Monday, September 30, 2013

"If there is no Hell, What's the Point of Being a Christian?"

          It’s surprising how often I see this come up around the blogosphere as a justification for the necessity and reality of hell.  So much is wrong with it that I hardly know where to begin.  But here are a few thoughts.

         -the “point” of being a Christian is NOT avoiding hell.

-the “point” of Christianity is being reclaimed and restored to right relation to God, each other and the world. 

-the “point” of Christianity is to by faith in Jesus Christ reclaim our primal dignity as God’s royal representative in creation and protector and nurturer of creation to its full flourishing.

-the “point” of Christianity is to begin to live here and now, even if in partial and fragmentary ways, the life “of the ages,” the eternal life we will fully live then and there.

-the “point” of Christianity is more about who we are (God’s image-bears) and restoration to that status than about who we have become (sinners).  The latter is, thank God, dealt with by Christ but it is but the “prelude” to the full meaning of his life, death, and resurrection.

-in short, the “point” of Christianity is more about here and now than it is about then and there (whether “heaven” or “hell)!

If we cannot reframe our gospel message to get beyond the “prelude” to the proper substance of the story, others will rightly reject it as irrelevant and boring.

When Prayer Is an Abomination
Mark Beuving —  September 30, 2013 — Leave a comment
Don't PrayThroughout the Bible, prayer is a good thing. Obviously. Biblical characters pray in tight situations, they pray for one another, and the Bible frequently commands us to pray. Prayer is powerful and effective, we are told. Prayer is one of those things that Christians know they ought to do regularly, and it’s one of the first religious activities that the non-religious take to when they start feeling religious.

But believe it or not, the Bible has some negative things to say about prayer. In fact, prayer is even described as an abomination in Proverbs:
“If anyone turns away his ear from hearing the law,
even his prayer is an abomination.” (28:9)
That’s a crazy verse. An abomination is something that God hates. Detests. So if God so clearly wants us to pray, then how could our prayers be an abomination to the Lord?

The proverb is clear: if you stop listening to God’s law, then your prayers make him sick. I know. It’s pretty crazy. But put it in perspective.

Here you are, day after day, decision after decision, disregarding everything God tells you to do. He tells you to do these things not because he’s cruel and taxing, but because he knows how we function best in this world. He’s a loving father. So he tells you not to hate one another. And what do you do? You hate. He tells you to care for the disadvantaged. So you accumulate wealth. He tells you to seek righteousness, so you pursue pleasure.

And then the day comes that life gets too big for you to handle. Everything’s falling apart. So you ask God to bless you in your godless pursuits.

What does God say to this person? Even his prayer is an abomination. He doesn’t listen to God’s law, should God be giddy with excitement when he suddenly asks God to give him a bigger house?

Of course, the takeaway should not be that we stop praying, but rather that we start listening to God’s commands.

On top of that, we need to resist the urge to take this as an affirmation that we need to clean up our act before we can come to God. Because we can’t clean up our act. Coming to God is the only way to get cleaned up. As powerful as this proverbial warning against living a godless life while simultaneously invoking God’s blessing is, we can’t forget the truth of 1 John 1:9:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Proverbs warns us against habitual godlessness. This person is not a struggling saint trying desperately to obey but falling short. This person “turns away his ear from hearing the law.” He doesn’t care. He wants nothing to do with what the law says.

So if you find yourself identifying with this person—if you’re able to list a handful of commands that you’ve never made any effort to heed—then be careful about your prayers. At times like that, there are many prayers you could pray that God would absolutely abhor. But the prayer of 1 John 1:9 is always there, and that is a prayer that God always loves to hear.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the 'pathetic' American media
Seymour Hersh

Seymour Hersh has got some extreme ideas on how to fix journalism – close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider.

It doesn't take much to fire up Hersh, the investigative journalist who has been the nemesis of US presidents since the 1960s and who was once described by the Republican party as "the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist".

He is angry about the timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an unpopular messenger of truth.

Don't even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends "so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would" – or the death of Osama bin Laden. "Nothing's been done about that story, it's one big lie, not one word of it is true," he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.

Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by an "independent" Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny. "The Pakistanis put out a report, don't get me going on it. Let's put it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It's a bullshit report," he says hinting of revelations to come in his book.

The Obama administration lies systematically, he claims, yet none of the leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles, challenge him.

"It's pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama]," he declares in an interview with the Guardian.

"It used to be when you were in a situation when something very dramatic happened, the president and the minions around the president had control of the narrative, you would pretty much know they would do the best they could to tell the story straight. Now that doesn't happen any more. Now they take advantage of something like that and they work out how to re-elect the president.

He isn't even sure if the recent revelations about the depth and breadth of surveillance by the National Security Agency will have a lasting effect.

 Snowden changed the debate on surveillance

He is certain that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden "changed the whole nature of the debate" about surveillance. Hersh says he and other journalists had written about surveillance, but Snowden was significant because he provided documentary evidence – although he is sceptical about whether the revelations will change the US government's policy.

"Duncan Campbell [the British investigative journalist who broke the Zircon cover-up story], James Bamford [US journalist] and Julian Assange and me and the New Yorker, we've all written the notion there's constant surveillance, but he [Snowden] produced a document and that changed the whole nature of the debate, it's real now," Hersh says.

"Editors love documents. Chicken-shit editors who wouldn't touch stories like that, they love documents, so he changed the whole ball game," he adds, before qualifying his remarks.

"But I don't know if it's going to mean anything in the long [run] because the polls I see in America – the president can still say to voters 'al-Qaida, al-Qaida' and the public will vote two to one for this kind of surveillance, which is so idiotic," he says.

Holding court to a packed audience at City University in London's summer school on investigative journalism, 76-year-old Hersh is on full throttle, a whirlwind of amazing stories of how journalism used to be; how he exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, how he got the Abu Ghraib pictures of American soldiers brutalising Iraqi prisoners, and what he thinks of Edward Snowden.

 Hope of redemption

Despite his concern about the timidity of journalism he believes the trade still offers hope of redemption.
"I have this sort of heuristic view that journalism, we possibly offer hope because the world is clearly run by total nincompoops more than ever … Not that journalism is always wonderful, it's not, but at least we offer some way out, some integrity."

His story of how he uncovered the My Lai atrocity is one of old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism and doggedness. Back in 1969, he got a tip about a 26-year-old platoon leader, William Calley, who had been charged by the army with alleged mass murder.

Instead of picking up the phone to a press officer, he got into his car and started looking for him in the army camp of Fort Benning in Georgia, where he heard he had been detained. From door to door he searched the vast compound, sometimes blagging his way, marching up to the reception, slamming his fist on the table and shouting: "Sergeant, I want Calley out now."

Eventually his efforts paid off with his first story appearing in the St Louis Post-Despatch, which was then syndicated across America and eventually earned him the Pulitzer Prize. "I did five stories. I charged $100 for the first, by the end the [New York] Times were paying $5,000."

He was hired by the New York Times to follow up the Watergate scandal and ended up hounding Nixon over Cambodia. Almost 30 years later, Hersh made global headlines all over again with his exposure of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

 Put in the hours

For students of journalism his message is put the miles and the hours in. He knew about Abu Ghraib five months before he could write about it, having been tipped off by a senior Iraqi army officer who risked his own life by coming out of Baghdad to Damascus to tell him how prisoners had been writing to their families asking them to come and kill them because they had been "despoiled".

"I went five months looking for a document, because without a document, there's nothing there, it doesn't go anywhere."

Hersh returns to US president Barack Obama. He has said before that the confidence of the US press to challenge the US government collapsed post 9/11, but he is adamant that Obama is worse than Bush.

"Do you think Obama's been judged by any rational standards? Has Guantanamo closed? Is a war over? Is anyone paying any attention to Iraq? Is he seriously talking about going into Syria? We are not doing so well in the 80 wars we are in right now, what the hell does he want to go into another one for. What's going on [with journalists]?" he asks.
He says investigative journalism in the US is being killed by the crisis of confidence, lack of resources and a misguided notion of what the job entails.
"Too much of it seems to me is looking for prizes. It's journalism looking for the Pulitzer Prize," he adds. "It's a packaged journalism, so you pick a target like – I don't mean to diminish because anyone who does it works hard – but are railway crossings safe and stuff like that, that's a serious issue but there are other issues too.
"Like killing people, how does [Obama] get away with the drone programme, why aren't we doing more? How does he justify it? What's the intelligence? Why don't we find out how good or bad this policy is? Why do newspapers constantly cite the two or three groups that monitor drone killings. Why don't we do our own work?
"Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say – here's a debate' our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who's right and who's wrong about issues. That doesn't happen enough. It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks. There are some people – the New York Times still has investigative journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president than I ever thought they would … it's like you don't dare be an outsider any more."
He says in some ways President George Bush's administration was easier to write about. "The Bush era, I felt it was much easier to be critical than it is [of] Obama. Much more difficult in the Obama era," he said.
Asked what the solution is Hersh warms to his theme that most editors are pusillanimous and should be fired.
"I'll tell you the solution, get rid of 90% of the editors that now exist and start promoting editors that you can't control," he says. I saw it in the New York Times, I see people who get promoted are the ones on the desk who are more amenable to the publisher and what the senior editors want and the trouble makers don't get promoted. Start promoting better people who look you in the eye and say 'I don't care what you say'.
Nor does he understand why the Washington Post held back on the Snowden files until it learned the Guardian was about to publish.
If Hersh was in charge of US Media Inc, his scorched earth policy wouldn't stop with newspapers.
"I would close down the news bureaus of the networks and let's start all over, tabula rasa. The majors, NBCs, ABCs, they won't like this – just do something different, do something that gets people mad at you, that's what we're supposed to be doing," he says.
Hersh is currently on a break from reporting, working on a book which undoubtedly will make for uncomfortable reading for both Bush and Obama.
"The republic's in trouble, we lie about everything, lying has become the staple." And he implores journalists to do something about it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Pope Is No Radical,9171,2153109,00.html?fb_action_ids=525851690824615&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map={%22525851690824615%22%3A702205739807265}&action_type_map={%22525851690824615%22%3A%22og.likes%22}&action_ref_map=[]
Monday, Oct. 07, 2013

No doubt about it: religious traditionalists are spooked, especially within the Catholic Church. Many were edgy enough before Pope Francis' interview in which he said the church could no longer afford to be "obsessed" with issues such as homosexuality, contraception and abortion.

Tired of being laughed at in all the best places for their defense of these perennially unpopular teachings, many of the orthodox faithful had already grown accustomed to maintaining a defensive crouch in the public square. Now the nontraditionalists--both inside and outside the church--are positively giddy, hoping that the new Pontiff will finally do what they want: namely, back off from all that archaic stuff.

But is Francis really throwing Catholic traditionalists under the Popemobile? The answer is more intriguing than first responders to the interview have discerned.

In the first place, and as the pope himself stressed throughout the interview, the occupant of the Chair of Peter is not exactly free to rewrite the teachings of the church. As he also said to America and La Civiltà Cattolica and everybody else, "The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear, and I am a son of the church." Translation: Any papal capitulation to vox populi on matters of morals has a proverbial snowball's chance.

Second, in a way that many people today do not understand (and Francis does), even if the teachings that put a kick me sign on the church could be changed by fiat, it would be self-defeating to do so. The mainline Protestant churches have all tried just that--throwing out the unwanted baby of the traditional moral code with the theological bathwater. Yet they're still drowning. Over the centuries, people have found plenty to complain about in the church's bans on abortion, contraception and extramarital sex. But that fact doesn't undermine the code's internal consistency--or its appeal to those who have found in it a tough but beautiful truth.

And neither would Pope Francis seek to undermine this code. He immediately followed his interview with a speech to a medical group in which he observed that the unborn too have "the face of Jesus." And days later, he presided over the excommunication of a priest who had defied church teachings about gay marriage and female clergy. To some people, this might look like politicking on both sides, but to those who follow the church's official teachings, it's just playing by the rules.

No, Francis isn't asking anyone to back off from 2,000 years of teaching, give or take a few decades. He's making a different and pragmatic point: in a world already blasted by sin, the church is first and foremost a field hospital for broken souls. ("Heal the wounds," he explained.) And as the Pope has also made clear in his pastoral work, including in his recent phone call to a pregnant woman in turmoil because her already married boyfriend was pressuring her to have an abortion, the sexual revolution is sending a steady stream of patients to the wards.

The ubiquity of their sad stories--the sheer volume of human beings whose lives are now definitively shaped and sometimes deformed by a consumerist sexual ethos--is precisely what Pope Francis is responding to. Asking Catholics to lead the case for faith by emphasizing traditional morality in an age glutted by sex is, indeed, a pretty tough sell. He's suggesting that believers work with the facts on the ground and find creative ways of planting the same eternal seeds in damaged soil.

"Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God," he said. Maybe this means using the "genius" of women to heal breaches within the hierarchy rather than to create more of them. Maybe it means understanding the moral energy behind environmentalism and building new bridges between that movement and Christian ideas of stewardship. Maybe there's synergy too in connecting the obvious moral dots between concern for all kinds of animal life and concern for unborn human life.

These are just some ways in which others can reach out as Pope Francis seems to want--and they don't involve compromising or countermanding the Magisterium by so much as an ampersand.

Far from selling the beleaguered faithful down the Tiber, this Pope is simply asking them to find bigger nets. This fisherman in chief is not a radical. He is something more interesting and unexpected both inside the church and out: a radical traditionalist.

Eberstadt is a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center and the author of How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization

Leading in a world of unreliable information

The changing context that corporate leaders face is akin to the “explosion of a supernova.” I was taken aback by this observation in the introduction to the 2013 Duke Corporate Education survey of global CEOs.
“This supernova event has accelerated the move to an interdependent world and has untethered many of the assumptions and beliefs that leaders have depended on to frame their leadership,” the report says.

In a weird way, I was comforted to think that 38 CEOs across the globe wake up worried about what they don’t know. Most Christian leaders have the same sense of uncertainty, but from a strikingly different sense of loss.

In the 2013 CEO study, Duke Corporate Education made these three observations about information being less reliable:

1. “Access to knowledge is uncontrollable, and shelf life is low.” The internet makes information available to all and makes the publication of facts, opinions and nearly everything else so easy. It is difficult to sort the good from the bad. The scale of information produced leaves many feeling far behind. Until recently, time on the job was highly valued because that experience was key to knowing what information to pay attention to. Today, the lessons from the 1990s are not regarded as relevant.

2. “Tacit knowledge is now as valuable as explicit.” Until recently, technical knowledge reigned supreme in the world of business. Now CEOs report that tacit knowledge -- the knowledge of why things happen and how to do something -- is becoming more and more important.

3. “Systemic knowledge is critical to understanding -- and solving problems.” The problems that CEOs report to be most common are not solvable through technical knowledge of finance or sales. Rather, leaders and their teams need to understand and consider the context, be it a city or a market segment. Challenges are interconnected, and systems thinking is required to account for the connections and foresee a full range of consequences.

Christian leaders often feel insecure because of a lack of technological knowledge. The accounting or human resource professionals seem to know things that ministers never learned in seminary. Everyone knows of a Christian institution that has been weakened by poor management.

Yet the sort of tacit and systemic knowledge for which CEOs are yearning is the bread and butter of a theological education. Theological thinking involves seeing the whole and the parts within the whole. It is the ultimate in tacit and systemic. Christians have a picture of God’s reign from scripture that guides us, no matter the current circumstances.

In “The Moral Vision of the New Testament,” Richard B. Hays summarizes the story of scripture in these two sentences, “The God of Israel, the creator of the world, has acted (astoundingly) to rescue a lost and broken world through the death and resurrection of Jesus; the full scope of that rescue is not yet apparent, but God has created a community of witnesses to this good news, the church. While awaiting the grand conclusion of the story, the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is called to reenact the loving obedience of Jesus Christ and thus to serve as a sign of God’s redemptive purposes for the world.” (page 193)

Knowing what has been and what will be and living according to gospel principles is good news in a world of unreliable information.

Many Christian institutions and their leaders need to find ways to engage leaders in the corporate, government and social sectors so they can deliver services that create meaningful community. The Christian institutions need the technical skills that are second nature to the corporate leaders -- and the corporate leaders need our vision for the future.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Gospel is Way Bigger than We Thought

If I limit the Gospel to my sins and Jesus’ cross:

-I am defined by what I have become (a sinner) and live in (grateful) memory of what Christ has done for me

-I have no basis to experience an integral connection with creation

-I have no compelling rationale for my life till death or Christ returns

-I have no organic connection to God’s new creation

However, in the biblical Gospel:

-I am defined by who I am (God’s image-bearer) and live in anticipation of what God has called me to do

-Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection fulfills creation as new creation as well effecting my salvation

-reclaims and restores me to my primal dignity as God’s image-bearer and vocation as God’s royal representative and caretaker of creation

-my life here and now is part and parcel of my life then and there and my faithfulness here will somehow be purified and used by God as part of his new creation

Yes, the Gospel is way bigger than we ever thought!