Monday, April 25, 2011

Favorite Pipe

My first pipe was a simple clay pipe I piked up in Philly at the Liberty Bell gift shop. I still have it. Two other pipes had some promise but bit the dust disappointingly soon. The first was a no-name Italian briar which quickly cracked after it overheated. The second was a pretty Rohan pipe. Its stem broke off in the briar.

I got this Erik Nording churchwarden from Milan Tobacco for Christmas. It is wonderful. It smokes well and pretty cool. It is beautiful and does not heat up too quickly. I will probably buy more Nording pipes.

Health issues aside, pipe smoking has given me more quiet contemplative time, a great excuse for spending non-scripted time with friends and I've been reading more Scripture than I have been for a long time.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

Christos Anesti! Christ is Risen!

While Abraham, King David, Mohammed and Buddha all lie in their graves awaiting the judgement of the wicked and the just, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Things I Like About Arab Culture

A missionary friend of mine often tells Christians of a conversation he had with a Muslim in Morocco. The man said, "Some missionaries hate Islam and some missionaries love Muslims. You are a good man. You love Muslims." The point is a pretty simple one: Don't get caught up in attacking Islam when you should be loving Muslims and winning them to Christ. Even though I get it and I'm all for winning Muslims to Christ, I have to say that I hate Islam and love Muslims.

I hate the religion that denies the truth of Christian Scripture and turns the Gospel of Love into a message of violence and hate.
I hate any religion that encourages men to beat women or otherwise demean them.
I hate the religion that is responsible for killing more of my brothers and sisters than any other ideology in the world.
I hate the religion that is the world's leading promoter of slavery.
I hate the religion that encourages sex with children.
I hate the religion that hates dogs.

But I don't hate Arabs or everything Arab.

I love Arab hospitality. Arabs can be some of the most personally welcoming people in the world. If you've never been around Arabs, you'll never fully get the story of the Levite and his concubine in Judges. Arabs are so welcoming they can trap you with hospitality.

I love Arab food. Arabs, Persians and Turks are the masters of the world when it comes to meat. They make Westerners look like barbarians with their meat skills. You've never had truly tender meat unless you've eaten Middle Eastern food. And the rice! The rice is to die for. I've read that it takes Persian women years to cook rice well. I believe it because I've tried it. It's hard to reproduce.

I love Arab music, at least the music that hasn't been stomped out by Islam.

I love the desert. There is something intoxicating about the desert. Especially at night. The desert comes alive at night. I love how sound travels at night in the desert. I have a dry land farm in West Texas. The desert reminds me of my farm.

I love smoking. I can leave the cigarettes, but hookahs are the bomb (not in the terrorist sense). Any culture that has hookahs has something big going for it.

Antiquity. I love that Middle Eastern cultures are old. I love that people stop at oases that have been used for hundreds of years. I love that Damascus has streets which are named in the Bible, and still exist. I love that old is measured in thousands of years.

I love the Arab sense of time. I love the lack of hurriedness that I find in most Arab places. Arabs have the ability to just be when westerners get caught up in doing.

It's not Arabs I hate, it's just Islam.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Security, Immigration and Justice

This is an article I wrote over five years ago concerning the immigration debate and House Bill 4437. While the circumstances have changed, the biblical and philosophical principles remain valid. Some of these principles should be thought through by Christians in relation to Muslim immigration to the United States. House Bill 4437 was the GOP House response to President Bush's proposal to create a guest worker program in the United States. Provisions in the bill created a rare wave of criticism from the Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church.

One of the reasons I am reposting this is that many people don't understand that the Gospel speaks both to personal behavior (how we treat aliens and strangers) and political policy (what kind of laws we enact). But the Gospel speaks to these things in different ways. The individual Christian and the Church have a call to incarnate Christ to the alien and stranger. The State has the responsibility to protect and govern its citizens justly. The State has a mandate to protect its citizens from stealth jihad. But if the State takes actions or institutes policies which destabilize another country and create a situation where a minority becomes persecuted, the State would be responsible to protect or even receive the victims it created.

Here is the (long) article, with a few updates:

At the risk of beating on a dead horse, I’m writing again on the topic of immigration, this time to address a specific piece of legislation, House Resolution 4437. HR 4437 is most likely dead in the water, as it seems the United States Senate will never pass it. So why would I take time to talk about it at all?

There are lots of reasons. While this specific bill may be dead, the ideas driving the bill are very much alive. And issues of justice are the major theme of the prophetic books in the Bible. While some groups of Christians effectively jettison over two thirds of the Bible from their lives, this is a terrible mistake. God hasn’t changed. He still is concerned for the poor and powerless. Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 25 ("The Sheep and the Goats") declares that those who have no ministry to the poor and powerless will be sentenced to eternal death. [2011 Update: See also Leviticus 19:34, et al.]

HR 4437 also effects many Christians (an "illegal alien" is more likely to be an evangelical Christian than a narco-killer), and Christians should think through how to respond to these kind of things, both as affected people and ministers to affected people. [2011 Update: Still, most terrorists will come to our country by legal means or through our Canadian border, not walk through the Sonoran desert. This bill never was going to have a great impact on National Security.]

While much of the Christian right has lined up behind the anti-immigration movement (I’ve been receiving anti-immigrant emails from the American Family Association, apparently a completely separate organization than the Mexican Family Association), the issues for Christians are not as simple as many political statements. Whenever the Church lines up completely with a political party, either the party or the Church has become an idol. The Church can never line up completely with a political party (and never should try) because the Church has as its calling the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Political parties have as their calling the advancement and improvement of the Kingdom of this world. And "friendship with the world is enmity with God."

I hope you caught that. The Church and the State both have legitimate obligations. But often those obligations compete. If the State gives up her obligations to support the mission of the Church, she is irresponsible, and the Church becomes polluted. If the Church gives up her obligations and becomes a pawn of the State or a Party, then she is a whore. Christians should strive to be good citizens inasmuch as doing so does not compromise the mission of the Gospel. The State should attempt to be friendly to the Church inasmuch as she can do so without becoming the Church.

At no time in my recent memory has a clearer example of this arisen than the recent immigration controversy. I know that some of you might protest that the abortion debate is more weighty, but in the abortion debate the line between the State and the Church is more clear and the State has not attempted to bind the Church to the degree which the House of Representatives has.

Many consider this a cut-and-dried law-and-order issue. It is against the law for people to enter this country without proper documentation and permission, therefore Christians should support law-keeping and law-enforcement. Likewise, Christians should not support any scheme with encourages law-breaking, dishonors those who kept the law at great effort or expense, or weakens the intent of law. All of these are arguments which Christians have made against amnesty programs and offering guest-worker status to aliens here in the US illegally.

The problem is that Rome was a law-and-order empire. They were all about law-and-order. And if Christianity was simply a law-and-order religion, Christians would never have been persecuted and Jesus would likely have not died on the cross. Rome had a law-and-order religion, Stoicism. One of the greatest Stoic teachers, Marcus Aurelius, was also a persecutor of Christians. John and Peter stood before the Sanhedrin as Peter thundered, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right to obey men rather than God." Christianity recognizes that there is always a higher law above the laws of men. If you make abortion legal, it is still murder. If you pass "Jim Crow" laws, they are still unjust. Plenty of laws are a stench in God’s nostrils. Christians are not obligated to keep all laws, and some laws they are obligated to actively resist.

Currently we have an immigration problem in our country. At least 12 million people are living in this country illegally. Terrorism is a growing global problem and the government cannot adequately protect its people if it cannot secure its borders. Our country’s population is not growing with the demand for workers, largely because we’ve killed 40 million children in utero. And many of the undocumented persons in our country come from countries where the United States has fostered fascist governments fighting "wars" on communism, wars which are excuses for bands of US-equipped militias to murder, rape, and pillage villagers in Central America (does "Iran-Contra" ring any bells?). The villagers fled to the United States, which would not grant them refugee status because to do so would be to admit the covert wars which the government denies waging [The US government finally shut down its School of the Americas, where militias were trained to torture and kill villagers]. What would Jesus have the Church do?

Currently our North and South borders are fairly porous. Incidentally, most of the prospective terrorists the United States have apprehended have flown into our airports or driven across from Canada. Why would a terrorist make his way across a Mexican desert on foot when he can drive across at Buffalo, New York? According to our current laws, an immigration violator is guilty of violating immigration code but is not a criminal any more than you are a criminal by local standards if you don’t mow your lawn. That is why police departments don’t round up "illegal aliens," they have no jurisdiction. [2011 Update: The Arizona Immigration Act is an attempt (possibly an unconstitutional one) to create jurisdiction to act. I can easily sympathize with their motivations in this.] This means that our immigration laws, which ostensibly exist to control the flow of desperately poor people into the US have about as much effect as setting a cold glass of water in front of a person dying of thirst, saying, "Don’t drink this," and walking away. Central Americans know that the US doesn’t really enforce its laws, and know that they are not technically criminals, and so they come seeking economic opportunity. They want to eat well, have good health care, and want their kids to have the same opportunities that we do. But the "Republican base" is fed up with the tide of illegal immigration, and it’s an election year. So the politicians are acting. And the House passes HR 4437.

One thing that HR 4437 would do is increase security at the borders. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. The government has a responsibility to protect its citizens. Liberals wail about the idea of a wall, but there’s nothing Scriptural against it. All nations in the ancient world had walls, some around cities, others around whole nations, and the Bible never says a word about it. There is some question about whether or not it will work. Building a wall without having a system for moving the needed people into the country legally is a little like building a dam without a spillway. Before you get the whole thing up it’ll fall and wash down the stream. Maybe we can get some Mexican guest-workers to build it.

Another part of HR 4437 is the changing of the status of violators. Under HR 4437, they become felons, and not just the violators who enter after the passage of the law, but all who are currently in the United States. This provision might have been struck down by the courts as being a violation of the US Constitution. It is very close to being an ex post facto (after the fact) law (forbidden by the Constitution). The framers of HR 4437 have denied this, saying that there would be a "grace period" wherein people could return to Mexico (or elsewhere) without penalty. The biblically questionable part of this has to do with justice and compassion. These people have built lives here. Consider an analogy. The city you live in has a law that you need a building permit to add on to your house. The permits are expensive and City Hall grants so few that you know it’s not worth it to try. You know that if you get caught, they’ll fine you a small amount and let you go. So you build without the permit. After living in the addition for a few years, the city passes a law making it a felony to build without a permit. The law will effect everyone retroactively. You complain that you’ve already build the edition but they say that you’ll have a "30-day grace period" to tear it down. I’m sure you’d bet overjoyed at their compassion.

[2011 Update: Christians in various forums have challenged this part of my argument criticizing me for promoting lawbreaking. The Christian should wait for the building permit. I think this criticism is na├»ve. First, I think people don’t understand that ANY ex post facto law is unjust unless the law and the punishment would be universally understood as reasonable. It would not be unjust to create an ex post facto law concerning shooting your neighbor’s dog in his yard and attaching a moderate fine and applying the law after the fact because anyone would find the law to be just common sense. Without getting too deeply into the philosophy of law, consider another analogy. You city informs everyone that they are going to use their traffic camera data to issue fines to everyone who drove 1-4 miles over the speed limit in the last year. This fine will be $1000. Would you protest? Should Christians pull out the checkbook because they knew that 56 mph was against the law? What makes the law unjust is that people didn’t worry about breaking the law at that law because there was no enforcement which created a grey area. When people drove 56 mph they didn’t do so in light of a $1000 fine. While my example is more extreme, maybe you get the point.]

HR 4437 would also up the bar for employers who hire aliens illegally. The first effect would be to move most of these aliens out of tax-paying work [and yes, most of them currently pay taxes, just with fake Social Security numbers, 40 billion dollars a year, gone] and into a completely underground economy. Because even the most ardent anti-immigrant activist admits that the US doesn’t have the infrastructure or money to detain or deport 12 million men, women, and children. While not explicitly an evil move, there is certainly room to question the judgement of such a scheme.

The other consequence is the vast need this would create for legal workers. Since our unemployment is pretty low in most areas (especially in areas with undocumented workers, they go where the jobs are), this law creates an immediate vacuum while the country waits for the legal guest workers to make it through the INS. Conservative columnist Mark Steyn notes that if you wait for the INS to approve Mary Poppins to nanny your newborn, Ms. Poppins might make it over to the US in time for you kid’s college graduation. Will the jobs stay in the US long enough to process the guest workers? This isn’t really a biblical issue, because people in Indonesia need jobs too.

[2011 Update: This issue seen in light of the subsequent recession in the United States might highlight a need for a guest worker program, as President Bush suggested and the GOP House shot down as “amnesty.” The problem with the GOP Congress’ actions is that now, with much higher unemployment, we have most of the illegal aliens still in the US. We had no way to ask them to leave because without something which will induce them to register, they all remain in the shadows. From a Christian standpoint this is not a tragedy, but the GOP seems to have shot themselves in the foot with this and anyone could have predicted it.]

The long and short of it is that strengthening borders, giving or not giving amnesty, building a fence, requiring people to learn English, starting a guest worker program, changing the law for future violators, etc. are all POLICY decisions. These kinds of policy decisions can be informed by Scripture, but the Bible doesn’t speak to them directly. Christians can fall on different places in the debate. But HR 4437 steps into an area where no Christian should waver, the role of the Church in showing hospitality to the alien and stranger.

HR 4437 would make it a felony for any people to feed, clothe, educate, treat, transport or house any person in the United States illegally. It would be a felony to buy a little Guatemalan girl an ice cream cone. I’m not kidding. ESL programs would be illegal if they did not confirm immigration status. Even providing medical help would be felonious. There is no provision exempting people who do so as charity (the bill explicitly makes this kind of charity illegal). There is no provision exempting churches or religious workers. The Federal Department of Homeland Security would be responsible for rounding up Christians who defy this law. This is all under section 202 (a) of HR 4437. You might ask, How could they do this? The authors, many self-identified Christians, say that if you help a felon commit a felony, you are a felon. Christians shouldn’t help people break laws. The problem is that violating immigration law (which Christian missionaries do routinely) is not the moral equivalent of bank robbery. And while Christians don’t have an obligation in most instances to assist people in crossing borders (and probably shouldn’t, in most instances), Christians do have an obligation to show all aliens and strangers kindness and charity and hospitality, regardless of their status with the United States government. The Roman Catholic Cardinal of Los Angeles has publicly stated that he has pre-emptively ordered his thousands of priests to disobey this resolution, should it become law.

You don’t have to be a right-wing nut to believe the United States should do something about her borders. You are not violating Scripture to promote stronger laws and better enforcement. You are not a racist to think that immigrants should learn English and United States history. Ann Coulter isn’t bigoted to suggest that we issue more visas to educated and skilled immigrants than unskilled laborers (which would be great if we could get them to work in poultry packing plants). But if you forbid Christians to do what God commands, you are committing an act of evil.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reading the Koran

I was reading a post on Citizen Warrior about an Egyptian born Christian who begs people in the West to actually read the Koran. I have a friend who is a former missionary to Morocco who has been also saying the same thing for years. So much misinformation and silliness (often passionately believed) would disappear if Christians would read the Koran.

It struck me that the exhortation needs a qualification, though. You must not only read the Koran, but you must read the Koran in a clear, reliable translation. Many translations of the Koran are somewhat sanitized. While the meaning is often clear enough if you know what you are reading, often the novice reader will miss entirely what is being said.

Here is a classic example from Sura (chapter) 4, verse 34

Marmaduke Pickthall - As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them.

Yusef Ali - As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly)As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly).

The Simple Koran (CSPI) - As for the women whom you fear will rebel, admonish them first, and then send them to a separate bed, and then beat them.

[The Hilali-Khan follows the Ali in this verse, but makes up for it by giving generous footnotes from Islamic sources showing violent supremacism throughout.)

Note that the Pickthall obscures the meaning somewhat through archaic language (Muslims tend to translate the Koran into faux King James idiom to make Koranic language sound exalted) and the Ali does the same thing with archaic idiom and the insertion of language that is completely absent from the Arabic.

The Simple Koran is by far the clearest translation that an English speaker can read. As a word of caution, though, the Simply Koran has a great strength that is also a weakness. CSPI has rearranged the Koran so that the sura are in chronological order and has inserted narrative information to give context. There is no better Koran for reading straight through and getting a real understanding without years of painful study. They've really done a service with this. On the other hand, the Simple Koran is very difficult to use for study and reference. If you get the Simple Koran, have another version as well.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Republicans (unknowingly) Endanger Persecuted Christians

In a classic case of seemingly small decisions and unintended consequences, Christians in Iran have been endangered by the recent budget cutting in Congress. International Christian Concern has reported that in the midst of the budget cuts of the Republican-led Congress, Texas Representative Lamar Smith (R), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has proposed reviewing all judicial amendments in light of their budgetary impact. This would endanger the Lautenberg Amendment a Cold-War era piece of legislation which grants refugee status to persecuted Christians and Jews in the former USSR. This law was expanded in 2003 to include religious minorities in Iran.

The US grants asylum to many thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of refugees. These refugees receive small amounts of assistance in establishing themselves with other assistance given by non-governmental agencies and ministries. The refugees included in the Lautenberg Amendment are a tiny fraction of the total, but they are among the most vulnerable because other countries often do not recognize them as refugees. Oftentimes, the opportunity to emigrate to the US can make the difference between life and death for a Iranian Christian. This Amendment has never been controversial and its budgetary impact is tiny.

Repealing or even pausing this amendment could put lives at immediate risk.

Please consider calling Rep. Smith's office and asking him to not include the Lautenberg Amendment in any legislative review and leave it in effect. Sen. Smith's number is 202-225-4236. His staff is very nice.
Also, you could call your Congressional Representative and ask them to support the Amendment by leaving it in effect and not submitting it to review. It would be helpful if your representative called Sen. Smith's office as well.

Read more at International Christian Concern.

Update: JihadWatch picked up on this story and gave us a hat tip. Thanks Robert!