Big trouble in Iraq & Pakistan

Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq who killed who knows how many American troops, has come back–from Iran–and his party is part of the new coalition government:

Anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militia contributed to the bloodiest days of the Iraq war, made a surprise return to Iraq on Wednesday, ending nearly four years of self-imposed exile in Iran and raising new questions about U.S. influence here.

Sadr’s remarkable trajectory brought him home just as his political faction attains significant power, allied in Iraq’s new national unity government with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who just a few years ago moved to crush Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

It was Sadr’s recent decision to support Maliki for a second term, in a deal brokered by Iran, that ended eight months of political deadlock and allowed Maliki, also a Shiite, to cobble together his new government two weeks ago.

In another sign of Iran’s significant influence in Iraq, just as U.S. troops prepare to leave the country by the end of the year, Iran’s new foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, met in Baghdad on Wednesday with Maliki and more than a dozen other government officials.

The Sadrist faction controls at least eight of about three dozen ministries in Maliki’s new cabinet and has vowed to become a full participant in the political process. But the return of Sadr leaves open the question of whether he will seek to reassert his influence solely through political means, or will instead revert to violence.

via Anti-U.S. cleric back in Iraq after long exile.

Whether he uses violence or politics, we see the specter of a pro-Iranian strongman back in power.  Can anyone doubt that al-Sadr will eventually become the nation’s leader?

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, as you may have heard already, the governor of the province of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his body-guard.  Why?  He came out against Pakistan’s law requiring the death penalty for “blasphemy”; that is, speaking ill of Mohammed or Islam.  A Christian woman is facing execution for allegedly criticizing the prophet, and Taseer wanted her spared.  The case has become a catalyst for conservative Muslims in opposing the more secular establishment and its increasingly shaky government.  If the jihadists take power, not only will the Christian die, the Taliban in Afghanistan will have a powerful ally.  With nuclear weapons.

via Salman Taseer’s Assassination Points to Pakistani Extremists’ mounting power

Epiphanies

When I first became a Lutheran, it was Epiphany that taught me to really appreciate the church year. Not just the first day with the Wise Men on January 6 but the whole Epiphany season.

I’m a literature professor by trade, and the term “epiphany” is an important one in the analysis of literature, especially short stories (that being one of the many theological words, such as “inspiration,” “creativity,” “canon,” and “hermeneutics” that have been appropriated in secular fields). An epiphany in literature is a moment of recognition or realization, on the part of a character or the reader. “Aha! So that’s who committed the murder!” “Aha! So now she knows she married the wrong guy.” “Aha! So now he realizes what his life is all about.”

So then what I saw in the church calendar was a series of epiphanies about Jesus. The wise men worship Him. The prophets in the Temple recognize Him. He is baptized and the Holy Spirit descends and the voice from Heaven proclaims Him. The devil tempts Him and meets his match. The first miracle. The series of Sundays in Epiphany culminates in His most explicit revelation, the Transfiguration. Each Sunday gives us an epiphany: “Aha! So that’s who Jesus is!” And each Sunday reveals different things about Him: He is God’s Son. He is the promised Messiah. He has power over nature. He is our Savior. He is God in the flesh.

So happy Epiphany, everybody. And may you each experience a personal epiphany of Jesus in the weeks ahead.

Other epiphanies

In light of the definition of “epiphanies” in the post of that name, what are some epiphanies that you have had? An epiphany is an experience that conveys an idea, a conviction. It is not merely an experience but is rather a moment of realization, usually provoked by some personal and sometimes very subtle event.

For example, I remember when I was in college, coming home from the weekend and going to my father’s farm (a hobby with him, we not being farmers). He had planted some strawberries and I picked one and put it in my mouth. It was delicious, in its sweetness and tartness and texture a taste of perfection. And it flashed on my mind that this external world is somehow aligned with me. Existence is not absurd or random or meaningless, as I had been taught in some of my college courses. It had a meaning. I didn’t particularly know what it was at the time, but eating that strawberry was an epiphany for me.

When I was in Estonia while it was still a part of the Soviet Union, I had an economic epiphany when I changed $20 of hard currency and received an engineer’s monthly wages in rubles in return, only to go into a shop to find nothing for sale. It hit me then that free enterprise economics is far superior to a socialist command economy, nudging me away from the liberalism of my birth. I also had a political epiphany there, shaking hands with a poet who had just gotten out of a mental hospital where he had been consigned for years for writing a poem criticizing Communism. I realized then the power of writing and the utter evil of totalitarianism.

I wonder if our beliefs are shaped more by our epiphanies than abstract arguments. At any rate, now it’s your turn. What are some epiphanies when the light, of various kinds, dawned on you?

Journey of the Magi

Consider this poem, Journey of the Magi, by T.S. Eliot:

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different: this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Go here to listen to a recording of Eliot himself reading his poem: Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot – Poetry Archive.  (And notice what happened to his St. Louis accent after going off to England!)

Now, class:  What is the meaning of these images in the second stanza: the three trees on the low sky; the vine leaves on the lintel; the hands dicing for pieces of silver; the empty wine-skins?

What is the meaning of this statement in the third stanza:  “I had seen birth and death,/But had thought they were different”?

Baptists debate alcohol

Two decades after declaring victory in the war over biblical inerrancy, Southern Baptists are battling about booze.

Seeking to remain relevant in today’s culture, many Baptists have abandoned former taboos against social activities like dancing and going to movies. Now some are questioning the denomination’s historic position of abstaining from alcohol, prompting others to draw a line. . . .

The ruckus — and the post-convention blogs that kept the argument alive — prompted Peter Lumpkins, a Southern Baptist pastor for more than 20 years before turning to a writing ministry, to pen his first book: Alcohol Today: Abstinence in an Age of Indulgence, in 2009.

“One would be hard-pressed to locate a belief — outside believers’ baptism by immersion itself — which reflects more unity among Southern Baptists than abstinence from intoxicating beverages for pleasurable purposes,” Lumpkins said in an e-mail interview.

Lumpkins, who blogs at SBC Tomorrow, said younger Southern Baptist leaders do not appreciate that history and instead view teetotalism as extra-biblical and nothing more than “Pharisaical legalism.”

Lumpkins is among Southern Baptists who view relaxed attitudes about social drinking as the biggest controversy facing the Southern Baptist Convention since the “conservative resurgence” debate over Scripture in the 1980s. . . .

Lumpkins describes “a cataclysmic moral shift away from biblical holiness expressed in biblical Lordship toward the relativistic, postmodern norms of American pop culture, including its hedonistic obsession with fulfilling desires.”

Unless the “Christian hedonism” trend is halted, Lumpkins fears “the largest Protestant voice for abstinence soon will succumb to the ominous lure of an age of indulgence. We will forfeit our biblical heritage to the whims of an obsessive pop morality that wildly sniffs the wind but for the faintest scent of pleasure fulfilled.”

Lumpkins, a binge drinker in his youth, says the church has “conceded its historic role as the moral conscience of our culture, particularly as it forfeited its once-strong position on abstinence from intoxicating beverages for pleasurable purposes.” . . .

He also lays out a biblical case for abstinence. While there are verses that seem to praise wine, he says, there are others that condemn wine, a point overlooked by those who argue the Bible only condemns drunkenness and not drinking.

His final hurdle is the story in the Gospel of John about the wedding feast in Cana where Jesus turns water into wine. Lumpkins says the Greek and Hebrew words translated “wine” don’t distinguish between fresh and fermented grape juice, and he doubts the Son of God would “manifest forth his glory” by sprucing up a party that had run out of alcohol.

via Baptists debate social drinking | The Christian Century.

Isn’t the argument that Jesus didn’t create alcohol because he wouldn’t rather circular?  And since when do Jewish weddings serve grape juice?  Making abstinence from alcohol a matter of Biblical teaching just cannot be done.   I’m curious where Baptists are coming down on this debate.  I’d like to hear from you Baptists out there.

Regulation vs. Legislation

Charles Krauthammer shows how the Executive Branch can get its way even when the Legislative Branch votes down its plans:

Most people don’t remember Obamacare’s notorious Section 1233, mandating government payments for end-of-life counseling. It aroused so much anxiety as a possible first slippery step on the road to state-mandated late-life rationing that the Senate never included it in the final health-care law.

Well, it’s back – by administrative fiat. A month ago, Medicare issued a regulation providing for end-of-life counseling during annual “wellness” visits. It was all nicely buried amid the simultaneous release of hundreds of new Medicare rules.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), author of Section 1233, was delighted. “Mr. Blumenauer’s office celebrated ‘a quiet victory,’ but urged supporters not to crow about it,” reports the New York Times. Deathly quiet. In early November, his office sent an e-mail plea to supporters: “We would ask that you not broadcast this accomplishment out to any of your lists . . . e-mails can too easily be forwarded.” They had been lucky that “thus far, it seems that no press or blogs have discovered it. . . . The longer this [regulation] goes unnoticed, the better our chances of keeping it.”

So much for the Democrats’ transparency – and for their repeated claim that the more people learn what is in the health-care law, the more they will like it. Turns out ignorance is the Democrats’ best hope.

And regulation is their perfect vehicle – so much quieter than legislation. Consider two other regulatory usurpations in just the past few days:

On Dec. 23, the Interior Department issued Secretarial Order 3310, reversing a 2003 decision and giving itself the authority to designate public lands as “Wild Lands.” A clever twofer: (1) a bureaucratic power grab – for seven years up through Dec. 22, wilderness designation had been the exclusive province of Congress, and (2) a leftward lurch – more land to be “protected” from such nefarious uses as domestic oil exploration in a country disastrously dependent on foreign sources.

The very same day, the Environmental Protection Agency declared that in 2011 it would begin drawing up anti-carbon regulations on oil refineries and power plants, another power grab effectively enacting what Congress had firmly rejected when presented as cap-and-trade legislation.

via Charles Krauthammer – Government by regulation. Shhh..


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