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 articles on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles 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  articles on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles 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 essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the others articles 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.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet

Sorrow and love flow mingled down.

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?[1]

Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, verse 3

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 essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles at the bottom of this 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 essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other essays at the bottom of this page.

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

Educating the U.S. Senate

Official government photograph of the 111th U.S. Senate

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

I Love Mark Driscoll

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

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

The Deluge: Was Noah’s Flood the Real Deal?

"The Deluge" by Francis Darby, first exhibited in 1840.

“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

Scatter Plot: When Sheep are separated from their Shepherds

Crypt of Lucina, 200-300 AD, early Christian catacomb of Domitilla

Early Christian artwork depicting Christ as the Good Shepherd from the Catacombs of Callixtus in Rome. (circa 200-300 A.D./C.E.)

One of the metaphors that tends to be used over and over again in scripture is that of a shepherd and his sheep. From the words of the 23rd Psalm, which many Christians can quote from memory, to Jesus’ statement that he is the “Good Shepherd”, pastoral imagery is very common throughout the 66 books of the Bible. This makes sense, since ancient Israel was a society that raised a lot of sheep. Indeed, you can still find sheep being raised there today.

As described in the New Testament, Christ is the chief shepherd, the head of the Church, and all believers are sheep. This is not meant to be a particularly favorable comparison, as sheep are rather dumb animals. They need their shepherd to guide them everywhere and keep them out of trouble, providing them with food and protecting them from threats. This is the role that Christ plays for the Church. Continue reading

Aliens and Strangers

The surface of Mars as seen by the Mars Pathfinder vessel. Official NASA photo

The surface of Mars as seen by the Mars Pathfinder vessel. Official NASA photo

I will come right out and admit it: I am not an expert when it comes to scientific topics. I took all the science courses that I needed to in order to graduate from high school and get my college degree, and I got decent grades in all of them, but that should not be confused with the kind of serious credentials required to speak authoritatively on scientific issues. Nevertheless, I have found that the older I get, the more I tend to contemplate the mysteries of the universe, and by that I mean the entire universe.

One day, when my brain decided to make such a diversion from the “right side” to the “left side”, I found myself contemplating the possibility of alien life, as in life that exists in the universe but not on planet earth. It was then that I thought to ask my husband the question, “If alien life was discovered on another planet, would it make you doubt your Christian faith?” Continue reading