Thursday, September 18, 2014

Judgment With Grace for a Mass Murderer

I'm still reading Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend. It follows Army Chaplains Gerecke and O'Connor as they minister to the major Nazi war criminals on trial at Nuremberg after World War II. I'm about 250 pages in, and so far it has described each chaplain's trek to enstationment at Nuremberg, as well as each criminal's activities to warrant his position in a cell on the first floor of the Palace of Justice. The trials have been examined in brief, as well as the criminals' past and present relations to Hitler, the Nazi Party, and their own families. The verdicts and sentences have been given, with major prison stints and 11 orders of "death by hanging" in the midst. And now Townsend talks a little theology, particularly having to do with the Brand of Cain from Genesis 4.

Photo: Anonymous. A detail from the "Ghent Altarpiece" by Jan van Eyck, 1432.

Following is an excerpt:
            “The [writer in Genesis 4] brings murder into the primeval history pretty quickly, and things go badly for people from there onward. Cain is a farmer who is jealous of God’s preference for his brother Abel [a shepherd] because Abel can afford to offer ‘the fat portions’ of his first-born sheep in sacrifice to God. Cain, on the other hand, can only offer ‘the fruits of the ground’ [vegetables]. Though God warns Cain not to give in to his anger over this slight, Cain can’t help himself, and so he takes Abel into the field and kills him. In return, God banishes Cain from his own land to wander the earth, but he marks Cain to protect him from those who might avenge Abel’s murder. Anyone who takes Cain’s life, God says, ‘will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’
            “…[The writer] wanted to connect the history to the lives of his audience. In [his] eyes, every human being is Cain and Abel, and committing sin is a universal human flaw. Cain was capable of overcoming sin, and yet he didn’t just choose, of his own free will, to sin.
            “‘The logic of sin proves stronger than the injunction to do good,’ writes theologian Miroslav Volf. ‘This is exactly what we should expect, for the logic of sin was originally designed for the very purpose of overcoming the obligation to do good.’ Committing a sin is not just making a wrong choice, but rather it is succumbing ‘to an evil power’. Before he killed Abel, Cain had the ability to conquer sin or be conquered by it. He murdered his brother, according to Volf ‘because he fell prey to what he refused to master’.
            “Volf, one of the world’s preeminent thinkers on the Christian theology of reconciliation and forgiveness, has pointed out that traditional mythology often tells stories from the perspective of the perpetrator so as to legitimize the sinner’s actions and render sympathy toward him. The story of Cain and Abel condemns Cain, and though the [writer] engenders sympathy for Abel, he twists tradition by making the story really about Cain, and by pointing the finger at his audience in doing so.
            “‘The story about a murderous “them” is a story about a murderous “us”,’ Volf writes. ‘Cain is “them” and Cain is “us”.’ The story’s great feat is that it combines ‘a clear judgment against the perpetrator with the commitment to protect him from the rage of the “innocent” victim.’ In the story, God questions Cain again and again, asking him, why are you angry? Why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? Where is your brother Abel? What have you done?
            “God’s constant questioning of Cain suggests a parental presence – God is someone who cares deeply about Cain’s actions and their consequences. God an Cain’s relationship makes God’s decision to banish Cain from His presence all the more poignant. And this is not an unfamiliar trope in the Bible. For instance, Jesus’ suffering on the cross didn’t tear His heart, Volf suggests, but rather it was the abandonment of everyone around Him, including His Father: ‘“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”’
            “From God’s perspective, the story of Cain and Abel could not have gone worse – God loses both brothers to death and banishment. Yet, according to Volf, God’s mark of protection on Cain represents both armor to protect him from victimization as well as God’s grace. ‘The same God who did not regard Cain’s scanty offering, bestowed kindness upon the murderer whose life was in danger,’ Volf writes. God did not abandon Cain. He claimed Cain as His own by marking and protecting him, even as he sent Cain ‘away from the presence of the Lord.’”

Two things.

1) About the theology portrayed here concerning Cain and Abel and God's subsequent dealing with Cain (and, by proxy, all of sinful humanity)....

Cain sinned. And he didn't just tell a little white lie or snag a grape at the grocery store without paying for it. He murdered an innocent person.

Focusing on the emphasis in the excerpt that God banished Cain from His presence while still marking him as His own and promising him protection, I'd like to dwell for a minute on the significance of this act in light of the doctrine of eternal punishment. In fact, instead of offering answers here, let me just throw out a few questions.

          -   Why did God bother to protect Cain after he murdered his own brother in cold blood? Why not let him reap what he had sown - eye for an eye - karma? What obligation did God still feel to Cain in this story?
          -   I've heard many people pinpoint eternal separation from God as the crux of hell's torment. Between God sending Cain from His presence while not completely abandoning him, and the statement that "God loses both brothers to death and banishment," including righteous Abel, there seems to be something in the mix here hinting that separation from God is not irredeemable, even for Cain.
          -   I consider myself a progressive Christian. I like a lot of the progressive Christian thought out there. But I have not yet come to completely reject the idea of substitutionary atonement. Or, at least, I think something happened when Christ died on the cross...something that helped determine our eternal destinies. Is it akin to the Brand of Cain? Though the sinfulness and evil of the world separate humanity from God, does the cross symbolize His promise of protection and grace? If so, is it for all - the Cains and the Abels - or just for the Abels, or those who in some way "accept the gift"?

2) About the practicality of ministering to mass murderers (or others whom most people would say surely have no place in the family or care of God)....

I still think about going into some sort of chaplaincy, like at a hospital or hospice. Pastoral care/counseling has been near and dear to my heart for several years now, and I always mentally apply situations to this role of ministry in my mind. So...if I were ministering to mass murderers, and even holding services for them like Gerecke and O'Connor did for Hitler's right-hand mob, what biblical comfort would I offer them?

          -   Obviously, the above rendition of Cain and Abel seems to fit the bill very nicely.
          -   Perhaps the "cities of refuge" in Exodus 21:12-14. (These were for refuge for unintentional murderers, but it could be, and indeed was, argued that many of the defendants at Nuremberg acted on military orders, believing, however misguidedly, that Jewish extermination was necessary to preserve the posterity of the German people.)
          -   And the most applicable example in Scripture that comes to my mind is that of the Apostle Paul, who in his zeal to honor God relentlessly persecuted and slaughtered Christians until Christ met him on the road and changed his heart. He seems to be a prime example that a murderer can both show remorse and be rehabilitated.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Robin Williams Was a Coward and Is Probably in Hell"

Okay, so I know this is "old news" already, but I need to say something concerning Robin Williams. Most of what I read/heard about his death was nothing short of loving, compassionate, and sorrowful to learn of the deep despair he experienced. But those views that were critical were really grating to me - to use a cliche, like nails on a chalkboard. I'm not going to link to any of those critical viewpoints here, because I don't wish to give them any more publicity; but you know what I'm talking about - Rush Limbaugh, the news anchor dude who referred to Williams as a coward and then apologized because people expressed disapproval of his viewpoint, and Matt Walsh, among others.

First, the reason I even felt the need to address it here is that all this harmful noise reminds us that there is still a rampant disregard and stigmatism out there for the legitimacy of mental illness (including depression), even in the mainstream. Second, I just can't understand sometimes how people can hold so tightly to their own rigid stance against compassion!

When I think about Williams' last moments, I think of the weight he carried, knowing full well what headlines would be made if he ended his own life - he knew the people he cared about would experience enormous ignorant backlash, and still he didn't manage to overcome his despair that evening. He knew what it was to care about others and devote one's energies to bringing multitudes happiness and friendship - yet still he couldn't find the strength to cling to life for one more day.

It's because when a person is suicidal, he or she is not thinking rationally. I say this from experience. In fact, it is almost as if all feeling ceases at this lowest moment of all. No meaning can be found in anything - not in all the blessings one has in this life, not in all the things/people that have brought one joy, and not even in the faith one deeply holds in the Good News of Jesus Christ. The next day a suicidal person may not feel suicidal at all; he or she may go about life as if the previous night's desperation had never occurred...but then it always comes again, and then those "good" moments cannot be grasped. It's like they never were, just like when things are good, it is as if the low moments never were.

It is not a matter of strength of will.

Are there spiritual aspects to depression? Probably. But there are aslo VERY REAL biological, emotional, and physiological aspects as well. Something is broken.

If you can't understand it, that is okay. I'm so glad you have never experienced it before!! But PLEASE stop talking in judgment against those who have, and those who have succumbed. Leave it to God to decide those people's eternal fate. Yes, continue to preach hope and love to those who desperately need it; but please do so without heaping upon them shame and guilt and fear of Divine Retribution for their weakness.

Judgmental Christian, I ask you this: What kind of God do you worship? Are you okay with that?!
 

 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Redemption for a Nazi?


I'm reading Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend. In the opening chapter he describes Chaplain Gerecke's moments in prayer with Nazi Keitel in the moments before he was hanged for his war crimes against humanity. Townsend describes Keitel's soldier-like demeanor throughout his trial and emprisonment, but how he broke into uncontrollable sobs while Gerecke prayed with him in his cell. At the hour of his death his mask of pride crumbled. I would assume the illusion fell before the realization that he would imminently face spiritual judgment for his sins.
 
In the debate over the morality of capital punishment, I know traditionally the Conservatives are for the death penalty, while Liberals are against it. I am unsure where I fall on the spectrum, but I know I am glad I don't have to make the decision for someone to die; that in itself might weigh on my conscience as indirect murder.
 
But in thinking of this description of Keitel's last moments, and knowing that most religious folk believe in some sort of post-death divine retribution for sins, or at the very least purging before eternal rest, I wondered if some comfort might be found in the idea of paying the ultimate (earthly) price for one's sins. It might cut one's stint in Purgatory shorter than it would be otherwise, for example.
 
In the DeNiro movie The Mission, the Jesuit missionary who used to persecute the natives climbs a mountain carrying a heavy load of armor(? it's been a while since I watched the movie, and I can't remember the details) in penance and to prove he has since changed. The spiritual leader of the group allows him to do so and refuses to help when he struggles, not because the leader is horrid and judging, as we find out at the top of the mountain, but, as he says to the penitent man (again, I'm not sure if my words are exact, but they are close and convey the gist), "You did not do this so God would forgive you, but so you could forgive yourself." The man had to do something in order for himself to let go of the guilt he held against himself.
 
I wonder if the death penalty would serve the same purpose to a repentant person who had committed a truly heinous crime(s) (i.e. those convicted at Nuremberg). If there is no one who cannot be redeemed by God, then these, too, could conceivably have felt remorse for the part they played in the Holocaust. But how, in the face of such immense evil, could one ever forgive oneself for such crimes?! I wonder if the knowledge that they would soon give their own lives in payment would do anything at all to alleviate the heavy, mortally unbearable, load of guilt that must weigh on them (actually, I think it must surely have weighed on them whether they admitted to remorse or not).
 
Thoughts??

Thursday, July 17, 2014

7QT - Green Things, Fun Things, and New Things!



---1---
Haven't posted in forever, but I've been up to all kinds of stuff! Planted a lot of things, in the front flower beds and in containers on the back deck. I did a fairy garden, too!
 

I planted a few succelents in it and left them a little room to grow. One or two of them are doing good, but the neighborhood stray cats have dug up one or two of the others....  (I think the fairies are not doing their job very well.)
 
---2---
We planted tomatoes and cucumbers in the back. The cucumbers don't seem to be doing well at all. The tomatoes are doing a little better. We have harvested four and seem to have two or three more growing, as well as a lot of flowering. We'll see...! (The plants are quite a lot taller now; this was when we first planted.)
 
 
These were the first two tomatoes.
 
---3---
  One of the front flower beds:
 
Includes lavender, c...I can't remember this one, but it starts with a c, blue mirror delphinium (which have since died), and ivy in the planter. I've always wanted some ivy! The other bed has a rose bush (which is not blooming right now because it was severely cut back early in the spring), a planter of marigolds, and my fairy garden.
 
And I did this. Let me tell you about this.
 

 
I read somewhere that you could put down newspaper around your plants to keep weeds from growing up, and the newspaper just turns into fertilizer, and yada yada yada. Now, there's a good chance I did it wrong. I am no green thumb. But I don't recommend it. The top soil moves and the now-brown newspaper shows through, and, worst of all, the weeds still come up. Those boogers find their way through the cracks and all around. But I tried. Bless my heart, I tried.
 
Another tip I picked up along the way was to plant marigolds to keep the bugs at bay. Maybe it works if you plant a lot of them, but I only planted a few, and I think the bugs have not deterred one bit. However, the butterflies like the marigolds, so it was worth it :). 
 
---4---
Speaking of green stuff, this is my new favorite salad recipe:
 
 
I chopped up some spinach and bok choy (just the leafy part of the bok choy; the rest I put in the freezer with some stir fry veggies). Added those little cherub tomatoes from the grocery store that are delicious, and some dried cranberries and sliced almonds. These almonds happen to be coconut flavored, but they would be fine unflavored, too, I'm sure. For the dressing I drizzle a little olive oil and a capfull of apple cider vinegar, with salt and pepper to taste. It is so good!!
 
---5---
We also moved, into a house G's brother bought and remodeled for us. It's a small two-bedroom. We're finally getting to the last remnants of the unpacking (basically, the office). We built shelves in both closets over the weekend. Measured and went to Lowes and got the wood cut and everything...so proud! We're using those instead of dressers to save room. I think I like it.  
 
---6---
Been keeping up with my 2014 Life List reading goal of at least one book per two weeks. Did a couple other things on the list, too, like attend a play (at Missouri State University's Tent Theatre; Fiddler on the Roof, and it was fantastic!),
 

 
 
and attend a Springfield Cardinals (minor league) baseball game. 

 

Shared cotton candy with the dogs when we got home.

The following week we let them try roasted marshmallows. :)
Both of these activities took place outside, and I swear they both just so happened to fall on the most beautiful nights of the summer so far! Luck. And next weekend we're going to a monster truck show, which happens to be another item on my list! Soooo excited....!!
 
---7---
 Started a second job this week as a preschool assistant at the local developmental center. I love it!! Aaaand my plans for the future have changed. I am going to go to Missouri State University through the post baccalaureate department and become a high school history teacher. I'm excited about it!! And I'll be starting next month.
 
Have a great week, everyone!! For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Review: Something Other Than God

Minutes ago I finished reading Jennifer Fulwiler’s new book, Something Other Than God. I began following her blog somewhere around 2007 or 2008 and still eagerly await each post, so of course I got the book (Kindle version) as soon after publication as I could. And rather than write a post here, I thought about writing a review on Amazon along the lines of the following:

“If you have ever asked yourself questions like, ‘What kind of people might be recruited to help a wounded yeti safely through a metropolitan area?’ or ‘How might I be able to really sock it to that smug-looking stuffed animal over there?’ or ‘I wonder if there is a way to make my ear canals a little sexier?’…well…you may have written this book. But if any of these questions piques your interest, you just might want to at least check it out….”

But I decided against it, because honestly, this book is just too weighty to sum up in a few humorous (and slightly stretched…?) sentences. While it made me laugh a few times, there were also many points where I was on the verge of tears (especially the last several chapters). I found the reasonable thought processes and the practicality appealing. The writing style kept me riveted and I read through the entire book rather quickly and without getting bored ever. But even more than all that, I was drawn to the ways in which God revealed Himself to this inadvertent seeker.

Jennifer struggled with vivid and valid questions about injustice and suffering. She deeply questioned the apparent inconsistency of God in terms of whose prayers He answered and whose He didn’t…why He sustained and/or protected some people and allowed great sorrow and suffering in other cases…why death, in all its unpredictability and sorrow and tragedy, hovered as the backdrop of each person’s life, more conspicuously present and vivid for some than for others.

I have had my own internal battles to understand suffering and injustice and death. One of my poignant memories in this area occurred probably four years ago after a long-term off-and-on battle with depression and hopelessness. I felt such unalleviable angst that I found myself driving to a cemetery on the edge of town, where I wandered from one crumbling gravestone to the next, weeping with sorrow over the life thereby represented, and over the fact of that last marker of someone’s existence now decaying into impending oblivion.

After a lot of grappling on these subjects, on page 227 Jennifer states, “I’d always heard the ticking of the clock that counts down the seconds as we all get closer to death; now I should see its ticking as a countdown to the end of unjust suffering.” She does not reference simply death here, and a complete end of one’s existence, but to God’s intervention in human history and suffering to establish a way to enter an existence as He had originally planned for humanity – one free of sin and its consequences of evil and injustice and sorrow: in short, heaven.

I love the hope that emanates from this memoir. I am so thankful Jennifer worked so long to produce this account of her initial process of encountering God. Truth be told, in the last few years I have in some ways moved in the opposite direction, occasionally even questioning the existence of the God in whom I have believed for most of my life (though even as a child I harbored some cynical questions about the validity of the Bible and its message). I have craved a more personal interaction with Him – that revealing that is so obvious in Something Other Than God. Perhaps I’ll take a page from Jennifer’s book and concentrate on getting myself in the right condition to hear from God and then see what he says.

If you don’t believe in God, and you have very good scientific reasoning for it, I think you would like this read. The logic is fascinating. If you do believe in God, but you have doubts, or even just a yearning for His presence, I think you would like the book, too. I found it spiritually uplifting.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Glory of the Blood

I reread Mathew 27 today in honor of Good Friday. Afterward I had a song in my head I haven't heard in years, Avalon's "The Glory of the Blood." In it, there is a line that refers to, "the heart of the story: the glory of the blood."

Lately I'm rethinking my stance on the Atonement and substitutionary sacrifice and all that, but haven't come to a firm conclusion yet. But I was trying to think of the theology of this lyric in harmony with a more liberal view of atonement.

There is undeniably a bloody thread of salvation through Scripture. In the Old Testament animals paid the price to temporarily "buy" forgiveness for people's sins against God and each other. Then, of course, there was Jesus, about whom Scripture says He gave "His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45; 1 Timothy 2:6, etc.)

Interestingly, there is reference in Revelation, too, to the blood of saints/prophets/martyrs (chapters 16, 17, 18). The Early Church Farther Tertullian said, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," by which he alluded to the fact that the more the early Christians were persecuted, the more broadly their message spread.

So, if, as conservative theology usually posits, Christ's sacrifice did away with the need for temporary, insufficient animal sacrifices, why is there any importance placed on the shedding of a "lesser" person's blood after the ultimate gift of Jesus' blood?

I think in order to answer this question it is imperative to look again at Christ's example. Mother Teresa said the following in her book No Greater Love (pp 95-96):



Jesus indeed gave all. In my reading of Mathew 27 today I noticed it more than usual. He gave His dignity when they took His clothes and mocked and beat Him. He gave away His rights when He chose to remain silent in the face of the priests' accusations of Him before Pilate. He gave up the last material things He owned as the soldiers gambled for His clothes. He gave His life. The extent of His voluntary poverty in death is capped by His being laid to rest in a tomb that wasn't even His own. He gave all.

So with the martyrs praised in Revelation. In their witness for Christ and service in His name for humanity, they gave all. This is the crowning significance, the glory, of the blood. How am I to love my God and my neighbor? With ALL of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. With ALL.


Love is not shallow, nor does it cling to fair weather.
The glory of the blood is not in the shedding, but in the giving. It is the love that makes all the difference.





Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On The Origin of Species

Let us reexamine that profoundly fascinating question of old, shall we?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

Did the primordial goo spring up into a chicken, or did it spring up into separate specimens (for every species) of an egg and a sperm that somehow found each other, got all mingled up and incubated in the right way, and lived happily ever after as one little feathery clucker? And how is it that more chickens came after the first - was that first chicken already successfully equipped, without the evolutionary wait, with a functioning reproductive system? How else did successive, evolving numbers of chickens (as well as every other species) appear?

These thoughts sprang to my mind the other day as I pondered the rare treasure of the double-yolked egg. That got me wondering if twins skip a generation in chickens, too, so one of the egg's grandchickens may have been a twin, too. :)

As I've previously mentioned, I have a reading goal this year of st last one book every two weeks. Who better to answer my questions to than Mr. Darwin himself? So, I have downloaded  On the Origin of Species  on my Kindle and plan to make it my next read.