Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Broad Scope of “their land” in II Chronicles 7:14

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
  Here’s the punch line first: “their land” = “the whole earth,” not just “my country.”
  The original context was about three millennia ago, at the dedication of King Solomon’s temple. A millennium later Jesus of Nazareth came, lived, died, rose, ascended, and was enthroned as the entire world’s Suffering King. Jesus was both Israel’s Messiah and the entire world’s Savior. Jesus expanded “Israel” to mean all kinds of people who would follow him. For II Chronicles 7:14, “my people” expands to all of Jesus’s followers worldwide, irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, socio-economic class, or any other distinction.
  Our identity as Jesus’s followers affects, encompasses, but is not restricted to any of these categories. To humble ourselves, repent, and pray for God’s merciful healing of “our land” as “God’s people” similarly should not be restricted to my socio-economic class, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or whatever. The power of national identity often constrains us to assume that “our land” = “my country.” In actuality, however, God’s merciful healing of “our land” encompasses the “whole earth.” We are awaiting a “new heaven and new earth,” not simply a new national entity - all of which change, come, and go throughout history.
  The Jesus-fulfilled prayer: “If my worldwide people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal the still unredeemed earth.” May it be so, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Fleeing to Madrid: Under the Volcanic Ash Cloud

My true, short story about trying to travel amidst the chaos in Western Europe in 2010 during a volcanic eruption in Iceland. Click here to download. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Triumph and Trauma in TrumpAmerica

I will not attempt to offer some sort of definitive analysis of what has been happening socially, economically, and politically over the past year in the United States of America. Rather, it is as one Christian thinker who was born and raised in the U.S. South, then who by marriage and profession has gained a wider, international experience over the past 40 years, that I dare to suggest a few personal thoughts about U.S. society, the U.S.’s international standing, and the Trump Presidency. No single, simple narrative would suffice, but I will articulate what I believe to be nonpartisan insights for the sake of contributing constructively, prophetically, and compassionately in U.S. society during 2018. An abiding hope in God’s providential rule over all things undergirds all of these comments.
For now at least, it goes without saying that on a national scale conservative political and economic policies are being implemented. Participants in U.S. society will evaluate this reality according to their own values and positions. Moreover, what these matters mean individually and collectively for various ones of us financially, environmentally, regarding health care, and with respect to future generations remain to be seen. One clear implication is that those with excessive wealth are well positioned to increase their wealth and influence economically and politically.
As POTUS, Donald Trump the man has encouraged some U.S. citizens while traumatizing others. Those who want a more militarily powerful and secure United States of America seem generally upbeat. Those favoring more conservative judiciaries regarding abortion, corporate deregulation, and restoration of some sort of traditional Christian America narrative also seem happy. However, many who have suffered in relationships with narcissists, especially those who have been sexually abused, have been deeply traumatized personally by this hyper-narcissistic POTUS. He exhibits to extremes the manipulative, deceptive bullying that many of us have experienced from narcissists, and the steady stream of Trump news is a constant reminder of those genuinely horrific experiences. What his manipulations mean socially - including denigration of minorities and overall tribalization - is also a deep concern.
That manipulative, deceptive, and self-serving bullying extends internationally and worries many of us with respect to U.S. relations with other countries. A catastrophic war with North Korea seems closer than ever. Regular tweets critical of various other countries serve further to lower international perceptions of U.S. leadership and further isolate the U.S. Different U.S.-Americans believe differently about Israel-Palestine matters, but I for one (along with most of the rest of the world) see the U.S. as too uncritically pro-Israel to be an effective catalyst for a just peace. In general, this administration seems void of historical sensibilities as well as nuance in international relations.
Of deep concern on an ongoing basis is how Trump’s constant barrage of misleading half-truths and innuendos are reshaping views of an independent press, as well as how we as U.S. citizens understand a host of public and international matters. As a hyper-narcissist, this POTUS creates an alternative reality and persuasively conveys that reality through his position of influence. The U.S. Congress and media (critical of Trump as most media are) operate in relation and reaction to the POTUS. He praises his supporters and trashes those who oppose or exhibit disloyalty to him. As a narcissist, he unwaveringly believes he is the best thing to ever happen to the U.S. and to the world; hence, his self-messianic posture is only emboldened by apparently improved economic (and other) indicators, for which he takes full credit.
For me, “TrumpAmerica” and “MAGA” constitute an unfolding socio-political tragedy, even though a good number of U.S.-Americans will benefit financially (individually and corporately), at least for the short term. I fear that the poor, women, and minorities will be increasingly marginalized, and that U.S. society as a whole will become more tribalized and balkanized than ever. Moreover, the social fears and personal trauma that many of us carry from having to watch this POTUS operate will simply continue.
Kyrie eleison.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Spiritual Effect of U.S. Society’s Militarization

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address of January 17, 1961 included his oft-cited warning of the new “military-industrial complex” that was burgeoning after the Korean War and into the Cold War: “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office in the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledge citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Those who favor cuts in the U.S. military budget happily refer to the Republican Eisenhower’s warning. Here I want to highlight Eisenhower’s mention of the “spiritual” effect of the steadily increasing militarization of the United States of America.
 As Eisenhower pointed out, the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry [was] new in the American experience.” Over the past half century, the U.S. has only increased its ongoing military capabilities such that vast numbers of people throughout U.S. society have been in the military, had family members in the military, worked directly for the military, worked as military contractors, and grown accustomed to viewing the U.S.’s relationship with the rest of the world through military lenses. In Ike's words, one of the "grave implications" of increased militarization has infiltrated "the very structure of our society."
 Spiritually, it thus seems to have become instinctive for the vast majority of U.S. Americans to react to irregular actions toward such national symbols as the flag and national anthem as disrespectful attacks against the U.S. military. This brief article will be viewed by many readers as a similar disrespectful attack against the U.S. military. Such an attack is not at all my intent here, just as many of those who in recent days have displayed irregular actions toward national symbols have tried to insist as well. Rather, I am wanting to point out the spiritual, psychological, and collective societal effect against which Eisenhower warned, over half a century earlier, could happen. The assumption that those who do not “behave properly” toward national symbols are thereby being disrespectful toward men and women who have been in the military has become so self-evident to many U.S. Americans that any other explanation has become inconceivable.
 If you have never viewed Eisenhower’s 16-minute address, I encourage you to do so, e.g., at https://www.c-span.org/video/?15026-1/president-dwight-eisenhower-farewell-address. At the beginning, you might (regardless of your current political persuasion) crack a smile at Eisenhower’s expression of gratitude to the media for their assistance throughout the years. There are other matters he addresses beside the “military-industrial complex” issue, although that one certainly stands out. The pre-Civil Rights, racially segregated situation of 1961 should be remembered, I believe. So should the civility and respect with which the outgoing President speaks - a welcome spirit in comparison to much U.S. public interaction today.

 Any thoughts or comments you would like to offer are welcome. Thank you for visiting “Worldwide Witnesses”!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Inter-Christianity

One of Christianity’s greatest strengths is its adaptability. Scriptures, liturgies, governing styles, as well as how love, joy, and other Christian traits get expressed all are translatable into new languages and settings. The Christian faith “comes home” into all human settings. That’s one way that God graciously draws close to all of us.
   That strength can also be a weakness, however. Particular settings – nations, generations, militarist movements, etc. – fortify themselves through co-opting religion for non- and even anti-religious purposes. The Third Reich and Apartheid co-opted Christianity, Imperial Japan co-opted Shinto religiosity, ISIS co-opts Islam; the list goes on ad infinitum.
   Christianity’s two-sided strength-weakness makes “Inter-Christianity” all the more essential. Central to the Good News of Jesus Christ is that everyone, all kinds of people, human beings without distinction through faith alone are welcome and belong to each other. Christianity’s “inter-“ traits demonstrate the wideness of God’s grace as well as combat against the self-promoting, co-opting tendencies of all groups and settings.
   International Christianity warns against nations exalting themselves and their warriors as the world’s greatest, mightiest, and most honorable, hallowed, and eternally secure.
   Interconfessional Christianity humbles particular traditions to learn from other traditions’ strengths and insights.
   Interdisciplinary Christianity encourages self-awareness of our demographic makeups – economic, ethnic, political, linguistic, social, and otherwise – that shape us and through which others readily view us and hear our gospel witness.
   Intergenerational Christianity helps the old to hear the young, the young to honor and hear the old, and all those living both to stay connected with our ancestral “cloud of witnesses” and to live responsibly for the sake of those yet unborn.
   Interdependent Christianity drives us all – intertwined as we are with our particular nations, traditions, religiosities, and generations – to embrace our need for those in other groups, all under the umbrella of our dependence on God and interdependence with the rest of God’s creation.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Hiroshima, then Nagaski. August 6, then 9. Every anniversary gives fresh opportunity for reflection, discussion, and current political posturing.
  This year I was in Seoul on August 6 and for the few weeks leading up to it. Since late July the huge box-office hit movie “Gunhamdo” (“Battleship Island,” or “Hashima”) has been showing in theaters, depicting Japanese wartime treatment of Korean laborers. The movie has a scene depicting the atomic mushroom cloud rising above Nagasaki, not far from Gunhamdo. When I saw the movie I wasn’t sure what to make of that scene, so I asked several Korean acquaintances what they thought the scene meant. The prevailing interpretation was that the Korean laborers viewing the atomic blast from nearby Gunhamdo were thinking of the Koreans in Nagasaki who would have been killed by the blast. That wasn’t one of the options I had considered, but neither am I Korean.
  On August 6 itself I also asked Korean acquaintances what they thought of in association with that date. All of them drew a blank. More than August 6 or August 9, it is August 15 that Koreans particularly remember as the day of Korea’s liberation from Japan, when Japan surrendered in the wake of the atomic bombings. It seems that the Korean view of the atomic bombings is that they were important insofar as they facilitated the end of Japan’s deeply resented 35-year colonization of Korea. Moreover, the main tragedies of the bombings were the deaths of Koreans in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most of whom were there not by their own choice.
  The Japanese view of the bombings is of course much, much different: Japan suffered the only atomic bombings in history, and the horror of those events must never be repeated. A nuclear-armament-free world is thus imperative. Period. That is, unless Japan must somehow develop deterrent capabilities in light of North Korea’s developing nuclear arsenal.
   Discussions in the U.S. about the moral, military, and political rationales for the bombings continue to this day. To distill the debates to an oversimplified generalization,  the prevailing U.S. view seems to be that Truman’s decision was the least horrible option available at the time. Dropping the bombs certainly saved a host of U.S.-American lives that would have ended in an invasion. Many will differ from that generalization in one way or another, but I suggest that statement best characterizes how many U.S.-Americans come down on the matter in the end.
   So what do these various viewpoints tell us about Korean, Japanese, and U.S.-American moral, historical, and political sensibilities? All of us hate suffering and destruction, especially when they are unjustly inflicted on people like us. All of us tend to evaluate historical events in connection with how they promote the status and well-being of our own countries. How events fit into the metanarrative of our countries’ most noble aspirations also plays an important role in how we view such monumental events as those of August 6 and August 9, 1945.
  Learning what others think, and why, has a broadening effect on our otherwise unwittingly self-serving viewpoints. That does not mean we just take the most generalized position we can come up with. It does mean that what such events mean for all of history, including the implications for what steps to take henceforth, should override simply what best serves my kind of people. The God of all the earth expects no less of us.

Monday, April 3, 2017

“As the Battle for Mosul Rages: Some observations from my visit to northern Iraq last week”

I was privileged to travel to Erbil, Iraq March 23-30. Two Iraqi pastors I had met in Seoul, through our common connections with the Onnuri Community Church, and the International Alliance Church [don't miss this and the many other links to photos or videos] hosted me. Through their gracious hospitality I met refugees, worshiped and met with various church members, toured the devastated Christian town of Qaraqosh just south of Mosul, toured one of the areas’ huge refugee camps, and enjoyed Erbil. Here are just a few of my observations and reflections:

Encouraging Christian Witness and Service. It was in the summer of 2014 that ISIS forces swept into Mosul, then further southward through Qaraqosh and other areas. Christians could either leave (on very short notice), be killed, or convert to ISIS-styled Islam. Most fled, and many flooded into Erbil and specifically its Christian sector, Ankawa. The predominantly Catholic and other churches were overwhelmed with the flood of displaced people in desperate need of help. God’s grace has enabled churches to give emergency and continuing help. For its part, the International Alliance Church continues to help refugees with housing and other needs, including through the work of individual church members in various organizations, including the U.N., Red Cross/Crescent, and Samaritan’s Purse.

Destruction and Displacement. The Christian town of Qaraqosh is in ruins. Churches were desecrated. It is now empty except for the Iraqi military and a very few residents who have returned. I took some short videos (with embedded links) to help show some of the destruction, including how ISIS desecrated churches and burned out all the housesRefugee camps abound all around Mosul. Refugees in Erbil that I met were from Syria, Baghdad, and mostly Mosul and Qaraqosh. Their lives are in limbo, unsure of possible relocation internationally or eventual return to destroyed or severely damaged neighborhoods.

Messy Military Context. Last fall’s Iraqi military ouster of ISIS from Qaraqosh was tough enough. But unlike the current situation in western Mosul, there were no citizens present that ISIS could use as shields, or otherwise had to be protected as much as possible. Moreover, ISIS militants are from around the world, many have previous military training and experience, and the weapons at ISIS’s disposal are sophisticated and lethal. ISIS’s media for ongoing recruiting is slick and sophisticated. The urban jungle in western Mosul where fighting ragesis nightmarish.

History. Present-day northern Iraq is where well-known ancient empires – Assyria in particular – held sway. More recent Western colonial presence has left current national borders, some of which ISIS seeks to obliterate. Kurdish people have significant presence in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran, comprising a greater Kurdistan without “official” national recognition. Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kuridistan, an autonomous area in Iraq with Kurdish government and military. Maps (ISIS 2015-6, March 27 controlled areas) help in sorting out the current complex situation coming out of a long and complex historical background.

I encourage you to pray and not hastily to form simplistic conclusions about what is transpiring.