Saturday Night Theologian
20 July 2008

Isaiah 44:6-8

Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds in sub-Saharan Africa. It is also growing rapidly in parts of Asia. It is stable--and fairly saturated--in the Americas and Australia and declining slightly in Europe. The one region where Christianity has little foothold and is making little or no progress is the Middle East and most of North Africa. Not coincidentally, those are the parts of the globe that are predominantly Muslim. The Crusades and Euro-American interference in the Middle East aside, the news this week provides a perfect example of why Christians have such a hard time convincing Muslims that they follow "a more excellent way" (to quote Paul). Video of a young man, captured in Afghanistan when he was 15, was released to the media. This young man, now 21, has been held for six years in the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and subjected to harsh interrogation. His crime? He allegedly threw a hand grenade in the direction of U.S. troops. That's not surprising, since he was fighting for the other side in the battle. He has been treated as a criminal rather than a prisoner of war, and his age at the time of his capture has never been taken into account. No legitimate court would allow a 15-year-old U.S. citizen to be interrogated in the way thing young man was. Maybe that's the whole point, though. He's not a U.S. citizen, and not a Christian, so he is thus subhuman. He is not entitled to basic human rights, much less the treatment of one's enemies that Jesus explicitly taught. No one in the Muslim world believes that the U.S. is a Christian nation, and they're right. Polls that reveal that the vast majority of Americans think of themselves as Christians don't amount to squat in the eyes of outsiders when compared with the actions we take against those who are different, either in terms of nationality or religion. The prophet spoke to the Israelites suffering in exile, "Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one." The God of the Bible sides with the oppressed against the oppressor. In the case of this young man in Guantanamo Bay, it is clear who is the oppressed, who is the oppressor, and whose side God in on. May God grant him the faith to continue to believe in God, and may he one day meet Christians who actually follow the teachings of Jesus.

Psalm 86:11-17

"O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them." I saw the new Batman movie tonight, The Dark Knight, and without giving too much of the movie away, I can safely say that if Bruce Wayne were a religious man, this might well be his favorite verse in the Bible. We all want to believe that God is on our side and that God will strengthen us and defeat our enemies, but the vast majority of the time God chooses to deliver people not through lightning bolts and tornadoes but through other people who are listening to the call of God. What happens when people on both sides of a conflict claim to be following God? The best answer to that question that I know comes from Abraham Lincoln. He noted that both sides in the U.S. Civil War prayed to the same God to smite their enemies. The end result is that neither side got everything they wanted, and both sides suffered. However, one side was more righteous than the other, at least in the matter of the issue of slavery vs. abolition, and that was the side that ultimately prevailed. Does that mean that the side that is right always prevails? Unfortunately, no, at least not in the short run. In the long run, I am more optimistic about good prevailing over evil, for I believe in a God of the big picture. Sometimes individuals have to suffer setbacks, and sometimes groups of people and even whole nations do as well, even though their cause is just. In the end, I believe that God will cause justice to prevail. In the meantime, I believe God stands with those who suffer injustice and gives them strength to persevere and bear witness to what is right.

Romans 8:12-25

Al Gore gave a speech this week calling on Americans to rid themselves of their dependence on carbon-based energy sources within ten years. He recalled President Kennedy's challenge that within ten years of his inauguration Americans should send people to the moon and bring them back home safely. Americans should seek to do this, Kennedy said, not because it was easy, but because it was hard. What Gore challenges Americans to do is similarly difficult. The technical challenges, though not trivial, may not be as daunting as a moon shot, but the social challenges are much greater. The Apollo program fascinated millions, but it involved only several thousand people. Gore's proposed energy moon shot would involve hundreds of millions of people, not to develop the technology but both to demand change from their government and to change their own personal habits. The Apostle Paul, when discussing the issue of redemption, makes a remarkable claim. The whole earth, he says, suffers because of human sin, to such an extent that it actually groans with pain and anticipation. Although he was probably speaking metaphorically, the dramatic modern changes to the earth's climate and environment are quite literal. It is not hard at all to imagine the earth groaning as its air and water become more polluted, as its polar ice caps melt, as its species go extinct at unprecedented rates, as the human population grows at the expense of every other creature, as forests and grasslands are replaced with tract housing and parking lots, as urban sprawl devours the land and destroys its natural beauty. Make no mistake about it, these problems are all caused by sin: the individual sins of gluttony and lack of compassion, and the structural sins of wealth concentration and energy overconsumption, among others. If we are to be God's people on this planet, it is time to heed the call of Al Gore and many others and take responsibility for saving the planet. If we believe God created it, we must also believe that God wants us to use it wisely. At the moment, we're failing miserably.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Chanterelle Mushrooms

Jack O'Lantern Mushrooms

Chanterelle mushrooms are one of many types of edible mushrooms that are used to enhance a variety of dishes. The are orange, have ribs underneath their "parasols," and are reputedly delicious. Another species of mushroom is the jack o'lantern mushroom. It is also orange, has ribs underneath its parasol, but it is highly poisonous. Although experts can tell them apart, they are often quite similar in appearance. It is dangerous for someone who is not an experienced mushroom connoisseur to cook locally gathered chanterelles, since they might in fact be jack o'lanterns merely masquerading as chanterelles. In Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares, the farmers face a similar conundrum. An enemy has sown tares (weeds) in their wheat field, and the two are so similar that they cannot be weeded out without possible removing some wheat at the same time. It is only when they mature that the wheat can be separated from the tares, because it is at that point that they bear fruit. Many people claim to be followers of God, and they often fool others into thinking they really are. They speak pretty words--or at least words that sound pretty to the indiscriminant--and they mislead many. Any follower of God with experience in the real world, however, knows that talk in cheap. Only those who produce fruit that is consistent with their claims to be followers of God can be trusted. Are we walking the walk or merely talking the talk? What about those who put themselves up as leaders?