The reason for everything

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Eight years ago I reviewed the Lasse Halstrom film “An Unfinished Life” on this blog.

It quotes Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman talking about one of Morgan’s dreams. In it the dead were united with the living and forgave them. That was the essential ingredient of the paradise he dreamed of… forgiveness between people. And Morgan was so high in his stratospheric vision that he felt he could see that “there’s a reason for everything.”

That’s the cool thing about this notion of reconciliation for all.

Why would the Cross be the reason for reconciliation?

Let me suggest 3 reasons.

  1. The Cross brought a substitute for Adam. It was “the just for the unjust”. But not in the magical way that Augustine imagined. He saw every human sin as an infinite offense against God. He taught … and traditionalists ever since have latched onto this … that an eternity of torment was an equal, necessary payment for an infinite amount of pain that we supposedly inflict on the infinite God when each of us sins. I’ve heard Dennis McCallum, John McArthur, John Piper, Alistair Begg, Mark Driscoll and many other preachers speak or write in this way. But I don’t see it explained that way in the Bible.

    The description of the Cross that I see in the Bible is simple substitution: one finite human sin that had a death sentence attached — Adam’s disobedience — is placed against one “act of righteousness” that Jesus performed when he submitted to an unjust execution. Jesus was very intentional about his purpose in coming: “My flesh I give for the life of the world.” This exchange releases one prisoner from his sentence, and leaves an innocent man voluntarily in his place. But more than that. Since the process of heredity brought death and moral depravity to not only Adam, but all of his children, the Cross which releases Adam also releases EVERYONE from their sentence of death and bondage to decay. “Give me a long enough lever, and I can move the world.” That’s the lever that the cross gave Jesus.

  2. The Cross brought a Sin Offering. The Cross was not merely one act of torture. In Jesus’ case, it was three-and-half years of having his own natural preferences curtailed by the mission he had accepted from his Father. “I have a baptism to undergo, and how I am constrained until it is accomplished.” Jesus came to do the Father’s will. Jesus expressly states in his recorded prayer in Gethsemane, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” His entire soul was poured out unto death as “an offering for sin.”What does this major Sin Offering mean for the human race? Well, it is pictured by the offerings that were made each Day of Atonement in ancient Israel. (Yom Kippur) In verses 6, 11-14, 24-25, and 27 we read that a young bull was slain, its vital organs and steaks burned in the courtyard, its hide and bones burned outside in the camp, and its blood mixed with incense burned in the “holy place” … the outer of the 2 inner sanctuaries of the Tabernacle and Temple. This act symbolized the removal of all the sins of the people for the preceding year. The new testament writers are clear that Jesus fulfilled this picture, and provided a release to all people for their sins for all time.

    Pause a moment and reflect on what this teaches us. It shows that releasing the entire world from its sins was accomplished already. There is no longer any looming threat of perpetual death (Hell and torment was never in the cards… the wages of sin is death). Everyone has their get out of jail free card. The only question that remains is, “when will I use my card to get out of Jail?” — There are only 2 possible answers. For authentic Christians, it’s this life. For everyone else, the hereditary curse of Adamic death will be lifted when they are resurrected and brought back for the opportunity of life we call the “judgment day”.

  3. The Cross became an event that invited sympathetic offerings. The followers of Jesus also take up Jesus’ cross. And as a result they have a cross of their own. Just as Jesus “learned obedience by the things that He suffered,” the circumstances of each disciple’s life challenges their spirit, and teaches them deep and powerful lessons about God that can be learned in no other way.Going back to the “type” or picture of the Tabernacle in ancient Israel, there were actually two animals slaughtered for sin on the day of Atonement. First there was the big fat bullock. And then there was a scrawny little goat. (See verses 7 and 15ff) Everything was the same in how the animals were handled. Blood with incense into the presence of God, life-giving, good-smelling organs and steaks in the presence of the believers, and raunchy, stinky body parts burned among the common people, who pictured unbelievers. And so it is written, “Let us therefore go with him outside the camp, bearing his reproach.” The Cross that every Christian disciple carries has a redemptive impact on all the people who witness our lives and the way we live them.

Reconciliation is not completed by the Cross. But the background issues are atoned for. I have read and observed in the different churches I have associated with over the years, that in every grouping of Christians there is a relatively small minority who “get it.” They do most of the doing, giving, teaching, praying, forgiving and heavy lifting. They are the truest of Christians, not because of the set of doctrines they believe but because of the way they live their lives. They daily take up their cross, and follow in Jesus’ footsteps. And they are servants of reconciliation as a result.

In the near future I’ll take a look at how the Bible describes the process of actually delivering on the promise of reconciliation for the entire world … for which the Christian era only places a down payment.

Forgiveness vs reconciliation

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Let’s think for a moment about what we all believe about forgiveness and reconciliation… and then compare our practical wisdom to our vision of God’s purpose.

Forgiveness is unilateral, correct? Jesus forgave the folks that crucified him, for example, stating that they didn’t know what they were doing. What does that mean? Doesn’t it simply mean that he did not want punitive action taken against them?

Forgiveness is an attitude we have toward someone who has hurt us. We all know this.

Forgiveness is not forgetting, not denying or downplaying the significance of an offense. To be really effective, the forgiver must own all the pain and acknowledge all the damage that has been done by the offender… whether we choose to confront them or not.

Forgiveness gives us the freedom to be joyful and patient, and choose the time we wish to confront the one who hurt us… if indeed that is an option.

Often there is no way to discuss the matter with the one who hurt us… they are dead, incapacitated, or we know they would hurt us even more if we approached them.

And yet we can still forgive as a unilateral action … a method of working out an understanding with God, or the Universe, that any consequences will be born by us unless and until we can find a way of healing and dealing with the matter — bringing reconciliation.

Reconciliation is the full healing of the relationship between injured parties.

To get to reconciliation it actually doesn’t require forgiveness. It requires rebuke, repentance, restitution to the extent possible as evidence of repentance, and then a process of rebuilding trust through small steps that weave a new fabric of relationship, thread by thread.

Reconciliation is 1000 times tougher than forgiveness.

Now, what do we expect from God in terms of his behavior toward human sin?

Do we expect him to forgive our sins? The world’s sins?

In reality, it seems to me he’s been doing that right along. I don’t think he’s sitting there, fuming, venting his frustration at the human race with Jesus and anyone else who will listen.

I think his forgiveness was shown, for example, when he didn’t push the lightning button and vaporize the soldiers and priests that put an innocent man to death. And Jesus talked about his Father’s example of sending the blessings of life … rain, sunshine, food … to the just and the unjust. And smiling while he does it. That’s forgiveness.

But reconciliation? That’s a much more difficult challenge. If Paul was correct, he stated that God’s intent is nothing less than the reconciliation of all people with himself and with each other.

Getting to that kind of relational wholeness is almost beyond our capacity to imagine. It would take superhuman power, to resurrect all the parties and assemble them in the same world. To arrange the logistics of a very long relational rebuilding process. To provide incredible educational guidance, coaching, tough love, tender shoulders to cry on.

Do you see this vision in the Bible? I do, and I’m excited to see that Rob Bell does. Let’s have a dialog.

Is the Universe rigged?

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In a sneak peak of his show that makes its debut tonight, Rob Bell says that the Cross is a sign that the Universe is rigged in our favor:

RobBell
Rob Bell Show
 video link

I can hear my good Christian friends questioning this notion, and I respect them for relying upon the Bible for their guidance:

  • “God is righteous” Therefore, he is unalterably opposed to sin and self-will. Rob Bell is pandering to self-will in this view.
  • “Broad is the way that leads to destruction”, said Jesus, but “narrow is the way that leads to life”. Therefore anything that smacks of universal salvation is a direct contradiction of the plain words of the Savior of the world.
  • “God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son, that WHOEVER BELIEVES in him might not perish…” In other words, my friends are saying fervently (and with lots of apparent Biblical support) Jesus doesn’t do much good for you unless you believe and obey his message.
  • “God is no respecter of persons.” “Our God is a consuming fire”. “I will not clear the guilty”. A hundred clear verses that I could think of in 5 minutes make Rob Bell’s claim feel like the worst kind of syncretism … religious pandering to the world system.

I can also hear the challenges to Rob’s optimism with the very real findings of science, that as far as we can go back in time — 13.7 billion years — the rules have been the same, and just as even-handed as we can possibly imagine. There seems to be no sentimentality in the way the laws of nature operate. And if we allow ourselves to look in moral terms at what humankind has meant to planet earth, a balance would likely go hard against us, because of what we are doing to the planet and the other species we share it with.

And yet I agree with Rob Bell’s claim that the Cross is all about reconciliation of ALL PEOPLE with God. How can I say that in good conscience?

  1. There are 2 steps in the reconciliation process. The entire Christian era is focused on the first step. That step is the Cross… the personal character development of Jesus, and then the personal character development of his followers. We “fill up that which remains” of the afflictions of Christ. We are part of a high calling of God in Christ Jesus, Paul states in Philippians 3. We are servants of reconciliation. We cannot do anything significant against sin until our obedience is completed. Meanwhile, the whole creation groans, waiting for the sons of God to be manifested.
  2. After the church of Christ is complete, the Apostles tell us they will work with Christ to reconcile the entire world. We “will judge the world”. We “will judge angels”. We will shepherd the nations with a staff of iron. We will not simply be rewarded in heaven, but we will bring heaven to earth. It is true, faithful, humble, obedient Christians who will be the “pearly gates” … the way of access to God.
  3. The universe has been rigged against people for all of human history. We are told in the Bible that God has allowed an Enemy to deceive and mislead people. He has allowed heredity to bias people toward sin. He has even, Isaiah says, “hidden himself”. His eyes behold, but his eyelids (his apparent sleeping, ignoring what people do) test the children of men.
  4. For the next thousand years … just around the corner … the universe will be rigged in favor of all people. All the sins of the past were atoned for by the cross. All the people who have ever lived will be resurrected. Both the just and the unjust. Whether they “deserve it” or not. At the end, the playing field will be leveled for the first time. And then whoever chooses life and righteousness will live. And those who don’t will die.

The best part of what Rob seems to be saying now, in my opinion, is the encouragement it gives to anyone, anywhere, no matter what their spiritual background or level of belief. I agree with his thesis, that all the trouble people face has value. And it is frightful, shameful and tragic what the average person around the world must cope with — all of that pain has value and will help them in the future age of restoration to move toward reconciliation with God and with each other. Jews who died in the Holocaust and didn’t survive to tell us about it will awaken to discover value in that bitter experience. Nazis who persecuted them will awaken to discover hard lessons that they must learn if there is to be value for them in the experience. But both will learn lessons of forgiveness and righteousness that will last forever.

What is the role of the church? To bring the personal value of their struggles against sin when it was tough to be righteous. The value of the church will be knowledge of how to overcome, how to be humble, how to be patient, how to forgive their persecutors. And the joy and character they will bring as the “bride” of Christ will empower them to do the “greater works” that Jesus promised his followers in John 5. The whole creation will find its one head in Christ.

So a plea for mini-reconciliation: Christian friends, please listen to what Rob is saying (and what I’m chirping too). Don’t slam the door of communication on us. Test what we are saying with what the Bible says. Please respond with your questions and comments here. I’m listening to you.

And pray for Rob that this opportunity will become a new, wider ministry for him, not a stumbling block as fame and influence so often does. So far, I’ve been impressed with the joy and positive vision he has brought to every stage of his ministry.

Resurrected intent

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Here’s what I wrote about my goal in this blog when I first changed its name to HappyGod in 2002… the aftermath of 9/11, the time when I was taking care of my dad in his waning months, and working alone at home. I guess getting and staying happy was important to me:

So here’s what this blog is about. Why is God described by the Apostle Paul with the Greek adjective, makarios — best translated, “happy”?

Well, Paul was countering, and teaching Timothy how to counter, the heavy influence of Gnosticism. The foundational attitude behind Gnosticism is the view that the Creator of Earth is not a happy guy at all, but a sort of male chauvinist who grumbles whenever anyone else is not in pain. Twice in his descriptions of God in the epistles to Timothy, Paul calls him, not “the Blessed” which means we praise him, but “the Happy” which means he’s cool whether we bless him or not.

So this blog explores that view of God and that attitude. How to be happy though not blessed. How to be aware of what makes God happy. How to understand that God is not happy with current events but he’s happy because of where they’re leading… to the place where all people are humble, alive, thankful, and in love with God and each other. Hard to see that just now, but that’s where we’re headed, as I read the Bible.

So I’ll be arguing with the Hell viewpoint among my Christian brothers. I’ll be arguing against Calvinism, and against Arminianism, too. I’ll be having a conversation with anyone who’s willing to question a Christian orthodoxy which views the human race as a failure, a nice creative exercise that got screwed by the Devil and human self-will.

Let me just quote Solomon: “God has made everything beautiful in his time.” Hard to believe but I hope to convince you!

That was the goal then, and you know what? It’s still the same. Except I’m no longer trying to convince anyone….

Back then, I had just read Desiring God by John Piper… and that’s probably where I discovered this nugget of insight into the meaning of the Greek word that is twice used to describe God. And the funny thing is, his idea of the gospel is a tiny shadow of what I believe the good news really is … something called the Restitution of All Things by Peter … something really good for ALL people who have ever lived. But when, a couple of years ago, Rob Bell wrote a book called Love Wins that suggested the hope that maybe everyone would benefit from Jesus’ life, John Piper tweeted, “Goodbye, Rob Bell.” So much for Piper’s “Christian Hedonism”… happy to watch the masses burn.

The issue remains vitally important to me, and though it doesn’t seem to be getting much traction, I want to keep talking about it. I am focused on getting these ideas out of the corners of Christianity and into a broader discussion. With brevity, gravity, clarity, levity and all the depravity that comes from being associated with me!

Brevity is the soul of wit

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I’ve been reviewing all the stuff I wrote in years past on this blog. It wears me out just to look at all those words. No wonder it never got any traction.

So going forward, I am hoping to put brevity at the front of my short list of objectives.

2nd, my goal is to be grounded in the solid, substantive hopes of the Bible, not a lot of speculative or argumentative areas. I want to be relevant to most Christians.

3rd, my goal is to NOT use religious jargon. Because though I have a faith-based world-view, I think that skeptics and atheists have valid reasons for questioning the Bible and Christianity based on their scientific, moral, and historical observations. I am hoping to have dialogs with lots of different categories of people.

Light-heartedness/humor is my 4th goal. How can I be happy if I’m heavy? More to the point, how can I have a constructive dialog with those I am criticizing (primarily Christians) if I adopt a snarky tone in an effort to please my non-Christian readers?

Personality is my fifth goal. I think it will be far better to present a local,

The elevated vantage point from which I write. (actually, this is the view from Mt. Edgecumbe, about 10 miles from my house. Looking northwest toward it's smaller volcanic brother, Crater Ridge ... and west to Shelikof Bay.

The elevated vantage point from which I write. (actually, this is the view from Mt. Edgecumbe, about 10 miles from my house. Looking northwest toward its smaller volcanic brother, Crater Ridge … and west to Shelikof Bay.

even partisan viewpoint on a timely topic than a timeless, universal observation that takes forever to write, and even longer to read! I’m now willing to risk offending people in order to give this blog a human voice, time, and place.

So that’s my resolution for happygod.me in 2015: brevity, gravity, clarity, levity, and depravity… er, stuff that comes from me.

Seek meekness

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Ferguson has become a Rohrshock test. We all see what we want to see… or even more scary, what our life experience has conditioned us to see. But can we view it as a teaching moment for each of us? Can we find a lesson that applies with equal force to both sides of this divide? I think we can… and I’d like to suggest a passage in the Bible written by a black man 2800 years ago … which I think will become more and more relevant as events like Ferguson draw us into a web of conflict.

Zephaniah 2:3 –

3Seek the LORD,
All you humble of the earth
Who have carried out His ordinances;
Seek righteousness, seek humility.
Perhaps you will be hidden
In the day of the LORD’S anger.

Zephaniah was written during the reign of King Josiah, roughly 700 BC. Though it had relevance then, the scope of Zephaniah’s language is worldwide … it is an end times prophecy.

One of Zephaniah’s themes is the “day of Jahweh’s anger.” In my view this is a codeword, not for fire and brimstone and planetary destruction — but for a measured economic and geopolitical upheaval — an era of teaching by God — when people will have their attention drawn to major issues of justice and morality.

Another of Zephaniah’s themes is the “gathering of nations”. In chapter 3 it is called “assembling the kingdoms”. In order to make sense of the “Lord’s anger”, they are brought into a collective conversation, an international consciousness as never before. Today we call it globalization. I believe Zechariah was talking about the 21st century. Issues anywhere are the concern of people everywhere.

Another theme is the universality of God’s proposed rule of earth. As Zephaniah describes it, “All the earth” is encompassed in his vision. All the earth gets its teaching moments, and all the earth will in due time get the blessings of God’s grace.

In my attempts to understand the Bible I find it useful to recognize that “the earth” in prophecy is often a metaphorical description of the stable, powerful portions of society worldwide. Zephaniah’s phrase “All the earth will be devoured” means that society — social and governmental institutions — will melt and lose cohesion as a result of the intense heat and pressure of social and geopolitical change. Peter used similar language when he spoke in 2 Peter 3 of melting elements. He wasn’t talking about chemistry. That word, everywhere else in the New Testament, is used for the first principles, the kindergarten issues that children learn in primary school.

Another prophetic theme is special blessings promised for Israel, an acknowledgement of the sins of Israel but a promise of divine correction and healing. In Zechariah’s vision there will be a worldwide hatred and affliction of the Jews that will prevail for a time, before ending in worldwide acceptance of the Jewish people. Zephaniah states that the Jewish people will become “a praise in every land where they have been put to shame”. (3:8, 17, 20) So far, we are seeing increasing fulfillments of the shame, but not of the acceptance that will follow it.

If the “fierce anger” of the Lord is being played out right now on the world stage, what is God angry at?

  1. Needlessly perpetuating poverty. If Isaiah 58 and Ezekiel 16:49 provides any hints, one big area to pay attention to would be the way the poor are treated. While poverty has always been a human problem, the immense increase of wealth of the last century has created opportunities — and responsibilities — for alleviating it. Ezekiel called it “not strengthening the hand of the poor and needy.” While I cannot disagree that many forms of welfare fail to strengthen the hand of the poor and needy, there is no doubt that we know enough to create programs that would do a better job of doing just that. We understand the value of education, the need of food and shelter, the value of freedom from worry about basic necessities. Is it not the duty of society to work protect its citizens? To give due process for the poor as well as the rich? Today wealthy individuals, churches, and nations of the world could make a much bigger impact — if they have the will to do what they can.
  2. Environmental degradation. If Revelation 11:18 is relevant — and I believe it is — God is angry at those who are destroying the earth. We are all complicit in the destruction of the earth in an ecological sense. But the powerful extractive, exploitive forces have in many cases grabbed the levers of power and use “democracy” to bring “progress” and “development” — code words for destroying the earth — forward in ways that only benefit their multinational appetites and shareholders. This behavior is creating consequences that will hurt all of us.
  3. Religions that present God as cruel and unjust. I think that God is not pleased with the reputation he is getting from mainstream Christian teachings. More on that in other posts.

I would submit that God’s anger does not reveal itself through torment or after-death horror … but through consequences of our actions coming to pass.

For example, we dump subsidized corn and wheat on countries that have farmers who would like to support themselves growing local food. They can’t compete with our agribusiness products … and if there is a just God, he is taking note. We sell poisons and high-tech seeds to third world countries, destroying their organic economies and  making them dependent on our seed stocks and chemicals. We extract oil, minerals, and cheap commodity crops like coffee or beef from countries who can satisfy our appetite for these things … but don’t use our influence to make the companies who employ those workers pay a living wage and humane benefits.

We destroy wetlands, pump poison into aquifers, degrade the atmosphere, waste soil, destroy the natural cycle of life, turn mountains upside down to get coal or rare metals, and let the powerless people who thus lose whole counties to privileged greed live in the poison wasteland that remains. We dump pollution into the oceans — plastics and chemicals which are working their way up the food chain and putting toxins into our children’s brains. We overfish, overharvest, overuse, and overlook the importance of our role in all of that.

I believe that if there is a God, and if he is at all good, he has a burning anger about these abuses. And I see evidence that just such a God exists, and is pushing on the boundaries of our activities, and will soon box us into a very narrow range of options. Our denial of climate science, or our refusal to be moved by the desperation suicides of tens of thousands of Indian farmers due to the impact of chemical farming methods, will not prevent us from reaping the impact of our choices. Before long, we will have no way out, and society itself — all our institutions — will melt under the pressure of our own mistakes.

Which brings me to Zephaniah’s words of advice to all of the people who are alive during this world-wide chain of calamities. “Seek meekness, seek righteousness.”

We fought the bloodiest war in our history over the issue of slavery. But did we all learn the lesson? Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon documents how we put economic shackles aided by community policing … vagrancy laws … into place almost immediately to prevent true economic equality from gaining a foothold. Blacks continue to feel the results of our forefathers’ practice of treating black men like animals valued for their brute strength and breeding capacity, black children as economic assets to be torn from their mothers as soon as they were weaned, and black women as baby factories and nursemaids. The systemic destruction of every trace of family memory, language, culture and geography by self-righteous “Christian” Europeans continues to haunt both transplanted Africans and indigenous Americans. Like the salt that the Romans sowed in Carthage, two centuries of enforced ignorance created a barren cultural soil that struggles to find an identity of learning and curiosity that more privileged classes take for granted. The flourishing of black colleges and the renaissance of black erudition that has occurred in the last century and a half are not because of, but in spite of all the economic and cultural impacts our dominant culture has inflicted upon the black race … I so I view the progress of blacks in our society is a miracle. But could the healing and growth be greater? I believe so, and I believe the bruised reeds need to be helped.

When Zephaniah wrote his prophecy, he called us to meekness and righteousness. What, specifically did he mean by “righteousness”? It is a Hebrew word, tzedakah, which means fairness or justice. In the Hebrew traditions of Zephaniah’s day, slavery was a significant part of the economy of the time. The law on their books called for a complete forgiving of debts every 7 years, and a complete redistribution of land among the historical Jewish settler families every 49 years. Justice to Zephaniah meant egalitarianism — the notion that shared citizenship meant blood ties that transcended economics, and broke cycles of dependence through mandatory sharing and forgiveness of debts.

I think these ideas have special meaning today, at a time when extremes in wealth distribution have never been greater — especially in the USA. If we seek justice or fairness, we will not consider it acceptable for extreme poverty to coexist with extreme wealth. And so a true love of tzadakah will lead us to a kind of humility that is anathema to the privileged classes — especially the Christian Right — of today.

To catch Zephaniah’s spirit we will accept as part of our humbling the voluntary sharing in and shouldering of the burdens of the unfortunate masses who surround us. I’m not talking about perfunctory handouts but empowerment, training, and a commitment to building the standard of living of all peoples. Meekness will teach us to consider the poor as part of us, part of our family, part of our responsibility. Instead of responding to the poverty of surrounding nations and neighborhoods with a doubling down of the security apparatus, we will look for creative ways to alleviate the hunger and soul-thirst of our fellow human beings.

A friend sent me the following link. He is a Christian whom I greatly respect, but I don’t see the following clip as particularly helpful to understanding what is going on in Ferguson:

Words of Jonathon Gentry

I think that Mr. Gentry’s words, well intentioned as they may be, have the effect of patronizing conservative folks, while ignoring the fact that there was no corresponding “swallowing of pride” going on among the police and justice system in Ferguson. Jonathon’s words, and the words of the Fox commentators I have seen, are not meek words. They are angry and incendiary. Jonathon’s “righteous indignation” adds the heat of anger and the flame of finger-pointing to the conflict that is brewing in America’s cities.

I’ve seen plenty of white rants on the social media … focusing on the criminality of an 18-year-old man, his hubris, his disrespect of the white policeman who stopped him that day. Even if all the details of the officer’s version of events were true, what is the subtext? What made Michael Brown so angry and unable to chart a more pragmatic course? What made Darren Wilson so fearful, so belligerent and so authoritative in his tone? My experience with human nature tells me that both men poured gasoline, and both men tossed in matches. But both of these men are products of a culture. They are no more free to choose their actions than any of us are free to will ourselves into consistency with the standards we ourselves recognize, or another year of life.

But what Zephaniah calls us to do is pursue meekness, fairness, equality.

Does anyone think very many blacks were won over by Jonathan’s rant? I surely don’t. And I can understand why. It’s because blacks are tired of feeling like intruders in their own neighborhoods. Granted, no blacks or whites should be shoplifting, selling drugs, engaging in gang violence, etc. But we need to understand the process that has fostered these sick social conditions.

Does anyone think that the whites who have welcomed Jonathon’s words are becoming more flexible, humble, and tolerant as a result? I personally doubt it. I think Jonathan simply became a useful cover for those who want to point the finger of blame at the black race, want to be satisfied that slavery is ancient history. We would do well to remember Lincoln’s words, and recognize that there may yet be wheels of retribution that are still turning toward a price that the great grand-children of slaveowners might have to pay:

From Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address:
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Zephaniah was a black man.

It’s interesting that Zephaniah was probably a black man… his father was “Cushi” — an Ethiopian. His message has a particular power when it is seen as an exhortation to   meekness — and fairness for the poor.

Like it or not, the prophet doesn’t only ask the poor to be more meek. Nor does he ask only the more powerful factions to be more meek. Everyone is addressed… especially those who see themselves as the Lord’s people. Zephaniah no doubt had the Jews in mind, but I would apply it with equal or greater force to Christians today.

I believe that seeking meekness will mean that we will avoid violence of any kind in the face of perplexing challenges to our safety and property rights. While law and order is a necessity as long as fallen man is administering his own affairs, there are ways of softening the impact of the necessary firmness of the law.

On an individual level, the kind of softness I refer to will mean we will listen to angry outbursts from any sector without reacting aggressively. It will mean we will recognize, as Martin Luther King put it, that even riots have a message — “the outcry of the unheard.” It will look behind extremes of action and foolish behavior, and look for a way to understand the root causes behind it … and for ways we can help show a courageous level of forgiveness and generosity toward those who have been victimized in ways we have never personally felt. If we can meet even unjust anger and hostility with meekness, it may be that we will be hid in the days of the Lord’s just anger.

But even if we are not, and we become unjust victims, we should not worry about the ultimate outcome. A feast of fat things is around the corner. A new language will teach all people to serve God with one consent.

The Onion got it right!

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I was too busy with my client commitments back in 2010 when I wrote a few posts about the tragedies in Haiti. But I did post this and today in 2014 I’ve updated the links. As is often the case humor can be a great way to get to the unvarnished truth:

Onion_HaitPhoto
Americans laid eyes on actual Haitians for the first time on Jan. 12.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI—Less than two weeks after converging upon the site of a devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake, American anthropologists have confirmed the discovery of a small, poverty-stricken island nation, known to its inhabitants as “Haiti.”

Located just 700 miles off the southeastern coast of Florida, the previously unaccounted-for country is believed to be home to an estimated 10 million people.

Even more astounding, reports now indicate that these people have likely inhabited the impoverished, destitute region—unnoticed by the rest of the world—for more than 300 years.

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Researchers believe this was once the capital, though it’s unclear if the Haitian people ever had a truly functional government.

“That an entire civilization has been somehow existing right under our noses for all this time comes as a complete shock,” said University of Florida anthropology professor Dr. Ben Oliver, adding that it appeared as if Haiti’s citizens had been living under dangerous conditions even before the devastating earthquake struck. “Of course, there have been rumors in the past about a long-forgotten Caribbean nation whose people struggle every day to survive, live in constant fear of a corrupt government, and endure such squalor and hunger that they have resorted to eating dirt. But never did we give them much thought.”

Added Oliver, “Had it not been for this earthquake, I doubt we would have ever noticed Haiti at all.”

Though anthropologists said they still did not know much about Haiti’s history, they claimed that, by observing the Haitians’ reactions to this particular disaster, and studying the way the people had come together and taken solace in one another’s sorrows, it appeared as if most of them were accustomed to tragic, even horrific, events.

Researchers also came to the “startling” conclusion that Haiti’s inhabitants must have at some point in their history been exposed to the English language, as many seemed capable of uttering such phrases as “Help us,” and “Please don’t abandon us again.”

“They are normal people just like you and me,” said Harvard University’s Aimee Coughlin, who before last week had never come across any mention of the struggling island republic, whether in conversation, on television, or while scanning the front pages of newspapers. “They communicate with one another, they have families and loved ones, and they value religion. However, judging by the way they are fending for themselves—a position they seem almost resigned to—it’s clear these mysterious Haitian people don’t have much else.”

According to Coughlin, the Haitian civilization was discovered on the night of Jan. 12, when relief workers were rushed to several resorts in the Dominican Republic to see if any American tourists had been injured in the quake. During an aerial tour of the island of Hispaniola, members of the Red Cross noticed signs of human life coming from Haiti.

“When we first landed there, I thought, ‘No person could possibly live here,'” Oliver said. “Not only did the arid landscape look incapable of sustaining any sort of agriculture, but there was absolutely no infrastructure either. Had we known about this desperate, desperate place sooner, perhaps we could have shared some of our technological advancements with them.”

“I’ve vacationed just miles away in beautiful St. Kitts many times,” Oliver added. “Never did anyone say anything about this Haiti place.”

Members of the world community were equally shocked at the discovery of such an impoverished civilization. U.N. representatives noted that Haiti’s location puts it in the direct path of recent natural disasters such as Hurricanes Jeanne, Hanna, and Ike, disasters that probably caused massive flooding, disease, and death.

Likewise, leaders from a number of Western nations announced Tuesday that they were dumbfounded to learn people were still living without decent shelter, hospitals, or regular access to food and water.

“They must have had no way of communicating with the outside world, because had we known about these Haitians, we would have done everything in our power to help them,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. “Of that I have no doubt.”

What we owe Haiti – a summary by Bill Quigley

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Here’s the full text of an excellent email that arrived today from a U.Washington global health feed:

Why The US Owes Haiti Billions – The Briefest History
Jan 17, 2010 By Bill Quigley
Bill Quigley’s ZSpace Page / ZSpace

Why does the US owe Haiti Billions? Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, stated his foreign policy view as the “Pottery Barn rule.” That is – “if you break it, you own it.”

The US has worked to break Haiti for over 200 years. We owe Haiti. Not charity. We owe Haiti as a matter of justice. Reparations. And not the $100 million promised by President Obama either – that is Powerball money. The US owes Haiti Billions – with a big B.

The US has worked for centuries to break Haiti. The US has used Haiti like a plantation. The US helped bleed the country economically since it freed itself, repeatedly invaded the country militarily, supported dictators who abused the people, used the country as a dumping ground for our own economic advantage, ruined their roads and agriculture, and toppled popularly elected officials. The US has even used Haiti like the old plantation owner and slipped over there repeatedly for sexual recreation.

Here is the briefest history of some of the major US efforts to break Haiti.

  • In 1804, when Haiti achieved its freedom from France in the world’s first successful slave revolution, the United States refused to recognize the country. The US continued to refuse recognition to Haiti for 60 more years. Why? Because the US continued to enslave millions of its own citizens and feared recognizing Haiti would encourage slave revolution in the US.
  • After the 1804 revolution, Haiti was the subject of a crippling economic embargo by France and the US. US sanctions lasted until 1863. France ultimately used its military power to force Haiti to pay reparations for the slaves who were freed. The reparations were 150 million francs. (France sold the entire Louisiana territory to the US for 80 million francs!)
  • Haiti was forced to borrow money from banks in France and the US to pay reparations to France. A major loan from the US to pay off the French was finally paid off in 1947. The current value of the money Haiti was forced to pay to French and US banks? Over $20 Billion – with a big B.
  • The US occupied and ruled Haiti by force from 1915 to 1934. President Woodrow Wilson sent troops to invade in 1915. Revolts by Haitians were put down by US military – killing over 2000 in one skirmish alone. For the next nineteen years, the US controlled customs in Haiti, collected taxes, and ran many governmental institutions. How many billions were siphoned off by the US during these 19 years?
  • From 1957 to 1986 Haiti was forced to live under US backed dictators “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier. The US supported these dictators economically and militarily because they did what the US wanted and were politically “anti-communist” – now translatable as against human rights for their people. Duvalier stole millions from Haiti and ran up hundreds of millions in debt that Haiti still owes. Ten thousand Haitians lost their lives. Estimates say that Haiti owes $1.3 billion in external debt and that 40% of that debt was run up by the US-backed Duvaliers.
  • Thirty years ago Haiti imported no rice. Today Haiti imports nearly all its rice. Though Haiti was the sugar growing capital of the Caribbean, it now imports sugar as well. Why? The US and the US dominated world financial institutions – the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – forced Haiti to open its markets to the world. Then the US dumped millions of tons of US subsidized rice and sugar into Haiti – undercutting their farmers and ruining Haitian agriculture. By ruining Haitian agriculture, the US has forced Haiti into becoming the third largest world market for US rice. Good for US farmers, bad for Haiti.
  • In 2002, the US stopped hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Haiti which were to be used for, among other public projects like education, roads. These are the same roads which relief teams are having so much trouble navigating now!
  • In 2004, the US again destroyed democracy in Haiti when they supported the coup against Haiti’s elected President Aristide.
  • Haiti is even used for sexual recreation just like the old time plantations. Check the news carefully and you will find numerous stories of abuse of minors by missionaries, soldiers and charity workers. Plus there are the frequent sexual vacations taken to Haiti by people from the US and elsewhere. What is owed for that? What value would you put on it if it was your sisters and brothers?
  • US based corporations have for years been teaming up with Haitian elite to run sweatshops teeming with tens of thousands of Haitians who earn less than $2 a day.

The Haitian people have resisted the economic and military power of the US and others ever since their independence. Like all of us, Haitians made their own mistakes as well. But US power has forced Haitians to pay great prices – deaths, debt and abuse.

It is time for the people of the US to join with Haitians and reverse the course of US-Haitian relations.

This brief history shows why the US owes Haiti Billions – with a big B. This is not charity. This is justice. This is reparations. The current crisis is an opportunity for people in the US to own up to our country’s history of dominating Haiti and to make a truly just response.

(For more on the history of exploitation of Haiti by the US see: Paul Farmer, The Uses of Haiti; Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood; and Randall Robinson, An Unbroken Agony).

Thanks to Stephen Bezruchka for posting this on the global health forum, where my daughter saw it.

Soon I’ll have my next rant installment, which will be called “The Clusterfoolishness that Haunts Haiti”. Please subscribe to my feed in order to know when it comes.

The rank falsehood of Pat Robertson’s “history”

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On Wednesday morning, Dr. Robertson stated that the nation of Haiti made a pact with the devil. “True story”, he said, and claimed that this explains why Haiti  suffered so much in the years since. Au contraire: everything about his statement is false.

Robertson’s claims:

  1. “Haiti was under the heel of the French, Napoleon III or whatever.”
  2. “They got together and made a pact with the devil: ‘We will serve you if you get us free from the French.’
  3. “The Haitians revolted and got themselves free, but ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another, desperately poor.”
  4. “The island of Hispaniola is cut  down through the middle — Haiti on one side, Dominican Republic on the other. Dominican republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island.”
  5. “They need to have (and we need to pray for them) a great turning to God, and out of this tragedy I’m optimistic that something good may come.”

1. Wrong century, Pat. Napoleon III came to power as President of France in 1848, then took over as Napoleon III in 1852. The Haitian revolution lasted from 1791 to 1803, inspired by the French Revolution 2 years before, and the American Revolution 14 years before that.

2. In my post yesterday I cited a Salon.com article, which points out that the “pact with the devil” myth is a major distortion of what occurred in a secret meeting on August 14, 1791. At this meeting in a place called Bois Caiman, slaves confided in one another how much they resented their treatment by white settlers. In harmony with their African tribal past, one of the women in the group slit the throat of a pig and “distributed the blood to all the participants of the meeting, who swore to kill all the whites on the island.” It’s quite possible that the woman who led the meeting was indeed possessed by a spirit, as Christians would say it. This was a common part of the voodoo ritual religion that these people had grown up with. But she was acting alone, as one enslaved person in a meeting on the topic of oppression by a wealthy white minority. It is utterly false that this can be called a national “pact with the devil”. Moved more by the spirit of freedom that actuated the American and French revolutions than by demon possession, these poor oppressed blacks righteously decided in the face of abuse and outrage, to throw off the shackles that had been enslaving them. About a week later, the insurrection began in the northern mountains of Haiti … the first paroxysm of justifiable rage in a long-awaited revolution. But the early first successes were quickly suppressed with overwhelming power and violence by the French settlers.

There is actually some recent disagreement among historians as to whether the Bois Caiman meeting even took place. You can read an exchange among academics on the subject here.

The Bois Caiman story is so deeply intertwined in the history of a free Haiti (much like our Boston Tea Party or the Ride of Paul Revere) that to question it in Haiti is unthinkable. Whether precisely true or not, it’s been handed down from countless sources as an oral history about the quest for freedom from tyranny by this oppressed people. One thing seems clear, though — there is very little of a religious nature in the original story. The blood-covenant was more of a cultural expression, having roots in the indigenous people’s practices, mixed with traditions that came from  the Senegambian coast where many Black Haitians had been captured by the French and Spanish. The blood ritual described in the oral traditions of Bois Caiman was not unusual. It was a cultural custom, transported by the slaves who had been uprooted from Africa, along with the tribal and Islamic influences that had shaped them for centuries before. Indeed, this story is not unlike the Biblical account of a blood-sealed pact of revenge by the people of Israel against the perpetrators of an atrocity — as recorded in Judges 20. Here, the people are galvanized into action in revenge, not by a testimony meeting and a symbolic use of pigs blood — but by messengers carrying the dismembered body of the single victim. The point is, it would be pointless to argue that the people of Haiti were any more primitive than the people of the Bible.

3. “The Haitians revolted and got themselves free.” Not really. This was a very unsatisfactory revolution. It lasted from 1791 to 1803, and was beset by both internal strife and outside invasion first by the French, then the English, then the French again. Yes, in the end it did result in Haiti becoming “only the 2nd republic in the Americas.” But the country was exhausted and in ruins, and no nation on earth at the time, including the United States, was willing to do business with a black republic… for fear it would enflame their own slaves’ desire for freedom. Remember, this is 50 years before the slaves began to be released in England, Russia, and finally the United States.

And so Haiti was free in name only. While it remained the richest colony in the history of colonial exploitation, as a free nation it was forced to endure an economic embargo not unlike the one we have enforced against Cuba for the last 50 years. The southern states, who of course had enormous clout in every American administration, viewed black Haiti very much the way cold war-era Americans viewed Communist Cuba. Haiti was the worst of all possible worlds: Black, and intertwined with the French, who were now led by an ambitious non-democratic emperor, Napoleon I.

The Haitian victory over the last of several French attempts to re-impose slavery in 1803 presented an alert Thomas Jefferson with a golden opportunity. Jefferson saw that France wanted Haiti back even more than they wanted to risk war with the United States over the ownership of the Louisiana territory. He also was not as afraid of a black nation as President Adams and all the southern statesmen had been. He is reported to have said, “”Provided that the Negroes are not permitted to possess a navy, we can allow them without danger to exist and we can moreover continue with them very lucrative commercial relations.” So Jefferson reinforced the slave leaders in Haiti prior to the French invasion, and when, as he hoped, the French suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Haitian rebels, Jefferson was able to swoop down and buy the Louisiana territory for a pittance. As the Haitian ambassador stated in response to Pat Robertson’s foolish prattle, Haitian victory was the direct cause of the United States gaining the land of 13 of our western states:

Yet racism and religion-based prejudice continued to create outside pressures which continued to afflict Haiti. Beginning in 1825, the victors became the vanquished when France with the help of the other great powers forced the Haitians to pay reparations to France for their victory.   “They were forced to pay again with their sweat for the freedom they had already purchased with their blood.” The details of this outrageous penalty, and its impact on Haitian society ever since, are described  here. (Thanks to Paul Tullis) This immoral demand, which impoverished Haiti while it enriched France, was not paid off by Haiti until 1947! And the results are still felt to this day. Their curse was not from God, but from the White race, the “Christian” “civilized” world, who drained Haitian money away 10 different ways.

4. The Dominican Republic is not prosperous, either. It suffers from a very similar fate — poverty in the midst of plenty, government corruption, a tiny privileged class and masses who live at the edge of poverty. While it is true that the Dominican Republic has about 6 times the per-capita income of Haiti, and much better life expectancy, many of the same problems afflict this half of the island as well. I’ve been there, and once you leave the wealthy resorts for the native towns, you see grinding poverty and desperation. Pat’s characterization of the country as “healthy and prosperous” may be true of the American real estate moguls who have built golf courses and resorts, but it is certainly not true of the local people. Santo Domingans can hardly be said to own the land they inhabit.

5. Centuries of failure in Haiti have combined with an indigenous belief in supernatural causes for natural events to create a dominant attitude of fatalism. Any truly moral framework, whether Christian, Jewish, or Moslem, could make a positive impact, working one person at a time. For example Nazarene missionaries since 1950 have made a positive impact, not by producing a “great turning to God”, but by teaching people how to improve their soil, build wells, terrace hillsides, and eat the tropical fruits which easily grow in Haiti (which tribal culture teaches are harmful to pregnant women). These are not religious changes but practical agricultural and lifestyle transitions. I applaud the earnest efforts of people like Howard Culbertson to invest in Haitian improvement, one person and family at a time. But the cause of their troubles was grossly misstated by Robertson — they were not cursed by God, but by godless people masquerading as followers of Jesus. Just as fake Christians slaughtered millions and sowed weeds of poverty in the Congo, so western “Christian” “civilization” has destroyed and denuded Haiti.

When a spiritual descendant of these kinds of religious mobsters blames the victims for their troubles, I just see red. Shut up, Pat, cash in your fortune and give the money to someone who is soberly working to undo the multiple curses of exploitative “Christianity”.  I don’t know for sure who might be effective, but I am certain the test we should go by is not related to the Christian doctrines or the church affiliation of the workers. “Christians” have been the curse of Haiti since Columbus first opened Pandora’s box there. Tomorrow I’ll begin to tell the story of how the arrogant jerk that my home town was named for launched Haiti’s woes, plundering the land for the queen of Spain.

After I finish telling the story of the exploitation of Haiti by one “Christian” nation after another, I’m going to examine what the Bible says about all of this, and see if we if there is any evidence that there is a God who sees, cares, and plans to do anything about exploitation by people who think they’ve got the “true religion”.