Monthly Archives: April 2010

Earth Day

Guest blogger Natalie Moger (yes, she’s related) contributed the following post on Earth Day.

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything. ~William Shakespeare

In 1970 Senator Gaylord Nelson dedicated April 22 as a day to understand and value earth’s environment. Over the past forty years Earth Day has been a major part of our nation’s history. Today it is the most widely celebrated, non-religious holiday in America, and celebrated by more than 1 billion people around the world. In honor of this holiday, let’s learn something new about our planet and how to better preserve it. Did you know . . .

  • Earth will travel 1.6 million miles in its annual journey around the Sun.
  • More than 20,000,000 Hershey’s Kisses are wrapped each day, using 133 square miles of tinfoil. All that foil is recyclable, but not many people realize it.
  • Only 11% of the earth’s surface is used to grow food.
  • Woodruff v. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company (1884) was the first major environmental ruling in the nation.
  • 100 million plastic bags are thrown away annually in the United States. Reusable grocery bags do make a difference.
  • You can reduce save energy simply by turning the dial on your washing machine to cold. Most loads don’t need hot water, and 90% of the energy used by washing machines goes into heating.
  • 100 million trees and 28 billion gallons of water are used to send Junk mail to Americans every year. You can stop 75% of unsolicited mail by registering on the Mail Preference Service on the Direct Marketing Association Website (for a fee of $1). (www.dmachoice.org).

Learn more about Earth Day @ earthday.org)

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A Plea for Toleration—Part 2

What does the Bible teach about religious toleration? There are passages, especially in the Old Testament, which seem clearly to teach intolerance. God forbade interfaith marriage with the inhabitants of Canaan (Deu. 7:3), ordered the destruction of their places of worship (7:5), and even told the Israelites to commit genocide (7:1-2).  However, we need to remember that Israel was a theocracy. God has a right to discriminate against and even exterminate his enemies. We do not.

There are also themes of toleration to be found in the Hebrew scriptures. Moses calls God “the God of the spirits of all flesh” (Num. 27:16). The Torah enjoins love for one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:18). And there were positive contacts between Judaism and other religions. For example, the influence of Zoroastrianism allowed the Hebrews to develop a robust view of the afterlife and the spirit world that it didn’t have before.

Under the new covenant, scripture clearly teaches toleration. Jesus refused to curse those who did not receive him because of religious prejudice (Luke 9:52-56). He corrected his disciples for rebuking an exorcist who did not follow them (Luke 9:49-50) and treated a Samaritan woman with respect (John 4:7-30). He used the example of a good Samaritan to shame his fellow Jews about their intolerance (Luke 10:25-37). The Apostle Paul acknowledged the religious devotion of pagans in Athens (Acts 17:22) and even spoke approvingly of Gentiles who do what is right, even though they don’t have God’s law (Rom. 2:14-16). And God called Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house” (Acts 10:2). Finally, while the New Testament doesn’t command toleration in so many words, it comes close when it commends “forbearing one another” (Col. 3:13, Eph. 4:2). And there are plenty of verses that command us to love others, even our enemies.

In addition to Biblical reasons, there are legal and historical reasons to practice religious toleration. I know this may come as a shock to some, but America was not founded as a Christian nation. Legally the United States has always been a secular state. There is no mention of God, Jesus, or Christianity anywhere in the Constitution, and the First Amendment mandates the separation of church and state. This is even more significant in light of the fact that a large majority of the founding fathers were professing Christians. They could have made the US officially Christian, even Protestant, but they chose not to.

Today there is a good kind of Christian activism, which seeks to preserve the rights of all Americans to worship according to the dictates of their consciences. It works to safeguard America’s godly heritage without trying to privilege one religion over another. This approach is an heir of that great tradition of Roger Williams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. There is, however, another kind of Christian activism that wants to establish evangelical Protestantism over all other religions, seeking to force organized prayer and the teaching of creationism on the public schools, insisting America is a Christian nation, and politicking from the pulpit to the point of instructing church members how to vote. However well intentioned, this kind of activism is unhealthy and potentially threatens our religious freedom.

How would we evangelical Protestants like it if we faced such activism from others? Imagine if Catholics sought to outlaw birth control, Mormons caffeine, or Hindus the eating of meat. What if Jews wanted legislation to force all school cafeterias to keep kosher or Muslims wanted every Friday declared an official day of worship? If we can’t put the shoe on the other foot and feel comfortable, it’s not a good fit.

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Night

For Yom HaShoah, the “Day of Remembrance” for victims of the Holocaust, I read Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel’s Night, a fictionalized memoir of his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II. One of the most powerful passages in Night was the story of a young boy executed in the concentration camp after being implicated in an act of sabotage.

The SS seemed more preoccupied, more worried, than usual. To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows. . . .

The three condemned prisoners together stepped onto the chairs. In unison, the nooses were placed around their necks. “Long live liberty!” shouted the two men. But the boy was silent.

“Where is the merciful God, where is He?” someone behind me was asking.

At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over. . . .

Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish: the child, too light, was still breathing . . .

And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “For God’s sake, where is God?”

And from within me, I heard a voice answer: “Where He is? This is where—hanging here from this gallows . . .”

There seems to be no limit to man’s inhumanity or God’s humanity. Seeing an innocent victim executed unjustly can be the end of faith or its beginning.

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A Plea for Toleration—Part 1

The word “tolerance” has gotten a bad rap lately. The word, if not the concept, has been maligned because some have used it to promote relativism (the idea that truth is not absolute) at the expense of traditional beliefs. This misunderstanding has caused an overreaction against toleration to the point where some pride themselves on being intolerant. True religious toleration is an important theme of both our Christian and American heritage, one that we cannot afford to lose.

Some on the religious right are quick to point out the inconsistency of those who discriminate against them. In a rhetorical judo flip, they accuse liberals of hypocrisy for being intolerant of conservatives. Actually, those who condemn intolerance are more intellectually consistent than those who demand religious toleration for themselves while denying it to others.  Someone who values toleration would naturally oppose intolerance. To do otherwise would be hypocritical. For instance, a supporter of religious liberty can oppose the Taliban for its religious persecution without being intellectually inconsistent.

By “tolerant” I mean acknowledging another’s right to exist, even if you don’t believe what they do. The Bible calls it “forbearing one another” (Col. 3:13, Eph. 4:2). In the military I defend the right of all to worship, even Wiccans. Why?  Not because I believe they’re right or that truth is relative. I do so because I believe strongly in religious freedom. If we do not respect the religious freedoms of others, we put our own religious liberty in jeopardy.

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German Ingenuity

I recently read an interesting article about the latest evolution of the Barbie Doll—Episcopal Priest Barbie. While I’m not surprised or troubled by Barbie’s ordination, I am a little amused that most of my fellow countrymen assume the iconic fashion doll was an American invention. Nope. It was a copycat of the German Lilli Doll (right), inspired by a popular post-WWII comic strip character. And that’s not the only surprise of German ingenuity.

Most people know that a German, Johannes Gutenberg, invented moveable type printing in the fifteenth century, but did you know a German invented blue jeans? A tailor who immigrated to the US from Germany named Levi Strauss created the popular work pants along with his partner Jacob Davis in 1873. But there’s more.

German Philipp Reis invented the telephone fifteen years before Alexander Graham Bell secured his U.S. patent for a similar device. In 1885 Karl Benz built an automobile eleven years before Henry Ford made his first gasoline-powered vehicle. And that’s not all.

The refrigerator, rocket, and MP3 technology are all German innovations. So are sneakers, aspirin, and decaf coffee.

So next time you throw on your jeans, grab a decaf latte, go for a drive, make a phone call, or listen to your iPod, thank a German!

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A Tale of Two Believers

Caravaggio, The Incredulity of St. Thomas (1601-02), Oil on Canvas, 42″ x 57″, Sanssouci, Potsdam

The theologian Paul Tillich said, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” John 20:19-31 tells the story of the Apostle Thomas, sometimes called doubting Thomas. He’s called doubting Thomas because he didn’t want to believe in Jesus’ resurrection unless he saw the proof for himself. Thomas was what apologists call an “evidentialist”—someone who bases his faith on the reasonableness of the evidence. Thomas declared, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (25). There’s nothing wrong with this approach per se. He was only asking for the same proof the other disciples had been given.  And Jesus even condescended to his request, showing him the proof and overcoming his doubts.

But Jesus also said there was a better way: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (29). There’s a faith that comes from seeing with physical eyes, then there’s a faith that comes from seeing with spiritual eyes. Jesus said those who experience the latter are “blessed.” The word means happy. It’s the same word Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, among other things, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).

The Apostle John must have experienced this kind of happiness. At the empty tomb he believed before he saw the risen Lord, before he had any reasonable proof that the Jesus body had not simply been stolen (John 20:2-10).

Thomas’s faith was formed by evidence, John’s by love. Thomas saw in order to believe. John believed in order to see. Thomas’s proof was outward, sensory, and empirical. John’s was internal, emotional, and relational. Both are valid paths to faith, according to Jesus, but John’s was better.

According to church tradition St. Thomas took the gospel to India. The “Thomas Christians” of the Mar Thoma Church claim the apostle as their founder. There are various stories about what happened to St. John the Apostle. In most he outlives all of the other disciples. In the one favored by Catholics John takes care of Mary, Jesus’ mother, after the resurrection in a house near Ephesus—called today the “House of the Virgin.” Although none of these stories has historical value, they do tell us something important about how the church regarded these two important men: Thomas, the former doubter, who went abroad to evangelize in the East, and John, the beloved disciple, who stayed home to love and care for the woman who gave birth to God.

Whether the mission God gives us is to preach the gospel overseas or show love and compassion at home, we each have an important calling to bear witness to the resurrected and living Jesus.

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I Believe

Easter Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. All four canonical Gospels are testimonials to the evangelists’ powerful belief that Jesus was miraculously raised from the dead. Resurrection was the central theme of the apostles’ preaching in the book of Acts. And St. Paul went so far as to say that “if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:7).

The centrality of the resurrection in Christianity is amazing when you consider that there are no scientific or historical grounds for believing in it. Keep in mind, no one even witnessed the resurrection itself, arguably the most important event in salvation history. The New Testament reports various postmortem sightings of Jesus, seemingly very much alive, but nobody was actually in the tomb to see what happened to Jesus’ body. And the scriptures also report that some people believed the disciples stole his corpse (Matt. 28:13). Could the resurrection be a fanciful story made up to console grieving disciples or, even worse, to dupe credulous people?

Why should we believe in the resurrection? The late New Testament scholar George Eldon Ladd answered this question, at least for himself:

In the end, I accept the biblical witness to the resurrection not because of logical proof or historical reasoning, but because of an inner quality of the gospel, namely, its truthfulness. It so overpowers me that I am rendered willing to stake the rest of my life on that message and live in accordance with it. My faith is not faith in history but faith in the God who acts in history. It is faith in God who has revealed himself to me in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, and in his resurrection, who continues to speak to me through the prophetic word of the Bible. (I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, 140)

To that I say, Amen! Happy Easter.

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