Sunday, March 30, 2014

What about Crimea?

The plight of Ukraine and especially of Crimea has been much in the news this month. That concern was heightened when on March 16 the people of Crimea voted to become a part of Russia and when on March 21 Russian President Putin signed the bill of accession, making Crimea a part of Russia (again).
There are legitimate concerns about the Crimean vote to secede. Were the people really free to vote as they wished? Or did many vote, and vote as they did, because of the nearby Russian military presence?
And then there is the question of how the minorities in Crimea, the ethnic Ukrainians and the Tatars, will be treated under Russian rather than Ukrainian rule.
This is the main concern, though: is Russia’s accession of Crimea just the first of further attempts of Putin and Russia to acquire additional territory, incorporating more land and people under Russian rule?
Some U.S. politicians have used the secession/accession of Crimea to criticize the President for being “weak”—just as some of the same people accused him of being weak for not taking military action against Iran and/or Syria.
Earlier this month according to CBS News “John McCain blames Obama’s ‘feckless’ foreign policy for Ukraine crisis.” At that same time, Marc A. Thiessen, an opinion writer for the Washington Post penned an article titled “Obama’s Weakness Emboldens Putin.”
In the March 16 referendum, though, an overwhelming majority voted in favor of independence of Crimea from Ukraine and of joining Russia as a federal subject. After the referendum, Crimean lawmakers formally voted both to secede from Ukraine and ask for membership in the Russian Federation.
Since we in this country generally praise democracy, deciding matters by majority vote, why is there such widespread opposition to Crimea becoming a part of Russia again?
Actually, Russia claims that in 1654 the Council of Pereyaslav approved the unification of Ukraine with Russia. Then in 1783 under the rule of Empress Catherine the Great, Crimea was annexed by the Russian Empire.

It was on the 300th anniversary of the 1654 event that Nikita Khrushchev, head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964 (and whose wife was Ukrainian), transferred Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Of course, Ukraine was still within the Soviet Union. That changed in 1991, though. With the dissolving of the USSR, Ukraine became an independent state. Since 1992 Crimea has officially been the Autonomous Republic of Crimea within Ukraine.
But when the referendum on the Act of Declaration of Independence was held in Ukraine in December 1991, only 37% of the electorate in Crimea voted for independence from Russia, compared to 76% for all of Ukraine (including Crimea).
After all, a large majority of the people who lived in Crimea then were ethnic Russians who spoke the Russian language. And that is even more so now: according to an article in the March 21 Washington Post, nearly 80% of the Crimeans now are ethnic Russians.
So in spite of all the worry in the West, and all of the criticism of the President in the U.S., perhaps the “loss” of Crimea is not such a serious issue—and being a part of Russian again likely seems to be a good thing to the majority of the people who live there.
Certainly it is a matter of concern that the accession of Crimea may be just the first step in Russia’s (Putin’s) annexing other lands and people. That is not likely to happen, though. At least I certainly pray that it won’t.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Happy Birthday

For reasons that best not be explained here, the content of this blog article has been removed. -- LKS

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"The Nonviolent God"

J. Denny Weaver is an Anabaptist/Mennonite theologian who is best known for his book “The Nonviolent Atonement” (2001; 2nd ed., 2011).
Dr. Weaver is coming to Kansas City as part of a book tour related to his new book, “The Nonviolent God” (2013). I am currently reading that book as well as co-leading a Sunday School class discussing it at Rainbow Mennonite Church.
Weaver was born in Kansas City, Kan., in 1941, and has ties to Rainbow (in KCKS) where he will be speaking on March 30. He will also be speaking at Central Baptist Theological Seminary on March 31. I am looking forward to hearing his talks.
Now Professor Emeritus at Bluffton University (in Ohio) where he taught for 31 years, Weaver is also the author of books about the Anabaptists, such as Becoming Anabaptist: The Origin and Significance of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism” (1987; 2nd ed., 2005).
Before I really knew anything about Weaver, I mentioned what he had written about the Atonement being “divine child abuse,” as some feminist theologians describe traditional views concerning the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion. (See my “Limits of Liberalism,” pp. 196-199).
Traditional views of the atonement are severely critiqued by Weaver, who is sympathetic with the feminist theologians’ point just mentioned, as well as with James Cone who has “linked substitutionary atonement specifically to defenses of slavery and colonial oppression” (“Nonviolent Atonement,” p. 66).
Whereas “The Nonviolent Atonement” is primarily a rejection of the traditional views of the Atonement, especially the penal substitution theory that has been predominant among Protestants, “The Nonviolent God” expands that idea to include the theology of the nature of God.
On the second page of the latter, Weaver clearly states, “That God should be understood with nonviolent images constitutes the major thesis of this book.”
That thesis is based on this premise: “If God is revealed in Jesus, as Christian faith professes, then God should be considered nonviolent as a reflection of the nonviolence of Jesus” (p. 125).
Thus, “if God (or the character of God) is revealed in Jesus, the violent and nonviolent images of God cannot be reconciled” (p. 135). There are, to be sure, violent images of God in the Old Testament and even in the parables of Jesus.
But Weaver argues that there are more and stronger images of God as nonviolent and that those should be constitutive of a theological understanding of God and of the Christian life.
The emphasis on nonviolent atonement and a nonviolent God is consistent with a central conviction of Anabaptists/Mennonites such as Weaver.
Nonviolence, often referred to as pacifism, has been a dominant characteristic of most Anabaptists since the heyday of Menno Simons (1496-1561) and is entrenched in most Mennonite churches to this day.
As one who has long identified with that tradition, and who is now a member of a Mennonite church, Weaver’s arguments strongly resonate with me, even though I don’t necessarily agree with every point.
Thus, I can emphatically say that I am glad we in the U.S. have such a “weak” President. (With regard to the critical situations in Iran, in Syria, and now in Ukraine, how many times have I heard the President criticized by his political enemies for being weak!)
But if the President were “stronger,” and thus more inclined to use military might rather than nonviolent ways to deal with international disputes, our country could well be fighting right now in Iran and Syria and perhaps in Ukraine soon.
Since God is nonviolent, though, those who truly believe in God should always seek to be nonviolent too.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Ben Carson for President?

Some of you probably have known for quite some time who Dr. Ben Carson is. For some reason, I have just recently heard about him. In an email received recently, a friend told me about the movie “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.” June and I watched that inspiring film on March 7.
The very next day Carson was a featured speaker at this year’s CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference). At that meeting there was some hubbub by those seeking to draft him as the Republican presidential candidate in 2016.
Carson (b. 1951) was the second son born to a minister and his young wife (they married when she was 13; he was 28) in Detroit. Young Ben’s parents separated when he was 8, and he and his brother were raised by their remarkable mother. Carson once remarked,

Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my mother.’ I’m not sure I want to say it quite like that, but my mother Sonya Carson, was the earliest, strongest, and most impacting force in my life. It would be impossible to tell about my accomplishments without starting with my mother’s influence.
Carson, indeed, went on to accomplish much. He graduated from Yale University and then obtained his M.D. degree from the University of Michigan. After medical school he became a neurosurgery resident at the world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
At age 32, Carson became the hospital's Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery. Then in 1987, he led in the first successful separation of Siamese twins joined at the back of their heads. “Gifted Hands” climaxes with the details of that grueling 22-hour-long operation.
Somehow I missed hearing about Dr. Carson speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in February 2013. (I have recently listened to it on YouTube.)
It was because of some of the gutsy things Carson said in that 27-minutes talk, with the President sitting just a few feet away, that gained him great acclaim, especially among political conservatives.
Just eight days later Carson was an hour-long guest on the Sean Hannity Show. He has been very popular among conservative Republicans ever since—so much so that a National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee has been formed.
(Their website is, and they have already raised more than $3,000,000.)
And on at CPAC on March 8, Carson came in third place (with 9% of the votes) in the poll indicating who the participants most wanted to be President.
Chances are, though, Dr. Carson won’t be the Republican candidate for President in 2016. But should he be?
Carson is obviously very intelligent and has exhibited the ability to overcome great difficulties in order to achieve greatness. He was an outstanding success as a neurosurgeon, his chosen profession. (He retired last summer.)
Further, Carson is certainly a dedicated Christian man with a fine wife and seems to be morally upright in every way. It certainly would be hard to argue with any of those qualifications.
But he has made some very questionable statements in the political arena that make it hard to see him as a viable presidential candidate.
For example, Carson has said ObamaCare is the worst thing for this country since slavery. He has also has made some dumb statements about not raising the debt ceiling. Moreover, he has no experience whatsoever in public office.
So while I have great respect for him as an individual, as a neurosurgeon, and as a person of faith, no, Ben Carson for President doesn’t sound like a good idea.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Last True Samurai

Was he a fool or a hero? Or maybe the question should be, Was he a heroic fool or a foolish hero? The man in question is Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who fought World War II from 1944 to 1974. 
That’s right, Onoda didn’t surrender until 1974. It was 40 years ago this week that he finally returned to Japan from the Philippines where, in his mind, he was an active soldier for all those years.
You may have heard something about Onoda in the news recently, for he died on January 16 at the age of 91.
In December 1944 Onoda was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines. His orders stated that under no circumstances was he to surrender or take his own life.
By the time the Japanese control of Lubang had been broken by the U.S. army in February 1945, all but Onoda and three other soldiers had either died or surrendered. Onoda, who was then a lieutenant, ordered the men to take to the hills. They did.
And they stayed, and stayed, and stayed on that small island.
There is a popular TV program called “Survivor.” Some of you probably watch is regularly. Well, he wasn’t on TV, but Onoda was the ultimate survivor.
Somehow Onoda managed to survive, without being captured or killed, for 29 years on an inhabited island that is just over six miles wide and sixteen miles in length.
Onoda’s story is told in “No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War,” the book published in his name in 1974. The English translator, Charles S. Terry (1926-82), talked with Onoda several times.
Onoda’s fascinating book tells how after the war ended in August 1945, he and the other Japanese on Lubang saw pamphlets, and heard searchers, telling them that they war was over and they ought to come out of hiding.
But he, and those with him, thought that was only a trick by the enemy.
Onoda and his three compatriots vowed to keep on fighting. But one of the four left the others in 1949 and surrendered in 1950. A second one was shot and killed by a search party in 1954.
From then on it was just Onoda and Kinshichi Kozuka who helped each other survive for 18 years. Then Kozuka was killed by local police in 1972.
In early 1974, Nori Suzuki (1949-86), a young Japanese adventurer, set out to find Onoda—and he did. But Onoda told Suzuki that he would not quit fighting until his commanding officer ordered him to do so.
Consequently, on March 9, 1974, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi met Onoda on Lubang and released his faithful soldier from his obligation to keep fighting.
March 9, 1974
After receiving a pardon from Philippine President Marcos, Onoda finally returned to Japan—and to a hero’s welcome—on March 12, one week before his 52nd birthday.
June and I were living in Japan at that time and remember the sawagi (excitement) his return caused.
March 12, 1974
Onoda was dismayed by all the changes in Japan he found there after 30 years. So in 1975 he moved to Brazil and married a Japanese woman there.
The Onodas returned to Japan in 1984, and he established the Onoda Nature School, an educational camp for urban Japanese young people.
In general, Onoda has been seen as a hero in Japan—and considered by many as the last true samurai.
In reflecting on Onoda’s story, I began to think about what a difference there would be in society today if we Christians were as faithful to our Lord’s commands as Onoda was to the words of his commanding officer.