Follow by Email

Monday, September 3, 2018

Fire and Lutefisk


Winning souls for Christ with fire and sword was the strangest concept I wrestled with during my Road Scholar trip to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. (Except for some of the unmarked, two-handled shower controls. Inscrutable.) A book they told us to read, The Northern Crusades, had me hollering down the corridors of time at the founder of the Cistercian order of monks, “Bernard, what were you thinking?”
     Bernard of Clairvaux. You picture him like this, right? Humble. Saintly. Give him points for writing about loving God because of Who He is, and for reforming the monastic movement, but he also wrote the book on how soldier monks can knock the (literal) demons out of pagans so as to prepare them to hear the Gospel. Wherever crusaders might go, he said, they should fight the unbelievers “until such a time as, by God’s help, they shall be either converted or deleted.” Um.
     Bernard wrote the rule book for the Knights Templar, of Holy Land crusade fame, and the Teutonic Knights adopted pretty much the same constitution. The Teutonics started out as a small group in Palestine. Then some German nobles decided they needed their own version of the Templars and started enriching the humble hospitalers with cash, castles and property. Just in time, they had a trained and disciplined army ready to subdue the pagans, and, oh, by the way, take over some new territory to the east. A bishop or two spoke up: “If they had come to strengthen the Christian faith… they should do so by preaching, not by arms.” Well, yeah, the Bible says a thing or two about that. But the Pope said go, you’re official crusaders, and your sins will be absolved.
     The conquests are a long story. Some of the “missionaries” went full Old Testament on temples of scary four-headed idols, tearing down the statues, chopping and burning what were by all accounts beautiful buildings. But they brought the Good News: join our church, or we chop your head off. On occasion, the pagans chopped and burned them right back.
     Now Latvia and Lithuania are mostly Roman Catholic, and there are churches all over. The tour guides who show them to you still say, “Christianity came to us with fire and sword.” And Estonians say, “We are the least religious people in the world.” I couldn’t decide whether that was a boast, a joke, a neutral fact, all of the above? The country is nominally Lutheran. I’d go for the coffee and lutefisk over the death threats too. Well, maybe not the lutefisk. But I vote for doing things the way God says in His Book. More potlucks. Less mess. And maybe a faith that’s more than nominal.
    

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Stones Cry Out


     Why is Soviet architecture so ugly? On a Road Scholar tour to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, I saw a lot of it, and, boy, is it ugly. When the USSR had control of those countries, they plunked these bare concrete boxes down next to variously colored and ornately decorated homes and shops from previous centuries which have kept their charm. Not that baroque is exactly my cup of kvass, but it’s fanciful and ebullient. Earlier styles have symmetry and decoration. Soviet brutalism (the perfect name) is not fanciful or ebullient. It’s the wet blanket of European architecture.
     In Tallinn, Estonia, they’ve tried perching super-modern glass enclosures on top of the brutish concrete. My personal jury is still out on that technique. Points for effort. In all three countries, they’re working on renovating the depressing structures to make them more attractive. It takes a lot of time and a lot of money and, no doubt, a mighty effort of the spirit.
     I asked my fellow Scholars, “Why is Soviet architecture so ugly?” A couple of the engineering-minded men opined, “It’s cheap.” The Soviet occupiers wanted to make their presence known for as few rubles as possible. And a woman added they didn’t do any maintenance either; they just let things rust. All of this made sense, but something else still whispered on the edge of my awareness.
     Then I got a chance to visit with a Lithuanian friend of a friend. He kindly drove me around the city of Vilnius, saving my poor tired feet and giving me a different perspective. So I asked Egidijus, “Why is Soviet architecture so ugly?” He answered without a pause, “Because they reject God.” The pieces dropped into place. The human ability to create and appreciate beauty is a gift from the One Who made us in His image. Gazing on beauty may nudge our thoughts to the sublime and get us thinking that there is something, Someone, higher than the state. And if we’re building the Soviet Man, we can’t have that, can we?
     The brave and beautiful Baltic countries have come a long way since throwing off Soviet rule. May they have all success in covering the lumps and scars with beauty. And may they know whence comes their help.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Fort IX


     Outside Kaunas, Lithuania, the bus turns down a fairy-tale lane where leafy branches brush the windows on both sides. The lane opens onto gentle green hills as smooth as a golf green, looking softer than down. The setting calls for picnics and kites and curly-haired babies taking first steps. But to the left is a concrete sculpture that blasts from the earth in three tall jagged sections. I can’t make sense of it and must turn my eyes away.    
Our guide leads us to a dent in the earth, too large for a ditch, not quite a ravine. It is covered with the soft green grass. At the far end is a brick and stucco wall, pocked and scarred in patches. Perhaps from bullets. This is Fort IX. 


     A paved plaza is lined with memorial plaques, one for Russian soldiers and many for the Jews, the 50,000 people killed here. The city of Munich acknowledges with shame and mourns the thousand Jewish citizens who were sent to this place to die. Their plaque is a blue mosaic riddled with black lines like cracks.    

     Time to look at the fortress built into a hill by the Russian Tsar’s army for a garrison. At first, it has an image of Old World charm, a pink wall and a red brick enclosure with green-roofed turrets. But when you get closer, you see the barbed wire. When the Soviets came, they used it as a prison. When the Nazis came, they made it a death camp. 

     We learn that one Japanese diplomat stood for humanity by issuing visas to allow Jews to escape. Some Lithuanians hid their Jewish neighbors. Others turned the Jews in and helped to murder them.    
We have read the memorials and looked into the depths. Now we turn to face the sculpture. It roars and rages, masses of arms and fists and furious faces, jagged, frightening, overwhelming. Like the memory. Like the truth. It stabs upward through the grassy earth and shrieks at the sky. In a beautiful world, men still work evil.
     I don’t see any birds, not even a pigeon or a piebald crow. There are flowers, though, along the paths, under the fences, tiny wild ones like purple clover and Queen Anne’s lace and bright yellow flashes of some brave little blossom. Small, but alive. Small, but real. Innocent and beautiful. Thank God. We drive away, brushed once more by the green leaves.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Long Live the Kings


     Little green anoles used to be all over our Florida yards. Young persons were known to catch them and persuade them to bite onto their earlobes, where they dangled like earrings. What can I say? We didn’t have cable. Anyway, they were cute. But lately, dirty Commie brown anoles from Cuba have crowded them out. Supposedly, the green ones can escape to a higher level of shrubbery, but the brown ones EAT BABY GREEN ONES, the dirty stinking cannibal Commies. But even worse, they eat monarch butterfly larvae.
    Really. While people all over North America are cultivating milkweed, because that’s the only thing monarch larvae will eat, and paying money to be certified as Official Monarch Inn and Spa Way-Stations, ugly anoles are scoping out the milkweed and puffing out their nasty orange double chins while they wait for the microscopically tiny monarch larvae to hatch from their pinhead-sized eggs, crunch down the egg shells and fatten themselves up on milkweed leaves just enough to be interesting to ugly brown Commie anoles.
     I fumed when I learned this. I had monitored the milkweed pods until they popped open and ran like a crazy person to stuff the seeds into my pocket before they floated away on the breeze. Have you ever tried to peel hundreds of seeds’ worth of that floaty stuff that sticks to fabric like its life depends on it out of a shirt pocket? Well, have you?
     I devoted a whole raised garden bed to milkweed, planted scads of seeds and sang to the sprouts and stroked their little leaves. OK, I didn’t do that, but I did get sweaty. Monarch butterflies fluttered over the house and plunged like dive-bombers into the milkweed patch. I found eggs. I rejoiced at the sight of teeny-tiny stripey caterpillars. And they disappeared. Dirty Commie anoles.
     Enter the single-wide camper’s box mosquito net. If little kids can hatch monarchs in one of those net cage thingies, then surely I could do it on a larger scale with this thing. I hung its metal corner rings over bamboo sticks cut from the corner of the yard where we can’t get rid of the stuff. Bamboo takes over the world, in case you didn’t know. Don’t plant bamboo. Clipping shoots is a pain, but sometimes the sticks are useful. Like for hanging a box mosquito net.
     I had to kill many milkweed bugs before I sealed the net around the bottom with bricks. They are orange and black, and they lay little yellow eggs by the squillions, and they gobble milkweed. Commies. But the bed has been covered for a week or so, and today I spotted five big fat monarch larvae on the milkweed leaves. Do the chrysalis thing, little guys. Give me that thrilling marvel of Creation—or next year you can plant your own darn milkweed.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Pleasure of Your Company: A Fable

If you think your sexuality is for nothing more than screwing, that you can and should make it with any guy who looks good in jeans, or buys you a drink, or several, or even if he says “Let’s move in together. Who needs a piece of paper?” and if a baby comes about, it’s nothing more than an inconvenience, something to flush, or to have pulled out and tossed into the medical waste bin, your heart gets colder and your soul emptier with every sex act and every abortion. Then, when someone dares to call it wrong and begs you to consider the life of the child, you shriek like a banshee. You’ve devoted yourself to a devilish lie, and you can’t bear to hear it contradicted.
When you refuse self-control, commitment, and the gift of new life, you are standing in the alley eating from the dumpster while someone stands on the doorstep and calls to you, “No, that’s just scraps, a poor imitation of a feast. It’s dangerous. Look how filthy it is. The real dinner is inside, at the table. Please, leave that and come in.”

“There’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing. It’s what I choose. You just want to control me. You want me to sit at a table and use a knife and fork? Stupid outdated rules,” you say.
“But there’s something so much better, the beautiful banquet with all the courses, so many flavors and colors, you can hardly imagine. There’s a seat for you,” says your tormenter.
“It’s MY F---ING DIGESTIVE SYSTEM,” you shout. “Not yours! Not the government’s! I control it. It’s my right. You can’t tell me what to do.”
Eventually, the person on the step gives up. She goes inside and closes the door behind her. But she doesn’t lock it.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Tee Shirts for Life


          My seventh grandchild is in the works. Seeing as how darling daughter has slimmed down considerable since the last production, I get to seek out bargains in maternity clothes for her. Size zero. From my outpost in 12-14 land, that looks like no size at all. Hahahahahaha. Sorry. But it did mean some way-low clearance prices on classroom-acceptable duds from one major merchant when the teensy size was the only one left. I clicked in triumph.
          On a whim, I searched “maternity” on a discount website not especially known for clothes. Up --or out-- popped dozens of tee shirts with baby room and all sorts of designs. The cheesy: sprays of flowers and variations on the word blessed.  No. Lots of colors with “due in (month)” to answer the common first question, and plenty announcing boy or girl for the second question. Others I read over again, asking, “Did they put that on a shirt? They did put that on a shirt.” Among the milder texts, I did snort over “I just wanted a back rub” and “It’s all fun and games until somebody gets pregnant.” Didn’t buy them.
One that I did buy.
          Then came the peek-a-boos: image of a zipper with baby peeking out. Girl babies, boy babies, twin babies. White babies, black babies, Asian babies. Jedi baby. Army baby. Even a mooning baby. Cute. Funny. And in a natural, incidental, even accidental way, powerfully pro-life. Somehow, in a day of 4-D sonograms, surgery in utero and medical advances that save tinier premature babies than ever before, there’s a movement to insist that the little creature in there is not a baby. “Noooottt a baby,” as one tweeter contended to me. This cultic dogma calls itself “science” while it stubbornly ignores all logic and evidence of the senses. Evidence, schmevidence, you gotta believe.
          But, still. Ordinary people with brains unwarped by PC death-worship (I’ve been called a “fetus-worshipper.” So, nyah.) and its sacrament of abortion know perfectly well what’s growing in that pregnant woman. Moms and dads know it. Grandparents know it. Little kids know it. Designers of tee shirts know it. I think somewhere deep down in their twisted, dark little doctrinaire souls, defenders of abortion know it. They just don’t want to look.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Handling the Sword


The Bible calls God's word "living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) Ephesians 6:17 mentions "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Given that, shouldn't we expect the pastor of a church to have a pretty good handle on the word of God? Or at least to know which end is which? If you grab a sword by the wrong end, you might get cut. Well, here is a Methodist minister in South Africa making a proclamation based on a Bible verse. It says "Jesus was the first to decriminalize sex work. John 8:7" The group that happily posted a video of the scene works to "decriminalize" prostitution. Not to rescue women from it or to discourage the practice, but to make it legal. And this pastor claims to have found that idea in the Bible. Here's the verse: "But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.'” 
     Problem. This passage is about a woman caught in adultery, not prostitution. The mob wants to stone her to death on the spot, never mind a trial. They are operating outside the law. Jesus' beautiful solution is to ask the one who is without sin to throw first. They are not so far gone that they deny their own sinfulness. When they slink away, Jesus tells the woman He will not condemn her, but ends with "sin no more." Few seem to want to quote that bit. 
    Jesus forgives our sins. (Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.) He can do that while maintaining justice because He took the punishment for sin on the cross. He expects us to quit the sins, not to go our merry way, pounding in a few more nails. 
     "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." (James 3:1) And Matthew 18:6, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." 
     Whether you believe the Bible or not, you have to see that John 8 has nothing to do with the legality of prostitution. When a "pastor" uses it to promote a sinful practice, to tell women that there's no sin in selling their bodies for sex (and apparently no blame for the customers either), he is certainly causing them to stumble. He will face judgment one day. The one Who truly is without sin, the one Who is the living Word, will teach him just how sharp is the Word of God.