Detonating Jonah

jonahWhen news broke this summer that Sunni extremists with ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, had blown up the tomb of Jonah after capturing the Iraqi city of Mosul, the shockwaves left a piece of me in the rubble from halfway across the world in Brooklyn.

Not that the trail of massacres, beheadings and forced expulsions by ISIS haven’t made for far more shocking news before and since then, as the gruesome executions of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff recently attest.

I can watch the online video of Jonah’s tomb blown to bits in a cloud of dust; but the beheadings of Foley and Sotloff I cannot.

Yet when I watch the former, I am revolted and I cringe. There it is one second, there it isn’t the next: the alleged resting place of my beloved Jonah.

Our beloved Jonah, inasmuch as he is equally revered in Islam as he is in the Judeo-Christian tradition: the Qur’an includes its own version of the book, “Yunus,”and Muhammad is said to have proclaimed, “One should not say that I am better than Jonah.”

Hence the “tears and anger” in Mosul, as reported by The New York Times, where the Sunni population’s initial embrace of liberation by ISIS from centralized Shiite oppression in Baghdad gave way first to resentment, and then resistance, as the city’s trove of treasured holy sites and rich tradition of interfaith compatibility were destroyed. [Read more...]

Righteous Minds Left and Right

religionpolitics__432x324The orthodontist’s new office has a waiting room tricked out with video games—even a genuine old tabletop Mrs. Pac-Man. Grace and I were racing cars—and she was winning by more than a lap—when the woman in purple scrubs called her name.

“Hey Grace,” she drawled, as Grace approached her. She had frosty blond hair and friendly blue eyes, and cool running shoes under those purple scrubs, rocking the hip-grandma look. She swung her arm in a wide come-on wave and said, “You’re coming too, Mom and Dad.”

Later, when Gracie’s mother complimented her on how easy she makes her job look, she said, “I’ve been doing this for forty-five years.” She joked and teased in just the right ways to put Grace at ease as she lay back and opened her mouth for the light stretching on its long arm toward her.

After the orthodontist examined her and discussed the braces—and oral surgery—our hip grandma was back with the pricing sheet. She was just as good at this part, had the numbers written neatly, the math done, clear and simple. She said, “You have good insurance. Insurance usually doesn’t cover this much.” [Read more...]

The American Divide

This is not an essay about politics but I have to begin with politics because it stands between you and me and what I want to say to you, which concerns our darkened hearts and our dreadful tribalization of a country whose motto is E pluribus unum.

The politics are this: I have an unfashionable view of human rights and nature. I stand for localism and classical education and reverencing life; I stand against warmongering and utilitarianism and corporate cronyism. As a consequence, I have no place among Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians. If your guiding lights are not restraint and community and Holy Scripture, then I want no part of your goddamned party.

None of which is to say that you are a bad person for being a Republican or Democrat or Libertarian, or even one of those undecided Independents journalists like to interview before elections, as if inability to commit is evidence of wisdom. One or both of us is wrong, and it doesn’t matter; I’ve retreated to my rural corner and you may have the world for all I care, just leave me and my family out of it.

All this is to say, however, that I have no fondness for our current president’s worldview. Nor the one before him, nor the one before that one. It’s not their fault; they are harbingers of the times. They give us what we want, because our wants form the standard of justice. Politicians cobble together electoral majorities with empty words because we will tolerate no less and no more.

My lack of fondness for President Obama is only relevant because it accentuates the praise I want to offer him—while perhaps in the process damning a fair portion of the rest of us. [Read more...]

It’s Always 1984

July 4, 1984. I don’t remember the day, but surely jokes were made back then; the irony of America’s anniversary, celebrating liberty and self-reliance—falling within the year that symbolizes tyranny and oppression.

Few are unacquainted with Orwell’s masterwork, 1984, featuring an ever-present state, “Big Brother,” with an eponym that connotes good, wholesome things—family, protection, strength. In the novel, Big Brother ominously moves about life’s foreground, reminding civilians that the system is perpetually awake, watching out “for” them.

Ah, the ambiguity of that preposition. Big Brother takes Christ’s pledge—“I am with you always”—and perverts the meaning to anti-Christical heights. [Read more...]

The Little Sisters of the Poor: Religious Conscience and Government Mandates

When you’re poor for your entire life, it’s possible to become somewhat inured to misery. If you keep your line of vision low, keep from looking too far to the right or left, and manage your expectations properly, then—through practice—it might even be possible to control the thoroughly natural desire to possess more.

“What you’ve never had, you never miss,” I’ve heard it said.

But I wonder about the likelihood of such a thing when the poor grow old. For at that time, the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune are sure to be felt more keenly. When the labor required merely to exist is no longer possible, sufferings are more acute, as the meager distractions that toil provides are gone as well. The aged poor have a unique plight, caged mentally and physically within a prison of need.

Like most inadequate Christians, I do a bit here and there to provide for them. For instance, there’s a nursing home nearby that’s run by an order of nuns, The Little Sisters of the Poor. [Read more...]


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