Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What is Right?

Does justice have a universal standard? Can justice even be defined universally, or does true justice actually depend on the context of accepted societal and cultural norms? In a society dominated by religion, can it be universally just to administer punishment according to religion values even if the guilty party is not a practitioner of that particular religion? Even if justice is truly universal, who gets to decide what is just - AND - who decides who gets to decide? And by what and whose standards would such decisions be made?

In Saudi Arabia a 19-year-old woman has been sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes because she violated a strict interpretation of Islamic law even though she had been raped. The rapists have been sentenced to prison as well, but the young woman is still being held at least partly responsible not for the rape itself but for her own actions in violating a law that is, incidentally, partly designed to protect women but must also surely be a reflection of Islamic cultural values. Western leaders have prevailed upon the royal family on the woman's behalf to intervene and revisit this case for the sake of justice, which is certainly a right if not a moral obligation of western nations, and the Saudi foreign minister has promised to give it another look.

Beyond this, however, does the western world have a reason, legal or otherwise, to expect the Saudi kingdom to do anything more? According to local customs and Sharia law, the woman has been sentenced and there seems to be no dispute that she was in fact out in public with a male who was not related to her. Her reasons for being with this male are irrelevant just as it is completely irrelevant that we westerners do not understand or even agree with such laws. What more can the west reasonably expect when Sharia law seems clear and understood by the population?

None of this is to suggest that the young woman was raped because she violated the law. Quite simply, she was raped by criminals just as thousands of other women around the world have been, and there is no way - according to any reasonable standard - that she deserved it or "asked for it" or "had it coming". Some western leaders have called her sentence "barbaric" and indeed it is ... according to western standards. According to local custom, however, it is the law of the land and probably comes as no surprise to citizens of the kingdom even if they might consider her sentence excessive. She was initially sentenced to only 90 lashes but was subsequently sentenced more harshly when she went public with her plight.

In the Sudan, an English woman faces possible jail time and 40 lashes for allowing her predominately Muslim elementary school students to select the name "Muhammad" for a teddy bear. Apparently it is considered to be a misuse of The Prophet's name or is somehow disrespectful to Islam itself; therefore, the western woman is to be punished according to Sharia law which goes back to one of my many original questions: how can a westerner be held responsible for violating a law that is specific to the region and the culture, especially when she maintains that she had no intent to disparage Islam, the prophet, or Muslims. "Muhammad" is a common name among Muslim males; what westerner might even suspect that attaching this name to a cute, cuddly teddy bear for the purpose of teaching children about animals could be considered disrespectful, let alone a violation of religious law?

Since 9/11, American politicians and wanna-be’s have pounded the pulpits and insisted that they will “stand up to the Saudis” especially since most of the attackers were Saudi citizens. Politicians try to convince us that they are tough enough to handle such “barbarians” but the truth is, they are as civilized as any other. It just is that they have an entirely different world perspective and sense of justice. We call something wrong such as 200 lashes or public beheadings, but they call abortion what it is and wonder where we get our own sense of values. They see homosexuality for what it is and wonder how we dare to compare our civilization and sense of right-and-wrong to theirs.

What is just? What is right? Honestly, it just depends on how and where one is raised. I think it must really be that simple. There can be external forces that may compel us to live under and abide by certain standards, but it does not necessarily mean that we would agree with it. It is clearly illegal to drive beyond the posted speed limits, but Americans don’t seem to have a problem with pushing the envelope on the interstate.

What is right? It seems to be whatever one can get away with, and that standard alone is indeed universal.

Someone Please Explain to Me ...

What is it that constitutes blasphemy? Heresy is a challenge to a more orthodox point of religious view and seems directed to the doctrinal opinions of man. Defining heresy can be problematic because man is so diverse in his understanding of spirituality and biblical principles. Heresy is an affront, then, to something established by man. Blasphemy, on the other hand, is an affront to something divinely established. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, for instance, is the "unforgivable" sin (Mark 3:29). Blasphemy is essentially the charge that thrust Jesus to His Crucifixion and ultimate death, but was Jesus actually guilty of blasphemy? According to Christianity, the answer would be "no" because of what we now believe to be true. According to the prevailing beliefs of the time, however, would Jesus' presumed guilt come closer to what would constitute heresy rather than blasphemy?

Christianity by its very nature is considered blasphemous by Islam because of the nature of the Christ. It is difficult to explain to Muslims (and probably some Christians!) about how it can be that Jesus the Christ is not His own separate person - even though He is "fully God and fully man" (according to Christian traditions and teachings - but is, rather, God personified. It is to the Muslim a blasphemous thing to equate Jesus of Nazareth with God the Father because there can be only one true God. To be "seated at the Right Hand of the Father" (Hebrews 1:3) implies two separate, though not necessarily equal, beings.

In each of these instances, then, it can be said that blasphemy in and of itself must necessarily involve a level of disrespect toward the Divine. So why is naming a teddy bear "Muhammad" considered blasphemous? Islam itself gives high regard to the Prophet and honors him as having a special place within Islam as the one who brought the Word of the Lord to the people not in attempting to found a new religion but instead to confirm previous scriptures (N.J. Dawood, Revised Translation of Koran, pg 2). "Muhammad" is a pretty common name among Muslims who are not necessarily considered to be prophets themselves, I don't suppose, and yet a non-Muslim woman is going to be subjected to 40 lashes on the charge of blasphemy because a class teddy bear got stuck with the name "Muhammad"?

How is it not blasphemous itself to give such stature to Muhammad, a prophet according to Islamic tradition but most certainly as human as Jesus, and come near to equating him with divinity by suggesting that misuse of his name is akin to violation of the Mosaic commandment which prohibits the misuse of the Divine name of the Lord? How is it that the Prophet Muhammad has, by man-made traditions and Sharia decree, become nearly as Christ-like to Islam as Jesus is to Christianity and it not be considered blasphemous? If there is a legitimate answer, I would love to hear it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Abyss of the Death Penalty

For years death penalty advocates have insisted that execution has a certain deterrent effect in that those who would be tempted to commit a capital crime might stop and give their intentions a second thought for fear of the consequences. And for years death penalty opponents have questioned the manner by which such conclusions can be reached since we're talking about crimes yet to be committed. Well, now there are apparently economic reports that have been floating around (yes, I said "economic" reports) for the better part of a decade in which it is "proved" that the death penalty, per inmate, prevents anywhere from 3 to 18 future murders. The New York Times article that offered the information was a little short on particulars as to how these findings were determined but did also include others who question such "economic" numbers especially considering that the death penalty itself is not an economic question.

I'm sure there will be others who will jump into the fray and find fault with such reports, including those who work in criminal justice fields and compile data according to their own specific criteria. Whether they can predict probabilities would remain to be seen, but I also wonder if deterrence in and of itself should be the focus of a death penalty-related discourse. I ask because it seems to me that there is a danger in losing ourselves and what constitutes true justice especially when we are talking about terminating a human life. A focus strictly on deterrence as a statistical probability as a means by which to justify the death penalty, I think, is a dangerous and slippery slope from which such a fall may be impossible to recover.

Conservative, evangelical Christians seem to have no problem with the death penalty as it is, and those who have suffered at the hands of such condemned persons understandably demand it. The problem as it is between these two groups is that the demand for the death penalty falls under different standards of measure though I would hope that justice served would be our ultimate goal. Evangelicals can easily point to the Bible in which the death penalty and its conditions are spelled out clearly as a matter of justice and social order; if one takes a life, one's life is required. This in its truest sense is just, as it is written. Victims can easily embrace such a notion based on a strict sense of justice, but there is more emotion involved than there is rational, unencumbered logic. And for these, there is another consideration: once a person is arrested and charged - still yet
lacking a fair and impartial trial - that person is guilty in the minds of such victims as well as the community and nothing less than death will be good or "just" enough.

The question that we must necessarily ask, however, is this: does man have the capacity to administer true justice, free from passion and free from a desire for the condemned to "suffer"; and if we do not, does it matter? Is it enough that the death penalty is spelled out in Scripture, giving us permission to excuse ourselves because "it's in the Bible" and we are therefore obeying the Lord? In trying to determine what is just, we must always bear in mind that once the execution takes place, "oops" will be too little too late. Mistakes cannot be made. Our seemingly endless appeals process may seem overbearing at times; especially for those crying for "closure", but this is an issue that requires our full attention especially when we finally render that ultimate decision.

What is bothersome about the New York Times article is the seeming attempt - by economic data - to use the death penalty not as a measure and matter of justice itself but rather as a means by which to prevent future crimes via mathematical deductions of probability. Do we really want to go there? I freely admit that I'm torn on this issue primarily because I cannot remove my emotions from my thoughts. Whenever I read of an innocent child who has been abused, molested, tortured, and then killed, it is virtually impossible for me to find any level of compassion for the accused. What's worse is that I fall into the same trap as most others: once a photograph of the accused is published, that person becomes instantly associated with the crime and just looks as guilty as the verdict we desire. My compassion for the victim - I am a parent myself - overwhelms all my senses, and I am hardly capable of passion-free, rational thought. I also cannot honestly say that any desire for "justice" even exists, let alone crosses my mind. For what that poor child suffered, I want someone to pay dearly.

For the sake of law and order, however, deterrence must necessarily be considered in terms of appropriate punishment that fits the crime. It is a by-product of the criminal justice system in that others can see that "this is what happens" if one breaks this law or that one. We could only begin to imagine what our society might look like if there were no consequences for violating the law. It would be a free-for-all on the streets, and vigilante justice would run rampant because there are enough law-abiding citizens who insist upon order. By this same reasoning, it could well be said that harsh sentences would help to maintain that order by suggesting that others would not want to "do the time" and would thus refrain from breaking the law. To suggest, however, that there is a number that can be assigned by which the deterrent effect may be measured is risky.

Criminologists will likely take exception to economic data that attempts to predict probability. Christians should likewise take exception to such data-collection efforts that may serve to do no more than to appease an otherwise guilty conscience. It is not unlike the torture question by which illegal means to extract information is employed in an effort to avoid possible future attacks. Both are likely, but there is no certain thing we can do to stop a man’s evil heart. It is what it is and we are stuck to deal with it the best way we know how, but I don’t think we should rush to execution on the mathematical probability of what may happen sometime in the future. Once we do, there can be no turning back. Into the abyss we will slide, condemned as we so easily condemn.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Not Conservative Enough

Almost since the first campaign word was spoken, the Republican presidential contenders have been competing for the title, "Most Conservative", and have been trying to present themselves in the truest tradition of the late former president Ronald Reagan who was a movement unto himself. Because President Reagan was so unique and so popular, it seems almost irreverent, and yet understandable, for present-day candidates to try and fit themselves into a mold that was, in my humble Reaganite opinion, broken long ago. This does not mean, however, that such a tradition is not worth protecting.

Candidate Mitt Romney has most recently leveled accusations against fellow Republican candidates Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani in challenging their conservative credentials relative to measures enacted or advocated in Arkansas and New York City while these men were at their respective helms as governor and mayor. Of course, Mr. Romney's accusations brought swift rebuttal from Huckabee's camp regarding the so-called "sanctuary" cities which apparently came into being under then-Governor Romney's watch in Massachusetts. Sad to say, none of these candidates for federal office has acknowledged the fact that immigration is a federal issue and that cities and states can only deal with the hand that is dealt them at any given time. Such administrators and mayors may be able to work through their state's US senators and representatives, but that is about as far as it can go. If anyone could be held politically responsible, it should be them and not the governors or mayors.

Let us not lose our focus, however. The issue itself is not immigration, illegal or otherwise, but the idea of what adequately and accurately constitutes a "true" conservative, that coveted title which seems to be the focal point of each Republican post-debate analysis. Now that these discussions, charges, and counter-charges have come to serve as a postlude to any debate topic, I have seriously begun to question exactly what being a "true" conservative really means, what being a "true" liberal really means, and whether it can be said that "moderates" really cannot seem to make up their minds. In the end, however, the question will be which one is best suited to serve as the nation's chief executive, not whether one is "more" Republican or "more" conservative than another.

18th-century statesman and philosopher Sir Edmund Burke once said, “We owe an implicit reverence to all the institutions of our ancestors.” The underlying principle associated with such thought is that we as a people, as a nation, cannot completely disconnect from our past. There is a sense of respect for successes of the past, as well as failures, which must be acknowledged and embraced rather than completely forgotten. It is entirely a philosophical consideration which maintains a certain sense of order and continuity with established standards by which to measure societal norms. These norms, lacking consistency or any link to the past, cease to exist as norms and become, instead, arbitrary standards absent any recognizable foundation.

Because these standards would tend to shift according to whoever is doing the most talking or whoever is willing to make the most noise, the danger of "pure" democracy by which the simple majority could potentially trample the rights of any minority would come to life. Witness the recent prayer meeting on the steps of the Georgia state capital during which the governor and others gathered to offer a common prayer for relief from the drought. No one was rounded up and forced to attend the prayer meeting on public property, property which belongs to the whole people and not merely a small segment of that people, yet there were also protesters nearby who took exception to such a meeting taking place on "state" property. Would such a scenario present a challenge to the perceived "separation of church and state" even if the governor or the preacher had not been present, or could it not be considered a reality that praying people still exist in this country and do not always feel compelled to hide behind a church door to offer a common prayer for a common problem?

Few conservatives want government directly involved in the business of American churches or synagogues or mosques or temples, and these most certainly do not want government involved in mandating a particular type of worship practice or advocating for or against a particular religion. Yet because of the Jeffersonian concept of the separation of church and state, which many mistakenly believe to be constitutionally mandated, these Georgia protesters - in exercising their constitutional right to protest - would deny the praying people their constitutional right to gather in peaceful assembly or in prayer or even in protest merely because they happen to be calling on a deity's name under the leadership of ordained clergy on the steps of the state capital.

Conservative leadership recognizes and even embraces this reality as it must also respect the reality that not all citizens are willing to embrace such reality. In fact it is incumbent upon conservative leadership to make sure that while citizens may certainly exercise their rights, those very rights cease to exist when such rights interfere with the rights of others. If the praying people in Georgia had somehow interfered with state business or interfered with non-believers in any way, they would have been in violation of the principles of what should constitute a “right”.

If conservative Republicans hope to gain in next year’s elections, they are going to have to go far beyond pointing out the flaws of extreme liberalism; they are going to have to sell conservatism in responsible government. In fact, they are going to have to convince a conservative like me that they have something to sell. I’m willing to listen, but I already think I know what’s wrong. Now I want to know how any of these gentlemen intend to make things right.

Life is too short ....

I don't know that George Carlin actually wrote this piece, but it came to my e-mail just as it is. I've always suspected that Mr. Carlin is of above average intelligence, but this piece provides wisdom and insight that many of us lack. It is worth reading and keeping near to heart.

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.

We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and
nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete...

Remember; spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever.

Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a cent.

Remember, to say, "I love you" to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again.

Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.


Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

The End is Near(er)

Isaiah 65:17-25
Revelation 2:8-11
Luke 21:5-19

I am not a fan of “end times” theology or doomsday prophecy, and the reason I have such disdain for these is because there is surely more to it than any one human person could possibly comprehend, let alone properly interpret, in order to make it useful for Christians. I never read any of the popular “Left Behind” series of books, and I saw only the first of several of the movies. Still, I enjoyed the movie because I thought it was well played, but I also watched the movie with a cynic’s heart not because I don’t believe but because I questioned the writers’ sense of theology. It was purely entertainment and I don’t know that the “Left Behind” people make any sort of authoritative claims, but I also believe that such prophecies – express or implied - must be handled very carefully, if at all.

I read a couple of news items recently that I also found very disturbing, both of which are related to the “Left Behind” series. One story is about a “Left Behind” video game in which critics maintain that the game encourages violence against non-Christians. In the game, apparently these Christian “warriors” take prayer breaks and “praise the Lord”. In today’s post-9/11 world and considering certain militant groups involved in “jihad” against infidels (non-believers), that just strikes a little too close to the heart and is, in my opinion, in extremely bad taste. The LB people say that the critics are making too much of it, but is perception not reality whether it is actually true or not, at least to those who perceive?

Another news story recently was about a church group play-acting the LB concepts by locking young children into dark rooms with end-of-the-world sound effects. I can only imagine the noise, but some children were traumatized by the event. In another similar event by the same group, some of the children were quietly ushered from the dark room to simulate the so-called Rapture in which true believers would be spirited away while non-believers would be “left behind”.

I’m certainly in no position to determine whether any of this is right or wrong, but of this much I am certain: such concepts of End Times in the realm of the Lord are not meant to terrorize or traumatize children, and those who are involved in such nonsense ought to be ashamed of themselves. As for the video game, if it is connected to Christianity in any way, shape, or form, it ought not to involve or suggest violent behavior on the part of Christians … PERIOD. This is not Christ and if the Gospels are any indication, this I am absolutely right about.

In Luke 21, the disciples are admiring the Temple and its fine adornments as a permanent testimony to the glory and the presence of God, and Jesus points out to them that even the Temple itself is as temporary as any other man-made thing and will one day fall. Jesus is then questioned as to what this period will actually look like, but notice the tone of the question. Because the Temple itself represents the Lord God and His Presence, the destruction of this Temple must surely signify The End as best as man can conceive of it. After all, if the very representation of the Lord God can be brought down, The End must surely be in its wake.

So Jesus begins to paint a portrait to give His followers an idea of what The End may come to look like. In verse 21:8 Jesus answers: “Beware that you are not led astray, for many will come in My name and say, ‘I am He!’ and ‘The Time is Near’. Do not go after them.”

When we read such statements, what comes to mind almost immediately are those persons who have made such messianic claims as Jim Jones, Sun Myung-Moon, David Koresh, and Marshall Applewhite of Heaven’s Gate. These are men who managed to convince others, including themselves perhaps, that they were “the” messiah and were leading others to salvation. I’m sure there are many others out there who have not yet made headlines, but this does not mean they are not at least as dangerous especially to those who have such a void in their lives that they are willing to believe almost any charismatic person who makes such promises that convince these poor, lost souls that they have what is so sorely needed. And for some, it obviously does not take much to lead others astray.

But is Jesus speaking of such literal claims of messianic authority, or is there more to what He is saying? By the English translations, He seems to be quite literal in that we should probably be able to make a distinction between those who claim to be speaking in Jesus’ behalf and those who claim to be THE messiah. To the degree in which we would serve as faithful witnesses to the One, True, Living God who made One, True, Living Covenant with mankind through Christ, I suppose we all possess a certain level of authority to be faithful to what Christ has taught us. As the common calling goes, we can indeed “be the hands and feet” of Christ and we can act and love and work in Christ’s name, but we cannot be Christ Himself. There can only be One Christ (messiah), or there is no ONE true God.

Jesus still lines out for them the signs of what The End will look like, but He also admonishes them not to be concerned with what they see. To me, it sounds as if Jesus is acknowledging the limitations of our human capacity to fully understand these signs, at least to the point of usefulness. I might also add that I think Jesus is also suggesting to His followers that we should not so focused on the End Time that we lose sight of the Present Time. That is to say, we cannot control what happens THEN but we do have some control over what happens NOW. When the End comes, it will be by the Hand of the Lord God Himself. It will be the time of His choosing, so it will be entirely up to Him, and I doubt He will have a need to consult any one of us.

Jesus’ lesson does not end with natural disasters and wars, however. There is much more to what is going to have to take place, but notice the spiritual hand-holding. Even if the END is upon us, there is still the NOW with which we will have to contend and we will still have a certain level of control over what happens. We will also still, because it will be Present Time for us, have choices to make. And when we are questioned, our choice must be to “let go, and let God”, as they say, even as we are given “…an opportunity to testify” (Luke 21:13).

What does Jesus offer next? Relief. We will not be expected to do much of anything at this point except to “let go”. Why? Because the “opportunity” Jesus speaks of will not be ours. It will not be our testimony that will need to be heard. Why? Because at this point we would be equipped to do nothing more than to offer our OPINION, the same OPINION that could likely do more harm than good because our human, limited capacity to comprehend will likely still not be able to take in and interpret all that is happening around us. Those who would choose to persecute and prosecute us based on our faith will be answering to our faith-provider.

THE option afforded to us at this point will be submission, total dependence on the One who will see us through to the End. “Make up your mind NOT to prepare…” for this moment when it will certainly be a time when our faith will be challenged, but the Word that will be spoken must necessarily come from the Lord Himself, the Word “that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” Since the End Time is surely and exclusively in the hands of the Lord God, so must Final Words also come from Him. It is His moment to make Himself known beyond any human doubt.

It does not matter when this moment will be. I still don’t see that Jesus is suggesting to His followers that we must necessarily be focused on THAT time more than we must pay attention to THIS time, but this is also the time in which we must learn to listen to His voice by studying Scripture and learning the sound of His voice because there will always be those who will try to mislead us. We must always remember that the Christ is Life, and His voice is distinct.

Learn to listen now so that there will be no doubts later. AMEN.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Balance of Justice

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

I’m currently reading a book by Elaine Pagels entitled Reading Judas in which the author discusses the Gospel of Judas which is obviously not a part of the orthodox canon but can still be traced back to the 3rd century. Its author is unknown, but scholars at least know for sure that Judas himself is not the author.

Judas is controversial enough due to its premise: Judas was not the “enemy” he is portrayed to be in the canonical Gospel accounts but is, rather, the most favored of Jesus’ disciples. Of course this is hard to swallow because tradition alone prohibits such notions due to the “authoritative” texts we’ve had for centuries. Still, I sometimes wonder what the Christian church might look like today if certain writings had made the Final Cut.

Beyond this, however, there was a particular portion of the text I was reading the other night in which Ms. Pagels points out that Judas is, according to this “gospel”, the first recorded martyr in Christianity because it maintains he did not kill himself; he was stoned to death by the other apostles. Essentially it is that this “gospel” claims that Jesus and Judas had a lot of “secret” conversations in which Jesus revealed ALL the secrets and mysteries of the Kingdom to Judas alone because Judas was the “most trusted”. It is suggested that Judas’ status with Jesus caused more than a little consternation and conflict between him and the others so that Judas’ fulfilling his calling by turning Jesus over to the authorities was reason enough to stone him to death.

Needless to say, my mind was already reeling from this perspective until I came across this portion: “Although the “Gospel of Judas” does not encourage martyrdom, ironically it portrays Judas as the first martyr. This gospel reveals that when Judas hands Jesus over, he seals his own fate. But he knows, too, that when the other disciples stone him, they kill only his mortal self. His spirit-filled soul has already found its home in the light world above. Although Christians may suffer and die when they oppose the powers of evil, the hope Christ brings will sustain them. These revelations offer courage and comfort to anyone who anticipates suffering and death – and so to everyone.”

My question is this: do we all “anticipate” our death? In the backs of our rational minds, we know that we will not live on this earth forever. I don’t think, however, that we really give it much thought otherwise except maybe when we attend the funeral of a contemporary or a friend who was our own age, or when we purchase life insurance. Other than perhaps these two instances, I think it is safe to say that we don’t put a lot of thought into our own demise. Yet it seems to me that if we are to have genuine hope in our resurrection and the PATIENCE required to await that time, we would need to be cognizant of our end more often and more intentionally than we are now.

Pretty depressing thoughts. It would not seem to be useful to encourage everyone to be constantly mindful of the fact that we will all one day pass from life on this earth, yet it is a reality we should not ignore. And I would suggest to you that the Beatitudes as recorded in Luke 6 run along this very thought unless we believe in the Buddhist “Karma” which, oversimplified, states that ‘what goes around comes around’. If we do good, good will come to us but if we do evil, evil will visit us. And if my understanding of Karma is correct, this balance of justice can come to us just as easily in this life – or there is that reincarnation thing that suggests we keep getting sent back to life until we get it right, to “balance our Karma”.

The Beatitudes begin well enough as a message of hope: if we are poor, we will one day be rich. If we are hungry, we will one day be fed. If we are persecuted, we are blessed beyond measure. In verse 24, however, the “hope” that was once evident takes an ominous turn. Now it suddenly seems in a very general sense that if we are content with the life we now have – if we have enough to eat and if we are happy and if we are well-regarded in the community – then another “balance of justice” is in order. Jesus seems to be saying that if all is well with us now, something is out of balance and bad things are just over the horizon for us.

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” Luke 6:24-26

Looking around us, we can easily see that there is a huge disparity between the so-called “have’s” and the so-called “have not’s”. However, it is not so easy to determine how much “have” is too much to have. If this sounds like a lot of double-talk, I suppose it is because of the constant messages we get from politicians who suggest that there are too many who have too much and that it is the role of government to take the excess and spread it out among those who don’t have so much. The question always goes back to the definition, though: how much is considered “excess”? How much is “enough”?

For those of us who live within the so-called “middle class”, it is easy to feel caught in the middle even though the politicians would tell us that they are trying to “protect” us and our way of life. We are told that we are safely within an acceptable range of income. In fact, it may well be that they would like to see everyone safely within the “middle class” and are prepared to accomplish this with a little social engineering.

Jesus, however, does not seem to be so lenient because “rich” is not defined, at least not in terms of dollars or assets. In fact, it might be suggested that if we have ever been in a position to throw out food at the end of a meal, then we obviously have too much. And if we regularly throw out food such as leftovers that got overlooked for WEEKS to the point of uselessness, that is “excess”.

We got our eyes opened yesterday at Heifer International’s Global Village. We saw the types of housing and conditions some people in various parts of the world, including the United States, are forced to endure. In that context, many of us walked away feeling like some of the wealthiest people in the world. We have running water and can drink and bathe virtually anytime we desire. In many parts of the world, children cannot even get a drink of clean water, let alone have enough food to eat or a clean, safe, comfortable place to lay their head at the end of the day. Then we packed up the excess food we had, jumped in our vans and SUV’s, and drove safely home on paved roads.

Luke’s version of the Beatitudes is tricky because beginning in verse 27 it appears as though the balance of justice and hope has shifted when we are advised to “bless” and “pray for” those who mistreat us. We are reminded that in spite of everything, there is always hope even in the face of injustice, that somehow and at some time of the Lord’s choosing, everything wrong will be made right. And Jesus may well have been referring to the Gates and the Buffets and the Waltons of the world, but don’t think for one minute that He does not see us shoveling food down the garbage disposal or tossing it in the dog dish or hording our money around this time of year so that we can buy a lot of crap we don’t really need so that our children can have a “proper” Christmas.

It seems to me, though, that Jesus is talking to the true poor and the genuinely oppressed – those forced into circumstances beyond their control - when He admonishes them to pray for those who mistreat them. “Do good to those who hate you” could well be a statement of their mercy directed at those of us who have more than we need but only share a minor portion of our excess – AFTER we have made sure we are taken care of first.

It’s a tough balance for all of us because we have grown accustomed to a certain standard of living; giving it all up does not seem quite fair or even practical, and having it taken from us for the purpose of redistribution also does not seem to hit the mark of what Jesus is talking about.

If there is to be a balance of justice, then we must be prepared to seriously consider justice not only as it pertains to us – JUST US - but to everyone. If we are content but our neighbor is struggling due to circumstances beyond his control, does justice exist? It cannot because justice is not one-dimensional. Justice either IS or it ISN’T. It cannot exist for one but not for another. And Justice, as least according to Jesus, extends far beyond simple “law and order”.

Justice is a big word with big implications. The Lord believes in it; in fact, He requires it. Shall we, as His disciples, offer to the world anything less than HIS best?