Friday, May 20, 2005

Fragmentary Book Review: Memory & Identity, by Pope John Paul II

I'm not a Catholic, and unlikely to ever be one, but I enjoyed some of the reflections in Memory and Identity, a sort of memoir by the late Pope John Paul II.

Some of it was particularly hard to understand, using theological terms I'm not familiar with. Plus phrases in latin that I never learnt in high school latin!

But one particular piece leapt off the page and into my heart. It was a wonderful description by John Paul of what God does in redemption:

"In Jesus Christ, God bends down over man to hold out a hand to him, to raise him up and to help him continue his journey with renewed strength. Man cannot get back on his feet unaided: he needs the help of the Holy Spirit. If he refuses this help, he commits what Christ called 'the blasphemy against the Spirit', the sin which 'will not be forgiven' (Matt. 12:31)

Why will it not be forgiven? Because it means there is no desire for pardon. Man refuses the love and the mercy of God, since he believes himself to be God. He believes himself to be capable of self-sufficiency."

That was the most eloquent - and strikingly simple - description of what the unforgivable sin is, and why, that I've ever heard. And this in a book that in other spots is too complex for me.

It's worth plugging through the difficult bits, though, because this Pope lived through unprecedented times in world history, and he talks about living in Poland under the Nazis, and then under the Communists.

It's a refreshingly real look at how faith goes into action, how our faith can engage with philosophy and the issues of the 'real' world.

So, whether you're Catholic or not (I'd like to be one with a small 'c' - meaning 'universal') I recommend you grab a copy of Memory and Identity, and let it make you think.

Letting go - shouldn't be that hard!

Marie and I were reading 1 Kings 9 the other day, and particularly God's conversation with King Solomon after he built the Temple.

Basically God lays out the contract, a renewal of the contract Moses brought in the book of Deuteronomy.

"Solomon, if you and your people serve me faithfully, I'll look after you and make your nation great and you'll always have a descendant on the throne.

"But Sol, if you and your people fail me, and go after idols, and follow your own will instead of mine, this big 'ol Temple won't mean a hill of beans. It'll be an astonishing ruin, a spectacle, a marvel of horror for all to see. Because it's not about the building; it's about the heart."

We were thinking how it must've been for God to lay this out, knowing full well that the second scenario - disobedience and failure - was going to happen.

How hard must it have been for God (just thinking on a human level here, bear with me) to let Solomon have free will, even as He's laying out these conditions. Or even to not add in rejoiners like: "If you and your people fail me - and you will!"

No, God laid it out as if it was fully up to Solomon and the people. And it was. It's the old predestination vs. free will argument. There is no vs. It really does work both ways. We have complete freedom to do whatever; God knows exactly what will happen because He is outside of time, and able to organise whatever He wants.

So I was thinking ... how come we say it's hard to let go and let God?

Especially when:
  • He's perfect
  • He knows everything
  • He does everything well
Meanwhile God gives us free will, when:
  • We're imperfect
  • We don't know much at all (compared to knowing everything, that is!)
  • We don't do much that well (compared to utter perfection)
So I think God deserves a lot of credit, continually giving us the freedom to go get ourselves in trouble every day, and rescuing us when we need it, because He knows who of us will turn our lives over to Him. And He lives for that relationship ... God, that's AMAZING!

Letting go - shouldn't be that hard!

Marie and I were reading 1 Kings 9 the other day, and particularly God's conversation with King Solomon after he built the Temple.

Basically God lays out the contract, a renewal of the contract Moses brought in the book of Deuteronomy.

"Solomon, if you and your people serve me faithfully, I'll look after you and make your nation great and you'll always have a descendant on the throne.

"But Sol, if you and your people fail me, and go after idols, and follow your own will instead of mine, this big 'ol Temple won't mean a hill of beans. It'll be an astonishing ruin, a spectacle, a marvel of horror for all to see. Because it's not about the building; it's about the heart."

We were thinking how it must've been for God to lay this out, knowing full well that the second scenario - disobedience and failure - was going to happen.

How hard must it have been for God (just thinking on a human level here, bear with me) to let Solomon have free will, even as He's laying out these conditions. Or even to not add in rejoiners like: "If you and your people fail me - and you will!"

No, God laid it out as if it was fully up to Solomon and the people. And it was. It's the old predestination vs. free will argument. There is no vs. It really does work both ways. We have complete freedom to do whatever; God knows exactly what will happen because He is outside of time, and able to organise whatever He wants.

So I was thinking ... how come we say it's hard to let go and let God?

Especially when:
  • He's perfect
  • He knows everything
  • He does everything well
Meanwhile God gives us free will, when:
  • We're imperfect
  • We don't know much at all (compared to knowing everything, that is!)
  • We don't do much that well (compared to utter perfection)
So I think God deserves a lot of credit, continually giving us the freedom to go get ourselves in trouble every day, and rescuing us when we need it, because He knows who of us will turn our lives over to Him. And He lives for that relationship ... God, that's AMAZING!

I like Jesus

(Thoughts from reading Luke 9)

I like Jesus. Of course, I love Him (though having not seen Him I am filled with joy unspeakable, etc. etc.) ... but I'm getting to the stage of liking Him a lot as well.

I like the go-to-parties-with-sinners, understanding my weakness and forgiving my sins Jesus (especially the forgiving my sins part!). But there's another side too - the frightening side, like when he suddenly starts glowing on a mountaintop, a Voice is heard from heaven, and long-dead prophets appear.

Peter, James and John must have been thoroughly spooked as they walked down the mountain. It just got spookier, as Jesus ran a demon out of a boy who was suffering big time.

And then Jesus gets all demanding. He says things like "Follow me" and "Are you ready to rough it?"

And then there are comments in scripture I can really relate to, like "They didn't get what he was saying. It was like he was speaking a foreign language and they couldn't make heads or tails of it. But they were embarrassed to ask him what he meant."

Ooh yeah, I know what that's like.

But I'm getting to like this frightening, demanding Jesus. Because He knows what He's doing. He has an agenda, a definite plan.

That's the kind of Jesus that I have to decide - will I follow Him, or not?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

More on the Crusades from Ted Baehr

My education continues without me even looking for it! Another scathing review of Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven from my favourite fundamentalist film critic, Ted Baehr. It's long, but worth the read!


By Dr. Ted Baehr, Publisher of MOVIEGUIDE®

HOLLYWOOD, CA (ANS) -- The New York Times bemoans "Hollywood Worries as Decline Continues" in an article by Sharon Waxman on May 10, 2005, wherein she pointed out that "the poor box-office performance last weekend of the first major film of the summer, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, released by 20th Century Fox, made for 11 weeks in a row of declining movie attendance and revenue compared with last year." The Times fails to consider that the problem is that the average American does not like the politically correct, breast-beating, Christian bashing revisionist history.

In a May 5, 2005 article by Christopher Howse titled "The Crusaders Were Right After All," British newspaper The Telegraph revealed the heart of the problem audiences are having with the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. It quoted director Ridley Scott saying that the Knights Templar were the "Right-wing or Christian fundamentalists of their day." Ridley continued, "If we could just take God out of the equation, there'd be no f---ing problem."

Just who are and were the Christian fundamentalists of our day? Pope John Paul II, who revived the faith of millions; Mother Teresa, who lived out the Gospel; Pat Robertson, who has brought Christian relief throughout the world; and Dr. James Dobson, who has helped millions of families. Are these the people who have caused the world’s problems according to Sir Ridley?

How did they cause the problems when the real villains were the anti-Christian atheists such as Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao, who killed and enslaved millions, and the occultists like Hitler, who killed millions and tried to exterminate God’s people, and the false religious fanatics like the Taliban, who cut off peoples’ hands and executed them for sport?

In fact, Ridley is wrong about history, about Christians, and about the tensions in the Middle East. As the Telegraph points out, "A more realistic view of history requires less retrospective fantasy and more brain work. It means forcing our heads round to see what motivated men and women centuries ago. Try thinking the unthinkable - that the Crusaders were right, and that we should be grateful to them."

As our friend James D. Davis of the Sun-Sentinel, wrote:

"I agreed with Tom Snyder’s assessment, below. I also note that KINGDOM OF HEAVEN showed the Christian communities as hotbeds of scheming and hypocrisy. The more religious a Christian was, the more bigoted and cowardly he was. The Muslims, on the other hand, all got to be brave and true and religious, too. Yet Jeremy Irons said the movie didn’t paint one side or the other as the villains. If that was balance, I’d like to know his idea of bias.

"There were factual errors, too. A historian (Paul M. Cobb of Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute) told me that the Knights Templar never raided caravans; as an elite corps, they would have considered that to be beneath them. He also said Balian wasn’t a blacksmith; he was born into a royal family. The movie had Balian viewing the Dome of the Rock from outside Jerusalem’s walls; apparently the Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley hadn’t been created yet. Balian also prayed at the site of Calvary overlooking the city; in the real Jerusalem, the church is street level, dwarfed by Mount Zion and the Temple Mount.

"It’s funny that the movie’s production notes rave about Ridley Scott’s attention to historical detail — down to a wasp trap in a corner — but he let those gaffes get by."

Even the entertainment industry rag Variety noted on May 8, 2005 that KINGDOM OF HEAVEN short-changed history, with the comment, "The film has also been dogged in recent months by accusations that it short-shrifts real history. Jonathon Riley-Smith, one of Britain's leading authorities on the Crusades, labeled it 'Osama Bin Laden's version of history' and said, 'It will fuel the Islamic fundamentalists.'"

In his article “The Real History of the Crusades,” Professor Thomas F. Madden points out: Many historians had been trying to set the record straight on the Crusades long before [The President] discovered them. They are not revisionists, like the American historians who manufactured the Enola Gay exhibit, but mainstream scholars offering the fruit of several decades of very careful, very serious scholarship. For them, this is a "teaching moment," an opportunity to explain the Crusades while people are actually listening. It won’t last long, so here goes.

Misconceptions about the Crusades are all too common. The Crusades are generally portrayed as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics. They are supposed to have been the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general. A breed of proto-imperialists, the Crusaders introduced Western aggression to the peaceful Middle East and then deformed the enlightened Muslim culture, leaving it in ruins. For variations on this theme, one need not look far. See, for example, Steven Runciman’s famous three-volume epic, History of the Crusades, or the BBC/A&E documentary, “The Crusades”, hosted by Terry Jones. Both are terrible history yet wonderfully entertaining.

So what is the truth about the Crusades? Scholars are still working some of that out. But much can already be said with certainty. For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression—an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.

Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity—and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion—has no abode. Christians and Jews can be tolerated within a Muslim state under Muslim rule. But, in traditional Islam, Christian and Jewish states must be destroyed and their lands conquered. When Mohammed was waging war against Mecca in the seventh century, Christianity was the dominant religion of power and wealth. As the faith of the Roman Empire, it spanned the entire Mediterranean, including the Middle East, where it was born. The Christian world, therefore, was a prime target for the earliest caliphs, and it would remain so for Muslim leaders for the next thousand years.

With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed’s death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt—once the most heavily Christian areas in the world—quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.

That is what gave birth to the Crusades. They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.

Pope Urban II called upon the knights of Christendom to push back the conquests of Islam at the Council of Clermont in 1095. The response was tremendous. Many thousands of warriors took the vow of the cross and prepared for war. Why did they do it? The answer to that question has been badly misunderstood. In the wake of the Enlightenment, it was usually asserted that Crusaders were merely lacklands and ne’er-do-wells who took advantage of an opportunity to rob and pillage in a faraway land. The Crusaders’ expressed sentiments of piety, self-sacrifice, and love for God were obviously not to be taken seriously. They were only a front for darker designs.

During the past two decades, computer-assisted charter studies have demolished that contrivance. Scholars have discovered that crusading knights were generally wealthy men with plenty of their own land in Europe. Nevertheless, they willingly gave up everything to undertake the holy mission. Crusading was not cheap. Even wealthy lords could easily impoverish themselves and their families by joining a Crusade. They did so not because they expected material wealth (which many of them had already) but because they hoped to store up treasure where rust and moth could not corrupt. They were keenly aware of their sinfulness and eager to undertake the hardships of the Crusade as a penitential act of charity and love. Europe is littered with thousands of medieval charters attesting to these sentiments, charters in which these men still speak to us today if we will listen. Of course, they were not opposed to capturing booty if it could be had. But the truth is that the Crusades were notoriously bad for plunder. A few people got rich, but the vast majority returned with nothing.

Urban II gave the Crusaders two goals, both of which would remain central to the eastern Crusades for centuries. The first was to rescue the Christians of the East. As his successor, Pope Innocent III, later wrote:

“How does a man love according to divine precept his neighbor as himself when, knowing that his Christian brothers in faith and in name are held by the perfidious Muslims in strict confinement and weighed down by the yoke of heaviest servitude, he does not devote himself to the task of freeing them? ...Is it by chance that you do not know that many thousands of Christians are bound in slavery and imprisoned by the Muslims, tortured with innumerable torments?”

"Crusading," Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith has rightly argued, was understood as an "an act of love"—in this case, the love of one’s neighbor. The Crusade was seen as an errand of mercy to right a terrible wrong. As Pope Innocent III wrote to the Knights Templar, "You carry out in deeds the words of the Gospel, ‘Greater love than this hath no man, that he lay down his life for his friends.’"

The second goal was the liberation of Jerusalem and the other places made holy by the life of Christ. The word crusade is modern. Medieval Crusaders saw themselves as pilgrims, performing acts of righteousness on their way to the Holy Sepulcher. The Crusade indulgence they received was canonically related to the pilgrimage indulgence. This goal was frequently described in feudal terms. When calling the Fifth Crusade in 1215, Innocent III wrote:

“Consider most dear sons, consider carefully that if any temporal king was thrown out of his domain and perhaps captured, would he not, when he was restored to his pristine liberty and the time had come for dispensing justice look on his vassals as unfaithful and traitors...unless they had committed not only their property but also their persons to the task of freeing him? ...And similarly will not Jesus Christ, the king of kings and lord of lords, whose servant you cannot deny being, who joined your soul to your body, who redeemed you with the Precious Blood...condemn you for the vice of ingratitude and the crime of infidelity if you neglect to help Him?”

The reconquest of Jerusalem, therefore, was not colonialism but an act of restoration and an open declaration of one’s love of God. Medieval men knew, of course, that God had the power to restore Jerusalem Himself—indeed, He had the power to restore the whole world to His rule. Yet as St. Bernard of Clairvaux preached, His refusal to do so was a blessing to His people:

“Again I say, consider the Almighty’s goodness and pay heed to His plans of mercy. He puts Himself under obligation to you, or rather feigns to do so, that He can help you to satisfy your obligations toward Himself.... I call blessed the generation that can seize an opportunity of such rich indulgence as this.”

It is often assumed that the central goal of the Crusades was forced conversion of the Muslim world. Nothing could be further from the truth. >From the perspective of medieval Christians, Muslims were the enemies of Christ and His Church. It was the Crusaders’ task to defeat and defend against them. That was all. Muslims who lived in Crusader-won territories were generally allowed to retain their property and livelihood, and always their religion. …

By any reckoning, the First Crusade was a long shot. There was no leader, no chain of command, no supply lines, no detailed strategy. It was simply thousands of warriors marching deep into enemy territory, committed to a common cause. Many of them died, either in battle or through disease or starvation. It was a rough campaign, one that seemed always on the brink of disaster. Yet it was miraculously successful. By 1098, the Crusaders had restored Nicaea and Antioch to Christian rule. In July 1099, they conquered Jerusalem and began to build a Christian state in Palestine. The joy in Europe was unbridled. It seemed that the tide of history, which had lifted the Muslims to such heights, was now turning.

But it was not. When we think about the Middle Ages, it is easy to view Europe in light of what it became rather than what it was. The colossus of the medieval world was Islam, not Christendom. The Crusades are interesting largely because they were an attempt to counter that trend. But in five centuries of crusading, it was only the First Crusade that significantly rolled back the military progress of Islam. It was downhill from there.

When the Crusader County of Edessa fell to the Turks and Kurds in 1144, there was an enormous groundswell of support for a new Crusade in Europe. It was led by two kings, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany, and preached by St. Bernard himself. It failed miserably. Most of the Crusaders were killed along the way. Those who made it to Jerusalem only made things worse by attacking Muslim Damascus, which formerly had been a strong ally of the Christians. In the wake of such a disaster, Christians across Europe were forced to accept not only the continued growth of Muslim power but the certainty that God was punishing the West for its sins. Lay piety movements sprouted up throughout Europe, all rooted in the desire to purify Christian society so that it might be worthy of victory in the East.

Crusading in the late twelfth century, therefore, became a total war effort. Every person, no matter how weak or poor, was called to help. Warriors were asked to sacrifice their wealth and, if need be, their lives for the defense of the Christian East. On the home front, all Christians were called to support the Crusades through prayer, fasting, and alms. Yet still the Muslims grew in strength. Saladin, the great unifier, had forged the Muslim Near East into a single entity, all the while preaching jihad against the Christians. In 1187 at the Battle of Hattin, his forces wiped out the combined armies of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem and captured the precious relic of the True Cross. Defenseless, the Christian cities began surrendering one by one, culminating in the surrender of Jerusalem on October 2. Only a tiny handful of ports held out.

The response was the Third Crusade. It was led by Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa of the German Empire, King Philip II Augustus of France, and King Richard I Lionheart of England. By any measure it was a grand affair, although not quite as grand as the Christians had hoped. The aged Frederick drowned while crossing a river on horseback, so his army returned home before reaching the Holy Land. Philip and Richard came by boat, but their incessant bickering only added to an already divisive situation on the ground in Palestine. After recapturing Acre, the king of France went home, where he busied himself carving up Richard’s French holdings. The Crusade, therefore, fell into Richard’s lap. A skilled warrior, gifted leader, and superb tactician, Richard led the Christian forces to victory after victory, eventually reconquering the entire coast. But Jerusalem was not on the coast, and after two abortive attempts to secure supply lines to the Holy City, Richard at last gave up. Promising to return one day, he struck a truce with Saladin that ensured peace in the region and free access to Jerusalem for unarmed pilgrims. But it was a bitter pill to swallow. The desire to restore Jerusalem to Christian rule and regain the True Cross remained intense throughout Europe.

The Crusades of the 13th century were larger, better funded, and better organized. But they too failed. The Fourth Crusade (1201-1204) ran aground when it was seduced into a web of Byzantine politics, which the Westerners never fully understood. They had made a detour to Constantinople to support an imperial claimant who promised great rewards and support for the Holy Land. Yet once he was on the throne of the Caesars, their benefactor found that he could not pay what he had promised. Thus betrayed by their Greek friends, in 1204 the Crusaders attacked, captured, and brutally sacked Constantinople, the greatest Christian city in the world. Pope Innocent III, who had previously excommunicated the entire Crusade, strongly denounced the Crusaders. But there was little else he could do. The tragic events of 1204 closed an iron door between Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox, a door that even today Pope John Paul II has been unable to reopen. It is a terrible irony that the Crusades, which were a direct result of the Catholic desire to rescue the Orthodox people, drove the two further—and perhaps irrevocably—apart.

The remainder of the 13th century’s Crusades did little better. The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) managed briefly to capture Damietta in Egypt, but the Muslims eventually defeated the army and reoccupied the city. St. Louis IX of France led two Crusades in his life. The first also captured Damietta, but Louis was quickly outwitted by the Egyptians and forced to abandon the city. Although Louis was in the Holy Land for several years, spending freely on defensive works, he never achieved his fondest wish: to free Jerusalem. He was a much older man in 1270 when he led another Crusade to Tunis, where he died of a disease that ravaged the camp. After St. Louis’s death, the ruthless Muslim leaders, Baybars and Kalavun, waged a brutal jihad against the Christians in Palestine. By 1291, the Muslim forces had succeeded in killing or ejecting the last of the Crusaders, thus erasing the Crusader kingdom from the map. Despite numerous attempts and many more plans, Christian forces were never again able to gain a foothold in the region until the 19th century.

One might think that three centuries of Christian defeats would have soured Europeans on the idea of Crusade. Not at all. In one sense, they had little alternative. Muslim kingdoms were becoming more, not less, powerful in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. The Ottoman Turks conquered not only their fellow Muslims, thus further unifying Islam, but also continued to press westward, capturing Constantinople and plunging deep into Europe itself. By the 15th century, the Crusades were no longer errands of mercy for a distant people but desperate attempts of one of the last remnants of Christendom to survive. Europeans began to ponder the real possibility that Islam would finally achieve its aim of conquering the entire Christian world. One of the great best-sellers of the time, Sebastian Brant’s The Ship of Fools, gave voice to this sentiment in a chapter titled "Of the Decline of the Faith":

Our faith was strong in th’ Orient,
It ruled in all of Asia,
In Moorish lands and Africa.
But now for us these lands are gone
’Twould even grieve the hardest stone....
Four sisters of our Church you find,
They’re of the patriarchic kind:
Constantinople, Alexandria,
Jerusalem, Antiochia.
But they’ve been forfeited and sacked
And soon the head will be attacked.

Yet, even while these close shaves were taking place, something else was brewing in Europe—something unprecedented in human history. The Renaissance, born from a strange mixture of Roman values, medieval piety, and a unique respect for commerce and entrepreneurialism, had led to other movements like humanism, the Scientific Revolution, and the Age of Exploration. Even while fighting for its life, Europe was preparing to expand on a global scale. The Protestant Reformation, which rejected the papacy and the doctrine of indulgence, made Crusades unthinkable for many Europeans, thus leaving the fighting to the Catholics. In 1571, a Holy League, which was itself a Crusade, defeated the Ottoman fleet at Lepanto. Yet military victories like that remained rare. The Muslim threat was neutralized economically. As Europe grew in wealth and power, the once awesome and sophisticated Turks began to seem backward and pathetic—no longer worth a Crusade. The "Sick Man of Europe" limped along until the 20th century, when he finally expired, leaving behind the present mess of the modern Middle East.

From the safe distance of many centuries, it is easy enough to scowl in disgust at the Crusades. Religion, after all, is nothing to fight wars over. But we should be mindful that our medieval ancestors would have been equally disgusted by our infinitely more destructive wars fought in the name of political ideologies. And yet, both the medieval and the modern soldier fight ultimately for their own world and all that makes it up. Both are willing to suffer enormous sacrifice, provided that it is in the service of something they hold dear, something greater than themselves. Whether we admire the Crusaders or not, it is a fact that the world we know today would not exist without their efforts. The ancient faith of Christianity, with its respect for women and antipathy toward slavery, not only survived but flourished. Without the Crusades, it might well have followed Zoroastrianism, another of Islam’s rivals, into extinction.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thomas F. Madden is associate professor and chair of the Department of History at Saint Louis University. He is the author of numerous works, including A Concise History of the Crusades, and co-author, with Donald Queller, of The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople.

In another article, “Crusade Propaganda: The Abuse of Christianity's Holy Wars,” Prof. Madden adds:

Which brings us back to the crusades. If the Muslims won the crusades (and they did), why the anger now? Shouldn't they celebrate the crusades as a great victory? Until the nineteenth century that is precisely what they did. It was the West that taught the Middle East to hate the crusades. During the peak of European colonialism, historians began extolling the medieval crusades as Europe's first colonial venture. By the 20th century, when imperialism was discredited, so too were the crusades. They haven't been the same since. In other words, Muslims in the Middle East - including bin Laden and his creatures - know as little about the real crusades as Americans do. Both view them in the context of the modern, rather than the medieval world. The truth is that the crusades had nothing to do with colonialism or unprovoked aggression. They were a desperate and largely unsuccessful attempt to defend against a powerful enemy.

That's the thing about bin Laden, he is a troublesome mix of the modern and the medieval. He and his lieutenants regularly fulminate about the "nation," a reference to a Muslim political unity that died in the seventh century. They evoke an image of the crusades colored with the legacy of modern imperialism. And they call for jihad, demanding that every Muslim in the world take part. In short, they live in a dream world, a desert cloister where the last thousand years only partially happened.

Looking at the real history, all the mumbling about tolerance is wishful thinking. Islam has been on the march for centuries, believing rightly or wrongly that it is the Truth. Wishing otherwise will not make it so.

In the Ivy League, many years ago, classes on comparative religion used a text by Walter Kaufmann, Religions in Four Dimensions: Existential, Aesthetic, Historical, Comparative (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1976). On page 186, Mr. Kaufman notes:

“When Muhammad came to Medina and found that the many well-to-do Jews there rejected his religion, his doctrines changed. Henceforth the kibla, the direction taken during prayer, was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca, the old Arab sanctuary that Muhammad hoped to conquer one day. (When he did conquer it, he smashed the idols but kept much of the old ritual.) The day of prayer was changed from the Jewish Sabbath to Friday. Yom Kippur ceased to be a holiday, and Ramadan, the month of fasting, was introduced. Of the Jewish dietary laws, he kept only a few, notably the prohibition against pork and blood. In the process Islam was transformed. In the Koran Jerusalem is never named expressly, but the change of the kibla is discussed in the second sura (142ff.): “The fools among men will ask: What has turned them from the kibla they used to observe? Reply: To Allah belong east and west…” Formerly, Muhammad explained, he had wanted to see who followed him and who did not; for no Arab adopted the first kibla when he prayed, except his followers. But henceforth everyone should turn in the direction of Mecca. Tradition has it, and scholars agree, that the first kibla was to Jerusalem, the second to Mecca. At that point Islam began to appeal to Arab feelings and traditions. Instead of simply deriding the Arabs’ old religion, the Prophet now could claim some continuity with it; it only needed to be purified. The relationship to Judaism and Christianity was undeniable; but the revelations granted to Muhammad surpassed those of all previous prophets, and Islam now claimed to supersede both Judaism and Christianity, as Christianity had claimed earlier that it superseded Judaism.

“If all this seems reasonable enough and one recalls further that after his arrival in Medina, Muhammad found work for his followers by raiding caravans and blockading Mecca, prompted in part by his own desire for revenge against those who had not accepted his religion, it is hardly astonishing that Muhammad also attacked the Jews, dispossessed them, drove them from Medina, waged war against them elsewhere, killed large numbers of them, and – in the long run this proved even more unfortunate – said some very unkind things about them that became part of the Holy Scripture of Islam. Perhaps, they had said some very unkind things about him first without foreseeing that his retorts would soon be accepted as divine revelation by people from Spain in the West to the borders of India in the East, and eventually even much further east than that. And when he killed Jews, that also was recorded in the Koran. If the giving of the Koran to Muhammad, bit by bit, was a miracle, it seems no less a miracle that although the Koran was accepted as divine revelation by the Muslims they did not treat the Jews far worse than they did.”

In spite of claims that Islam is peaceful, the newspapers report almost every day that Islamic fundamentalists are killing Christians in Nigeria, Indonesia, Bosnia, the Philippines, Africa, etc. Why? Because they have a goal, and the goal is the whole world becoming Muslim.

Christians, too, have a goal – bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ – but those Christians who are wise realize that we are not fighting against men of “flesh and blood, but powers and principalities” and that the answer is evangelism, not conquest.

In spite of our tolerant revisionist history of recent years, most Americans supported the Gulf War as a liberation of occupied Kuwait from a conquering power, Iraq. Similarly, it should be noted, that when the Crusaders went to the Middle East in 1095, they thought they were liberating Christian lands from the conquering Turks, a nation of Muslims who came from Central Asia. These Middle Eastern and North African lands had been the birthplace of Christianity and had been Christian for centuries, even producing Christianity’s best and brightest theologians. Many of the towns were still over 90 percent Christian when the Crusaders arrived. Thus, the Christians who had been conquered and oppressed by the Turks in these towns welcomed the liberating Christian Crusaders from Europe. Thus, from one point of view, the battle of the Christian Crusaders was actually very similar to the action to expel Iraq from Kuwait. The Crusaders were not trying to drive Islam out of its homeland. They were trying to protect and rescue Christian countries from invading Turks who had adopted Islamic beliefs. Historian Hilaire Belloc clearly documents these facts in his book, The Crusades.

Sir Ridley should note these differences between Mohammed and Christ as pointed out by George Zeller (10/01):

  • Mohammed was the prophet of war; Christ is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7).
  • Mohammed's disciples killed for the faith; Christ's disciples were killed for their faith (Acts 12:2; 2 Tim. 4:7).
  • Mohammed promoted persecution against the "infidels"; Christ forgave and converted the chief persecutor (1 Tim. 1:13-15).
  • Mohammed was the taker of life; Christ was the giver of life (John 10:27-28).
  • Mohammed and his fellow warriors murdered thousands; Christ murdered none but saved many (compare John 12:48).
  • Mohammed method was COMPULSION; Christ aim was voluntary CONVERSION (Acts 3:19).
  • Mohammed practiced FORCE; Christ preached FAITH (John 6:29, 35).
  • Mohammed was a WARRIOR; Christ is a DELIVERER (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 1:10).
  • Mohammed said to the masses, "Convert or die!"; Christ said, "Believe and live!" (John 6:47; 11:25-26).
  • Mohammed was swift to shed blood (Rom. 3:15-17); Christ shed His own blood for the salvation of many (Eph. 1:7).
  • Mohammed preached "Death to the infidels!"; Christ prayed "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
  • Mohammed declared a holy war (Jihad) against infidels; Christ achieved a holy victory on Calvary's cross (Col. 2:14-15) and His followers share in that victory (John 16:33).
  • Mohammed constrained people by conquest; Christ constrained people by love (2 Cor. 5:14).
  • Modern terrorists derive their inspiration from Mohammed and carry out their despicable atrocities in the name of his god;
  • Christians derive their inspiration from the One who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9).
  • Modern day disciples of Mohammed respond to the terrorist attacks by cheering in the streets; modern day disciples of Christ are deeply grieved at past atrocities carried out by those who were "Christians" in name only (the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, etc.).
  • Many Muslims are peaceful and peace-loving because they do not strictly follow the teachings of their founder; many
  • Christians are peaceful and peace-loving because they do strictly follow the teachings of their Founder (Rom. 12:17-21).
  • Mohammed called upon his servants to fight; Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world; if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight . . . but now is My kingdom not from here" (John 18:36)
  • Mohammed ordered death to the Jews (see A.Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press [1975], p. 369);
  • Christ ordered that the gospel be preached "to the Jew first" (Rom. 1:16).
  • The Koran says, "Fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them" (Qu'ran 9.5); Christ said, "Preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).
  • Mohammed's Mission was to conquer the world for Allah; Christ's mission was to conquer sin's penalty and power by substitutionary atonement (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18).
  • Mohammed claimed that there was but one God, Allah; Christ claimed that He was God (John 10:30-31; John 8:58-59; John 5:18; John 14:9).
  • Mohammed's Tomb: OCCUPIED! Christ's tomb: EMPTY!

Author Peter Hammond in his article “Why Is There So Much Hostility Against the Bible and Christianity?” notes:

As for the Crusades, the fact is that the Crusades of the Middle Ages were a reaction to the centuries of Islamic Jihad. In the first century of Islam, Muslim invaders conquered the whole of the previously Christian North Africa, destroying over 3200 churches -- just in that 100 years. In the first 3 centuries of Islam, Muslim forces killed Christians, kidnapped their children to raise them as Muslims, or compelled people at the point of the sword to convert to Islam. Up to 50% of all the Christians in the world were wiped out during those 3 centuries. The Saracens (as the Muslim invaders were called) desecrated Christian places of worship and were severely persecuting Christians. Pilgrims were being prevented from visiting those places where our Lord was born, live and ministered, was crucified and raised from the dead. It was after nearly 4 centuries of Islamic Jihad that the Crusades were launched – as a reaction to Islamic Jihad.

The word Crusade does not appear in the Bible, nor is it commanded. However, Jihad is the 6th pillar of Islam and the second greatest command of Muhammad. It is not only commended, but commanded in the Quran. The Crusades ended many centuries ago, however Islamic Jihad is continuing to this day. In Muslim countries such as Sudan, Muslims continue their “Holy War” against Christians. Millions of Christians have been slaughtered through the centuries by Islamic militants – such as the one and a half Armenians murdered in Turkey in 1915. Many of them burned to death inside their church buildings.

It is Christianity and Christianity alone which ended the prevalent practices of human sacrifice and slavery. Respect for life and liberty are a fruit of Christianity. Those who today are promoting abortion, euthanasia and pornography are not offering us progress, but only a return to pre-Christian paganism.

The whole concept of charity was a Christian innovation. Before Christ, benevolence to strangers was unknown.

The Christian Church has made more positive changes on earth than any other force or movement in history. Most of the languages of the world were first codified and put into writing by Christian missionaries. More schools and universities have been started by Christians than by any and all other groups. The elevation of women from the second class status they were assigned to by other religions was a Christian achievement. Those countries which enjoy the most civil liberties are those lands where the Gospel of Christ has penetrated the most. Christianity gave birth to liberty. Constitutional republics, the separation of powers, limited government and freedom of conscience are a result of the Reformation.

So, I pointed out that the foundation of limited government, the Magna Carta of 1215 was written by a Christian clergyman, Steven Langton. It is the first statute, the first written restriction on the power of government. And it was firmly founded on the Scriptures, and the Common Law of England, which was written by Kind Alfred the Great. Kind Alfred began his Dooms – which were the foundations of English Common Law – with the 10 Commandments, the Exodus case laws and the Golden Rule of Christ. These documents led to the establishment of Parliament and the English Bill of Rights, which were all foundational for the American Bill of Rights and the whole concept of the separation of powers, limited government, freedom of conscience, and other essential principles of freedom - which we take for granted today.

Karl Marx declared that the first battle field was the re-writing of history. Evidently, the enemies of Christianity have been busy in our universities, in Hollywood, and in many newspapers and magazines, reconstructing peoples’ perspectives of history and reality – from an anti-Christian perspective. It is imperative that we understand the Biblical principles for all areas of life and that we know our history. More and more I see the need for producing books such as The Greatest Century of Missions and Biblical Principles for Africa. By God's grace, we have also manage to completely revise and expand the Biblical World View Manual and Reformation Conference Manual. I am also working on the Greatest Century of Reformation, and a History of the World school textbook.

We need to ensure that our children know that the teachings and example of Jesus Christ have inspired the greatest acts of generosity, hospitality, self-sacrifice and service for the sick, poor and needy. That Christianity has inspired the greatest achievements in science, art, education, economics, civil and human rights and in works of compassion and mercy. Only those ignorant of history could fail to acknowledge that Christianity has made more positive changes on earth than any other force of movement.

More importantly, it is easy for opponents of Christianity to criticize, but – what are our critics doing for the lonely, the widows, the orphans, the sick, the aged and the refugees?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Peter Hammond can be reached at Frontline Fellowship, P.O. Box 74, Newlands, 7725, Cape Town, South Africa Web:; E-mail:; Tel: +27-21-689-4480

The good news is that most audiences are still media-wise enough to reject revisionist history. The problem is that the future generations could accept this politically correct, anti-Christian propaganda. Several young people have written Movieguide® who are deeply confused about these issues. Help them to be media-wise by being informed and spreading the truth to rescue them from the confusions of our age.

(c) baehr, 2005
NOTE from Dr. Ted Baehr: For more information from a Christian perspective, order the latest MOVIEGUIDE® magazine by calling 1-800-899-6684(MOVI) or visit our website at MOVIEGUIDE® is dedicated to redeeming the values of Hollywood by informing parents about today's movies and entertainment and by showing media executives and artists that family-friendly and even Christian-friendly movies do best at the box office year in and year out. MOVIEGUIDE® now offers an online subscription to its magazine version, at The magazine, which comes out 25 times a year, contains many informative articles and reviews that help parents train their children to be media-wise consumers. MOVIEGUIDE® also regularly broadcasts several international TV and radio programs hosted by Dr. Baehr. Also, if you want to train your family to be media-wise, call 1-800-899-6684 in North America to order the book, video or audio version of THE MEDIA-WISE! FAMILY, Dr. Ted Baehr's latest book. © baehr, 2001

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I think Ridley Scott's ostensible views pretty much reflect much Enlightenment/Post Christian thinking - a lot of hatred and problems in the world would disappear if we just "left God out of the equation."

The appeal of religions like the New Age movement and the Baha'i faith show that people are ready to embrace what they perceive to be a universal religion.

There have been times I've been tempted to go with them. After all, sometimes you have a real connection with someone from a different faith - or no faith at all - that seems spiritual, but you disagree on the details. The principles seem the same.

But the main problem comes when we try to deal with sin. What do we do with it? We've all got it, we all do it. And nobody else except Jesus deals with it satisfactorily.

That, for me, is the bottom line. And that's why I remain - however reluctantly - a fundamentalist.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Bob Nelson is still making people laugh

Sy's note: I like reading stuff like this - people who are "out there" in the real world, particularly in the entertainment industry, living out their faith. Hope you enjoy it.

He Says Comedy Is the Best Medicine

By Ginny McCabe
Special to ASSIST News Service

NASHVILLE, TN (ANS) -- Comedian Bob Nelson ministers to people by making them laugh. He shares his comedy in comedy clubs, theaters and casinos around the country. Churches have also recently opened up their doors and invited him to come and minister.

As far back as he can remember, Nelson was always trying to make people laugh. From the time when he was a little boy, up until today, as a well-known comedian, his true gift is to make people smile. (Pictured:
Bob Nelson in action).

Nelson admits that it hasn’t always been an easy road. “I grew up in a household that was not a happy place. There were a host of problems and situations that caused a lot of pain and confusion for everyone. My family was not the kind of family that would hug each other, share feelings, and pray together or anything like that. If anything, we were the total opposite…” said Nelson.

The way he dealt with those challenges, was to try and escape. Physically, he would stay out of the house, and emotionally, he suppressed his true feelings. “I’d create a fantasy world with my imagination,” said Nelson. “I would watch Red Skelton, Jerry Lewis, Abbot & Costello, Jonathan Winters and Walt Disney movies.”

He began his professional career in comedy in the late 1970’s and was doing very well at it. From Merv Griffin to Johnny Carson, from Las Vegas to Carnegie Hall, from HBO specials to Feature Films, he had a lot of opportunities and worked with some of the biggest names in comedy, including opening for Rodney Dangerfield. (Pictured:
Bob Nelson plays a footballer character).

“I had a nice house and fancy cars. I had money and clothes. I was blessed with a perfect little boy. And to top it all off, I had a beautiful wife. I thought everything was perfect, but really my life was out of control,” said Nelson. “But that was before God changed my heart. Now, I wouldn’t trade the true peace I have for anything.” (Pictured:
Bob Nelson with Chris Rock outside the Laugh Factory in New York City).

Nelson’s wife had a strong influence on his decision to accept Christ. “There came a point in my life when I understood that I was not in control anymore. I thought that if I could not control my wife, who I lived with 24 hours a day, then I was not control of anything around me, including myself,” remembered Nelson. “I began to panic and being at my wits end, I had asked the Lord to come into my life. The changes in my character have come slowly, yet surely. I now know that if I keep my eyes on the Son of God, my shadowy past will remain behind me.”

Today, Nelson’s faith motivates him to put on a good show, but he also had some very influential mentors, including Dangerfield and Red Skelton who gave him some good advice early on.

“I do some stand-up comedy and some observation, but it’s all very clean. It wasn’t always clean. When I first started I wasn’t clean. It wasn’t until I met Red Skelton that I realized that what I do is comedy and comedy is supposed to be clean. Red told me that I wasn’t a stand-up, but that I was a clown, just like him.”

He had the chance to meet and spend time with Skelton three times before he passed away, but each of those experiences were very meaningful.

I was blown away by some of the things he told me and he really made me think. He was actually passing me the torch back then and I didn’t even know it,” said Nelson.

On one occasion that Nelson remembers vividly, Skelton told him not to curse in any of his comedy routines.

Nelson asked him, “Why can’t I curse?” Skelton responded by saying, “It says in the Bible that laughter does good like a medicine, and when you curse in your comedy, it’s like poisoning the medicine and you are taking away the full effect,”

He was also friends with Dangerfield, and even though Dangerfield wasn’t a believer, he still was very influential on Nelson’s career.

“He (Dangerfield) was like a ‘godfather’ to me, but he had a different type of an influence than Red did. He was cut from a different cloth than I was but we developed a mutual respect for each other and appreciated each other’s individual talents,” Nelson said. (Pictured:
Bob Nelson is featured on Bananas DVD).

At the end of the day, Nelson hopes to bring joy to families and people of all ages, who enjoy good, clean comedy. “I realize it now, but it has taken me many years to realize that what I have is a gift of God and I need to share it with people so that they can grasp hold of the real joy that is found in God.”

Look for Nelson's latest DVD, "Bananas," hosted by Thor Ramsey, where Bob's a hit with audiences of all ages. The DVD is filled with both his classic bits and some great new ones, and Nelson's cast of characters will keep you laughing. Expect good, clean fun for the entire family. For more information, visit, or

Ginny McCabe is a Cincinnati, OH native. She is an entertainment and feature writer for The Middletown Journal and Journal News (dailies), and magazines including American Songwriter, Bassics, NRB Magazine, CBA Marketplace, Christian Retailing, HM Magazine, Relevant Magazine, BGEA,, and, among others. Ginny has authored Audio Adrenaline's book, Some Kind of Journey on the Road with Audio Adrenaline and Living the Gold-Medal Life: Inspirations from Female Athletes. She most recently co-authored her third book, Changed: True Stories of Finding God Through Christian Music, which will be released in April, 2005. With over 10 years of marketing and public relations experience, Ginny also works as an independent publicist at McCabe Media. To contact Ginny, email her at (Pictured: Ginny McCabe)

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

From my email inbox:

"STRONG WORDS - Overseas Leaders"
by Diane - Jan 30, 2005.

What do Christian leaders in other countries, especially Third World
countries, think of Christians and their leaders here in the United States?

The January 2005 issue of Charisma magazine has fascinating
remarks by various people in ministry from other countries. Here is
a sampling, with their comments edited for brevity. I think there just
might be a few general themes here.

From church planter and trainer Natalia Schedrivaya, Russia:
"Materialism is the No. 1 enemy of Russian churches. Today pastors
are not praying about how to reach those who have not heard the
gospel. They are praying, 'God, how can I have a megachurch.' This
is where the church in America has been confused. What are our priorities?"

Are we listening yet?

From pastor Sunday Adelaja, Ukraine (largest church of Europe with
30,000 members): "There is not a sense of desperation for God in
the United States. [Another] problem I see in the American church
involves money. The American church is spending most of its money
on things that are not priorities of God. If the church doesn't under-
stand the priorities of God before spending its money, then abuse
is inevitable."

From the president of the All India Christian Council, Joseph D"Souza
(-he does work among the Dalits - the "untouchables"):
"The American church has made four critical errors that account for
its lack of substantial growth:
1. American Christians have put God in a comfortable box [so that
they might have a comfortable life].
2. Faith in the United States has become consumer-oriented. What
is God going to do for me?
3. There is an inadequate understanding of suffering and persecution.
4. The American church has ignored the fact that it is no longer the
epicenter of global Christianity. The activity of the church has moved
to the Southern hemisphere.

From pastor Samuel Lee, Holland:
He asks the question, why aren't American churches growing
compared to churches in other countries? Here are his conclusions:
1. We must embrace the miraculous. Because America has so
many comforts, people don't seem to need miracles. But we need
the Holy Spirit's agenda.
2. We must reject Hollywood tendencies. Some churches in the
United States look like they are sponsoring fashion shows or TV
3. We must forsake pride. Outsiders read our character, not our

Then he says "I wish my American brothers realized how hurtful it
is to the cause of Christ when they focus so much on material things."

From pastor Jackson Senyonga, Uganda:
He says there are several key reasons why the American church has
not grown as rapidly as churches in Africa:
*The American church is more program-oriented than 'presence-
*The people come to church on their terms and pastors serve those
terms rather than God.
*America has no time for God.
*The American church suffers from prayerlessness.

From overseer of the African-based RCCG, Enoch Adeboye, Nigeria:
"If the American church is to experience the rapid growth that other
parts of the world are currently experiencing, then it must have
revival. But revival is expensive. It is not cheap. There is a price to
pay for revival. A revival takes us back to the basics of Christian
principles that are fast disappearing from the Christian horizon. This
includes a disciplined life of sincere holiness and a life devoted to
prayer and fasting."

I see some patterns in these statements. For example, too much
materialism was mentioned by most of the ministry leaders. It's
seeming to me more and more that this is one of the key problems
that will ultimately destroy the American church.

I hope we will listen to these people.
Source of article-

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Friday, May 06, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven - the movie

Looking forward to seeing Ridley Scott's latest offering, Kingdom of Heaven, sometime soon. Quite a pertinent topic, or at least it seems that way... Islam vs. the West, just as it was a thousand years ago. But the west (don't know about Islam) is a totally different place now than then.

But I got this review from Ted Baehr today and it means I can go into the film edumacated:


By Dr. Tom Snyder, editor of MOVIEGUIDE®

HOLLYWOOD, CA (ANS) -- “Kingdom of Heaven,” the new movie about the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 1187, falsely blames Christian leaders for bringing the Muslim army down on the city, says Dr. Ted Baehr, publisher of MOVIEGUIDE®, a non-profit Christian publication for families.

“In reality,” notes Dr. Baehr, “Jerusalem had been a Christian city for three centuries before 638, when the Muslims first conquered the Holy Land and began destroying Christian and Jewish holy sites. Christian soldiers took back the city in 1099 and held it until Saladin and his ruthless Muslim armies began trying to conquer the Holy Land again in about 1174.”

Added Dr. Baehr, “Many people make the mistake of thinking that Jerusalem is a holy site for Muslims, Jews and Christians. When Mohammed founded Islam in the seventh century, however, Jerusalem was only considered a holy city by Christians and Jews.

“We would do well if we remembered these facts when we debate the political future of Jerusalem.”

(c) baehr, 2005

ASSIST News Service is brought to you free of charge and is supported by friends like yourself. If you would like to make a donation (tax-deductible in the US) to help us continue this service around the world, you can do so by logging onto our website -- -- and making the donation by credit card or by sending a check to ASSIST, PO Box 2126, Garden Grove, CA 92842-2126.

Baehr's no diplomat! But I do appreciate his reviews.

The Crusades were a big mistake, as far as I'm concerned. They showed just how earthly minded the supposedly heavenly people of God can be. But I say this, not knowing much at all about them. So they're on my list of things to research. I'm particularly looking forward to reading Christian Jihad, a history of the crusades written by two ex-Muslim Christians. What a perspective!

Update, May 9th
Just read this article in Christian History, which explains some of the motivations the Crusaders may have had. Very interesting!

Another update, May 16th
Another, more detailed look at Balian, the real man behind the movie's main character (portrayed by Orlando Bloom).

In search of the Real Balian

Thursday, May 05, 2005


My mum is an expert in waiting. Her friends think she's naturally patient, but I know she's not. It's just that she's learnt patience the hard way - by waiting.

Right now there's a plumber fixing all the cold water plumbing along the back of her house. There had been leaking all through the last year, and Mum didn't know where it was coming from.

The obvious solution seemed to be to get a plumber in - sooner rather than later. We've heard enough stories of rotten walls etc. to be worried about it.

But Mum kept on saying God was telling her it's okay, to wait.

To Marie and me, this seemed like overspiritualising the issue. Mum's not the most proactive person in the world, and this seemed like using God as an excuse to do nothing.

But y'know what, when she finally did need a plumber about a month ago, we found out why God said wait.

Not just one junction but ALL the junctions of the piping were leaking. The glue used to put them together cheaply back in 1968 had perished.

If she'd responded immediately last year, she would've had to get a plumber back several times to fix each leak as it came up.

God cares about our lives in the minor details, as well as the big stuff like eternal destiny. And when we let Him, he uses our life to tell a story more powerful than anything we could think up.

Powerful? Is that the right word? A dozen leaking pipes doesn't sound powerful, but it's in the conglomeration of these minutiae that we realise God is looking after us.

Churches that advertise

Just got a flier in the letterbox advertising a new church that meets on Mondays. I've decided any church that advertises is not one I'd like to be part of! Which does make it difficult finding a church - thankfully I'm already with one (the Sanctuary).

But it did make me think, if churches were as they were supposed to be - that is, more like a family than a business - how would people hear about it if they got spontaneously saved, like Paul on the Damascus Road?

And then I thought look, if God started it, He'll carry it through to completion! He told Paul who to go and see in Damascus, even though the church was in secret back then.

So I do feel quite justified in my prejudice against churches that advertise. Because I've been the one writing the ads in the past!

Monday, May 02, 2005

"Don't stop singing"

We finally made it back to church on Saturday night. For several weeks we've been intending to go, but with Marie's early start (6am) it means that by 6:30pm - when the service starts - it begins to feel very, very late for us.

But this weekend Marie actually had her weekend (she works six days on, six days off) so we got to go. We went with our mums (as usual) and we all had a great time - as expected. Interestingly most of us hadn't been feeling that great in the afternoon, so it would've been easy not to go.

But anyway - what was I talking about? Oh yes the singing. How good it was to sing again. And also a bit disturbing. My voice isn't what it used to be - through sheer lack of practice. And it's not vanity either, I know my Lord deserves to hear the good voice he gave me, instead of some out-of-tune mumble.

Two people in my life have told me "Don't stop singing". The first was Graham Simons, my music teacher at High School and leader of the Senior Chorale. That was a great year. We sang songs ancient and modern, secular and sacred; we pushed our vocal chords to the limit; we made beautiful music. And there were only three guys compared to about 20 girls!

I was a bit of a late starter with joining the Senior Chorale, deciding to join only in my last year of school. Mr. Simons was impressed with my voice and said I'd go far. The other guys in the chorale also encouraged me. I was surprised myself at how I could carry my harmony sometimes. Man, it was so good especially singing the medley from Les Miserables,

"Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the songs of angry men
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!"

Mr. Simons signed my yearbook and added, "Keep singing!"

Roughly twelve months later I produced my own album. I'd done everything - played the keyboards, drum machines, set up the mic, written the songs, designed the album cover and handled the marketing - pressuring good-natured friends and relatives!

It was awful. It is just a shame to listen to. My voice had grown grossly out of tune from a lack of practice. And I also discovered it's not always good to do everything yourself. I couldn't concentrate too well on doing one thing well.

That was in 1994. Fast-forward to 2002. We'd just joined this little church down the street from us; it seemed to be a small but exciting Pentecostal church. God was at work, great things were ahead etc.

As often happens with a small church, they needed help in the music. We just rocked up to the microphones (Marie sings as well; she's a pro though!) during one particularly free service and from then on we were part of the music team.

Fast-forward to the end of 2003. I was the keyboard player now; Marie was the worship leader. There were others, but the ones who were musically talented were prevented from serving (long, painful story) so we were pretty much it.

I'd experienced little hints of burnout in my life before, but I knew as it was happening that this was the real thing. If we'd stopped to sniff we probably could've smelt the burning.

But maybe we needed to burn out to realise that the philosophy we'd taken on board had insidiously replaced the freedom we experienced in Christ. After taking a good break over Christmas 2003, we realised God wanted us to get out of there.

And get out we did. We felt such a sense of relief, like we'd been released or spared from something. I actually felt a sense of guilt for some of the things I'd said, done or just gone along with. To be honest I have some tiny sense of what it must've been like to be a Nazi prison guard. To feel like what you're doing is right, even when your conscience is telling you no.

Okay, I'm getting off the point here. I'm talking about singing, right? Well, the song within me was one of the casualties of getting out.

And Mark - dear Mark, one of the closest friends I've ever had, yet someone whom I don't understand, nor does he really understand me - he told me "Don't stop singing."

So, all these months later, I remembered what he said on Saturday. And I sang. And I thought, Lord, please help me to make this a regular thing. I won't always be able to attend every week, but that doesn't mean I can't sing during the day, sing as I walk even. Well, maybe not as I walk...

Sometimes we have to disappear off the radar screen while God re-orients us. But the song rises again, pure and unlike it has ever been before.