Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year of the Dog!

New Year’s greetings in Japan are generally never given before January 1, so again this year I am posting this on the morning of December 31 here in the U.S. but after the New Year has already begun in Japan.
The Year of the Dog
In the countries of East Asia, including Japan, 2018 is the Year of the Dog. There is a 12-year cycle in the Asian zodiac, each named after an animal. Today ends the Year of the Rooster.
The Chinese (or lunar) New Year, which is celebrated not only in China but also in other Asian countries with strong Chinese influence, doesn’t begin until February 16 this year.
If you were born in 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, or 1982, you were born in the Year of the Dog and the new year is a special one for you—or would be if you lived in East Asia—for it will be your ataridoshi, your “lucky year,” since it is the year of the same zodiac animal in which you were born.
According to Japanese folklore, those born in the Year of the Dog have many fine qualities of human nature. They have a sense of duty and loyalty, they are extremely honest, and they always do their best in their relationship with other people.
Or according to a Chinese website,
People born in the Year of the Dog are usually independent, sincere, loyal and decisive according to Chinese zodiac analysis. They are not afraid of difficulties in daily life. These shining characteristics make them have harmonious relationship with people around.
Two of my children were born in the Year of the Dog, so I basically agree with the above. In many ways Keith and Karen are similar in their personalities, so that has caused June and me to place some credence in the Japanese/Chinese zodiac.
But then there is Donald Trump, who was also born in the Year of the Dog. What are we to make of that??
A Plea for Dogged Determination
One of my hopes for the year of the Year of the Dog is that Robert Mueller and his special counsel will, and will be allowed to, thoroughly pursue all the facts surrounding the Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election and the relationship of DJT and his family/associates both before and following the election.
The blog article I posted a year ago today was titled “Happy New Year of Resistance,” and while I haven’t done much myself in actual activism, I have supported the efforts of those who have actively resisted much of the craziness of the current Administration.
Now, however, I am troubled by the strong resistance being mounted against Mueller and his team. In a Dec. 22 op-ed piece, Kenneth Starr (remember him) wrote about the deafening “drumbeat of criticism” against Mueller.
New York Times interview with DJT on Dec. 28 was somewhat encouraging in this regard. Still, fears that the Mueller investigation might be unjustly ended prematurely may not be unfounded.
Mr. Mueller, hang in there with dogged determination!
Happy New Year to All
So, I send special greetings to all of you who were born in the year of the Dog, and I hope you will enjoy your special year.
I am also taking this means to wish all of you a Happy New Year, and I pray for your health and happiness throughout 2018.

Further, I pray that during the Year of the Dog Robert Mueller will have the determination, and the freedom, to find and to publicize the facts about Russia’s intrusion into U.S. politics and about DJT’s (illegitimate?) connection with Russia.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Big “Christmas” Hoax

Mid-day on December 20, DJT tweeted, “We are delivering HISTORIC TAX RELIEF for the American people!” That was followed by a GIF showing a present opening with the words “Tax Cuts for Christmas!” bursting out of a box. This, I contend, is all a big “Christmas” hoax.
An Early Celebration
DJT and the Republicans in Congress celebrated “Christmas” five days early, after passing the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” Then on Dec. 22, DJT signed the massive bill into law.
The vote on the tax reform bill was 51-48 in the Senate—all the Republicans against all the Democrats. In the House, the vote was 224 to 201 with all the Yes votes being by Republicans and the No votes being by all the Democrats and 12 Republicans.
How in the world could there be 249 Congresspeople opposed to what is touted as a wonderful Christmas gift to the USAmerican people? And why do most polls show that more Americans oppose the newly enacted bill than approve of it?
Yes, the “tax cuts for Christmas” were celebrated by DJT and the GOP days before Christmas this year. But one wonders how much celebration there will be by most USAmericans by next Christmas or in the years following.
Who Celebrates?
It is evident that there are reasons for some to celebrate this new tax bill. Corporations are jubilant over the reduction of their tax rate from 35% to 21%, a huge drop—although many corporations already pay around 21%, or far less (see this report).
The wealthiest people in the land also celebrate the passing of the tax bill for several reasons. “Final Tax Bill Includes Huge Estate Tax Win For The Rich” is the title of a Dec. 21 article on
Among other super-rich people in the country, DJT and the Trump family are, no doubt, celebrating their personal gain as well as their political gain from this bill. “Trump stands to save millions under new tax measure, experts say,” is a recent article in the Washington Post worth noting.
Last Wednesday DJT said, ““I promised the American people a big, beautiful tax cut for Christmas. With final passage of this legislation, that is exactly what they are getting.” Well, that’s at least true for Donald, Jr., Ivanka, and others of the Trump clan. They certainly have reason to celebrate. But many do not.
Who Won’t Celebrate?
There are many serious problems with the newly-passed tax bill, including (1) most likely a large increase in the national debt, (2) an increase in taxes for the poorest 1/3 of U.S. taxpayers, and (3) a large decrease in the number of people who have health insurance and a large increase in the cost for many who do have insurance.
While the numbers for the final bill are likely slightly different, the CBO Report of Nov. 26 indicated that the Senate version of the bill would show an increase in taxes for people (units) with income of less than $30,000—more than 1/3 of the taxpaying units.
By contrast, those with incomes of more than $100,000 –fewer than1/4 of filers—would get tax reductions of from 10.6% to 27.5%.
Those figures are for 2019. They get much worse for the poor and much better for the wealthy by 2025. (Here is the link to the PBS NewsHour article consulted.) 
So, yes, the new tax bill seems to be a “hoax” as a Christmas present, especially for the poor. But the wealthy will fare well, as is cleverly depicted by this cartoon by Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman:  

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Does the Old Testament Prophesy the Birth of Jesus?

Forty-five years ago on December 23, 1972, Abraham Joshua Heschel, the eminent Polish-born American rabbi, passed away at the age of 65. He was one of the leading Jewish theologians/philosophers of the 20th century.
Heschel’s Brilliant Book
Although he was the author of several books, the most notable was The Prophets, published in 1962. That was when I was a financially poor seminary student. But along with Here I Stand, R. Bainton’s book on Luther, Heschel’s book was one of the very few non-textbooks that I bought. I thought then that it was a brilliant book—and I still do.
Recently I looked to see how Heschel interpreted the Old Testament prophecies of the birth of Jesus. I was quite surprised that in the 16-page “Index of Subjects and Names” there are only two brief references to Jesus—and one of those is in a footnote—and nothing listed for Messiah.
Christians, of course, see numerous Old Testament passages as prophecies of Jesus. (This website lists “353 Prophecies Fulfilled in Jesus Christ.”) But Heschel apparently didn’t think a single one of those were prophecies about Jesus. 
Heschel’s Passion for Justice
According to Heschel, one of the main characteristics of the Old Testament prophets was their passion for social justice. In the opening paragraphs of the first chapter of his book, he cites Amos 8:4-6 as an illustration of the prophets’ condemnation of injustice. Then his 11th chapter is titled simply “Justice.”
Heschel identified with the OT prophets in many ways. In the 1960s, he marched for justice with Martin Luther King, Jr., and his daughter says that he was “close friends” with Christian justice-seekers such as Daniel and Philip Berrigan as well as with William Sloan Coffin when he was the Protestant chaplain at Yale.
Sadly, though, it seems that not only did Heschel not see the birth of Jesus as having been prophesied in the Old Testament, he apparently did not even consider Jesus a Jewish prophet—although Jesus self-identified with the words of the prophet Isaiah at the beginning of his public ministry (see Luke 4:16-21).
In his book How God Became King, N.T. Wright emphasizes that the “fulfillment of Israel’s story” is “in the story of the Messiah” (p. 112). That clearly seems to have been Jesus’ understanding, and it certainly was the early church’s understanding of Jesus. But that was not something Heschel could accept or affirm.
Heschel’s Fate?
In his book Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, which I introduced (here) earlier this year, Brian Zahnd tells about sitting with his dying father, who could no longer communicate with him. On one occasion in that situation, BZ said he was reading Heschel’s book The Prophets—which I found most interesting.
BZ makes only positive statements about Heschel—such as, “Everything I’ve ever read from Heschel has shown him to be a thoroughly God-saturated soul.”
As he was leaving the hospital that particular night in 2009, though, this question “erupted from some fundamentalist outpost” in his brain: “Is Abraham Joshua Heschel in hell?” BZ concluded that such an idea was “irredeemably ludicrous” (pp. 118-120).
Because of his worldview/faith, Rabbi Heschel could not accept the core beliefs of his Christian friends—or of others who are followers of Jesus Christ, such as BZ or me. But even though he could not acknowledge Christ or the prophecies about him, we can accept/affirm him as one who truly believed in “the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:1).
In this Christmas season, may we all nurture a passion for justice such as Rabbi Heschel—and especially such as Jesus Christ—embraced.

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Disastrous Rebellion

December 17, 1637, was the beginning of a terrible time for Christianity in Japan. Even though it was 380 years ago, a rebellion of some Christians that started then had repercussions that lasted for centuries—and there’s some similarity of erroneous beliefs then to those of some Christians now.
The Christian Century in Japan
The introduction of Christianity into Japan began with the arrival of Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier on the shores of southern Kyushu (the southernmost major island) in August 1549. As a result of his remarkable influence, and that of other missionaries who came later, a sizeable number of Japanese people in southern Japan became Christians.
The number and influence of Japanese Christians in the decades following 1549 led to the designation of that period as “the Christian century in Japan.” (The British historian C.R. Boxer published a book with that title in 1951.)
By the 1630s, some estimates say that there were as many as 750,000 Christians in Japan—or about half as many as now and, of course, a much larger percentage than now.
The growth in the number of Christian believers did not last for a century, though. The disastrous rebellion of 1637-38 reduced the number of openly professed Christians to almost zero—and it also resulted in Japan being completely closed to Christianity, and to most of the Western world, for some 220 years.
The Shimabara Rebellion
A British historian's 2016 book
Shimabara is the name of a peninsula in Nagasaki Prefecture, and the historical events that began there on Dec. 17, 1637, and lasted until April 15, 1638, are usually called the Shimabara Rebellion. 
That disastrous rebellion was primarily by Christians. It was largely due not to religious motives as much as to widespread dissatisfaction with overtaxation and the suffering caused by famine conditions in the area.
Amakusa Shirō, a charismatic 16-year-old youth was chosen as the rebellion’s leader. He was considered by local Christians as “heaven’s messenger,” and miraculous powers were attributed to him.
As the shogunate troops began to gather in Shimabara in a concerted effort to put down the rebellion, the rebels holed up in Hara Castle—and the troop’s siege of the castle lasted until April, when the resistance was finally broken and destroyed.
(The ruins of Hara Castle are about 40 miles east of Nagasaki City.)
It is said that some 37,000 rebels (men, women, and children) were beheaded at the end of that disastrous rebellion.
This was in spite of the hope/belief of Amakusa and some of his followers that this was going to be a Japanese “battle of Armageddon”—the time for the intervention of God and the beginning of God’s heavenly kingdom.
Apocalyptic Fervor Then and Now
The German Peasants’ War of 1524-25 and the Münster Rebellion (also in Germany) of 1534-35 were earlier “Christian” rebellions that shared similar characteristics to the Shimabara Rebellion. There were apocalyptic overtones, or underpinnings, to each of those rebellions also.
The leaders of both of those earlier rebellions believed that violence was sanctioned by God and was necessary to establish God’s new world order. But the rebels in both Germany and Japan learned by sad experience that those who take the sword die by the sword.
Now, there are those who see DJT’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in apocalyptic terms. For example, consider this Dec. 11 article: “Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem excites apocalyptic fervor.”
DJT’s “spiritual adviser” Paula White says that “evangelicals are ecstatic” at the decision to move Israel’s capital to Jerusalem, for that means Jesus’ Second Coming is nearer.
But might this be the beginning of another disaster similar to but far, far worse than the Shimabara Rebellion?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Relevance of Jonah

Strange as it may seem, I was moved to write this article while reading a book on Palestinian liberation theology. Please think with me about the ongoing relevance, even to Palestinian Christians, of the Old Testament book of Jonah.
Preaching on Jonah
From way back, I have long been interested in the theological and missiological meaning of Jonah. The sermon I preached in my seminary homiletics class was on Jonah. I can’t remember if the sermon on Jonah was the only one I preached before the class. But I do remember it—and wish I still had the manuscript for that sermon. (Why can’t I find it on my hard drive?)
At that time (1961), June and I were pursuing a career as overseas missionaries, and I was convinced that there was a strong missionary message in Jonah. That conviction has not changed, although it has been refined some.
Thus, it was with great interest that I read about Jonah in a new book on Palestinian liberation theology.
Ateek’s Emphasis on Jonah
Naim Stifan Ateek is a Palestinian Christian and an Arab who is a citizen of the nation of Israel. Ateek (b. 1937) is the retired Canon of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. His book A Palestinian Theology of Liberation was published earlier this year. 
Since I have written about the plight of the Palestinians previously (see especially here and here), this article is only about the main point that Ateek makes about Jonah in his book.
“The Theology of Jonah” is a brief section (pp. 76~80) in Ateek’s book. He asserts: “Through the story of Jonah, the Old Testament reaches its theological climax.”
Jonah is the apex of OT theology because there we find emphasis on God as the God of the whole world, an inclusive God. Secondly, Jonah teaches us that “God’s people include all people.”
Ateek’s main point is the third thing we need to learn from Jonah: “The story of Jonah emphasizes that there is no one particular land that belongs to God. God is the God of the whole world. . . . God is concerned about all lands.”
From the NIV Quickview Bible
Thus, “Authentic understanding of land rejects the exclusionary monopoly of one people that brings about the negation, expulsion, and ethnic cleansing of the people of the land” (such as the Palestinians).
Ateek goes on to stress, “The challenge of authentic faith is to overcome and defeat whatever is exclusionary regarding our theology of God, neighbor, and land, and to embrace whatever is inclusive.”
Bell’s “Take” on Jonah
Pastor Rob Bell made a splash in the theological world with his book Love Wins (2011)—about which I wrote in my blog article titled “Bell on Hell.”
Bell’s latest book is titled, What Is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything (2017). “Fish,” the 13th of his 43 short chapters, is about Jonah.
Bell cautions against Christians placing importance on “defend-the-fish” arguments in interpreting Jonah while missing “the point of the story, the point about allowing God’s redeeming love to flow through us with such power and grace that we are able to love and bless even our worst enemies” (p. 104).
Harking back to my most recent article (here), Jonah teaches the importance of loving those whom we have othered.

At this time when the U.S. Administration—and evangelical Christians who are some of its strongest supporters—tends to other (“illegal”) immigrants, Muslims, the poor, they—and we all—need to pay close attention to the relevance of the theology of Jonah. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Othering and "One Anothering"

This article is partly the lament of an old white guy. It was sparked by a Thinking Friend telling me in an email that she had been advised to "give up on old white guys."
The Problem: Othering
My thinking on this subject was also stirred by Cierra Lockett writing about how some African-Americans have a problem feeling bicultural because “though they're American citizens, it's hard to feel American because of how the country historically and currently oppresses and ‘others’ them.”
That, without a doubt, is far, far worse than the othering I have experienced. But it is a difference of degree, not of kind. While in the U.S. it is much worst for African-Americans and American Indians, every group—or individual—who suffers from prejudice is a victim of being “othered.”
It is not hard to see why old white guys are the target of criticism—and of being othered. Perhaps most of the problems of the world are the results of the “sins” of old white guys.
But prejudice is thinking that all the people of a group partake of the characteristics of the problematic people of that group. Thus, I am saddened when “written off” because of the mistakes of so many old white guys, past and present.
For example, I have been disappointed that few youngish people read and comment on my blog articles. I have tried to get people below 30 or even 40 to read and comment. Few have—for a variety of reasons, no doubt. Perhaps one main reason, though, is because most think that an old guy doesn’t have anything of value to say to them.
Last month I was criticized for suggesting that becoming/being bicultural might be something beneficial for African-Americans to consider. I was told by several people that whites shouldn’t make any suggestions to blacks.
There is also the problem of us guys saying anything substantial about matters relating to women: the charge of “mansplaining” has become rather common.
So, whether intended or not, “old white guys” are sometimes (often?) othered by those who are young, by people of color, and by women. Perhaps such othering serves us right—but, still, it is a cause of sadness. 
The Solution: One Anothering
Is there no way we all can relate to one another simply as human beings?
The Bible says “Love one another.” That surely doesn’t mean we are to love only people like us—for the old to love the elderly, whites to love whites, and males to love males. (And, of course, I am talking about agape-love here, not erotic love.)
To love one another surely means to accept/respect everyone without prejudice regardless of age, ethnic, or gender differences. Is that kind of mutual love/acceptance/respect too much to expect?
Back in 1990 Richard C. Meyer, a Presbyterian pastor in Florida, wrote a book titled One Anothering. The book was mainly written for small groups, but the title has an important broader meaning.  
Those of us in a position of privilege, though, have the main responsibility to take the initiative and to reach out in love to those who have been othered most severely.
South American liberation theology has often spoken about the “preferential option for the poor.” It is perhaps time for most of us, especially us old white guys, to promote a preferential option for those individuals/groups who are suffering most because of being othered.
That kind of one anothering means actively loving whether we are reciprocally loved or not.