Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Day Reverend Henderson Bumped His Head

We've been talking at church some about what it meant to be a prophet. Yes, they told the future sometimes, but they did an awful lot of just "telling it like it is". This is a reading I had to do for one of my classes a couple of semesters ago. I thought it was really a humorous, but challenging read. For whoever wants to read it:

The Day Reverend Henderson Bumped His Head

A Parable By William H. Willimon

Leaning down toward the bottom shelf to retrieve his trusty Strong’s Concordance to pursue “new moon” through both testaments, the Reverend Henry Henderson, pastor of Sword of Truth Presbyterian Church, bumped his head.

“Darn,” he exclaimed, grabbing his forehead.

This he followed immediately with, “Damn,” which was muttered with atypical candor. The rather non-ministerial ejaculation surprised Henderson. He could hardly believe he said it. “Damn,” he heard himself say again. “This hurts.”

That, so far as the Reverend Henderson could tell, was how it all began—an accidental blow to the brain while reaching for a concordance.

Moments later the phone rang.

“Pastor,” whined a nasal voice at the other end, “are you busy?”

“Not at all…” said Henderson out of habit. Then, from nowhere Henderson said, “I’m sitting here in my study just dying for someone like you to call and make my day! No, I am busy. I was working on my sermon for next Sunday. What is it?”

His words paralyzed him. They must also have stunned the whiny voice at the other end of the line, for there was a long, awkward silence followed by “Er, well, I’ll call you at home tonight after work, Pastor.”

“No,” said Henderson firmly, alien words forming in his mouth as if not by his own devising, “call me during office hours on any day other than Friday. Thank you. Good bye.”

The receiver dropped from his hand and into the telephone cradle. He felt odd. Yes, quite odd. His head no longer throbbed. Yet he felt odd.

Emerging from his study, he encountered Jane Smith, come to church for her usual Friday duties for the altar guild. “As usual, just me,” she said to Henderson. “They all say they’ll be on the guild, that they don’t mind helping out the church. Yet, when it comes time for the work, where are they?”

“I think you know very well why they are not here,” said Henderson. “You gave them only a half-hearted invitation. Everyone knows you love playing the martyr. Their absence helps bolster your holier-than-thou-attitude.”

Smith nearly dropped the offering plate she was holding, along with the polishing cloth and the Brasso.

“Pastor! How dare you accuse me of being a complainer! You know how hard I’ve worked to get the altar guild going! If you gave us volunteers the kind of support we ought to…”

Henderson wasn’t listening. He staggered down the hall as Jane Smith continued her complaint. He was feeling dizzy, unsteady.

Out in the parking lot, gasping for fresh air, Henderson was spied by John Tyler.

“Glad I caught you,” said John. “Pray for Florence. My wife is under the weather again. Just working herself to death, I think. She won’t be at the Finance Committee meeting tonight. I’ll tell her I told you.”

“I doubt that Florence will know whether you told me or not, considering her condition,” said Henderson to Tyler.

“What do you mean?” asked Tyler.

“You know what I mean. ‘Under the weather’ is your euphemistic way of saying ‘dead drunk.’ Denial is not just a river in Egypt, John. I’ve tried to broach the subject with you and Florence before. When you’re ready to face the truth about Florence’s habit, let me know. Until then, spare me the excuses.”

Henderson got into his blue Toyota and shut the door, leaving Tyler staring dumbly at him from the church walk. Seated behind the steering wheel, Henderson started the car and backed out quickly, as if he knew where he was going and what he was doing. He didn’t. He was a man losing control. He simply could not stop telling the truth, no matter how much he wanted to do otherwise.

He was a pastor in peril.

Henderson at the hospital that afternoon, Room 344: “So the doctor tells you your heart problems are congenital? That so? Are you sure the doctor didn’t mention anything about (by my reckoning) eighty pounds of excess fat?

And in Room 204: “Really? So this is the strain of emphysema that is not caused by smoking? Give me a break! Two packs a day for thirty years, and you wonder why you’re sucking on an oxygen tank for dear life?”

At the Finance Committee meeting that evening: “Why wring our hands about the sad state of the budget? You don’t need to be Einstein to figure this one out. I know very well that I am giving more to this church than anybody in the room tonight, and you know that I’ve got the lowest salary of anyone in the room—thanks to you.”

On Sunday, his last words to the frantic choir director, just before the procession began, were, or so it was said, “Why worry about not having a couple of tenors? Will tenors redeem an anthem already ravaged by this choir?”

After that fateful Sunday service, after a pastoral prayer in which Henderson admitted to God that “Most of us didn’t really want to hear anything truthful you have to reveal to us,” an emergency meeting of the Pastor/Parish Committee was called. Of course, Henderson was fired, or at least that was what Henderson afterward said the committee did to him. The committee officially stated, “In a show of Christian compassion and concern, we are offering Brother Henderson a month’s worth of free counseling and rest so that he can ponder where the Lord will lead him next. We pray for him and wish him God’s blessings in his new field of ministry—wherever that may be.”

The now ex-Reverend Henderson would later claim, “That bump on the head made a prophet out of me, despite myself.”

Although most members of Sword of Truth Church, for compassion’s sake, never spoke his name in years to come, when Henderson’s name was mentioned, someone would always ask, “Wasn’t that the poor man who suddenly went kinda crazy?”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Augustine's Just War Theory

I just finished the most aggravating paper that I've ever written. I'm actually very interested in both the time period and the subject matter. I have had a nightmare with the research. I ordered a bunch of books I needed, and none of them came in on time. I took a whole week off from church 2 weeks ago, just to get this thing done, and instead of being able to read and write, I spent the whole time scrambling around for resources. On top of that, most of the resources I found weren't that good. At any rate, I do believe that my paper contains plenty of truthful factual information, though perhaps not the whole picture of all aspects involved. I got to the point where I just had to suck it up and type it. I sent it to my teacher...1 1/2 weeks late. He had told me he would give me a few extra days, but I don't know how many days he considers "a few". He is a really cool guy, and is typically very patient. I'll find out what he thinks about it.

BUT, since I've already posted my paper on the GA's changing views from pacifism to militant during WWI, if you, O Reader, are interested, here is a completely different setting where the early church shifted from pacific to militant, and for basically similar reasons. In the GA's case, you hear it from those resisting the change to a militant mindset, and from Augustine, you hear a guy who hates war, but basically paves the path for the Just War mindset because circumstances seem to necessitate it. It may not be a good paper, but maybe it will provide some food for thought. Click Here To Read My Paper

Now that I've spent a whole semester studying Christians and warfare, here's what I think:

Christians are to be peaceful people. We should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. When it appears that our nation might go to war, we should be on our knees daily, begging God to dissolve the problems without mankind choosing to resort to violence.

I don't know if there is a perfect example in scripture of whether or not we can fight in wars. You can point at the Sermon on the Mount teachings, or at Jesus telling Peter to put away his sword and say, "We can't participate in war without violating the teachings of Christ." You can also point to Jesus fashioning a whip to drive the moneychangers out of the temple, not to mention Abraham, David, and Moses...heroes of the faith...who were warriors. At the same time, life doesn't always leave us in a situation choosing between a good option and a bad option. Because we live in a sinful world, we are sometimes left choosing the lesser of two evils.

There are good reasons why war veterans refer to war as "Hell". People in wars do unspeakably evil things. Even those fighting for the nobler cause come home with permanent scars; mentally, physically, and emotionally. But I am open to the possibility that some of the men who go and do these terrible things are able to do so out of love for their fellow man.

I think of Everett Six. Though he recently passed away, in talking to me about his experiences in WWII against the Nazis, he was a machine gunner, who sometimes went more than 48 hours with no sleep and no food. He told me of how once, in the snow, the Nazis quietly approached, holding white sheets over themselves, hoping they wouldn't be noticed. In his own words, he "mowed them down". Mentally, he never could return to normal life after that. But even as he told me about some of the Germans he killed, in the same conversation, he talked about how good and kind many of the Germans were that he met. He said that a lot of them were under the influence of a bad person, and really didn't mean to be as evil as what they acted. I think Everett would be a textbook example of a person fighting a just war. He hated war. He hated the fighting and the killing. BUT, he saw a greater evil in standing by, letting innocents be slaughtered than to step up in a spirit of love and fight to protect those who couldn't protect themselves and to protect his family from what was becoming a very real threat. In a sense, Everett became the very image of Christ in laying his own life on the line (and permanently giving up his mental well-being) for the good of others.

But of all the wars we've been a part of, other than WWII, I don't think I can say any of them are truly just in the sense that Augustine laid out.

I have concluded that what a person will decide about whether it is right or wrong for a Christian to fight on behalf of his government will really depend on the government and the circumstances. In times like the 1940's or under Constantine's reign, when the government is supportive of Christianity, and an evil outside force threatens ruthlessly, people seem to see the need and just cause for fighting evil powers. When the government is hostile to Christianity, such as in the earliest church when emperors like Nero, Caligula, and Diocletian were torturing and killing Christians, our Kingdom mindset rises to the surface, and we say boldly, "I'm part of an everlasting kingdom, much greater than this one."

I personally will never join the military; the only exception being if an invading army shows up on our shores, in our neighborhoods, trying to kick down my door to attack my family. Too few wars are really just enough, in my eyes, to want to participate. I live within a peaceful country, for which I'm thankful, and have more than enough work to do spreading the gospel. Likewise, when I have friends who decide to join the military, and I have recently, I will continue to get them aside to encourage them to think very seriously about whether at some guy's order they are willing to take another person's life when Jesus sent us to bring life.

I am unsatisfied with the mentality of many military types who basically say, "I don't like killing, but my job is to follow orders." I'm convinced the reason that drunkeness is a sin is because a person gives up control of himself. How is this different? A prostitute could say the same of her pimp, "I don't like fornicating with strangers for money, but my job is to sleep with who he tells me to." Either I am a Christian all of the time, or none of the time. Compartmentalization is sinful and Godless. If I can see a way as a Christian to participate in a particular government military action (such as the WWII situation), then fine, but if not, I ought not ever do something that violates my conscience.

If all the people in the world were Christians...real Christians...there would be no need for wars or weapons. So while the government works for peace through coercive means, I intend to work for peace by spreading the teachings of Jesus. Governments stay in control by wielding the sword, but if everyone would lay their idols of selfishness, greed, and power at the foot of the cross, there would not be a need for the wielder of the sword.

That may be idealistic, but just because I won't completely attain it, does that mean it isn't worth striving for? Rather than waiting for everyone else to get rid of their bombs and guns first in order for me to be peaceful, to borrow from a Quaker, why shouldn't I lay down mine first, and be the first one to choose peace? Christ lead by example...why not me?

I'm happy to live in America, but I pledge my allegience to Christ first. I pray that I am never forced to choose between picking up a gun to fight for an earthly kingdom, and watching my loved ones be persecuted. For now, I'm thankful for my blessings, and I think I'm done with the whole war issue.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Only my wife's beauty surpasses that of the trees in my front yard. It's a very pretty time of year. We took a few pictures in the front yard when we got home from church today.  Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Churches of Christ and the First World War

Earlier this week, I had a paper due. I wrote it about the views of churches of Christ reflected in the Gospel Advocate from 1915-1922, the time of WWI. Formerly, churches of Christ were predominatly pacifist, but that changed by the end of WWII. If you're interested in reading it, you can either click here, or send me an e-mail and I'll e-mail you it in Word format.

I haven't gotten a grade on it yet, so I don't promise that it's good or accurate, but I did read through about 8,000 pages of old Gospel Advocates. I find this subject very interesting, and am working on another paper along a similar line. If I think it's as good as this one, I might post it when I finish it.