Thoughts from a church burning

Sarah Palin’s church, Wasilla Bible, was set on fire, an act of arson that did at least $1 million damage.

I suspect a lot of conservative Christians do not realize how much some people hate us. We are the “other” for a lot of people. We make them feel revulsion, fear, and hatred. We make them feel paranoid. They construct conspiracy theories about how we are taking over the world.

We Christians have been used to being in charge, culturally, and we think our niceness is enough to make people like us. Times and the culture have changed. There may come a day when Christians will be the new oppressed minority group, like American blacks were in the 1950s or like European Jews were in the 1930s. Are we ready for that?

Yes, Virginia, There is a St. Nicholas

You must read Pastor William Cwirla’s version of the “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” classic. A sample from Yes, Virginia, There is a St. Nicholas:

Dear Virginia,
What, no Santa Claus?  Why there might as well be no angels and archangels!  No shepherds and wise men!  No Joseph and Mary!  No infant Jesus in the manger!  No cross and empty tomb!  No Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!  No church, no communion of saints, no forgiveness of sins!
But of course, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!  Oh, I don’t mean those silly old santas you see in the shopping malls wearing those funny red and white suits and bushy beards.  Those are make-believe Santas.  They’re for fun.  I’m talking about the real Santa Claus.  His real name is Saint Nicholas.  St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century in a town called Myra in what today is the country of Turkey.  We don’t really know very much about St. Nicholas.  We’re not even sure exactly what he looked like.  He probably had a long beard.  We know he didn’t wear a silly red and white suit.  He probably wore black most of the time.  His clothes probably looked something like what your pastor wears on Sunday morning in the Liturgy.
You see, St. Nicholas was a bishop.  A bishop is a pastor in charge of all the churches in his town.  He makes sure that everyone is well cared for and that his pastors are teaching people true things about God from the Bible.  St. Nicholas especially was concerned for all the poor widows and orphans in his city.  If they didn’t have shoes, he’d bring them shoes.  If they didn’t have a blanket to keep them warm at night, he’d give them a blanket.  If they needed food, he’d bring them food.  If they needed a place to sleep for the night, he let them sleep in the church.  He was always looking for poor people to help, especially little children who had no parents.
The real St. Nicholas didn’t worry so much about whether children were naughty or nice.  He knew that all children are both naughty and nice, sometimes at the same time.  So are adults.  He also knew that Jesus died for everyone, the naughty and the nice.  St. Nicholas wanted everyone to believe that.  He didn’t keep any kind of list that he checked over twice, except maybe a list of all the people in his congregation who needed some kind of help.  He was careful about making sure that people knew how much God loved them by showing them his love.  If you looked at St. Nicholas and saw how much he loved other people, you could see the love of Jesus shining through him.
You see, Virginia, St. Nicholas loved Jesus very much, and he knew that Jesus loved him.  He believed that Jesus was his best friend in the whole world and his Savior.  St. Nicholas knew that because Jesus suffered and died for him, he would live forever with Jesus.  He knew that Jesus became poor so that we might be rich in heavenly treasures.  That’s why he was always doing good things for poor people.  He wanted to show them the love of Jesus from his own heart.
St. Nicholas worshiped Jesus much the same way that we worship Jesus every Sunday.  He preached God’s Word and celebrated the Lord’s Supper with his people.  He preached sermons about Jesus, just as your pastor does, Virginia.  Sometimes the children in St. Nicholas’ church got a little restless and noisy, but St. Nicholas didn’t seem to mind that.  He was so happy that the children were there with their parents to hear about Jesus that he just kept on preaching anyway.  He told people how God sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, how he suffered for their sins under Pontius Pilate, how he died on a cross and was buried to save everyone from death and hell, how He rose from the dead three days later and now reigns as our Redeemer, and how Jesus is going to appear very soon to take us to live with Him forever.  Many people believed in Jesus because of St. Nicholas’ preaching.  That made St. Nicholas happy.
St. Nicholas wasn’t always jolly.  When people didn’t believe in Jesus or made fun of him, St. Nicholas became very sad.  Sometimes he even cried when some people in his city never came to church.   When people said bad things about Jesus, St. Nicholas would get very angry.  One time, a fellow bishop named Arius said some bad things about Jesus.  Arius said that Jesus wasn’t really God.  That made St. Nicholas very upset.  You see, St. Nicholas loved Jesus so much, he couldn’t stand to hear such awful things.
Some good bishops got together with St. Nicholas and wrote what we call the Nicene Creed.  It’s the same Creed we say together in church every Sunday.  Just think, Virginia, when you say the Creed, St. Nicholas is saying it with you!  It makes him very happy to hear little children say the Creed by heart.  St. Nicholas is always jolly and happy when children love Jesus and confess Him.

Show this to your children! (The rest of the letter says that Santa does NOT bring you gifts, so beware if you are still playing that game, but this may be a good way to break the news.)

Nuclear umbrella

Barack Obama is set to do what his new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has advocated: Bring Israel under our nuclear umbrella, which means that if Iran or some other nation nuke Israel, the USA will nuke them back. From Obama’s atomic umbrella: U.S. nuclear strike if Iran nukes Israel – Haaretz – Israel News :

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s administration will offer Israel a “nuclear umbrella” against the threat of a nuclear attack by Iran, a well-placed American source said earlier this week. The source, who is close to the new administration, said the U.S. will declare that an attack on Israel by Tehran would result in a devastating U.S. nuclear response against Iran.

But America’s nuclear guarantee to Israel could also be interpreted as a sign the U.S. believes Iran will eventually acquire nuclear arms.

Secretary of state-designate Hillary Clinton had raised the idea of a nuclear guarantee to Israel during her campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency. During a debate with Obama in April, Clinton said that Israel and Arab countries must be given “deterrent backing.” She added, “Iran must know that an attack on Israel will draw a massive response.”

Clinton also proposed that the American nuclear umbrella be extended to other countries in the region, like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, if they agree to relinquish their own nuclear ambitions.

Good idea? Is that an adequate response to Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon, let them do it but trust to deterrence?

Wall Street fund as Ponzi scam

Bernard Madoff–a major Wall Street money manager, former president of NASDAQ, and a pioneer of online investing–has confessed that his investment company is nothing but a colossal Ponzi scheme and that all of its $50 billion is gone. Many prominent Jewish charities and formerly rich socialites have lost everything. From $50 billion at stake after Wall St broker Bernard Madoff is arrested over ‘world’s biggest swindle’ :

The FBI claims that three senior employees of Mr Madoff’s investment firm turned up at his apartment on Wednesday to ask questions about the company’s solvency. Two of them are believed to be his sons, Andrew and Mark, who have worked for their father for two decades.

Mr Madoff told them that he was “finished”, that he had “absolutely nothing”, and that “it’s all just one big lie”. He said the investment arm of his firm was “basically a giant Ponzi scheme”, and that it had been insolvent for years.

A Ponzi scheme, named after the swindler Charles Ponzi, is a fraudulent investment operation that pays abnormally high returns to investors out of money put into the scheme by subsequent investors, rather than from real profits generated by share trading.

The FBI complaint states that Mr Madoff told his sons that he believed the losses from his scheme could exceed $50 billion. If that is the case, his fraud would be far greater than past Ponzi schemes and easily the greatest swindle blamed on a single individual.

For the fallout see this. For the impact on charities see this.

This little Babe

Our Patrick Henry Chorale did a Christmas program, a “Lessons & Carols” service, which consists of Bible readings interspersed with Christmas songs, held at the local Episcopal church. They did splendidly. One of their numbers was from Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, a musical version of Robert Southwell’s “This Little Babe.” Southwell was a 17th century metaphysical poet of the sort I specialize in, but I had forgotten this poem:

This little Babe so few days old is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmèd wise the gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field, his naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries, his arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns Cold and Need and feeble Flesh his warrior’s steed.

His camp is pitchèd in a stall, his bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystacks his stakes; of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound, the angels’ trump alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight, stick to the tents that he hath pight.
Within his crib is surest ward, this little Babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy, then flit not from this heavenly Boy.

This has inspired me to post some more Christmas literature over the next weeks of Advent, so watch for those.

Vote for the Heisman trophy

The finalists for the Heisman trophy for the year’s best collegiate football player are these three quarterbacks:

Sam Bradford (Oklahoma)
Colt McCoy (Texas)
Tim Tebow (Florida)

Who would you vote for? (On Saturday, after the winner is announced, you can also use this space to discuss the results.)

UPDATE: My fellow Okie Bradford won it! Woo-hoo!