The One Key to Understanding Mr. Obama’s Sellout to Iran

Ramirez Iran

Here is the key to understanding recent U.S. policy in the Middle East in general; and the twisted logic behind Mr. Obama’s complete surrender on the recent “deal” over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. An agreement in which Iran got everything it wanted in terms of removal of sanctions and gave away nothing it didn’t want to give. “Such a deal,” as Jewish New Yorkers say.

It’s the Rosetta Stone for deciphering the seemingly indecipherable.

It’s vital to understand one thing. The primary driver of events, tensions and bloodshed in the Middle East is not, as most people believe, the existence of Israel or the situation of the Palestinians. Not even close. It is this . . .

The Middle East is a chess board with Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia as the opposing players. They are playing for strategic dominance in the region and, more importantly, the dominance of their preferred brands of Islam. Both have friendly allies, and surrogates or insurgencies in place everywhere.

Until the wildcard ISIS emerged in Iraq and Syria, the war in Syria is essentially a proxy war between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi.

In the decades since the Iranian hostage crisis in the late ’70s (watch the movie Argo for some liberal-biased context, young people), the United States has tilted toward Saudi Arabia as the least unsavory option among a a number of ugly choices for allies in that region other than Israel.

Some U.S. administrations have tilted farther than others.

Ahem . . .

Ahem . . .

Enter President Obama. From day one he has clearly been bent on moving U.S. favor away from the Saudis and toward the Iranians. So much so that he is happily risking a nuclear arms race in the insane, volatile Middle East just to strengthen Iran economically through the lifting of sanctions. This “deal” is only a fig leaf for getting international sanctions removed.

The more interesting question is “Why?”

My guess is that Mr. Obama—as a bleeding heart, anti-colonialist liberal (see: Dreams from My Father)—has a soft spot for the Shiites, who have historically been the persecuted underdogs and the out-group in the Muslim world. This affinity for the Shia has been flagrantly on display in U.S. policy toward Egypt.

The Obama administration was robustly cheerleading when the notorious Muslim Brotherhood (Shiite) took control of Egypt at the ballot box in 2012 via the election of Mohamed Morsi. Shortly thereafter the churches of Egypt began burning, the Christians started dying, and the Obama Administration started being fresh out of craps to give.

When Egypt’s secular generals saw the country sliding rapidly into an Iranian-style fascist theocracy, they quickly stepped in, threw Morsi out, and took control. The churches stopped burning. The Christians stopped dying. And Team Obama was furious.

Ever since the “coup”  kicked out Morsi, Team Obama has treated Egypt worse than it treats Israel, and that’s obviously saying something. They’ve held up aid and delivery of military hardware. And they’ve sharply criticized the Egyptian government for cracking down on Brotherhood extremists.

So there you have it. It is beyond clear that Obama is rooting for the Shiites agains the Sunnis, which translates into helping the principal promoter and supporter of Shiism in the world—Iran.

Which is how you get here . . .Ramirez Iran 2

 

 

 

 

Remembering Nepal

Three years ago I spent an unforgettable week in Nepal on a work-related trip—helping document the fight against human trafficking in that nation. We were not only in Kathmandu but also ping-ponged around the country with a video crew.

Today the people of Nepal continue to dig out after the powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The death toll is above 8,000 and continues rise. Below are a few of my photos from the trip. Many of the places I shot in Kathmandu and Pokhara are no longer standing or are badly damaged.

Nepal iPhone114Nepal iPhone119 Nepal iPhone14

Pokhara

Pokhara

Family members washing the body of a deceased loved on with chai, before setting the body on fire.

Family members washing the body of a deceased loved one with chai, before setting the body on fire.

DSC_1807IMG_0076IMG_0128

On Being Back Up North

wisconsin

Spring has not quite yet sprung up in Minnesota and Wisconsin. But, as I was reminded last weekend, that is the way it goes up there. They’d had a little snow the previous week. And the earliest budding trees are just now showing some signs of life.

We spent five-and-a-half great years living in the Twin Cities in the late ’90s. Not surprisingly, moving there from Oklahoma involved a little culture shock (and a lot of climate shock.) The winters were astonishingly long and harsh. But the summers . . . oh, the summers were something special. And the Autumns were spectacular but also filled with a sense of dread about what you knew was coming.

Minneapolis-Fall-Colors

The window for golf was narrow—roughly mid-May to early September—but I played more rounds per year there than in any other period of my life. Here in Texas I can play 11 months out of the year but I’m out of control if I play two rounds a year.

The wife and I headed back up there to reconnect with some dear friends and teach at Liberty Christian Center in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Menomonie is a charming little college town in western Wisconsin that wraps halfway around a lake.

20023642.jpg

The church is as cool as the town is quaint. If you know anyone who lives within driving distance of Menomonie, I recommend Liberty heartily. Here is the first of four sessions we did for their marriage retreat:

 

And here is my message from the second Sunday morning service:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Resurrection Morning

Empty

They are laying Him in the borrowed place of burial.

“Tear down this temple and I’ll build it back in three days,” He had once declared to the bewildered Temple leaders. Now that “temple” has been battered beyond recognition. Torn down in every way a human body can be.

Loving hands have rushed to prepare the broken body for interment. Washed it. Wrapped it in strips of linen. But the customary step of anointing is skipped. They are out of time. The relentlessly sinking sun is disappearing in the western sky.

So they hurriedly hoist the limp, white-shrouded bundle and gently lay it on a chiseled shelf in that rock-hewn womb—and anoint the body only with their tears.

Moments later, with those same Temple officials looking on to assure that all is done as ordered, the hand-picked guards roll a large stone disk across the opening. The ground beneath all feet trembles as the massive wheel drops several inches into the niche carved to hold it in place.

They seal it. And the co-conspirators, breathing sighs of relief, congratulate themselves. They have won, they believe. Finally, the hope of these stubborn Jesus followers has been once-and-for-all extinguished. Indeed, they have already scattered like shepherdless sheep.

The sun is gone. Darkness and silence envelope the rocky garden. No sound is heard, save the distant, fading sobs of a heartbroken mother.

Two nights pass. Then somewhere in the courts of heaven a book is opened and a line from a song of David is sung:

For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. Psalm 16:10

Immediately, Venus, the Morning Star, rises in the east, declaring the imminent approach of dawn. The earth trembles and the powers of heaven are shaken.

Then we see Him. He emerges with a word on His lips for you, for me and for every wandering child of Adam:

“I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” (Rev. 1:18 NLT)

 

“Christian, it is your Lord,
He meets the morning of His resurrection.
He arises, a conqueror from the grave; He returns with blessings from the world of the spirits; he brings salvation to the sons of men.
Never did the returning sun usher in a day so glorious! It is the jubilee of the universe!
–Edward Thomson (1810-1870)

On Good Friday

 

Do you come here often?

Do you come here often?

Somewhere outside my home study window a male cardinal is holding forth mightily—robustly advertising his availability and suitability as a husband and baby-daddy.

I vaguely recall being in my early twenties and doing pretty much the same thing. Like my cardinal friend, I strategically deployed the color red and music. I bought a red Corvette I couldn’t afford, and was in a band.

The insurance alone took a third of my paycheck.

The insurance alone took a third of my paycheck.

I also recall using the color white—in the form of an unconstructed, Don-Johnson-on-Miami-Vice-style jacket.

Fortunately for me, all these efforts failed spectacularly. And five years later God brought me the perfect life companion as I was deploying the counter-intuitive mating strategy of simply not looking like a complete douche all the time.

I’m so grateful for the gift that is my bride. And for so many other things. Which brings me to my thoughts here on Good Friday . . .

The cross changed everything.

I know we all nod and give mental assent to that assertion. But I’m pretty sure we don’t know the half of the vast work of restoration and restitution that was embedded in the “It” of Jesus’ “It is finished.”

The cross is the hinge upon which all of human history turns. Everything before was one way—dating back to the Fall of Man. Everything after it has been different. More different than we know, in fact, because our perspectives are too limited and our vantage point to occluded.

The necessity of the cross testifies that God built this universe on a legal/judicial framework. Just rules, laws, systems and processes were woven in the very fabric of Creation itself. God’s grant to Man of dominion stewardship over planet Earth was a part of this judicial framework. It was a legal grant.

And these principles were so inviolable, that even God Himself could not trespass them and remain His holy Self. When Man’s Fall unleashed evil upon this world and made God’s outlaw enemy the legal “god of this world” God could not simply turn the Etch-a-Sketch of creation up side down, give it a good shake, and start again.

God is not free to cheat. Not and remain Who He is.

So when things went wrong, God set out to make them right again. But to do so legally and justly would require a plan which would be thousands of years in the unfolding.

The culmination of that plan took place roughly 1,985 years ago at this time of year . . . at the cross. Let’s look with fresh eyes at what transpired there.

At the foot of His cross the spirit realm is invisible to our natural eyes. We see a man suffering. What we do not see is what is transpiring in the unseen realm.

If we could, we would see hordes of gleeful, and giddy demons who have finally seen the lowering of the hedge of protection that always surrounded the Son of Man. He was finally vulnerable to torment and attack.

It’s been eerily dark and quiet on Golgotha. It would be easy to assume that nothing of significance has transpired. But in that same span, the great court of Heaven has been the scene of a remarkable flurry of activity.

Legal processes have been executed . . . accounting has been done . . . business has been transacted. . . . a kinsman redeemer has stepped forward to pay the necessary price to redeem an enslaved relative—Adam—and his every willing descendant.

A long-open set of accounting books has been reconciled and closed. A cosmic stamp pounds an ancient page leaving behind a blood-red message across the writing there. “Paid in Full.”

A corner has been turned.

The suffocating blanket of darkness that covered the last half of these proceedings begins to lift. Now that the sun can once again be discerned, we realize it has already begun it’s fiery plunge into the Mediterranean to be extinguished for another night. The Jewish Sabbath rest begins at sundown and it is rapidly approaching.

The few remaining observers on Golgotha heard the man on the center cross shout something about His God having abandoned Him. A little later He’d whispered a request for water—one that was answered, not with a ladle of cooling water but with a vinegar-filled sponge. Now we see the expiring Prince of Heaven summoning His last remnants of physical and mental strength . . . rising to speak once more.

Just one word this time. He cries out:

tetelestai

It is a Greek accounting term. Future English translations of John’s gospel will render that term in a way that tends to strip it of the legal and financial connotations. They translate it, “It is finished” (three words for one). But tetelestai does not mean merely that a thing has ended.

It has a far greater implication than merely a clock has run out and the game has concluded. It is a declaration that all has been accomplished. All that was lacking has now been supplied. The breech has been healed. The debt has been fully satisfied.

Shalom—nothing broken, nothing missing.

Charles Spurgeon called this declaration, “Christ’s dying word to the Church.” But our King’s proclamation carries even more dimensions of meaning than this. He means that all the types, shadows, and symbols of the Old Testament have now been fully manifested in Him.

He decrees that the prophecies that pointed to a future Deliverer King have been fulfilled. John the Baptist had asked, “Are you the One or should we look for another?” Jesus’ answer at that time was suggestive but indirect. Now He speaks plainly. His tetelestai! emphatically shouts, “You can stop looking! The promised One has appeared and accomplished the prophesied task. Dominion of planet earth has been restored to its rightful steward.”

Finally, in that cry of consummation, Jesus declared an end to separated man’s religious striving to build a ladder back to God.

How did this happen?

God Himself became flesh and bone and blood. Walked among fallen men. And willingly laid down on a cross.

We receive and are grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If a Book Falls in a Forest . . .

Attention Span

Sometimes I wonder about the futures of those of us who are called to write.

I’ve been writing long enough to remember back when the explosion of niche-y magazine options on the newsstand prompted concerns about shrinking reader attention spans. The thought was that we were creating a generation of people who couldn’t be bothered to read anything longer than the typical magazine article.

There was a funny bit of dialogue in the classic ’80s movie, The Big Chill. The character played by Jeff Goldblum is a frustrated novelist whose current paying gig is writing for People magazine.

“So how about you, Michael? Tell us about big-time journalism.”

“Where I work we have only one editorial rule: you can’t write anything longer than the average person can read during the average crap. I’m tired of having all my work read in the can.”

“People read Dostoevsky in the can.”

“Yes, but they can’t finish it.”

Indeed, shorter books (and shorter chapters within longer books) quickly became the accepted convention in the battle to keep people reading.

Then the internet came along and the modern attention span’s jackhammering into ever-tinier bits began in earnest. The length of the typical blog post made magazine articles seem impossibly long.

Then familiarity with Twitter’s 140 character limit made most blog posts seem too demanding of our limited time. Now Instagram captions are making 140 characters feel like a long reading commitment. In recent months most people’s Facebook timelines have become mostly pictures, links to videos, and one-line aphoristic slogans.

Today most magazines are filled with pictures, not words. There are a few exceptions of course—publications aimed directly at the few remaining true readers.

For years I’ve received a quarterly publication called the Claremont Review of Books. Here’s a typical spread:

CRoB Spread

On more than one occasion I’ve been observed reading this publication in public and been asked by a fascinated stranger, “Where are the pictures?” Or heard, “Wow! So many words.”

Please understand, I’m not being snobby or elitist here. I understand. I feel the pull. I feel the itch in my brain whenever I’m asked to focus on one chunk of text for more than a minute or two. It’s happening to all of us. I have a home office filled with books I’ve ordered in the last year or so that I haven’t cracked open yet.

I teach that for most things in life–especially spiritual things—scarcity is an illusion. But the one thing that is truly scarce is attention. We have entered what has come to be called “the attention economy” and it is fundamentally defined by “attention scarcity.”

Did you make it all the way to the end of this blog post? Congratulations! And thank you!

You see, the thing that haunts the writer’s soul and stalks the quieter moments is the prospect that one has poured important truths in artful ways onto pages that no one will ever read.

If a book falls in a forest and no one ever reads it, did it ever really exist?

A Few More Thoughts for Aspiring Writers

IMG_0097As a follow up to my previous post, here are a few more thoughts about writing well, followed by some links leading to additional food for thought.

1. Never sacrifice clarity on the altar of creativity.

When you’re writing for an audience—when you self-consciously care about what the reader thinks about what you’re writing—it’s tempting to strive for innovative, flashy ways of getting your message across. But your message can easily get lost in the effort to be fancy.

A couple of years ago I tweeted this advice after a session of editing a young writer’s work:

Writers. Thou shalt not be confusing in the quest to be clever.

Writing that doesn’t effectively transmit your ideas or information—no matter how colorful—is not good writing. In the oft-cited words of the prison warden in the movie Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

2. Keep sentences short (for the most part.)

Whenever I’m editing the writing of novice writers, much of my time is spent blasting crazy-long sentences into smaller chunks.

Why break up a long, compound, complex sentence into smaller, easily digestible bits when you can string everything you want to say into a long chain of clauses and phrases; because readers never get mentally weary or need you to get to the point—they being able to absorb an infinite amount of detail and keep it all straight, and all?

Because smaller bites are more easily digested. And despite what your 9th grade English teacher told you, it’s okay to start sentences with a conjunction. (That last one did.)

3. Shun clichés.

Cliches are sets of words that are so routinely jammed together in conversation that you can finish the phrase without it actually being spoken:

  • Read my lips . . . The bottom line is, at the end of the day, if you want to go whole hog on writing as good as gold, then you’ll want to avoid clichés like the plague.
  • It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know you’d give an arm and a leg to be back in the saddle.
  • Be a babe in the woods where you let sleeping dogs lie.
  • Go back to square one like a kid in a candy store.
  • Go back to the drawing board and take the bull by the horns and burn the candle at both ends when you’re down in the dumps.
  • For all intents and purposes the jury is still out on whether you’re bigger than life or blind as a bat.

That’s all for now.

Some Links

Be a better writer in 15 minutes: 4 TED-Ed lessons on grammar and word choice

23 Websites that Make Your Writing Stronger (fiction-centric)

On the First Signs of Spring

Holland Camellia

Spring arrives relatively early here in northern Texas—several weeks earlier that what I experienced growing up in Oklahoma. And about 12-to-14 weeks earlier than when we lived in Minneapolis.

Technically the first signs of Spring’s impending arrival here are . . . weeds. In fact, I’ve been in engaged in a pitched battle against dandelion and henbit for several weeks now and believe I’m getting the upper hand. And last weekend I launched a fierce preemptive strike against crabgrass and dallis grass—having lost nearly half of one side of my front lawn to the unholy invaders last summer.

The price of liberty and weedless lawns is eternal vigilence.

By the way, did you know that the dandelion plant was introduced to North America by the first European colonists . . . as a food source. It’s true. You can prepare and eat dandelion leaves as you would collard greens or “poke salad.” Tuck that away in your memory in the event there’s a complete breakdown of social order and we find ourselves in some sort of post-apocolyptic crisis. You can survive on dandelions in a pinch.

While enjoying Valentine’s Day coffee with Mrs. Blather on the patio this glorious morning (we’re expecting sunshine and 78 today), we noticed the two blossoms pictured above on one of our two Camellia trees. Many more will follow over the next few weeks. And then they’ll be done for the year–first in, first out.

The azaleas are up next, along with the Redbud and ornamental Cherry we planted a year ago last winter. Then the dianthus, the other perennials, and finally the roses.

Summer’s heat will arrive soon enough and refuse to leave until October. Until then, we’ll savor the first splashes of color. And offer up genuine thanks for the little pleasures we find here on Pine Thicket Lane.

 

On the President at the National Prayer Breakfast

As we have seen many times, there is no moment so grave that our current president will not to use it to get up on his high horse, take a shot at Western civilization, and emphasize his own moral superiority.

That’s the opening line of David Galernter’s important and devastating piece posted over at National Review Online.  I encourage you to read the whole thing. 

Keep to the Old Roads

Go back, go back to the ancient paths
Lash your heart to the ancient mast
And hold on, boy, whatever you do
To the hope that’s taken hold of you
And you’ll find your way

Keep to the old roads

And you’ll find your way

—Andrew Peterson, You’ll Find Your Way