Monday, February 28, 2011

Our African Brothers and Sisters

It's important to know that Christians are everywhere in the world, and some of the bravest and saintliest are in countries we think of as Muslim - such as Egypt, Turkey, and Libya - or countries we don't think of at all; like the Ivory Coast or the Congo. Christians are under attack now in those places to a degree never seen before, and all at once. Militant Islamic extremists are bloody-minded and hoping to gain power over Africa and the entire Middle East, and they despise dissenters. They're working hard to wipe out all western influences, and they see Christians as the worst manifestation of the Western Tradition of civilization. Although most Muslims worldwide don't share the extremist goal of a New Caliphate - or world empire - it doesn't require more than a small percentage of Muslim radicals to sow violence, death, and chaos.
(see footnote below).

I've had the privilege in recent days of meeting many of the members of the Africa Lighthouse Baptist Church here in Charlottesville, and a more warm, friendly, and gentle group of people are not to be found anywhere. Almost all of them are immigrants from Kenya, Rwanda. Liberia, Tanzania, Togo, etc., and they waited many years for permission to come to the U.S. Some barely escaped with their lives, and arrived here with very little. But they're grateful and anxious to work and succeed. Some of them have succeeded, and admirably, in the few years since their coming.

I'm living in the home of their minister, Rev. Peter Chege, for a few weeks, and we're sharing food, perceptions, and spiritual awareness. I've always wanted to visit Africa, but was wary of the chaos and hardship there. Now it appears Africa has come to me, and I'm really enjoying it. God is moving us, wherever we live in the world, to gather together. All of us faithful people of good will need to support each other.

Footnote: This is from Chicago News this morning,

"Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan predicted on Sunday that America faces imminent uprisings that mirror those in the Middle East.

“What you are looking at in Tunisia, in Egypt … Libya, in Bahrain … what you see happening there … you’d better prepare because it will be coming to your door,” Farrakhan said in a booming voice, thousands of followers cheering in his wake.

Farrakhan also called on President Barack Obama to allow protesters to march, urging the president not to attack innocent people when they do.

The controversial minster spoke to a packed house at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont as part of the 81st annual celebration of Saviours' Day, which marks the birth of the faith’s founder, W. Fard Muhammad.

The keynote address, titled “God will send saviours,” capped a weekend of workshops focused on health, preparing for natural disasters and unidentified flying objects. The Nation of Islam believes in a UFO called “the wheel” or “the Mother Plane.”

Farrakhan has described a 1985 religious experience in which he ascended into a flying saucer and heard the voice of Elijah Muhammad predicting historical events that came to pass."

Prepare for the dangers that are to come, and you will not fall to them.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Judeo-Christians vs. Pagans

There's a remarkable movie playing in theaters now, The Eagle, a historical drama about Caledonia (modern-day Scotland) at the time of the Roman occupation in 120 A.D. The Romans by then held and subdued much of Britain. But the northern tribes of the Celts, Picts, and Brigantes were pariticularly hardy, violent, and determined to challenge the Romans. Their land was so cold, barren, and generally inhospitable that you have to wonder what drove the occupiers northward.

There's only one logical reason: Idealism. The Romans saw themselves as enlightened, educated, and happier than other peoples, and this conceit - it was in large part a conceit, as we know from historical records - drove them to try and rule the entire world.

In material terms the Romans were wealthier and more comfortable than anyone ever had been in the history of the world. Their technology, money management, labor and military organization skills were equal to - or even superior - to our own; but there was an aimlessness and unfocused aspect to their achievements. Once the Romans had attained creature comforts like baths, public entertainments, abundant food, and leisure time, they still found themselves wanting.

Their religions were many and varied. Nobody felt confident or certain about life's purpose and destination. The excellent HBO series Rome graphically shows how awful and dangerous pagan life could be - even if you were rich. The monied classes had to worry about assasination, political oppression, and the whims and insanity of the emperor. The poor were considered cursed by the gods.

Basic understanding of moral behavior wasn't held by citizens in common, so even 'civilized' life in the ancient world was frequently nasty, brutish, and short.

Christianity hadn't yet taken hold of the Roman mind by 120, and it was generally viewed as a strange cult, an offshoot of Judaism. It took almost two more centuries - well into the 300's - before it gained popularity. But in spite of  ruthless and cruel persecution, Judeo-Christianity continued to grow from one end of the Empire to the other. It offered superior ideals to the ordinary citizen and slave. It saw no intrinsic difference between citizen and slave. This belief in the natural value of the individual dovetailed beautifully into the original Greco-Roman ideal of the free citizen, a creation of God.

The promise of eternal life and joy for all the faithful inspired and healed a troubled people. Honor had always been a powerful driving force in the Roman psyche, and Christianity offered ultimate honor and victory. It still does.

Our modern era is seeing the chaos of paganism once again gaining strength.  Judeo-Christians and other people of great faith are under attack and  retreating in many places. We really should pay attention.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

God Forgive Them Their Ignorance

With his last breath, Jesus uttered, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." How many of us could say that if we were dying in excruciating pain?

It takes monumental forgiveness and strength to be that kind, generous, and forgiving. I'm sure I've never met anyone who could do it.

Then again, maybe I have. Last Sunday night I was at a Super Bowl party and there was a young woman there who was so simple and kind, so gentle and childlike, so sweet and engaging, that I can imagine her just crying in pain - not understanding what was happening to her; being a creature of love and grace no matter how terrible or cruel the world was to her.

She clearly has had a difficult time in life, and labored very hard, probably from a very young age. I would bet that she grew up in hill country, on a farm, where hardship reigned and there were few comforts. Her poverty and want prepared her for something greater, and she gained something that I don't often see in anyone. True humility.

She is truly blessed; that is, she possesses God's guarantee of eternal joy in the Kingdom of Heaven, when she passes away from this poor, twisted world; a world that is largely divorced from God.  Christ's cry upon the cross was also a warning to us that the punishment for divorcing ourselves from Almighty God is terrible beyond comprehension.

Our Lord said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,  for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."