Frankly Alarming

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Recently I came across a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual.”

Written in 1949 by George Orwell, 1984 is a novel about:

Winston Smith…a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother. The Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. Currently, the Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.

SparkNotes Plot Summary

Republicans accuse Democrats of Newspeak. Democrats accuse Republicans of Newspeak. From cries of “fake news” to the redefinition of words as part of growing moral relativism, the blame rests equally on the shoulders of members of both major parties. Subtly, sneakily, by raising the temperature of the pot ever-so-slowly so that we aren’t alarmed when the water begins to boil, we have been ushered into an new age of propaganda.

Don’t believe me? Go and check out President Trump’s “real news.” State sponsored/controlled media. That’s a thing we have now. #Icanteven.

 

Irritated as I am over this, I’m not surprised. Both parties have been effective in undermining the work and position of the media. Both parties have gone into overdrive in painting the other as the most evil entity to have ever existed. Both parties have ingeniously and deviously played on the fear, ignorance and arrogance of the American people. I hope that my fellow countrypeople wake up. I hope they reject this insanity.

But this article isn’t even about that.

What gets under my skin even more, what pushes my temper to the hot zone, is the proliferation of evangelical propaganda. Consider:

Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s evangelical advisers who preached the morning of his inauguration, has released a statement saying the president has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“When it comes to how we should deal with evildoers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil,” Jeffress said. “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”

Jeffress said in a phone interview that he was prompted to make the statement after Trump said that if North Korea’s threats to the United States continue, Pyongyang will be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

The biblical passage Romans 13 gives the government authority to deal with evildoers, Jeffress said. “That gives the government … the authority to do whatever, whether it’s assassination, capital punishment or evil punishment to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un,” he said.

He said that many pacifist Christians will cite Romans 12, which says, “Do not repay evil for evil,” but Jeffress says that the passage is referring to Christians, not to the government.

“A Christian writer asked me, ‘Don’t you want the president to embody the Sermon on the Mount?’ ” he said, referring to Jesus’s sermon. “I said absolutely not.”

Washington Post; August 9, 2017

This is easily summarized: God is okay with evil actions if they stop other evil actions, especially if the United States (and, more specifically, the President/party we like) takes the action.

Last I checked, assassination is murder. Where does God say He’s cool with that?

Now, consider this:

“I can’t help but admire Jared and Ivanka. The two of them have put their lives entirely on hold in order to pursue the good of their nation, and I have found them to be particularly interested in our concerns as evangelical Christians. It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians in the United States defend their rights, and secure their religious freedom for now, and for subsequent generations.”

“I have found every interaction with Jared Kushner to be exemplary. He is clearly an extraordinary individual, with obvious integrity, and he has been a great gift to the evangelical community. We have always found him to be ‘an ever-present help in time of need.’ There are few things I’m sure of in the world we are living in today, but one of thing I am sure of is that Jared Kushner is a good man, and I’m honored to know him.”

Pastors David Jerimiah and Samuel Rodriguez

An allusion to Mary and Joseph. Really?

Quoting Psalm 46:1 – the opening line of a song of praise to God – in lauding a mere mortal. Where’s the bolt of lightning?

Once again I think about all the professors I had, the ones who would have not hesitated to fail me or anyone else who dared to present such shoddy, sloppy interpretation. These church leaders, who have influence over so many, are engaging in Newspeak. They attempt to eliminate opposition by removing any understanding of doctrine and Scripture that would testify against the activities of the current administration. Are they calculated or malicious in doing so? I can’t guess at the motives. God alone knows. All I can do is point to the rotten fruit and tell you not to eat it.

Whatever your politics, this abuse of Scripture is wrong. Blatantly so. Crossed over into disturbing. This is not what we’re to be about, folks. We don’t use the Bible to prop up politicians and we don’t twist it to fit our agendas. We don’t snip it and pick it and fold it and ignore the stuff that doesn’t fit within our existing worldviews. We either take the whole Bible as it is and allow the words of truth to shape us via the loving, convicting, guiding activity of the Holy Spirit, or we inevitably destroy it and thus destroy our ability to witness, to speak truth.

Consider a churchman who understands this:

[Moore] actually been warning about someone like him for years. Writing prophetically in his 2014 book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Moore warned that Christians “ought to be the last people to fall for hucksters and demagogues.” He argued against the coziness that old-guard evangelical Christians had nurtured within the Republican Party in the last few decades and chastised believers who celebrated politicians in exchange for access and power.

“Some sectors of religious activism are willing to receive, as Christians, heretics and demagogues, so long as they are with us politically,” Moore wrote. “When that happens, we are demonstrating what we believe to be truly important, and we are embracing then a different gospel from the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He also rejected the notion that the United States was a nation in covenant with God.
“Our end goal is not a Christian America,” he wrote. “That illusion is over, and happily so.”

– The Survival of a Southern Baptist who Dared to Oppose Trump

I realize that my position on these matters and increasing willingness to share that position with others is abhorrent to some. Know this: It’s not a Trump thing. If Clinton had won, I would be just as appalled at the evangelical community, for no doubt, instead of slavish devotion, many would have opposed anything her administration attempted out of sheer spite.

Slavish devotion or sheer spite.

Surely these are not our only options.

Surely we are called to something better, something higher.

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Photo credit: Christin Hume

Thoughts After Charlottesville 

Gentle Reader,

You know I’m a pacifist, but I wonder how we got from Captain America punching Hitler to, “well, Nazis aren’t that big a deal” and, “it’s probably all a conspiracy because Soros and Antifa.”

How did we come to idolize Robert E. Lee, a slave owner who fought against his own country?

Why do we still doubt that the Civil War was about slavery?

Why are people who call themselves Christians saying, “we will not be silenced?” Chanting, “blood and soil?” (That’s a Nazi slogan, if you don’t know).

A woman died and dozens more are injured. All for a statue that shouldn’t have been erected in the first place.

And, yeah, I know. Free speech is a thing we have here. People can assemble and say stupid, ugly things. I support that. Doesn’t mean that I will shy away from labeling that speech “stupid” and “ugly.” 

After sitting with and mourning this for 2 days, I wonder: Could we Christians lead the way here by no longer screaming about our rights? By refusing to see the government – local, state or federal – as an entity meant to protect us? What if we truly rested in the promises of Christ, knowing in our bones that He will see us through whatever happens? What if we decided to esteem others and consider their needs before our own, as Paul admonishes in Philippians 2? What if we recognised that this world is not our home and that the spread of the Gospel is more important than politics? What if we looked to our brothers and sisters in hostile countries and emulated their example? Those of us who are white, what if we took the time to really listen to and empathize with people of color – not to take on false guilt, but so we can understand what they deal with?

I wonder what would happen. I wonder if we’d become agents of healing and shine brightly in dark places.

Meditate on these passages:

2 Corinthans 5:20; 6:4a, 6b

2 Corinthains 5:9

Philippians 2:3-4

Philippians 2:14-15

Philippians 4:5

Colossians 3:8

1 Thessalonians 5:5

James 2:8-9a

Matthew 28:18-20

Romans 12:17-18

Galatians 5:24

1 John 4:9

Revelation 7:9-10

Racism has no place in Christianity. May we be courageous enough to examine our own hearts and repent if needed. May we be brave enough to vocally condemn this evil. May we be loving enough to reach out to those who are different.

Skin is skin.

It doesn’t matter.

Lord, teach us to love as You love. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear. Expose what needs exposing. Help us to prioritize preaching the Gospel over and above all else. Kill the selfish ambitions and vain conceits that strangle our hearts.

Break us and remake us.

Forgive us, Jesus. 

Red, brown, yellow, black and white – all are precious in Your sight.

Five Minute Friday: Place

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

“…you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.”

– Matthew 24:6-8 (NKJV)

See that you are not troubled.

How, Jesus? How do we erase the feeling of trepidation as leaders in Pyongyang and Washington, D.C., continue to breathe fire at each other, uncaring who is singed in the process? We pray, but the fear remains.

God, forgive us in our frail, simple humanity.

As usual, linking up with Kate and all. We seek: place.

Go.

I can’t remember a time without war.

Operation Desert Storm happened when I was in Kindergarten and first grade. Clinton authorized the bombing of Kosovo during middle school. The planes crashed and the towers fell at the start of my senior year of high school. Now I watch the news with an anxious knot in my chest, wondering if we’re really about to go along with Kim Jong-un and reignite the Korean War, a war that never really ended, a war that accomplished nothing. A war that will inevitably escalate until the nations gather once again to slaughter each other across continents.

One set of human beings seeking to strip the other of their humanity.

Will the government reinstate the draft? My husband only has two-and-a-half more years before he is free of being enlisted against his will.

Why should more people die? People caught in the crossfire, people who will suffer because of inflated egos and short tempers.

Gaily, recklessly, arrogantly marching off to war. Just as so many before.

Mothers and fathers, widows and widowers, sons and daughters – left to mourn.

To what end?

No end. Evil is never satiated. Violence is a great, gaping, black mouth, ever-hungry for more victims. It is the mouth of the Devil, that ancient father of lies.

I don’t understand this place, this world. I preach the grace of the Gospel, the solidness of God’s presence. I seek to be a minister of peace. Of reconciliation. My quiet voice – can it, does it make a difference in this place of noise and chaos and boiling blood?

God promises that He will finish what He started. The words He speaks fall to the ground, taking root in the fertile soil of hearts responsive to mercy. A great harvest will result. Nothing returns to Him void. His plans are not thwarted by missiles, His purposes not wrecked by tirades.

That – I must hold to in this place. Though fear pounds in my chest and frustration runs through my mind. He is good and pure and true.

So I, and you with me, must speak the words of truth in this place until we arrive at the other Place, where war and sin are no more.

Stop.

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Photo credit: Thomas Tucker

Review: Chasing Secrets

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Several years ago, author and library hero Nancy Pearl came to the yearly staff training that I was required to attend. She spoke of “doorways” through which every reader seeks to enter the world of books. Some read for plot, others for character. Some read for the beauty of the language, some for setting. Thus there is a reader for every book, a book for every reader.

Immediately I knew that I read for character. I can handle books with slower-paced plot lines because I want to dive into the richness of the human psyche, whether in fictional or real-life form. I want to know and understand people’s thoughts, what they believe, what makes them tick. This is why history is endlessly fascinating to me; far more than a list of dry dates, those thick books record the real (and often surreal) experiences of flesh-and-blood people.

Thus, Chasing Secrets by Lynette Eason was not a book for me.

To be fair, this is the fourth book in a series, so I am lacking some context. Also in fairness, Eason’s books have all received predominately positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, so there is definitely an audience for her work. In no way do I believe her to be a bad author and I don’t think that those who enjoy her books are stupid. Keep all of this mind as you read the rest of this review.

Chasing Secrets falls into the “Christian romantic suspense” category, one that I have rarely ventured into. It’s just not my jam. Honestly, I don’t like much Christian fiction in general. All too often the characters lack depth and the plots are both implausible and formulaic, which is sad. Art is a form of worship and we must learn to do better. When I do find authors I like – Francine Rivers, Mesu Andrews, Neta Jackson – I devour everything they write, because they manage to be at least a little different in a sea of so-far-from-Amish-as-to-be-laughable stories and, let’s face it, bodice rippers without the ripping. (Romance novels without the sex, for the uninitiated).

Skepticism meter already on “high,” I began to read the story of Haley Callaghan – a professional bodyguard practically Terminator-like in her ability to take a licking and keep on ticking. When I figured out two of the major twists within the first couple of chapters, I sighed. And sighed some more when one of those twists was straight-up revealed in the third chapter. In my mind’s eye I could see one of the filler episodes of the late-somewhat-great television show Castle, the ones that you just sort of skipped over in anticipation of another 3XK feature or a development in one of the better “will they, won’t they” relationships of entertainment history.

And now we’re completely sidetracked.

Haley is, of course, beautiful, intelligent and successful, yet wounded. She hides her inner softie under a tough outer shell. Of course the only one who can truly break through her defenses is Steven Rothwell, a handsome, intelligent, successful yet wounded detective. Of course they fall in love in like 5.537 seconds. Of course Steven hasn’t been interested in romance until Haley. Of course Haley has sworn off men until Steven.

Then some assassins and gangbangers and explosions. An Irish castle. Mafia stuff. Old family feuds.

All connected, of course.

This much I sort of glazed over. It’s all part of the usual outline of these kinds of books. One element of the story truly did bother me, however: “white saviorism.” I can’t explain this in-depth without giving away major plot elements, but suffice it to say that the beautiful-yet-damaged white woman is the only one who can fix things for two young black men. Of course their mother made “bad decisions” that left them vulnerable. This left a bad taste in my mouth.

I’m not accusing Eason of being a racist. I’ve never met the woman. I do think she followed a formula that would sell well. That is frustrating to me, because she isn’t a bad writer. This book (and, I’m guessing, the series) had potential to be something more. She writes about women you wouldn’t want to meet in dark alleys. They are supposed to be fierce and capable of fighting alongside men…not conventional damsels-in-distress who need men to save them, which is sadly where this book went.

If you like books that are on the fluffier and fast-paced side, then this one is for you. It is, as they say, probably a good beach read. Nothing difficult within the pages. I won’t smack it out of your hands or judge you for reading it. I would recommend beginning with the first book in the series, Always Watching, because maybe there’s more to this particular story than I am able to appreciate at the moment. A word to the wise, however: Be sure that you start from a place of suspended disbelief, otherwise you will find yourself incredibly frustrated.

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.