Monday, July 25, 2016

Terrorists and Paradise

Okay, first of all, I have no problem using the phrase, Radical Islamic Terrorism.  Whether it’s ISIS or any other self-identified radical Islamic group of that kind, if they themselves assert Islam as their faith and call their movement an Islamic movement and yet are willing to use terrorist tactics, such as Suicide Bombers, as a means to their end, then, yes, they are Radical Islamic Terrorists, setting aside any super-imposed pressure to speak the language of political correctness.

It would be no different if there were a group identifying themselves as Fundamental Christians who used terroristic methods to gain influence and spread their message by terroristic tactics.  They too would be rightly called, Extreme or Radical Christian Terrorists.  True: Mainstream Christians would disavow them as true Christians, and rightly so.  But it would not change the fact that the group itself see themselves as believing in and acting from a self-embraced identity and conviction as fundamentally Christian.  And so, I’m not going to argue against the fact that Radical Islamic Terrorists are acting out of a self-defined Islamic Faith and Mindset.

In fact, I would argue that it is best to accept their self-identity as fundamental followers of Islam than to deny it.  For, it would help us to better understand why they act as they do.

The Modern Day Suicide Terrorist Bomber has two common threads in his (or her) thinking: (1) an utter conviction that he has nothing to lose, and (2) the passionate belief that he has everything to gain by his extreme sacrifice—to blow him/herself up for the cause!

Here the old saying is true: Beware of the opponent that believes he/she has nothing to lose and everything to gain when fighting against you.   For, there are very few, if any, bargaining chips available for you to use for negotiation.  It’s an all or nothing proposition.   This is why merely matching or trying to overpower force with force and gun with gun fails us in the battle against terrorism.

The Suicide Bomber is committing an act of faith.  Hence the battle is one of heart and soul, which is one of the most difficult kinds of conflicts to engage in.  If I believe that God will reward me in heaven for my action(s) on earth, no matter how savage or horrendous those acts may seem in the eyes of others, there is very little that will effectively stop me, not even, or most especially not, the threat of death—short of a religious conversion or change of heart and conviction.

The Radical Islamic Suicide Bomber, believing he/she has nothing to lose, is convinced that he/she has God’s approval and will thus gain Paradise in the afterlife.  It’s as simple as that.  Thus, only one thing needs to change in that person’s thinking: the belief that God approves, and therefore will reward such action.   We know this, but somehow we’re not using this knowledge effectively.

Whenever a Radical Islamic Suicide Bomber takes lives—at an airport, in a shopping mall, or on the streets of a busy city intersection, for example—Western Statesmen and women immediately call their actions reprehensible, cowardly, murderous, savage, inhuman, and culpable.  And the Terrorists couldn’t care less!  Such name calling doesn’t faze them a bit.  In their minds, they are doing a Holy, honorable, God glorifying deed.  As they see it, they are bringing honor and praise not only to their God but to themselves.  Seeing themselves as extensions of God’s arm, they believe that they are doing God a favor.  Most importantly they see themselves as Martyrs.  And Martyrs of God are always one step above the average devotee of any religious faith—even in the Christian faith.

They are first and foremost Believers!  They do what they believe.  Thus, their actions will change only when the substance of their faith changes.

Therefore, it does not help to deny what they themselves own as their self-identifying faith.  They see themselves as true adherents to Islam, the truest!  Whether they claim to be Islamic Fundamentalists or the true inheritors of a pure Islamic State, their core belief is that God is on their side and that they are doing God’s will in the name of Islam.  Thus, this must be our beginning point in understanding them. 

Now what?  Conversion, that’s what.  Radical Islamic Terrorists movements are converting young people everywhere, using any and all means at their disposal.  And we wonder and are amazed that they can be so effective in making converts.  But why are we so amazed?  I’ll tell you.  It is because we citizens of Western Civilization are ourselves unconverted people.  We have no clue.  We have no idea what it means to believe, no idea what conversion feels like or what it looks like from the inside out.

We are sold on Western Civilization’s values and priorities and practices.  We believe that we’ve got it right, and we question anyone who questions our values and our chosen ways and means to sustain them.  The people in Western nations also assume that they are just, fair, even-handed, equitable, and trustworthy, as nations go.

Yet, in reality the world nations of any size, type, and kind can be and often are quite unjust and unfair.  The super-rich continue to increase in power and wealth while everyone else languishes in a stupor of economic straights and financial debt.  And it’s only getting worse.  Rich powerful countries rape the resources of smaller weaker States.  Wealthy powerful nations align themselves with any government that willingly supply they’re wants, no matter how corrupt, unjust, and oppressive that government may be to its own people.  And the list goes on.

This is why people, especially the weak, the poor, the suppressed and/or oppressed, find solace in the belief that there will be a Judgment Day, a Day of Reckoning, and that there is hope and consolation in a God-given promise of Heaven or Paradise beyond this life.  Such belief energizes and enables defiance against perceived enemies. 

Even in Christianity, at the heart of the Gospel message of Salvation in Christ, is the promise of Eternal Life in the Kingdom of God—a Kingdom of peace, justice, and righteousness where there will be no more tears, no more death, no more pain or mourning and crying (see Revelation 21:1-5).  This is great news for people suffering a lifetime of grievous injustice and oppression (economic or otherwise) at the hands of humanly constructed political & economic systems and governments.

Yet, most modern day Westerners tend to pooh-pooh such beliefs in heaven and hell, or Judgment Day or a Day of Reckoning.  They also therefore fail to understand its power and its driving force.  “God saves!”  “God is good!”  “God is great!”  These are words of faith and words of hope.  They are empowering words, assertive and striking in their promise of victory against Infidels and Unbelievers—those believed to be the perpetrators of the injustice and evil that is in the world.

This is why the work of conversion is necessary.  Not a conversion to secularism, capitalism, or democracy, but a conversion to believe in a God of mercy, compassion, and grace.  What they fail to see is that their god is as evil, unjust, cruel, and oppressive as any of the nations or organizations or governments they presently seek to destroy.  They are in fact following a false god.

The question is this: how can we help them see the light and open their eyes to their present blindness.  For with their mouths they proclaim God is great, God is merciful; yet, they act as if God is as mean-spirited, ugly, cruel, and oppressive as any heartless human dictator.  They need to be converted themselves, to see that God does NOT approve of their ways and that their actions will bring them anything but Paradise.  They are doomed to lose heaven and earth.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Religion versus Spirituality or The Evidence of True Spirituality

Ever have a “Mountain Top” experience?

“What’s a ‘Mountain Top’ experience,” you ask.

It may vary according to specific individuals.  But there is a common thread.  Some may describe such an experience as spiritual re-empowerment or re-invigoration, or as spiritual enlightenment, a dazzling moment of inner spiritual awareness.  Others may describe it as an unusual enabling to suddenly hear and obey God, to follow and do, according to God’s leading.   Still, others may experience it as comforting reassurance that God is present in one’s life; a reminder of God’s enduring love for one’s person, a needed sense of God’s unconditional love re-affirmed.  And for others it may be a renewed sense of vision and purpose, an eye-opening jolt of clarity as to life’s direction and calling.  And others may experience it as a strengthening of faith, or as an expansion of hope, and still others may experience it as a call to repentance and/or self-sacrifice.  We could go on.

It’s a kind of spiritual high; personal contact with the Divine; a touch of God upon one’s life, an eye-opener to the things of the Spirit, a transformation of the heart, a spark of light upon one’s soul.  It can be described as a moment of spiritual clarity, a re-centering of SELF, leading to an acute refocus toward God’s presence, power, and purpose for one’s life.  It is transformative in its impact, often refreshing and renewing, and purifying and cleansing to one’s inner being.

Many eagerly seek for such an experience from God, finding it only after much travail of heart and earnest prayer.  The irony is that some have had such an experience without ever having sought after it.  For them it just happened, unsolicited, unsought for, and even uninvited; but, boom!  There it was.  They were hit.

A Mountain Top experience can also be likened to a computer’s reset button.  When a computer gets overloaded and too many programs are up and running and too many commands are in its command-center queue, the computer freezes and there’s nothing left to do but hit the reset button.  Start Fresh!  Sometimes we need a Life-Reset button.  A Mountain Top experience can be just the thing.

Interestingly enough, of those who have testified to having had such an experience, in the history of humanity, not all would claim that they were the religious type.  Some would even claim to have been anti-religious.  Still, they would not deny the experience.

So, what is the evidence that such an experience is real and genuine?

I would submit to you that it is not in whether or not the person immediately afterwards joined this or that church or became a “religious” convert to this or that denomination, or submitted to this or that religious institution.  No, I submit to you that the evidence is in whether or not the person became more human in the best sense of the term.  That is, did the person become more kind and compassionate, more merciful and gracious, more just and righteous, and more loving.  Or, being a Christian, I’d put it this way: did the person become more like Christ?

There is a difference between becoming more spiritual as opposed to becoming more religious.  It’s fairly easy to define what we mean by “religious.”  What is more difficult to define or describe is what it means to be spiritual.  So what is the real evidence of a spirit-driven life, that is, a God centered life or a holy life?

One could answer by saying that it is when the presence of God is obvious, where the work of God is evident and the hand of God upon that person’s life is certain.  But that still begs the question.  What precisely is that evidence of God’s hand upon that person’s life and God’s work in that person’s heart? 

Is it evidenced in that person’s power, prestige, and honor?  Or is it evidence in the person’s wisdom and knowledge and insight?  Is it evidence in the person’s range of influence and impact in society for good?  Perhaps it is evidence by the person’s good living by engaging in personal self-denial and abstinence from certain indulgences?  Yes, these may be signs, but these do not constitute the real substance and evidence that it is God that is at the center of that person’s life.  So what is?

The Apostle Paul gives us the answer in the 13th chapter of his first letter to the Christians in Corinth.  There he says things like, if I could speak in a multitude of languages, or in the language of heaven, but do not have love, I am nothing but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  Or, if I had great prophetic powers so as to proclaim God’s mighty Word with great authority, but have not love, I am nothing.  Or, if I understood all of God’s mysteries and had all knowledge, but had not love, I am nothing.

Thus, a holy, spirit-driven life is not demonstrated by the naked show of spirit-power such as the moving of mountains, or the raising of the dead or the healing of the sick in and of itself.  Rather, a true demonstration of ongoing spiritual connectedness with God, God centeredness, or spiritual enlightenment, is living a life that is responsive with love. 

Today we are constantly being called upon to takes sides out of anger and disgust.  We are to villainize, condemn, and ostracize anyone that is not with us.   We are to be wrathful and hateful of the opposing side, whatever the cause may be.  People are drawing lines, staking out their territory and their positions.  We are to classify and categorize: these are the in’s and those are the outs.  These are for us, those are against us.  They are our enemies.  In short, there is little place for compassion and mercy, no offering of grace, and no room for redemptive love.

Yet, in fact, the greatest evidence of the work of the Spirit of God within a person’s life is whether or not that person is becoming more and more like Jesus Christ, more Christ like.  And what does it mean to be like Christ?  It means being a person that is full of loving kindness and merciful compassion, ready to offer redeeming grace toward anyone, even one’s enemies.

So, yes.  There is a great difference between religion and spirituality.  But true spirituality is not what we think it is, unless it is rooted and empowered by God’s love and grace.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Racism and Police, and the “Yes, But”

There’s always a “yes…, but.”  It’s the temptation to defend, to counter, to argue the point, and to inevitably push back and “take sides.”

It may simply be a knee-jerk reaction, an instinctive drive to defend the status quo as one knows it, or a need to protect one’s assumptions about reality and what one believes to be true.  It may be a defense mechanism, a self-protective need to defend one’s turf to preserve one’s place where one’s rights and privileges are perceived as being threatened.

Whatever the emotional or psychological or rational reason, it is a refusal to hear and listen.  It is a disinclination to empathize with.  And its effect is to further divide rather than unify.

So, for example, must we choose between Police Officers and African Americans?  Are there sides to this issue?  If we listen to and begin to understand and sympathize with the complaints made by the “Black Lives Matter” movement, does it mean that we are de-facto anti-police?  If we say that we generally respect and support our law enforcement officers, must we automatically be deemed as racist and anti-black?  Certainly not!

But, again, the tendency is to take sides, to push back, pitting one side against the other, which doesn’t help much.

As we grieve together in behalf of those police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty last week in Dallas, and as we offer our condolences and affirm our moral support of police officers and their families across this nation, if we also choose not to lose sight of the grievances that the Black Lives Matter movement has stated, please note that we are NOT minimizing the value and significance of our police officers.

In short, YES!  Black lives matter.  And YES!  Police and other Law Enforcement Officers matter.  It is not either/or.  It is BOTH/AND!

Calls for harsher laws or a change of laws or a new batch of laws to restrict or deter bad behavior (on either side) will not in-and-of-itself make things better.  Pivoting one side against the other by accentuating individual’s negative behavior from one group over against the individual’s appalling behavior from the other group will not diminish the anger or rage that boils underneath the surface in either group.

What is lacking is a listening, sympathizing, empathic ear.  The two groups are not hearing each other.  There is the tendency to choose sides rather than to choose mutual respect and consideration.  That being said, the side which generally exercises greater power and authority (legal, social, and otherwise) over the other, has a greater obligation to listen more carefully to the complaints of the weaker side, the side with less power and authority.  And so, there is a reason why the Black Lives Matter movement exists in the first place.  Is that reason being respected, i.e., being truly heard?

They’ve got to be heard.  We, non-blacks, must listen and seek to understand what it is they have been trying to tell us.  The Black Lives Matter movement was not created in a vacuum.  It has context.  It has substance, rationale, and justified cause.  Yet, it would seem that, perhaps until now, the message has fallen on deaf ears.  But now the danger is that our deaf ears may become tuned-out ears, resistant ears, ears which refuse to listen out of a spirit of defensiveness and self-protectiveness.

Consider that, generally speaking, Whites do not fear for their lives and do not worry about whether or not they will be treated with respect or will be favored by a legal, just, and moral system when pulled over by a police officer.  Blacks do worry.  Blacks do wonder whether or not they’ll be treated justly, and all too often do fear for their lives when pulled over by a police officer—even when they know they’re innocent of any overt wrongdoing!  It is an experience only Blacks can relate to, that Whites just do not get.  And, until Whites ‘get-it’, Blacks will continue to be frustrated, angry, and defensive.  From the Black perspective, their very lives are at stake.  This is why the whole movement is called BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Listening is the first step toward respect and empathy.  And so, as a first step, we need to simply hear their experience as truth.  We must give them that much.  That is, we need to listen until we “get it.”  We non-blacks need to get what their saying so as to be able to empathize and mirror-back to them what they have been telling us.  They must know that they are being heard.  Have we heard?  Do we “get-it”?

A good sign that we have finally stopped to listen and have actually begun to hear in such a way that we really get-it, is when we no longer respond with a “yes, but…!” to what has been said.

Monday, July 4, 2016

To Be a Patriot

To be a patriot is to love and be devoted to one’s country.  There are special days in the year when the show of one’s patriotic spirit is encouraged—the 4th of July being one, not to mention Flag Day, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, or Patriot’s Day (the third Monday of April in the States of Main and Massachusetts). 

But what is a true patriot?  We’ve all heard the saying, perhaps said it ourselves: “My country, love it or leave it!”  Or, “Right or wrong, I stand behind her!”  What can be more patriotic than that? Well, I suppose nothing…, unless.

Unless what?  Unless one’s patriotism rejects blind patriotism and expects integrity and accountability of its country, and is willing to make the necessary sacrifices to keep one’s country true to its values and principles.

Ever notice how right and wrong or good and bad can sometimes be turned upside down and twisted around in the name of patriotism?  For example, a whistle blower exposing government lies or abuses of power and authority, governmental overreach, becomes the guilty party and is accused of being unpatriotic, rather than the government officials that were doing the wrong in the first place.

Do you remember how, when anyone that questioned or outright opposed George W. Bush’s choice to preemptively attack Iraq, back in 2003, they were told to sit-down and shut-up and were coldly accused of being blatantly unpatriotic—with, “if you are not with us you are against us” language?

It took a lot of guts and great strength of character with supreme clarity of vision and insight, to stand-up to all the other so-called true patriots that were clamoring for taking the war into Iraq.  Yet, with all our regrets now, about the war in Iraq and its results, what are those so-called true patriots now saying about what it means to be patriotic?

Love for one’s country is good and even necessary, so long as it is not blind or manipulated.  In other words, we are to love our country with our eyes wide open.  In the 1930’s and 40’s, blindly manipulated love for one’s country put Hitler and his Nazi regime into power—something the Germans have regretted ever since.  Do we Americans think ourselves superior enough to be above the reach of political manipulation in the name of patriotism?  If so, we really are in trouble?

So what is the antidote, to guard against blind patriotism or being politically manipulated in the name of patriotism?  I offer the following.

Like individual people, we should hold individual nations, including our own, accountable to the higher authority of justice, goodness, and righteousness.

For one, “Might does not make right.”  The rightness of an action must stand on its own merits.  So, for example, the rightness of a nation’s actions or intended action must be measured by the high standard of moral and ethical principles of justice and righteousness over against shear political backing and will-power and/or official claims to have the power and authority to take such action.

Patriots are to be true to their country.  But there country is also to be true to its people as well.  What does it mean for a nation to be true to its people?  It means that its public officials are to operate with integrity, submitting to the very same laws they claim to uphold by virtue of their office.  It means that government officials, from the highest office to the lowest, are to work with transparency wherever, however, and whenever possible, given the nature of their office.  They are to be and are to remain truly accountable to the public he/she represents.

Thus, when one group begins to accuse another group, or a few individual nay-sayers within its own group, as being un-patriotic, I become wary of the accusers rather than of the accused.  I begin to question the nature of the accusers’ agenda and wonder what they may be hiding, as they slip behind the flag of patriotism so as to avoid authentic scrutiny.  The agenda of a real patriot is always open and transparent, non-manipulative and seeks what is right, good, and just for the nation and its people as a whole.