Giving Honor Where Honor is Due

I attended a funeral service in the old hometown in Oklahoma yesterday.  Dr. J. N. Baker was of one of the finest Christian men it has ever been my privilege to know. He was 96 when he passed into heaven last week and was buried with full military honors yesterday.

At my house growing up he was a respected and beloved family friend, and very much a surrogate grandfather to my younger sisters. For many who knew him as the former Dean of Students at OSU and then the president of Eastern Oklahoma State College where my parents were on the faculty — he was always “Dr. Baker.”

For the thousands of fighting men who served under him in both World War II and the Korean conflict, he eventually became “General Baker.”

He was born in 1919 in rural southeastern Oklahoma but was orphaned before he was old enough to begin attending the one-room school nearby. One of his daughters noted at his service that he liked to observe: “My parents came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon, yet I’ve lived to see men walk on the moon and to hold a powerful computer in the palm of my hand.”

ThunderbirdIn the 1930s he joined the Oklahoma National Guard while still in high school. (Apparently that was possible back then.) For the next three decades he was an integral part of the Oklahoma’s 45th Infantry Division—the Thunderbirds—established in 1920. The 45th was one of the very first guard units called up when the U.S. entered World War II in 1941.

In 1943 the Thunderbirds were part of the tip of the spear in the invasion of Italy, beginning with the amphibious assault on Sicily and then the intense fighting at Anzio and Monte Casino.

This was followed by an amphibious invasion of southern France at Dragoon, then the push across France and into Germany. Ultimately it would be the 45th that liberated the infamous German concentration camp at Dachau.

Their work finally done, the division got to come home in 1945. Five short years later Cold War hostilities erupted on the Korean peninsula. At that point, only 20% of the men of the 45th had fought in WWII, but Dr. Baker was one of them.

Eventually, he became the Thunderbird’s final commanding General, serving from 1964 to 1968.

Three surviving World War II veterans who served with him were there at the funeral to pay their respects  yesterday. Yes, members of ” the Greatest Generation” were in the house — but we’re losing them rapidly. Soon the last of them will be gone.

However, it wasn’t the military man my family knew and loved—although his perfect posture and a meticulous, squared-away approach he brought to every project and enterprise hinted at his training. Otherwise, you might never have guessed his background and rank.

He wasn’t the course, gravely George Patton stereotype. Quite the opposite. He was soft-spoken, humble, gentle, immensely thoughtful, and carried a deep, abiding faith in God.

He a was regular guest at my parent’s Sunday table for lunch after his cherished Helen, his wife of 64 years, died after a long illness that left her blind in her final years.

Whenever someone would remark admiringly about the tender, extraordinary efforts he was expending in caring for her in those years of heartbreaking decline, he would smile and brush them off. “She took care of me for sixty years. It’s my privilege to take care of her now.”

Whenever any of us was home for a weekend visit, it was our privilege to participate in those lunches with him. As the elder statesman at the table, the honor of blessing the meal frequently fell to him.

I remember being deeply impacted by one of those Sunday lunch prayers a few years ago. I can honestly say it changed me.

As we prepared to dive into mom’s pot roast, it wasn’t his prayer’s eloquence or profundity that marked my soul that day. It was the genuine gratitude that welled up out of his heart and flowed from his lips.

“Heavenly Father, you’ve been so very good to us. (long pause) . .  Thank you. (longer pause) Thank you, thank you, thank you . . . “

This was no perfunctory, religious saying of “grace” over a meal. Those repeated thank yous were an offering.

Thank you, Dr. Baker.

I’m grateful to have had the example of a life so well-lived.  Strength in kindness. Confidence in servanthood. Gratitude in selflessness. Cheer in hardship. This was the gold standard of Christian manhood.

Now he has joined that great cloud of witnesses who waits to see how we’ll run the balance of our races.

You’ll have to excuse me now . . . I’m suddenly feeling the need to lay aside some weights.

J. N. Baker (1919-2016)

Crowdsourcing Bad Information

 

FindingYourRoots

Here at Hacienda Holland,  we enjoy watching the PBS show “Finding Your Roots”—where each week three celebrities, politicians and other people of note have their family trees researched by professionals and learn previously unknown and often startling facts about their ancestors. It’s a fascinating and often quite moving viewing experience.

For example, this week’s episode profiled the genealogies of Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear, and Bill Hader (formerly of SNL.) You can watch that episode here.

Lear learned that several branches of his direct Jewish ancestors came to America fleeing horrific, genocidal pogroms in Russia. He also discovered he carries the Cohanim gene, meaning that he is likely descended from the priestly Hebrew tribe of Levi.

Hader, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was stunned to discover he is a direct descendant of the 9th Century emperor Charlemagne.

FamilyTreeA few years ago I bought Mrs. H a subscription to Ancestry dot com for her birthday after she’d expressed some curiosity about her roots (she’s half Czech).

Research, however, is one of my super-powers, not hers (she has many others). As a result, I have been the one who has spent the most time online trying to fill in blanks on our respective family trees.

Originally, the Ancestry dot com site simply allowed subscribers to search record archives (births, deaths, baptisms, census records, etc.) and then start building a family tree based on the information they discovered. Eventually, the site—due to popular demand from users, no doubt—began to let members share their family trees and related research with others.

This is where it all went horribly, hilariously wrong.

Oh sure, this feature was great at first. It allowed you to glom onto the hours of painstaking work some diligent, meticulous researcher had put in determining the parentage of some common ancestor. With a couple of mouse clicks you could grab all that information and watch it pop right into your own tree.

The problem is that this same feature also allows bad information to go viral, spreading through Ancestry dot com family trees like Dutch Elm disease.

And the internet’s genealogy sites are awash in bad information. Really, really bad. Why?

Because, when researching one’s genealogy, there’s nothing more frustrating than hitting a dead end. Human nature being what it is, many people address that frustration by attaching their family line to a branch to which it doesn’t belong.

This is doubly tempting when that branch has some cool factor. You see, everyone wants to be Bill Hader, tracing his or her lineage back to the European royalty or a famous person in history.

It only takes one person erroneously connecting their ancestor to the wrong person to lead astray thousands of others who share that same ancestor. And clearly people are easily led astray—just uncritically assuming everything presented to them is correct.

Anytime I’m researching my family lines, I’m presented with countless suggestions—based on other users’ trees—that contain one or more of the following based on the associated dates:

  • Men who became fathers when they were three or four years old.
  • Women who gave birth when they were three or four years old.
  • Women who gave birth with they were 73 or 74 or 104 years old.
  • People who are older than their parents.
  • Couples who give two of their children the same first name.

The greatest safeguard against falling prey to these errors is the ability to do simple math (subtraction mainly) and a rudimentary understanding of the human reproductive cycle–two skills that are clearly rarer than I’d previously presumed.

growthcurveNevertheless, it’s fascinating to see how one individual’s mistake can snowball into something huge and seemingly universally accepted. Two or three people replicate that one person’s error. Then others observe that three or four people seem to all agree. Soon it seems like hundreds of people have all reached the same conclusion. It must be true!

Which reminds me . . .

Something very similar roughly seventeen centuries ago may be the reason we’ve all been taught that John, the Beloved discipled, penned the book of Revelation in the A.D. 90s when John was in his 90s.

But I’ll save that for another day.

The Biggest, Under-Reported News Story of 2015

Media Self-Censorship

In the 1850s and ’60s, courageous writers exposed readers to the horrors of slavery and the Abolitionist Movement was born.

In the early 1900s, Upton Sinclair pulled back the curtain and gave America a horrifying look at the meat-packing industry, triggering a public outcry that produced significant reforms.

In the same era, other journalists, who Teddy Roosevelt admiringly dubbed “muckrakers,” went undercover to expose other festering societal cancers to the light of day.

Fast-forward to 2015. As I pointed out in this blog post, journalism is largely dead.

Today the the entire news gathering, news reporting apparatus in the United States is wholly dedicated not to keeping the powerful accountable but rather keeping liberals/Progressives in power and advancing the liberal/Progressive agenda.

Some journalists now take talking points directly from the White House. Many others participate in large email listservs that allow them to shape coverage and therefore shape narratives. (See the JournoList Scandal for example)

Media bias doesn’t just manifest in the way stories are covered. It’s most insidious manifestation is in the way certain stories are ignored (see: Benghazi/Hillary/”What difference, at this point, does it make?”)

The American deaths and heroics at Benghazi, and the subsequent government cover-up, was the most underreported story of 2013. So what about this last year—2015?

That would be the explosive exposé by The Center for Medical Progress of Planned Parenthood’s gruesome harvesting and marketing of baby parts. Over the course of six months in 2015 the courageous group released  a series of videos of clandestinely taped conversations with various Planned Parenthood officials.

The released videos included:

Planned Parenthood Uses Partial-Birth Abortions to Sell Baby Parts

Second Planned Parenthood Senior Executive Haggles Over Baby Parts Prices, Changes Abortion Methods

Planned Parenthood VP Says Fetuses May Come Out Intact, Agrees Payments Specific to the Specimen

Human Capital – Episode 2: Inside the Planned Parenthood Supply Site

Human Capital – Episode 3: Planned Parenthood’s Custom Abortions for Superior Product

Top Planned Parenthood Exec: Baby Parts Sales “A Valid Exchange,” Can Make “A Fair Amount of Income”

Planned Parenthood TX Abortion Apprentice Taught Partial-Birth Abortions to “Strive For” Intact Baby Brains

“PROFIT” – Planned Parenthood’s Illicit Moneymaking From Baby Body Parts

“HARVEST” – Planned Parenthood’s Custom Abortions for Better Baby Parts

In a fairer, more just world the content these videos would have unleashed a firestorm of media attention so ferocious that Planned Parenthood would have been fully defunded and no donor this side of Josef Mengele would have given it a penny.

Obviously, that is not the world we’re living in. The mainstream media completely ignored the first few videos. In fact, the first time most of the major news outlets even acknowledged the existence of the bombshell exposé is when Planned Parenthood issued an official response.

The truth about Benghazi could not be suppressed. Americans are finally learning the truth. Hopefully the horrifying truth about Planned Parenthood’s barbarism will not stayed buried either.

However, as I write, Planned Parenthood, with deep pockets from fat-cat donors and taxpayer dollars, is suing The Center for Medical Progress.

How 9/11 Happened

Fourteen years later, the best guide to understanding how the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. were planned and executed remains Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.

TheLoomingTower

 

It is a masterwork of research, journalism and storytelling. It is also a powerful inoculation against the brain-warping disease of “9/11 Trutherism.” I use the word “inoculation” with purpose. Apparently once infected, there is no cure. I’ve never encountered a 9/11 Truther who could be persuaded of anything real, rational or logical, no matter how patently obvious. There is no rebuttal to “That’s just what they want you to think.”

The Logic of “Equality”

participation-medal

To achieve equality of outcome among all people (as opposed to equal opportunity) the government must keep us from failing.

To keep us from failing requires preventing us from making bad choices.

To keep us from making bad choices requires eliminating choice.

This is the inescapable logic of egalitarianism and the reason why all socialist projects end in totalitarianism and oppression.

 

One Final Mad Men Peeve

meditation

Before I just let it go and move on, I thought I’d point out one additional annoying, yea, even galling aspect of the way the writers of Mad Men chose to rescue Don Draper from his eight-year-long free-fall of drink, deception, and debauchery.  That is, to have him stagger into a touchy-feely retreat center built around a blend of Eastern mysticism and hippie humanism.

Here’s why that cheeses me off.

As I mentioned in the previous dissertation post, the overarching premise of the entire Mad Men series is that women were treated horribly by Neanderthal men in the years before the feminist movement. But here’s the thing.

The cultures built wholly on Eastern Mysticism—Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist religion—are some of the worst places on Earth to be a woman.

India, for example, is the headwaters of the river of hippie New Age gobbledy-goop that started flowing into our culture like the nasty Ganges in the late ’60s. Thanks Beatles.

Maharishi Beatles

Look at John—hanging on every word of the Maharishi. George has already chugged the Kool-Aid. Paul knows it’s B.S. but he’s here for the weed. Ringo wishes he was somewhere else. Anywhere else.

I currently work with or support about a half-dozen ministries that are working in India—striving mightily to make it a little less of a hellish place to be a female. Same goes for Nepal and Tibet. And China? . . .

Can you point to a single solitary woman in China with any meaningful power or authority? In government or business? Just one?

Women in DangerThe only places on the planet in which it is worse for women than societies built upon Eastern mysticism are Islamic cultures. The animistic societies of Africa aren’t a picnic for females either.

In fact, across the globe, life is best for women where Christianity has had the largest impact on the culture. The least Christian places are the most oppressive for girls and women.

The clear and indisputable testimony of History is that wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ has taken root and become a pervasive influence in the creation of the culture, the lot of women has radically improved. In societies built upon Christian presuppositions—such as those in Europe, North America, and Latin America—women enjoy the most equality and highest status. This is the case even when the vast majority of the population has reverted to paganism (Hi there, Europe!)

This is no accident or coincidence.

One of the many effects of the radical, transformative revolution Jesus unleashed; and that has been spreading from East to West across the planet; is the elevation of women to a place of equality with men. And it does so without destroying the God-given distinctives and differences between the sexes.

As I mentioned, in any given month I do work for about a half-dozen organizations that are working to ameliorate a little of the suffering experienced by women and girls in India and the Far East. The needs are overwhelming precisely because Eastern religions spawn cultures that view women as livestock.

Which brings us back to the Mad Men finale . . . This is what makes free-falling Don Draper’s rescue in the arms of Eastern mysticism so . . . well, maddening.

As I noted in my previous post, the series was essentially about the oppression of women. Clearly, the writers, like most post-Christian Americans, have no understanding that if America were built upon the presuppositions of Eastern mysticism rather than those of Christianity, the country would be just another third-world hell-hole for women and girls.

In one of the final few episodes of Mad Men, an angry, unpleasant character shouts at Don that he needs to turn to Jesus.

Of course, that was actually good advice. In fact, it’s good advice for any society that cares about the rights and well-being of women and girls.

Jesus, Mary & Martha

Jesus, Mary & Martha

 

Bad Men: The End of Mad Men

mad-men-2

The series Mad Men ended the other night after a celebrated eight-year, seven-season run. The show was consistently brilliant in many respects. Amazingly executed, written and performed. But I was a little slow on the uptake where the series  was concerned—in more ways than one.

For one thing, I didn’t start watching until midway through the second season. I was hearing lots of buzz so I checked it out, and was immediately drawn in on two fronts. The first was the show’s meticulous . . . make that maniacal . . . recreation of the early ’60s in every detail. I was born in 1959, so my earliest memories are of that era.

Long-time readers will know that I have a soft spot for Mid-Century ephemera and design. (A glance at all the headers from my old blog will confirm this.) (As will the vintage 1964 Omega Seamaster watch I’m wearing as I type these words.)

So at first I enjoyed watching just to bathe in details of each set. For me, and many other loyal viewers, nostalgia was a big attraction. Behold . . . Mid-Century Modern awesomness . . .

Mad Men Reception Area

I want to go to there.

The second attraction for me was the window the show offered into the inner workings of a NYC ad agency. As a child, my favorite episodes of Bewitched were the ones that showed Darren Stevens in his role as an ad man at the firm of McMann & Tate. Anytime an episode featured Darren working on a new campaign or trying to come up with a new slogan, I was fascinated.

In fact, I recall thinking that Darren Stevens’ job was precisely what I wanted to do when I grew up. And in a strange way, that’s what happened.

It was only after watching Mad Men for a few seasons and then going back to watch the series from the very first episode that the worldview and agenda of the show—created and guided by Michael Weiner—became abundantly clear to me. (As I mentioned, I was a little slow to catch on.)

A simplified summation of the show’s theme and message is this:

“Men are pigs.”

Or to be more precise, “Straight, white men are pigs—at least they all were back in the day . . . before the noble cultural revolutions of the ’60 overturned the oppressive order and put us on the path to cultural enlightenment.”

That’s the pervasive, overarching, unfolding narrative of Mad Men. And all one really has to do to see this is the case is merely watch the very first and last episodes of the series back to back.

The pilot is set in in March of 1960. The events of the final episode occur in November of 1970. They bookend a decade of extraordinary cultural, moral and technological change.

Drinking DonIn the pilot episode, Don Draper is introduced to us as a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, philandering, anti-Semitic, arrogant cad.

Roger Sterling: Hey have we hired any Jews here?

Don Draper: Not on my watch.

But we soon discover Don is actually one of the more sympathetic men in Weiner’s caricature world. Indeed, every other male we encounter in this fictional universe (with two significant exceptions) are the most horrible and horrifying human beings you’ve ever observed.

Every single scene of the first episode is a freak show of misogyny, racism, entitlement, crudity, rude-ity, and  cringe-inducing frat-boy boorishness.

Every woman in the pilot is always and only running a harrowing gauntlet of sexual harassment punctuated by insulting condescension. Some, like the va-va-voomy head secretary Joan, have learned to enjoy the attention. But most just try to put on a brave face and periodically retreat to the bathroom to sob.

Mad Men ElevatorI mentioned there were two exceptions to the “men are monsters” theme of the first episode (and indeed the entire series.) They were the closeted, repressed homosexual art director, Salvatore; and the frustrated novelist copywriter, Paul—a marxist intellectual (who in the first few episodes seems to be the only white person on earth who can actually see the black elevator operator.)

Other than these, there are no male characters with even a shred of decency—much less nobility. None. It’s bad husbands, bad fathers and bad bosses as far as the eye can see.

In other words, Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men was viciously, relentlessly anti-male.

Validating Liberal Mythology: Redeeming the Sick ’60s

hippiesConservatives tend to believe that our nation lost it’s way in the 1960s. That the drug culture; the sexual revolution; the rejection of traditional sex roles; the abandonment of marriage and family as the organizing paradigm of society; and the embrace of Marxist-Socialist premises about how the world works economically; set our nation on a disastrous course.

One from which we’ve never recovered.

Liberals like to believe the opposite–but point almost exclusively to the Civil Rights Movement to make their case. The argument over the 60s usually goes something like this:

Conservative: “Fatherless-ness in this country is a heartbreaking tragedy—creating widespread poverty, crime and imprisonment rates. Back in the 50s most kids got to grow up on a two-parent family and our society was much better for it.”

Liberal: “Oh, so you want to go back to the ‘good old days’ of separate water fountains for blacks and whites, eh, Hitler? You probably have a Klan hood hidden in your sock drawer.”

Conservative: “Um, no. It’s just that a lot of the key supports under-girding our civilization were deliberately knocked out in the 60s.”

Liberal: “You mean like the Jim Crow laws? Why do you hate black people?”

Conservative: “That’s not at all what I’m . . . oh, nevermind.”

It’s true that conservatives were largely wrong about the civil rights movement, mainly because they couldn’t find a way to separate it from the larger cultural battle taking place over traditional values; or from the Cold War paradigm (the threat of the Soviet driven spread of global Marxist-socialism) that permeated every other aspect of life in the ’60s.

In other words, the civil rights movement was presented to most Americans as only one element in a Protestlarger bundle of societal changes being relentlessly pushed by Progressives. That bundle included rejection of capitalism in favor of Marxist redistribution of wealth and the rejection of the notion of private property.

It is no coincidence that Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his “War on Poverty” legislation were presented  simultaneously and as two halves of a whole.

The former was noble and necessary. The latter was arguably the worst thing to happen to black people since the first Portuguese slave ships showed up off the west coast of Africa.

In retrospect, conservatives were wrong to oppose the first and absolutely correct in opposing the second. Unfortunately, the two were inseparable.

If you read conservative essays from the ’60s you’ll find lots of hand-wringing about whether or not civil rights leaders were being influenced or financed by Soviet front groups. These fears may seem comical now, but the concerns were very real at the time. And, as we learned after the collapse of the Soviet Union made lots of Kremlin records available to researchers—the Soviets were indeed actively encouraging, not to mention financing, a lot of Progressive groups and campus rabble rousers—and had been for decades.

Many of these ended up running the country in the ’90s and beyond . . .

God help us.

God help us.

So the dispassionate verdict of history is that conservatives were wrong about the Civil Rights Movement and right about everything else. But liberals don’t like that verdict. So, on to . . .

Validating Liberal Mythology: Redeeming the Dreadful ’60s

mad-men-header

In response, Matthew Weiner seems to have written Mad Men as an attempt to redeem the cultural upheavals of late ’60s by painting the world of the early ’60s in the darkest possible shades.

  • He refutes critiques of the sexual revolution by depicting virtually every person in the Mad Men world as being sexually amoral and in constant violation of their marriage vows.
  • He negates condemnation of the drug culture by making every character a high-functioning alcoholic and chain smoker.
  • He attacks negative perceptions of the feminist movement, as I mentioned above, by creating a world in which every straight white man is insulting, selfish, abusive, harassing, and belittling to women.

In other words, it’s the typical Progressive argument. That is, the ’60s didn’t really represent a change in behaviors. It just made all the depravity less hypocritical by moving it out in the open.

By Eastern New Age Group Therapy Are Ye Saved

Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC

I’m crushing this meditating thing.

The most disappointing (but given everything I’ve already cited, not all that surprising) aspect of the way the series ended (spoiler alert) is having Don Draper—hitting rock bottom— find peace and enlightenment at a New Age-y group therapy retreat camp on the California coast.

Observers have noted that the place Don lands is surely modeled on a place called the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. The place was ground zero for something in the sixties called the “Human Potential Movement.”

In the final episode Don stumbles into the place and ends up in a series of group therapy sessions in which the participants are incessantly asked about their feelings. “How does that make you feel?” has become a jokey cliche associated with quack psychiatry, but in these groups this is taken to absurd levels.

How does my shirt make you feel?

“Carl, how does that make you feel?”

“And John, how do you feel about how that makes him feel?”

And so on.

That’s right. Mad Men ends with America’s most iconic selfish rogue being transformed into a touchy-feely new age sensitive guy through the power of meditation, hugging and hippie love.

Ask my wife . . . As this became clear the first time I viewed the finale, I started yelling at the television:

“Are you serious?! You’ve got to be kidding me!”

I haven’t been as let down by a series finale since LOST wrapped up.

But there was one aspect of the transformations that occurred in the sixties that Weiner & Co. couldn’t conceal—not and still remain true to their fanatical devotion to recreating the period’s look and feel. I’m talking about how hideously ugly everything got as the decade of the sixties progressed.

Plaid Men

Plaid MenWhat this series makes massively clear is that in one short decade this culture lost its collective mind where design and aesthetics are concerned. Everything—architecture, clothing, art, typography—went to hell.

We started with the clean, classy Mid-Century furnishings that are so prized today. Here’s Roger Sterling’s office in 1960:

Roger's Office 1960

Roger’s Office 1960

Here’s Roger’s office nine years later . . .

Roger's Office 1969


This is now the enhanced interrogation suite at Guantanamo.

In which space would you rather spend your days?

Those two pictures pretty much tell you everything you need to know about the the sixties—the decade the wheels came off.

We’ve Seen This Before, Pt. 3

1666

It’s been a while since I’ve submitted an installment of my runaway hit blog series “We’ve Seen This Before.” An email flooded in this week asking if a new installment was in the works (thanks, honey) so I thought I’d tap out another one of these little exercises in historical perspective.

I wrote the first of these back in September of last year when the nation was fully in the throes of the Ebola panic. As you may recall, at the height of EbolaFest 2014 (U.S. headquarters, Dallas, TX), a lot of folks were convinced that at least three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were already saddled up with their steeds impatiently pawing at the ground.

So, if you need to catch up on this series, you’ll find parts 1 and 2, here and here. And now for Part 3 . . .

Maidenhead, England–1660s

For this episode, I want you to imagine you’re living outside of London in the middle part of the 17th Century—let’s say 1660.

From your vantage point just outside one of western civilization’s largest cities, you are increasingly certain that all four of the world’s wheels have come off and that the planet is careening out of control down history’s freeway on rims—sparks flying—as God the Driver laughs maniacally with His hands off of the steering wheel.

Today,  historians politely refer to this period as The General Crisis—a period characterized, as Wikipedia tells us, by “a widespread break-down in politics, economics and society caused by a complex series of demographic, religious, economic and political problems.”

But in 1650 this era is more commonly known to you and other people living through it as simply, “All the poop, hitting all the fans, all the time.”

Speaking of the Horsemen . . .  War, Famine, Pestilence & Death pretty much own the 17th Century like a boss . . . actually like four, cruel, remorseless, sadistic bosses.

Drab Four

Jerks.

War

Beginning in 1618, the “Thirty Years War” starts as a slap fight between Catholics and Protestants in Germany but soon engulfs almost every nation on the continent and drowns everyone in blood. People obviously won’t start calling it “The Thirty Years War” until it is officially over in 1648 and someone does the math.  Prior to this, everyone in Europe just calls it “Life.” . . . “In Hell.”

The war bankrupts all the participating nations; leaves one-third to one-half of the population dead in many regions; devastates the local economies and agriculture; and just generally tees everything up nicely for the next rider . . . Pestilence.

Thirty years of war wasn’t enough, however. On your little island, and all over the world, its still all wars and rumors of wars all the time. In quick succession, your home country, England, experiences the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1639–51), The Protectorate civil war (1653-59), and the Glorious Revolution (1688) is just a few years away.

Scores of other bloody, little wars rage around the world, as well. France is in a full-blown civil war called The Fronde (Oh, the French. Only they could come up with such a precious name for an ugly war.) You read in The Times that the Ming Dynasty in China has collapsed, after ruling most of Asia for three centuries.

Pestilence

For a couple of hundred years you and your ancestors have been watching plagues sweep through Europe and England–wiping out appalling numbers of people each time. Cheerily labeled The Black Death, this scourge has killed, by some estimates, 200 million people. It’s hard to say because the few people who can count that high keep dying. In one particularly busy five year period, it kills nearly 50 percent of Europe’s population.

In your own neck of the woods, you watch the plague tear London a new one in 1665, killing roughly 100,000 people.

Great_plague_of_london-1665

The healthiest thing in this picture is the guy smoking.

As if Nature weren’t already being enough of a complete rectum,  you and the rest of the inhabitants of the northern hemisphere are also contending with completely off-the-hook, too-outlandish-for-Hollywood climate change, leading to lots and lots of awesome . . .

Famine

Scientists in the 21st century will have an adorable name for your era—“The Little Ice Age.” The world experienced a period of ridiculously cold weather throughout a 300-year period beginning in about 1550. That’s right, everyone everywhere pretty much froze their hindquarters off for three centuries. But Nature has saved the very worst of it for your generation. Climate researchers point to 1650 as the “climactic minimum” of the Little Ice Age.

Minimum being a technical, scientific term for being able to walk across the Thames River every winter because it is frozen solid.

It's a good thing we have central heat and well insulated hou . . . oh dang.

It’s a good thing we have central heat and well insulated hou . . . oh dang.

For your entire life, not only have winters been bone-crunchingly long and cold, but the summers have been absurdly cool and short. Think puny harvests and outright crop failure. And not just for a year or even two. But year after year; decade after decade. The world is a cold, cold place and no one alive can remember when it wasn’t.

Economic Collapse

On top of everything else, the price of everything you need to survive is soaring. One of the things that made The General Crisis of the 17th century so chock-full of crisis-y goodness was runaway inflation.

End Times Expectancy

Not surprisingly, this perfect storm of misery, cataclysm and death has you and everybody else convinced that the End of Days is at hand. You’ve not only read The Apocalypse of St. John—you’ve been living the movie, over and over—Ground Hog Day style.

Numerous candidates for the Anti-Christ are put forth in widely circulated pamphlets and condemned from countless pulpits.

Of course, you’re taking all this in from your vantage point in Maidenhead, England—a few miles west of London, population 500,000—in the Year of Our Lord 1665. Toward the end of the year you look at your day planner and realize that next year is 1666.

Could this be it? Will this be the year? It would have to be wouldn’t it? The flipping Mark of the Beast in right there in the date! And don’t think that others in this era haven’t noticed. In fact, the English poet John Dryden has declared the year 1666 an annus mirabilis, a “year of wonders,” precisely because of the foreboding 666 number in the year.

So you enter the new year filled with dread and expectancy. Horrible day follows horrible day. But it’s the normal horrible, you know, Black Death, war, inflation, cold and political turmoil. You’re beginning to think you’re going to get through this year without any extra-horrible wonders. Then September rolls around and . . .

London burns down.

great fire

Wait . . . what?

Yep. That’s right. On the night of September 2 you look to the east and it looks like the sun is rising 12 hours early. But not to worry, it’s just massive, uncontrollable fire roaring through the heart of London. It will burn for three days. And before it’s done the beast will have devoured 13,200 houses and 87 churches, including the jewel in London’s crown, St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Here in the year 1666—the year of wonders—you watch one of the world’s great cities go up in flames. And as far as you know in that moment, all the other world’s great cities are probably burning, too. This is it. Didn’t St. Peter say it would be “by fire next time?”

Think we’re living in crazy times? Perhaps. But crazy is relative.

We’ve seen this before.

Justice or Redemption?

Redeemer

Just a couple of additional clarifying (hopefully) thoughts about my previous post on theologically conservative Christians’ accelerating embrace of the term social justice.

First, note the qualifier in the sentence above—“theologically conservative.”

The fact is, theologically liberal Christians have been waving the social justice flag for more than 100 years. For example, I recently read a fascinating book published in 1917 titled, A Theology for the Social Gospel. The author, Walter Rauschenbusch, was a key figure in the Progressive – Social Gospel movement in the United States at the turn of the last century.

In it, he frankly admits that it’s impossible to reconcile the Christian faith’s traditional, atonement-centered theology with his and others’ to desire build the Kingdom of God on earth through governmental power and institutional reform—or in the modern liberal vernacular, through seeking “justice.”

So he concludes that orthodox Christian theology must evolve . . . i.e., be “expanded and readjusted.” From the opening page . . .

We have a social gospel. We need a systematic theology large enough to match it and vital enough to back it. [This] book offers concrete suggestions on how some of the most important sections of doctrinal theology may be expanded and readjusted to make room for the religious convictions summed up in ” the social gospel.”

In other words, if your preference for how the Kingdom of God manifests on earth doesn’t line up with the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith, instead of adjusting your preferences you simply endeavor to reinvent the faith.

The spiritual descendants of the Social Gospel justice-seekers are very much with us today in the Progressive/Liberal (theologically and politically) segment of the evangelical world.

This impulse to reshape Christian doctrine to fit a preferred socio-politico framework is on display in recent books like Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity and Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Christians. As with Rauschenbusch 100 years earlier, these leaders recognize that our stubborn devotion to a Gospel that is first and foremost about transformation of broken people, rather than the transformation of broken social systems, is the primary obstacle to establishing the Kingdom of God as they understand it.

Sorry

Man’s fall broke two things—Man and Creation.

Jesus’ work opened the door to the restoration (redemption) of both, but in a specific order. Redeemed people first. Then the restoration of the created order . . .

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19,20)

Like the well-intentioned Social Gospel crusaders of a century ago, today’s Social Justice seekers turn this order on its head. They seek to roll back the effects of the curse on individuals–poverty, oppression, addiction, abuse–by healing creation (or the macro-order within it). This is precisely why any conversation with a justice-minded person about poverty, crime, or racism invariably turns to “root causes.”

And the identified root is almost always something “systemic.” (Systemic inequality of wealth distribution, systemic racism, systemic sexism, etc.)

capitalismIf the ills that must be cured are “systemic” rather than rooted in the brokenness of individuals, then the only logical solution becomes reform or replacement of the “system.”

By the way, this is why the favorite target of social justice seekers— both secular and liberal Christian—is the economic system known as Capitalism.

In reality, the Kingdom is revealed on earth from the bottom up–one redeemed person at a time. Yet a focus on social justice seeks manifestation of the Kingdom from the top down–by endeavoring to heal the systems and institutions of society. Viewing the world’s ills through the lens of justice (as currently defined by many young believers–See my previous post) makes every problem a “fairness” problem instead of a brokenness problem.

Justice-minded efforts to heal the pain of individuals by reforming/replacing systems invariably require concentrating immense power and control in the hands of an enlightened, benevolent few. This never ends well. Ever.

Why? Because people are broken. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And the law of unintended consequences is a merciless “B”-word.

Yes, as God redemptively heals my individual brokenness He frees me to be generous to the poor with the money He has entrusted to me. But this is very different from my voting—in the name of justice and fairness—to use the coercive, life-destroying power of the State to force my neighbor to be generous, whether he wants to or not.

We currently live in a land of people that love to be generous with other people’s money. But as Margaret Thatcher once rightly observed about socialism, “. . . eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

At the same time, as God redemptively heals my individual brokenness and the brokenness of many other individuals around me, we begin to see the systems in which we participate experiencing redemptive transformation as well. Call it systemic redemption.

[Jesus] tried again. “How can I picture God’s kingdom? It’s like yeast that a woman works into enough dough for three loaves of bread—and waits while the dough rises.” (Luke 13:20,21)

Let me close by adding that most of the excellent Evangelical humanitarian and anti-human trafficking organizations that have recently adopted social justice as a key part of their missional vocabulary are indeed attacking the world’s pain at the individual level. They are bottom-up redeemers   . . . which is precisely why I wish they’d stop using the term social justice to describe their goals.

Out of Egypt

Few things in life give me more pure pleasure than visiting a faraway place I’ve never seen. That delight is doubled when the place is rich with historical and biblical significance.  Add to this the opportunity to have my bride along for the ride and  . . . well, that’s the trifecta.

A few days ago we returned from a week in Cairo as the grateful guests of a ministry upon whose board I’ve served for the last ten years. This was my first time in the Middle East and my first extended stay in an Islamic country (not counting my frequent trips to the UK which, sadly, is gradually becoming an Islamic nation.)

I’m a history fanatic. And the sense of history you get in Cairo is almost overwhelming. The Pharaohs, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and a succession of Islamic caliphates have all left their marks on Cairo.

For example, on our first full day, we visited the Giza Plateau which holds the great pyramid of Cheops and the Sphinx. For more than 3,800 years it was the tallest man-made structure on earth. It was amazing to think that Abraham and Sarah might have glimpsed these architectural wonders when they sojourned into Egypt around 2,000 B.C.

If so, they would have seen the pyramids clad in polished white limestone and topped with gleaming gold capstones. They would have been almost blinding in the bright Egyptian sun. But here’s the truly mind-blowing thought . . .

If Abraham did get deep enough into Egypt to see the Great Pyramid of Cheops, at that moment it would have already been standing there in place for 1,000 years.

The City

IMG_0840Cairo is home to roughly 20 million people. To put that in perspective, that’s more than the populations of Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin combined. A lot more.

As you might expect, the traffic is astonishing. As in many non-Western nations, things like lane lines and signs are universally ignored. Even so, everyone eventually gets where they are going, although much honking of car horns is required by all.

As I observed to my wife, in Cairo sounding your horn communicates, “Be aware of me.” Or, “Look out, I’m coming through.”  In Texas, honking communicates, “Please pull over so we can have a fist fight.”

The Political Situation

Many friends and relatives raised an eyebrow when we told them we were going to Cairo. That’s understandable. It seems like just the other day that the nightly news was showing hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square and we were hearing reports of Coptic Christians being attacked and Christian homes burned.

The fact is, Cairo is extremely stable, moderate and welcoming of visitors. In fact, they are pleading for the tourists to return. And they should.

The current government of Egypt is a secular government that has no use whatsoever for the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, they’ve been actively squashing the Brotherhood like a bug. They have also been quietly cooperating with Israel in their conflict with Hamas and aggressively hammering IMG_0817Islamist extremists operating in the Sinai.

Egypt’s sternest challenges are economic. And the biggest hindrances to economic progress are vestigial remnants from Egypt’s experiment with Socialism under Nasser back in the 60s. Many of the populist/socialist laws enacted under Nasser have proven nearly impossible to repeal. They’re weighing Egypt down like a boat anchor.

Spiritual Climate

The most impressive and memorable aspect of our trip was the believers we met. Each day we encountered talented, passionate, delightful young Christians who are doing amazing things in media. The impact of what they are doing is reaching far beyond Cairo and is fueling ministry, discipleship, and evangelism throughout the Arabic speaking world. You’ll find samples of their work and ministry here, here and here.

IMG_0916Amazing, effective evangelism is currently taking place across the Middle East. And most of that activity is home grown. By that I mean that it’s not U.S. churches driving most of these efforts (although many generous Americans are helping to fund them.) It is the evangelical churches in places like Cairo providing the strategy, the organization, the prayer, and the people.

Throughout the world of Islam, the gospel is spreading and thriving–largely underneath the radar. And you’ll find the epicenter of this revival in Cairo.

By the way, one morning we toured “Coptic Cairo”–a ancient section of the city containing a number of ancient churches and a synagogue.

Here, the name of Jesus has been proclaimed and worshipped continuously for  nearly 1,800 years.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.–Habakkuk 2:14

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