Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Killing Babies In the Netherlands

Some years ago doctors in the Netherlands began killing terminally ill elderly patients (some with, some without, their consent) even though it was against the law. They were never prosecuted. Instead, the law was changed to make what they had been doing legal.

Now, doctors in the Netherlands are killing newborn babies...Not a lot of them...Only a few...So they tell us...And of course we believe them. As history repeats itself we find that killing babies is against the law in the Netherlands. But, once again, rather than prosecuting the doctors the parliament is debating whether to make this "procedure" legal as well.

The doctors have recommended a process of selection they call "the Groningen Protocol." This would involve a "committee" that would be given the authority to give a "thumbs up" or a "thumbs down" on whether a baby with a terminal or painful condition should live or die. This "protocol" would also extend to any person, child or adult, who is unable to make such a decision for him/herself...such as elderly with dementia, those in comas, uncommunicative persons on life-support, etc.

This reminds me of the jury in California that today began deliberation of whether convicted murderer Scott Peterson should receive the death penalty or not. The difference is that in the Netherlands you don't have to be guilty of anything except the natural effects of age, illness or disability to be put on "trial" for your life by a jury of your peers. It is ironic that the Netherlands takes pride in their high moral position of not allowing the death penalty in criminal cases.

It appears that, in the Netherlands, you can ritually slaughter a movie maker on the street because he has offended your religious sensibilities and not worry about receiving a death sentence. The government will protect your "right to life."

But woe to you who have committed no crime at all except to face a terminal illness with a muddled mind. It appears that, under such circumstances, you have offended society to such a degree that you have been deemed to have forfeited that right. How dare you keep on living! Like Jesus and Barabbas, the innocent dies and the guilty goes free.

If this is what post-Christian European morality leads us to then I think we should think long and hard before we allow this type of thinking to become socially "acceptable and respectable " in America. The "slippery slope" arguement has now been proven true over and over again. Each one of us should challenge, confront and refute this idea whenever and wherever we hear it being suggested or presented in a positive manner.

The one positive note in all this is that some in the Netherlands, apparently, still have enough of a moral compass to have gathered in mass protest against their goverment's consideration of this new policy. Perhaps some of them are old enough to remember when Hitler instituted his own "protocol" for determining who was worth keeping alive and who wasn't.

No true follower of Jesus would ever support the legitimization of anyone determining whether another person, soley for reasons of the status of their health, should live or die. When we submit the value of human life to a tribunal's interpretation of a "protocol" then we have taken the final step in abandoning our God-given, unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Dutch are feasting on "forbidden fruit" and, to their surprise, will wonder why the Garden of Eden has moved so far away. They will probably not even realize that the cherubim with the flaming swords are God's judgment upon their rejection of the very rights and freedoms their deluded minds and corrupted consciences sincerely believe they are defending.

Jewish/Christian tradition claims that Adam and Eve wept as they were cast out of the garden. There will be no hope for the Netherlands until there is a national weeping, mourning and repentence for what they have done. Until then, we will have to do their weeping for them.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Hanging of the Greens

This evening of the first Sunday in Advent is always one of my favorite times. The church, in the space of thirty minutes, decorates the entire Worship Center for the Christmas season. Everyone attending helps to put up banners, bows, garlands, wreaths, lights, artificial poinsettas, tree ornaments and a nativity scene on the communion table while singing Christmas carols and listening to special music from the choir. At the end we turn off all the lights and sing Silent Night. After that we eat the brownies, cookies and other goodies out on the church lanai.

Tonight, possibly due to the heavy rain, only one child from our preschool showed up to sing their special song. So....all the preschool teachers came up and sang the children's song with her so she could sing along, too! The teachers sang and did the hand motions very well. The little girl did what preschool children always do when they "perform:" She smiled and waved at her parents the entire time. It was perfect!

The church children decorated the tree, of course. For the 1-year olds it was their first Christmas. They toddled about during the whole service, touching and exploring everything they could reach. The wonder in their eyes and the tipsy wobbling of their uncertain footsteps captured the essence of the Christmas story for me. They reminded me that Jesus came into the world as a baby just like them and, as he grew, the Savior of the world toddled along with the other children, wide-eyed with wonder at the world he had once created.

It's funny how we all change as we grow older. When I was younger, if a baby cried during worship I'd go nuts. The noise would distract me from the business of worship and I'd be bothered by it all. Now, however, ever since I have had children of my own (and the youngest is now half-way through her teenage years) I am no longer bothered by the cry of a baby. I cannot even imagine how boring worship would be without them. How dull are the churches that have no children or babies in worship! If the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has anything at all to do with life, then it must have a great deal to do with babies. Surely, they are more closely formed in the image of their Creator than we are as adults!

Even so, I am glad when a parent eventually takes their complaining child outside and gives them a less public place to finish their crying. Jesus said, "Let the children come to me." He didn't say they could stay all day!

Best Part of the Wedding

I attended a wedding this afternoon for a friend. Along with most of the other men I wore a nice "aloha" shirt. Standing in line to sign the guest book a women said to me, "I really like your shirt." The man in front of me turned, thinking she was speaking to him. Seeing this the woman said to him, "You're wearing an nice shirt, too." Then she decided to lift her foot up and place it in her mouth up to her ankle. "It's an old shirt, isn't it? I just love old shirts. They don't make them like that anymore. They're so 'retro!' My son found one just like yours at a thrift shop. He brought it home and used it to cover a chair." While I tried to keep from laughing out loud the man graciously replied with a smile, "I guess it's an old shirt for an old guy." Mercifully, the woman bit down hard, kept her mouth shut and kept any further thoughts to herself.
The marriage ceremony which followed, while nice, had to settle for being my second favorite part of the wedding.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

All Praise To God Who Strengthens and Sustains Me

As part of a women's gathering at her church in Daly City, California, my sister, along with the other women, wrote a two line Psalm modeled after the opening two lines of the great hymn, "How Great Thou Art." My sister wrote, "All praise to God, who strengthens and sustains me, To Thee I pray, and thank Thee for thy love." When I read this in her church newsletter I liked it and felt it needed to be added to somewhat. What follows is the "rest" of the poem (which can be sung to "How Great Thou Art" if you really feel like it).

“All Praise to God, Who Strengthens and Sustains Me"
Words by Penny Manis & Jim Tweedie
To be sung to the tune of “How Great Thou Art

1. All praise to God, who strengthens and sustains me;
To you I pray, and thank you for your love.
When shadows fall and stress and worry pains me
Your Spirit comes with healing from above.
You are my Rock, my Fortress and my Might;
Where you abide no shadows fall.
You are my Friend, my Savior and my Light;
You are my Lord, my Life, my All.

2. When I consider all that you created;
The sun and moon and stars high in the sky.
All things reflect your greatness unabated;
I see it all, and wonder, “Who am I?”
And yet of all the creatures of the earth
You’ve chosen me to be your own.
You formed me, knew me, long before my birth;
I am not mine, but yours alone.

3. One day my life will fade beyond a whisper
And then my spirit will return to you.
That day I’ll be more than a brother, sister;
I’ll be your own, for I’ll be born anew.
Because you died and rose so I might live
I’ll walk that shadowed vale no more.
As you have given, so I, too, shall give
All praise to you forevermore.

Jeff Hall

I first met Jeff when I arrived in Hawaii in 1993. He was then our church custodian and groundskeeper. Until he was replaced by a custodial service in 1998 Jeff was a friend as well as an employee.

Jeff taught me everything I know about surfing.....as a spectator! When the surf was up and pounding on the North Shore I would call out to Jeff, "Want to drive up and see what's going on?" and Jeff would say, "Sure." We'd watch the 15 footers rolling into Haleiwa or the 20 footers sweeping into Waimea Bay and I would have a "small wave" expert explaining every move and maneuver.

Jeff didn't like to surf in anything much larger than 7 feet. He enjoyed hanging in the line, taking his turn simply for the sheer joy of the thing.

At Waikiki he made some money giving surfing lessons to tourists using some old boards he had collected. I'm sure that Jeff became one those special, personal memories taken back home from the islands by every one who met him. His weathered face and smile undoubtedly still stare out from the pages of many a dusty photo album commemorating a treasured Hawaii vacation.

Jeff was born in Korea but raised by an American couple who adopted him and another Korean boy. The couple added a few of their own children to the mix so there was a definite sense of being a part of a family.

Jeff took up dance and eventually joined a professional dance company that performed at the "Festival of the American West" in Logan, Utah, when I was living there in the early 1980's. The last time I saw Jeff he was once again back on stage at Leeward Community College dancing the role of the Mouse King in the Nutcracker.

On Friday, November 12, Jeff called a taxi to take him to Queen's Hospital where he was admitted. He passed away the following Sunday morning. I am not clear on what he suffered from although his brother has indicated that it might have been colon cancer. The hospital contacted me after his death since the only personal "contact" they could find was in an old medical file that listed the church as a former employer. It took over a week before his brother finally heard the news and came forward as a relative to claim the body.

A brief memorial service will be held on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday morning of next week. His other brother and sister will be flying out from California. His "beachboy" friends have offered to carry his ashes out to the Waikiki reef where they will be scattered. Jeff, I think, would be pleased, but maybe just a little bit embarassed by all the attention.


This year there were 34 people at our home for Thanksgiving dinner. Since we are too far away to spend the holiday with our own family in California we invite members of our church family to share the day together with us. Every generation was present and accounted for from seniors to babies. Between the rain showers the children blew bubbles, drew chalk pictures on our driveway and set up a beauty salon on the front porch. Most of the adults were too stuffed to move out of the house so card games kept everyone busy and laughing. JJ proved to be an addict for UNO. She kept Ryan busy in the back room long after the others had quit and gone home.

Only a small amount of meat was left from our 21 pound turkey. I finished it off today for lunch along with stuffing and cranberry sauce.

I can't say that I really like being in the middle of a crowd of people, but having an empty house would be far less appealing for a holiday such as Thanksgiving. On the other hand having to walk sideways to squeeze across from one room to another has become almost a sacred ritual as it stirs up so many memories of crowded family holiday gatherings in years past.

As I told several of our friends, I'm glad they all came. And I'll be glad when they have all gone back to their own homes, too. They all understood what I meant by that. Now the house is quiet. I have talked to middle daughter Emily, en route back to Seattle Pacific University after spending the holiday with my mother, brother (& wife), sister (& husband), aunt, uncle, nephews, two niece-in-laws, one grandniece and one grand nephew. Emily enjoyed getting to hold little Lizzie for the first time, something the rest of her Hawaii family hasn't been able to do yet.

Sunday is tomorrow and Advent begins. Christmas is on the way. In the evening our church will decorate the Worship Center together as we sing carols and "get into the Christmas spirit." I don't know if God really cares all that much about our celebration of Christmas each year. But I am convinced that it is good for us to remember the One who came to live and die and live again for us. We must not forget. The world would like to keep Christmas and get rid of Jesus in the same way that they are expunging him from American and world history. By themselves the glitz and glitter and even the Thanksgiving turkey are shallow and empty; each in their own way becoming an empty carcass by the time the season has past.

With Jesus the joy of the season never passes away. He is here. He is yesterday, today and forever. He is family and friends and celebration that never ends. Apart from him there would be no thanks at all. Except, perhaps, for my wife, Jeanine, who took on a difficult challenge and, as always, made it look easy.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Conversation With Soldier Home From Iraq

I am not a soldier. Nor have I ever been one. But the work I do has led me into personal friendships with many of them. Currently I know 12 men and women deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan, one who has just returned and two who have been "adopted" by my local church because they did not have any "home support" from family or friends.

Today I had coffee at Starbucks with a man home for two weeks on R & R from Mosul. We have emailed back and forth during these first 10 months of deployment. He has seen the worst of it over there. As a volunteer on the "rescue" team he was sent out to secure and recover damaged military vehicles and soldiers killed or injured by roadside bombs, ambushes and suicide car bombers. One victim was his base chaplain who later died of his injuries in Germany. At least one person from every unit in his base has died in Iraq except for his own unit. The tension is high as they realize that the odds are against their keeping a 100% casualty-clean record before they return home for good at the end of January.

At the front gate to the base, where he meets the local Iraqis employed by his unit he has watched as a woman driving a truck blew herself and two Iraqi bystanders to bits in a suicide explosion. One day, while standing guard duty 6 months ago, he counted 15 rpgs (rocket-propelled grenades) sail over his head directed at the base.

More recently he has stopped volunteering to collect the dead and wounded and has begun the difficult transition to begin thinking about the end of his deployment and a return to some measure of normalcy with his wife and two children, one of whom was not yet walking when he left for Iraq.

He tells me that at first he "hated" all Iraqis even though his Christian faith told him otherwise. As he has come to know many Iraqis personally both at work and in various community settings he has learned to appreciate the fact that most Iraqis are not hateful or violent and, in a confused sort of way, appreciative and supportive of not only the American troops but of President Bush in particular. Although he has seen much improvement in security over the past 10 months he is not convinced that the "jihadis" will disappear any time soon and that the desire to die in jihad, with its promise of guaranteed and instant entrance to paradise will continue to attract eager new volunteers almost as fast at others are killed or captured.

Although he did not support the political decision to enter Iraq in the first place he is both a good patriot and a good soldier. He knows that 9 to 11 months after his return he will likely be deployed back to Iraq for another tour of duty. If he had any say in the matter he would eagerly choose not to return. But he will fulfill his commitment and, I have no doubt, fulfill it well.

This will be the third time he has headed off to Iraq (due to a family crisis this has been his second "R & R" visit). Each time I have spoken and prayed with him and each time I have wondered whether he will come home alive or in one piece. I know his wife and children very well and I am amazed at her ability to cope with this reality. Our nation is indeed blessed by wonderful men and women giving all they have in service to our country. Their husbands, wives, children, parents, brothers, sisters, lovers and friends also share in this sacrifice and, remarkably, have also demonstrated an almost heroic ability to bear the stress with courage and with grace.

Every one of the deployed soldiers I know is a committed follower of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I have no doubt that this faith enables each of them to see this particular conflict in the larger context of history where God has already won the victory over evil, sin and death. To a one they are, as every Christian should be, optimists, seeking to keep their eyes open for the good they may do and giving thanks for any sign of good they might spot in the emerging nation struggling to "breathe free" as a democracy.

These soldiers carry a deep and profound sense of decency and high standards of personal moral integrity. I know through my correspondence with them that they struggle often with the Christian obligation to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Like myself and so many other Americans, they want only the highest and the best for the people of Iraq. Along with them we should pray daily that the Iraqi people will also desire this same ideal for themselves....and find the courage and determination to seize it while the window of opportunity is open.

Just before we left Starbucks my friend on leave from Mosul said something that caught me off guard. He said that he and his buddies had been watching the movie, "Band of Brothers." After comparing what they were experiencing in Iraq with what the survivors featured in the movie had experienced he said...well...he said that it made him feel like a wimp.

I must say that I was more than humbled by this man today. I count it a great privilege to count him as a friend.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

God and American Democracy

Note: This post was originally written as a response to the arguement that American democracy was largely founded on classical models such as Athens.

I was disappointed that no one followed up on PresbyPoet's comments posted earlier today at The Belmont Club. His point is important. Until John Calvin there had been little or no Biblical/theological rationale for overthrowing an "ordained by God" monarch. If, as the Medieval Church had held (and the Bible supported--see Romans 13), a monarch's authority was given by God, then any opposition to a king/queen was identical to opposition to God.

Calvin, however, showed that a "magistrate" (here read "monarch" or "any political leader") was granted authority by God soley for the purpose of protecting his/her people from injustice and oppression. Calvin speculated that, should the magistrate violate his covenant with God and become a vehicle for injustice and oppression, then the people, calling on God's mercy, had the "right" to remove or overthrow the one whose misuse of authority had proven their personal rejection of God's favor.

As PresbyPoet pointed out, this theological approach was put to practical use by Calvin's student, John Knox of Scotland. Knox confronted the "authority" of Mary, Queen of Scots and, in the end, prevailed against her. Her son, James the VI of Scotland was raised as a reformed protestant and carried this faith with him when he united the kingdoms of England and Scotland, becoming King James I of England. Scotland, meanwhile, had established a form of representative democracy overseen by representative Lairds on the civil side and church ministers and elders on the spiritual side (aka the Church of Scotland).

James I carried the Calvinist fervor into England. He was the one who commissioned the translation of the Bible into a uniform, scholarly, literate and contemporary form. In many ways he reflected a certain attitude of humility and service as befitted his Calvinist upbringing.

His son and successor Charles I, however, regressed into magisterial despotism. His pandering to selected royals was divisive and utterly rejected by the growing number of "puritans" among the English population. (Puritans were "Anglicans" who desired that the faith be kept "pure" from the corruptions emerging from a national church under the authority of a self-centered monarch.) A national revolt was begun (justified by the rationale proposed by Calvin) headed by Oliver Cromwell and his Roundhead army.

In the end, London was successfully besieged, Charles I arrested, tried and subsequently beheaded. Cromwell set up a "commonwealth" government loosely based on Calvinist principals. At his command, Calvinist and other selected religious representatives from England were called to a convocation in Westminster Hall (referred to as the Westminster Assembly of "Divines") and ordered to create a comprehensive Confession of Faith and Catechism that would unite the people of England around one standard set of beliefs. Among other things this Assembly produced the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These documents became the standing interpretation of Scriptural doctrine for faith and life among Reformed Protestants throughout Europe and the emerging New World.

Cromwell, of course, fell into his own form of despotism and, following his death and the short rule of his son and successor, the public demanded the return of the monarchy. This was accomplished with the coronation of Charles II.

What this has to do with today's topic is this: A hundred years or so later, as American colonists sought a way to separate themselves from the often reactionary governance of the English monarchy, they did not have to look very far to find their justification. It did not hurt that the largest "religious group" represented by delegates in Philadelphia in 1776 were Calvinist Presbyterians (including the only minister to sign the resulting Declaration of Independence, Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, then President of Princeton College in New Jersey, founded as a school for educating Presbyterian pastors and later to become Princeton University.)

(Note that in colonial times the term "religion" was commonly used in the sense that we now use the word "denominations." What we would call world "religions" today were not generally granted the privilege of that term. Other faiths were "pagan." Christianity was the one true "religion." Keep this in mind as you read the first amendment and its reference to the "establishment of religion"--a clear assertion that the "United States" would not endorse one form of Christianity over another...something that had caused so much death and destruction and destablization in Europe for the previous two centuries).

Jefferson, who was commissioned to write the first draft of the "Declaration of Independence," made explicit use of the "Calvinist loophole" for overthrowing the rule of a magistrate. This does not mean for a moment, of course, that Thomas Jefferson believed in any form of Calvinism personally. In fact, I'm sure he didn't. He was, in a uniquely "American" sense, a product of the European "enlightenment." Nonetheless, Jefferson found this approach to be the most useful way to justify the colonial cause, give it a theological foundation (which was historically familiar to the English and credible among the deeply religious colonists) and unifying for the colonial delegations in Philadelphia who were seeking some form of consensus for independence.

It is not coincidental that the ensuing American Revolution was, on several occasions, described in the English Parliament as "that Presbyterian revolt."

Whereas the Declaration of Independence was explicitly religious/theological in tone the subsequent U.S. Constitution was deliberately secular in language (although philosophically based far more on ideas derived from Calvinism than from Enlightenment philosophy as can be determined from the arguments--which largely prevailed--so eloquently expressed in the "Federalist Papers.")

Although the "founding fathers" were well-versed in classical philosophy and literature, I do not believe that their political philosophies were greatly shaped by them. The influence of the Protestant Reformation in general, recent European history, Calvinism and the Bible in particular, provided the primary theoretical foundations for both the Declaration and the Constitution (any reading of the original transcripts of precedings will bear this out).

It is also not coincidental that the Presbyterian Church wrote its first Constitution as a national body meeting in General Assembly in Philadelphia in 1789--concurrently with the creation and adoption of the U.S. Constitution in the same location in the same year.

My argument is thus: The peculiar form of a democratic republic which was established in the United States of America is primarily founded on Christian civil/theological premises originating from John Calvin (who was an excellent classicist himself, personally writing his great "Institutes of the Christian Religion" in both French and Latin). If one is ignorant of the facts I have presented then one will most certainly be forced to grasp at Iroquois or Greek precedents to explain the origins of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Knowing what they knew, the "founding fathers" had no need to reach that far. Nor did they.

Hello World

Blogspot was kind enough to offer a blogsite when I wasn't looking for one! Yet here I am, led by the nose to a new adventure unsought for. Much of life is like that, I think. Life is sort of like reading a book. Each day you turn a new page, not knowing exactly what to expect. When the day is done and the page has been read the mystery of tomorrow and the following "page" remain, filling us with either hope or forboding with what may next appear.

Much of what we read we have predetermined by our choices and actions. At the least, what we have chosen and done today will limit the parameters in which our life will unfold tomorrow.

The adventure of my life, as that of history and world events on the larger stage, is always one of mystery, wonder and anticipation of what may happen next. Insofar as it is within my power to shape tomorrow I am free to do so in whatever manner I shall choose, either for good or ill (what may be "good" or "ill," of course, will depend on any one's personal point of reference).

My chosen point of reference is that of Jesus Christ. It is from the perspective of his teachings and example I choose to discern right and wrong, good and evil. The distinction (in a sinful world) is not always as clear as I would like. Even so, God has promised that by his Spirit he will lead me, more often than not, towards that which is right and good in God's eyes--If I am genuine in my desire to "be conformed to the image of God's Son."

Being a Christian does not mean that I know what will appear on the next page of my life's story. But it does mean that I have been given a peek at how the story will end in the end. And, yes, my story will have a happy ending (at least from God's point of view) because of Jesus. His teachings and promises have been affirmed and confirmed by the historic events of his life, death, resurrection and ascention. My story may end suddenly tomorrow or it may wander through existential terrors like a novel by Dostoevski. It may also be filled with pain and suffering, ecstacy and joy or all of these mixed together. So shall it be. I will be content with what shall come.

Yet through it all I will be an optimist. Because I know that there will be a victory in the end....and the life of love, forgiveness, mercy, justice, righteousness and hope that I have chosen will triumph...because they are of God...who is the beginning and the end of my present story...and the never-beginning, never-ending God of eternity in my upcoming sequel.

Nice to meet you all. In the words of most bloggers I have read..."more later.."