He is Risen Indeed!

So it is here, the day of days!  For those of us who have observed some Lenten practice, there is almost a mixed feeling – having acquired the habit of giving up something, and taking something on, the challenge is not to give both up. It is some index of the society in which we live that where for Christians this is the greatest day of the year, he secular world, not really knowing what to do with it, prefers Christmas, which is more easily coopted into a spendfest.

He is Risen. What does that mean to each of us? We can only answer for ourselves, although each of us is an integral part of what it means, because Jesus died for each of us. That, for me, is the truly awesome (in its real sense) part of the Easter message. As I prayed at the altar of repose on Thursday night, I knew that I’d have been one of those falling asleep in Gethsemane; on Good Friday amidst the funereal gloom of the Stations of the Cross, there was a sense that my sins were the stripes He bore; much as I flinched from them, it occurred to me to wonder whether I flinched so easily from occasions of sin? At the Easter Vigil last night, as the Church was bathed in light, there was that sense that all had now changed. It changed for us all when He said to the Father ‘thy will be done’; it can change for us when we follow His example.

I live in the UK, a particularly secular part of a secularising Continent; America has more of a sense of what this day means to mankind, and long may that be the case. For all the effects of the culture wars, America still has more Christians than anywhere outside of China, and Christianity is still vital. The shining city on the hill is no secular vision.

Yet, how divided we appear to the world. How unable to take on board His message that we should ‘be one’ and that it would be through our mutual love that we would show the world who our Lord was. We say much, but too often what we say to each other sounds to the listening world negative and limiting. Pope Francis was not saying we should not talk about sexual sins and abortion, indeed he has rightly said abortion is a dreadful crime against humanity, but he was reminding us that there is a media out there which will always take the chance to make us sound as though we are obsessed with negative – ‘do not do this’. Yet we are reminded, on this greatest of days, that Jesus’ formulation of the Law was a positive one:

 “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

If we think of ‘being good’ merely doing no harm, we miss the positive message of the Resurrection. Our love for each other is communicated in action, and if our actions to each other as Christians contradict the message of universal love He brought, then our witness is not only impaired; it is fruitless.

We love Him because He first loved us, though we are sinners. If He can love us, we can try, in His name, to love each other. As dear Dolly Parton sings, “He’s alive, and I’m forgiven, Heaven’s Gates are opened wide.”

A happy Easter to all Neo’s readers.

Happy Birthday Neo!

JessicaHof:

And just so you know – it’s that time again xx Jess

Originally posted on nebraskaenergyobserver:

p1040510 Well here’s a surprise for Neo when he logs in.

Yes, folks, it is a special person’s birthday today, and whilst he’d never tell you and he’d want no fuss, I think as friends we’d just want to tip our hates to the man from Nebraska and to say, in an understated, Jimmy Stewart sort of way, ‘Happy Birthday Pilgrim’.

I’d like to say thank you to Neo for this blog and the range of stuff he covers (how does one guy know all this?), for his generosity to the rest of us, and for his friendship. He’s just there when you need him – and you can’t actually want more in a friend. No fuss, no bother – indeed if there ever was a guy who is really ‘no drama’ you don’t need to look beyond our host here.

Knowing he wouldn’t mention it, and fearing that he might…

View original 54 more words

To Gethsemane

jesus-in-gethsemane[I wanted to say something about Maundy Thursday but, I found whatever I tried to write just wasn't coming out right. So, we'll share in Jessica's from last year, which I think to be excellent.  Neo]

There they had been, camping out as they usually did. We don’t get much of a sense of the daily life of Jesus as He and His disciples tramped the roads of Judea, but the Gospel narratives give us some insight. They settled down for the night in Gethsemane. They’d had a good evening, and only one person at that supper knew why Judas had left early. We get a sense of companionship, and we can grasp something of the feeling of love which Jesus inspired in those close to Him. They were calm and rested, so much so that when Jesus asked them to watch with Him, they fell asleep. Like us all, they had no idea that the their world was about to be torn apart – and that the world and history would be changed forever.

How small a series of events came together that evening as they camped in Gethsemane. The Jewish High Priest had enough. The events of what we call Palm Sunday had warned him that the ever volatile population of Jerusalem might be roused to rebellion – and he knew what the consequences of that would be. Within a generation of the crucifixion Caiaphas’ fears had come to pass, and in AD 70 the Temple would be destroyed and thousands of Jews killed or dispersed; it is easy to dismiss Caiaphas, but he was, by his lights, doing his duty. How often do men of power think it better than one man should die than thousands suffer?

Judas had clearly had enough. Though the Synoptic Gospels tell us he betrayed Jesus for silver, John gives us the clue that it was Mary’s use of expensive oil to anoint Jesus’ feet which pushed him over the edge. It might, of course, be, as John said, that he had been tipping into the till and helping himself to money, but his taking offence was clear enough evidence of what type of man he was.  He was a zealot, a puritan – how dare Jesus allow people to waste oil which could have been spent to help the poor. He, Judas, knew what was right, and he had lost patience with Jesus.

Simon Peter was headstrong, and didn’t always get it right. After supper, when Jesus had said He was going to wash the feet of the disciples, Peter protested and said He wouldn’t allow it. But when Jesus told him that if he didn’t, he couldn’t be with Him, Peter didn’t ask for an explanation, he told Jesus he wanted to be washed all over.

Caiaphas and Judas reasoned their way through to a conclusion based on their own insights, and they saw, as we all do, only so far. Peter also reasoned his way to what seemed to him a sensible conclusion, but the love he felt for Jesus opened his heart and he saw further than he had with his intellect. Jesus warned him that he had been handed over to Satan to be ‘sifted’. Peter declared he never would deny Jesus – but Christ knew what was coming.

As the disciples slept and the Romans and the Jewish guard came closer, the silence of that dark night was broken only by the anguish of Jesus. His time had come.

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The Rules of the Great Game

tsar-putin-myter-makt-och-despotism

Since the end of the Cold War Western nations have proceeded as though the rules of international politics have been suspended; Mr Putin has reminded them that it is not so. International politics, like Hobbes’ state of nature, is the ‘war of all against all’, and we have, in this generation, rediscovered the truth he enunciated that ‘covenants without swords are but mere words’. Like the British at the time of the Boer War we have had ‘no end of a lesson’; but can we divine its meaning?

At the very simplest level it is that power matters. We hear much about ‘soft power’, but in fact it is hard power, as the Ukrainians will tell you, which matters. Foolishly, back in the 1990s, they believed us when we and the Russians guaranteed their territorial integrity when they gave up their nuclear weapons; does any one suppose the Russians would be behaving as they are now if the Ukrainians had kept those weapons? In fact, here is a clear case where preparing for the worst might have avoided trouble. As things stand, Putin may well, like Hitler, miscalculate how far he is allowed to go. I am not saying he is like Hitler, just that the two men both presumed on the weakness and vacillation of their opponents; Hitler got it wrong. let us hope Putin does not.

The second lesson, which means I think Putin will not get it wrong, is to know what your opponents will concede without a fight. Putin has gone for the Crimea because he knows he can get it. It is Russian in character, always was Russian since the 1770s, and wants to be part of a revived Russian Empire. For this, the West will not fight. Real power lies in a correct assessment of where your enemies will yield most easily and then going for that; Putin passes that test – so far; but sometimes appetite grows in the eating.

The third lesson is that it is foolish to assume that sanctions can work when you, yourself, would be more damaged by their implementation. Angela Merkel and the Europeans depend upon Russian gas to such an extent that they dare not impose real sanctions on Putin; the lights would go out all over Europe. It is true that Russia would suffer economic damage, but Russian public opinion has far less influence on Putin than British and American public opinion do on Cameron and Obama. Democracies find it difficult to act as swiftly as non-democracies.

The fourth lesson is that if you do not have guns you will not long be in possession of large supplies of butter. War-weariness has prompted the democracies to begin to reduce the size of their armed forces and decrease what they spend on them. This is fine, provided they realise this means that they will have far less influence in a multi-polar world where Russia and China have ambitions.

Finally, we must realise that our ways are not their ways. There is no inevitable triumph of the idea of democracy as preached by the West. It is a form of government like any other. It may be, as Churchill said, the least worst form of government, but it is dangerously dependent on being able to deliver bread and circuses to its own people, which exposes it to the risk of being defeated by those who promise even more bread and better circuses as the price for people giving up their freedom.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and striving. We have not been vigilant and we have settled into a comfort zone. It is up to us whether we wake up and take notice. If not, we bequeath to our children and grandchildren a very different world from the one we have known. That would be the ultimate failure.

The case for Putin

3am

Back at the time of the end of the Cold War we heard a lot about the ‘end of history’; recent events show that not only has it not ended, but that it can confuse commentators. One senior British politician commented that the important thing to remember about President Putin was that he was a former KBG colonel; that shows the limitations of his horizons; the real important thing to know is that Putin is a Russian patriot.

Let us put aside the Cold War rhetoric for a moment to ponder that. For a man like Putin the period from about 1989 to 2000 was pretty traumatic. he saw the USSR unravel, the Russian economy fall into chaos, and America become the dominant power in the world; this was deeply humiliating. Like any patriot, he wanted to change this. The economic facts of life helped him, with the Western economies going into recession and the possession of large amounts of oil and gas providing him with some economic security. But so too, we should not forget, did the international facts of life.

President Obama, like the European leaders, wanted to draw back from the international role played by Bush and Blair; they did so. They wanted to scale back ‘gun’ to spend more on ‘butter’; they did so. They wanted a more liberal and Westernised world; and they proceeded to react as though those ambitions were achievements. Upon the results of that policy, Putin can now feed. He did not ignore the international facts of life; power, as Mao put it, grows from the barrel of a gun; he has not cut Russia’s armed forces. He knows that ‘Western’ obsessions with ‘gay lifestyles and ‘rights’ aren’t shared in large parts of the world; and capitalises on it. He knows that if Assad falls, we will have the Taliban, and he knows the West won’t fight; so he acts decisively. It is no surprise that he acts as he does in the Crimea.

The Crimea was part of Russia from 1774 to 1954, and it is the site of Russian naval power; when a coup in the Ukraine drove his patsy from power, what on earth did the White House suppose he was going to do? He was going to do what a Russian patriot would do – try to regain control of the Crimea. That is what he has done. It wasn’t pretty, and it won’t get prettier, but all the rhetoric about ‘human rights’ and ‘international law’ isn’t going to move Putin, who, after all, has the only democratically elected current leader of the Ukraine sitting in Russia doing his bidding.

None of this is to defend Putin, but it is to put his actions into some sort of perspective. The Chinese, like the Russians, do not think that history ended when the USA won the Cold War. It is now losing the peace, and it is clear that President Obama not only does not have a clue what to do, he is at a loss to know even what to look like he should be doing.

Back in 2008 Hillary’s campaign asked what Obama would do when the red telephone rang at 3 a.m. – now we know – turn over and hope the bad dream will end. Sometimes being a community organiser in Chicago isn’t enough – this is that time.

 

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Running around in circles

obama-vp-biden-lets-move-running

You could not make it up. In the middle of a major international crisis, Obama and Biden are running round the White House like Batman and aged Robin because Mishy wants them to; I watched that on the British news and heard the sound of Mrs Thatcher whirring in her grave. It has come to this. Obama’s speech was the wettest, most pathetic, least convincing warning since ever; ‘red lines’? Don’t make me laugh. America and the ‘West’ have zero credibility in Moscow. Putin knows what he wants and is getting it; Obama can, literally, jog on.

The one person in all of this who can feel happy is Jimmy Carter. Hithertofore the most useless American President of modern times in the international sphere, he rises to second to bottom, with the great Chicago social organiser now firmly anchored in the bottom position; not even Clinton would have been this bad.

You might, rightly, ask what could the US and the West do? But that misses the point of deterrence. Whilst the Russians respected us, they feared us, and even if there was a limit to what we could do, the Russians weren’t eager to see what that was; now they laugh at the USA and really don’t care. Obama will make another speech – like the one he did about ‘red lines’ and Syria – and Putin will need help to stop laughing.

Once you lose respect, you don’t get it back. As long as Obama is in the white House, Putin knows he can do what he likes. Unlike the great Chicago social organiser, Putin is a man of power, not rhetoric. He knows what he wants, he knows how to get it, and he knows that America poses zero danger to that. The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power(less) can say to Putin that ‘actions speak louder than words’, but that one cuts both ways – the US does not act, and that says everything.

Throughout the Cold War one could have said that it was unlikely that the USA and NATO would have been able to wage a real war against the Soviets; would they really have nuked the Russians? That, in a way, is the point – no one, including the Soviets, knew. What they did know was that Harry Truman had nuked the Japanese, and that was all they needed to know; who is going to run the risk that the other side is not bluffing?

Obama has made the classic liberal mistake; he has assumed that words without swords mean something; Hobbes was right – covenants without swords are mere words. Putin is afraid of power, not words. If words were actions, Obama would be the best President ever; as they aren’t, he’s just the best President the liberals have – a legend in his own lunch-hour. But does he then have to put on a stunt running round the White House?

Can anyone imagine Thatcher and Reagan being filmed running round the White House at the behest of their spouses in this sort of situation? If there ever was an image which summed up the sheer useless, media-focussed, let’s everyone feel pink, warm and fuzzy ‘cos that’s cool, tone of the Obama White House, this is it.

In early 1943 Stalin is said to have commented, when Churchill and Roosevelt refused to go for a second front in Europe, that he would send some Polish women to invade Italy, as they, at least knew how to fight. But for all his scorn, he didn’t, because he knew he needed the fire-power America packed. How the mighty have fallen.

From now until the next Presidential election, the rulers of the Axis of Evil can relax – Obama is on watch, so whatever they want to do, they can.

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