Aug. 29, 2006
August 29, 2006
GRACE AMIDST DISASTER
I wrote some yesterday about the first anniversary of Katrina, but I wanted to pass along to you this story from Baptist Press about New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. It strikes me that when people in the story talk about God's presence and grace in this disaster, they inevitably speak about those being channeled through human beings. Is there any other way to experience divine grace or divine presence? If so, can you describe that for the rest of us?
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JUDAISM'S 13TH TRIBE?
For many years, I have participated in -- and, at times, sort of led -- a Bible study group that meets once a week for lunch in downtown Kansas City.
At the moment, we're reading Deuteronomy, one of the five books of the Jewish Torah attributed to Moses. Last week, one of our members asked what we knew about the Khazars. In response, he pretty much got blank looks.
This fellow had read a book about this group of Central Asian people who sometimes are referred to as the 13th tribe of Judaism because for reasons mostly lost to history, the Khazars converted to Judaism. The tribe helped the Byzantine Empire survive at one point.
Well, I figured that if I didn't know much about the Khazars, maybe you don't either. So I've hunted around a little and found some resources that might be helpful.
For instance, click here for the Web site of the American Center of Khazar Studies. Lots of material there. And I bet most of you didn't even know there was such a center. Me either.
Click here for Wikipedia's entry on the Khazars, though I continue to repeat my warning that sometimes Wikipedia isn't very reliable. But with enough other sources, you may be able to flag any questionable claims.
Next, click here for an interesting Web site that talks about the Khazars, though I can't find much information about the site's authors.
Check out the drawings and other Khazar-related art work on this site.
And here's a link to the 1970s book my friend had read, The Thirteenth Tribe. And a link to a 2002 book, The Jews of Khazaria.
Friends and family at your next party or reunion are going to be strangely impressed when you start in describing what you now know about the Khazars. Or not.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.
Today's religious holiday: Beheading of St. John the Baptist (Christian)
"It strikes me that when people in the story talk about God's presence and grace in this disaster, they inevitably speak about those being channeled through human beings. Is there any other way to experience divine grace or divine presence? If so, can you describe that for the rest of us?"
I think as people post on this today it would be helpful for them to provide the definition for the term "grace" they are working with, to better help us understand exactly where they are coming from.
Bill, thanks for the information on the Khazars. I had no idea that such a group of people even existed. Theories of their origin and/or conversion are interesting.
Posted by: Michael | August 29, 2006 at 06:59 AM
"Only someone with a weak value system would ever consider putting on an inferior secular one."
So your values system does not include upholding the law? Because our laws ARE secular.
Our forefathers saw this republic as being pluralistic, or of many different religions, backgrounds and creeds. They tried to construct a government that was heavily dependent on consensus building, because they understood that the strongest government would be built on negotiation and fairplay and respect for fellow men and women. There is a very practical reason for this, aside from the Christian value of loving one's neighbor. It reduces civil wars and strife.
Public officials were deemed to be individuals who represented the people for public good.
I am old enough to remember, even only back in the 1980s, when there was a civility to Congress and lawmakers were still able to work together to actually accomplish something. They could work together because, even though there were some major differences, there was also a basic respect for pluralistic views and the need to integrate all into society.
I think that what many of us are trying to say, is that, "Ok, you can get elected to further YOUR values, but where does that leave the rest of society or the constituency?" What about any notion of service to the people of the country or in pulling together in a united way. Is that not a moral values in and of itself? And why does it not seem to exist in the religious codes of those proclaimed Christians who have attained power.
What you are proposing, which is that you really owe no service to anything other than your own values, is nothing less than I am feeling from elected officials. When I think of those in office who represent what they call Christian values, I would also describe them as adhering to a "F--k you" attitude. "My way or the highway, because it's morally superior."
When the rest of us look at the fruits.....it rarely is morally superior. I would even go so far as to say, that in my opinion, thus far it has proven to be morally inferior.
Taking the lead from the blog entry on Katherine Harris' mentor, Francis Schaeffer, I have done a cursory look for info on him. I should stress the word, 'cursory'. I've not read his writing nor delved very deeply.
Schaeffer was indeed the father of the current culture wars; believing that Christians must go and dominate and take over society.
He was basically anti-democracy, anti-pluralistic society, and anti-immigration. I'm not talking about the current immigration controversy over our borders but rather immigration in the larger sense. All immigration. The anti-immigration stance basically came from the fact that he wanted everything converted to Christian. And not just any old Christian, but HIS brand of Christianity.
It seems to me a sort of pre-Apocalyptic method of "Leaving Behind". Anyone who does not subscribe to our tenets really has no place in society.
So far you seem able to tell me that you must elect someone with your values system and you have told me that you expect an elected official must function only within their values.
You have not told me how you see what Ron calls the "non-believers" fitting into YOUR world. How DO you see those who have other Christian or non-belief systems fitting into the society that you have begun to build by electing people pretty much only on their religious qualifications? Are we represented? If so, exactly how?
I'm also interested in how, if you do not respect your neighbors' thoughts and beliefs and needs, you put into practice loving them. Or perhaps that isn't a strong tenet of your brand of Christianity?
Posted by: Patricia | August 29, 2006 at 07:01 AM
Divine grace is the granting of all of God's gifts,including Life, Love Truth, Being, Intelligence, to all human beings, without qualification or requirements.
God's grace expressed through other people is certainly one of the best and most satisfying ways to receive. But I happen to believe that God's grace is ongoing. It is there whenever we need it. Quiet times, prayers, singing, music, and meditation can also be terrific media by which to receive it.
Posted by: Patricia | August 29, 2006 at 07:37 AM
"...when people in the story talk about God's presence and grace in this disaster, they inevitably speak about those being channeled through human beings. Is there any other way to experience divine grace or divine presence?"
I would say that all parts of Creation/our universe - human, animal, environmental, out to the very edge - have the potential to, and do!, mediate divine presence.
Now, to take the question to its end, is there any OTHER (non-physically mediated) way for divine presence or grace to be experienced? I don't know. I don't even know what that would mean or look like; as a Christian I understand myself to be a created being, bound up in physicality and inseparable from it. -h
Posted by: howie | August 29, 2006 at 09:20 AM
I wrote yesterday: "Only someone with a weak value system would ever consider putting on an inferior secular one."
You responded: "So your values system does not include upholding the law? Because our laws ARE secular."
Of course the very next setence after the one of mine you that quoted was: "Part of the Christian value system is to obey the law and to take any oath seriously."
Wow, Patricia, how dishonest was that? Why do you have such a hard time accepting that we have the freedom to vote our consience, and that we have a right to a Christian value system? Don't you understand how America works and that we can vote however we want and that IS lawful? And our elected officials have a right to vote their consciences, too.
Resorting to vulgarity, even using "--" as a substitute for the letters reveals part of your value system, and brings dishoner to those who raised you. You're not going to browbeat Christians into a new value system--you can forget that.
Posted by: Just Thinking | August 29, 2006 at 10:02 AM
I see we're both set to be presenters at the Will Rogers Writers Workshop. The conference coordinator mentioned this blog and I came over to take a look. Very interesting and thought-provoking discussion. More an more it seems to me that minority groups of all size and shape have the constitutionally protected right to express whatever opionion they wish and we are supposed to pay attention. Yet when a Christian has an opinion that even borders on anything political somehow that falls under "separation of church and state" and we're supposed to keep our mouth shut. Reckon I don't understand all I know about this stuff, but I'm looking forward to meeting you at the conference.
Posted by: Terry79104 | August 29, 2006 at 10:51 AM
I don't object to Christians expressing a political opinion. In fact, discussing religion and politics with anyone is one my great joys in life. What I do object to are efforts to make the United States a "Christian" nation or force religious observances on people. Personaly, I get tired of the whole poor persecuted American Christian routine. Not allowing you to force your religion on others is not persecuting you or violating your religious rights. It is stopping you from persecuting others and violating their religious rights.
Posted by: Steve S | August 29, 2006 at 11:24 AM
Understand what you're saying. I think it's interesting that this nation was founded by a group of men of faith who spent more time on their knees praying for guidance than they did on their feet debating. Might expect a bunch like that to just mandate their brand of religion on a brand new country but they'd had enough of that under English rule. Instead they wrote a constitution that protected not only their own faith but gave freedom of religion to all faiths. Pretty broadminded for a bunch of relatively uneducated men. I feel kinda flattered you think I have this ability to persecute others and violate their religious rights, I didn't figure I had much influence over anybody. I do like to have my say though, without anybody putting me down for it.
Posted by: Terry79104 | August 29, 2006 at 12:17 PM
You personally may not have the power to persecute someone, but the President and Congress certainly do. Our leaders for the past 50 years obviously did not respect the religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution. The phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegience for the expressed purpose of proclaiming the United States a Christian nation. That is not only protecting the Christian faith but persecuting my faith. Because of that legislation, I am a second class citizen because I can not pledge my allegience to this country without violating my religious beliefs. That is persecution. I experience both official and personal persecution because I am an atheist. I don't put anybody down, but I've had my and my family's lives threatened becaused I dared to speak my beliefs in a forum where so-called Christians were allowed free expression. So please spare me the crocodile tears because people may disagree with you and stand up for their beliefs.
By the way, you have to be the first person I have ever heard describe Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin et al. as relatively uneducated. These men were some of the most educated men in America and the world.
Posted by: Steve S | August 29, 2006 at 01:56 PM
The information about the Khazars is interesting, but I thought that the tribe of Levi was generally considered the thirteenth tribe.
They were the tribe of priests during the premonarchy period who had no geographical area to call their own. Instead, they served as priests to the other 12 tribes.
I think they lost their positions of importance under Solomon and the later division of Israel into Israel and Judah.
I think to call the Khazars a tribe of Israel in the sense that we normally do would be incorrect. They adopted Judaism, it appears, but they are not descendants of the original tribes. We are, also, talking about a significant time period diffence, so perhaps that has some bearing on the subject.
Your confirmed secular humanist/atheist.
Posted by: Greg Swartz | August 29, 2006 at 02:28 PM
Like his fellow secularists / atheists, Terry has a revisionist view of history. The writings of
all the Founding Fathers are rich
with their belief that the US is a Christain nation. Jefferson in the
Declaration of Independence appeals to "the laws of Nature and Nature's God" and that "all men are created ( note created , not
evolved !) endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights"
The very concept of individual rights eminating from God and not from elist, secularist government is a principle with its roots in the Old and New Testaments. Romans 13 is a description of John Locke's
Social Compact which influenced
Madison, Hamilton,Washington and
Jefferson.. Washington added the
phrase " so help me God " into the
So Terry, sneer at us Christains
and the concept of our nation being a Christain nation. Would you rather be either an Islamic nation like Syria, Saudi Arabia, or Iran or a secular nation like North Korea and Communist China
where you and your family have no rights ?
Woe be to our country when we cease being a Christain country and God turns His back on us !!!
Posted by: milwolf | August 29, 2006 at 03:44 PM
Hey, I don't mind one or the other side taking a shot at me, but not both. I think you've got the wrong name and need to go back and read the posts again. >>>smile<<<
First I draw fire for persecuting non-Christians and violating their religious rights, and now you say I'm sneering at Christians? Don't believe I can do both. I write Christian fiction, and don't believe you'll find any place in them where I sneer at anybody's faith.
Interesting, I just stopped by to see what Bill Tammeus was conducting over here and say I was looking forward to meeting him at a conference.
Posted by: Terry | August 29, 2006 at 04:15 PM
So often hatred starts with lumping all of the actions of people in one group together and attributing them to each and every person in that group. Once we attribute enough of these individual actions to the group and, in turn, to each of its members, then we're really mad. Woody Allen said that the Russian Revolution broke out when everyone realized that Tsar and Czar were the same man.
Each individual is personally responsible for their own actions, whether they are a poorly-behaved political candidate, a hateful Christian, a hateful atheist, a teacher of hate, a terrorist or anything else. And someone who makes death threats to you because you disagree with their positions should be help accountable, now and eternally.
If people would think more about how they want to be treated and then do that, then we wouldn't have had such a problem with slavery in this country. I don't want to be held accountable for the actions of all Christians and, so, I shouldn't lump all of the actions of any other group together either. I think we should keep things on an individual level--you won't find any group where all its member even agree. And I don't think I should blindly support the actions of someone just because they happen to belong to the same group. That's the way I want to be treated: I don't want any group ganging up on me just because they blindly support each other and someone in that group doesn't like me.
Posted by: Just Thinking | August 29, 2006 at 04:16 PM
I believe your comments more directed to me than Terry. As for the points you raise:
First, the Declaration of Independence is not a governing document of the United States - the Constitution is. The Constitution specifically says that no single religion is the official religion of the country. We are not a Christian nation and any effort by the government to declare that we are is unconstitutional. And efforts by elected and nonelected government officials to declare the U.S. a Christian nation violate their oaths to uphold and protect the Constitution.
Second, since the modern concept of evolution was first put forth approximately 100 years after the Declaration was written, the fact that evolution is not in the document is a little weak.
Third, if the Founding Fathers had created a government based on the Bible, they certainly would not have created our government. The Bible clearly favors heriditary monarchies that would enforce adherence to Christianity. A representative democracy that guarantees religious freedom certainly does not adhere to Biblical principals.
No, I would not like to live in Syria, Saudi Arabia or North Korea. That is why I so strongly support the First Amendment and religious freedom. History clearly shows that anytime a government mandates its population follow a particular religious belief, be that Islam, atheism or Christianity, represion, persecution and a dictatorship are soon to follow.
I would think you, as an obviousely fervent Christian, would be as concerned about the United States being an officially Christain nation as I am. Once a religion becomes official policy of a government, that government takes control over that religion. Then that religion's tenets are twisted to fit the government's purposes.
Posted by: Steve S | August 29, 2006 at 04:18 PM
Nice smokescreen of indignation.
I asked questions that I am struggling to answer in my own mind, I ask sincerely, and you avoid answering.
"You have not told me how you see what Ron calls the "non-believers" fitting into YOUR world. How DO you see those who have other Christian(and we are talking some major denominations here) or non-belief systems fitting into the society that you have begun to build by electing people pretty much only on their religious qualifications? Are we represented? If so, exactly how?
I'm also interested in how, if you do not respect your neighbors' thoughts and beliefs and needs,(through embracing a secular law that does so) you put into practice loving them."
Posted by: Patricia | August 29, 2006 at 05:34 PM
One of your church's members was interviewed for radio news today, Bill. I believe it may have been ABC. I was driving and channel flipping and did not catch her name.
She spoke of her trip to New Orleans after the flood and the sadness that she felt that there had been so little progress.
Posted by: Patricia | August 29, 2006 at 05:42 PM
Wow, I take one day off and you guys go crazy! (grin) Good subject matter, Bill. I'll hit just a few points...
Grace, or undeserved favor, is expressed in the very fabric of creation. The universe doesn't "deserve" to exist, and continues to exist only by God's grace. People living in this fallen world certainly don't deserve to continue existing, but God so loves the world...
Regarding the "13th Tribe"...
Scripture makes it clear that there were 12 tribes of Israel, named after the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Greg, the Levites were one of the 12 tribes. The reason you don't find them on a map is because they were the tribe of priests, and had no geographical inheritance other than certain towns they were given. Unlike the tribe of Judah or Benjamin, the tribe of Levi had no province named for it.
Regarding church & state...
There is a difference between recognition and endorsement. I recognize that God is sovereign in the lives of men and nations, but His priesthood is not given authority to rule the nation, nor endorsed by the government to "rule" over spiritual matters. Rather, God ordained the establishment of our democratic republic so that we could choose from among us people who would act on our behalf. Despite Steve's assertions to the contrary, this is the Biblically mandated form of government personified in the Judges. Kings were the invention of men, which God, through the prophet Samuel, tried to talk men out of. Israel wouldn't be dissuaded from being a kingdom, however, and their obstinance ultimately resulted in apostasy and exile.
Our founding fathers did create a nation where all faiths enjoyed freedom of religious expression. They also wrote extensively about the foundation upon which they based those laws. Overwhelmingly, that foundation was claimed to be Christian faith. Acknowledgement of that fact does not constitute a violation of the establishment clause any more than "...under God..." or "In God We Trust" do.
Posted by: SC in KC | August 30, 2006 at 10:59 AM
I'd like to know what Bible reference you are reading that defines the government of the Judges' Israel as a democracy, S.C.
It is generally accepted as a pretty perfect example of a theocracy.
I think that all who note that the founding fathers were Christian and based some principles on Christian tenets, also need to look at how how careful the fathers were to NOT write Christianity into it. It is written it using completely secular language.
It was completely intentional, on their part, to create a secular Republic.
I would postulate that they wanted to make sure that no one questioned this intention, because you cannot through the words of the document itself.
The philosophical underpinning that most guided the creation of the Constitution(documented by the arguments and writings of the forefathers) is pragmatism.
Posted by: Patricia | August 30, 2006 at 12:13 PM
"I'd like to know what Bible reference you are reading that defines the government of the Judges' Israel as a democracy, S.C."
I'm sorry to have confused the issue. Scripture does not define the judges as a democratic government, but as a representative government. The judges were chosen from among the people, as opposed to a kingdom which follows patriarchal lines. I should have made that distinction clearer. I'm sorry if I confused you.
"It is generally accepted as a pretty perfect example of a theocracy."
Only to those who don't understand that a theocracy is government by a priesthood. The Levites were the priesthood, yet the judges were from among all tribes.
"It was completely intentional, on their part, to create a secular Republic."
That's not what the founding fathers said when they explained why they set up the government the way they did. You can't really expect us to believe that you somehow know more about their motives than they did.
"The philosophical underpinning that most guided the creation of the Constitution(documented by the arguments and writings of the forefathers) is pragmatism."
No, it was Christianity, as documented by the founding fathers.
Posted by: SC in KC | August 30, 2006 at 02:04 PM
The Judges may have been chosen as a representatives, but that is not germaine to the definition of 'theocracy'. A theocracy does not have to have agents who are priests, it can have representatives that are divinely guided.
This was the crux of the entire conflict between the "Judges" government and that of a King.
You need to read some seminal Thomas Jefferson.
And, you need to study up on the meaning of judicial pragmatism. It is a legal philosophy and is generally acknowledged to be the basis for the Constitution.
Posted by: Patricia | August 30, 2006 at 06:21 PM