American Sniper

February 26th, 2015

I went to see Clint Eastwood’s movie, American Sniper, with my wife last week. I was curious about it because of all the controversy that has swirled around it. Fox News and most conservative commentators raved about it, while the liberal left condemned it.

Viewing it was an intense experience. Chris Kyle’s four tours in Iraq provided compelling war footage that was realistic and brutal. It left no doubt as to the savagery inherent in the conflict and in the psyche of that part of that part of the world. It raised the question as to whether we would want to send our troops into such a hostile environment again. All the American blood and money spent on such operations seems to have been lost due to changing policies in Washington. Our resources might be better employed supporting our allies, such as the Jordanians, Kurds and Egyptians as our proxies in the never-ending battle against Islamic terrorists.

What was unexpected in the movie was the state-side segments. Most reviews praised or condemned the movie as patriotic or trigger-happy. The scenes involving Kyle’s relationship with his wife, his re-entry problems, and the closing down of his emotional responses were extremely well done. My wife told me that she thought that it helped her to understand the military and their families.

The contrast between the battle scenes and home life remind us of how far removed we are from appreciating the horror of the front lines. Our complacency and failure to empathize with the psychological pain of our returning servicemen and women is to be deplored. They have seen and experienced life and death in ways we cannot imagine.

Kyle’s involvement with veterans, which ultimately led to his death, was poignant and compelling. This blog is being written the day after the defendant was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Having lived in Texas, the scenes of his funeral, were emotionally overwhelming. I do not know why anyone would object to such a display of support for the military. It is hard for some people to embrace the concept of American heroes, but we need them. Life is a battle and the world is a dangerous place. Clint Eastwood has done us a favor in giving us this evocation of those who protect us and who are guardians of our national pride.

It is all too easy for citizens to opt out and choose pacificism as their default drive when others are willing to defend them. It is interesting to me that when military men appear in the Bible they are not told to resign their profession of arms in favor of civilian life. The Roman centurions are commended by Jesus and in Acts for their devotion to duty. Likewise, American Sniper commends the profession of arms as honorable and necessary.

Life Begins at Seventy

February 17th, 2015

I was told the other day that old age begins at eighty! If that is so, how should you view the decade before eighty? When he reached his seventieth birthday the great missionary to the Muslim world, Samuel Zwemer gave a talk to the Warfield club at Princeton Seminary entitled LIFE BEGINS AT SEVENTY.

He began this address by citation of patriarchs and other great leaders of men and women from Abraham and Sarah down to modern times, who had accomplished their greatest work after three-score years and ten; then went on to give seven reasons why life should begin at seventy.

1. We should have a diploma from the school of experience by that time.
2. We are near to the river that has no bridge.
3. We have passed our apprenticeship in the school of life.
4. At seventy we can look further backward and further forward.
5. By this time we should know that life consists not in the abundance of things we possess.
6. We feel the responsibility to witness for God to the next generation.
7. At seventy the Christian must redeem the time and live in more deadly earnest.

J. Christy Wilson in his biography of Zwemer includes this poem by Henry Wadworth Longfellow.

Ah, nothing is too late,
Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.
Cato learned Greek at eighty; Sophocles
Wrote his grand Oedipus, and Simonides
Bore off the prize of verse from his compeers,
When each had numbered more than fourscore years.

Chaucer at Woodstock with the nightingales,
At sixty wrote the Canterbury Tales;
Goethe at Weimer, toiling to the last
Completed Faust when eighty years were past.
(Morituri Salutamus, Stanzas 22-23)

If you were to examine your life for each decade and label it what would you call the present decade?

What Can History Teach us on How to Defeat Militant Islam?

February 11th, 2015

The recent resurgence of radical Islam bent on military conquest in the Middle East, Nigeria, Yemen, and through proxies in immigrant communities in Europe and even in the USA by terrorists is causing our government to develop new strategies to defeat, demolish and to destroy this enemy. I find it instructive to look to history for guidance.

Islam has always been a militaristic creed. From the beginning of the Muslim era Arab armies have sought to conquer Christian lands. They swept across North Africa and into Spain. No one could withstand them until Charles Martel and his Frankish army stood their ground outside Tours in 732. The army of the Umayyad Caliphate led by Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi was defeated and their leader killed. In the years following the Arabs and Berbers were driven out of what we now know as France. Charles Martel was praised as the champion of Christianity, and the battle was the decisive turning point in the struggle against Islam, a struggle which preserved Christianity as the religion of Europe.

Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire wrote:

“A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassible than the Nile or the Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of Mahomet.”

It took a battle and a determined leader to defeat this enemy. Read about the Battle of Tours online for a full account.

Gradually Muslim rule was driven out of Spain and attention turned to the threat of the Ottoman Empire to Europe. Suleiman the Magnificent tried to capture Vienna, Austria in 1529 but failed due to an alliance of the Holy Roman Empire. This defeat turned the tide against almost a century of conquest throughout eastern and central Europe. Historian Arnold Toynbee commented: “The failure of the first siege of Vienna brought to a standstill the tide of Ottoman conquest which had been flooding up the Danube Valley for a century past.”

In 1683 Vienna was besieged for two months. Again, the siege was seen to be a turning point in history after which the Ottoman Turks ceased to be a menace to the Christian world. The overall command of the troops of the Holy Roman Empire was held by the King of Poland, John III Sobieski. The Ottoman-Habsburg wars took place over 300 years.

The Crusades need to be seen as part of this overall struggle for which culture would dominate Europe and the Byzantine Empire.

This struggle continues today. Who will win? Do we need another Charles Martel or John Sobieski? I believe that we must accept that there will always be a struggle for the heart of Western civilization. We cannot defeat, demolish or destroy the enemy without cost, resolve and strong leadership to unify us.

Christianity on the Front Lines with Islam in Africa

February 5th, 2015

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting for the first time Dr. William Udotong who is the Provost of West Africa Theological Seminary in Lagos. Nigeria. Lagos (pop. 21 million) is one of the largest cities in the world. Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa. Within 50 years it will probably have the largest or second-largest Christian population in the world. It is the battleground between Islam and Christianity. Boko Haram is terrorising the population in the north east. He said that violence and retribution is endemic to Islam. The Seminary (www.wats.edu.ng) has 800 students in bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs. He believes that the most effective way to impact the region is through well trained Christian leaders. He is looking for individuals and churches to partner with WATS in providing scholarships for students beginning at $1,200 a year. WATS is nondenominational and trains pastors for all churches. A good friend, Alan Cellamare (acellamare2@gmail.com), represents WATS in the USA (office 864-895-1056, cell 704-614-0431). I commend this exciting work to your support.

Dr. William Udotong has served as lecturer at WATS for close to two decades during which time he has worked in different capacities in the Seminary. In addition to his work in the Seminary, he has held several pastoral and leadership positions in the church spanning over a decade. He is currently a senior lecturer and the Provost/President of the Seminary having been elected Provost in 2009 and officially installed in January 2010. He holds a Bachelor and Master’s degrees from the Universities of Uyo and Port Harcourt (both in Nigeria) respectively. He also holds an MA in Pastoral Counseling and a PhD in Intercultural Studies from Asbury Theological Seminary (ATS), Kentucky, U.S.A.
His areas of specialization include; Cross-cultural Leadership Training and Counseling, Anthropology for Christian Mission, Mission and Migration (particularly migration from the Global South to the North), and the Pentecostal Movement in Africa. Dr. Udotong is married to Victoria and they have five children; Grace, Goodness, Esther, Blessing, and Jeremiah.

How Islam Has Affected Birmingham, England and Paris, France

January 29th, 2015

This is a guest post from the City Journal by Theodore Dalrymple

Looking Away from Europe’s Muslim Problem

It’s easier to condemn Steven Emerson than to confront issues of assimilation and culture.
22 January 2015

Steven Emerson, the expert on terrorism, has caused a sigh of relief among the bien pensants of the Western world. By making inaccurate and false claims on Fox News, he has enabled them to pour righteous scorn on him and thereby avoid thinking about uncomfortable social realities.

Emerson claimed that Birmingham, the second-largest city in Britain, was “totally” Muslim. In the last census, in 2011, 21.8 percent of the city’s inhabitants said that they were Muslim. This percentage is likely to rise because of higher birth rates among Muslims, immigration, and the departure of white Christians. Residents of Birmingham who identified themselves as “white British” declined by 11 percent between 2001 and 2011, while the “white Irish” declined by 33 percent. The proportion of Christians would have decreased further had it not been for the arrival of Eastern Europeans. Meanwhile, the Muslim Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations increased over those ten years by 40 and 50 percent, respectively, and the Arab population rose to 1 percent from zero percent. Whether this matters, whether it fills you with joy or apprehension, or leaves you indifferent, depends upon your political outlook—and perhaps on where you live.

Since ethnic and religious groups are not scattered evenly throughout Birmingham, moreover, the population in some areas is overwhelmingly Muslim. Emerson referred to some of these areas as “no-go zones.” White women report being verbally abused there, as sluts ex officio as it were, though it would not be true to say that any of the areas are truly “no-go.” One, for example, is notable for its profusion of small, cheap, and good restaurants, patronized by the rest of the population. No part of Birmingham is as cut off from the rest of the city as are some of the banlieues of Paris. Physical (if not social) mixing of populations is evident.

In Britain, Muslim populations like those in Birmingham have relatively poor educational attainment and high rates of youth unemployment, crime, and imprisonment. This is not likely the result of discrimination, because Hindus and Sikhs, present also in large numbers, have lower rates of youth unemployment than whites and much lower levels of crime than whites. The Sikhs have the second-highest average household wealth when such wealth is broken down by religious affiliation. Sikh households are richer than Christian ones; Muslim households are much poorer. The causes of this disparity are a matter of speculation, and of course, group characteristics don’t apply to every individual.

Because of their high rates of consanguineous marriage, Muslim children have relatively high rates of serious genetic conditions, about which a kind of omertà has long prevailed, though it is not uniquely medical. In my experience, school inspectors never inquire as to why Muslim girls go missing from school for long periods, though I have known white parents prosecuted because their refractory adolescent child failed to attend school as the law required for only short periods. The same kind of omertà was surely one reason for the shameful disregard shown by the police in Rotherham of the systematic sexual abuse of young white girls by Muslim men there—though whether the police were more afraid of Muslim reaction or accusations of racism in the liberal press is uncertain.

Forced marriage (very different from arranged marriage) is common among the Muslims, though it is difficult because of social secrecy to estimate just how common. Certainly I was able to recognize a pattern among my young Muslim female patients, down to the withholding of their passports when they returned “home” to Pakistan, aged between 15 and 20, to marry their first cousin in their “home” village. Resignation to their fate merged by degrees into consent; all of them knew of honor killings of young women such as themselves, which exerted the same psychological effect as lynching did on blacks in the American South.

Supposedly to placate Muslim sentiment, local authorities have sometimes agreed to or imposed measures worthy of an apartheid regime. For example, the Birmingham Central Library provided women-only tables, in practice for the use of Muslim women. I don’t know whether this gesture came in response to a request or was an anticipatory cringe; the argument in its favor would almost certainly have been that without such separate facilities Muslim women would not have been allowed by their males to use the library at all. It is unlikely that such an argument would have succeeded for any other religious or social group, and indeed it would have provoked feminist ire, in this case notably absent, presumably because of fear.

In France, the problems are both similar and different. France is de jure secular, Britain only de facto. This difference leads to opposing views on such matters as the wearing of the veil. The relative inflexibility of French labor laws virtually guarantees a higher unemployment rate, though not necessarily a lower income, among youth of the lowest social class. The geographical and social origins of most of France’s Muslims are different from those of Britain’s: North African rather than Indian subcontinental. Since the fate of immigrants depends on what they bring with them as well as their reception in their new country, and since Islam, whatever its claims, does not exhaust a people’s cultural characteristics, differences are only to be expected.

But similarities are also striking: for example, low levels of educational achievement and high rates of youth unemployment and crime (60 percent to 70 percent of French prisoners are Muslim, on some estimates, and this is unlikely to be the result of prejudice alone, even if such prejudice exists). These are not characteristic of other immigrant groups, for example the Vietnamese.

While some of the banlieues of Paris and other big cities are relatively cut off from their metropolises, as were the townships of South Africa, it would be an exaggeration to call them no-go areas—even if that is what some of the criminal youth would like them to be, so that they can get on with their domination and trafficking with more impunity than they already enjoy. Schools and other state or public institutions remain in these areas. The police and the fire brigade may sometimes be stoned by the grateful recipients of their services, but they are not totally absent. They are therefore not extra-territorial in the most literal sense. Other European countries—Belgium and Sweden, for example—have not dissimilar problems.

But of course the most worrying aspect of the situation is the attraction of jihadi ideology for young Muslims. It is impossible to gauge exactly the degree or strength of support for it: opinion surveys are all but useless. The least one can say, however, is that jihadism attracts both those with bright and dim futures, and according to official calculations, some 2,200 youthful jihadis from France, Britain, and Belgium alone have gone to Syria. This is a far more than sufficient pool of murderous religious ideologues to cause untold havoc in Europe.

By his inaccuracy, distortions, and exaggerations, however, Steven Emerson has provided a convenient and enjoyable distraction for his critics, an excuse for them to indulge in displacement activity, like mice that lick their paws when faced by a cat. It is easier to mock him than to suggest the correct way to deal with the threat of Islamism. It is easier and more fun for the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, to sue Fox News (for what, exactly?) than to improve life in the largely Muslim banlieue of Clichy-sous-Bois. Here is a resident’s testimonial to that suburb of Hidalgo’s city: “A piece of advice: come armed! What I like about Clichy-sous-Bois? No need to look for public toilets. They are under the sky, in the buildings. What don’t I like about Clichy-sous-Bois? What can I say . . . No, it would take too long. I’m going to vomit.”

Theodore Dalrymple is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

What Can We Learn From Samuel Zwemer in Reaching Muslims?

January 22nd, 2015

Samuel Zwemer (1867-1952) pioneered American missionary work to the Muslim world. I knew his daughter Bessie who married Claude Pickens and were retired in Annisquam, Massachusetts after being missionaries in China. I also knew J. Christy Wilson who came to teach missions at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in 1975 after 22 years as a missionary in Afghanistan. Christy wrote the biography of Samuel Zwemer: Apostle to Islam, which I have recently read.

Samuel Zwemer lived through great changes in the Muslim world when the old Ottoman Empire was divided up into separate nations after World War I. He enjoyed the status of an American during the colonial age before the establishment of the state of Israel and the enrichment of the Muslim states through their oil revenues. He would be surprised at the recent resurgence of radical Islam. In his day Islam seemed to be a religion of the past.

He made no bones about the superiority of Christianity and saw his mission as a war of the King of Kings against the hosts of Islam. The following is an example of his approach in evangelizing Muslims, given at a conference in 1906.

“Sir William Muir, an acknowledged authority, has said, ‘The sword of Mohammed and the Koran are the most stubborn enemies of civilization, liberty, and truth which the world has yet known.’ To the unprejudiced mind his statement is a historical commonplace. While other religions and systems of error has fallen before the advance of truth, as Dagon before the ark of Jehovah, Islam, like mighty Goliath, defies the armies of the living God and the progress of Christ’s Kingdom! In three continents it presents an unbroken front and is armed with a proud and aggressive spirit.”

In 1910 he spoke of the impending struggle in Western Asia, what we now call the Middle East.

“Above all, think of the inspiration of Jesus’ life in Western Asia. If God so loved the world, He loved it as a unit; but if Jesus Christ is the Son of Man, He loves Western Asia. His manger and His Cross stood there. In Western Asia His blood was spilled. In Western Asia He walked the hills. There His tears fell for Jerusalem. There His eye still rests. Thither He will come again. It was in Western Asia that He said, ‘All authority is given unto me;’ and although for thirteen centuries His royal rights have been disputed by a usurper, they have never been abrogated. Shall we give Western Asia to Him, or shall Western Asia remain the Empire of Mohammed? Shall Bethlehem hear five times a day ‘There is no god but God, and Mohammed is God’s apostle’, and shall not a single one of us dare go, if God will, in this year of our Lord 1910 unto Mecca itself, the very stronghold of Islam, and preach the Gospel of the great King?”

Do we not need another call to missionary action and attitude towards Muslims today?

He preached on the duties of the Church as elder brother to the prodigal son of Islam. The Church should be like the Father, watch for the return of the prodigal son and be ready to embrace him and welcome him to the Father’s home. He saw Islam as the brother who can only be won by the love of the Church – love which needs to be like that of the Father.

He was a prolific writer whose books need to be rediscovered in this day of Muslim resurgence. Taking Hold of God is on the subject of prayer. The Glory of the Cross, The Glory of the Manger and The Glory of the Empty Tomb expounded the Gospel. His books on Islam are classics. The Moslem Doctrine of God; Islam, A Challenge to Faith; The Moslem Christ; Mohammed or Christ; The Cross Above the Crescent.

Kenneth Scott Latourette, the Yale church historian, concluded his review Samuel Zwemer’s writings with this judgement:

“It is always in its relation to Christianity that Dr. Zwemer views Islam. He is passionately convinced of the inadequacy of Islam to meet human needs. He recognizes in it admirable qualities, but he is clear as to the incalculable superiority of Christ over the Prophet, and states his reasons unequivocally. Dr. Zwemer has no illusions about the resistance which Islam presents to Christianity. He knows that through the centuries it has won more converts from Christianity than have been lost to its greatest rival. Yet he has no doubt as to the ultimate triumph of the Cross.”

We meet Muslims in the course of our daily lives. One of our restaurant managers is a Bengali Muslim who regularly engages me in conversation. I mainly listen, but after reading about Samuel Zwemer I am going to talk with him about Jesus, for Jesus is presented in the Koran as much more important than Mohammed. What does he know about Jesus? Perhaps it is I who will lead him to discover that Jesus is his Savior.

We are involved in the same struggle with Islam as was Samuel Zwemer. Let us not flinch in proclaiming the Gospel of the great King.

Can Compassion be Legislated?

January 17th, 2015

I am challenged by the virtue of compassion. My God is a God of compassion. Salvation is the gift of a compassionate God. Jesus taught us to be compassionate. St. Paul urges us to be clothed with compassion (Colossians 3:12). But I question whom to feel sorry for, why to feel sorry for them, and how to act on my compassionate feelings. I cannot feel sorry for everyone, wherever they are, for there are so many of them who need compassion. Where do I draw the line? Who is my responsibility?

William Voegeli has written a very provocative book on this subject. The Pity Party: A Mean-Spirited Diatribe Against Liberal Compassion (Broadside Books, HarperCollins, 2014) argues that compassion defines and animates liberalism which is institutionalized in the modern Democratic Party. The progressive liberal political agenda appeals to compassion and empathy. Its mission is to alleviate the needs of all humans everywhere. But the world abounds in suffering situations. You can’t solve all problems so who gets to the front of the line? Margaret Thatcher warned that socialists run out of other people’s money to fund their priorities. An example of this is to be found in the debate over immigration.

How do we let in the people we want to let in and keep out the people we have every right to keep out? Is immigration into the USA a sacred civil right possessed by 7 billion foreigners? Do we make it easier for illegal immigrants to find and keep jobs and raise wages for unskilled work which lures even more aliens and undercuts American jobs and living standards and adds to our social problems? In the past we required assimilation, which meant learning English and participating fully in society as Americans, not remaining solely in an ethnic group. Do we encourage immigration at the expense of other nations? Is it compassionate to denude other nations of the skilled personnel they need. David Goodhart points out that the nation of Malawi has lost more than half of its nursing staff to emigration over recent years, leaving just 336 nurses to serve a population of 12 million. Excluding Nigeria and South Africa, the average country in sub-Saharan Africa had 6.2 doctors per 100,000 of population in 2004. This compares with 166 in the UK, yet about 31% of doctors practising in the UK come from overseas, many from developing countries. (Why the Left is Wrong about Immigration)

The debate over taxes hinges on the presupposition that all government programs need more money in order to do more good for those who need them. To oppose raising taxes is to oppose doing good. The politics of kindness is an attempt, often very effective, to put conservatives on the defensive at the outset of every policy debate. For the better part of a century the political reality has been that the more the government spends on social welfare programs, the more liberals insist it needs to spend. Complacency about whether social welfare spending is doing any good for the people it is supposed to be helping is completely consistent with liberal compassion, as such questions would only complicate the main focus, the empathizer’s capacity to feel like a good person. Redistribution of income to achieve greater equality is a chimera for there will always be achievers who will prosper. To penalize such achievers by higher taxes discourages the highly motivated. At what point is the safety net of social welfare programs sufficient to take care of the genuinely needy without encouraging dependency and funding permanent unemployment?

The liberal project is to make philanthropy and charity unnecessary. Social and economic justice comes through government action funded by taxes rather voluntary giving. High taxes weaken charitable giving, and the ability of families to take care of their own. Family obligations are outsourced to state-supported caregivers. The national family becomes more important and at the expense of church communities and our immediate and extended families. But who are more important to us. Our own children matter more to us than others. We are called to love what is near and similar to us than what is remote and strange.

I want to be compassionate and pray that I will indeed respond generously to the genuine needs of those nearest to me. But I resent the politicians deciding for me what their pound of flesh will be so that they can fund their pet projects and reward their constituencies. What right have they to take away my responsibility for stewardship and to create so many wasteful and counter-productive attempts to build a utopian society?

I am still working on this subject and know that good Christian people may differ with me and take the opposite point of view. However I do question those Christian leaders who claim that the teaching of Jesus promotes the welfare state as the embodiment of the Christian command to “love thy neighbor”. Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). All of us have to account before God for the use of the riches he has given us. While the civil authorities do have the right to impose taxes, and we to pay them, they too are accountable for how they use them and how onerous they are. In a democracy we can hold accountable those who govern for their philosophy of taxation and their fair administration of the laws.

Vaclev Havel: Man of Faith?

January 3rd, 2015

Antoinette gave me a copy of HAVEL: A LIFE by Michael Zantovsky for Christmas. I read it during the holidays. Vaclev Havel was the Czech playwright who was one of the leaders of the Velvet Revolution that overthrew the Communist government, and went on to be the first President of the new democratic Czechslovakia and subsequently the new Czech Republic. I was in London during the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Warsaw Pact invasion that squashed the reforms of Alexander Dubcêk. I well remember the Czechoslovakian students who had been able to leave the country for the first time to experience the West having to decide whether they would return and never again be permitted to travel or to stay in London and never see their families again.

Havel wrote Kafkaesque essays and plays satirizing the anonymous bureaucracy and absurdity of the Communist regime. He was imprisoned a number of times but was never embittered. His natural politeness and courtesy won over many of his enemies. The peacefulness of the revolution in 1989 was undoubtably due to in part his gentle leadership. He renounced the concept of collective guilt and refused to demonize all those who had participated in the Communist tyranny. Because of the betrayal of Czechoslovakia by France and Great Britain at Munich in 1938 in an effort to appease Hitler, he believed that evil had to be confronted. He did not believe in standing on the sidelines and being indifferent to the suffering of others on the pretext that it was none of our business. He was supportive of the USA after 9/11 and in Iraq. He helped persuade President Clinton to intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo on humanitarian grounds. He received the Dalai Lama and the Pope, and many anti-establishment figures.

On greeting Pope John Paul II from across the border in Poland, who knew what is was like to oppose Communism, when he arrived at the airport he said,

“I do not know if I know what is miracle. Still I dare say that at this moment I am witnessing a miracle: a messenger of love is coming to a country devastated by the ideology of hatred; a living symbol of learning is coming to a country devastated by a government of ignorants; a messenger of peace, dialogue and mutual tolerance, respect and kind understanding, a herald of brotherly unity in diversity is coming to a country, ruined until recently by the idea of confrontation and division of the world.”
“I strongly believe that your visit will remind us all of the genuine source of real human responsibility, the metaphysical source — of the absolute horizon to which we must refer, that mysterious memory of Being in which each of our acts is recorded and in which and through which they finally acquire their true value… I welcome you, Holy Father, among us sinners.” (p.385)

Zantovsky, who was Havel’s press secretary and longtime friend, writes that Havel was not a religious man but he was a man of faith.

“His God, if God it was, was a form of being that could not be named, pictured or otherwise identified. The ‘order of being’, where ‘all our actions are indelibly recorded and where, and only where, they will be properly judged’, is a concept that permeates his writings. It is different from the concept of the last judgement in that it does not necessarily assume afterlife. Our actions are judged independently of us and of the fact or form of our existence. Havel’s existential sense of personal responsibility as a prerequisite of freedom and living in truth concedes too much to free will to be compatible with the concept of an omnipotent God… he questioned and endeavoured to transcend the positivist concept of science… largely reflecting modern science’s greater tolerance of paradox, ambiguity and uncertainty in the wake of the quantum theory, the uncertainty principle and the relativity theory. But unlike many people who pass through life without wondering, Havel was able to see the mystery of existence in every human action, every human impulse and every human dilemma. And the core of the mystery was moral.” (p.386f.)

When Havel wrote his last book, To the Castle and Back, he reflected on the condition of his last days in retirement when he was battling lung cancer after a lifetime of chain smoking.

“What am I actually afraid of? Hard to say. What’s interesting is that though I am here alone… I keep the house tidy; I have everything in its place, everything has to be aligned with everything else, nothing can be left hanging over the edge of a table, or be crooked. At the same time the refrigerator must always be filled with a variety of food that I can scarcely eat myself, and there must be fresh flowers in the vases. In other words, it’s as though I were constantly expecting someone to visit. But who? The unknown and unannounced guest? A strange and beautiful woman who admires me? My savior, who likes to show up unannounced? Some old friends? Why is it that I don’t want to see anyone, and at the same time I’m always expecting someone, someone who will really appreciate that everything is in its proper place and properly aligned.
I have only one explanation: I am constantly preparing for the last judgement, for the highest court from which nothing can be hidden, which will appreciate everything that should be appreciated, and which will, of course, notice anything that is not in its place. I’m obviously assuming that the supreme judge is a stickler like me. But why does this final evaluation matter so much to me? After all, at that point I shouldn’t care. But I do care because I’m convinced that my existence – like everything that has ever happened – has ruffled the surface of Being, and that after my little ripple, however marginal, insignificant, and ephemeral it may have been, Being is and always will be different from what is was before.” (p.506f.)

I imagine that Havel in his humility and fallibility has now encountered his metaphysical understanding of Being in the person of the One who is eternally I AM.

Books I Read in 2014

December 31st, 2014

Some people have requested my booklist for 2014. I don’t recommend all of them but you may find some that appeal to you. My reading keeps my heart and soul and mind alive.

“When a man writes from his own mind, he writes very rapidly. The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” (Samuel Johnson)

NON-FICTION
1. THINGS THAT MATTERS, Charles Krauthammer, 2013, Instructive
2. SCIENCE, RELIGION, AND THE SEARCH FOR EXTRATERRESTRIAL INTELLIGENCE, David Wilkinson, 2013. Fascinating (see my review on Amazon).
3. CHRISTIAN ESCHATOLOGY AND THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE, David Wilkinson, 2010. A tour de force on the continuity and discontinuity of the new heavens and the new earth.
4. ENCOUNTERS WITH JESUS: UNEXPECTED ANSWERS TO LIFE’S BIGGEST QUESTIONS, Timothy Keller, 2013. Excellent
5. ENGAGING WITH KELLER: THINKING THROUGH THE THEOLOGY OF AN INFLUENTIAL EVANGELICAL, edited Ian D. Campbell, William M. Schweitzer (see my review on Amazon).
6. THE DUMBEST GENERATION: HOW THE DIGITAL AGE STUPEFIES YOUNG AMERICANS AND JEOPARDIZES OUR FUTURE, Mark Bauerlein, 2009. Important, prescient.
7. FROM CELLS TO SOULS – AND BEYOND: CHANGING PORTRAITS OF HUMAN NATURE, Malcolm Jeeves, editor, 2004. Challenging research.
8. THE LAST DAYS: A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF HISTORY, edited Richard D. Phillips & G.N.E. Fluhrer, 2011. Good.
9. RAGING WITH COMPASSION: PASTORAL RESPONSES TO THE PROBLEM OF EVIL, John Swinton, 2007. Superb.
10. EXPLORING REALITY: THE INTERTWINING OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION, John Polkinghorne, 2005. Helpful.
11. SURRENDER TO LOVE: DISCOVERING THE HEART OF CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY, David G. Benner, 2003.
12. PROBLEMS OF CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP, John Stott, 2014. Excellent.
13. PLATFORM: GET NOTICED IN A NOISY WORLD. A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE FOR ANYONE WITH SOMETHING TO SAY OR SELL, Michael Hyatt, 2012. Important.
14. GOSPEL: RECOVERING THE POWER THAT MADE CHRISTIANITY REVOLUTIONARY, J.D. Greear, 2011. Provocative.
15. MIRACLES: IS BELIEF IN THE SUPERNATURAL IRRATIONAL? John Lennox, 2013.
16. SEVEN DAYS THAT DIVIDE THE WORLD: THE BEGINNINGS ACCORDING TO GENESIS AND SCIENCE, John C. Lennox, 2011. Persuasive.
17. GOD’S PASSION FOR HIS GLORY: LIVING THE VISION OF JONATHAN EDWARDS, John Piper, 1998, 2006. Hard work!
18. THE PASTOR’S KID: FINDING YOUR OWN FAITH AND IDENTITY, Barnabas Piper, 2014. Should be compulsory reading for all pastors.
19. AHA: AWAKENING, HONESTY, ACTION, THE GOD MOMENT THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING, Kyle Idleman, 2014. Contemporary application of the parable of the prodigal son.
20. MAKING SENSE OF THE BIBLE, Adam Hamilton, 2014. Methodist megachurch pastor’s liberal interpretation of difficult biblical passages in the sexuality debate.
21. THE AGE OF MY ANXIETY:FEAR, HOPE, DREAD AND THE SEARCH FOR PEACE OF MIND, Scott Stossel, 2014. Very important. See my review on Amazon.
22. GOOD MOOD, BAD MOOD: HELP AND HOPE FOR DEPRESSION AND BIPOLAR DISORDER, Charles M. Hodge, M.D. 2012. Helpful.
23. THE MINISTRY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, A.J. Gordon, 1894, 1978. A classic.
24. READING FOR PREACHING: THE PREACHER IN CONVERSATION WITH STORYTELLERS, BIOGRAPHERS, POETS AND JOURNALISTS, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., 2013. A stimulating and daunting challenge to preachers to stretch their minds and deepen their communication.
25. HURTING WITH GOD:LEARNING TO LAMENT WITH THE PSALMS, Glenn Pemberton, 2012
26. AFTER LAMENT: PSALMS FOR LEARNING TO TRUST AGAIN, Glenn Pemberton, 2014. Both good.
27. IN PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS: FINDING GENUINE FULFILLMENT IN LIFE, James Houston, 1996. A Classic.
28. OVERWHELMED: WINNING THE WAR AGAINST WORRY, Perry Noble, 2014. An honest confession of being burned out by success in the ministry.
29. VITAL LIES, SIMPLE TRUTHS: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SELF-DECEPTION, Daniel Goleman, 1985.
30. IN HIS STEPS, Charles M. Sheldon, 1896. A classic.
31. THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS, Albert Camus, 1942, 1955.
32. MAKING GAY OKAY: HOW RATIONALIZING HOMOSEXUAL BEHAVIOR IS CHANGING EVERYTHING, Robert R. Reilly, 2014. See my review on Amazon.
33. GREAT QUOTATIONS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, Richard Bewes, 1999.
34. THE GOSPEL IN THE MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS: PAUL’S MARS HILL EXPERIENCE FOR OUR PLURALISTIC WORLD, Paul Copan & Kenneth D. Litwak, 2014.
35. WHEN GOD GOES TO STARBUCKS: A GUIDE TO EVERYDAY APOLOGETICS, Paul Copan, 2008. Excellent.
36. IS GOD A MORAL MONSTER? MAKING SENSE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT GOD, Paul Copan, 2011. Illuminating
37. PURITY OF HEART IS TO WILL ONE THING, Soren Kierkegaard.
38. THE INCOMPARABLE CHRIST, George H. Morrison, 1959
39. C.S.LEWIS & MERE CHRISTIANITY: THE CRISIS THAT CREATED A CLASSIC, Paul McCusker, 2014. Fascinating.
40. DEATH BEFORE THE FALL: BIBLICAL LITERALISM AND THE PROBLEM OF ANIMAL SUFFERING, Ronald E. Osborn, 2014. A Seventh Day Adventist scientist demolishes biblical literalism.
41. ORDINARY: SUSTAINABLE FAITH IN A RADICAL, RESTLESS, WORLD, Michael Horton, 2014. The sensible response to histrionic calls for radical missionary work from popular authors such as David Platt who pile guilt on the average American for aspiring to make a success of their careers, make a living and care for their families.
42. BREAKFAST WITH FRED, Fred Smith Sr. mentor to a generation of leaders, 2007. Insightful.
43. THE ONE YEAR UNCOMMON LIFE DAILY CHALLENGE, Tony Dungy & Nathan Whitaker. A great daily devotional – would make a great gift to a guy.
44. THE PRECES PRIVATAE OF LANCELOT ANDREWES. A treasure house that enriches my daily prayer time.
45. JESUS NOW: UNVEILING THE PRESENT-DAY MINISTRY OF CHRIST, Frank Viola, 2014

HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY
1. SHAFTESBURY: THE GREAT REFORMER, Richard Turnbull, 2010
2. THE SECRET THOUGHTS OF AN UNLIKELY CONVERT: AN ENGLISH PROFESSOR’S JOURNEY INTO CHRISTIAN FAITH, Rosario Champagne Butterfield, 2012. From radical feminist lesbian to conservative pastor’s wife. Amazing.
3. THE RACE FOR TRIESTE, Geoffrey Cox, 1977. The end of World War II in Italy.
4. GALLIPOLI MEMORIES, Compton Mackenzie, 1929.
5. COMPTON MACKENZIE: A LIFE, Andro Linklater, 1987
6. BILLY SUNDAY: THE MAN AND HIS MESSAGE, William T. Ellis.
7. THE PRICE OF PITY: POETRY, HISTORY AND MYTH IN THE GREAT WAR, Martin Stephen, 1996. A helpful corrective to the revisionists.
8. LETTER TO AN AMERICAN LADY, C.S. Lewis, 1967.
9. THE SLEEPWALKERS: HOW EUROPE WENT TO WAR IN 1914, Christopher Clark, 2012.
10. IMPERIAL LEGEND: THE MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF TSAR ALEXANDER I, Alexis Troubetzkoy, 2002.
11. NEVER SUCH INNOCENCE: POEMS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR, edited by Martin Stephen, 1993, 2003.
12. THE LAST INTERVIEW AND OTHER CONVERSATIONS, David Foster Wallace, 2012
13. LITTLE DID I KNOW: EXCERPTS FROM MEMORY, Stanley Cavell, 2010.
14. SOMETHING OTHER THAN GOD: HOW I PASSIONATELY SOUGHT HAPPINESS AND ACCIDENTLY FOUND IT, Jennifer Futwiler, 2014. A texan feminist atheist’s journey to Catholicism.
15. EDMUND BURKE: THE FIRST CONSERVATIVE, Jesse Norman, 2013. See my review on Amazon.
16. DISPATCHES FROM THE FRONT: STORIES OF GOSPEL ADVANCE IN THE WORLD’S DIFFICULT PLACES, Time Keesee, 2014. Humbling.
17. WAR DIARIES: A CHAPLAIN AT GALLIPOLI, edited Gavin Roynan, 2011.
18. THE GREATEST DAY IN HISTORY: HOW ON THE ELEVENTH HOUR OF THE ELEVENTH DAY OF THE ELEVENTH MONTH, THE FIRST WORLD WAR CAME TO AN END, Nicholas Best, 2008.
19. PASSAGEWAYS: THE STORY OF A NEW ZEALAND FAMILY, Ann Thwaite, 2009.

FICTION
1. UNCLE FRED IN THE SPRINGTIME, P.G. Wodehouse, 1939
2. STONER, John Williams, 1965
3. THE CANDLEMASS ROAD, George MacDonald Fraser, 2011
4. THE LOST STRADIVARIUS, John Meade Falkner, 1895, 1987
5. THE POLISH OFFICER, Alan Furst, 1995
6. THE EXILES RETURN, Elisabeth de Waal, 2013
7. POLAND, James A. Michener, 1983
8. STRAW INTO GOLD, Gary D. Schmidt, 2001
9. TROUBLE, Gary D. Schmidt, 2008
10. THE WEDNESDAY WARS, Gary Schmidt, 2007
11. RASSELAS, Samuel Johnson, 1759. A classic
12. WHITE GUARD, Mikhail Bulgakov, 2008
13. THE IKON ON THE WALL, Elizabeth Goudge, 1943
14. A CITY OF BELLS, Elizabeth Goudge,1936
15. THE BLUE HILLS (or HENRIETTA’S HOUSE), Elizabeth Goudge, 1942.
16. A QUESTION OF LOYALTIES, Allan Massie, 2002.

How God Made Himself Vulnerable in a Baby

December 20th, 2014

The time came for the baby to be born, and Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger” (Luke 2:6,7).
“The angel said to the shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy…. A Savior has be born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:10-12).

A baby, an infant baby boy, born in a stable, announced by angels as a Savior, Christ the Lord. God chose the littlest and the least of humanity to reveal himself to us. He “made himself nothing” (Philippians 2:7), he set aside “the privileges of deity” (The Message) to become human.

There is magic in the diminutive. “When one is fond of anything one addresses it by diminutives….The reason is, that anything, however huge, that can be conceived of as complete, can be conceived of as small….We are not fond of ‘large’, we are fond of ‘small.’ For economy is far more romantic than extravagance…There is the feeling of cosmic cosiness.” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

This is how God came to us. He made himself vulnerable. He disarmed us by his defenselessness. The Incarnation of God coming in the flesh of a baby is the supreme manifestation of the law of the universe and the message of salvation. What kind of God: all-powerful, all-knowing, the Creator of all the ends of the universe, Judge of all, would make himself vulnerable to us in this way? Is this his understanding of Love and Compassion for us that he would reach out to us through human fragility?

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,

Love for plea and gift and sign.
(Christina Rosetti)

May this Love of God seen in the infant Jesus enfold you this Christmas.