Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Adullam*

When he saw the blood, repentance and worship ensued. 

Upon entering the dark cave, our eyes catch a distant, flickering light.  It is unclear just how we are able to arrive there so quickly during the night.  A full moon has certainly aided our journey.  Drawing near the light, the men who we’d left to guard the king are alerted to our approach.  

Our bodies are exhausted beyond belief.  My ankle is severely swollen, and the pain is intense.  Eleazar has a shattered forearm from a severe blow he absorbed during the fight.  Most bloodied amongst us is Shammah, but it seems his dark stains are mostly those of other men.  Being steadied to walk only by the support of the extended arms of these men, we are a hobbled mass of cuts and bruises.

“Where is the king?” I inquire of the men. 

“He sleeps,” is the reply, “just beyond the light, behind that rock to the left.”

“Wake him, and meet us at the fire,” I instruct them. 

Awakened, the king walks towards us anxiously, and we bow, offering the basin of water before him.  At first, he begins to laugh, almost uncontrollably.  He shouts words of gratitude and praise.  He raises his arms in triumph, as we have seen him do so many times before.  Our countenance is lifted.  

He draws nearer.  His eyes see the basin, and he rejoices with shouts of praise yet again.  But by the light he more clearly begins to discover our faces - dirty, bruised, scraped and bloodied.  His countenance is quieted.

He stands before us but is now unable to speak.  With his mouth gaping open, his gaze lowers to see our blood soaked garments.  His body trembles, and slowly, he drops to one knee, then the other.  He sobs uncontrollably, it seems.  His hands cover his face.  

“My lord,” I offer after only a short time, “the Almighty One has spared your servants…”

“Our strategy was sound,” I continue, “but a young shepherd boy discovered us soon after his stray lamb found us hiding under a pile of brush as we awaited nightfall.  We spared the boy and instructed him to return home.  Having then moved our position, we waited even longer than we’d first planned.  Finally, we maneuvered slowly, cautiously.  How they knew our objective was the well, we are unsure.  The ambush started just after we had filled the basin.  Of those who attacked us, none were spared.  But they were many, and narrow was our escape.  The shepherd boy reappeared as we fled.  He aided our escape as we hid in his father’s barn the next day, while soldiers searched for us and swarmed the gate.”

Suddenly, our king rent his garment, sternum to shoulders.  He then covers his face with ash he gathers from the nearby fire.  

“Salach,” he cries, arms extended upwards.  “Salach!  Salach!”  He begs now of us, posturing for a response.

“My lord, we forgive you if you insist,” I reply.  “Please, my king, take and drink your water from the basin.  May it comfort your mind and restore your soul.”

A moment passes.  His gaze is fixed upon the basin.  He approaches it and lifts it high over his head.  Although indistinct to our ears, he murmurs what seems to be a prayer.  He overturns the basin, pouring the water on the ground before us.  We are stunned in disbelief. 

At last, he speaks.  

“Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this.  Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?”  

And with his praise offering of the water, we embrace.  Our tears are mixed with laughter.  Our king breaks out in the familiar chorus, and we join him, singing:

“I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, 
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, 
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, 
and I am saved from my enemies…”

Several days later, after mending our wounds, we depart the cave and return home to our families.  Pondering that late night by the light of the cave, I am enlightened.  It wasn’t our loyalty, bravery or courage that moved him.  He knew this about us before we were sent.  What moved him to repentance was the sight of our blood.  Our blood drew him out of his own lust.  Our blood brought him to his knees.  Our blood led him to pour out the costly, pure water as an offering.  

When he saw the blood, repentance and worship ensued.

*Partly imagined and partly transcribed, this account is inspired by the historical events of 2 Samuel 23:13-17

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Why I'm "Throwing Away" My Vote




I'm not voting for Donald Trump.

I'm not voting for Hillary Clinton.

I'm not voting for Gary Johnson (pro-abortion platform).

I'm not voting for Jill Stein.

I'm "throwing away" my vote . . . 

 . . . so say many friends whom I love and respect, and whose "right" to vote as they please, I support.

Although I have known a few Christians with convincing liberal and libertarian convictions, most of my friends are staunch conservatives. The latter are my critics.

They have one argument they think "trumps" all others:

Supreme Court appointees.

So, for them, Trump is the only choice. They'll hold their noses and vote for "the Donald."

Not me. 

I could never trust him any more than I could trust Hillary.

I don't like him at all, and I certainly don't respect him. 

I cannot follow him as my leader, and I would not want my sons to follow him as their commander-in-chief.

Even though I ferociously oppose abortion, the Supreme Court argument is not enough to convince me to vote for Donald Trump. That argument is shaky at best, based on a candidate whose "convictions" have wobbled worse than Jude's wandering stars.

No, I'm "throwing away" my vote . . . casting my ballot to the wind . . . 

Why?
  • Because I will not vote for an unprincipled candidate, which characterizes both the Democratic and Republican candidates.
  • Because neither party deserves my vote. 
  • Because my conscience forbids me to vote for either of the major candidates.
Instead, I am voting for a write-in candidate, someone who I think is a morally good and politically wise person, a statesman, and at this moment, more likely a stateswoman.

I am casting a protest vote.

I am casting a principled vote.

I am casting a conscientious vote.

I am casting a vision, not just a vote, rejecting what our nation is, and who its leaders are, casting a vision of what our nation and our leaders should be.

I am casting an idealistic vote. I am an idealist. I believe in ideals. Both candidates offer me ideas, not ideals; in fact, both candidates offer me antitheses of ideals. I do not and will not accept that, or them.

Most of my friends will disagree with me, and some of them will even criticize me.

Disagreement is fine, criticism is fine.

You can even say that I'm wasting or "throwing away" my vote.

But I ask you to please consider the fact that my conscience may actually and forcefully forbid me to vote for either major candidate for moral, political, and philosophical reasons.

That is actually the fact.

I hope you'll respect that.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Driving Through 1,000 Shadows


Today, I drove through 1,000 shadows. 

Maybe more. 

Maybe 100,000 shadows. 

Maybe a million.

Leaving work on my commute home and heading due north, I was perpendicular to the western sun that had just begun to cast shadows across my side of the two-lane highway. I decided I would count the shadows through which I passed. I had a decision to make, though: 

Do I count every shadow? 

"Vapid thought," I soon concluded - too many shadows already and flying by too fast even at 55, especially too many dark clumps of countless shadows that covered hundreds and thousands of feet of concrete, yet broken up so frequently by golden slivers of sunlight that it was impossible to count them all. So I counted the big clumps of light-broken shadows as one.

I also counted the little lonely shadows, like the power-line shadows that fell straight across the road, and the partial shadows cast by the fast cars that said hello to my windshield. brushed against my fender, and then waved goodbye in my rear-view mirror. Every time I passed through a shadow, I would count. 

Of course the shadows were deeper and thicker in the valleys, and shallower and thinner on the hilltops.

But after only a few miles I was weary with counting shadows. I stopped counting after passing through a thousand.

I re-learned a few things today on my home-bound journey passing through those shadows.

For instance, shadows won't muss your hair, not even a single hair. 

Shadows won't wrinkle your pants like a puppy or ripple your shirt like the wind.

And you don't feel shadows. 

I mean, your eyes feel their effect and that's pleasant on a ninety-five degree autumn afternoon in East Texas, but shadows are not the things they represent. The substance of shadows doesn't touch you. No leaf touched me, no massive tree trunk, not even two tons of speeding steel whizzing by. I didn't feel a thing. It was only shadows, and I just drove right through them, every single one.

I also re-learned that on the other side of every shadow is a shaft of golden light that paints the waiting world anew in vivid colors bright.

Light begins where shadows end.

Heck, shadows couldn't even exist without light; in fact, shadows are the proof of light, as is darkness.

Plato knew that.

Again, I thought to myself: "I wonder if that other guy was thinking about this, thinking about the harmlessness of shadows, the painlessness of shadows, the swiftness of shadows, and the certainty of golden light beyond the shadows' edge when he wrote these words,"

"I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, . . . "

I thanked God.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Wall of Separation Between Church and State: Who Built It, and Why


(The following is a chapter from a book in progress.)

To Christian mythmakers and mythtakers, the “separation of church and state” is an evil idea that dangerously threatens the Christian church. Their argument runs thusly:
Thomas Jefferson made an unfortunate slip-of-the-tongue when he used the phrase “a wall of separation between church and state,” and now that idea has been seized by liberal judges and politicians, as well as leftist lobbies such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), to persecute the American church. Jefferson misspoke. The Founding Fathers never intended to erect such a wall. The Founders were predominantly Christians, and most of those who were not Christians were theists, all of whom understood that the principles of our republic derive from the Bible. America was founded as a Christian nation by Christians; America has lost that vision; and now we must “reclaim America for Christ.”
However, such objections are both unfounded and misleading, embellishing the myth of America while deceiving millions of Christians who unwittingly embrace the myth. But the very opposite is true– the “wall of separation between church and state” is not a dangerous idea spawned by the evil Deist Jefferson, but rather a Christian idea.
The life of Roger Williams provides a living metaphor of America’s evolution from oppressive theocracies to a nation of religious liberty and tolerance. Although Williams is often errantly named among the earliest American Baptists, he nonetheless represents their and others’ conscientious objection to an American theocracy. Over 100 years before the First Amendment or Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, Roger Williams argued that, for religious liberty to flourish, a” wall” must exist between church and state.
When they (the Church) have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the Candlestick, etc., and made His Garden a wilderness as it is this day.
Note that Williams’ warning about the “wall of separation” between the church and the state does not assign the responsibility for the wall to the state but rather to the church. That distinction represents a diametric contradiction to contemporary theocrats who raise alarms about the government erecting a “wall of separation” between itself and the church; to the contrary, in Williams’ view, not the state but the church must build the “wall of separation,” and he warns the church that to open “a gap” in this wall will bring about God’s judgment upon the church—He will “break down the wall,” “remove the candlestick” from the church, and “make His garden a wilderness as it is this day.” Williams concluding phrase “as it is this day” reminds us that he wrote these words as a direct result of religious persecution against him by the state-sanctioned, state-empowered church of Massachusetts.
Whether or not Jefferson borrowed the phrase “wall of separation” from Williams, we cannot be sure. The textual evidence and historical moment imply that he did. But even if Jefferson did not consciously borrow the phrase from Williams, Williams’ usage of the “wall of separation” occurred 158 years before Jefferson’s letter and thus destroys the arguments of those who contend that Jefferson’s reference to a “wall of separation” between church and state is an unfortunate slip-of-the-tongue that has now become a dangerous weapon in the hands of evil liberals who want to build such a wall. To the contrary, the “wall of separation” is Williams’ idea, and he and other anti-theocrats argued that the church must protect this wall, not “open a gap” in the wall much less tear it down. With even more passionate affirmation of the separation of church and state, Williams wrote one of the most influential documents in American history, “The Bloody Tenet of Persecution” (1644) which forcefully argues against any intrusion of civil government into matters of religion:
All civil states with their officers of justice in their respective constitutions and administrations are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual or Christian state and worship. . . . God requireth not a uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state; which enforced uniformity (sooner or later) is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls. . . . An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.
Nonetheless, in Williams’ day the Anglicans, Dutch Reformed, and Puritans who settled respectively in Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts Bay, sought to establish conformist religious governments known as “Bible commonwealths” that envisioned church and state as one. None of them advocated much less embraced the principles of pluralism and toleration that would eventually win the day in the church-state debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Instead, they sought to subject their citizens to a common religious yoke, and tax them while they bore it! Their theocratic ideas derived from prior ecclesiastical governments in England and Holland, or from “postmillennialism,” the prophetic doctrine that God will eventually Christianize the world before the second coming of Christ. Thus, for the seventeenth-century theocrats, the synthesis of church and state was an essential mechanism to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. Unlike deists and Christians such as Jefferson and Williams, who wanted the civil government to be “hands off” religion, early American theocrats attempted to establish a “shining city on a hill” in which the law of God was one with the law of man. Anyone who knows even a smattering of American history should recognize two key facts: 
  • first, these early theocracies persecuted both Christian and non-Christian dissenters who fled these oppressive regimes and established or settled in states that treasured religious liberty and freedom of conscience—Baptists to Rhode Island, Quakers to Pennsylvania, Catholics to “Mary-land”, etc.; 
  • secondly, the advocates of theocracy ultimately lost the political battle over the intrusion of specific religious ideas into the United States Constitution. 
Unlike the Declaration of Independence that includes deistic, not Christian, references to God, the Constitution expunges all references to deity or religion except, of course, in the famous establishment clause—“Congress shall make no laws respecting the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof.” To the dismay of contemporary theocrats, the establishment clause of the First Amendment asserts pluralism, not sectarianism; religious tolerance, not Christian theocracy.
The first words of the First Amendment, the first right protected by the First Amendment, and the first order of business with those who wrote the First Amendment are first for a reason—religious liberty was the first and foremost concern of our Founding Fathers—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” We should note that the First Amendment’s language is much broader than the Christian idea of the ”church,” evidenced by the amendment’s use of “religion” as opposed to “church,” and thus the amendment protects the mosque, the temple, and the synagogue as well as the “church.” How thankful we should be for the Founders’ wisdom and courage to recognize the primacy and inalienability of “soul freedom” by limiting the powers of government in matters of religion. Yet theocrats of their day opposed such separation of church and state, and theocrats of our day echo that protestation. Even though the First Amendment does not specifically refer to the judicial and executive branches of the federal government, courts have upheld that the amendment nevertheless applies to all three branches since neither the judicial nor the executive branch has legislative authority; that authority rests exclusively with the Congress: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” Originally, the First Amendment limited only the federal government from making laws pertinent to religions; the individual states were not so restrained, and numerous state constitutions favored certain religious groups. But with the advent of the 14th Amendment in 1858 and subsequent rulings of the Supreme Court in the 20th century, the “due-process clause” of the 14th Amendment has been interpreted to impose First Amendment restrictions upon the states. Thus, state laws in violation of the First Amendment have gradually been stricken down by the courts or repealed by state legislatures. But in Williams’ and Jefferson’s America, the tension between federal and state constitutions was a major concern for anti-federalist Christians. The preeminent example of this tension occurred during Jefferson’s Presidency when he received a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association. Those Baptists wrote the President to express their concern that the state of Connecticut did not view religious liberty as a right but rather as a privilege granted by the state. Although Jefferson did not address the specific issue of Connecticut’s authority in religious matters, he nonetheless wrote an eloquent defense of the separation of church and state, including what may have been his “original” usage of the phrase “wall of separation.”
To messers Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
Gentlemen,
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing. Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.
(signed) Thomas Jefferson, Jan 1, 1802
Revisionist historians and flag-waving televangelists castigate Jefferson for using the phrase “wall of separation,” yet they conveniently minimize or even ignore the fact that Jefferson’s language echoes the sentiment of anti-theocrats such as Roger Williams. While Jefferson’s detractors would passionately deny the charge that they are trying to theocratize America, such a denial is disingenuous, especially when it comes from those on the far religious right who so passionately exercise themselves about politics. Proof of this contemporary effort to theocratize America derives from three basic ideas set forth by its proponents: 
  • America was founded by Christians to be a Christian nation;
  • Contemporary America has lost that original vision; and, 
  • Christians must “reclaim America for Christ.”
Even a cursory critique of such ideas will betray their incompatibility with the First Amendment American history, and biblical theology.
In the first place, if the Founding Fathers intended to establish a Christian nation, not only were they mistaken and misguided, their experiment has failed miserably. Except for the salt and light of the authentic church, America is an almost thoroughly paganized anti-culture, ravaged by drugs, crime, violence, promiscuity, relativism, spiritual lethargy, greed, idolatry, radical individualism, socialism, and increasing ignorance. This rapid and rampant deterioration of America is in fact one of the major causes for the fretful hand-wringing that characterizes the troubled psychology of the new theocrats who exercise themselves so passionately over politics, as if laws and elections could redeem America! 
Secondly, the sovereign purpose of God does not include the establishment of a “Christian nation” in any civil sense. In fact, God had already established His “Christian nation” nearly 1800 years before America was founded. In His Parable of the Vineyard, Jesus told the Jewish nation, the original biblical theocracy, that “the kingdom of God is taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruit thereof.” That “nation” to which Jesus referred was, in Paul’s and Peter’s words, “the Israel of God,” “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and an holy nation” comprised of believers out of every kindred and tribe. That “nation” is indeed invisible, not visible; global, not local or national; spiritual, not physical; internal, not external; eternal, not temporal. Jesus plainly stated, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and “if anyone shall say to you, lo, here is the kingdom, or there is the kingdom, do not believe it; for the kingdom of God is within you.” The kingdom of God, the “nation” of God, is not the United States of America. That is a myth, and the First Amendment was written to protect United States citizens from the dangers of that myth. However, contemporary Christian theocrats continue to argue that America is a “Christian nation” and that Christians must do all they can to recover what we have purportedly lost. “We must reclaim America for Christ,” they cry.
Such ideas appeal to millions of American Christians who see our nation spiraling downward in moral and intellectual apostasy. This idea compromises the Gospel of Jesus Christ, making its aims political and nationalistic, confusing its spiritual methods and message with political strategies and dynastic dreams of a Christian America, practically elevating such political ideas on a par with the Gospel itself! Moreover, such politicization of Christianity denigrates the Gospel as the singular solution to humanity’s problems, and creates a monstrous synthesis between secular and sacred, political and spiritual ideas. It appeals to Christians at an emotional level, and creates a sophomoric explanation of our nations’s problems by falsifying American history and proffering a political solution to America’s contemporary ills. How well do the words of the early American and Baptist pastor John Leland describe the fallacy of such theocratic myths: 
Heaven forbids the bans of marriage between church and state; their embraces therefore, must be unlawful. Guard against those men who make a great noise about religion, in choosing representatives. It is electioneering. If they knew the nature and worth of religion, they would not debauch it to such shameful purposes. If pure religion is the criterion to denominate candidates, those who make a noise about it must be rejected; for their wrangle about it, proves that they are void of it.
The historic doctrine of the separation of Church and State, championed originally by early American Christians, does not mean that Christians should not be involved in politics, but it does mean that Christians should not be involved in politics while embracing false notions of American theocracy.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Why I Won't be Voting for Donald Trump

I understand your logic(?) . . . 

. . . Supreme Court nominees, the pull of Congress, Mike Pence as VP, hopes that Mr. Trump was genuinely converted based upon a pop psychologist's cheap-grace claim that Trump "accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior" in the presence of so-called evangelical "leaders," everyone of whom is a theological dilettante if not an outright heretic to whom Augustine, Calvin, Spurgeon, Edwards, Barth, or Kierkegaard would never have tipped their hats . . . 

 . . . and, oh, please, do not try to woo me by your oblivious ignorance-of-the-Balfour-Declaration-based, Dispensational fantasies of Antichrist, end times, and a political Messiah ruling globally over a temporal kingdom awaiting Gog and Magog . . . 

Please, give me my conscience hot and bright that detests faux Israel's baneful call for a new Saul . . . 

Please, within the myth of natural rights, give me the human choice of a sacred conscience unstained, and a cautious will restrained, from groveling beneath Armani suits and Manolo Blahniks, bloviation and prevarication; . . . 

. . . give me "the right" to say "No!" to would-be kings and queens whom I detest at the deepest level of my gut and soul . . . 

Don't concern yourself with my conscience; it is not yours, it's mine . . .

If you choose to walk the tempting path of Machiavelli that "evil means to a good end" is the best choice, an evil means that you must necessarily embrace but a good end you cannot guarantee, then walk that crooked and uncertain path, but I won't be your fellow traveler . . . 

I'm not saying you're path is wrong; you may be right, but it's not the path I will take; it's not the right path for me. . . . 

. . .you go your way; I'll go mine . . . 

I'm not voting for any presidential candidate to whom I could not ask my sons to swear an oath of allegiance, the essence of which is to defend the Constitution (which Trump doesn't even understand and which Hillary devalues). If I were young enough to be a soldier, I wouldn't pledge unconditional allegiance to either of them.  

No, just leave my clear conscience alone in the voting booth, doubting the integrity of our political system and the human wisdom of an Enlightenment democracy, even such a republican democracy as ours, which has deteriorated so pathetically as to offer us two despicable evils and asks us to make a fateful choice between evil in blue or evil in red. 

No thanks . . . I can't, and I won't, do that . . .