Peacekeepers

FVhF8GUArchbishop Cranmer yesterday shared his thoughts about the British Trident, and they’re apropos for us as Americans as well. Trident is, of course, the British submarine based nuclear deterrent force, comparable in most respects to the US Strategic Command. The British were the world’s second nuclear armed power, because of their contribution (a huge one) to the Manhattan Project, and they have, as always, been steadfast in their duty.

I doubt I’m the only one who remembers with gratitude the sight of the American strategic forces at RAF Greenham Common guarded by the RAF regiment from the Moscow inspired Greens of the CND.

But that was then and now is now. The old Soviet Union is gone, although it does seem to be stirring somewhat like a phoenix, and its nukes still exist as do China’s, Pakistan’s and North Korea’s. Nor does it lo0k improbable that Iran, and perhaps others in the Middle East will develop nuclear weapons, and some may not be as rational.

Here is some of what His Grace had to say:

Trident is the price we pay not only for peace and national security, but for the contribution Britain makes to the security of the world. Our seat on the UN Security Council is contingent on our nuclear potency, which the SNP may not care very much about, but they will if President Putin keeps making incursions into Scottish airspace.

And it’s not only Russia: there’s also North Korea, and President Obama has just gifted the eschatological ayatollahs of Iran the means of ushering in the Mahdi and wiping Israel off the map. There is denial that this deal will do anything of the sort. But an assurance that Iran will open up their nuclear programme to inspection and not make a bomb for 10-13 years is no assurance of anything at all. When you believe you have a prophetic role to play in ushering in the End Times and the Second Coming of Isa, a decade-long delay is as a few minutes in the quest to reestablish Allah’s kingdom of righteousness.

There is no ‘Christian’ approach to nuclear deterrence: Jesus would no more bless a Trident submarine than He would a fruitless fig tree. And it’s hard to square a nuclear bomb with the Just War theory on the grounds of proportionality alone, let alone the collateral incineration of civilians. There is no jus post bellum after a nuclear strike: you’re dealing with the fallout (quite literally) for decades if not centuries.

But Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.’ And Trident helped to establish international treaties of concord throughout the Cold War era, even if that peace was sometimes hot. How would a nuclear-free Scotland defend herself against a nuclear aggressor?

Keep reading Archbishop Cranmer.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? These ugly weapons, always restricted for ‘no first use’, that no one ever wants to use, have kept the peace in Europe, for 70 years, courtesy of the United Kingdom and the United States. These two great maritime powers have taken the doctrines that allowed them to first make and then protect the modern world and turned them into a doctrine that has allowed them to keep the peace worldwide, for nearly 70 years.

It has been hugely expensive for both countries both fiscally and psychically. It is a power no rational man would desire, the ability to end life on Earth, and yet our countries have done so, and kept the peace.

It was no joke when back in the 1940s the USAF Strategic Air Command took as its motto:

Stategic Air Command

Stategic Air Command; via Wikipedia

Peace is our profession

For truly these warriors, some of the best in the United States and the United Kingdom are indeed the peacekeepers. To them every person in the world owes their life, and such freedom as they have, or even hope for.

As Cranmer said above:

But Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.’

For truly:

Si vis pacem, para bellum

Sacrifices

Zadkiel was said to be the Angel who prevented...

Zadkiel was said to be the Angel who prevented Abraham from sacrificing his son, Isaac. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From Genesis 22

 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.

Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.

And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

11 And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.

12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

We know the story as well as any don’t we? Abraham was fully prepared to sacrifice his only son, the his future of his family, that he cared about more than anything to God.

That what is meant by sacrifice. It means giving up something that means a lot maybe everything to us for a cause. In truth, as hard as it may be for us, it doesn’t really mean giving up chocolate for Lent. (The nice thing about God is that he understand about symbols though, so it does count.)

But here’s a thought for you, if that angel in verse 11 was late or got sidetracked, Genesis, Israel, Judaism end right there, Christianity never starts. The Bible ends at Genesis 22. Good thing angels aren’t human, isn’t it? Because then Abraham’s clan are just another bunch of nomadic Semites roaming around doing human sacrifice.

But the angel is on time, and stopped Abraham, and God provided the sacrifice, not a lamb but a ram. And that’s why we’re talking about this today.

Because this is not quite the end of human sacrifice in Judaism, there would be one more instance. That instance took place yesterday. It was quite different from what Abraham was willing to do. In fact, it is unique in history. because for the only time in History

God sacrificed his Son for man, not the other way around.

Think about that for a while, in all the universe, God has one begotten Son, and he was sacrificed like Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac. Here is the lamb of the sacrifice that the ram filled in for.

The omnipotent, omniscient God, who knows all about us, how we are disobedient, childish, petulant, greedy, vain, prideful, and all those other things that we know we are, gave up his own Son, who was sacrificed for us. He took upon his shoulders the sins of all of us, willingly, for all our generations, only asking that we worship and believe. And thusly:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

And that is something to think about this Saturday as we wait, pray, and hope for the Resurrection.

Since the Passover which our Jewish friends just celebrated and Easter itself which is intrinsically linked to it are both celebrations of the freedom of individuals, as well as free will to choose good or evil, I thought I would include this here to remind us in America of who we are.

[First published on nebraskaenergyobserver on 30 March 2013]

Palm Sunday, Triumphalism, and Leadership

palm-sunday-jesus-christ-on-donkeyOn Palm Sunday, way back in the mid 60’s, according to the traditions of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, I became a man, with all the responsibilities to God that that carried. It was also when you traditionally got your first suit. The Sunday before was Examination Sunday, the test was verbal, in front of the congregation. This entitled me to take my First Communion on Easter Sunday, as was considered meet and right.

As always the Sanctuary was decorated in palm fronds commemorating Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Also as on all special Sundays we processed behind the Pastor and Choir up the center aisle to this, Hymn No. 1 in the old E&R Hymnal.

And so I became responsible for my own everlasting fate, which up until this time had been my parents (and Godparents) responsibility.

Palm Sunday was, of course, the most triumphant day of the Christ’s ministry. With the adoring and worshipful crowds which of course would soon demand and receive his death.

What can we learn from this? General Patton put it this way:

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. . .

A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”


We know that earthly glory is fleeting, who can recite the exploits of Edward Longshanks, or Frederick Barbarossa from memory. Sure we remember some of our founders but its only been a few generations, and we have been trained (some of us anyway) pretty well.

But what is different about the Christ, other than the Resurrection that is. Like most troublemakers through the ages he died a common criminals death. Think about that for a moment. Within a week he went from the darling of the populace, to an executed criminal, that’s quite a fall, in any time or place.

The other thing is: He never forgot the mission. What thoughts must have been in his mind on that long ago Palm Sunday, knowing, as he did, the fate that awaited him. But he never flinched, only prayed that this fate might be averted. He knew, as did his disciples and followers in coming times, that there would be many martyrs, Saints of the Faith, if you will. There will be many more. Christianity, even more than the Judaism from which it sprang, is the religion of the oppressed, the underdog, the person who never got a fair shake in this world, the sovereign individual made in God’s image. All you have to do is: Remember the Mission and take care of your people. The shepherd of the flock. And that is more than most of us can do consistently, without God’s help, because it is one of the most difficult missions ever entrusted.

Do not fall into the trap of triumphalism, earthly glory leads to nothing but trouble. I think most of us know this instinctively. What is the thing we remember about George W. Bush? He had many faults, which most conservatives can recite from memory. But, and it’s a huge but, he was a humble God-fearing man. To me, that is a lot of the difference between him and Barack Obama. Obama wants lives for the acclaim of the crowd, the earthly glory, one could easily call it the cult of personality.

And so the lesson for me from this Palm Sunday is the old one that the US Air Force taught me long ago and far away:

First the Mission

Second the People

Last Yourself.

Over at Jess’s site, one of her co-authors, Fr. Malcolm has a beautiful Palm Sunday post.

ImageBoy with a donkey on the road from Bethany to Jerusalem.

John 12:9-19

9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!’
14Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!’
16His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 17So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify.*18It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!’

Continue reading That first Palm Sunday.

[First published on 24 March 2013]

Leaders and non-leaders

[For Easter this year, here, and to a limited extent, at All along the Watchtower (more about that later in the week) at well, we are looking back a couple of years, and bringing forward some of our favorite posts from the Easter season. I think it well to begin with one of my favorites from my Editor and dearest friend, Jessica. We both believe that Jesus epitomizes servant leadership, and today we tell you why. My thoughts will follow later today. Here’s Jess. Neo]

Thatcher for againstOne theme of this blog is the importance of leadership. Those of us who read today’s Gospel for Palm Sunday (though where I live it is more like Arctic Sunday, and we are dreaming of a white Easter) will have seen a perfect example of its absence – and the results.

Pontius Pilate was the prefect of Judea.  It wasn’t one of those top notch jobs, and like most Romans in such posts, Pilate had two priorities: keep things quiet and make money for himself.  The Romans were pragmatists. Gods? Heck, they had hundreds of them. So it was irritating that those Jews insisted there was only one of them. What was worse is they wouldn’t bend the knee to the gods of Rome. Live and let live was Pilate’s motto. He went to Judea in about AD 26, and had been there a few years when the Jews brought Jesus to him. He couldn’t see much wrong in the fellow, and he tried to find a way of avoiding blatant injustice. He was quite willing to have the fellow flogged, but crucifying him – that was another matter.

But there, blast it, went those Jews again. They wanted the fellow crucified. Pilate didn’t want any trouble, and you can almost hear him: “Come on guys, give us a bit of wriggle room here, the guy’s basically harmless, c’mon, cut me a bit of slack.” But they wouldn’t.  On the one side the pragmatic politician looking for a way through; on the other men who knew what they wanted and would stick at nothing to get it. If you didn’t know, you’d be able to tell who was going to get their way, and you’d not put money on the first guy.

Enter Mrs Pilate, telling him that she’s had a dream and that he should let the man be. That was all he needed, the little lady putting her oar in. Didn’t she realise he had enough trouble with those stiff-necked Jews?  Clearly not. Well, only one thing to do, wash his hands of it and let it be. And it all went off well in the end. There weren’t any riots, and although there were the strangest stories that the man had not died, it caused Pilate no problems for a bit. Politics is the art of the possible. You can see him afterward with Mrs P: “c’mon, what do you want? I did my best. Now what’s for supper, not more larks’ tongues?”

Small men, large events. Churchill said that in his father’s day there had been great men and small events, but during the Great War it had been the other way round. But really, we only see the real size of men when they are faced with great events. Cranmer just quoted some recently released papers from 1982 and the Falklands Crisis. Nearly every member of Mrs Thatcher’s Cabinet was for a quiet life and giving in. We remember none of them. She was for doing what was right. We remember her.

There’s a lesson in Pilate for us all – small men never get to grips with great events – and without vision the people perish.

[First published on 24 March 2013]

Optimism in America? 2

[I’m just going tp pit this post up and let the air clear again. I was working on other things and didn’t get today’s done. But Jessica reminds us of some eternal verities here. America was built on optimism, and we’d be remiss if we see only the gloom these days. So enjoy. Neo]
America optimism

One thing which has always struck me about America, and it is one of the reasons that FDR and President Reagan stand so pre-eminent, is that it is built on optimism. When you think of the situation of the Founding Fathers, goodness, what a leap of faith! They literally laid their lives on the line in a fight for independence against the great British Empire with its huge military might; but they triumphed. Their Republic consisted of twelve States on the eastern edge of a great, and largely unexplored Continent, with French and Spanish territory to the south and south-west; Louisiana essentially barred the route westward; Spanish Mexico barred the route to the south. Yet, within fifty years of the founding of the Republic, these barriers had vanished.

West of the Missouri, however, despite Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition, was more or less terra incognita, and even within the United States, tension was growing between the slave-holding States and the Free, so much so that by the 1860s, the Republic was tearing itself apart in one of the bloodiest of civil wars. Until the end of World War II there was hardly a decade when Bruce Springsteen’s lines about having ‘no work, because of the economy’ were not true; forty-odd years of exceptional prosperity in a material sense may have inculcated the belief that somehow the Republic’s people would always live on easy street – but that, whilst being part of the American hope, was never necessarily something most people actually achieved; you only have to look at the history of the Irish and Italian immigrants to see how it was for many first generation ‘Americans'; and of the suffering of the slaves, well, that is indeed a scar on the conscience.

But, despite of these things, America got on with it. Shady politicians? Crooked businessmen and bankers with their hold over the politicians? Politicians who were in it for themselves? Pork-barrelling? Faction fighting? Bitter insults hurled by political opponents at each other?  These are not new, these are American history; and you know what? America is bigger than them all. Sure, there are worrying developments – that FDR and his attempts to use SCOTUS to put in place that socialistic ‘New Deal’, with that Communist Wallace and Harry Hopkins, that really worries me! What’s that, that happened in the 1930s? Oh well, I mean Obama and Pelosi – except they don’t have an ounce of the talent and drive of FDR and his ‘Brains Trust’. The Great Republic remains standing. Does that mean that the fears of FDR’s opponents were wrong? Or does it mean that their vigilance stopped the worst happening? Or does it mean that the realities of America proved too great even for FDR’s ambitions? I confess I don’t know.

But what I do know is that at his first election Obama spotted something important – he knew that the American people are optimists, ‘can do’ people; after all, how many of their ancestors would have been there had they not been so?  So when he ran on a rhetoric of ‘hope’ he struck an authentic chord in the American people. It was one his opponents did not catch and still show insufficient sign of catching. It is all very well to call Obama out for being pretty useless, and to prophesy that the skies will darken and the waters rise and doom will fall upon the land; but is it a political programme to put before a People founded on the optimistic dreams of a bunch of guys who, if they’d calculated, would have paid the tax on tea and gotten on with feathering their nests?

I am an outsider who loves America. But I can’t help thinking that unless President Obama’s opponents get away from negativity (after all, if people feel, as they do, negative about him, they don’t need to be told to feel it) and offer a vision of the America its people recognise as optimistic, then for all her many faults, it will be Hillary in ’16. At which point, even my capacity to be Sunny will vanish :)

The Greatest Knight and the End of an Age

English: William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke

English: William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things that happens as we grow up (and even older) is that we discover our heroes have feet of clay. That’s because they, like us, are men, not gods, or even demigods. Still some seem to endure, and I suppose I was lucky, mine did better than most.

One of the first men in history that I decided was a hero and a good man to model  my life on was William Marshal, earl of Pembroke. Gallant knight, respected by all of Henry II fractious children, as well as nearly all of the barons of England, signatory of Magna Charta doing his duty as Marshal of England. And reissuing the Charter as Regent of England for John’s son Henry III,

Here’s a bit more about his sojourn as a crusading knight, following the dying request of the young Henry, Henry the II’s son. by Thomas Asbridge in History Today

William Marshal, warrior and tutor-in-arms to the son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, promised his dying charge that he would complete the sacred task of crusading to the Levant. Did he succeed in his mission and fight the forces of Saladin?

One of England’s finest warriors was laid to rest in London’s Temple Church on May 20th, 1219. In his funeral oration that day, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, reportedly described this celebrated veteran of countless wars – William Marshal – as ‘the greatest knight in the world’. The youngest son of a minor Anglo-Norman noble, Marshal had risen through the ranks to serve at the right hand of five English monarchs. He became a revered tournament champion, esteemed by his peers as the paragon of chivalry and a powerful landed baron of the realm.

Having been on intimate terms with figures such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart and ‘Bad’ King John, Marshal was ultimately appointed as regent for the boy-king Henry III. Fighting in one final campaign, the 70-year-old Marshal successfully stemmed the tide of a major French invasion and baronial revolt in 1217, at the Battle of Lincoln, saving the Angevin (or Plantagenet) dynasty from utter annihilation. Though Marshal is far from a household name today, this remarkable career marks the knight out as one of the most compelling, extraordinary and intriguing figures of the Middle Ages.

Manuscript of the History of William Marshal. Thomas Asbridge.Manuscript of the History of William Marshal.

Marshal was also the subject of the first known contemporary biography of a medieval knight, the so-called History of  William Marshal, written some six years after his death on the orders of his eldest son and now surviving in a single manuscript held in New York’s Morgan Library. This work serves as the key source for Marshal’s life, though inevitably it offers a highly partisan account of his achievements. However, the biography has sparked an enduring mystery about one particular phase of its hero’s career: the time he spent on crusade in the Holy Land.

While still in his early twenties, Marshal was appointed as tutor-in-arms to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine’s son and heir, Young Henry. In the course of the next 13 years the pair became close associates,  achieving renown on the tournament fields of northern France; but they were also embroiled in two abortive rebellions against Henry II’s overbearing authority. In the midst of the second of these civil wars, in June 1183, Young Henry contracted dysentery and suffered a squalid and agonising death in Aquitaine. As he lay dying, Young Henry charged his friend and confidante with a sacred task. Some months earlier, the Angevin heir had made a commitment to lead a crusade to the Levant (modern Lebanon, Syria and Palestine) and he now begged his ‘dearest friend’, Marshal, to fulfil that vow in his stead, carrying the cloak upon which Henry had affixed his cloth crusader’s cross all the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Honouring Young Henry’s request was no simple matter; it involved a challenging journey of more than 2,000 miles, almost to the edge of what was then the known world, but Marshal undertook this last act of service, nonetheless. The best estimates suggest that Marshal set out from western Europe in the autumn of 1183 and probably returned either in late 1185 or early 1186. This places him in the Near East at the precise moment when a titanic struggle was brewing between the Latin Christian crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and the emerging might of the great Muslim sultan, Saladin. Not surprisingly, the notion of one of the foremost warriors of the Middle Ages arriving in such a contested battleground has sparked both scholarly and popular imaginations.

Over the last century, the leading historians of Marshal’s career – from Sidney Painter to Georges Duby and David Crouch – have all struggled to interpret or to explain his short-lived crusading career. This was largely because the History of William Marshal offered only a brief and frustratingly evasive comment upon the period that its chief protagonist spent in the Holy Land. The History recorded that William performed ‘many feats of bravery and valour’ during his stay, achieving as much as ‘if he had lived there for seven years’, adding that these ‘fine deeds’ were ‘still known about today’ and widely discussed. But Marshal’s biographer then declared that he could not describe these marvellous exploits because: ‘I was not there and did not witness them, nor can I find anyone who can tell me half of them.’

As a result, most historians have been content simply to pass over William’s time in the East in a few sentences. Painter, for example, argued that, as ‘a crusade was the supreme adventure’, William ‘undoubtedly performed [great deeds] against the forces of the redoubtable Saladin’. More recently, Crouch suggested that, while ‘a cynic might conclude’ from the History’s relative silence that Marshal ‘had done very little’ in Palestine, ‘this would be unjust’. Crouch also stated that ‘by no stretch of the imagination could [William’s crusading pilgrimage] be interpreted as a career move’.

– See more at: http://historytoday.com/thomas-asbridge/greatest-knight-or-failed-crusader#sthash.ytlL2Bal.dpuf

Continue reading The Greatest Knight or a Failed Crusader? | History Today.

Yesterday, 2 February was the 114 th Anniversary of Queen Victoria’s state funeral.and so the end of the Victorian age.

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