Sunday, December 10, 2017

What is "inspired" about a genealogy?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
What’s with all the list of names in the Bible? Things like “Mephibosheth begot Kaphuzalem who begot Habbakuk who begot…”  This stuff is inspired? I don’t find it very inspiring.
Yours ever,
Jeannie O’Lowjee
Dear Jeannie,
The lists of names in the Bible are very important. This is real history that involved real people. Admittedly our sense of history is different from theirs, but it is history none the less. Perhaps more importantly the lists of names mean that we worship a personal God with whom we have a personal relationship. He knows us by name and loves us as unique individuals. People are important. History is not just political, economic wave after wave. It is enriched or impoverished by actual persons.  I'm sure you’ve heard of the Battle of Jumonville Glen. Of course you have. Jumonville Glen changed the history of the world and caused the collapse of Western European civilization. The fact that you can’t be sure that a certain woman at work with the unusually large Adam’s apple is actually a woman is the fault of a trigger-happy colonial soldier from the English colony of Virginia who shot the French ambassador, Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville at Jumonville Glen on May 28, 1754. That trigger-happy soldier, or at least his commanding officer, was none other than Lieutenant Colonel George Washington.
I regard George Washington as one of the greatest of history’s heroes. He established our republic by laying down power not once but twice. Still, his career got off to a rocky start with one of the greatest “OOPS!” moments in history. Washington and his soldiers, along with some Native American allies, had been sent to protect a fort at what is today Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A larger French-Canadian force had captured the fort and sent a fellow named Jumonville to remind Washington that Pittsburgh belonged to France. Washington and the English ambushed the French who were camped in the glen, killing the French ambassador, Jumonville.
Britain and France were not at war at the time but after the English killed the French ambassador, things got out of hand, resulting in the Seven Years' War in 1756. France lost the war. The English taxed the American colonies to pay for the war. The colonies revolted. France helped the Americans throw off the British yoke to avenge their wounded pride. The Americans won that war, but the French monarchy went bankrupt helping the Americans. The American Revolution spread to France, but in a much more violent form. Napoleon Bonaparte was swept into power by the chaos of the French revolution. Europe was plunged into war once again, which brought the monarchy back to France. The French again revolted and elected Napoleon’s nephew to power. He attacked Germany in 1870 in the Franco-Prussian war. France lost. The French swore revenge which led to the First World War, the collapse of the Russian monarchy, the Marxist takeover of a third of the world, causing the Second World War, the cold war, nuclear proliferation and the hula hoop.
In all the chaos Christian Europe died, the moral restraints of Judeo-Christian Europe were replaced by the silliness of never ending moral revolution. We have been sweeping away the tired old philosophies of the past for about three centuries and have tried to replace the ideas that created our civilization with the worship of science unfettered by a moral law. There is an old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Nonsense! War is the mother of invention! The goddess Scientia Invicta has given us the bomb and gender re-assignment surgery. Is this what we really want to be worshipping?
So, there you have it. Jumonville Glen begot the French and Indian war in 1756 which begot the American Revolution (1775) which begot the French Revolution (1789) which begot the Napoleonic Wars (1800-1815) which begot the Franco-Prussian War (1870) which begot the First World War, (1914) which begot the de-Christianization of Europe, the death of the culture, the use of weapons of mass destruction (mustard gas etc.), the bomb, the Russian revolution and all subsequent Marxist revolutions, 20th century fascism, the global struggle for the resources of war, particularly oil, the invention of plastic and, of course the hula hoop.
I imagine that if Washington had not lit the fuse, someone else would have, but my point is that history is about people. We are living in a world that is in a kind of meltdown because of individual decisions by specific people. As life’s little conveyor belt chugs along and I get closer to the drop off point, I wonder what will become of it all. We have turned our backs on any kind of moral certainty in a desire to be politically correct. We are living in the French Revolution run amuck. Political correctness was a matter of life or death in the French Revolution. The Revolution descended into a phase called “the Terror” in which political trials were convened on street corners and if one was accused of not being revolutionary enough, after a three-minute trial, your severed head was blinking at the crowd gathered before the guillotine.
College in the sixties was a little like that. If one was not revolutionary enough, one was completely ostracized. The current theological and political climate is too. Revolutions tend to turn the crowd into the arbiter of truth, until someone like Stalin or Hitler or Napoleon comes along and volunteers to tell us what the truth is. It seems that tyranny begets revolution which eventually begets chaos which in its turn begets tyranny. That process seems inevitable. The Roman republic descended into political chaos and gave us the emperors. The French Monarchy descended into chaos and gave us Napoleon. The Tsar plunged into the Great War and gave us Lenin, Stalin. Mao, Pol Pot and now, Kim Jong Il and his nuclear bombs. The German imperial federation descended into chaos and gave us Kaiser Wilhelm and then Hitler. This seemingly unstoppable process just keeps stuttering its way through history. Will the current moral and intellectual quagmire in which we find ourselves in the Church and in the world give us a Hitler or a Stalin? 
There comes a point at which human anger is no longer sustainable and we live in angry times. There has never been a war in history that was absolutely necessary. It may be necessary to defend oneself against aggression, but why the aggression in the first place? In wars the world over people joyously marched off to battle over the flimsiest of pretexts, some anger that seems so important at the time. They are sure they will be victorious and that the war will be short and glorious. It never seems to work out that way.  Societies are smashed to bits, and the survivors sit among the ruins and mourn the dead. We are living in angry times that I fear will give way to fascism. We are willing to go to war over the silliest of things. Free speech is sure to offend someone. In the world and in the Church freedom of thought and speech are in greater danger than they have been in a very long time.
What is to be done? If my theory of history is correct, it should work for the good as well as for the bad. We have descended into a moral swamp and can’t seem to find any solid ground on which to stand.  In times like these, the greatest weapon of the truth is not the tyrant, but the saint. We think of the unity of the Church as a matter of space, the Church united throughout the world. The unity of the Church is also a matter of time, the Church united throughout history.  Perhaps you heard of the treasury of the merits of the saints? I like to think of the treasury a little differently. The lives and teachings of 2,000 years of saints are like watertight compartments on a great ship. If there are sufficient watertight compartments in such a ship when it hits an iceberg, it will stay afloat. The lives of the saints in this world are finished and unchangeable. What they have said and done remain untouched by the current chaos. Their example, their teaching and their prayers for us stand as unshakeable reminders of how to live out the Gospel. The present age doesn't need more study groups, committees, programs or meetings. Saints are what the world and the Church most desperately need. People change things. 
The Arian heresy had overtaken the whole Church, but one man, St. Athanasius, stood up and was willing to suffer for truth. In 452, the Christianized Roman Empire was in state of collapse. Invaders from the east, Attila and the Huns, were bearing down on Rome. Pope Leo took his life in his hands and single handedly confronted the invader who turned back from the conquest of Rome. The list goes on and on.

Around 500 AD, St. Benedict of Nursia established western monasticism which recreated the Christian world after it had collapsed. He had no armies, no committees, no study groups. He simply left the world and went off to Mount Subiaco to dedicate his life to prayer and holiness. In so doing he created western monasticism which sustained Europe in the darkest times and brought the faith to the barbarian world. 
When you look at the chaos of the current age, there is something you can do. Offer your life to the Lord to use in whatever way He wants. We recently had a pope, St. John Paul the Great who was a visionary and a wonder worker. When the Marxist/Fascist government of Poland decreed that there would be no Catholic Church in Nowa Huta, he picked up a shovel, went to Nowa Huta, started digging the foundation of a church, and dared the authorities to kill him. The entire empire of Marxism in Europe started to unravel right then and there.
One holy man changed history.  We may be living in one of the greatest ages of the faith in history. We are living in an age of saints. There has never been an age in which there have been more martyrs for the faith than now. The outlook for the world is brighter than one might think.
To be continued…

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A guest article -- Speaking truth to power

Dear Readers,
I am away venerating the Holy shrines. No, really. In the meantime I have asked my good friend Don Profondo Basso to fill in for me. Considering the state of general kerfuffle and brouhaha in which we find ourselves in the world and the Church, this is one of the most insightful things I have read recently. My only regret in publishing it is that I don’t hold a candle to both the content and style of the article. Don’t get used to it.
The Rev. Know-it-all

Speaking truth to power, is it revival, revolution or rebellion?
The Church is a family. Every family has the same problem. When do the children need to repent and submit to the parents and when do the parents need to repent and submit to God? The worst conflict usually arises when the child seeks to point out the parent’s shortcomings, ESPECIALLY when the parent has something real that they ought to repent of. Not only does this put the parent’s authority into question, it also threatens to stir up a rebellious spirit in the child.
How do you draw the line between respectful and disrespectful rebuke? Does the child ever have the role of rebuking the parent? We have all seen the worst of both; the parent who is out of control, mistreating the child because of their own insecurities and anger and the child who is constantly disobedient and disrespectful, despite the parent’s best intentions.
So, in the Church, a similar issue exists. When do the laity have the right to criticize the clergy and should they do so publicly? When do priests have the right to criticize the bishops and should they do so publicly? 
There is always a two-headed problem with speaking uncomfortable truths publicly to authority. There is the issue itself and then the issue that one usually does not have permission to criticize authority openly.
Often, the apostle Paul is used as an example for publicly rebuking authority. He made no secret of his dislike of the so-called “super apostles” and makes specific mention of not being considered as their equal in Church authority. He goes on in Galatians 2:11 to detail his open rebuke of several leaders that he opposed.
In contrast is Nathan’s rebuke of David, where he uses a clever approach to heap burning coals on David’s head with David’s own words, leading to David’s repentance. 
The Bible teaches in Matthew 18, one must first confront the person in error privately. If that fails, take several more people with you for further private confrontation before a public statement gets made.  It would seem that the first step in confronting authority is to speak to them privately. It is also the most intimidating and sometimes dangerous. To ask a child to privately confront their abuser is quite dangerous. Often the public option is safer, speaking to another authority who has the power to protect, such as teachers and police. In the Church, the court of public opinion seems to be the only power equal to the task of holding the leadership accountable, but is it a real authority?
The spirit of rebellion is dangerous. It is intoxicating to be the one who is part of the pure remnant, purging a corrupt system. It becomes easier to overlook one’s own mistakes and become obsessed with the “cause”, corrupting one’s own spirit in the process.
Therefore, there are two dangerous things about nailing one’s complaints to the door. One is the threat of punishment and further conflict. The other is the unwitting example that all rebels are saints. On the one hand, should any child be asked to endure the abuse of a bad parent? On the other, should any parent be asked to endure the abuse of a rebellious child? Analysis of almost every major social upheaval is marred by this two-headed dilemma. No matter the purity of its beginnings, almost every movement veers into the territory of overreach, becoming as power hungry and as stubborn as those it was fighting. But, does that necessarily negate the just cause for rebuke and revolution, or should it simply inform our methods?
Is it better to endure an injustice than to fight against it and become rebellious as a result? If we look at Jesus’ teachings on enduring injustice, they are interesting. He personally refused to use earthly power to fight the corruption of his day, but he often spoke publicly against it, which directly led to his execution. He repeatedly warns his followers, however, to not become like those that they criticize. In fact, there are several places where he advises to put up with injustice, walking the extra mile, and giving away the cloak as well as the shirt. He doesn’t advise against paying taxes to the empire, or the military role of the centurion. It seems that Jesus is much more concerned with the heart than the circumstance. The motive of the rebuke is as important as the rebuke itself.
So, before we engage in public criticism, maybe we should ask several questions. Have I followed Matthew 18, confronting privately and then taking several with me to confront privately again, followed by an appeal to the highest possible arbiter? Am I sure that my actions will not teach rebellious behavior in those that follow my example? Am I acting in a manner that I would want used against me in a future conflict where I am at fault? And finally, is there any other approach that might produce the desired affect without breaking fellowship and peace?
Should I be Paul or Nathan?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Rev. Know-it-all’s Guide to the Holy Land, part 14

Continued from last week.
Let’s move on to another golden dome, at least one that used to be golden, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or as the Greeks call it, the Church of the Resurrection. As I’ve already told you, Jesus was crucified in a quarry right outside the main west gate of Jerusalem and the Scriptures tell us that there were tombs in that place. A wealthy follower of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, had a new tomb there that he offered for the quick burial of Jesus. It was about to be Sabbath, and Passover as well. On Easter Sunday morning the tomb was empty for the entire world to see. Christians seemed to have venerated this well-known spot for the next century. Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Jerusalem Temple burned to the ground about forty years later well within the life time of the first Christians of Jerusalem. The city was not completely depopulated and there seems to have been a Christian presence in the city after 70 AD.  There is some evidence of a Christian synagogue that was oriented not toward the temple, but toward the site that was to become the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Judeans rebelled once again and around 130 the Roman Emperor Hadrian put down the rebellion and expelled all Jews from the ruins of Jerusalem. By this time there was a growing number of Greek Christians who would not have been expelled from the area of Jerusalem and who reasonably would have preserved the memory of the site of the resurrection. Hadrian rebuilt the entire city on Roman lines with straight streets and a central plaza, renaming it Aelia Capitolina. He built a temple dedicated to the goddess Venus and a great raised plaza squarely over the tomb of Christ and the site of Calvary. He thus inadvertently preserved the site of the tomb and the rock of Calvary.
Two hundred years later, around 326 there was a new emperor, Constantine, who was favorable to Christians. He wanted to know the location of the death and resurrection of the Lord, and Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem knew right where to go. He showed Constantine’s agents where to dig under this plaza and temple. The Christians of Jerusalem had never forgotten the site. Constantine authorized Bishop Macarius to tear down the pagan temples and begin the excavations. Over these Constantine built the greatest church of its time, the Anastasis. It was more a complex than a single building, first there was a large church called the Martyrium, or “Witness.” Past the church was an open courtyard in which stood the rock of Calvary and past that on the far side of the courtyard stood the tomb.

Constantine had a great love of building and flattened everything around the tomb and the rock of Calvary leaving only a cube of rock around the tomb and the bare outcropping of rock that was believed to be the place of execution. The quarry wall in which the tomb had been dug was largely levelled by the builders, leaving only the cave tomb of Jesus and a few tombs toward the west of the structure which are still visible today. He built a housing around the tomb of Christ called the Aediculum in Latin, Kouvouklion in Greek. Both mean little building in English. Eventually it was all topped off with a circular colonnaded rotunda topped by a magnificent gilded dome. The dome of the rock, built by the Caliph Abd al Malik in 691 was meant to be a restoration of the temple of Solomon and a counter balance to the magnificent structure of the Christian Holy Sepulcher on the west side of the city. 
Prior to the Arab invasion of the Holy Land, the church of the Holy Sepulcher was damaged by fire in 614 by the Iranian Sassanids when Khosrau II, invaded Roman Jerusalem. the Emperor Heraclius recaptured Jerusalem from the Iranians (Persians) in 630 and repaired the church in 638. Jerusalem was captured by the Arabs a half century later but remained largely a Christian city. In 1009, the Fatimid Caliph of Cairo, Al-Hakim ordered the destruction of the church along with all Christian churches in the Holy Land and Egypt. The Caliph particularly wanted to end the miracle of the Holy Fire that occurred in the tomb of Christ every Holy Saturday and still occurs to this day. The miracle was just drawing to many Christians to the city. The destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was one of the major causes of the crusades along with the persecution of Christians and pilgrims. In 1027, the (Roman) Byzantine Emperor reached an agreement allowing the rebuilding of the church. The Byzantines were only able to rebuild the rotunda and some surrounding buildings. Most of the church remained in ruins.
The renewal of persecution caused Europe to launch the first crusade in 1099. The church you see today is essentially the Crusader church, built on the foundations of the old Constantinian church and though much damaged by fires and earthquakes over the years. It has been constantly repaired and renewed. The rotunda and the aedicule were rebuilt after a fire in 1809, one of many fires and earthquakes in its history. In modern times the dome was in bad shape, but was finally repaired by 1997. The 1809 reconstruction of the aedicule was in such bad shape that it had to be shored up with metal girders on its exterior in 1947. Repairs are slow because three different religious authorities have responsibility for the church, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic, and to a lesser degree the Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Ethiopians.
The Israeli government threatened to shut down the aedicule a few years back for reason of safety, so in 2016 the major parties agreed to repair the aedicule. It was quite an event! Caliph Hakim way back in 1099 had ordered the very bedrock of the tomb to be hacked away so that Christians would never be able to venerate it again. No one knew if the actual tomb was still there under all the marble. The marble covering of the tomb had been in place since at least 1555 and no one knew what was under it. It was believed that the attempt of Hakim to destroy the holiest shrine in Christendom had failed because in ruining the dome of the rotunda, the caliph had inadvertently protected the tomb itself.
On the night of October 28, 2016, the marble surface having been removed on the 26th, the original limestone burial bed was revealed intact. The tomb location has not changed since it was first uncovered by St. Helena the mother of Constantine. The original limestone cave walls and the limestone shelf on which the Savior’s body was laid still lie within the marble surface of the aedicule after two thousand years. One other interesting note: When the researchers uncovered the original limestone burial under the marble, they placed electronic measuring devices on it, the devices all malfunctioned. It was as if some unmeasurable energy still radiated from the rock of tomb. Interesting, no?
See you in Jerusalem,
the Rev. Know-it-all
P.S. I suggest you look at Holy Sepulcher, a 3D Journey Back in Time.” If you do a web search for this video it should come up easily. It’s the best one I’ve seen. If you don’t see it, you probably won’t have a clue as to what you’re looking at when you visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.