Wednesday, August 10, 2022

What Does the Rainbow Signify?

A rainbow is a fairly rare natural phenomenon that brings delight to anyone fortunate enough to see one. After the Great Flood, according to Genesis 9:13, God said to Noah and his sons, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth (NIV).”  

The Rainbow Flag

Presently, perhaps the primary use of the rainbow emblem is with regard to LGBTQ people. The rainbow flag was created in 1978 by artist Gilbert Baker. Upon Baker's death in 2017, a California state senator remarked that Baker (b. 1951 in Kansas) “helped define the modern LGBT movement.”

In June 2015, the White House was illuminated in the rainbow flag colors to commemorate the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states, following the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision.

The rainbow flag is now seen around the globe as a positive representation of the LGBTQ community.

The Rainbow Coalition

Earlier, the rainbow was used in a different manner. In April 1969, Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party founded an antiracist, anticlass movement called the Rainbow Coalition.

That original Rainbow Coalition was a multicultural political organization that included the Black Panthers, Young Patriots (poor whites), and the Young Lords (Hispanics), and an alliance of major Chicago street gangs to help them end infighting and work for social change.

Hampton (b. 1948) was assassinated in December 1969—and that is the climax of Judas and the Black Messiah, the 2021 American biographical crime drama film about the betrayal of Hampton by an FBI informant.

Many years later, in Nov. 1983, Jesse Jackson launched his campaign for the 1984 presidential election, claiming to be fighting for the rights of a “Rainbow Coalition” of Americans—including Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans; men and women; straight and LGBTQ.

The Rainbow Division

As many of you know, for ten years now my wife and I have been members of Rainbow Mennonite Church (RMC) in Kansas City, Kansas, (KCKS). Before we attended there for the first time in 2011, I sent an email to the pastor, asking, among other things, about the name.

We had heard that RMC was a church who welcomed and affirmed LGBTQ people, so we wondered if the church’s name was related to that stance. It turned out that there was no connection.

RMC is now located on Southwest Boulevard, but the church’s first location was on Rainbow Boulevard, a KCKS roadway that was renamed that in 1919 in honor of the 42nd U.S. Infantry Division.

That 42nd Division was formed 105 years ago, in August 1917, at the beginning of U.S. engagement in the First World War. It was created by combining military units from 26 states and D.C.

Douglas MacArthur said that such an organization stretches “over the whole country like a rainbow.” As a result, the 42nd came to be known as the Rainbow Division.

Several of those who served in the 42nd Division were from the small city of Rosedale (which was annexed by KCKS in 1922). Rosedale welcomed local veterans home from the war with rainbow colored bunting, and then Hudson Road, a major street in Rosedale, was renamed Rainbow Boulevard.

In 1957 a Mennonite church was organized in Rosedale. When it merged with another Mennonite congregation in 1964, the name was changed to Rainbow Boulevard Mennonite Church. Then when the church moved to its present location in 1969, “Boulevard” was dropped from its name.

Mennonites have mostly refused to serve in the military, and during WWI many conscientious objectors were harshly treated and some were jailed. Thus, it is somewhat ironic that our church’s name comes from the “Rainbow Division,” the 42nd U.S. Infantry Division.

Nevertheless, we members at RMC are proud of our name and the larger meaning of what “rainbow” signifies.

And most of us believe that “The moral arc of the universe is long and bends toward justice.” Maybe that moral arc, which is shaped like a rainbow, is also colored like a rainbow and is, indeed, bending toward justice and equality for all the diverse people represented by the colors of the rainbow.

Friday, August 5, 2022

What about Nuclear Energy?

Tomorrow, August 6, is the 77th anniversary of the first time a nuclear weapon was used in warfare. That morning at approximately 8:15 a.m. (local time), a U.S. Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

As I have made several posts regarding the bombings of Hiroshima and then Nagasaki three days later (see here, for example), this article is mostly about the later use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. 

President Eisenhower made a significant “Atoms for Peace” address to the United Nations in December 1953, eight years after the nuclear destruction of the two Japanese cities. That began a period of high hope that nuclear energy could be used for the great benefit of the human race.**

From the beginning, however, the U.S. President’s proposal was partly propaganda and an excuse for building additional nuclear weapons for national security. That led to the Cold War era, and during Eisenhower’s time in office, the number of U.S. nuclear weapons rose from 1,005 to 20,000.

But Eisenhower’s seminal speech also led to the establishment of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1957, which was set up as the world’s “Atoms for Peace” organization within the United Nations—and as their website shows, it is still quite active.

There have been three major reasons for widespread opposition to the development of nuclear energy.

1) The fear of nuclear weapons being used again in warfare, perhaps by a rogue nation or by terrorists. This was long my main reason for opposing the further development of nuclear energy. I wrote an anti-nuclear article 30~40 years ago for a local publication in Japan.

2) The possibility of accidents. Indeed, there have been three major nuclear accidents: Three Mile Island (Penn.) in March 1979, Chernobyl (Ukraine) in April 1986 (the world’s biggest nuclear accident), and Fukushima (Japan) in March 2011.

The first of those caused a dramatic shift in the enthusiasm for the development of nuclear power in the U.S. Large anti-nuclear demonstrations were held in Washington, D.C., in May 1979, and then in New York City that December.

This is an issue that must be carefully considered, and, indeed, in Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters (2022), Serhii Plokhy, a Ukrainian historian at Harvard,

holds that the inevitability of accidents is one of several reasons to encourage nuclear power to drift into disuse, rather than give it a new role in the fight against climate change (from the June 25 issue of The Economist).

3) The high cost of building nuclear reactors and disposing of waste materials. According to this website, “the minimum cost per megawatt hour to build a new nuclear plant is $112, compared to $46 for utility-scale solar . . . and $30 for wind.”

And then, disposal of nuclear waste is a major challenge, both in terms of methods and cost.

So, what about now? In recent years, because of increased awareness of the seriousness of global warming, there has again been a growing movement favoring the use of nuclear energy.

The Russian war on Ukraine this year has also once again increased the appeal of the development and use of nuclear power, especially in Europe. Countries that were phasing out nuclear reactors are now postponing those plans.

In Japan, twenty-one nuclear reactors were decommissioned after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, but now ten of those reactors have been restarted and plans are in place for more restarts in the years ahead.

It seems to me that in spite of the risks (and the cost), the industrial countries of the world must make plans immediately for the increased construction of nuclear reactors for the energy needs of the world.

True, destructive nuclear accidents are possible, but more widespread destruction of the world as we know it is quite certain if global warming is not controlled. Nuclear energy is one of our best hopes for significantly slowing the crisis of global warming.

What do you think?

_____

** “How The Atom Changed The World” is an informative 55-minute video (available here on YouTube) regarding the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes; it begins with Eisenhower’s emphasis on Atoms for Peace and deals with the pros and cons of nuclear energy up through 2021.

++ Some of you may be interested in exploring this link to “Nuclear Prayer Day” tomorrow (Aug. 6); it is especially to pray for a world free of nuclear weapons. 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Marvels of Modern Medical Procedures

Most of us have benefited greatly from “modern medicine,” and from the standpoint of those who lived in previous times, even 100 years ago, much that is common now would have seemed quite marvelous to them. 

The Marvel of Knee Surgery

This is the first blog post I have finished writing since my July 20 knee replacement surgery. (My 7/25 post was written entirely before then.)

While I still have some discomfort, I have confidence that for years to come I will have far less knee pain than I had for months (and even years) before surgery. But what did people do before 1968?

It was in ’68 (when I was 30) that the first-ever total knee replacement surgery was completed, although the development of knee arthroplasty (joint replacement surgery) began way back in the early 1860s. But it was not even very satisfactory until several years after 1968

What about before then? Perhaps most people died before ever needing knee surgery—or they just had to put up with the pain.

June (my wife) had knee replacement surgery twelve years ago, and after a few weeks of recovery has had full use of that knee with little discomfort ever since. I am expecting the same—and I wish I had had this surgery last year.

I chose a clinic where the patient goes home the day of surgery “no matter what.” We left to go to the Total Joint Center at 5:15 a.m. and were home about eight hours later. Although I am sorry for the extra burden it put upon June, by midnight I was able to take care of my own needs.

How grateful I am that I now live in 2022 rather than in 1922—or even in 1972—and that I had easy access to a competent surgeon, proficient nurses, and a modern medical facility.

I am also grateful that I have insurance (a Medicare Advantage plan) that covered most of the expenses of the operation and the prescribed pain medicine.

The Marvel of C-section Births

June and I have been thrilled this year with the birth of our first two great-grandchildren, one in February and the second earlier this month.

Both of our precious great-grandchildren were born by cesarean delivery, not because of some emergency after labor began but because of conditions that led the doctors to conclude that C-section would be safer than natural birth.

Relatively safe cesarean deliveries date back to the 1920s, but such births became much more common after the development of penicillin in the 1940s—and then still more common after ultrasound (sonograms) became widely used in the 1970s.

The lives of many women and babies are now regularly being saved because of the availability of safe C-section deliveries.

So, again, I am most grateful for modern medical procedures, grateful for the benefit I have received this month and for the benefits that my granddaughters each received this year in the births of their babies.

What about Those for Whom Modern Medicine is not Available?

While I, as well as my two granddaughters and their husbands, were able to greatly benefit from the marvels of modern medical procedures this year, millions of USAmericans are not able to benefit as fully because of the lack of (adequate) insurance.

According to this Jan. 2022 website, approximately 30 million people in the United States are uninsured and risk financial ruin if they become ill or injured. Worse, there are approximately 9 million uninsured children in the country. That’s about one out of every 10 children in the United States.

In the poorer countries of the world, not only is there no insurance for masses of people, there are also far too few trained doctors and adequate medical facilities.

It is not surprising that the three countries with the highest infant mortality rate (deaths per 1,000 live births) are also among the top seven poorest countries in the world (as measured by their gross national income per capita).

Much more needs to be done domestically and internationally for all to be able to enjoy the marvels of modern medical procedures. Can’t we actively promote that?

Monday, July 25, 2022

“The Sheep and the Goats”: in Memory of Keith Green

It was 40 years ago this week (on July 28, 1982) that a talented Christian musician by the name of Keith Green died at the age of 28 in a tragic airplane crash.**

I knew little about Green then, but I have fond memories of him because of the first song of his that I heard.   

That memorable song was “The Sheep and the Goats,” based solely on the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 25. I don’t remember when or how I happened to hear it, but in the late 1970s I listened (probably on a cassette) multiple times to a recording of it.

Back then I was only able to hear him sing that gospel song, but now the video of a live performance of it is available on YouTube, and I encourage you to click on this link and watch/listen to Green performing it in 1978.

It is nearly eight minutes long—and the last part of it is especially powerful, so I hope you don’t miss that. (If you just don’t have time to watch/listen to the above video, here is a link to just the lyrics for you to read or at least scan.)

Green’s emphasis on Jesus’ words about the sheep and the goats impressed me so much that I talked about it some in 1981-82 when my family and I came back to the States for a regular “stateside assignment,” a year’s “furlough” from our missionary work in Japan.

Sometime during that year, I was asked to speak one Sunday night at the First Baptist Church in Bolivar, Mo., where June’s mother was a member—and where we had been members on our first furlough in 1971-72. In that sermon I introduced Green and his powerful song.

It seems that some of the attendees that evening were not too pleased with my emphasis on Matthew 25 and Green’s musical interpretation of it. They were mostly supporters of the words of the “Great Commission,” Jesus commanding his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

That “commission” was not the only or even the primary reason June and I committed our lives to missionary work, but it was long a part of our thinking. But during my first fifteen years as a missionary, I came to place more and more emphasis on the words of the following verse.

Jesus continued, “. . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” I had increasingly come to understand that the words of Matthew 25 that Green sang so forcefully was a very important part of what Jesus had commanded and what we followers of Jesus should do.

Jesus’ emphasized loving others, and what he said as recorded in Matthew 25:31~46 emphasized what that meant in action—or inaction.

Most people don’t consciously choose to be sheep or goats, they just live according to their values and priorities. And there is a problem when or if people seek to be sheep in order to receive the benefit of being so.

From my late teens, I have tried to do the sort of things Jesus said were characteristics of those he called sheep, although too many times, I’m afraid, I was too sheepish (=“resembling a sheep in timidity or lack of initiative”).

And part of the problem of growing older and losing energy and mobility is not being able to do the things Jesus spoke about in the Matthew 25 passage—not that I ever did those things extensively. But I used to be able to do a lot more than I can do now, and I am sad about that.

But I try to do what little I can—such as writing blog articles like this one. And June and I are proud of our daughter Kathy for unquestionably being the type of person Jesus referred to as a sheep—and she told me that she is “a big Keith Green fan,” and she probably first heard “The Sheep and the Goats” in our home as a teenager.

_____

** Once again, this blog post was prompted by an article published in Plough Quarterly. “Singing God’s Glory with Keith Green” was published in the Summer 2021 issue and is available online here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

What about Hell? In Memory of Jitsuo Morikawa

Most of you likely have never heard of Jitsuo Morikawa, a Japanese American who was born 110 years ago and died on July 20, 1987.

It was about 25 years before his death that I heard Morikawa speak for the first time—and the main thing I remember from that occasion is what he said about hell. 

Jitsuo Morikawa was born in British Columbia, Canada, in 1912. His Japanese parents were Buddhists, but when he was 16, Jitsuo became a Christian. After graduating from UCLA, he enrolled in The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS).

The year after graduating from SBTS in 1940, he was interned in a relocation center for Americans of Japanese ancestry. From 1944 to 1956 he was a pastor of the First Baptist Church in Chicago and then served for 19 years in the headquarters of the American Baptist Churches.

In 1976-77 Morikawa was the interim pastor of the prestigious Riverside Church in New York City, and I had the privilege of attending a Sunday morning service there and hearing him preach during that time.

Morikawa came back to SBTS to speak when I was a graduate student there. I don’t remember what his talk was about, but during the discussion that followed he was asked a question, or perhaps questioned, about hell.

I have never forgotten his response. He said that it was strange to him that so many Christians seemed to be disappointed and disapproving whenever he or anyone suggested that perhaps there was not a literal hell where non-Christians are punished forever.

Morikawa was questioned, and his views on hell were opposed, by many who heard him that evening, for, as was included in the revised Baptist Faith and Message in 1963, Southern Baptists generally believed that after death, “The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.”

I have dealt with the issue of hell in two previous blog posts. The most recent was on Jan. 20, 2019. In that article, I raised a question that was similar to what I heard Morikawa say in the early 1960s:

Here is the biggest question of all: Why do conservative Christians get so upset with the idea that most of the people of the world—that is, all who do not trust in Jesus as their Savior—might not be punished in Hell for all eternity?

Then back in 2011, I made a blog post titled “Bell on Hell.” It was related to Rob Bell’s controversial book titled Love Wins. I encourage you to read that article (again).

Brian McLaren writes briefly about hell on pages 193-4 of his new book Do I Stay Christian? Hell, however, is the underlying theme of The Last Word and the Word After That (2005), the third volume of McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian trilogy.++

The 17th chapter of that book is called “Deconstructing Hell.” That chapter, and that book, and that trilogy are well worth reading with thoughtful consideration. It was reading those books that led me to become a firm “fan” of McLaren.

In his new book, McLaren speaks of “repurposing hell.” That means that he is thinking hell “is not a threat of divine retribution in the afterlife but a dire warning about the inevitable negative consequences of harmful behaviors in this life—like war, ecological overshoot, or gross economic inequality.”

Partly because of hearing what Morikawa said in the early 1960s, through the years I have questioned the traditional Christian belief about hell. And because of McLaren’s 2005 novel, I questioned that traditional position even more.

The first sentence of McLaren’s introduction to that book is straight to the point: “I believe that God is good.” And then in the 17th chapter he has Casey, one of his characters, say that “if hell seems to have the last word, there’s got to be a word after that.”

Pastor Dan, the central character, asks her what that would be, and Casey says, “Grace . . . I think the last word is always grace” (p. 101).**

_____

++ This month I have reread this book and (again) found it to be of great value. If any of you harbor troubling questions/doubts regarding the traditional (conservative) doctrine of hell, I encourage you to read this book (which is a serious theological book written in the form of a novel).

** I didn’t consciously remember those words when I wrote my book Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (2018), but the last chapter of that book is “#30  God’s First and Last Word Is Always Grace.”

Friday, July 15, 2022

Do I Stay Christian? Pondering McLaren’s New Book

In an appendix to the book that I wrote telling the story of my life up to my 82nd birthday, I have several “top ten” lists, including one of “theologians and/or philosophers.” Although he is neither a professional theologian nor philosopher, the youngest person on that list is Brian McLaren (b. 1956).

Currently I am slightly revising and updating that book I wrote for my children and grandchildren, and I have just added McLaren’s 2022 book, Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned, to my list of top ten 21st century non-fiction books. 

No, I am personally not considering giving up being a Christian. Neither do I include myself among the doubters or disillusioned, although I am often disappointed with how so many Christians have lived and are living.

But certainly there are many thoughtful people now who have already left Christianity or are seriously thinking of doing so. With my lifelong interest in Christian apologetics, I was most interested in seeing what McLaren would say to those who have left, or would like to leave, the Christian faith.

The book has three parts: the first is “No,” ten chapters giving reasons for not staying Christian. Part II is “Yes,” ten chapters giving reasons for staying, and Part III is “How.”

There is much of considerable value in McLaren’s book, but I am not attempting to review his book here or to summarize the wealth of ideas worth thoughtful consideration. (I have made a page containing some of McLaren’s important statements, which you can access here.)

The ninth reason McLaren gives for not staying a Christian is “Because of Christianity’s Great Wall of Bias (Constricted Intellectualism.”) Although he has brief paragraphs about seven other biases, in that ninth chapter he mainly considers the “confirmation bias,” and it is worth pondering.

Confirmation bias names our brain’s tendency to reject anything that doesn’t fit in with our current understanding, paradigm, belief system, or worldview,” writes McLaren (p. 67). This bias, he contends, has skewed the thinking of many Christians about nuclear war and ecological crises.

Perhaps this is the reason Mommsen failed to deal with ecological overshoot, which I wrote about in my July 5 blog post.

Mommsen, the able editor of Plough Quarterly, certainly is not “guilty” of the errors of the conservative evangelicals who believe the (eminent) “second coming” of Jesus will take care of the problem of ecological overshoot (although they haven’t used that term).

As far as I know, Mommsen has not written about the “rapture,” which has been emphasized in much conservative Christian eschatology. nor does he write explicitly about the second coming of Jesus. ++

But perhaps Mommsen’s belief in rather traditional ideas about God acting in “supernatural” ways to consummate the world as we know it, maybe even in the lifetime of people now living, is the reason he overlooks overshoot—and the same is likely true for most traditional Christian believers.

On the other hand, perhaps it is Mommsen’s belief in the Kingdom of God (KoG) that blocks his acknowledgment of overshoot.

Emphasis on the KoG has been a central emphasis of the Bruderhof from the beginning, although he/they have not committed the “liberal” error of thinking that if we just work hard enough, we humans can “bring in” the Kingdom of God on earth.

Perhaps “confirmation bias” of Mommsen and others, traditional and liberal, has prevented serious consideration of the collapse of the world as we know it.

That collapse is projected by scientists based on their investigation of facts rather than theological (or ideological) beliefs that would skew their thinking because of confirmation bias.

(Of course, scientists are also sometimes biased, but generally they are far quicker than religious believers to recognize and correct those biases.)

In his next-to-last chapter, McLaren begins a prayer for overcoming the confirmation bias with these words: “Source of all truth, help me to hunger for truth, even if it upsets, modifies, or overturns what I already think is true” (p. 210).

This is my prayer also.

_____

++ My March 25, 2015, blog post was titled “Do You Believe in the Rapture?” and it has had more than 3,000 pageviews (!) as well as far more comments than usual.

** Some of you may be interested in watching (some or all of) a YouTube interview of McLaren and his book I have introduced above: Do I Stay Christian with Brian McLaren: One Question with Pastor Adam.

 

Monday, July 11, 2022

Do You Have Ikigai?

The Japanese word ikigai (pronounced “ee key guy”) is an important word/concept that has long been common in Japan, and it is becoming more widely known in the English-speaking world. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ikigai as “a motivating force; something or someone that gives a person a sense of purpose or a reason for living.” Its meaning is similar to the French expression raison d'être, and shares much in common with Viktor Frankl’s concept of logotherapy. 

One of the first popularizers of ikigai in the U.S. is Dan Buetter whose TED talk “How to live to be 100+” in 2009 referred to how ikigai is one reason for the remarkable longevity of people who live in Okinawa, Japan. (The video of that talk has now had more than 630,000 views.)

Marc Winn is an entrepreneur and a “business coach” who in May 2014 posted “What is your Ikigai?” He presented his ideas with a Venn diagram that has become quite popular. (Some of you have probably seen it on Facebook.)

Winn’s “Ikigai Venn Diagram” has now been presented in various colorful ways, but I like this simpler one: 

Although it is translated from Spanish, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (2016, 2017) by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles is an “international bestseller,” and I read a copy from my local library in 2020. (Here is a link to a review of that book, including “the 10 rules of ikigai.”)

Winn’s Venn diagram and the “marketing” of ikigai in the Western world is not liked by some Japanese, however. I won’t try to explain that criticism here, but if you are interested, please access this website.

Just because the Japanese use the wonderful word ikigai, that doesn’t mean everyone actually possesses it. The Japanese suicide rate has been, and remains, high—for many reasons. But the absence of ikigai is one of the major reasons, especially among for younger Japanese.

Neither is obtaining ikigai, perhaps wrongly appropriated by Western entrepreneurs, something that can be quickly achieved. Still, having a strong purpose for living is of great importance for all people, whether you call it ikigai or not.

But how does one obtain ikigai? There is no “one and only” way, but I am convinced that a strong religious faith is a primary means, although that is not a way common among Japanese people. But consider this example of one Japanese Christian who exhibited a strong sense of ikigai.

It was about 50 years ago that I first met a Japanese professor/scholar by the name of Sakakibara Gan. He was translating Arthur Gish’s book The New Left and Christian Radicalism, which I wanted to use in an upcoming Christian Studies course that I was going to teach.**

Sakakibara-sensei was born in 1898, so he was 74 or 75 when I first met him—and I thought he was quite old since he was 40 years older than I. When he told me about his plans for the years ahead, I understood his strong sense of ikigai.

The “old” professor said, “I can’t die for a few years yet; there are too many books I still want to write and to translate”—and he did go on to write three books (the third of those published in 1991) and to translate four more books after that. He died in 1994, about two weeks after his 96th birthday.

Although I haven’t often used the term ikigai, I am deeply grateful for having had it from my teen years. My 38 years in Japan were so meaningful because of ikigai—and having had the privilege of helping a number of Japanese people discover their ikigai was and remains gratifying.

Even though I no longer need the bottom part of the Venn diagram, I am still invigorated by the top three circles.

I hope that you readers, too, have a sense of ikigai—or at least that you will acquire more and more ikigai in the months/years ahead.

_____

** I have previously posted blog articles about Gish and his book; see here and here. And here is the link to an article about Sakakibara (and his wife) in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.