Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas message from Aaron

I hope this post finds you happy and in good health. Rhiannon and I have just finished opening our presents and are looking forward to going over to my Aunt Rose's house in a couple of hours to enjoy the annual Christmas Turkey and gift exchange with the extended Taylor family. Rhiannon will start making her world famous corn casserole in a few minutes-world famous at least in the Taylor household!

As we're all supposed to do this time of the year, I've been reflecting a lot about the true meaning of Christmas over the past few days. My heart goes out to the worlds pastors who have to find new shades of meaning and spiritual insight every single year as they prepare their Christmas sermons to deliver to their congregations. Being that it's Christmas day, this message may be a little late for pastors and missionaries looking for last minute enlightenment, but it's not late in terms of relevance for the new year.

First I'll start with what we all know and understand. Unless your last name is Scrooge and your first name is Grinch, you probably realize that Christmas is about the generosity of giving and not the vanity of commercialization. With the slew of Hallmark and ABC Family Christmas specials this time of year, I find it odd that even Hollywood sells the message of faith, family and values this time of the year.

This next thought may be a bit Pollyanna-ish, but I think that both sides of the "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" war need to lay down their arms and take a breather, if not for political and theological reasons, then at least for practical ones. Having to correct people every time they use a holiday greeting that you don't like can get exhausting after a while. As much as I would like to continue my soapbox on this one, you can consider that a freebie.

The real message I'd like to share with you this Christmas is this. In light of my debate with a radical jihadist in London and my recent trip to the West Bank, one of the ideas that has turned my world upside down and caused me to reevaluate nearly everything I have held dear in terms of my identity and values is the idea that one of the central themes of the New Testament is a complete and utter rejection of the value of exercising earthly power and authority over others. When Jesus said, "The meek shall inherit the earth," the people of His day knew exactly what He meant. On the day of judgment, those who will be left standing are not the Caesars and the centurions, but the cooks and the carpenters. Practically the entire life and ministry of Jesus conveys the idea that the Kingdom of God belongs to the powerless, not the powerful.

Jesus said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them." In an age where politicians, even sincere politicians, are all-too-eager to invoke the name of Jesus as a stamp of divine approval upon their bid for the White House, I think a re-evaluation of the role of the Church, and how the Church interacts with earthly power is in order. Just as not everything that glitters is gold, I have a feeling that not everything that calls itself Christian is truly Christian.

Jesus was born in a stable and raised the son of a carpenter. He never levied a tax and He never waged a war. Although He could have used His birthright as heir to the Davidic throne to "restore the Kingdom to Israel", He deliberately chose not to. Instead, He put the priority on taking on the form of a servant and establishing God's true kingdom in the hearts of men. He had no earthly agenda but to love and to serve, especially those who lived with a different set of values than His own. Jesus managed to befriend the tax-collector, the zealot, the Samaritan, and the prostitute alike, calling them to repent.....without pursuing an earthly agenda to push them to the fringes of society.

As we head into the new election year, I think it would be wise for us all to remember that the world's only true "Christian" king (or ruler or politician or whatever term you would like to insert to denote earthly power) died on a wooden cross, suffering for the souls of the very people who were crucifying Him. May the example of Jesus be the true inspiration for us all to build a better world as we head into the new year.

Merry Christmas,


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Good news in Iran

I just received a report from Caleb Project's monthly newsletter. Here is what it said about Iran.

It is estimated that at least two million Farsi-speakers watch SAT-7 PARS in Iran regularly. In the nine months SAT-7 PARS has been on Iranian television, countless people have come to Christ in this predominantly Muslim nation.

Many believe this Christian station is the most watched satellite channel in Iran. One listener said, "I have not read the New Testament, or the Torah, because there is none in Iran, but Jesus Christ has made a home in my heart. I beg you to tell me how I can leave [my religion] and come to the religion of Jesus Christ because besides him, no one else has my life in their hands."

Too often we in the West tend to think of the Muslim world as a monolith, as if everyone is locked in their beliefs with little desire to change. The reality is, more Iranians have turned to Christ since the Ayatollah seized power than at any other time before.

It helps to keep things in perspective when we watch the daily news. There is hope for the future.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Governor Huckabee: Will you go on record?

It's been an exciting past few weeks for Mike Huckabee, the former Baptist minister turned Governor of Arkansas. Just a few short weeks ago, Rudy Guliani and Mitt Romney were the undisputed frontrunners of the GOP with Senator John McCain and Fred Thompson trailing closely behind. With Guliani's marital problems and Romney's Mormon faith, evangelicals haven't had a candidate they can call one of their own. As every political commentator knows, this has been a huge problem for the Republican Party since evangelicals form the largest voting block of the GOP base. If Karl Rove and the nation's 60 million evangelical Christians have been silently praying for a savior, it seems the savior has arrived in the form of another southern governor with humble beginnings.

Now that Governor Mike Huckabee is a frontrunner in the race along with Guliani and Romney, it seems that everyone is talking about religion-again. What is the role of religion in public life? What is the meaning of separation of church and state? What is the definition of a religious test? While all of this may seem like deja vu, it seems that leaders of the Christian Right are singing a different tune this time around. Case in point. Did you ever think you would hear the late Jerry Falwell endorse a Mormon for president with the words, "We're not electing a pastor in chief, we're electing a commander in chief"? Or how about the same words coming from Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptists' religion and ethics commission? The other day I even heard Richard Land use the words "pluralism and diversity" on CNN when asked about the Mormon question. Even more bizarre, did you ever think the day would come when Pat Robertson would endorse a man twice divorced and Catholic in name only? Aside from the occasional Christian Reconstructionist or Patriot Pastor in Ohio, it seems that the leaders of the Christian Right have finally conceded that separation of church and state isn't a tool of the devil used by liberals to undermine the Christian faith, but is, in fact both Christian and constitutional.

While I'm glad that Christian Right leaders are taking a softer tone on the role of faith in politics, there's something that is still bothering me. With all this new talk about not putting political candidates through a religion test, it seems that the important religious questions are being overlooked or shall I say....Left Behind? To illustrate my point, let's look at the religious differences between Huckabee and Romney. If Romney is true to his Mormon faith then he believes that God once started out as a man, that Jesus and Lucifer were once brothers, and that good Mormons will be populating celestial planets in the afterlife. Huckabee, on the other hand, if he is true to his Baptist faith, believes the Bible is the Word of God, that salvation comes by grace through faith, and that Jesus is coming back soon. If I had to pick which of these two belief systems I'm most comfortable with occupying the Oval Office, I'd have to pick the first one-and I'm saying that as a committed evangelical Christian who also believes the Bible is the Word of God, that salvation comes by grace through faith, and that Jesus is coming back soon. Does this sound a bit bizarre? Let me explain.

If a Mormon occupying the White House believes that God started out as a man, that Jesus and Lucifer were once brothers, and that good Mormons will be populating celestial planets in the afterlife, how much would these beliefs affect his or her policy decisions on things like the Middle East conflict, nuclear disarmament, or America's role in the U.N? . If, on the other hand, you have a president that subscribes to the Left-Behind version of Christianity made popular by Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, how would that affect his or her foreign policy decisions? Given that Tim Lahaye has recently endorsed Governor Huckabee, that Governor Huckabee has publicly stated that he "enjoyed" reading the Left Behind novels, and that Tim Lahaye recently sent letters to pastors in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina inviting them to an all-expense paid trip to hear Mike Huckabee speak, this question is far from theoretical.

Let's review the Left Behind Series. In Tim Lahaye's Left Behind series, the anti-christ seizes power by taking over which institution? You guessed it-the United Nations. Who allows the evil anti-christ to rise to power in the Left Behind novels? You guessed it again. A weak democratic president. Where does the evil anti-christ set up his headquarters for his evil empire? Modern day Iraq. How does the Anti-christ seize the reigns of power? This should come as no international nuclear disarmament treaty. Combine this with the idea that Jesus can't come back until the dream of Greater Israel is realized and that will give you a fairly accurate picture of the Left-Behind world view.

This, by the way, is not an endorsement of Mitt Romney. When it comes to foreign policy, Romney can speak for himself. All I'm saying is that when it comes to analyzing a candidate's religious beliefs, we should be asking the questions that really matter. So here are a few questions I would like for Governor Huckabee to answer.

1. Governor Huckabee. Do you support the expansion of Jewish Settlements in the West Bank?

2. Governor Huckabee. Does your particular interpretation of Scripture preclude a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

3. Governor Huckabee. What is your view on the role of the U.N. in international affairs?

4. Governor Huckabee. Do you believe the Bible prophecies an imminent attack on the state of Israel by an alliance of Russia and Iran?

Will Governor Huckabee go on record regarding any one of these issues in the near future? Will anyone be asking him these questions in the next debates? For the sake of us all...Let's hope so.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Christian Right and the Pledge of Allegiance-Is There a Contradiction?

This is a revision of an earlier post I've written.

Imagine a grade school student from China who goes to a public school and is asked to swear an oath to the Chinese state every day along with the rest of his or her class at school. Imagine that the young boy or girl refuses to participate due to the fact that he or she is a Christian and does not want to declare allegiance to anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ. I wonder how the average American Christian raised in a conservative evangelical church would view this scenario? I imagine that millions of Christians in America would not only admire the grade school student, but would probably use him or her as an example in Sunday School on how to take a stand as a Christian against a godless secular culture.

Now let's imagine another scenario. Imagine a young boy or girl in America attending one of the thousands of Christian schools throughout the nation. Imagine that a young boy or girl decides one day to politely decline in saying the pledge of allegiance along with his or her classmates. I wonder how the average American evangelical Christian would view this scenario? Given the political firestorm over taking "under God" out of the pledge, I imagine that the reaction of the same millions of Christians who thought the Chinese boy or girl was a hero would be decisively different than over the Christian child refusing to participate in the American pledge of allegiance. I further imagine that many would even question if the student was a Christian at all. After all, so the thinking goes, America is a Christian nation.

Does anyone else see a problem with this? To many American Christians, a child who pledges allegiance to China is considered idolatrous, but a child who pledges allegiance to America is considered a patriot. Speaking as an American evangelical myself, I have to ask what does this say about how we as American Christians view ourselves? For many Christians, the idea that America is not a Christian nation is tantamount to blasphemy. I find it odd that the same people who would applaud a Chinese or a Russian for refusing to swear an oath to a secular state see no problem with wrapping an American flag around a cross in the front yards of their churches.

For the record, I'm not saying necessarily that it's a damnable sin to say the Pledge of Allegiance, although I do think the issue should be looked at more carefully. Although it's true that the Bible says, "Give custom to whom custom is due," it's also true that the New Testament repeatedly prohibits taking oaths. Given what the New Testament actually says about taking oaths, (namely, that a Christian isn't supposed to be making them) isn't it a bit odd that one of the key issues of the Christian right involves keeping the words "under God" in an oath to a nation/state?

Why does this contradiction exist? I think it's because the average American Christian from a conservative evangelical background associates patriotism with following Jesus. To confirm this truth, we need look no further than "Christian" talk radio. I actually heard a "Christian" talk show host one time tell a U.S. Marine "Remember, when you serve in the U.S. Military, you're serving Jesus." As odd at this statement might sound, turning Jesus into an officer of the U.S. Marines, for many of my friends and colleagues, the statement "soldiers in Iraq are doing the will of God" seems to flow off their lips without a second thought.

Should a Christian associate America's cause with God's cause? I don't think so. The truth is that America is a mixture of good and bad, just like many other nations. We can't claim a special relationship with God more than any other nation can. Although our pilgrim forefathers believed they were making a covenant with God when they entered this land, we have no reason to believe that God entered a covenant with them. Biblically speaking, any alliance between the Kingdom of God, which always looks like Jesus taking on the form of a suffering servant, with a version of the Kingdom of this world, (however new and improved the version of the worldly kingdom is) is an unholy alliance-and for good reason. Ask a typical native American Christian whether he or she believes that God gave the continental U.S. to white Europeans for the purpose of advancing the cause of freedom and liberty and you might get a totally different answer than you would hear from one of Ohio's Patriot Pastors.

As a missionary who has traveled the world many times over, I've met many Christians from other countries who have asked me why so many American Christians associate patriotism with Christianity. Not being one who likes to mix words, I tell them the truth. Americans read the Bible with cultural blinders on.....just like everyone else.

As for those who would venerate a Chinese student for refusing to pledge an oath to China but marginalize a Christian kid for refusing to pledge an oath to America, I'm not sure if they'll like what I have to say, but for a Bible believing Christian, the response to this anomaly should be obvious. Our first and foremost loyalty should be to Jesus Christ. Although we need to honor and serve our country as good citizens, to equate love for Jesus with love for country is nothing short of idolatry.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Releasing my inner sissy-revised

Now that I’m married and no longer collecting manly points to attract the opposite sex, I can finally bare my soul to the world regarding a long repressed childhood memory. Here’s the scene I’d rather deny than reveal. I am 11 years old. I go to a small private Christian school that throws parties for sixth grade graduations. I’m in a limousine with my 11 classmates and the girl that I’ve had a crush on for the past three years is in the arms of another man… who happens to be the most popular kid in my class.

Want to guess what I did in that limousine? You guessed it. I did exactly what jolted love-sick romantics should never do….at least according to the rules of Hollywood. I released my inner sissy and balled like a baby… in front of every single one of my classmates. It was the most humiliating experience of my life up until that point. Here’s the part that makes the story even more embarrassing. Another girl in the class felt sorry for me and decided to "go out" with me (Going out was the term used for a steady relationship back then. I have no idea what the term is today). It wasn't until several weeks later that I realized our “relationship” was a sham. Come to think of it, that was a really nice gesture on her part….even if it was a little misguided. After that summer I never saw my first “girlfriend” again.

What could possibly motivate me to share this story with you? Well, apparently, confession is the "in" thing right now. All over the country, people are sharing their stories through websites, blogs, coffee-houses, and various other venues. Some are confessing their most embarrassing moments, others are confessing their deepest, darkest sins. Still others are confessing their disappointments and frustrations in life. I saw on the Today Show a letter a man sent to a confession site that said, “I wish my father would love me for who I am, not for who I’m not.” It seems that everyone is telling their secrets. The question is-why?

Well, I can tell you one reason-it's Biblical. The Bible says that Christians are supposed to, "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." It seems that the secular world is catching up to what the Bible has been saying all along. As a Bible-believing Christian, none of this comes as a surprise to me. In an age where the most-often repeated phrase is, "I'm a spiritual person, but I don't believe in institutional religion" should we expect anything different?
As much as our generation rejects “institutional religion”, the truth still remains that none of us were created for isolation. All of us need to have people around us who love us and won’t judge us for who we are and what we have done. As imperfect as the institution of the Church is, a place for soul confession is exactly what Jesus and the Apostles had in mind. The Apostle James had it exactly right when he said, “Confess your sins one to another that you may be healed.” If the Church really is an institution of redeemed sinners, what better place could there be to bare your soul?

Calling all Christians! Let's give the world a run for its money. It’s confession time!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Willfully blind

Once a month I get a newsletter from Christ for the Nations magazine. Receiving this magazine is a mixed baggage for me because, while most of the magazine focuses on the work of CFNI graduates and the great things God is doing around the world though them, in nearly every issue there is commentary on Israel and the Middle-East conflict.

This issue is no different. In Jeffery Seif's column O Little Once Christian Town of Bethlehem
Dr. Seif, a former instructor of mine, laments the fact that so few Christians remain in Bethlehem. Not only is Bethlehem becoming barren of Christians, it's also becoming barren of people.

As to be expected, Dr. Seif puts the blame for Bethlehem's economic depravity squarely on the Muslims. The Israeli army is, of course innocent.

Just so you can see what I'm up against, here is Dr. Seif's evaluation of the situation.

As is to be expected, many blame the Jews for those statistics-even the victims. As with just about every other problem on planet Earth, Jews are seen as the principl culprits. Demonic-inspired Jew-bashing aside, unreported-or under-reported anyway-are the abuses that Christian Arabs suffer under the administrations of their Islamic Arab overlords, pressing them to seek better lives for themselves outside of Muslim jurisdictions. This is the real problem. The Palestinian Authority seems either unwilling or unable to assist Arab citizens of Christian persuasion.

While we remember Jesus' birth and sing tunes anticipating "peace on earth and goodwill toward men," let us all remember how Christian brethren are suffering in the land of Jesus' birth, and let us pry for them. Mindful of that, let us not delude ourselves with the popular, politically correct fantasy that by ceding more and more real estate to Muslim terrorists, we are purchasing peace for the peoples of the Middle East. It may sound good in theory, but is not borne out in practice; it, in truth, is just another ploy to detach Jews from their ancestral homeland.

Dr. Seif, has it ever occured to you that the economic starvation and mass exodus from Bethlehem might possibly be due to the gargantuan-sized wall the Israeli military has built around the city? The problem with Dr. Seif's thesis is that it doesn't reflect the views of the average Palestinian Christian. During my trip to Bethlehem, I talked to many Christians and all of them put the blame on the Israeli military occupation for making their lives difficult. Not one Christian I talked to said their primary problem was with their Muslim neighbors. What I heard from them was, in fact, the opposite. Every Christian I talked to, even evangelical Charismatic Christians, identified their struggle with the struggle of their Muslim neighbors. While I don't deny their could be some discrimination between Muslim overlords and their Christian subjects, every Christian I talked to agreed that Christians and Muslims live together peacefully in the West Bank.

Even more disturbing is the length that Seif goes to automatically rule out the view of anyone who questions his if criticizing the Israeli military's heavy handed policies is equivalent to "demonically-inspired Jew-bashing."

Such rhetoric is typical among people who only see what they want to see. Instead of reasoning with someone sees a situation different from you, all you have to do is say he has a demon.

Works every time for the ignorant.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Between ordinary and extraordinary

I've been thinking a lot lately about the phrase, "God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things." While I've written on this topic before in my post, "In Defense of Ordinary" in which I make the point that God uses ordinary people to do ordinary things, but ordinary things really matter. This time I'm coming at it from a different angle and I'd like to enlist my readers for some input.

The problem with the "ordinary people...extraordinary things" idea is that once ordinary people do extraordinary things, then they are no longer considered ordinary, which begs the question whether they were really ever that ordinary to begin with. Another problem is that the examples are so far removed from the every day Christian experience, they hardly seem relevant. Case in point...when was the last time you or I walked on water or healed a crippled person from our shadow? I don't think any of us, at least not anybody I know personally, can call Peter ordinary. If we are honest with ourselves, we'll probably have to admit that normally, God uses "extraordinary" people to do "extraordinary things." In my mind, people like Moses, David, Peter, and Paul fall into this category. This doesn't mean that extraordinary people don't have ordinary faults or don't often come from ordinary beginnings, it just means that extraordinary lives come from extraordinary people.

What I'm lookin at now are examples in the Scriptures in between ordinary and extraordinary. Examples where an ordinary person does something either extraordinary or something just a cut above average, and, yet remains ordinary.

The first example that comes to mind is Ananias. Here is an ordinary disciple who God uses to baptize the Apostle Paul....and then we never hear about him again. To me, Ananias is a perfect example of an individual who falls into the category somewhere in between ordinary and extraordinary. Ananias did something extraordinary, but remained an ordinary person. Could it be that the Holy Spirit put this story in the Bible to show us that even people who are truly ordinary can occasionally do something extraordinary and remain ordinary at the same time? I don't know about you, but I'm glad there are characters like Ananias in the Bible. If all we had were Peters and Pauls and Davids, there really wouldn't be much hope for the vast majority of the human race who long to transcend run-of-the-mill ordinary existence.

I'm sure there are many, perhaps better, stories in the Bible to illustrate this point. Can you think of any?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Virtue, villian, and the complexity of reality

If it seems like I'm conflicted in my feelings regarding the Christian right, I am. By now it should be obvious that I feel a Reformation needs to take place in American Christianity, and a significant part of this Reformation demands the rejection of core philosophies and beliefs held by the so-called leaders of the Christian right (at least the ones that have the attention of the secular media anyway). After writing "Pro-Life Killers" yesterday, I feel it's necessary to bring some balance into the discussion. I think it's wrong for anybody to focus so much on the negative side of one particular group of people as to completely overlook the positive.

The truth is, while many who would call themselves "liberal" despise the Christian Right for not caring about poverty related issues, the ironic thing is, some of the most active people in the world in addressing poverty related issues are right wing conservative Christians. I'm not the only one who has noticed this. One of the things that Stephen Marshall, the director of Holy Wars, learned through his "hanging with the fundamentalists" was that the "fundamentalists" are some of the most active people on the ground when it comes to disaster relief. Just like I've chastised my own side on many things, Stephen has also chastised his "left-wing" friends for merely talking about Global poverty issues and railing against the "fundamentalists", while the "fundamentalists" are actually the ones on the ground clothing the poor and feeding the hungry.

My point is this.

People are complex. If we look at the spectrum of good people in the world verses the bad people in the world, most people are somewhere in between and, as much as I hate to admit it, that includes Christians. I can rail all day long against the hypocrisy I see in so-called "conservative Christianity", but if that's all I see, I'm dead wrong. The same holds true for those on the "right" who criticize those on the "left."

As much as I've observed people around the world from different races, colors, and religions, the truth seems evident to me that most people (regardless of their background) are a combination of virtue and villian.

Not only are people complex, but morality is complex. Not only is morality complex, but so is religion. Not only is religion complex, so is the Bible. Not only is the Bible complex, interpreting the Bible seems to be the most complex.

If you're frustated by the complexity of reality, you're not the only one. Sometimes I've wondered why God would make reality so complex, but then I think to myself, if I substitute the word complex for interesting, then it doesn't sound so bad after all.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pro life killers?

Unless you've been living in a box, you've probably heard of Joe Horn, a 61 year old white male who shot two dark skinned males (who looked African American but are in fact of Puerto Rican descent)for breaking into his neighbors' house.

If you haven't read the story, read this first.

Joe White wasn't in any physical danger himself, and neither were his neighbors since they weren't home at the time. The 9-11 call clearly indicates that White intended to kill the two men when he walked out the door even though the 9-11 operator repeatedly told him to stay inside.

If the men had broken into White's home while he was present, then a case could be made for self-defense.

But this isn't what happened. Joe White took matters into his own hands and shot the two men point blank.

As I was watching footage of the clash between black protestors and the white neighbors, I couldn't help but think about the irony of it all. No, I don't think it can be proven that this was a racially motivated crime, but yes I think what Joe White did was wrong. The 9-11 operator was right. Human life is more valuable than possessions. As a Christian, I shudder to think about the fact that these two men, if they had been allowed to live, could have turned their lives over to Christ at a point in the future, but now the opportunity has been snuffed out. At least for these two men, judgment triumphed over redemption.

It saddens me that so many of the neighbors, and those in the surrounding neighborhoods stuck up for this man, especially knowing that this area is one of the most conservative Christian areas in the country. 70% of this particular county voted for Republican Tom De Lay and I'll make a bet that many of them voted for him solely for the reason that De Lay is pro-life. It also saddens me that so much of the commentary I've read on this subject, again by conservative Christians, feel that what White did was the right thing.

No, I don't think the law should treat Joe White the same was as those who kill for "less noble" reasons, but isn't it odd that so many who call themselves pro-life are so eager to defend the right to kill?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Inspiration moment- a homeless playwrite

Scripture says to give honor to whom honor is due. I saw on CNN today one of the most inspirational stories I've seen in a very long time. Since I've been going to a homeless shelter once a month to serve a meal and minister the gospel, this story took on a significance greater than maybe it would have before.

Meet Haywood Fennell Sr. Haywood is an ex-convict who spent years of his life rotating between prisons and homeless shelters (at least that was the impression I got watching his story on CNN). As Haywood was spending his days in a homeless shelter, he began writing plays. His plays focus on the plight of the underclass and serves to educate Boston residents on African American history and civil rights issues. Not only is Haywood a distinguished playwrite, but he also works in areas of prison reform and veterans affairs.

Here is a link to learn more about Haywood.

Haywood credits his turnaround as an answer to other peoples' prayers.

I just thought this story might lift your spirit as it has mine.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ode to not getting sawn in half

I've had this thought rolling around in my head for a while, but I haven't gotten around to posting it yet. It's a little bizarre, but follow me here.

I've been doing a lot of study on the Biblical prophets lately. One of the things that impresses me the most about Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, and Amos is their ability to speak the truth to those in power, in particular as it relates to poverty related issues. One of the reasons why I've focused a significant amount of my attention on poverty related issues lately is because when I read the Biblical prophets, there's no way I can come to any other conclusion that the issues the most important to them (besides idolatry) were nearly all poverty related.

Take for example what Isaiah cried out to the power brokers of his day,
"Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, Who write misfortune, which they have prescribed to rob the needy of justice, and to take what is right from the poor of My people, that widows may be their prey, and tht they may rob the fatherless. What will you do in the day of punishment, and in the desolation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your glory?"

Imagine the chutzpah it took for Isaiah to say that in his day! Then it occured to me, according to tradition, Isaiah was sawn in half and, if you look at Hebrews 11:37, you'll discover that Isaiah wasn't the only one sawn in half!

Then the bizarre thought occured to me.

A couple months back, I and a small group of people met with the representatives of both Senator Bond and Senator McKaskill to discuss poverty related issues that we cared about and how we felt the U.S. government could better address the issues related to extreme global poverty. In both cases, we dealt with community liason representatives who listened carefully to what we had to say, promised to relay the messages to the Senators, and then politely sent us on our way.

The last thing I expected was to be sawn in half that day.

Thank God for democracy!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Setting the record straight-Am I the next Ann Coulter?

First things first, I would like to make a public announcement that my article Average Joe Liberal's Bleeding Heart Dilemna was not about bashing liberals! The point of the article was to ask the question of how does a person with extraordinary ideals cope when his or her ordinariness doesn't match the level of his or her extraordiniary ideals. That was the point!

Recently, I started blasting my articles across the internet with an article submission service that lists my articles in all the top article driven websites. I think that perhaps I should be more careful next time what I submit since new readers don't have the long history with me. One man, after reading the article actually compared me to Ann Coulter! For those of you who don't know Ann Coulter, Coulter is a far right verbal bomb thrower that makes Rush Limbaugh look like Mr. Rogers.

You can view the man's comment about my article here.

I explained to the man that those who read my blog would know that the Average Joe bleeding heart liberal was me! I then asked him to view my blog to see if I was telling the truth. I challenged him to read "Stories from the West Bank" and then see if he arrived at the same conclusion. Apparently, the individual "perused" my blog, saw Pete's comment on my Average Joe article and concluded that this blog is about me (the Ann Coulter wannabe) poking fun at non-conservatives.

To set the record straight. For those of you who read my blog consistently, am I the next Ann Coulter or am I a struggling Christian trying to navigate myself in a morally complex world?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Are there contradictions in the Christmas story?

Question: Hello Aaron,
If you don't mind speaking for those who consider themselves
"biblical literalists", what do you do with the fact that the birth
story of Jesus is very different in Matthew and Luke - i.e. in
Matthew, Mary and Joseph live in Bethlehem where Jesus is born in a
"house" and then after going to Egypt to escape Herod they go to
Nazareth to live. In Luke they live in Nazareth and then go to
Bethlehem for the census and for Jesus' birth. Other than these
facts I could believe that they ar each telling a different part of
the story but these little pieces seem to be irreconcilable.
This is not a challenge, just a curiosity as to how my conservative
brothers and sisters resolve this little quandry. I am doing a book
study on Borg and Crossan's The First Christmas. Trust me, I don't
buy into everything that Borg and Crossan write but often find they
pick up the political this-world emphasis of the Gospels.

Answer: Hi Will,

Thanks for the e-mail.

Your question is good so I'll get right to it. First of all, I'm not
sure if the term "Biblical literalist" means the same to me as it does
to you, and neither am I sure if the term best describes my approach
to Scripture. I don't believe in reading the Bible with a wooden
literalism taking every word at face value. On the other hand, I
don't believe in reading the Bible in a way that puts subjective
interpretation on an equal footing with the intentions of the Biblical
authors. I think that between the two interpretational extremes of
fundamentalism and liberalism is what I would call theological

Perhaps a better term to describe my position is that of a Biblical
realist. As a Biblical realist I follow two golden rules. Rule
number one is I believe the best way to determine the meaning of a
passage is to determine what the Biblical authors intended to convey
to their original audience. This requires that we delve into the
worldviews of the original audience. I think that too often modern
readers squabble over factual details that would have been
unimportant to the original recipients of the Biblical authors'
writings. In our 21st century mindset, something is not true unless
it is a fact. Ancient minds didn't think this way. To the ancient
mind, the story is what mattered. Something could still be true even
if all the "facts" didn't line up in exact detail. This is why I'm
not bothered when people point out to me minor contradictions in
Scripture that deal only with the "facts" and not the theological
intent of the original author. Notice I said minor. Even an ancient
audience wouldn't have believed a story presented as an actual event
if none of the details added up. The second rule I follow is to
interpret Scripture with Scripture, and this includes the
understanding that the Bible is progressive revelation culminating in
the person of Jesus Christ (side note: This is why I abandoned
Christian Zionism, because I discovered that the New Testament authors
didn't interpret the Old Testament in the same way that I was brought
up with).

Having said that, in this case, I don't see a contradiction between
Matthew's account and Luke's account concerning the details you are
describing. In Matthew's account, Matthew doesn't say that Joseph and
Mary were living in Bethlehem at the time Mary conceived. All Matthew
says is that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men came from the
east to see him. Matthew doesn't tell us where Joseph was living when
the angel appeared to him. Luke's account that Mary and Joseph lived
in Nazareth and then traveled to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus
simply gives more detail to what Matthew was describing. I think
it's probable that Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem for up to two
years before they fled to Egypt, but, again that was after Jesus was
born, not before. Both accounts agree that Jesus was born in
Bethlehem and that he grew up in Nazareth, even if Luke omits the
detail about the flight to Egypt. I think both accounts fill in the
details that the other leaves out.

Hope this helps,


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Average Joe liberal's bleeding heart dilemna

I feel sorry for liberals. I'm not talking about the militant liberal who distributes condoms to 13-year olds, desecrates the American flag and takes people to court for saying Merry Christmas. I'm talking about the average Joe liberal, the guy who works at the local Subaru factory who loves his country but thinks his fellow Americans are a bit too materialistic and has genuine concerns about how U.S. Foreign policy affects the rest of the world. The reason why I feel sorry for the average Joe liberal and not the Hollywood liberal is because the Hollywood liberal has the time and the money to build environmentally friendly homes, buy organic food their spare Darfur. Yes it's true that many of the Hollywood liberal types live far below their ideals (especially when they fly around in private jets), but at least they get to speak at One rallies and rub shoulders with Bono...or become a U.N. Goodwill ambassador.

The reason why I feel sorry for the average Joe liberal is because while most Americans eat Taco Bell, shop at Walmart, and pray to God the stock market treats them kindly, the average Joe liberal eats at Taco Bell, shops at Walmart, prays that his 401K will be there for him when he retires....and has to feel crummy about himself in the process. While most people organize their financial lives around what they feel is in their best interests, the average Joe liberal does the same thing. The difference though is that the average Joe liberal has to wonder if his designer jacket was produced in a sweat shop and hopes the oil stocks in his 401K aren't propping up the Military Junta in Burma. While most people only have to worry about enlarging their wastelines as they chow down on Big Macs, the average Joe liberal, as he chows down on the same Big Mac, wishes he was a vegetarian because he knows that beef production uses far more of the earth's water resources than vegetable production-and he knows that wars are fought over water resources. The guy I feel sorry for is the one with a bleeding heart, but an empty pocket.

I wonder if the Holy Spirit had the average Joe bleeding heart liberal in mind when He inspired the Apostle Paul to write...."For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do" (Romans 7:15). While I would like to believe that the Apostle Paul was talking about his present experience as a Christian when he wrote these words, intellectual honesty demands that I disclose my belief that Paul was talking about his pre-conversion experience in this passage. While some can debate my interpretation of this passage, I have to say that I much prefer the other interpretation that I don't accept, the interpretation that Paul was disclosing his struggles as a believer. Regardless if one believes Paul is talking about his pre-conversion experience or his post conversion experience, I have to say there is one thing I especially appreciate about this passage- and that's the Apostle's forthrightness about the human condition.

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking the streets of the West Bank with a delegation from Christian Peacemaker Teams. While most people in the group came from theologically liberal backgrounds, I felt a bit out of place being from a conservative evangelical background. As I conversed with a fellow delegation member one afternoon, I made a comment that none of us leave this world untainted. It seems that we all go through life not just stumbling in a few things, but in many things (James 3:2). I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel that I would rather not know about how many ways I stumble as I go about my daily life trying to get by with as little pain and as much comfort as possible. As much as I would like to think that all is well with my soul just because I love to go to church and don't drink, smoke, and cheat on my wife, I know in my heart it's simply not true.

I think that anyone who takes living a moral life seriously, whether liberal or conservative, will eventually find themselves facing this question. What does a man do when his ideals supersede his ability to reach his ideals? Extraordinary people manage to find ways to rise above the rest and live out their ideals in extraordinary ways. But extraordinary people are few and far betweeen. That's why they are extraordinary. But how does an ordinary person cope with extraordinary ideals?

I'll have to admit. I'm not sure I know the answer to this question. I'll gladly plead the Fifth on this one. There is one thing I do know though, and that is "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). I know this verse doesn't mean that we all get a free pass to live however we want, but, nevertheless, I'm sure glad it's in the Bible. Perhaps there's hope for average Joe bleeding heart liberals after all.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Stories from the West Bank

I must admit that I have been back in the States for two weeks now since my journey with Christian Peacemaker Teams into the heart of the West Bank. Besides a weekend speaking engagement in Farmington, New Mexico, there is a reason why I haven't written about my experiences yet. The reason is because I'm at a loss for words and I wonder how many of my readers will understand the inner turmoil I am going through about speaking out on a highly sensitive political and theological issue, an issue that could potentially isolate me from a lot of people who have loved me and supported me over the years. I've already begun writing a draft of this letter and I've had to scrap what I've previously written. As much as I've tried, I'm just not sure how to communicate to my evangelical Christian brothers and sisters the day to day suffering of the Palestinian people living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip without running the risk of being labeled an anti-Semite, a heretic, one-sided, or just plain naïve. Worse yet, how do I communicate what I've seen without actually becoming those things?

Since the issues are still raw for me at this point, I've decided to focus on the stories of people I met on my journey and to try to communicate the situation on the ground from their perspectives. First, let me tell you about Fadi. Fadi is a Palestinian Christian living in Bethlehem. Fadi is the associate pastor of a charismatic church and teaches at Bethlehem Bible College. When Fadi took a group of Palestinian Christians to a conference in Korea, it took the group 12 hours to get to Amman, Jordan (a trip that should only take 1 hour). Because Fadi and the group were Palestinians, they had to pass through a check point to leave Bethlehem, a checkpoint to enter Jericho, and then when the group reached the border to Jordan, they had to cross a Palestinian checkpoint, two Israeli checkpoints, and, finally, the Jordanian checkpoint. If Fadi wants to go to East Jerusalem, he has to apply for a permit, which he may or may not get, and, if he does, he may only be allowed into the city for 5-7 hours. Those who are fortunate enough to get permits to work in East Jerusalem, must get up at 3:30 a.m. in order to get to their work-place (which is only 8 miles away) by 7:30 a.m. The reason for this is because a gigantic wall built by the Israeli military within the past four years now surrounds Bethlehem. Both Fadi and his siblings, even though they are Christians, identify with the struggle of the Palestinian people and wished that more Americans knew that people like them existed, let alone understand their plight.

The wall, which the Israelis call a "security fence," is not built around the internationally recognized border separating the state of Israel from the occupied territories (which is called the Green Line). The wall cuts right into the heart of the West Bank, dividing people from their families, separating people from their farmland, and, in most cases, cutting the people off from any significant means of survival- all without compensation. In some cases, the wall actually surrounds people's homes so that when they look out their windows, there is a concrete wall staring back at them over twice the size of the house and surrounding them on three sides. I met one Palestinian family (a Christian family) who had a thriving business out of their garage on a very busy street, but now the wall surrounds their home like a prison. They no longer have the means to support themselves.

In many cases, the wall is strategically placed to separate the Jewish settlements from their Palestinian neighbors and to ensure that the bulk of the water resources are diverted to the settlers. Not only do the settlements use a disproportionate amount of the water resources (as was the case in the Gaza strip when there were 9.000 settlers surrounded by 12,000 soldiers living among 2 million Palestinians and diverting 40% of the water resources), I also heard many stories of the settlements, which are nearly all sitting on top of hills adjacent to Palestinian villages, dumping their sewage onto the hillsides. The settlers then build walls to isolate themselves from their neighbors. As one Palestinian Christian man put it sadly to me, "They don't even want to see our faces."

After the settlements are well established (the definition of a settlement being a town built for Jews only outside the internationally recognized border for the state of Israel) and the people have no hope of farming their land again, the IDF (the Israeli Defense Force) then builds roads to connect the settlements, roads that are for Israelis only. In many cases, if a home is in the way or anywhere near the road, it is simply demolished (again without compensation). Such was the case with Atta, a Palestinian tomato farmer whose home I stayed in for a night. Atta's home has already been demolished twice and the home he is living in currently is his third home. If Atta and his family leave the house for any lengthy period of time, they face the risk of armed Jewish settlers seizing the house and claiming it for God (which has happened once before). Atta does not hate the Jewish people however. According to his understanding of what it means to be a good Muslim, Atta believes God has taught him to love everybody and to treat everyone with respect. Atta believes that all violence is wrong and wants Jews, Christians, and Muslims to be able to live together with each religion able to practice their faith freely. Both times his home has been destroyed, Jewish peace activists have helped him rebuild.

Next stop: Susiya and Atwani. I'm not even sure where to begin when talking about these villages. First, I'll start with the children. Because the children living near Atwani have to walk between two heavily guarded settlements to get to school, they face the daily threat of attacks from Jewish settlers. In the past, the elementary school children have been harassed and attacked by grown men wearing black masks. Because of this, they have to be escorted to school by Israeli soldiers who often either don't show up or, if they do, will make the journey difficult by going too fast in their jeeps for them to follow. Though some of the soldiers aren't as bad (some have been known to give the kids candy from time to time), Josh, a full time worker with Christian Peacemaker teams, lives in Atwani so that he can monitor the soldiers to make sure the kids can travel to school safely and without harassment. On other days Josh, along with four other team members, carries a video camera with him as he watches the shepherds and the farmers who also face daily threats and harassments (and sometimes attacks) by the settlers. The settlers can carry hand pistols. The Palestinian farmers cannot.

As I walked through the villages of Susiya and At-Wani, the stories were very similar. In Susiya, I saw a community of people living in tents. Each and every tent had been demolished more than once and, even though the Israeli high court declared that the land was theirs, they still needed a permit to live on the land. The villagers showed me a cistern that the IDF came and filled with rocks so that the people would not be able to access their water supply. A similar occurrence happened in At-Wani, only, in that case it was the combination of the settlers and the military working together. A group of settlers poisoned their water supply with a poison that can only be obtained by a government issued permit. Because of the poisoned water supply, in addition to restricted water access, the people were not able to sell their sheep that drank from the water, thus crippling the village economy. Because the villagers are living under military occupation, they had no legal recourse and there has never been an investigation to this day.

After spending time in Susiya and Atwani, the team went to Hebron, a city where over 850 shops have been closed down by a military order, the people have to pass through 101 checkpoints to get to where they need to go, and where just a few short years ago, the people endured a 586 day curfew where they could only come out of their homes once a week for a period of three hours before they had to return to their homes. As I walked through the streets, I noticed several nets hanging above me connecting the buildings on both sides. I also noticed bottles and blocks and numerous other dangerous objects lying on top of the nets. These were areas where the settlers (who are fully protected by the Israeli military) would throw things out the windows for the sole purpose of maiming or killing the Palestinians walking on the streets.

How did the settlers arrive in Hebron? The stories I heard were mostly the same regardless of where I went. A Palestinian leaves their home for a few days, a Jewish settler moves in while they are absent, the Israeli military declares their home or apartment a closed military zone, and the individual or family is unable to return. Entire apartment complexes are seized this way and when the process is complete, the Israeli military will shut down a street, force the people out of their homes or shops, and declare it a street for Jews only.

In Hebron I met many fascinating people, including two Palestinian journalists who told stories of Palestinian human rights activists being arrested without charges and enduring torture in Israeli prisons. The journalists themselves showed scars on their bodies from the beatings they have endured from the Israeli soldiers in the past. I also met with local Palestinian police who were struggling to maintain order among their people despite the obstacles the Israeli military put in their way (like letting a thief get away and not allowing the police to pass through the checkpoints).

One of the most inspiring people I met was Zleika. Zleika is a schoolteacher who courageously defied the curfew imposed by the IDF, often going out during the day and forming a line to take her students to school. Zleika told us about a day she was passing through a checkpoint holding a sack of sweet potatoes in her hands when a female soldier made the comment "garbage holding garbage." When the soldier asked her what was in the bag, Zleika replied, "That is my business, not yours." The soldier responded by pushing Zleika to the ground and beating her repeatedly. The soldiers standing by did nothing. After Zleika got up, the other soldiers joined in by throwing her to the ground, strip-searching her twice, and, when the incident was over, they took Zleika to the police where she was questioned for 10 hours. The female soldier claimed that Zleika beat her up. The police told her that if the case went to court, she would have to pay 1,000 shekels (roughly 250 dollars, equivalent to 3 months wages).

Through meeting with groups like ACRI (the Association of Civil Rights in Israel), the UNRWA (the United Nations Relief Workers Agency), and even the Palestinian YMCA, I learned about many of the numerical facts on the ground. For example, in the past 7 years, over 466,000 olive trees have been uprooted by the Israeli army in order to make room for new settlements and the electric wall that divides people from their families. Many of these olive trees are over 2,000 years old and are considered heirlooms by their owners. A significant amount of Palestinians also rely on these olive trees to feed their families. In addition to the olive trees that have been destroyed, the Israeli army has destroyed 1.4 million trees and thousands of acres of farmland in the Palestinian territories since September of 2,000.

I also learned that in 1948, the year Israel became a nation, approximately 800,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes. Many of them were forced out at gunpoint, others left out of fear. During this time, children were slaughtered, women were raped, houses were burned to the ground, land mines were planted, and Israeli tanks shelled entire villages. Overall 531 villages were destroyed. Those who fled for their lives have not been allowed to return to their homes till this day even though international law mandates their right of return. While some claim that the masses of people fled to join Arab armies to drive Jews into the sea, (I've heard this argument by John Hagee, Hal Lindsey, and others), the facts simply do not match these claims.

For those interested in reading about this period of time from the perspective of an Israeli Jewish historian, click on the link below.

One of the things that surprised me was that many of the refugees I met actually preferred a one state solution to the conflict over a two state solution. Though it has been 60 years, the families I met showed me deeds to their homes that date back to the Ottoman empire and told me that all they wanted was to return to rebuild their homes and villages (which most of them remain unoccupied to this day with the exception for a third of them which were taken over by Jews). According to one intellectual I met, over 65% of the Palestinian elite want a secular democracy with equal rights for Jews and Palestinians alike. Their attitude is that if Jews can build towns in the West Bank, then they should be able to live in Haifa or Tel Aviv.

By far the person that made the greatest impression on me was a young man named Gilad. Gilad is an Israeli Jew who works with an organization called ICAHD, which stands for Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions. After Gilad graduated from high school, he refused to serve the mandatory two years in the army for reasons of conscience. Though he has been culturally ostracized from many of his friends and family for refusing to join the IDF, Gilad works to rebuild Palestinian homes that have been demolished by the IDF.

Before taking the team on a tour of East and West Jerusalem, Gilad gave a lecture on how traditionally the Israeli/Palestinian issue has been viewed in the western media from the prism of Israeli security verses Palestinian terrorism. Gilad wanted the team to rethink the issue in light of human rights and international law. Gilad referred to "the matrix of control" a term used to describe all the different ways in which the Israeli government maintains their dominion over the Palestinian people. In addition to talking about the home demolitions, Gilad talked about the land seizures, the curfews, the disproportionate use of force aimed at the civilian population (like the shelling of neighborhoods, the shooting of children), the road closures, the concrete blocks the IDF puts in front of Palestinian villages to restrict commerce, the checkpoints, the travel restrictions, the permit system, the diversion of the water resources and the cutting off of electricity. All of these form what Gilad calls the matrix of control.

As Gilad gave the team a bus tour of East and West Jerusalem, he instructed us to pay attention to the difference in living conditions between West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem. According to Gilad, Palestinians comprise 38% of the population, pay 40% of the taxes, but receive only 8% of the tax revenue in the form of services. Even though they should be considered Israeli citizens (since East Jerusalem was officially annexed to Israel in 1967), they are not. The people have to carry a special form of I.D. indicating they are from East Jerusalem. More importantly, they are not allowed permits to build homes. Every year, approximately 100 Palestinian homes are demolished in East Jerusalem. The people wake up in the morning with an eviction notice. They are given two hours to pack up everything and leave. After their home is demolished, the IDF hands the family a bill to pay for the demolition. The official government policy to support this practice is called "Judaization." Since 1967, over 18,000 homes have been demolished. Only 5% were declared to be for security reasons. The official reason is to preserve the Jewish majority. Every year, entire Bedouin villages are leveled in the Negev valley (which is inside the state of Israel) for the official reason of maintaining the demographic balance by preserving the Jewish majority.

The Bible says in Proverbs 18:17, "The first one to plead his cause seems right until his neighbor comes and examines him." Like many of my friends and family, I have only heard one side of this story for most of my life. Not only was I raised reading books by Hal Lindsey, Pat Robertson, John Hagee and other charismatic leaders (many who raise millions of dollars to finance Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip), I also attended a Bible School that taught me if I didn't support the Jewish people in reclaiming the Promised Land, I'd make myself an enemy of God. Needless to say, for the first 23 years of my life, I don't think I could have had the frame of reference to view this conflict in an objective manner by any meaningful sense of the word. It wasn't until three years ago when I read a book called "Light Force" by Brother Andrew, one of the greatest missionaries of the 20th century, that I started to hear the perspective of King Solomon's examining neighbor.

I'm still not sure if I'm objective. Now that I've seen what the other side of the story looks like, I'm not even sure if objectivity is possible anymore. Whether one has an insiders' perspective on a situation or an outsiders' perspective on a situation, all of us interact with the world around us based on presuppositions (whether philosophical or theological) that determine how we interpret everything we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. Sometimes our presuppositions are right. Other times they're dead wrong.

Though many things remain unclear to me regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, what is crystal clear to me is this conflict is clearly a conflict between the powerful and the powerless, the Israelis being the powerful and the Palestinians being the powerless. Those who argue that a Palestinian living in East Jerusalem or a Bedouin living in the Negev Valley (which is inside Israel) have the same rights as a Jew living in Tel Aviv are either willfully ignorant or delusional. What is also clear to me is this is not merely a conflict of Jews verses Arabs or Israelis verses Palestinians. Rather, it's a conflict between Israeli and Palestinian war-makers verses Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers. Both sides have villains who want to drive the other into the sea and heroes who work tirelessly for peace and reconciliation. Also on both sides are the vast majority of people who are neither heroes nor villains, but ordinary people who want peace on one hand, but fear for their safety and well being on the other hand.

On our last day in Hebron, I was pleased to have the opportunity to take part in a symbolic action helping a Palestinian farmer and his family harvest their olive trees. On the man's property, Jewish settlers have built a sidewalk cutting through his orchard and nearly every day the settlers walk through his property with guns in their pockets, hate in their eyes, and threats on their lips. What gave me hope that day was seeing an Israeli peace activist that I had met earlier on the trip working side by with the Palestinian farmer helping him pick olives from his olive tree. As I was observing the two working side by side, a thought entered my mind that has been with me ever since and refuses to let me go to sleep at night.

Which is more Christ-like? The TV evangelist who cheered last year as Israeli warplanes were dropping bombs on buses and bridges in Lebanon, calling the action a "miracle from God" -or the liberal Jew picking olives with a Palestinian farmer? Even more nagging is this question. What does it say about the state of the American Church, a Church comprised of millions of people who claim to follow the Prince of Peace, if I as an American Christian, would have to prepare a two hundred-page theological dissertation to defend myself for picking option number two?

While there is still time,


p.s. Here is a link to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition's website. The link will take you to an excellent article called "Facts on the Ground" to give you a better understanding of what I have described. They also have an excellent FAQ section on the political issues.

p.p.s. Here is a link to a group called "Breaking the Silence." This organization is a group of former Israeli soldiers speaking out against abuses in Hebron.

p.p.p.s Here is a link to Ilan Pappe's website. Ilan Pappe is an Israeli Jewish historian who has written extensively on the events surrounding the formation of Israel in 1948. Understanding how the two sides view the same year is crucial to understanding the rest of the conflict.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Are denominations Biblical?

Question: I have a new question for you to tackle. Is there support in the Bible for the starting of denominations and if so what are the requirements? I would love to hear your comments as most people kind of stutter and and switch topics when asked this question.

Answer: I'm writing this on the fly and I don't have a Bible in front of me at the moment, so I'll give you the first thoughts that pop into my head on this.

First of all, I'm not as negative as most Christians I know when it comes to the subject of denominations. There are many people that see the presence of so many denominations and splinter groups within Christianity as a negative thing. I don't view it that way. If you study the New Testament closely, you'll notice that the apostles approved of diversity within the Church from the beginning.

The first example I can think of is the appointing of the 7 elders in Acts chapter 6. All of the elders chosen were Jews from a Hellenistic background. Dr. C. Peter Wagner in his book, "Acts of the Holy Spirit" says that the incident of choosing Hellenist deacons represents a natural racial/cultural separation in the early church. It doesn't seem that Luke would have us to believe that the incident was a negative occurence. (Of course, we can't press this too far. The church in Antioch was racially diverse and it is certainly held up as a model church for future believers to aspire to)

Another example of a sanctified split is the dispute between Barnabas and Paul over John Mark. After they couldn't resolve their dispute, they went their separate ways. Luke makes no moral judgment on the matter, but we have no reason to believe that Barnabas left the ministry or dropped out of the faith over the issue. He probably continued the ministry in other places.

In Acts chapter 15, when the Apostles dealt with the question of whether Gentiles need to be circumcised to be included in the Covenant community, the Jerusalem Council decided that the Gentiles should not be burdened with the ceremonial aspects of the law even though the Jewish believers continued to practice the Torah in the same way they had always done (although there is evidence that their views did gradually liberalize as is the case with Peter staying with Simon the Tanner). The Jerusalem Council decision was a landmark decision denoting apostolic approval of cultural diversity within the universal Body of Christ.

On the other side of the coin, it's also true that Paul took a negative view of the factions within the Corinthian Church. Some said they followed Paul, others said they followed Peter or Apollos. Paul's point was that Christ should be the uniting factor regardless of who follows who.

Lastly, if you study the Judean Churches and compare them with the churches that Paul founded, you will see that the leadership structure was very different and so was the structure of their meetings. Paul's churches seem to be free-wheeling and "make the leadership structure up as you go along" while the Judean churches seem to be more organized. This tells me that there is no one definitive set of church government in the New Testament. This makes sense because Jesus taught His disciples to shun titles (e.g. In Matthew He says,"Do not call anyone Rabbi, Father, or Teacher)

Knowing that the New Testament does not lay out a uniform set of church government (this is why I reject the doctrine of Apostolic succession) simplifies your question on what is the requirement to form a new group of believers (whether a church or a denomination). The answer is simple: Godly character and doctrinal purity. I don't think the Holy Spirit is as concerned about organizational structure as we are. Just an opinion, but I think it's a wellfounded opinion.

Well that's all for now. I'm definitely not an authority on this subject, so I think this will make a great discussion for the comments section. I'll be out of town for a couple of weeks, so I probably will not be posting for a while. Let's get a discussion going! Perhaps show this to your friends, Pete and see what you guys come up with.

Hope you're enjoying yourself at school. We miss you at SCCC!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Does Ezekiel 36-39 predict a war with modern day Israel?

If you've ever read a Hal Lindsey book, browsed the Left Behind Series, ever tuned in to TBN, or simply glanced at a Charisma magazine, then you have probably come across the idea in one form or another that the Bible predicts an imminent war with modern-day Israel complete with B-52 bombers, AK-47s and nuclear warheads. The usual culprits for the instigators of the war are Russian and Iran, but sometimes Ethiopia is thrown into the mix as well. The idea is based off of Ezekiel chapters 36-39.

At first glance, these chapters seem like a slam dunk for the prophecy pundits. Ezekiel 36 and 37 describe a restored Israel after having been scattered abroad for a long time. Ezekiel 38 and 39 describe armies coming from the north attempting to annihilate the Jewish people and the bloodbath that occurs as God fights for Israel. The idea that this could happen in our time is certainly plausible (at least with Iran, I see no reason why Russia or Ethiopia would want to attack Israel any time soon, in fact, most Ethiopians believe the Jews are their cousins because they see themselves as descendants of the Queen of Sheba).

As enticing as it may be to pick up the daily newspaper and point to chapters and verses in the Bible to make sense of current events, the conclusions you come to by doing that are usually, if not always, faulty. Worse, they can become self-fulfilling prophecies. It seems that every day another TV preacher calls for war with Iran based on these four chapters of Ezekiel.

Let's break this one down.

First of all, Ezekiel was written after the first siege of Jerusalem when the author was in exile in Babylon. The purpose of the book is to warn those remaining in Jerusalem of its impeneding destruction by Babylon and to give hope that God will restore His people to the land after His punishment for their sins are complete. The most plausible explanation for Ezekiel chapters 36 and 37 is that it refers to the restoration of Jews to the land after the Babylonian captivity. This, of course was fulfilled approximately 70 years later when Cyrus the Persian ruler allowed the first group of Jews to return under Zerubabbel. Although prophecy pundits insist that these chapters must refer to modern day Israel, I would suggest that we allow scripture to interpret scripture and see if the New Testament refers to any of these chapters. As a matter of fact, it does. The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit applies Ezekiel 37:26,27 ( a passage that all prophecy pundits insist applies to modern-day Israel) directly to the Church (II Corinthians 6:16). I find it odd that so many American evangelicals call it heresy to apply ancient prophesies for Israel to the church. By that standard, I guess we can call the Apostle Paul a heretic. Call me crazy, but I think I'll side with Paul over TBN any day.

What about the war prophesied in chapters 38-39? First of all, if we apply the literal hermeneutic closely, which all prophecy pundits insist that we must do, then we should expect Russia, Iran, and Ethiopia to attack Israel riding horses and chariots, not by flying B-52 fighter jets and dropping nuclear warheads. This brings us to a good question. If Ezekiel describes a war with Israel and it doesn't correspond to anything that could happen today, when could this event have taken place?

Good question. I wanted to know that myself. I've found two good explanations. One is that Ezekiel prophesied the events that took place in the Book of Esther. The other explanation says the event happened in the 2nd century B.C. corresponding to the Maccabean revolt.

In my opinion, both of the above theories are credible. Of course, there is another way to look at this even if one adheres to a dispensational perspective. The only other place in the Bible where Gog and Magog are mentioned together is Revelation 20:7-9 and that prophesies an event that will take place at the end of the 1,000 year reign of Christ. In fact if you look at the parallels between the passge in Revelation and the passage in Ezekiel, the similarities are stunning. If this is the same event, then is it really something we should worry about now? Call me crazy, but I think our Lord Jesus Christ is quite capable of putting down a rebellion if He really is ruling from an earthly Jerusalem for 1,000 years as dispensationalists believe.

So, in the end, even dispensational theology, which the prophecy pundits rest on, doesn't support the prophecy pundits views. If this is true, then why do these pundits continue making millions of dollars off their bestsellers? Beats me!

Monday, October 08, 2007

The day I got Left Behind

The year was 1988. I was 11 years old and my younger brother Paul was 7 years old. Our family was visiting my aunt who lived in what we called at the time the "boondocks" of Missouri. I'm not sure if the word is still around today, but back then it meant the middle of nowhere and, with the nearest neighbor being a mile away, that is exactly what it felt like the day my brother and I were walking and talking in a nearby field. As my brother and I were talking and minding our business, something out of the ordinary happened that we still haven't been able to explain to this day. From seemingly out of nowhere, we heard a piercing trumpet blast.

For most young children, this would have been an insignificant incident, but for my brother and I, it meant the end of the world as we knew it. It just so happened that the day we heard the trumpet blast was the day the Rapture of the Church was predicted to happen by the author of the book "88 Reasons Why the Rapture will Happen in 88."
For those unfamiliar with the Left Behind series, the Rapture is the event that millions of evangelical Christians who follow the dispensational interpretation of Scripture believe can happen at any time without a moment's notice. In the Rapture scenario, Jesus snatches Christians away from the earth to take them to heaven while leaving the rest of the world to suffer the horrors of the Seven -Year tribulation prophesied in the books of Daniel and Revelation.

As children of the charismatic movement, we knew full well the verse in the Bible that says, "In the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible," (I Corinthians 15: 52). The day we heard the trumpet blast, my brother and I fully expected that after we blinked our eyes, the next moment we would be in heaven. After blinking hard a few times, we both looked at each other with the same horrified expression on our faces. "Oh no! We've been left behind!" we thought. Immediately we ran inside my aunt's house and discovered that our parents and our cousins and aunts and uncles were still standing. For the rest of the day we were thinking to ourselves that not only had we been left behind, but our entire family had been left behind as well.

As I went to bed that night, I remember racking my brain trying to figure out what my entire family could have done so wrong to suffer such an awful fate. Neither my brother nor I were fully convinced that the rapture had not taken place until the next day when the family decided to visit a nearby church. To our relief, we were happy to see a church filled with Bible Believing Christians worshipping the Lord together. We figured that all these Christians could not have been left behind, especially not the pastor. As our family worshipped the Lord together that day, I was inwardly thanking God that I wasn't going to have to take the mark of the beast or swim in a river of blood any time soon. The relief quickly turned to disappointment when I realized that I still had to go to school the next day.

As innocent as this story is, I've told it for a reason. An evangelical Christian may read this story and reminisce about the wonders of child-like faith, but a secular American reading this story is likely to have a different reaction. For millions of secular Americans, the Left Behind theology promoted by TBN, the 700 Club, and bestselling prophesy pundits is not only delusional, but also dangerous. The thinking goes something like this. If millions of Americans believe this doctrine, and these same Americans are the most powerful voting block in the country, why would people who believe the world is heading for an apocalyptic meltdown care about global warming or protecting the rain forest? To further complicate matters in the minds of secular Americans, the leading advocates of the Rapture theory are also the most vocal advocates for neo-conservative politics, which, in their minds, is the belief that America should back Israel unconditionally, wage pre-emptive wars to establish pro-Western democracies, and give little to no regard to what the U.N. has to say about it.

At least, that's how the "left" sees things. No longer are we evangelicals the persecuted minority. We are the ones holding the cards with our Apostle -in -chief holding the highest office in the country. As unfounded as many of the theocracy accusations from the far-left are, American evangelicals, especially those raised on Left Behind theology, are facing some tough questions right now, and will face many more in the future. American evangelicals are still the most vocal supporters of the Iraq war, a war that is a quagmire in the eyes of many, and it seems that hardly a day goes by without a TV preacher calling for war with Iran. To make matters worse, these same T.V. preachers also raise millions of dollars to finance Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, giving little to no consideration to the fact that the people they are displacing to create their apocalyptic scenario might actually be human beings with families to feed. Never mind the fact that both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have committed atrocities against each other beyond anything we in our fast food, mall shopping, church hopping American culture can conceive of. Never mind the fact that Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers" and yet, when Israel was blasting the Lebanese to smithereens last year, preachers were calling it a "miracle of God" despite the fact that the war actually strengthened Hezbollah’s presence in the region. To top it off, according to the Left Behind theology, if someone comes along with a solution to stop Jews and Palestinians from slaughtering each other, according to the same interpretation of Scripture, that person has to be the devil (the antichrist to be exact).

All of the sudden, a cute little story about a boy thinking he has missed the rapture isn't so cute anymore. If millions of others hold to the same beliefs, it could lead to a self-fulfilling pre-mature least that's how the other side sees it. The question I am asking is this: If a system of Biblical interpretation has potentially dangerous consequences for humanity, should it be abandoned or reformed? How about when high profile evangelicals make statements to the media that we wish would have never been said. Do we get angry with the minister for making us look like buffoons or do we start questioning the theological underpinnings that produced the statement? There are many in my generation choosing the latter. As a non-official representative of evangelicals approaching 30, I would like to ask those older and more mature in the faith to pray for us younger evangelicals. Pray that God will guide us as we look to the Scriptures and formulate new wineskins for the 21st century. Trust me. We're going to need all the prayer we can get.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Is the Bible inerrant?

Question: Good afternoon and greetings from England.

I have been a member of the fundamentalist movement for a long time now and
I realise that the movement insists that I accept the doctrine of Biblical
inerrancy. The definition of Biblical inerrancy is; " its original
form, the Bible is totally without error, and free from all

I read the Bible in my daily devotions and I have felt for a long time that
I have noticed more and more examples of contradictory verses. These
contradictory verses would destroy the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.

One example I have found is the account of Jesus raising Jairus' daughter,
as recorded in Matthew chapter 9, Mark chapter 5 and Luke chapter 8. In
Matthew's gospel, Jairus leaves to find Jesus AFTER his daughter has died.
In Luke and Mark's accounts, he leave BEFORE his daughter dies. Although
this is only a detail difference, it makes these two accounts mutually
exclusive. They are contradictory and cannot both be true at the same time.

A non-Biblical example of the same type of contradictory verses would be
the two statements;
1. My sister became a Christian for the first time BEFORE her 18th
birthday, and
2. My sister became a Christian for the first time AFTER her 18th birthday.

I have asked a number of my fellow Christians how they have dealt with
this, and have received various suggestions. However, these suggestions are
rather weak:

1. One said, "Don't look at the contradictions, look at the happy ending
and the raising of Jairus' daughter". While I am more than happy to rejoice
at what the passage shows me of God, if I ignore the contradictory passages
then I am doing no more than 'putting my head in the sand'.

2. Another said, "Look how much these passages agree. That shows they are
consistent". Unfortunately, even if passages are 75%, 80% or even 99%
consistent, if they contradict each other even once, it destroys the
doctrine of inerrancy. You can't have 'degrees' of inerrancy. Something is
either inerrant or it isn't.

3. Another said, "By asking this question, you miss the big picture of
God's grace". However, I do not miss the big picture of God. I love God,
but am asking about a contradiction that challenges a doctrine of the

3. Another said "Look what happens with witnesses at a road accident. One
witness will say that three cars were involved while another will say that
there were four cars. It's just a case of fallible humans getting the
details wrong". This would hold water if the Bible were like humans, i.e.
errant and liable to make mistakes. But it is not. The Bible is the word of
God, written via Luke, Paul, Matthew etc etc. So, if it has the same author
and is inerrant, it CANNOT contradict itself. Unlike witness statements,
the Bible is written by God.

The bottom line is this: God never contradicts Himself. The Bible is God's
word, so Q.E.D. the Bible cannot contradict itself.

Please let me set something straight before I go further. I am a Christian.
I love God. I am not questioning God. However, I AM questioning a doctrine
of the fundamentalist wing of the world-wide Christian church. Seeing as
the church isn't God, it's possible for me to question the church without
questioning God.

For example, we all feel more than able to question the doctrines of the
liberal wing of the worldwide Christian church, and we all feel more than
able to question the doctrines of the Episcopalian wing of the worldwide
Christian church. So any accusation that, in asking this question, I'm
somehow 'backsliding' and need to 'bow the knee' is not applicable.

I would therefore appreciate it if you would explain how we fundamentalists
can sustain the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy in light of the above.

Many Regards

Name withheld

Answer: First of all, let me say thank you for your poignant question. As an evagnelical Christian committed to the authority of Scripture, I too have struggled with this issue. In answer to your question, I think that modern Christians born and raised in the post-enlightenmnet West read the Scriptures in a way that is absolutely foreign to the worldview of the ancient readers to whom the Scriptures were originally written. For example, the idea that something has to be a fact to be true may seem inevitable to us, but, in fact, this idea has only been around for about 200 years. Take the Creation Account in Genesis. We look at the seven days of creation and and try to figure out which came first, the sun or daylight. Ancient readers would have understood the point to be that only one God exists, and that one God is not a moon god, a plant god, or a sun god. In other words, the 7-day creation account wasn't written for scientists, but for an ancient audience steeped in a pagan worldview. Also consider that Jesus said the mustard seed is the smallest seed in the ground. Botanists know there are smaller seeds than the mustard seed. So, was Jesus giving a botany lesson or teaching about the Kingdom of God?

I think if we realize that the Bible is both a divine and a human document, we will not squabble over details irrelevant to the intent of the Biblical authors. We may think the chronological timing of whether the daughter was dead before or after Jairus went to see Jesus is an important detail, but would that have been important to the Biblical authors writing in the first century? The disciples of Jesus weren't writing for the Associate Press. They were writing in a style common to the Jewish culture of their day.

It's important to understand that the Bible does not claim to be dictated by God. The Bible claims to be inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). There is a vast difference between divine dictation and divine inspiration. Divine dictation means that God dictated every jot and tittle he wanted in the Bible. Divine inspiration means that God inspired human authors to express His will in the language and the culture of their day without overriding their human personalities.

Why did God choose to inspire the Bible rather than dictate the Bible? I don't fully know, but I have a hunch it's because God is far more interested in a relationship with human beings than dictating words from the sky. God likes to use human beings for His purposes and He isn't as concerned with squabbling over details as we are. I personally thinks this makes the Bible much more interesting. I'll take the Apostle James' diatribe against the rich over automatic writing any day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Salvation-a great deal!

I must admit that I don't think along the lines of what I am about to write nearly enough. It's very easy for me to get bogged down with the details of life, the rotten state of the world, and an incessant disappointment with my own failures and shortcomings. What isn't easy is to remind myself how good I actually have it. I'm not talking about the typical Thanksgiving "I thank God for my friends, my family, my big screened T.V. and Taco Bell." (Ok, so I don't actually have a big screened T.V. but I think you get the point) I'm talking about a genuine thankfulness for my salvation.

How often do we think about how good we have it with Jesus? How often do we think about just how good is the good news?

Here is the deal that Jesus offers us:

I'll take your pain, your guilt, and your shame and you can have My healing, my righteousness, and my glory.

Where in the world can you get a deal like that?

Why would anyone in their right minds want to pass this up?

Is it perhaps because it seems to good to be true?

Monday, September 10, 2007

A new self righteousness

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you've probably figured out that I've been going through a moral/spiritual/theological overhaul within the past two years that has turned my world upside down and caused me to question nearly all of my philosophical presuppositions. One of the truths I've discovered is that Christians must not align themselves to closely with a political agenda. For many that may be an absolute duh.... statement, but for others, the idea that Jesus is neither an American nor a Republican is absolutely earth shaking.

Now that I know that Christianity (especially charismatic Christianity) can not be equated with conservative politics, I have to admit that my mind is a lot freer to think beyond the traditional Christian right moral issues of abortion and gay marriage as the sole issues of concern. As I read the Biblical prophets, I now see that the issue of poverty and the economic structures that create them are exponentially high on the list of, should I say, God's social agenda. When I read Jesus (and His brother James who mimicked Jesus' social concern) I am haunted by the idea that, in the end, Jesus is going to be throwing people into hell because of what they did not do to "the least of these my brethren." Bottom line: whether you are a conservative or a liberal, what you do for or against the poor really matters to God. This is a truth that I have discovered and it's a truth I believe needs to be addressed in a major way, especially in Bible-Believing theologically coservative churches.

But there's a problem. The problem is that, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13(and I'm paraphrasing here) "I can sell all my possessions and give my body to be burned alive, but if I don 't have love, it's all worthless." A social gospel can very easily turn into a "I'm good enough to get into heaven on my own gospel" and that is where the cross screams the loudest "No you can't!" I realize that I can dish out food at a homeless shelter and advocate for global poverty (things that I currently do)-and still have a dirty heart at the end of the day. How easy it is to trade one form of self-righteousness for another.

I think we all need to be reminded from time to time just how much we fall short of God's righteouss standards no matter how hard we try. I think the Apostle Paul had it right when he said, "I'm the chief of sinners." Notice he didn't say I was the chief of sinners. He said I am the chief of sinners. If we as Christians are going to be speaking out on moral issues, we need to do so as self-professed moral failures. Any other attitude misses God's kingdom from the distance of the head to the heart-no matter what side of the political aisle we find ourselves on.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Modern Day Pharisees

The following was written on 9/13/06. It should be noted that I am not quite as optimistic about the state of American Christianity as I was when I wrote this piece last year. In my book, "Reformation: A Biblical Response to Holy War" I will be showing how some of the same tendencies that exist in radical Islam also exist in certain sectors of evangelical Christianity right here in America. The point of the article is still valid though, Pharisees are those who want to rule over others in the name of God.

Question: I was wondering if you would ever do a teaching or side by side comparison of the
Pharisees in Jesus time and the Pharisees in our time. I am very drawn to learn more
about not being a Pharisee.

Thank you for the question. I think your desire to avoid becoming a modern day Pharisee is an admirable one, but I don't think you have much to worry about if you are a sincere Christian seeking to follow Jesus. I have to confess that in the past, I have thrown the word "Pharisee" around a little too lightly, as many others have done. It seems the word is used most often when one particular group of Christians wants to insult another group of Christians. This trivializes the word and loses sight of who the Pharisees really were and what the modern equivalent would be. Even Paul the Apostle when He was persecuting the church was not as depraved as the other Pharisees who were responsible for delivering up Jesus to be crucified (I Timothy 1:13)

First of all, the Pharisees thought that Jesus was demon possessed even though He did nothing but heal the sick and love the poor (John 8:48). They burdened people with rituals and laws and condemned people for not following their rigid demands (Matthew 23:4). They were powerful religious rulers who had married their zeal with the power of the state (John 11:48). They had a strict interpretation of the Old Testament law which did not allow for mercy. They thought nothing of stoning a woman to death for adultery (John 8:1-12). Lastly, they were motivated not by love for God, but by greed, envy, and power (John 11:48,Luke 16:14).

Do we have an equivalent in our day and age? Yes we do. I believe the religious police in Saudi Arabia and the Mullahs in Iran fit this description perfectly. Check out the book Iran: Desperate for God for a description of the Mullahs and Blink by Ted Dekker for a description of the religious police in Saudi Arabia. Of course, the Taliban would also be a fitting description of a modern day Pharisee. I would put the medieval Catholic Church responsible for the Inquisition in the same category. They used religion to condemn and kill rather than to love and save.

Yes, we have religious people with Pharisaical tendencies in American Christianity, but none to the same level as the actual Pharisees in the Bible as far as I am aware of. One safeguard against a Pharisaical spirit is to have an all-inclusive view of God's love for humanity. It is a human tendency to think of God's chosen as us four and no more, whether it is extreme Pentecostals who think that only tongue talkers will be in heaven (a minority view)or Fundamentalist Christians who believe that all Catholics are destined for hell for believing in purgatory and praying for the dead. Surely God is bigger than our theological squabbles! I am not suggesting that all are saved or that docrine doesn't matter. What I am saying is the cross of Christ has far more ability to save than does Adam's sin to condemn (see Romans 5). May we rejoice that our sins are forgiven and extend the same hope to the rest of humanity. When the gospel is such good news, who needs Pharisees?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Notes from Colin Powell's speech

I thought my readers might enjoy reading a few of the notes I took on Colin Powell's speaking yesterday at the convention.

Here are two quotes I found particularly noteworthy:

1. The greatest strength we have to fight terrorism is our openness to the rest of the world. Terrorists can knock down our buildings, but they can not change who we are.

2. Trade is now what is driving the political realignment of the world.

Powell also made the note that troops in Iraq are, in fact, in the middle of a civil war. Powell suggested that America puts the pressure on the Iraqi people and not the U.S. military. Powell also mentioned that he supported President Bush's decision to invade Iraq when he was the Secretary of State, but he felt that the war has been poorly handled.

Powell mentioned how he had a conversation with President Bush on the current Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the conversation, President Bush said, "I've looked into his eyes and seen his soul." Powell responded, "I've looked into his eyes and seen his soul too, and I still see a lot of KGB."

Lastly, Powell left on a note of hope. In Powell's view, there are too many doom and gloomers who only see the negative. If we compare the world today to 50 years ago, the world has improved much. For example: The 800 million people living in Europe who, in the first half of the century fought two world wars among each other, now live in peaceful, stable democracies. In the past 50 years, over 3.5 billion Asians have been liberated and are on the road to economic prosperity.

These were the points I found particularly noteworthy. Discuss!