Aug 11, 2014

What do we do about Iraqi Martyrs?

Men beheading children.

Does it matter which religion is which? Does the religion of the victim or the attacker determine our response? Our government's response?

Yes and no.

The NO is the easy part. No, religion should not matter in determining moral outrage over beheaded children. Whether Muslim beheads a Christian child or a Christian beheads an atheist child, we ought rightly to feel a deep moral outrage; an inward cry against the brokenness of man; a hatred of man's inhumanity to man. On a personal level, we ought to be sickened by this violence wherever it is encountered.

Moreover, we ought to advocate on behalf of oppressed religious people of any stripe. Religion is itself a form of belief, an exercise of the mind and soul. Given our Jeffersonian heritage, ought we not, as Americans, hope for and advocate for the advancement of free minds and souls everywhere? We Christians must affirm that faith cannot be forced, for our religion rightly teaches us that nothing that comes from the outside makes us unclean, only what is within. We should want others to believe freely, even if they are believing the wrong things.

At a political level, whether one religion is being targeted or another ought not determine the nature of our government's response unless that religion in someway plays into the political reasons of our involvement. Direct military force requires a complex international policy calculus and a reasonable measure of the effectiveness of force on stopping a threat. If the only way, for example, for the United States to stop the massacre of Christians in Iraq was to re-install a vicious dictator whose awful policies would nonetheless maintain some semblance of protection for the Christian minority, would we ever want that?

They had a guy like that once...
I don't think so.

The religious make-up of the people being killed ought not determine our military response. We cannot effectively police the world. I do believe in this instance that we do have a particular obligation to the region, given our American tendency to make a bloody mess of Iraq, but there is a government in Iraq (however messed up it might be at the time) and we run the risk of overriding whatever is left of that government's sovereign authority by rushing in guns loaded without their consent.

That being said, I would hope that we would come to the aid of any group on the verge of genocide. Surely we can spare some of our billions in defense spending to prevent the eradication of entire people groups? I am not called by God to make these decisions, but I do pray that our leaders will make wise decisions.


On the other hand, YES,  the religion of the person being persecuted matters for many reasons:

1. If the beheaded child is a Christian, then we are assured that the suffering, however terrible, will be brief compered with the infinite time that child will spend in God's loving care

2. No matter how badly the child suffers, we know that the comfort and glory of heaven will be incomprehensibly greater than the pain endured on the way there. This child will have no more weeping and no more pain. Ever.

3. Those who are persecuted for righteousness' are blessed (Matthew 5:10). I admire those who are suffering for being Christians, even dying for the cause of Christ. They are instructed by Christ (not by me, for I could never imagine saying something like this!) to even rejoice and be glad! Their reward in heaven will be great, indeed.

4. What if Christians are the attackers? If we Christians are the ones persecuting, are we not making a mockery of our faith? If we are propping up the persecutors, do we not have bloody hands?

5. Consider the soul-wrenching tragedy if the child killed is not a Christian. There is no comfort here. Even Christ, confronted with senseless death, could only call on his listeners to repent lest they share the same fate as those who died. We mourn doubly, I think, at the eternal loss of another soul.


I am not privy to the inner workings of decisions about Iraq. I do know that the number one reason that Christians are being erased from Iraq is the conflict and aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war that we started, so we (Americans) must be very careful about where we point the finger of blame on the eradication of Christians from Iraq, and must be very careful when we talk about any positive affects that more violence might have on the region.

Let us pray that any suffering, should it happen, would be quick and end soon for our brothers and sisters in Christ. May they share the attitude of our savior, the suffering servant and slain lamb of God, whose immeasurable suffering brought permanent end to our war with the Father but never once raised a fist in vengeance or cursed his attackers. Should they join Him today, may their peace be perfect and eternal.

Lord grant us hope in the midst of this terrible grief.

Jul 31, 2014

Six Reasons for Silence

Two Truths:

1. I never have to hear silence. The headphones and white noise machines keep me from my own thoughts as long as I want. The TV, internet, radio - they are always on. I do not need to exist in silence.

2. I never have to be silent, save when I am asleep. Even then I find my mind racing and talking, spilling out the days events as I fight to become unconscious. I talk in my sleep, my wife says.

As someone who is usually loathe to succumb to the fallacy of the Good Old Days, I must believe that the advance of technology has certainly hastened the eradication of silence from the average human life. Silence must have surrounded people much more in the past that it does today. The shepherd in the wilderness dwelt in quiet once the bleating of the flock settled for the night; the farm in the field heard only the waving of wheat in the wind between the strokes of his hoe; and even the blacksmith heard and felt the silence between strokes of his hammer upon the hot metal. Silence once formed the backdrop of all human activities; it was the space in which noise happened.

Now? Now we have to search for silence. We have to look for it in distant places where the whirring of A/C compressors and the din of traffic are lost in the trees and the wilderness. We have to turn off (gasp!) the TV and leave our phones behind. We have to (dare I say it?) drive without the radio on. 

I have to qualify what I mean by silence. The problem is not that we hear things all day. The problem is that we are never alone. Truly, even the ancients heard things all day: birds, water, wind, rain. Here is 8 hours if 'natural' silence:

That is rather noisy silence, isn't it? Truly, there is no such thing as a true absence of noise save in man-made noise-killing spaces. Even then we bring noise into seemingly noiseless spaces with our beating hearts and breathing lungs.

But this silence in the rainforest, as noisy as it is, is relaxing, we must admit, for it is devoid of human interruption. That is what I mean when I say we no longer have silence: we no longer have the quiet of being alone without human interruption.  My office is silent, in a way, when I close the door and turn off my music. But it is not truly silent until I close the books, close my laptop, and quiet my mind, clearing of the thoughts of what must be done. Silence is primarily being alone with ourselves, uninterrupted. Thinking. Being. 

Should we desire this state? Does silence matter? 

Six Reasons for Silence

1) Silence is where we find truth

OK this is one is heady. I promise the rest of them are more straightforward. 

The moment we speak about some truth, we create a linguistic representation of the truth, a word picture of truth. So if I find a stick and say "this is a stick," I have only recognized the stick, I have not made a new truth. Words do not make truth: words only represent truth (or misrepresent truth, if the words are lies).

To whit: my wife is beautiful. My saying "my wife is beautiful" to others does nothing compared to actually showing someone a picture of my wife or, better yet, introducing someone to my wife. Her face is the truth, not my words. 

Silence forces us to exist in the truth without filling up our lives with representations of the truth (words). We see things as they really are. When I encounter myself silently, I see myself for who I really am. When I see the world silently, I see it for what it really is. When I see others silently, I see them for who they are, beyond the words they use. Words may help me understand and define what I am seeing, but they are not in themselves the truth. The truth is what is.

The old monk holds a stick in his hand and says "What do I have in my hand?" and the eager student says "It is a stick." The monk hits the man over the head with the stick. Which experience taught the student more about the nature of the stick - the words, or the experience? 

2) Silence is where we encounter God

God demands silence for his people to encounter Him.
Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
        - Psalm 46:10 ESV
Is it any wonder, given the first Reason listed above, that God demands silence? When we spend all our time speaking and making noise and living in noise, we haven't the mental space to consider the ultimate truth, which is God Himself. God is ultimately recognized and encountered most fully when we are silent.

Faith is a silent activity. When we speak our faith, "I believe in God," we may or may not be telling the truth. But God judges hearts; he knows the integrity of the faith within. We must be silent to ponder our own faith and to encounter God afresh.

3) Silence is a right response to God's power

This is a corollary to #2 above. God's power transcends words and does not require our assistance to be made manifest. We do not "speak God's power" into anything, for God's power is never absent from the world or the life of the believer. Even God's chosen people, the Israelites, were warned against thinking they had a big role to play in taking the promised land. God's power would win the day.
The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent
- Exodus 14:14 ESV
Our words fail in the face of God's almighty power. Save our recognizing God's power in worship, we have nothing to say and ought to be silent!

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
        - Psalm 62:1 ESV

4) Silence is the backdrop of prayer

We are familiar with how Jesus prayed:

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
- Mark 1:35 ESV

Prayer is by nature an activity that ought to be devoid of external human distraction, for our prayers ought to be directed toward the Father, not to other people. It is the hypocrites who pray on the street corners; we pray in our closets. The hypocrites pray loudly and call attention to ourselves; we speak quietly and sparingly. Jesus was quit clear on the subject, and he modeled it for our benefit.

5) Silence allows us to appreciate noise

Our lives are so noise-filled that we hardly notice the addition of new noises. While once a song could hold sway over a year or even a decade, now the Top 40 hits come and go by the hour. Bleeps, bloops, blats, bings, bongs, and braps are common and cause no alarm. We have so many noises, so much interruption, that nothing is new or interesting.

Imagine the startling moment a grass-clad bushman would feel if he was walking alone in the woods and suddenly heard your ringtone, as annoying and loud as it is? His heart would jump out of his chest!

Silence allows us to appreciate the noises - new and old - that we will hear. Sounds matter more when we are not surrounded by them 24/7. The songs of nearby birds are only discernible when I pop my headphones out for an hour and the ringing that remains dies down. Be silent, so that what you hear matters more.

6) Silence fosters creativity and initiative

The chief disease our youth culture abhors is boredom, and the first symptom of boredom is silence. You see, most of our kids get so absorbed in their stuff and their daily noises that they cannot entertain themselves, cannot begin things on their own, cannot even stand to be with themselves for more than a minute.

Silence - quiet time - requires thought, creativity, and initiative. The self-starter does not often feel bored, but only becomes a self-starter by being bored and despising it. Same with the creative; she creates because her mind demands to be used and silence provides space for that usage.


A Challenge:

When is the last time you found silence? No cell phone, no TV, no internet, no running or exercising (for that is doing something, not just being), no headphones, no music, no texting, chatting, calling?

Find silence, find yourself, find truth. Above all, find God.