Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Trick Dogs

Down here in Evangeland, it is the Fall Festival season. This is the time of year when many of our churches, being oh-so-careful not to use the "H" word, trot out their annual "Fall Festival" extravaganzas. Two goals seem to be in play. One is to provide a safe, secure venue for children to dress up, have fun, play games and indulge in some serious sugar highs. This is noble and laudable. The secondary motive is evangelical in nature--to entice families into the church through the children. The thinking is that if the children come, the parents can't be far behind. Frankly, I've never seen this really work, but of course, I could be wrong.

And I have absolutely no beef with any of this at all. What amuses me, however, is the fierce competition among churches within the "Fall Festival" market. A case in point: in my morning drive into the city, I passed a small surburban non-denominational community church (something with "Grace" in the name) that had obviously chunked out a great deal of money on a new, state-of-the-art sign, with bright red streaming video. And this morning, they were advertising their Fall Festival.


Trick Dogs??? That's it! This church has inadvertantly stumbled upon what has been missing in American evangelicalism all along--trick dogs. Look for it soon in your neighborhood!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Let's Talk About Real Persecution

This is Bahaa El Din Al Akkad, a former muslim sheikh in Egypt. He has spent the last 18 months languishing in an Egyptian prison. His crime? Leaving Islam and converting to Christianity, of course. Or as the charges read, "insulting a heavenly religion." Thanks to Sand Monkey, who is, in my view, one of the best news sources in the Middle East. Read his account and Bahaa El Din Al Akkad's story here. By all means, READ HIS STORY.

Two thoughts come to mind. First, this is why I want to gag whenever I hear American Christians talk about being "persecuted" for their beliefs. Such talk trivializes faith and demeans the suffering of the truly persecuted church throughout the world. And second, I am ashamed that it is our billions which prop up this regime. (I know, I know. What replaces it will surely be much worse. But still....)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

No Relief in Sight

The news from Iraq remains unremittingly bleak. Syrian Orthodox Priet Fr. Paulos Iskander (Paul Alexander) was recently kidnapped and beheaded by unknown terrorists. Read here. The most comprehensive report is from Al Jazeera News, found here, and a related story here.

And today's paper is just chock-full of news from the abyss, such "Shiite town erupts in revenge killings after bodies found." Shiite villagers attacked a neighboring Sunni village, killing at least 26, this in retaliation for the beheading of 14 local Shiite construction workers the day before. And this story: "Iraqis' faith in premier fading fast." The story notes that to date, some 400 committees have been formed to investigate the myriad problems facing Iraq. So far, only 1 has brought its findings to Parliament. Meanwhile, since the government's formation, daily killings in Baghdad have risen from 65 to 100. At least one bureau of the new government is doing a landmark business--the passport office. Passports are being issued at the rate of 15,000 a week. Anyone who can afford to get out is getting out while they can.

These stories just set the stage for the cringe-inducing interview with Samir Sumaidaie, the Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. He states:

...I want to make the distinction between what's going on in Iraq and all-out civil war. What's going on in Iraq is a campaign of violence waged by extremists on both sides, extremist Sunnis and extremist Shiites. There is no widespread conflict between the communities. The communities live quietly, peacefully and agreeably with each other, and have done so for thousands of years.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sunday Quotes

Sunday Paper Misc.

Georgie Ann Geyer on Immigration:

She quotes from film producer Ron Maxwell, who says

"the world is divided into two kinds of people. Those that live in three diminsions live simultaneously in the past, present and future. Those of us who live in this present are trustees to hand the past over to the future so the dead and the unborn are as alive as we are. But those who live only in the present think it's fine to pave over a battlefield or destroy a Buddha."

and John Tanton, founder of FAIR, who asked

"when did we begin to see man in America as only an economic animal?"

Good question, that.

Nick Gillespie, in article on Chris Anderson, editor of Wired and author of The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More:

We are turning "from a mass market," he argues, "into a niche nation" in which we can find exactly what we want in clothes, art, music and food. And, quite possibly, politics, personal identity, lifestyle and more.

And I suspect our American religiosity falls firmly within the "more."

Finally, in a review of Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children, an excellent quote from Edith Wharton:

"There are lots of ways to be miserable, but there's only one way of being comfortable, and that's to stop running around after happiness."

I like Edith Wharton.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Staring Down History

Igdir is a rather nondescript, if not unpleasant, modern city in far eastern Turkey, close on to the Armenian border. The region is noted throughout Turkey for its apricots. I can attest to the fact that they are indeed heavenly--juicy and the size of peaches. The region's shame, however, is this monstrosity. For this is the monument to the "Turkish Genocide." That's right; not the Armenian Genocide, but the Turkish Genocide. Turkey, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, maintains that there was no systematic genocide against the Armenians between 1915 and 1918, that while some Armenians did die during the "troubles," it was nowhere near the 1 to 1.5 million figure usually cited, that this part of Turkey was never primarily ethnic Armenian and that as many innocent Turks died as did Armenians. This monument, with museum underneath, is meant to perpetuate and validate this lie. Supposedly, the monument was built in such a location that, on a clear day, it could be seen in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.

My hosts wanted me to see this. The museum contained several rooms with official statements from Turkish historical conferences, old photographs showing Armenian "guerrilla" fighters (with guns!), and pictures from the 1990s unearthing of Turkish graveyards, supposedly showing the victims of the Armenians. The musuem sought to hammer through 3 points:

1. the Armenians "had it good" under the Ottomans
2. the Armenians were armed
3. that Turkish deaths equalled, if not exceeded those of the Armenians

The first point does have some merit. In many ways, Ottoman Armenians functioned in the same way as Jews did in many European societies. This appeared to be more of a Constantinople phenomenon, however. The fact that there were some armed Armenian freedom fighters is not news. So what? The museum's implication is that all were. Their panaramas depicting Armenian priests urging bloodthirsty hordes against the "innocent" Turks were particularly revolting. The third point is their Big Lie. Certainly, some innocent Turks lost their lives in this era. No one denies that. But Turkey resolutely denies the magnitude of Armenian deaths, or that there was any aspect of systematic "ethnic cleansing."

My host and I had a somewhat spirited discussion later on. He observed that many of the Armenians were not killed by the Ottoman troops, but rather, died of disease. "Like starvation," I asked? He excitedly replied, "Yes! Yes!" My sarcasm was lost on him. In other words, the only deaths that counted were those Armenians actually shot, stabbed, drowned or clubbed to death; not those who died of starvation.

I can understand Armenian anger towards Turkey. But this illogical Turkish animosity against Armenia baffles me. Would they not stay in line as they were being executed? Apparently, the fact that Armenians refuse to concede the point on what happened, and that the Armenian diaspora keeps the issue alive, infuriates many Turks. My host even thought tiny Armenia had designs on this part of Turkey, which would be comparable, I suppose, to Paraguay having designs on Brazil.

In my view, this is the main obstacle to Turkey joining the EU, or indeed, Turkey taking its rightful place on the world stage. By this, I do not mean the fact that they are Muslim, for frankly, they wear that very lightly. No, it is rather their infuriating nationalism, xenophobia, historical amnesia, and simple Turkocentric view of everything.

I love Turkey. I have friends there. I've traveled there three times, and hope to return. But this attitude becomes really, really hard to take at times. Much of it could be dismissed as mere silliness, were it not for the fact that it is believed, just as they largely believe 9-11 to be a U.S. government conspiracy. For example, I learned that: the Great Wall of China was built to keep out the Turks; that a Turk probably discovered America before Columbus (I suppose he will have to get in line behind the Norse, the Chinese, and according to Mormon theology--the lost tribe of Israel); that the American Indians are actually a Turkic people (could be); and on and on it goes. The 5 raised swords of the Igdir monument depict various stages of Turkish history, with a bas relief below each. One depicts a fierce Turkish soldier underneath a double eagle ensignia. I pointed this out to my host and said, "that's a Byzantine symbol!" He replied, "no, it's Turkish." I said, "no, I know a little about this sort of thing. That is definitely the Byzantine double eagle." "They got it from the Turks," he confidently replied. End of discussion.

I readily agree that the Ottoman Empire worked better in the Middle East than anything that has come along since. Think about it. But no, Turkey is not ready. And it will never be unless it honestly engages its own history.

A Ride with the Queen

On Fox News tonight, I listened to an interview with former Secretary of State, James Baker. Baker related an anecdote about President Reagan's state visit to Great Britain. Queen Elizabeth II hosted the Reagans at Windsor Castle. As both were avid horse-people, aides arranged a short, private ride. Far removed from reporters, the riders trotted up a nearby hill. Queen Elizabeth's horse, shall we say, was suffering from gas and emitted several short bursts, as only horses can do. The Queen turned to President Reagan and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry!" The President never batted an eye and replied, "that's quite alright, Your Majesty. I thought it was the horse."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

History Matters (Still)

Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con has a number of excellent and timely articles posted today. The most intriguing, to me, is "History Matters," and his link to Daniel Larison.

Larison is a Ph.D student in Byzantine History at the University of Chicago. His post, entitled "History Matters, Even For Those Who Think It Has Ended," can be found here.

Larison begins by quoting Paul Schroeder from The American Conservative, whose full article is well worth reading and can be found here. Schroeder notes that the main intellectual defect in current American foreign policy is the lack of any sense of history...a trained intuitive sense of the way things do not happen. (How they actually happen depends on the evidence.) America’s leaders and their advisers, including some so-called historians and political scientists, not only are ignorant of history and insensitive to it, they despise and repudiate it.

Larison's commentary is impressive.

History teaches the attentive student the tragic sense of life, which most Americans cannot grasp at all, and an awareness that some problems are not meant to be solved but are to be endured.

and masterfully (and also quoted in to Dreher post):

History does not repeat itself, of course, but it does provide cautionary lessons to those who would take heed of them. Among them are these basic truths: that great powers sow in the exercise of their own dominance the seeds of their collapse; that no victory is complete, no cause is ever truly vindicated by force of arms, and no defeat is final so long as people retain memory of it; that concentrated power is the ruin of a nation; that natural affinities and attachments to kith and kin are more enduring and powerful than almost any idea or belief known to man; that man has a deep need to worship and find meaning beyond himself, whether in the divine or the demonic; that man is impractical and irrational and will ensnare himself in fetters to acquire what he desires; that most men, if given the chance, will betray themselves and all they hold dear for the acquisition of power.

Untold volumes have been written, either trying to explain or explain away what Larison sums up in a paragraph. His site is well worth visiting and exploring.
Thanks Rod, and Daniel, and Dr. Schroeder.