Impossible Questions

"Job Confessing His Presumption to God Who Answers from the Whirlwind" by William Blake, circa 1803-05

“Job Confessing His Presumption to God Who Answers from the Whirlwind” by William Blake, circa 1803-05

This is the last in a series of seven essays on the topic of reconciliation. Links to the previous articles can be found at the bottom of this page.

There are three questions in Scripture that, despite their apparent simplicity, strike at the very heart of who we are and reveal our position before the Creator. As each one is placed before us, we are forced to address the pride in our hearts and reconsider our notions of justice, for there are some questions that demand action simply by being asked. Most surprising of all is how these three seem, upon careful consideration, to actually be the same question. Continue reading

The First Step

The "Huntsman's Leap" chasm in Wales, as photographed by Colin Park.

The “Huntsman’s Leap” chasm in Wales, as photographed by Colin Park.

This is the sixth in a series of seven articles on the topic of reconciliation for Easter 2016. Links to the previous articles can be found at the bottom of this page.

The study of international relations is often focused around intractable conflicts, and while there are any number of disagreements that could stake a claim to being the longest lasting or most deeply entrenched, the one that seems to take the cake in the minds of Americans is the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians. As feuds go, this one is actually a latecomer on the historical scene. Yes, there are some who link it back to the tension between the two sons of Abraham – Isaac and Ishmael – but from a political standpoint it started in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Jewish immigrants began moving to the region of Palestine.

Despite the best intentions of a long line of political figures, things have been going downhill ever since that point. Animosities have grown to where they are now an intrinsic part of national and ethnic identity. Numerous wars have been fought, and even the periods of so-called peace have been quite violent. Attempts at a negotiated settlement have yielded little but failure. As I write, the dispute is at its worst level in some time, with the politicians refusing to even meet and talk about peace unless changes are made.

In his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, the acclaimed New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman compared the two peoples to a husband and wife who are unable to get pregnant. A fertility specialist finally concludes that the reason for their failure begins with the fact that neither of them actually wants to have a child. The meaning is that Israel and Palestine don’t really want a peace deal, because any such agreement would require them to make concessions that they are unwilling to risk, even forcing them to admit to wrongdoing. Protracted conflict is preferable to a deal that forces them to sacrifice pride and place themselves on the same level of moral “rightness” as their enemy. (It could also be argued that having a foreign enemy to oppose can be helpful to political leaders, but I digress…) Continue reading

The Age of Sacrifice

Modern Islamic animal sacrifice. Photo by Wikipedia user Ramzy Muliawan

Modern Islamic animal sacrifice. Photo by Wikipedia user Ramzy Muliawan

This is the fifth in a series of seven articles on the topic of reconciliation for Easter 2016. Links to the previous articles can be found at the bottom of this page.

What does it feel like to sacrifice the thing you love the most?  Mercifully, many of us can only imagine.  We have not yet been asked to bear such a burden.  For others, the moment has already come.  Whether it is a loved one, a fortune, or life itself, all of us may ultimately be forced to surrender that which we hold most dear.

When we speak of sacrifices and altars, we often think of the Old Testament and life under the Law.  They made sacrifices for sin.  They burned things on altars.  The blood flowed across the stone floor. The smell of charred flesh filled the very air. So the endless parade of death carried on year after year, for such was the ugliness of that era. Such is the ugliness of sin.

Then came the annual Day of Atonement – “Yom Kippur”, the holiest date in the Jewish calendar. As outlined in Leviticus 16, the high priest would first make an offering for his own sin. Then and only then would he enter into the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place, where he would enter the very presence of God. Here the high priest would make another offering on behalf of the entire nation – a sacrifice for forgiveness of sin. This was necessary in order to satisfy the wrath of a holy God, and to make atonement between God and man. Continue reading

The Cross of Hate

Michaelangelo's famed Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. (Author photograph)

Michaelangelo’s famed Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. (Author photograph)

This is the fourth in a series of seven essays on the topic of reconciliation for Easter 2016. Links to previous articles can be found at the bottom of this page.

In the cross of Christ, the love of God is most apparent. For what more can a person give for another beyond their very life, or what more could they suffer than the ultimate agony of death on a cross? Yes, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) A thousand hymns proclaim to us the love of God, and rightly so, for He loves us beyond measure.

Yet, we must not be satisfied with this explanation alone, for the cross was not only an act of love. The cross is equally a symbol of God’s hate. We do not always see hate in Christ’s actions that day, His words offering forgiveness to His enemies and His last breaths dedicated to helping others. That the world hated Christ is not difficult to accept, but what of the hate of Christ Himself? Have we made ourselves blind to this? Continue reading

A Scriptural Imperative

A 15th century Bible in the possession of the former Malmesbury Abbey in England. Photo by Adrian Pingstone

A 15th century Bible in the possession of the former Malmesbury Abbey in England. Photo by Adrian Pingstone

This if the third in a series of seven essays on the topic of reconciliation for Easter 2016. Links to the previous articles can be found at the bottom of the page.

Do you know which book is the most cheerful in scripture? It’s Revelation. Yes, Revelation: the book that talks about oceans of blood, terrifying beasts, firestorms, demonic torture, and the complete destruction of the world as we know it. This book full of the stuff of nightmares is meant to cheer us up.

If you don’t believe me, try flipping past the trumpet judgments, bowl judgments, the bit about Armageddon, the final destiny of the devil, and the eternal condemnation of most of mankind. You should be at chapter 21 now. This is where things start looking up. Continue reading

Discord

Wikipedia photo from HiveHarbingerCOM

Wikipedia photo from HiveHarbingerCOM

This is the second in a series of seven essays on the topic of reconciliation for Easter 2016. View the first essay here.

Discord is the great problem of this world, and like all problems, it demands a solution. Being a lover of words, it seems most appropriate that I should draw your attention to the roots of that word, “discord”. It is composed of two elements. The first is the prefix, “dis-” coming to us from Latin. It means “apart” or “asunder”. The second is “-cord”, which comes from “cors” – heart. Therefore, discord means drawing hearts apart and ripping them asunder.

The word “cord” tends to suggest something different to English speakers: a strong thread, cable, tie, rope, or other device used to hold things together. We use it to tie a Christmas tree to the top of our car, to keep bungee jumpers from falling to a painful death, and to make ridiculously large screens hover in midair above a football field. But there is another kind of cord that I would like us to consider. Continue reading

Wars and Rumors of Wars

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Protesters and police clash during the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Photo uploaded by Flickr user oxfamnovib.

This is the first in a series of six essays for Easter 2016 that examine the topic of reconciliation.

From the ends of the earth comes a primal cry, a desperate yearning for reconciliation. We have all felt it at one time or another, even if we remain ignorant as to its cause. Within our souls, we long for the discord of this world to be cast aside in favor of harmony. We sense that things are not as they should be.

Yet, that is all the further that many of us will tread, for we cannot agree on the cause of our predicament, let alone arrive at a solution. We see war, strife, and dissension tearing apart our nations, our friendships, our marriages – indeed, our very existence. But if peace on earth is the desire of all, why do we perpetually fail to achieve it?

Just take a look at the news and see where we stand. Bombings in the Middle East, or perhaps today some other part of the world. Another celebrity couple headed for divorce. Politicians behaving like schoolyard brats. Human beings enslaved and trafficked across continents. Neighborhoods torn apart by escalating violence. Girls shot just for attending school. Racism that still pervades every nation on this earth – the flavor different, yet the result the same. Corporate executives looking to save themselves while their employees suffer.

There are few people who would openly admit to preferring strife over peace, but when we disagree as to both the cause and remedy of that strife, what hope is there that we can bring it to an end? The truth is that we want peace on our own terms, at a time of our choosing, in a way that best suits our own ends. Continue reading

What I Didn’t Expect to See in “The Force Awakens”

Theatrical poster for "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens"

Theatrical poster for “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”

WARNING: The following contains some major spoilers about the newest Star Wars installment. Read on at your own risk.

3:00 a.m. A moment ago, I was in the land of sleep, but now that bliss is denied me. My muscles are tensed. My mind is churning so hard it’s likely to produce butter. Each effort to relax seems to be in vain.

This isn’t like me. Undisturbed sleep is one area in which I typically excel. I once slept through a fire alarm, after all. So I’m going to attribute this nocturnal interruption to the excitement of the previous evening, when I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

True, I probably shouldn’t have had that Cherry Coke. I try to avoid drinking caffeine in the evening, and these days I avoid soda in general. (Something about all those added sugars being bad for my health, so I figure that abstaining means I can skip that five mile run.) But it’s not every day that I see the opening of a new Star Wars film, and this one promised to be a cut above the rest, so I decided to indulge. Live and learn.

Then again, caffeine has not historically given me fits, so maybe there’s something else to explain this unpleasant wakefulness. Could it be that I’m still a bit in shock from what I just saw on the screen? Continue reading

The Worst Christmas Ever

"The Mystic Nativity" by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1500-01

“The Mystic Nativity” by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1500-01

Henry was having a terrible Christmas – possibly the worst Christmas ever.

One might almost say he was experiencing hell on earth, and not just because he was in the midst of producing a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, famous for its fanciful depictions of hell in all its ghoulish glory. He didn’t need Dante to tell him the meaning of suffering and despair. He was all too familiar with both.

Two years earlier, his beloved wife, Frances, accidentally set her dress on fire. He heard her cries from a nearby room and ran to her aid, throwing himself on top of her in an attempt to extinguish the flames. He sustained serious burns in the process, but none so bad as his wife’s. She died the following morning. Henry’s grief was absolute. He stated that he was “inwardly bleeding to death” and resorted to taking drugs in an attempt to dull the pain.

But that was only the beginning of Henry’s troubles. Indeed, his wife’s fate served as an apt metaphor for the world around him, which was in its own way going up in flames. Continue reading

U.S. Politics Got You Down? Brits to the Rescue!

The leaders of Britain's major political parties (including a seventh not pictured) participated in a TV debate last month prior to the 2015 UK general election. Screenshot of ITV's coverage of the debate taken from YouTube channel of Sky News

The leaders of Britain’s major political parties (including a seventh not pictured) participated in a TV debate last month prior to the 2015 UK general election. Screenshot of ITV’s coverage of the debate taken from YouTube channel of Sky News

As I settle in for a year and a half of non-stop coverage of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I find myself bracing for blistering attack ads, billions of dollars in campaign spending, partisanship capable of offending even the Montagues & Capulets, and the inevitability of a conclusion that is unlikely to satisfy me in any tangible way. It’s enough to make me want to avoid watching the news for the next 18 months, but why should that be?

After all, elections used to be fun, or so I thought. I would take to them much as Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock Holmes reacts to news of a gruesome murder with a gleeful, “The game is on!” Political elections are, after all, both the highest and lowest form of competitive sport. If only it were possible to cut down on all the TV commercials, reign in campaign spending, and force leading politicians to debate with many points of view rather than just one other! If only there was a way to enjoy watching all those glorious campaign gaffes and still know that none of my tax dollars would be negatively affected by the incompetence of said politicians!

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a way, but not in America. Instead, we need to go to a far older country – a kingdom, in fact. Yes, I’m talking about the United Kingdom, where the official campaign period is less than two months long, TV advertising is subject to strict regulations, and voters have some legitimate third (or fourth, or fifth) parties to choose from. Politics here plays out like Shakespearean drama about a mile from the location where Shakespearean drama was first performed. Continue reading