Territory controlled by ISIS as of this week (dark red), as well as the area they claim (light red). Wikipedia image by Spesh531
There are a lot of lessons that we can take from the alarming expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Surely it is a parable, but what is the lesson to be learned? Never end a war without leaving a substantial American footprint behind? Never funnel weapons to a rag-tag coalition of revolutionaries whose motivations may well be dubious? Never trust an Arab government to be able to handle things on its own? Never elect a pussy to be president of the United States?
I can think of nothing more fundamentally human than the desire to cast blame when something goes wrong, to reach for the simple explanation to a complex problem, or to ignore the long view in favor of the emotions of the moment. Beyond that, we prefer to direct our focus inward rather than outward; in other words, we are far more adept at analyzing something according to our understanding of the world than we are at comprehending how another person’s understanding might cause them to act. Because we live our lives at an increasingly rapid pace, we fail to appreciate how deeply rooted humanity remains, both from a historical and cultural standpoint. Continue reading →
A dance company reenacts a funeral right based on professional mourners in Italy. Flickr photo by Dave Bledsoe
The author was a professional mourner living in Palestine in the first century A.D./C.E.
No one aspires to become a mourner. Even I entered the profession not by choice, but rather out of necessity, for my husband died and left me with such meager wealth that I would have been without bread in a few weeks, but for the kindness of friends. For a time, I accepted that kindness, but I soon found my sense of shame too great to allow for such dependence.
I had often seen the mourners following the funeral trains, their black outer garments torn in an outward display of grief, their voices raised in a kind of rhythmic wailing, their faces red with tears. I had observed them entering the homes of the bereaved to sit with them and provide them whatever small comfort was required. After seven days, they seemed to vanish, only to appear again when another member of the village made his way to Abraham’s bosom.
I approached my new profession with much trepidation. The idea of being constantly surrounded by death was unappealing to me. I could not fathom how I would maintain the continual state of heightened emotions or how I could force my eyes to spring forth with a river of tears. Yet, in time, I found it just as natural as breathing. Both the body and the spirit must be made to obey the demands of the moment, and so they do for me each time I set out in my dark apparel. Continue reading →
If I type the word “Scotland”, what pops into your mind? Kilted men playing bagpipes? “They may take our lives, but they can never take our freedom!”? A blurry image of something claimed to be the Loch Ness monster? Beautiful hills covered in thistles? A Scottie dog? Epic tales of Rob Roy? A style of golf that involves howling winds, bunkers capable of swallowing a man, and grass that can hide a ball from even the eyes of an eagle? Sean Connery or Andy Murray? The lovable accent for which Scots are famous? Shortbread cookies?
All of these things form part of the public image of Scotland, but if you look up the word “Scotland” on Wikipedia, this is the first sentence you will read (as of this writing): “Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom.”
This is actually a good sentence with which to begin the article, as it addresses some of the primary questions I receive regarding Scotland. “Is Scotland a country?” “Is Scotland part of Britain?” “Are Scottish people British?” “What all makes up the United Kingdom?” Continue reading →
Official government photograph of the 111th U.S. Senate
What, if anything, can we learn from examining the colleges attended by the 100 men and women of the U.S. Senate? Quite a lot, actually.
Last week, I decided to start an interesting experiment in which I would research which institutions of higher learning the current members of the U.S. Senate attended, which degrees they earned, and what (if any) difference exists between members of the two major parties. No long introduction is needed here, so I’ll just jump right in to the numbers and analysis. Continue reading →
Pastor and author Mark Driscoll speaks at the opening of a new location of Mars Hill Church in the Seattle area in 2011. Flickr photo by Mars Hill Church Seattle
“There is nothing new under the sun.”
These famous words from the book of Ecclesiastes (1:9b) are so universally relevant that they tend to pop into my head whenever I find human behavior once again failing to provide any real element of surprise, despite the apparent contextual differences. Over the last couple days, I have been thinking about them once again.
It all started when I made a visit to that website that everyone seems to use even though no one appears to like it: Facebook. I was scrolling through my “news feed”, which in actuality is a concoction of approximately 20% advertisements, 20% baby and/or pet pictures, 20% people posting quotes or verses that they want their friends to read, 20% people saying “X number of years ago today…” someone got married or was born, and 20% people complaining about something. (No judgment here – I’m pretty sure I’ve done all of those things on Facebook.)
In due course, a headline jumped out at me from a website I had “liked” once upon a time, saying something along the lines of “Acts 29 Network Kicks out Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church”. Continue reading →
Yep, that’s right: the end of my hiatus is upon us! Very soon, new content will be gracing the pages of Church & State. Good things come to those who wait. Well, actually I cannot promise that they will be good, so I guess I will just say that things come to those who wait. Thank you all for your patience with me!
I want to thank you for visiting my site and all the encouragement you have given me in continuing my writing. After much consideration, I have decided to take a hiatus from Church & State in order to work on another project. Now that I am essentially working full-time once again, it has been difficult for me to keep up with everything that I had been doing during the time I was not employed. I was beginning to suspect that if I did not do something to clear out space in my schedule, I would never have the time needed to try my hand at something else. I am not saying farewell forever by any means. I do expect to come back to Church & State at some point, but until I have a better idea of when that will be, I am not going to make a promise that I may not be able to keep. Thank you for your understanding, and I hope that when this site gets restarted, you will come back and forgive me for my previous absence.
I am sorry that it has been a while since my last post. Normally, I like to have something new up every week, but I have lately been lacking in time and inspiration. I will try not to let this dry spell last much longer.
Religious freedom in the United States is in peril, or so I have been led to believe. Over the past few weeks, we have seen three flash points in the so-called “culture wars”, events that have caused conservative Christians and/or just plain conservatives to once again sound the alarm about the growing persecution they face in this country.
First, there was the short-lived controversy surrounding the non-profit international aid group World Vision, a favorite charity of many evangelical Christians (and others), who in turn for paying about a dollar a day receive a picture of a child in an impoverished country and the feeling that they are making a positive difference in the world. (I should stress that I am not anti-World Vision and have been participating in their child sponsorship program for about a decade.)
“The Deluge” by Francis Darby, first exhibited in 1840.
As the new film Noah is now playing at a cinema near you, and the church I am now attending was divinely predestined to come upon this story in their study of Genesis on exactly the same weekend (I’ve been told it was a mere coincidence), the Flood has been on my mind a bit more than usual of late. When it comes to epic stories, they don’t come much bigger than Noah’s. It is surely one of the tales that inspired the term “biblical proportions”.
Back in 2011, when a tsunami devastated parts of Japan and led to the Fukushima nuclear crisis, I was struck by how, even with all of our modern technology and efforts to bend Mother Nature to our will, we can still be brought to our knees by the most basic substance on our planet. I sat down and wrote the following essay, which I now find to be relevant given the discussions about Noah’s Flood, or as it is often called, the Deluge. Included is an admittedly amateur level analysis of the fossil record and the implications of ancient flood narratives. Continue reading →