Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The War

I read in National Geographic two articles about the medical care of wounded soldiers and Iraqis. Pretty shocking stuff, as all war is, of course.

Also a powerful article by Bob Herbert of the New York Times. Some excerpts:

Americans are shopping while Iraq burns. The competing television news images on the morning after Thanksgiving were of the unspeakable carnage in Sadr City — where more than 200 Iraqi civilians were killed by a series of coordinated car bombs — and the long lines of cars filled with holiday shopping zealots that jammed the highway approaches to American malls that had opened for business at midnight…

There is something terribly wrong with this juxtaposition of gleeful Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store barricades and the slaughter by the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies. The war was started by the U.S., but most Americans feel absolutely no sense of personal responsibility for it….

The war has now lasted as long as the American involvement in World War II. But there is no sense of collective sacrifice in this war, no shared burden of responsibility. The soldiers in Iraq are fighting, suffering and dying in a war in which there are no clear objectives and no end in sight, and which a majority of Americans do not support.

They are dying anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the malls and shop.

Time magazine reports: Security Adviser Steve Hadley told reporters on Air Force One on the way to Estonia that Bush will be a good listener at the meeting. "We're not at the point where the President is going to be in a position to lay out a comprehensive plan at this point".

After months of accusing the Democrats of having no plan, it is obvious Bush doesn´t have one either. And now of course news reports are appearing that one of the President´s top advisors doesn´t believe the Iraqi Prime Minister has the ability to stem the violence in his country. (Lest you think it is just liberal, biased media reporting this, World Magazine is reporting it also).

I am starting to realize I use this blog to vent about the war. But I don´t know where else to go with my frustration. And when Tony Snow says something dumb like "I think the general notion is a civil war is when you have people who, to use the American Civil War or other civil wars as an example, where people break up into clearly identifiable feuding sides clashing for supremacy within Iran…, thereby making in this otherwise unintelligble sentence a geographic mistake (must be learning it from his President) and, as Jon Swift comments, “referring by mistake to the upcoming war in Iran instead of Iraq”, I don't know what to do anymore.

Look at this picture, pray for our brave soldiers and pray to God that our government somehow starts thinking with clarity, common sense and bravery.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Freedom from what?

In response to my last blog, someone asked the question: free from what?

It would require a long answer to fully explain it, but I’ll try to make a couple of comments. If you have further questions feel free to ask.

I would guess the main freedom is this: I grew up with the idea that the Gospel was primarily about going to heaven when I/we die. The focus was on making sure that I had the right/enough faith so that I could answer the famous Kennedy question: are you sure God would let you into His heaven if you were to die tonight?

This has also been a primary theme of my almost 30 years as missionary, evangelist and pastor. Can the other person also answer this question with confidence?

Underlying the concern for this question is of course the issue of hell. If someone cannot answer this question (and its companion question: on what basis should God let you into His heaven?) then I need to be concerned that he or she will spend eternity in hell.

This perspective led to several kinds of stresses: concern for the “lost” world and the pressure to take every opportunity to “lead someone to Christ”. No contact, friendship or relationship was without that underlying “pressure”. No sacrifice, even of family relationships, was too small for that one “eternal soul”. The “Day of Christ’s Appearing” was, in theory, a day of great joy, but in reality a day of judgement for myself (had I correctly believed?) and for those of whose “salvation” I was not “sure” whatever that meant, and that question was a source of many fiery theological discussions. Not to mention the “depression” of living in a world that was doomed to destruction, even though we did our best to obey the command to make the most of this world.

For the last 20+ years I have been wondering if that (eternal destiny) is the central issue of the Bible/New Testament. I have come to believe it is not. I’m not saying those issues are not discussed, they are just not the central ones.

N.T. Wright has helped tremendously in putting all these questions in a good Biblical context, one that takes the Bible and the work of Christ seriously. He asks (and provides (his) answers to) questions about what Jesus and the early church meant when they said certain things. It is a scholarly approach to the Scriptures that takes belief seriously, instead of the critical approach which undermines so much.

The perspective of the Kingdom as Wright outlines it really does “free” one from the stresses I mentioned above while providing a real positive way in which to be involved in today’s world.

The words of Jesus “as the Father has sent me, so send I you”, have taken on a much newer and deeper meaning for me, and I am able to put this into practice (with all my failures) with conviction and joy.

To understand more of Wright’s thought, see him Home Page, linked in that blog. I don’t have time or space here to summarize everything. Try his stuff on the resurrection first. The Resurrection as a Historical Problem, for example.

Monday, November 27, 2006

N.T. Wright, New Perspective, Emerging

The last few days I've heard a few lectures and discussions with N.T. Wright, read a few blogs about Emerging and that kind of stuff.

It is not all equally clear or helpful, but these movements, especially Wright, are putting some perspectives on the gospel and the church in the world that are just magnificent and so helpful and freeing.

If you don't know N.T. Wright, read some stuff from his Home Page.

I would say that this stuff doesn't really repudiate anything I learned growing up or what I got out of college and seminary. It does say that some things should be understood differently, but it is not negative in saying it is worthless or harmful.

It rather adds perspective and provides a way to ask the "critical" questions about the Bible without denying its authority or the centrality and necessity of Christ and His work.

I am much more able to put my whole heart, mind and life into the work of the church than I was before.

It is really too bad that so many Christians (and Christian bloggers) are so negative and unwilling to learn from these men. I understand why that is, but it is really too bad.

Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions. God will not "get you" if you do.

But keep Christ and His Word central.

powered by performancing firefox

Saturday, November 25, 2006


This is a test of a new way to make entries to my blogs.

A program downloaded from Fire Fox.

See how it works.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


This guy reminds me of my nephew Lee.

Not bad, and, as far as I can tell, authentic.

Dutch Elections Update

In the first place, more than 80% of the Dutch population voted. Compared to the USA a very high number. One reason for that is that people really feel they can vote for someone who represents their views.

Let me try to explain what happened.

The Christian Democratic Appeal has been the ruling party for the last 4 years. This party has its roots in Christian movements at the end of the 19th century. In order to form a majority, and thus a government, the CDA formed a coalition with the VVD and D66. Bascially conservative, moderate right wing, if you take everything together. Because the D66 pulled out of the Cabinet last spring new elections were needed.

The Labor Party was the great rival of the CDA and had hoped to win this election. Their leader would then become Prime Minister. Last spring it looked like they would win in a landslide.

The problem in Dutch politics is that there are really no "hot issues" at this moment. The immigration issues are pretty much resolved, the economy is getting better, government finances and the welfare system have been reformed. More work needs to be done, but essentially things are going along OK.

Interestingly enough, the Iraq War was not an issue in these elections. And the environment did not get much attention either.

So what happened? The CDA lost some seats but is still the biggest party and will probably provide the Prime Minister (Balkenende again). The VVD and D66 lost big time. They are totally out of the picture.

The Labour Party lost also. They do not have enough seats to come close to forming a coalition government.

The winners?

The SP, the Socialist Party, went from nine to twentysix seats. These were the old communists. They took many voters from the Labor Party. Primarily because of the trustworthiness of the leader of the SP. People trusted him more than the young leader of the Labor Party, Wouter Bos.

Two big surprises:
The Party for Freedom won nine seats. This party is very right wing, extremely so.
And the Party for Animals won two seats. A party that wants to protect the rights of animals. For example, this party wants to ban the castration of pigs without anaesthesia.

So the Dutch politcal landscape is splintered. That will make forming a government difficult.

The Christian Union, a conservative evangelical Christian party, had 3 seats in Parliament, now has 6 seats.

There is a chance that this party is big enough that it could form, with other parties, a majority in Parliament and thus help form the government.

Imagine: in liberal, apostate Holland, villified because of its policies on drugs, sex, euthanasia and homosexuality, an evangelical conservative Christian party may play a major role in the government.

I wonder what World Magazine will say about that, if anything.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Dutch Elections

Today the Dutch vote for a new Parliament and Cabinet.

I must say I really like the parliamentary system. Actually, the Dutch system is offically called Proportional Representation. See Wikipedia for the differences.

There are quite a variety of political parties, so you have a good chance that you can get people in the parliament who reflect your own views, even if that is only one person.

It also forces parties to work together. If no party gets a majority of seats in the Parliament (and that almost never happens), then parties need to work together to form a majority and construct the Cabinet.

Even for Christians in Holland there are a couple of good choices to make, in which you can think about moral, economic, political and environmental issues.

I will never forget that a relative once asked me, "Well Norm, what's it like living in a communist country?"

Holland gets a lot of bad press in the U.S.A. of the Religious Right. Most of it, like this question, rooted in ignorance and fear.

Don't get me wrong - there are a number of things about Holland that drive me absolutely crazy.

But the windmills, tulips and wooden shoes are really cute.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Unpopular anywhere

"Political experts say President Bush planned a trip to several foreign countries this week because he is unpopular at home. In response, the White House said, That's ridiculous. The president is just as unpopular overseas."
--Conan O'Brien

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bush Sr.

Seems George W. Jr. has been to the woodpile with his father.

George Sr. thinks George Jr. is making a mess of things.
He wants to make sure his son doesn't get a bad name in the history books.

He has told his son to go to his room and be quiet.
He has sent two of his old helpers to the White House to straighten things out.

James Baker, Secretary of State for president George H.W. Bush, now heads the Iraq Study Group and paid a visit to the White House yesterday.
Robert Gates, Director of the CIA for president George H.W. Bush, will take over for Rumsfeld at the Department of Defense.

Not a bad deal.
Something profitable gets done in the Middle East.
George Jr. gets the credit.

I don't really care if George Jr. gets the credit or not, as long as this disaster he has gotten us into gets turned around.

Friday, November 10, 2006

God's tears

I ran across this quote from someone on a blog this morning.
I thought it was good food for thought for today.

Without Jesus, God doesn't have tears.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rumsfeld 2

In brief remarks yesterday, Rumsfeld described the Iraq conflict as a "little understood, unfamiliar war" that is "complex for people to comprehend."

So we are dumb? Is that the problem?

Check these quotes out from our former Defense Secretary:

"I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past. I think the past was not predictable when it started."

"I am not going to give you a number for it because it's not my business to do intelligent work."

"I don't know what I said, but I know what I think, and, well, I assume it's what I said."

"There's another way to phrase that and that is that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. It is basically saying the same thing in a different way. Simply because you do not have evidence that something does exist does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn't exist."

"If I know the answer I'll tell you the answer, and if I don't, I'll just respond, cleverly."

C.S. Lewis once said, "you don't make nonsense sense by putting 'God can' in front of it".

You don't make nonsense sense by having Rumsfeld say it and then calling us dumb when we don't understand it.

Good riddance.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Maybe Bush is starting to get the idea.

I haven't seen his news conference yet, but I hope he is starting to realize that "stay the course" isn't always the most productive course to stay on.

A good step is that Rumsfeld is gone. The arrogance of that man was always appalling to me, as was his inability to really understand how the world works. (Or maybe he does understand how the world really works, but that would be so appalling to many of us if we heard it that he makes sure we can't find out.)

It's pretty hard to forget Rumsfeld's handshake with Saddam Hussein in 1983.

I hope the Bush administration will work with the new Congress and Senate to bring some sanity back to this "War on Terror".

I will be terrified if he doesn't.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Back to Abu Ghraib

This man (second from left in this photo) is heading back to Iraq.

He doesn't really expect to survive his stint there.

He will pose a danger to any troops with whom he works.

His job? To train Iraqi police.

Did you know Muslims consider dogs to be "unclean"?

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Fortune Magazine reports:

Sales of big pickup trucks and SUVs went through the roof - doubling from the year before in some cases. Sales of small, fuel efficient cars, meanwhile, remained stagnant. It is as if all that moaning and groaning about price gouging by oil companies never happened....

As Americans flock back to their old buying habits, it is all too easy (for sociologists) to lump excessive fuel consumption in with other bad habits involving overindulgence: over eating, over spending and over television watching....

The supply of oil is not limitless but apparently the current generation of Americans is all too willing to exhaust it by buying more vehicle than they need and letting their children and grandchildren fend for themselves.

So many conservative Christian bloggers are all up in arms about the Emerging Church or the New Perspective on Paul, wildly promoting Spurgeon, Owen, Augustine and Calvin in order to restore doctrinal purity to the church and America.

You never hear them on these kinds of issues.