Saturday, March 31, 2007

doing the right thing

From the moment I read the title, I was captured by this story: German company pays Jewish family for Nazi-era confiscation.

It’s the latest in a long line of recompensatory activity in former Nazi Germany. And just think about the words of the headline without even reading the story. Don’t you get this sense of relief, this sense of release, this sense that some great wrong has been made right? Don’t you get a sense of restoration and restitution, even vindication and justification for those who were wronged?

It’s so simple, so pure, so right.

Dig into the story a bit and here’s what you find. Germany’s largest retailer is paying the heirs of a once-Jewish-owned department store nearly $120 million for the confiscation of what is now prime real estate in Berlin…a glittering complex that includes a Ritz-Carlton and a Marriott Hotel as well as luxury apartments and offices”.

And now as more details are given, doesn’t something wake up and begin stirring inside you? Make you want to know more, and to start analyzing the facts? Whoa. Largest retailer? Ritz-Carlton? Marriott? Luxury apartments and offices? Is $120 Million enough? How many heirs is it split among? What have they endured? Why couldn’t you just give it back to them if it was confiscated?

Less simple, less pure, less right.

Dig a little deeper and you find that the case has been going on for over 15 years, filled with difficulties and drama, advances and setbacks for both sides, executed with “often bitter legal maneuvering”. Of course, the Wertheim heirs and those representing them are thrilled and proud. A very pleased Barbara Principe, the 74 year old granddaughter of the original property owner, said this proves “the Nazis are gone”, and even the new CEO of the company who is paying said, “We are leaving the dark, horrifying past behind us”. So why did it take 15 years? Are the Nazis only just now routed? Or do some things like this just take a lot of energy and time to sort out?

One of the interesting things is that the property wasn’t actually “confiscated” per se. It was “lost” in the late 1930s when the Nazis began taking the rights to own property away from Jews and others who couldn’t boast an “Aryan” pedigree. So, Grandpa Wertheim, in order to keep from having his property confiscated actually sold it to one Arthur Lindgens. Sold it for some absurdly small amount of money. But sold it nonetheless. And took up a new line of work as a chicken herder. In New Jersey. After fleeing Berlin. It’s not such a good trade financially, but how much is life itself and the lives of your family worth? My guess is that Grandpa thanked YHWH his God over and over for allowing him to escape with his life, thanked God that he had a department store to sell when so many lives with nothing to trade were snuffed out. Even so, very few today could look back at that and call it a sale. It was a liquidation of desperation at the threat of annihilation. It was a confiscation. But because it was sold, how do you just simply order that the Nazis give the property back to the family?

Even less simple, even less pure, even less right.

And because our quest for what’s right gets more and more complicated the more we dig into it, someone has to make a final judgment. Someone has to sit atop things, and try to untangle them, to figure out what is right, and what is wrong. Who could do this? How would it be done? Deep cuts are required. And the more time that passes the deeper the cuts, the worse the tangles.

More tangles: When Lindgens “bought” Wertheim, he merged it into another formerly Jewish-owned company he bought (in a similar way) called Hertie. More tangles: When World War II was ended and East and West Berlin were divided, part of the property went East and the other part went West. Then the Soviets came along and built the Berlin Wall in 1961, but they didn’t follow the lines of demarcation properly. This was so messed up that government officials on both sides negotiated a land swap in 1988 (27 years later). More tangles: the German reunification in 1990. More tangles: In 2000 the land was sold off to a developer for a lot of money. And apart from this, just think of all the employees that have worked for the company, and all the sales, returns, vendors, taxes, and all of the complicated interrelationships with this company and the various economies it has been entangled with over the past 70 years. So you just give it back to the family? Give what back to the family?

Simple? Pure? Right?

It kind of makes your head spin.

Like, where’s the rewind button?

So the news yesterday was that this was finally settled. The two parties agreed that the right thing to do was for the German company to pay the family roughly market price minus 30%. This was possible because the German company’s new CEO, Thomas Middelhoff, urged everyone to negotiate in good faith. “Of course, they asked for more. Of course, we offered less. This is typical in these cases.” It was because of his leadership that any settlement was reached after 15 years of this thing being “logjammed”.

They made a compromise.

They had to.

Doing the right thing always ends up being a compromise.

Always.

Some people speak about doing the right thing as if it’s a black and white proposition. Some people talk about the biblical phrase “rightly dividing the word of truth” as if it is something very clear cut. It is anything but.

The Wertheim situation is a bizarre and complicated one, but it’s far from exceptional. People live in situations at least as complicated as this every day. And some of them are trying to determine what is right. Much to their distress.

What is right always ends up being a compromise.

Always.

For a short time I lived in the fringes of some really destructive teaching by a man named Bill Gothard. A lot of what he said seemed so reasonable, so logical, seemed to explain so much of why some people get into bad situations, and why others are always happy and blessed. One of his ideas is that divorce is always wrong, and remarriage is right out, except if it’s with the original spouse, which is what he says you’re required to do. Or else stay single for the rest of your life. This, to him, is what is right and what is wrong. It, to him, is black and white.

And so some very distressed people have come to me asking what they should do now that they’re divorced and haven’t spoken to their ex in a decade. Gothard would say it’s simple. Go back and remarry. It’s the right thing to do. It’s black and white. Really? What if I’m remarried? Do I divorce my loving husband? What if the first husband has remarried? Twice? With two children? Each by different women? And how does it work when he was the first husband to all three of us, but none of us were his first wife? Who do I tell all these other people to go back to? What is the right thing to do? And how do I untangle all this?

The right thing will end up being a compromise no matter what.

Always.

It will always be a compromise because there is simply no way of going back far enough to where the tangles all began. Some cutting will be required. Ever since humanity fell, every single situation has been tangled. Every one. There is simply no hope anymore for any of us to do what is absolutely right, to truly live in black and white.

So Jesus (without asking Bill Gothard’s approval) says, “unless your rightness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

But there was simply no way to surpass the rightness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law going about it the way they were going about it. Going about it the way most people today go about it, including most of the church. There is only one righteousness that surpasses, and it does not depend on doing the right thing.

Those who know me know that I am against doing the right thing. Categorically. It’s a bad way to live, and an unworkable life. In fact, it’s no life at all. And it can suck the life out of those who have it if they get too close to it.

There is a book on my shelf called, How to do everything right and live to regret it. Not a great book, but a great title. I’d like to remove all its pages and replace them with some things that have been simmering in my heart for a long time, and God willing I will do something much like that.

In the end, it is a very good thing this German company, KarstadtQuelle, has done (even if they required the help of tenacious folks over at the Jewish Claims Conference). The world is better because this happened yesterday. Humanity is better. And it suggests that at least some have it within us to do good and pleasing things, even when it is truly impossible to do the right thing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

blame

Being a blamer and being irresponsible are opposite evils, but not equal. Blaming is thrice damnable.

One for avoiding the responsibility.
Two for calling evil what is good.
And three for spoiling the fellowship.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

a word on godhatesfags.com

Yes, folks, these people are for real. This is not a parody. Do not attempt to adjust your dial. From godhatesfags.com:

  • SODOMY IS AN ABOMINABLE SIN, WORTHY OF DEATH.
  • GOD HATES ALL WORKERS OF INIQUITY.
  • JESUS CHRIST DIED ONLY FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE.
  • ONLY GOD'S ELECT HAVE THE CAPABILITY TO BELIEVE.
  • SODOMITES ARE PROUD OF THEIR SIN ("GAY PRIDE"), AND IN THAT PRIDEFUL STATE THEY CANNOT REPENT - YOU CANNOT REPENT OF SOMETHING YOU'RE PROUD OF.
  • THE SODOMITES' ONLY HOPE IS TO HAVE THE UNAMBIGUOUS TRUTH PREACHED TO THEM, AND PERHAPS GOD WILL SOFTEN THEIR HEARTS AND GRANT THEM REPENTANCE TO DEPART FROM THEIR SIN AND NAME THE NAME OF CHRIST. NOT VERY LIKELY, THOUGH, SINCE GOD HAS GIVEN THEM UP.
  • THERE IS A HELL WHERE ALL IMPENITENT SINNERS WILL RESIDE FOR ALL ETERNITY. THAT INCLUDES SODOMITES (CALLED "DOGS").

In summary, sodomites are wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly (Gen. 13:13), are violent and doom nations (Gen. 19:1-25; Jgs. 19), are abominable to God (Lev. 18:22), are worthy of death for their vile, depraved, unnatural sex practices (Lev. 20:13; Rom. 1:32), are called dogs because they are filthy, impudent and libidinous (Deut. 23:17,18; Mat. 7:6; Phil. 3:2), produce by their very presence in society a kind of mass intoxication from their wine made from grapes of gall from the vine of Sodom and the fields of Gomorrah which poisons society's mores with the poison of dragons and the cruel venom of asps (Deut. 32:32,33), declare their sin and shame on their countenance (Isa. 3:9), are shameless and unable to blush (Jer. 6:15), are workers of iniquity and hated by God (Psa. 5:5), are liars and murderers (Jn. 8:44), are filthy and lawless (2 Pet. 2:7,8), are natural brute beasts (2 Pet. 2:12), are dogs eating their own vomit and sows wallowing in their own feces (2 Pet. 2:22), will proliferate at the end of the world bringing final judgment on mankind (Lk. 17:28-30), have been finally given up by God to uncleanness dishonoring their own bodies among themselves, to vile affections, and to a reprobate mind such that they cannot think straight about anything (Rom. 1:23-28), have wholly given themselves over to fornication and gone after strange flesh (Jude 7), must be pulled as faggots from the fire (Jude 23), and have no hope of Heaven unless they repent (Rev. 22:15), which they can't do in their prideful state (Jer. 6:15). They need to hear this truth if they are to have any hope of penitence, faith in Jesus Christ and salvation (I Timothy 4:2-4).

If this Gospel truth offends you, then please hit the "Back" button on your browser. Otherwise, to find more information on this subject, information on the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, and her picketing ministry, a Gospel memorial to Matthew Shepard, a tribute to Sweden's vile royal family and more religious commentary and opinion on current events, please hit the enter button below. In clicking the button below, you testify that you are entering this website because you want to, and are not in any way being forced to view the material contained therein.

Oh my.

I must say, I don't understand what they mean by Gospel truth. I think I'll just stick with the True truth instead. Or maybe it doesn't mean anythingmaybe it’s just a secret code word they use.

Nonetheless, oh my.

What I think about homosexuality dances on the melody of MJ’s poem, The Smoke Filled Room. Maybe if some of you godhatesfags.com types actually got to know some people with SSA, you could come closer to knowing God, “the Father of Compassions and the God of all Encouragement”. Maybe even you could be saved.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

ADOPTION COMPLETE!

Beautiful.

-- Captain's Log. Stardate 2007-03-24 --

Ok, so a little background might help here. And a note that the Beautiful above is actually a hyperlink.

My first trip to Africa I met two men who deeply touched me. The first was Joseph, an incredibly intelligent West African who was teaching the missionaries both French and Aja, planting churches, and providing leadership for many—American and Aja. The second was Ega (pronounced AY-guy). Ega. What a man. He's crippled from his waist down, meaning he scoots around everywhere he goes, mainly from his village to the corner where he sells water in little plastic bags to travelers (pedestrians or dirtbike riders). The water he gets from Joseph's tap, and I think someone donates the plastic bags. Ega has a mouth full of the whitest and most perfect teeth you'll ever see, and when he smiles, the sun comes out. He mostly smiles.

There are so many stories to tell about Ega. Every Sunday morning during "testimony time", Ega scoots up to the front and recounts the latest thing God has done for him, like sending someone along with a flashlight when he was scooting home after dark just in time to see a poisonous snake in the trail in front of him. Or like the time when his wife, Lokadi (low-kah-DEE) was in the field picking corn with his baby daughter wrapped in a blanket under a tree, and a snake fell down from the tree and headed towards her, and she prayed that God would turn the snake away, but He didn't. The snake crawled right over his daughter and kept on going. And it's the way he tells the stories, too. You can't help but thinking that God smiles on Ega the way Ega smiles on everyone else.

One more story. Randy wanted to teach the West Africans something about what we Westerners call stewardship. He gave Ega and one other man each a modest sum of money and asked them to find someone in need and give it to them. The idea was that they would do this, report back, and talk about it together, and then Randy would give them some more. His goal was to prime the pump, and get them used to the idea that God takes care of you so that you can take care of others, and then God takes care of you some more, so you can continue taking care of others even more, and so on. Randy checked back with them a few weeks later. The other man, a "wealthy" young farmer who employed several people said he couldn't think of anyone who was needy. So he still had the money. But he was praying about it. Ega's story was different. He told Randy about all the people he had given some small amount to, and what their needs were, and with tears in his eyes he told about all the ones he wanted to be able to give to, but had nothing to give. "Randy," he said, "there are so many people here who are truly needy."

The first time I met Lokadi, I had already heard of her. Randy and Kelly had asked Ega's permission to take her to Mercy Ships to have a massive tumor removed from her face. This they did. And this was early in their time in West Africa, before they knew Ega very well. I remember them asking us to pray that he would receive them well, and would allow them to take her, because this was a big deal. They had to take her in their car several hundred miles to a different country where the ship was docked (may as well have been to the moon as far as an Aja man is concerned). But Ega agreed, and off they went. It wasn't an event-free trip (I'm sure Randy and Kelly could tell the story), but it was a success. And I wasn't there to see Ega's face when his wife was returned to him, but I imagine the sun was shining bright.

But I didn't meet Lokadi the first time I went to Africa. She wasn't a believer then, and so she wasn't at any of the church gatherings. It was the second trip when I met Lokadi. If I hadn't known she had had surgery to remove that tumor I would have asked about the possibility of her having surgery to remove some of her tumors, which were all over her body, varied in size from pea to grape, and her face still sagged on one side from her surgery several years before. And it was the smile under that beautiful sagging flesh that welcomed me into her home. I'm sure I could dig up a picture of Ega and Lokadi's house somewhere so you could get an idea of the mud walls and tin roof, one main room with several small offshoots, shelves on the walls graced with "treasures"... But the main thing was the reason we were there. Ega and Lokadi invited us for dinner. Which means they invited us over to feed us like foreign kings and queens, six of us. Randy said they took out a loan to throw this banquet, just for their American visitors, and it was beautiful. I could write more about what was served later: pot, turkey (with feathers), boiled eggs (brown on the outside, green on the inside), rice, holy-crap-hot red sauce, and some other stuff that I have no idea what it was. It was beautiful. And they were so pleased.

But back to Lokadi's trip to the Mercy Ship. It was a big deal for more reasons than I may have implied before. Everyone, you see, knew the source of Lokadi's tumor. It was from god. God had cursed her with this. It was because she was wicked at heart that she had been plagued with this deformity. And so to even make the offer to help her would be to draw attention to her affliction. And her shame. Of course, Randy and Kelly had one thing going for them. The people heaping on the condemnation were the same people who had told Ega and Lokadi that they would never have children—they were both cursed, him with the palsy, and her with all the boils, and especially the one making her face so hideous (I can only think of Jesus here, of whom it was said, "He was despised, and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we esteemed him not."). When the pair got pregnant, they changed their tune. Some said she would never carry it. Other said it would be born dead. Others said it would be a monster. But they were all proved wrong. Ega and Lokadi had not one but three of the most beautiful, perferctly formed, healthy children running around that house at the feast they gave us.

Beautiful.

And then they got pregnant again, this time with a beautiful girl named Lael. This was during the time my mom had cancer. And I remember being in Stephenville with my mom taking care of her in the final stages of cancer, getting an email from Randy and Kelly, saying that Lokadi was having trouble with her pregnancy. Randy ended up driving her to the emergency room about 20 miles away, and making a long story very short, she ended up having an emergency delivery. But she lost a lot of blood. And a week later, she died from complications.

Selah.

And the next day my mom died of cancer. Part of what I wrote Randy and Kelly was this:

Randy & Kelly,

When I got the news about Lokadi it felt like a sledgehammer to the chest. I didn’t know what to say or do except pray. What a loss! What a precious woman not only Ega has lost, but you, your family, and all of the Aja people—and even the others of us who have met her and been loved by her. Please tell Ega for me that I love him, and have prayed for God to comfort him and his children. I hope his brothers and sisters in Christ are rallying around him to serve him and take care of him. If there is anything we can do please let me know.

In lieu of sending flowers, Mom had suggested several things people could give to, both related to church building funds. Of course we respected her wishes, but there were two things. One, nobody took mom seriously about not sending flowers. Mom was a flower. I’ve never seen so many flowers in a church as there were at her memorial service. Two, do I look like I’m going to give anything to a building fund? Didn’t think so. After we ran it by Dad, we collected and sent a small sum over to Randy for Ega. I wish we could have sent more. Had I been in better shape financially at the time I would have.

It is obviously hard to take care of a little baby by yourself, when you have three other children, and a job, and you live in the third world. This is where a family comes in handy, especially the family of God. And that is how Ega lives. And over the past twenty months or so Randy and Kelly have adopted little Lael into their home. And they have waited patiently as all of Ega's blood relatives passed on their chance to formally adopt her. And they were thrilled when Ega agreed to let them not only adopt her, but bring her back to the States with them as their daughter, permanently, when they return within the year.

Oh, there is so much more to this story! You'll have to go to Randy & Kelly's blog to read about Ega and Lokadi, and Lael, whom they have finally officially adopted.

I remember wanting to bring Ega back with me when I returned from Africa. Both times. But this is even better.

Beautiful.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Alone above the vale atop the rim
Another day aspent returns to him
Who paints in hues arousing artists' pens
Defying, now eluding every lens

Alas this childish heart can only know
The sacred joy behind this transient glow
My Father's best for last and given me
As hint that glory triumphs finally

But now it comes to me how small my place
And slow my heart conspire to veil his face
The hand who paints the skies does never rest
That I but wings to fly into the west

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

the second mouse

The sign out in front of Farley’s Watering Hole read:

THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM. BUT IT'S THE SECOND MOUSE THAT GETS THE CHEESE.

That’s what I believed about Jesus for a long time. He was the first mouse. It went like this: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans something:something). Because God is just, he cannot allow sin to go unpunished (some other Bible verse). God sent his one and only son, Jesus, to die in my place (John 3:16). If I accept by faith what Jesus did for me, then I get to go to heaven forever after I die. (several Bible verses). If not, I go to hell. (several other Bible verses). This was known as “the gospel”. It really sounded like a good deal. Although there was no way to prove it, nobody wants to go to hell when they die. Everybody knows that heaven is better than hell. Better not to take chances. Be safe (saved). And even though there were all kinds of other interesting and enigmatic things Jesus said, this was “the gospel”, the big cheese.

Ironically, this put me in a very precarious situation. Of course I didn’t come to see this until afterwards. Even though I was voting for the right candidates, protesting the wrong things, buying the right music, and taking a stand against the wrong agendas, personally I was very…dark…like a second mouse…looking for that cheese. I would reach for pornography when I could get alone, try to find ways to “shelter” my money from taxes, and entertain thoughts both murderous and lustful that would stretch MPAA’s rating system.

This was excused by Romans 7, though, where Paul wrote about inwardly burning. The excuse was that even though I was going to heaven after I die (because of the First Mouse), for now I was still a rotten, stinky, worthless sinner, doomed to eek out an existence in the rotting home of a world (that was condemned and waiting demolition). But I had one thing going for me—supposedly Jeremiah 17:9 promised me that my heart would be wicked and deceitful, two things that come in handy when you’re a second mouse, especially if there are third and fourth mice lurking around. I must admit that this was full of holes, though, because it required there to be some kind of switcheroo the moment I died that would in a flash change me from a scumbag to the image of holiness and virtue. I had a really hard time swallowing that.

But really, that’s not what was happening. The reason I snuck around is because that’s where I really thought my life was. I believed that life was in waiting for the first mouse to get popped, and then when no one was looking, grab the cheese.

Eventually, I believed it so much that it became like an entitlement. I shouldn’t have to suffer. Jesus did. (“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” – 1 Peter 2:24; Isa 53:5) I shouldn’t have to become poor. Jesus did. (“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” – 2 Cor 8:9). I shouldn’t have to be cursed. Jesus was. (“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” – Gal 3:13). I shouldn’t have to go through hell. Jesus did. (“He descended into hell…” – the historic Christian creed). It was like everything I wanted for myself was already paid for, so I could just take it. But somebody should have let everyone else in on this, because they didn’t understand all my rights very well, and they kept moving my cheese.

I guess a lot of Christians believe this in one way or another. This is a given. The debates that rage are not whether the second mouse thing is true, but whether the land o’ cheese is here or in the afterlife. It's a lot easier to put it off until the afterlife, and that is how I dealt with the difficulties of this theory. But really, if you want to go with what Jesus is recorded as saying in the Bible, it is in this life. “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.” – Luke 18:29-30.

And there were some other things that didn’t fit, either. Martyrs, for example. Or celibates. Parents who are divorced. Children who are raped. What about their cheese?

Two things are helping to give me a new understanding of God. First, is that the second mouse doesn’t always get the cheese. Second, is that the second mouse is just like the first mouse.

Second first. This all started when I was forced to consider that the New Covenant that God was making with all men, even me, was something real. It was not based on a technicality or a switcheroo. It was based on true reconciliation between God and Man, and there was a real gift being given. The gift is a new heart. God promised to do it in Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you”. Back then, God called it a “new” heart, an “undivided” heart. Jesus called it a noble and good heart in Luke 8:15. So the offer is not that Jesus is the Good Mouse who dies, but I am the Wretched Mouse who lives. The offer is that if I “follow” Jesus I get to be just like him.

And that leads back to the first thing. I don’t always get the cheese. In fact, my life is not about getting the cheese. Christ did not come to save me from the mousetrap. He came to save me from that cheese. Christ didn’t get the cheese, and he offers me the blessing of no cheese, too. But how is that a blessing?

Christ wasn’t really offering me more wives, children, parents, houses, and cheeses if I would put him first, trading him my wife, my children, my parents, my house, my cheese. He wasn’t really offering to free me from my first wife, children, brothers, house, and cheese to give me better ones. What he is really offering to free me from is my cheese god, my deep seated belief that my wife, my children, my house, and my cheese are my life. What he really offers to free me from is my infatuation with getting that cheese, my need for it. And when I am free, I find a much larger family, a much larger house, a much larger story to live in. It’s a story where anywhere is home and everyone is family. And then things like pornography and tax shelters and fantasies, different flavors of cheese, are lost on me.

But how does this happen? When does this happen? If you’re still fixed on that damned cheese how do you get free? Well, everyone is different. But everyone is the same. To say everyone is different is to say that you have to walk with God and listen to him FOR YOURSELF. But some things are the same for everyone. When God talks to me he tells me that I am his son, he is proud of me, he delights in me, he loves watching me, he is pleased with me, he has more things planned for me to do. He says these things in lots of different ways. And this is really brilliant of him, because with every word I hear my heart gets fuller and fuller, and that cheese’s offer gets emptier and emptier.

I used to reach for the cheese. I don’t anymore. I did it because I believed I was that second mouse. I did it because I believed the trap was already sprung. I did it because I believed I needed it. I did it because I believed that even if I died reaching for it, that somehow I would get to go to mouse heaven anyway. I did it because I was hungry, and it must have been for cheese.

What I'm finding is that a mouse doesn’t live by cheese alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God. And in this kind of life, trap-free cheese is everywhere, all kinds of cheese, and it is delicious.