Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem

Last week I visited Yad Vashem, the memorial to the more than 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. I invite the reader to visit their website yadvashem.org, and to study indepth the enormity of the Holocaust, which I cannot begin to describe in this short space.

Our wonderful guide, Dani, told about how his maternal grandmother, Dora, singlehandedly arranged for her whole family to flee the Nazis to Palestine; only one sister remained behind, and she perished in the death camps.

Dani also reminded us that it’s easy to fantasize that we would have done right by the Jews, “if only we had been in Europe in the ’40s.”

The main hall at Yad Vashem

Not so, apparently! Out of the millions of Europeans livin at the time, only a relatively handful are on Yad Vashem’s roll of honor (The Righteous Among the Nations, which includes Oskar Schindler, Corrie and Betsie ten Boom) for those who protected Jews. Then as now, the vast majority of people don’t want to get involved, especially at the expense of their own careers, families, and even lives.

We also don’t remember that many Christians abhorred the Jews back in the day, even before the Nazi propaganda came along. So defending Jews was thought by many to be shielding God’s particular enemies from their just deserts, just as some assert today.

Beware the “moral equivalence fallacy” of ranking every inconvenience or difficulty we face as “just like the Holocaust.” Still, one of several takeaways for me, one way to live out the lesson of Yad Vashem is to stand by groups that are unpopular today. Jews, to be sure – especially with rising antisemitism in the US, and the new popularity of Holocaust Denial and the naive acceptance of that old forgery, Protocols of the Elders of Zion – but also other marginalized groups. Just this past week in Portland, decent people defended two young Muslim women; two of those heroes were knifed to death, and the third nearly died. Some Muslims in Oslo have stood up for Jews; some Christians try to defend gays against violence; some atheists, although in a very backhanded way, defend the Christian Asia Bibi, as have a libertarian senator and a Democratic one; etc. I bring up these specific examples, since my readers are Christians, and thus atheists, gays, Democrats, and Muslims are typically part of the “Other” – just as Jews were the Other in 20th century Europe and often are today.

Jesus was probably referencing this well-known inn in his parable of the Good Samaritan

On my trip to Jerusalem, we also passed by the inn that is thought to be the inspiration for the parable of the Good Samaritan, who took the mugging victim to the way station between Jericho and Jerusalem – “Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:34). According to the Lord’s teaching, the story is about giving justice and mercy to those who we feel lie outside of God’s people. By showing mercy, the Samaritan was not rejecting Samaritanism nor affirming the superiority of Judaism; he was simply trying to embody God’s loving care.

If we risk ourselves only for those we recognize as God’s people,
we may be good guys,
but we are not Good Samaritans.

PS. Well, I guess I should have seen it coming: someone just wrote in, anonymously, to inform me that the Holocaust is a “myth” concocted by those awful lying Jews to make people would feel sorry for them. The evidence he or she gives: that uber-crackpot Stephen Anderson of Tempe, AZ, has a YouTube video that says so! (Btw, in my experience, it’s never a good sign when someone begins a video by saying, “Now, I’m not a racist! I swear I don’t have a racist bone in my body! However…”)

Look up the Yad Vashem website. Six million Jewish dead is not some phony number that people invented. There is an actual list, containing up to this date over 3 million names of Jews who were annihilated, with their ages, relatives, home towns, etc. Facts, people, lets deal in facts, not the “it-seems-to-me-ism” and sub-amateur sleuthing that is so fashionable in our age of social media.

“Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem,” by Gary S. Shogren, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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“The Paranoid Style in American Politics” has its 50th Anniversary

[One of my few blog entries on politics, and how it relates to psychology, sociology, and modern apocalyptic eschatology. Here is a full pdf version: Paranoid Style Turns 50_Shogren]

Because of his ability to describe and predict American political behavior, Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” should be required reading for the citizen. And except for Sacred Scriptures and the US Constitution, I never say any text should be mandatory. “Paranoid Style” was a short, dynamite article in the November 1964 issue of Harper’s, and is still available on their website archive. [1] We will look at some of its insights for today, and in particular, its implications for the evangelical church.

His immediate interest was the conservative movement that backed Barry Goldwater for president in the 1964 election. As a confirmed liberal of the old style, that is, to the left of typical Democrats of today, Hofstadter argued that he was not simply being anti-conservative – and that he was! – but rather: “I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing.”

I offer my own summary of the script of the “paranoid style”:

Nothing is what it seems to be: there are evil forces at work, carrying out their treacherous actions and shielding themselves from the attention of the general public;

I and a small group of whistle-blowers are even now revealing this hidden reality;

the proofs are extraordinarily complex and interwoven, but the central truth is simple and can be explained in a few sentences;

we who are “in the know” are continually hampered or even checkmated due to powerful enemies and widespread public apathy and gullibility.

“Nothing is what it seems to be – there are evil forces at work, carrying out their treacherous actions and shielding themselves from the attention of the general public”

conspiracy-theory-top-secretExamples from recent decades would have to include Senator Joe McCarthy, who argued that the loss of Eastern Europe and China to the Reds could not reasonably have happened by accident, or by normal political (more…)

Published in: on December 19, 2014 at 7:29 pm  Comments (17)  
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Persecution is NOT good for what ails the church (Part One)

Is persecution good for what ails the church? Here’s the word on the street:

Viewpoint A: Everyone knows that persecution purifies the church –

  • Therefore, if revival is to come, it will be through suffering.
  • Therefore, persecution is a good, a benefit.
  • Therefore, the committed Christian should pray for persecution to fall on their country.

Now, I know of no verse where Christians should hope for or pray for persecution. Nor is there a passage that says, “If you pray for revival, you’d better duck, God will send you tribulation.” These viewpoints strikes me as two of these Bible interpretations which are, to use the British phrase, “too clever by half.” It’s similar to the one I’ve heard people say, that we shouldn’t pray for patience – after all, if we do, God will send trials on us! I’m stymied, how a Christian could balk at praying for a fruit of the Spirit, or imagine that God will use our sincere prayer in order to play a trick on us!

The Bible is clear, and 2000 years of history give the same message –

  • Revival comes with or without persecution.
  • That is, revival and persecution do not follow a strict cause and effect. Nor are they typically correlated.
  • If there is correlation, it’s the question of the chicken and the egg – sometimes persecution comes because the church is growing and lively.
  • Persecution does not necessarily result in purification or vitality.
  • Persecution may be an impediment to church growth as much as it is a spur to growth.
  • People who pray for, seek or volunteer for persecution are on thin ice.

Christian-persecution-1024x682

The evidence: (more…)

I’m a Dad – what does God want me to do?

What exactly is a father supposed to do? Ask a dozen people and you’ll get two dozen answers. USA Today just ran an editorial yesterday, which stated that “The most important thing is to make sure of their education – from kindergarten through college.” I thought, “Very well, yes, that’s crucial. It’s a positive, measurable goal.”

As a Christian, I believe that God wants me to walk a certain path that the rest of the world doesn’t follow, and that includes how I should live as a father (or a husband, or teacher, or citizen, etc.). Now, we raised four children, who are now adults, and we thought that we were done. However, to my surprise, we are now raising a four-year-old boy who came to us from an abusive background. So I’m not just interested in this theme in theory, I need to know what to do this afternoon when our foster child comes home!

Here are two methods of figuring out what God wants you to do as a father:

Method #1 is what we’ll name the Key Passage Method. There are roughly 1600 references to the word “father” in the Bible, (more…)

The Night that the Rivers Rose and the Sky Fell

“There are two kingdoms, the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God. One works one way and the other another way. And you can really see the difference between them.” That was how Pastor Flor summed up her ministry. I’m visiting her home and her work in a shantytown (or precario), along with my own pastor, Marvin of Nazareth Bible Church. Maybe the best symbol for the two kingdoms is the holes that pepper the outside of Flor’s church. Marvin sticks his little finger in one and draws my attention: “Do you know what these are? Bullet holes. The drug lords shot it out here one day and this is a reminder.” They make sure that I saw the man seated a few feet from the church, smoking crack cocaine.

We are walking through one of the most notorious precarios of the region. When I mentioned to a friend that I was going there, she exclaimed ¿Por qué? and made me promise to be careful. The name of the place is synonymous with narcotics, violence, prostitution, and murder. In short, the drug lords run the town. To get here, we drove a mere 5 minutes from ESEPA Bible College and Seminary where I teach, a cheerful place with well-lighted classrooms and happy students. Then we entered another planet. It is a village that takes up only 10 acres or so. Yet some 6 to 8 thousand people are crammed in. You have to cross a narrow foot bridge over a river in order to enter. While we waited for the pastor to meet us there, a couple of ladies spoke to us and pointed to the spot where I was standing. “This is where they murdered that taxi driver on Saturday night,” they said. “He drove too close, and they broke in to the car, dragged him out, took his clothes and car and everything and left him for dead.” “Right here?” I said. They nodded. (more…)

God’s Will and Paul’s Missionary Plans, or, How did Paul know where he was supposed to go?

Let us say then that a Christian believes that God is calling him or her to the mission field. One of the most pressing questions, always, is: I know I’m going…but where do I go? How can I be sure when the whole needy world lies before me? The church does not have the privilege to shrug its shoulders and leave this a mystery, not when we have the New Testament to guide us. When I say the New Testament, I do not mean that we may select out one verse of Scripture, such as the vision of the Macedonian man in Acts 16:9-10, and use that as the one and only word on the topic. In fact the New Testament does not provide a formula, but nevertheless it shows us a range of godly ways in which a missionary should make decisions.

The question: How did Paul, as a Spirit-filled missionary, know where to go? When he was at a crossroads, how did he know to turn to the right or to the left? How did he know hit was time to leave and when it was time to stay longer? (more…)