Archive for the ‘Freedom of Speech’ Category

A Heart of Stone

Heart of Stone

Political discourse in America today has become vitriolic — constant lying, name-calling, bickering, accusations and spewing pent up anger. Indeed it has gotten so bad that even the president has joined the fray.  Social media outlets like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook only serve to exacerbate the situation, as they have become bully pulpits for angry politicians and journalists.  It’s gotten to the point where I dread looking at social media or reading/listening to the news, as there is a paucity of objective discussion and reporting everywhere. Personal civility and decorum in America is rapidly declining, particularly in the political realm.  

           Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.                                           –Proverbs 16:24*

 Words are like bullets—once they’re let fly there’s no taking them back. The Epistle of James calls the tongue “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).  By using this  strong comparison, James emphasizes that Christians must be mindful of the colossal power of what proceeds from their mouths.  The epistle goes on to note the inconsistency of praising God with one breath and cursing people made in God’s image with the next (vv. 9–10). Words can demean and destroy.

When you have learned to walk in the light of the Lord, bitterness and contention are impossible.”  —Oswald Chambers

This leads me to ask the question, “How radically would America change if suddenly all the politicians who profess to be Christians started behaving like Christ followers, becoming beacons of light in the dark political landscape?”

In January 2017, the New York Times reported that 91 percent of the new Congress identified as Christian.1 The Times went on to say that this figure was only slightly less than the 95 percent reported in 1961. Allmost all US presidents, including President Trump, have been Christians according to Pew Research.2

Christianity isn’t a label or tag; it’s a life, guided by the Holy Spirit, where an individual endeavors to be Christ-like in thoughts, words and deeds.  Inevitably, all Christians transgress and fall short of the glory of God along the way, but striving towards the ultimate goal of Christ-likeness remains a constant.

Restoration and transformation are two recurring themes in the Book of Ezekiel. Restoration is displayed in God saving the people of Israel from bad shepherds, giving them societal safety, reuniting tribes, and God’s children being restored to a right relationship with Him.  God’s ultimate restoration of his people is exemplified by Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. 

On the other hand, Ezekiel describes transformation as a personal, spiritual experience. To the ancient Hebrews, the heart was the locus of a person’s being, their mental processes, emotions and personal will. The Miriam Webster Dictionary defines hard-hearted as, “having or showing no kindness or sympathy for other people.”  In the passage from Ezekiel 36 below, evidence of spiritual transformation in God’s children is the softening of their hearts. 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  —Ezekiel 36:26-27

One of those laws referred to in the Ezekiel passage is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus quotes this verse in Mark 30:5, after being asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” In the next verse, Mark 30:6, Jesus adds to this, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”   

This brings me back to politics.  Christians who also happen to be politicians don’t get a free pass when it comes to loving their neighbors.  Christian politicians contributing to the Capitol Hill vitriol need to take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves whether their actions glorify God. Are they being patient, humble, pure and obedient to God?

In Colossians 3:8, Paul tells us to put away anger, wrath, and malice; instead, he says in verse 12, we must, “…put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.”  This is the model Christ gave his followers through many examples in his own life; it’s the model all Christians should strive to adhere to in their actions towards believers and nonbelievers alike.

Christian politicians should display a Christ-like heart—Ezekiel’s “heart of flesh.”  Christians behaving like Christ can bring real healing transformation. Around 312 A.D, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, Rome recognized Christianity as a legal religion.   This remarkable feat, going from persecuted underground church to a legal religion, recognized by the Empire, was accomplished not by violent revolution, but through years of adhering to the tenets of the faith while suffering terrible persecution.

It was not political or military power that ultimately convinced Rome to accept Christianity, but the perseverance and faithfulness to Christ’s teachings by the early Christians. The tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, and longsuffering displayed by Christians prevailed over Roman cruelty and oppression. American politicians could achieve a lot by following their example.

 Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.  —from an Anglican Prayer of Confession

 1 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/03/us/politics/congress-religion-christians.html

2 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/20/almost-all-presidents-have-been-christians/

* All Bible quotes are taken from the NIV Bible.

 

Taming the Tongue

Politician yelling cartoon

Note:  all Bible quotes are taken from the NIV.

The single most important rule for Christians who are public figures is “behave like Christians.” This is especially true for elected officials, of whom former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.” Douglass was talking about the institution of slavery in America, but his words still ring true when it comes to American politics today.

Christianity is damaged when politicians claiming to be Christians don’t act like it. Probably the worst examples are ad hominem attacks on political opponents.  Christian politicians would do well to stick to criticizing their opponents’ policies and dispense with character assassination.

Christian politicians needn’t look far for advice; they can simply open their Bibles. Jesus told Pontius Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is great wisdom reminding all Christians that we (including politicians) answer to a higher authority.  In 1 Kings 22, the story is told of the time the king of Israel had to decide whether or not to go to war against Syria. Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, advised his fellow ruler, “First seek the counsel of the Lord” before making a decision (verse 5). This is sound advice that Christian politicians would do well to take to heart. Seek God’s guidance before seeking the guidance of man.  They should also note Matthew 5:16, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Many politicians seem to blurt out whatever comes to mind at the moment, without thinking things through. Then they often have to “walk back” their comments, leaving themselves open to criticism of being flip-floppers, liars racists and worse.  One of my former U.S. Army battalion commanders liked to remind his officers, “Engage your brain before operating your mouth.”

Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 says it even better: “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. A dream comes when there are many cares, and many words mark the speech of a fool.”

Many politicians are too quick to become angry at comments from their opponents.  Proverbs 12:16 says, “Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.”  Don’t be thin skinned!  Proverbs 17:27 says, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.”

I offer all politicians a final word of advice from Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Politicians may do as they please for now, but there will ultimately be a day of reckoning.

 

 

Give Thanks to God

Thanksgiving Turkey.jpg

May love and laughter light your days, and warm your heart and home.

May good and faithful friends be yours, wherever you may roam.

May peace and plenty bless your world with joy that long endures.

May all life’s passing seasons bring the best to you and yours!

                                                                             An Irish Blessing

Father Desmond O’Donnell, a Roman Catholic Priest in Northern Ireland, recently told the Belfast Telegraph newspaper that Christians should abandon the word “Christmas,” noting that the name has been “hijacked by Santa and reindeer” and commercialized to the point that it is virtually meaningless.  “We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely,” O’Donnell said.  

Just go to a mall today and see what he means.  You’ll find Christmas on display everywhere, even though we’ve yet to celebrate Thanksgiving. Check your mailbox today and you’re apt to find a pile of Christmas sale catalogs and flyers.  The Christmas theme is clear—buy, buy, buy!

Sadly, we can say the same thing about losing Thanksgiving.   What was originally a day set aside for Americans to thank God for our many blessings is now often referred to as “Turkey Day,” a time to overeat, over indulge in alcohol, and watch football on television. Indeed, a number of Thanksgiving Day football matches across the country are referred to as the “Turkey Bowl.” Thanksgiving has become irreversibly connected with Black Friday, the day Christmas buyers literally battle one another in malls and big box stores to get super bargain prices on anything and everything.  Some stores have even resorted to open at midnight on Thanksgiving to maximize the Black Friday “spend fest.”    

For many Americans, it might appear that there isn’t too much to be thankful for.  We see reports of multiple mass shootings; police officers are gunned down in our streets; there are dozens of reports of sexual misconduct by politicians and Hollywood celebrities; natural disasters hammer the land; and we have a government run by two feckless political parties that seemingly can’t even agree on when to hold the next meeting.  Sometimes it seems as if our whole system, our entire way of life, could be swept away in an instant (and it can, but that’s the Book of Revelation, which I won’t go into today).

So what does America have to be thankful for?  The answer is truly simple, although not necessarily obvious.  What a pity more Americans don’t travel abroad to Third World countries and countries with oppressive regimes like Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea.  In such places it takes very little time to recognize how truly blessed we are.  I was blessed that my military career allowed me to see so much of the world. It changed me forever.

America isn’t perfect, but it is great enough that many people around the globe dream of coming here.  If you take time to thank God this coming Thursday, thank Him for these simple blessings:

  • We can go to the faucet and fill a glass with clear, clean water. In Somalia I watched people drink water drawn straight from the muddy Jubba River, where it was not uncommon to see the carcass of a hippopotamus or other large animal floating down the river. Diarrheic disease kills Somalis and other Third World citizens by the score.
  • Our country is relatively free of deadly infectious diseases like plague, cholera, and malaria that devastate many other countries.
  • We light our homes with the flip of a switch. Following the long civil war in the Former Yugoslavia, I was deployed to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Most of the city was without electricity when I arrived, and much of it was still without when I returned home 13 months later.
  • We are well-fed compared with much of the world. Even many people living below the poverty level in America are better fed than people in some Third World countries.
  • One can travel freely in America. Oppressive regimes around the world control movement of the population. They use checkpoints with armed officials to prevent unrestricted movement about the country.
  • Americans can speak freely without fear of reprisal by the government. Sure, sometimes there are bad consequences for speaking freely, such as libel suites, but we aren’t silenced by the government.
  • While there is a problem with homelessness in America, most of us have a roof over our heads nevertheless. In Kuwait, Iraq, Somalia and Bosnia I saw thousands of people who had been violently forced from their homes or had their homes destroyed by war.
  • We have the freedom to worship God in the way we choose. While many Christians grumble about losing religious freedom (and some rightfully so), we enjoy more religious liberty than most of the world.

Truly America has its problems, but our country is blessed in many ways.  Despite its faults, it is still a place where many oppressed people dream of coming to.  Take time to pause and thank God for blessing America. May he continue to do so in the coming year!

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.*

*Lyrics from “Simple Gifts,” a traditional Quaker Tune

Prepare the children, not the road

Bible

Adversity introduces a man to himself.  –Albert Einstein

 The Urban Dictionary describes “trigger” as a topic, phrase or word that emotionally sets someone off.   “Setting off” can refer to anger or reliving a traumatic experience. Some universities have gone so far as to establish so-called “safe spaces,” where those with delicate feelings can avoid triggering events. Some universities have resorted to publishing trigger warnings about certain campus events, so those who might feel uncomfortable hearing opinions differing from their own can avoid the events.

In some universities, even classrooms have been designated as safe spaces.  This has led to charges of censorship, where freedom of speech, and hence rigorous intellectual discourse, is prohibited on campus.

Recently, there was a Chick-fil-A flap on the campus of Duquesne University.  Some students oppose the planned opening on campus of a Christian-owned chicken restaurant whose owners espouse conservative values, for fear it will upset their “safe space.” This and a host of other triggering incidents, many associated with the harsh treatment of conservative speakers trying to make invited presentations on university campuses, got me thinking about how today’s children are not being equipped to deal with adversity.

Popular Christian author and apologist David C. McCasland has suggested, “Instead of trying to remove all obstacles and pave the way for the children in our life, we should instead equip them to deal with the difficulties they encounter on the road ahead.”  McCasland’s suggestion isn’t rocket science, yet many in our society today simply can’t grasp this wisdom.

Trigger warnings and safe spaces are natural consequences of a society where every child playing sports gets a trophy—both winners and losers—so as to avoid any hurt feelings. They are also consequences of a society where Christianity and Christian-based principles are on the decline. If the truth be told, life is naturally full of adversity and controversy.  What if we equipped our children to deal with these rather than avoiding them?

Most American children, age six and above, spend the better part of each weekday in school.  Today, younger and younger children find themselves in school programs as more mothers take on full-time jobs. Most schools do an inadequate job of teaching life skills–that’s where parents come in. What if parents spent 30 minutes a day teaching their children to deal with the real world, instead of spending a lifetime trying to protect them and solve all their problems?

In John 16:33 (ESV), Jesus tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”   In John 17, Jesus’ prayer reminds us that his followers are not of this world, even as He is not of this world.  We will all suffer at times during our lives, but we need look no farther than the cross to find peace amid life’s tribulations.

The Bible is the best source of wisdom about dealing with adversity and controversy. Just consider what might happen if you spent a mere 30 minutes each day sharing the Bible with your children.  This amounts to one TV show you wouldn’t have to watch…a blessing in itself!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.                                   

–2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (ESV)