with eugenics – the selective breeding, forced sterilization, and involuntary euthanasia programs later pursued by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis [1].

A recent PBS series, Victorian Slum House, served as a vivid illustration of social Darwinism [2].  Volunteers lived for a period of weeks under the same conditions prevailing in the slums of London during the latter half of the 19th Century.

The program highlighted the biases and misconceptions on which social Darwinism was based.  Among these were beliefs that the poor “liked” to be dirty; that they lacked initiative; that they were criminally inclined and generally undeserving, as reflected by their lowly status.

While Christians like Jane Addams were intimately involved with the Settlement House Movement which was a response to social Darwinism, modern Christians seem to have retained many of the biases underlying that theory [3][4].

Many slum conditions have not changed a great deal in the past century either. Read more…

Canticle

“Fork in the Road” (wide angle photography), Author Ian Sane, Source flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

“…Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day…

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens You have made them, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which You give Your creatures sustenance…”

– From Canticle of the Sun by St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi, that most humble of men, was born into comfort.  The son of a well-to-do merchant, Francis might have led a life of ease.  His father feared Francis would squander his life on self-indulgence.

Instead, Francis founded an Order of monks sworn to abject poverty.  He died without worldly goods, bearing the stigmata of Christ, and radiant with joy.

But we are not all born to be friars.  How then are we to find our way in the world?  How can we distinguish God’s call on our lives from personal ambition or – worse yet – restlessness because the going has gotten rough or the task assigned us has become stale?

What do we do when confronted by that inevitable fork in the road?

There is no formula for holiness…or happiness, for that matter.  We are bound to wrestle with God as Jacob did.  The limitations of this earthly world dictate as much, since we are meant for another.  Between our present location and that ultimate destination lies the road we travel, the life we choose – pitfalls, failures, triumphs, and all.

If we are to live for Christ, we must first know who He is and what He wants from us.  The Lord, Himself, told us that He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14: 6).  He said that the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind; that the second is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22: 37-40).

So Christians are to love…even their enemies (Matt. 5: 44).  That sounds deceptively simple.  How does it look in action?  How can we best exemplify Christ to others?  Certainly not by false piety or an air of self-righteousness.  Those masks will be burned off by the first real trial we face. Read more…

The Building Storm

Storm clouds, Author NOAA Photo Library/National Severe Storms Laboratory (Image No. NSSl0111) (PD-fed. govt.)

Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Behold, evil is going forth From nation to nation, And a great storm is being stirred up From the remotest parts of the earth’ ” (Jer. 25: 32).

The Daily Stormer is the most popular white supremacist website in America today [1A].  Over 400,000 visit the site monthly.

Readers are known to have included three killers:  Dylann Roof who calmly murdered nine at Emanual AME Church in Charleston, SC, after a prayer meeting; Thomas Mair who fatally shot and stabbed a British member of Parliament; and James Jackson who stabbed a homeless man in New York City to death with a sword [1B].

Consciously derivative of the Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer, the Daily Stormer exists to spread racism and anti-Semitism [2].  Andrew Anglin, founder of the Daily Stormer, said about Pres. Donald Trump’s election, “Our Glorious Leader has ascended to God Emperor” [7].

If that does not send a chill down your spine, a brief lesson on poisons will:

  • White Supremacy is a belief in the racial superiority of whites over all others, based on 19th Century ideas [3A].  Dating from Reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan is the oldest white supremacist organization in the nation [4A].  White supremacist groups include the Neo-Nazis (discussed below); Aryan Nations and other racist skinheads; Aryan Brotherhood and other Aryan prison gangs; Odinism (sometimes known as Wotanism), the racist offshoot of neo-Nordic paganism; and so called Christian Identity, a pseudo-Christian hate group [4B][5].
  • Neo-Nazism, a particular form of white supremacy, is the successor to historic Nazism, focusing heavily on anti-Semitism [3C].  Neo-Nazis revere the original Nazis, and blame Jews for America’s ills.  They either deny that the Holocaust took place, dispute its severity, or applaud its outcome.
  • White Nationalism is an ideology whose radical goal is a wholly white America [3B].  Members differ on how this might be achieved.
  • Alt-Right (alternative right) is the label applied to a fringe political movement, whose largely anonymous online members support any or all of the above [3D].  Elevated in importance by the right-wing media outlet Breitbart, the alt-right rejects mainstream conservative policies.  In a notorious incident last year, alt-right leader, Richard Spencer – who denies he is a Nazi – concluded a speech with the words, “Hail Trump!  Hail our people!  Hail victory!” while some attendees gave the Nazi salute [6].

There are radical right-wing parties worldwide.  These range from the National Democratic Party of Germany, Pro Germany Citizens’ Movement (“Pro Deutschland”), and Alternative for Germany (“Alternative fur Deutschland” or AfD) to France’s Front National (FN), Hungary’s Jobbik, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Sweden Democrats, and Italy’s North League (“Lega Nord”).

What will come of all this, God only knows.  But indications are there is a storm of major proportions building.  Christians should not assume that storm will pass them by.

[1A and 1B]  Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Report, “Three killers who used Daily Stormer”, Summer 2017, Vol. 74, No. 2.

[2]  Der Sturmer (“stormer” or “attacker”) was a weekly Nazi newspaper, a propaganda vehicle known for its vicious anti-Semitism.  The paper favored negative caricatures of Jews, advocating Jewish extermination as early as 1933.

[3A, 3B, 3C, 3D]  USA Today College, “The difference between ‘alt-right’ and ‘neo-Nazi’, explained” by Olivia Dimmer, 11/23/16,  http://college.usatoday.com/2016/11/23/difference-between-alt-right-neo-nazi/.

[4A and 4B]  Slate, “The Six Flavors of White Supremacy” by Nina Rastogi, 5/5/09,  http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2009/05/the_six_flavors_of_white_supremacy.html.

[5]  ThinkProgress, “The New Religion of Choice for White Supremacists” by Jack Jenkins, 11/13/15, https://thinkprogress.org/the-new-religion-of-choice-for-white-supremacists-8af2a69a3440.

[6]  CNN, “Alt-right leader: ‘Hail Trump!  Hail Our People!  Hail Victory’ ” by Eric Bradner, 11/22/16, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/21/politics/alt-right-gathering-donald-trump/index.html.

[7]  Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Intelligence Report, “The Year in Hate and Extremism” by Mark Potok, Spring Edition, 2/15/17,  https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2017/year-hate-and-extremism.

READERS CAN FIND MY VIEWS ON ABUSE AND ABUSE-RELATED ISSUES AT ANNA WALDHERR A Voice Reclaimed, Surviving Child Abuse  https://avoicereclaimed.com

Nightingale

The nightingale is a migratory songbird native to Europe and Southwest Asia. Not a beautiful bird, the nightingale is brown above and light below, with a reddish tail.

Despite its drab appearance, the nightingale sings liltingly, day and night.  The bird’s ancient name derives, in fact, from the Anglo-Saxon for “night songstress”.

It is actually the male bird that sings.  Not to be outdone, nightingales sing more loudly in urban environments, presumably to offset competing noise.

Nightingales have inspired poets, musicians, and sweethearts since time immemorial.  The great poet, John Milton, wrote of the nightingale in Paradise Lost:  “…as the wakeful Bird Sings darkling, and in shadiest Covert hid Tunes her nocturnal Note [1].”

The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me — a prayer to the God of my life” (Ps. 42: 8).

Father, we seek You out as deep calls unto deep.  Our hearts were made to long for You.  Yet when the waves roll over us, we fear at times we are lost.

Forgive our lack of faith, Father.  How can we doubt when You sent us Your Son?

Your mercies are unending.  Your beauty surrounds us.  We will hope in You and praise Your name…as does the humble nightingale.

Amen

[1]  This quote can be found in Book III of Paradise Lost, at lines 38-39.

Originally posted 5/22/13

READERS CAN FIND MY VIEWS ON ABUSE AND ABUSE-RELATED ISSUES AT ANNA WALDHERR A Voice Reclaimed, Surviving Child Abuse  https://avoicereclaimed.com

Colossus

Statue of Liberty, New York, NY, Author featherboa, Source http://www.flickr.com/photos/featherboa/43040507/ (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”

We often refer to the Statue of Liberty as “Lady Liberty” – an endearment, a statement of pride.  But it is not enough that the words from Emma Lazarus’ poem momentarily quicken our hearts.

Since Alexis de Toucqueville first described America as exceptional in 1831, this nation has been recognized by the world as unique.  While we are not exempt from the forces of history, we are at this moment a political and economic powerhouse, a colossus bestriding the world.

America has been greatly blessed – with natural resources, with a Judeo-Christian foundation, with a hard-won heritage of freedom and equality, with a diverse population, with a legal system accessible to all, with a classless society and a culture that encourages individuality.

With these blessings comes great responsibility.

We have the capacity to teach democracy to the world.  Too often, however, we have squandered opportunities to live out the ideals we say we cherish.  We are squandering them now. Read more…

Counting the Dead

Oklahoma City homicide detectives survey a crime scene, Author/Source Oklahoma City Police Dept. (CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

The number of homicides is tracked in every major city in America.

  • Baltimore, Maryland   161 homicides in 2017 YTD [1]; 28 homicides in the last 30 days [2]
  • Philadelphia, PA   142 homicides in 2017 YTD (up 17%) [3]
  • Chicago, IL    762 homicides in 2016 (more than NYC and LA combined) [4A][5A]; 130 homicides (700 shootings) as of 4/1/17 [5B]
  • Houston, TX   302 homicides in 2016 [6][7]
  • Detroit, MI   302 homicides in 2016 [8A]
  • New York, NY   334 homicides in 2016 [4B]
  • New Orleans, LA   175 homicides in 2016 [9A]; 92 homicides 2017 YTD [9B]
  • Memphis, TN   214 homicides in 2016 [8B]
  • Los Angeles, CA   294 homicides in 2016 [4C]

Philadelphia provides a convenient interactive map.  You can outline your neighborhood, and find out how many were killed there in the past week, month, or 6 months.

Victims drive cars or vans, walk, or ride bicycles; frequent fast food joints, and abandoned buildings, back alleys, houses, and apartments.  They are talented artists, and former marines, rappers, homeless, and blind; teens, transgender, aged, and children.  Death plays no favorites.

Victims are shot, stabbed, or beaten to death singly, in pairs, by threes, fours, and more.  Death takes no vacations.  The frequency of death spikes in summer, the heat a catalyst. Read more…

Transformers

The Chevrolet Camaro used to portray “Bumblebee” in the TRANSFORMERS films, Author Kevin Ward, Source flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)

TRANSFORMERS, all associated names, terms, phrases, and slogans are Copyright 2003 Hasbro.  All related characters and toys are registered trademarks of Hasbro and Takara Tomy.  All rights reserved.

Chevrolet is a division of General Motors Company.

NOTE: Neither Hasbro, Takara Tomy, nor Chevrolet (GM) have any relation to this blog or the posts it contains.

I sat in a darkened theater with a wonderful little boy whose father is not present in his life, and thought about fathers everywhere.

We were at another in the series of TRANSFORMERS ® movies. For those who may not be familiar with them, the Transformers are a race of giant robots from a distant galaxy. They engage in a war of good against evil, some of which takes place on earth.

Sometimes beaten and broken, abandoned and uncared for, these robots can assume different shapes, as the need arises. Though not immortal – some perish – the Transformers personify heroism while the human beings in the plot often fail or fall short, at times even betraying individual Transformers whose desire is to help them.

What the little boy with me could not see, but I did, was that the Transformers were as much pictures of real human beings as the human characters in the story were.

It is a thrilling story, this war of good against evil. And we all play a role, whichever side we choose to take. At times, we struggle against impossible odds, unbeatable foes – the challenges of heart disease or breast cancer, grief and loss. We stagger forward under loads no one should have to bear – the burdens of single motherhood, the daily toil of a thankless job to which we remain faithful for the sake of our children.

In the process, we are transformed. Oh, our parts may rust, become worn and broken. But our hearts become something else, something shining. Read more…