Friday, December 29, 2006

Philippine typhoon relief work

I have just received the following message from Salvador Cariaga who has been in the disaster area near the Mayon Volcano in the Philippines for about the last month (since the 2 typhoons struck).

Relief Mission Update
I have witnessed the destruction caused by the tsunami in Sri Lanka and my brother, Dr. Sam have been there and to Indonesia as well. Although more people died in that aweful tragedy both of us think that the structural damage done by the two recent successive typhoons in Bicol region (around the active Mayon Volcano) is more wide spread and devastating. Sunday, I drove 100 miles towards Manila, and the damage reached all the way there. Another island province called Catanduanes is also hit as hard if not harder than where I am. I have been here in the disaster site for almost a month now, and I still can not get used to seeing the extensive damage of properties and crops.

Early this morning, I have personally visitied two homes owned by elderly widows (we are prioritizing our assistance on the elderly and widows). The first one is located just accross our new Disaster Camp in Bacacay, Albay. An electric post dangerously leans on their house while half of their roof is torn off and a couple of walls are missing. Their small "sari-sari (house store) was wiped out. Another widow lost everything in the typhoons. Not a single post was left standing. She rebuilt her house with twig-like materials and plastic trash for her roof.

Over 50 volunteers are now helping poor elderly folks like them. Some have already left and more are still coming. We are also getting local cash and kind donations from all over the country, including 31,000 packs of shampoo from proctor and gamble. Our volunteers are having fun distributing them around as freely as they do our WBS materials. Our main donors are members of the Churches of Christ, Bands (Body and Soul Ministry), and Caris Foundation.

Our first big batch of workers are getting tired and homesick. Most will go home this weekend. We have fresh new group on site now preparing to take over until after the new year. After that, I will take a break for a few weeks and be with my family. Unless new funds and workers take over, I might close the camp for good and just help the new church planting mission take over. We discovered three members of the Lord's church in Bacacay (who did not know each other). They committed to start a house church if we provide them a preacher until they can stand on their own.

Please continue to pray for this new ministry. I do not know what will happen and where this will lead to. I have gone as far as I could with this. Perhaps I too am a bit tired and homesick. I have been living in tents for weeks now. Maybe a break from here next month will help.

In His Service,

Salvador Cariaga

If you wish to help with material things like seeds, food and clothes, please send them to:

(Manila Area)
Makati Church of Christ
1598 Archimedes St
Brg Lapaz Makati, (near brgh hall)
Metro Manila,

(Visayas Area)
Mactan Church of Christ
Tumulak Street, Gun-ob
Lapu-Lapu City Cebu 6015
(Mindanao Area)

SunriseChristian College
Bon-Bon, Butuan City 8100

For cash donations, please send it to the bank account of Mactan Church of Christ Metro Bank, Pusok, Lapu-Lapu City 00718550805-2

Foreign donors can send their check to through their churches or mail it to:

BandS Ministries (Body and Soul)
P.O. Box 1926
Colleyville, Texas 76034

You may contact Dr. Bailey at, <>


If you need further information, please email me at or call or text me at +63 917 624 3719

View recent pictures of the calamity by clicking below....

Last weeks' report....
Forty one church volunteers have already arrived in our Disaster Base Camp overlooking the mighty Mayon Volcano spewing out ash and smoke. Ten more are expected tomorrow and ten more the next day and more after that. All will be staying in the school grounds (classroom or tent) without electricity or running water.

Today, our group will have conducted five different church services before the day is over. We hope that this will lead to at least one new congregation. Tomorrow, we will resume our planned schedule:

1. Repair the public school building. Classrooms, comfort rooms, cut broken tree branches, move felled trees, cut grass, fix rock walls,etc.
2. Cook for and serve 300 kids and youth.
3. Have Bible classes for most of the 300.
4. Visit homes most severely damaged or those owned by widows.
5. Bible studies and devotional.
6. Organizational meeting.

We will also distribute roofing materials, nails, cement and seeds. We have a partial delivery of 65 boxes of shampoo (31,00 sachet pieces or one truckload) to distribute also. We are negotiating with other companies to use us as a conduit for their donated products. Most of our volunteers are giving up their Christmas and New Year holidays with their families to serve in
the name of Christ.

In Him,


Sunday, December 24, 2006

On Being Peacemakers

See this statement from Sojourners called "Confessing Christ in a Violent World." Good stuff. Let us pray for the grace to live it.

True Peace

A sermon I recently heard (ok, it ended only half an hour ago) affirmed for the congregation that even though the angels announced "Peace on Earth" at the birth of Jesus, that peace isn't really to be found on earth. It's only in heaven after you die, and "in your heart."

I like that -- it makes Christian faith easier. No more working for peace on earth, no more having to put up with violent people who want to hurt me or injure me in some way. I can just kill them, so long as I have peace in my heart. Ain't life grand? Pass the ammunition.

Further, God isn't really trying to do anything in his creation: creation doesn't matter because, well, it's MATTER, and we all know that heaven means shedding this flesh and bone and becoming pure spirit so we can go to a "place" (why "spirits" need a "place" I'll never understand) called "the kingdom of God" that is also "purely spiritual" because "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50), and "this world is not my home," yada, yada, yada.

Uh, no. That is the gnostic heresy all over again -- the importation of Greek dualism into Christian doctrine. Here's what I mean.

You can find one source of these ideas in Plato's separation of "appearance" from "reality" in "The Myth of the Cave." Briefly, all we see around us is "mere appearance," which is NOT the way things "really are." The "real" is in the "realm of the ideals," and the stuff we see around us is "mere shadow" of those "realities" that exist in that "other place," the "realm of the ideals."

Now, this concept is probably valuable as a hermeneutical caveat against taking things around us at "face value." However, when it is taken in the ontological sense, i.e., as a description of "the way things really are," it becomes problematic. Taken into Christianity, it becomes heresy.

Gnosticism rose up out of Christianity in the second century. It took Christian language about "flesh" and "spirit" and interpreted it in terms of Greek dualism. For the Gnostics, "flesh" was always evil, and "spirit" was always good. The two could not be mixed, and any contact with "flesh" would render "spirit" evil. This concept had a number of implications for these "Christian Gnostics."

First, it meant that the true God could not have created this world -- that would be to blame this evil place on him and taint his character. So, Gnostics imagined an extended hierarchy of deities, one emanating from the other, each one "less divine" than the other, until they found a deity far enough removed from the original (and "true") Deity that they could blame creation on him (the lesser deity) without casting blame on the TRUE Deity.

Second, it meant that God's Son, the Redeemer, could not really have "become flesh." That would be to mix spirit with matter and to taint the character of the "True Deity."

Third, since this cosmic dualism extended into the personal realm, the "true you" (or "true me") is not this "shell" we call "the body," but is the "divine spark" within each one of us. So, "salvation" came to be seen as a liberation from this "evil body." The "divine spark" was understood to be the "soul," which is, more or less, a ghost that haunts one's body [credit to novelist Walker Percy for that phrase]. One is liberated from the body by knowing this "truth" about oneself. Salvation, then, is not so much from sin, but from ignorance. Thus, the name of this heresy, "gnosticism," is derived from the Greek work gnosko, which means "to know."

Fourth (and this is the best part!), it has ethical implications. Gnostics went one of two ways here. One way was to denigrate the body, to chastise it and essentially starve it to death because it is flesh and therefore evil. It is the other path that I like best: since the body didn't mean anything, and it isn't even the "real me," my body can do whatever it wants! It's not the "real me" anyway! Is this a great religion or what?

What I heard in the sermon today was that bodies and creation don't matter. If that is true, then my body can do whatever it wants! I'm lovin' it!

But, doesn't the Bible clearly indicate a division between "flesh and blood"? Let's see. Paul certainly uses that language, but we have to remember that Paul was highly trained in the Jewish faith and Rabbinic theology. Therefore we have to understand it as having grown out of that background. Though Paul made use of common ideas and phrases out of the Greek culture, the theology (and therefore the content or meaning of the terms) is out of the Old Testament. Here are a few relevant concepts.

First, God loves this creation, including the "matter" out of which he made it. The creation story in Genesis has God affirming the goodness of all that he made over and over, and even after "The Fall," there is no statement that indicates that it stopped being good or that God stopped loving it. The closest thing to such a statement is in Genesis 6, just before the flood, where the text says that "Yahweh repented that he had made human beings" (my trans.). Certainly human beings had brought sin into the world and had become utterly sinful (see Gen. 6:5), but the "plan of salvation" that God put into motion in Genesis 12 with the calling of Abraham was NOT a negation of what he had made, but a redemption. God is NOT sorry he created (in general), but sorry he had created human beings. When he destroyed them by the flood, he didn't destroy them all and start over with a different kind of being. He left a few humans alive and began the same project all over again! The point of the story is that sin will be a reality so long as there are humans: if you have human beings, you will also have sin and evil. You don't get rid of evil by killing off all the people you think are evil because the evil is right within each one of us. Yet it does not negate the goodness in which we were created, nor does it negate the imago Dei, the "image of God" in which we were created.

Now, take a look at Romans 8:18-25, a passage I like to call "God's Plan of Salvation." What are God's intentions for his creation stated here? Apparently, God intends to redeem it ALL -- ALL of it is "groaning as in labor," waiting for the "birth" of the children of God -- waiting for the FINAL CONSUMMATION of our redemption, in which the entire creation is to share! Salvation here includes (!) bodies ("the redemption of our bodies," v. 23; cf. also 1 Cor. 15 on the resurrection of bodies, and 1 Cor. 6 on our bodies being "members of Christ"). There is no thought here of a "ghost that haunts the body," nor of a "spirituality" that excludes and/or denigrates the body! "Spirituality" actually involves one's body -- or it's not truly "spiritual"!

In fact, the word "soul" as it is used in both Old and New Testaments (Hebrew nephesh; Greek psyche) is a reference not to some "ghost that haunts the body," but to the whole person. Ask yourself this question: Can souls swim? Sounds nonsensical if the "soul" is equivalent to a "personal ghost" or some such notion. But note this: in the story of the flood, the Hebrew text reads that there were "eight souls" (nepheshim) saved in the ark. The New Testament reference says the same thing, but uses the Greek psyche. So: saved from what? Well, didn't the ark save them from drowning? Why? Can't souls swim? Well, if they're "personal ghosts" then they don't have to swim, it would seem (not needing oxygen to survive, etc.). But, since here souls were saved from drowning, it may be that the word "soul" has a different reference, and indeed it does. If you consult the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, a very scholarly source edited by Colin Brown, you will find that "soul" essentially refers to "the whole person." Therefore, most contemporary translations of the Bible will tell you that "eight persons were saved" by the ark.

In other words, there is no "personal dualism" to be found in the New Testament, and no "cosmic dualism." "Salvation" is, therefore, not just a "pie in the sky by and by" kind of thing, and the "peace of God which surpasses all understanding" isn't something we get when we enter the pearly gates, but it is something we both enjoy in the here and now and must live out in the present time!

The "peace" offered by Jesus is also a "here and now" peace -- though it is true that we live in a world of strife and violence. What, then, does it mean for the angels to announce "Peace on earth" to the shepherds -- and to us?

It means, of course, that Jesus is indeed the "prince of peace," and that we, as those who believe it, are called to live that peace in our world. It is not just a "feeling of calmness" in the midst of chaos, though it may be that. But we are also called to BE something: "peacemakers." We are to live as if God is really in charge -- to live out of control because God is in control! We are to live the peace of God's kingdom as lights in a dark world. That is what Jesus did, and we are his disciples. We live our salvation so that others will see it. Some will love it and respond positively. Others will see us as weak and take advantage of us. But that doesn't change our call from God. When the angels announced "Peace on earth," they were speaking a word from God, and God wasn't kidding. Peace.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

On Being Nice

More on Hauerwas. I recently commented that I love his abrasiveness. However, I’ve never seen him be unkind. Quite the opposite: he is a very gracious, grace-filled man. I know this both from personal experience and from hearing the “Hauerwas Lore.”

At any rate, the “abrasiveness” comes from the gospel. Yes, that’s right – the good news of Jesus Christ. There. You heard me say it, right here on my blog in front of God and everybody (not that I assume God is a reader of my blog!).

I wonder sometimes where Christians ever got the notion that we’re all about “being nice.” Does it come from the gospels? Let’s see, hmmm. Maybe it’s the preaching of Jesus recorded there – the preaching to and about (at the same time!) the “scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites”? Uh, no, that’s probably not it. Well, what about, hmm, the stories of Jesus healing people? Yeah, that could do it – except that every time he healed someone, it turned out to be the WRONG “someone,” and it made him enemies.

Well, was Jesus ever kind to anyone? Yes – to all the “wrong people.” To the lepers, the children, the women with “a past,” the tax collectors, the Samaritan women, etc., etc. He was nice to the people who “didn’t count” in his society – the people who couldn’t help him when he got arrested by calling up their powerful friends and working a deal. He was kind to those who couldn’t return the favor even if they wanted to.

It was to the powerful that he spoke his harshest words and called his most provocative names – “bunch of snakes,” and “whitewashed tombs full of dead bodies,” etc. These are the kinds of words he spoke to those who could have helped him when he got in trouble. But those were the very people who worked against him, who wanted him arrested. These were the people of power and influence to whom he spoke harshly. He wasn’t nice to them. (One exception: the Pharisee Nicodemus in John 3 – who came to Jesus seeking the truth.)

These days we judge churches by how “nice” they are – by how many people greet us (or not) as we enter and find a place to sit and as we leave. Church growth experts tell us that only “nice” churches grow. And it’s a “given” that Christians are supposed to be “nice” because that’s how we will be able to share the gospel of this . . . not-so-nice-Jesus?

There are limits to our “niceness,” of course, and typically those limits are also the borders of our nation, or more precisely, of our nationalism. We’ll be nice to just about anyone unless they happen to be an enemy of our nation. Then, we typically reason, it’s ok to kill them and their children, or at least make life miserable for them through “economic sanctions” (the modern form of the siege). Not so nice. Not so much like Jesus.

But we do share the gospel, and we’re “nice,” and sometimes people get mad at us anyway. I think it would be great if that anger toward Christians was for the same reasons religious leaders in the first century got mad at Jesus, but it’s not. In America, the non-religious folks sometimes get mad at Christians because, well, we’re arrogant and we want power. They see the hypocrisy of many Christians who proclaim a gospel of “niceness” and then believe it is just fine to kill enemies and abandon the poor to their own resources. But when they hate us for these reasons, frequently the Christian response has been to cry “Persecution! Persecution!” And so the battle rages.

Of course, this is a somewhat more difficult problem than my description here, and not all Christians fall under this description. But enough of “us” DO fall under the description that I believe it’s safe to offer it as a generalization.

In other words, “we” are sometimes abrasive for the wrong reasons – for really bad reasons, reasons that are decidedly NOT the gospel of Jesus the Messiah.

So, though Hauerwas has sometimes been criticized for his abrasiveness, could one say that in this characteristic he is very much like Jesus? I’ve heard him say (and he may have written this somewhere, too) that if he goes somewhere to preach and doesn’t make someone mad, he feels like he’s been unfaithful to the gospel. And THAT is why I would like to be as abrasive as Stanley Hauerwas.

Precisely what is it about the gospel that is “abrasive”? And to whom? I’ll consider those questions in a subsequent post.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Better Hope

I am in the process of reading A Better Hope, a collection of essays by Stanley Hauerwas (Brazos Press, 2000). Stanley has long been a favorite of mine, in part because I dearly love his abrasiveness (and wish very much to be just as abrasive!), and in part because he has such clear focus on our Lord, and he strives to let that focus determine everything he thinks, says, does and/or writes.

This book, though, is his attempt to state the positive rather than the negative. He says this book will not, however, present "a kinder, gentler Hauerwas." Thank God! We don't need a "Hauerwoos." ;-) Listen:

I do not deny that I love a good fight, but I also know that it is a mistake, at least if you are a Christian, to have your life or theology determined by who you think are your enemies. Christians know we will have enemies because we are told we must love our enemies. That we are commanded to love our enemies is not a strategy to guarantee that all enmity can be overcome, but a reminder that for Christians our lives must be determined by our loves, not our hates. That is why Christians cannot afford to let ourselves be defined by what we are against. Whatever or whomever we are against, we are so only because God has given us so much to be for.
Certainly this statement (and others similar to it) will make Hauerwas new enemies, or at the least renew the enmity of old ones. Why?

Because people don't want policies that won't "work," that won't guarantee that "all enmity [will] be overcome." We human beings are not very comfortable with physical uncertainties. Refusing to conquer our enemies means letting them be who they are -- our enemies, some of whom want to kill us. It seems then that to love them is to give them tacit permission to kill us. So, loving them means we may have to give up our comfort and way of life, or the comfort and way of life we would like our children and grandchildren to have. We may get killed. That doesn't see fair -- here we are, working for justice, and we get killed for it? Some would simply refuse to pay that price. And since we know Jesus was rational, we "know" he could not have really meant that. Or so this line of reasoning goes.

But, if we realize, as Hauerwas has said, that we don't love our enemies because we believe it will "work" in some strategic way, that it will suddenly convert our enemies into puppy dogs so the world will become a "Precious Moments" scene, but rather we love them because God does and because we were baptized into the Lord who died for them, that line of reasoning is shown to be irrelevant. It doesn't matter whether or not the "strategy" (and it becomes at this point something other than a "strategy") "works": what matters is who we are -- we ARE a people defined not by our enemies but by our Lord.

I'm grateful for Stanley Hauerwas for showing this to me.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Devastation in the Philippines

The area surrounding the Mayon volcano was the hardest hit area by the typhoons Durian and Utor over the last two weeks. Here are a few photos. See previous posts for more information.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

God is Not an American

There is a wonderful group on Facebook, "God is Not an American." I love it because I so often see evidence that many, many of the people around me think that he/she IS American, and that s/he loves to underwrite the American "foreign policy" agenda and can't wait to sign onto the next Republican party platform. Admittedly, I do see Democrats that have a parallel attitude, but generally speaking, it seems to be more prevalent on the Republican side of the aisle. Of course, some Republicans might say it's because Republicans believe in God and Democrats don't, or some other such silliness. I won't even dignify that with a response.

Now, if you believe as I do that God is a lover of all human beings equally, then grab your barf bag and click on this link. Watch the video. Do you see what I see?

I see people who cannot tell the difference between their Christianity and their patriotism -- they think they are one and the same. I see people who assume that God is indeed an American, and that God always supports America, and that the gospel of Jesus Christ supports the work of our military when it kills our enemies.

Is there not a tension here between the words of Jesus, "Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you," and the idea that we sometimes have to kill our enemies? "Tension" is certainly too soft a term. There is no "tension," there is conflict. However, this video demonstrates how easily the gospel of Jesus can be perverted to the extent that many feel absolutely tension, let alone sense a conflict here.

Now, I don't object to the existence of a group of Christians who might lobby representatives of our government on certain issues. I don't object to government employees praying or studying the Bible. What I object to in this video (and in American "Christian" culture in general) is the assumption that the gospel aligns perfectly with our American agenda. Here's an example.

Manifest Destiny. America was "meant" to extend "from sea to shining sea," and anything or anyone that stood in its way was opposing divine intention and was therefore subject to divine wrath, which "we" were more than willing to execute (pun intended, but not intended to be funny!) on God's behalf. It was genocide, and the first peoples to reside in this place barely survived. It was an atrocity -- to the point that I have to put the quote marks around "we" when I talk about it. Whether or not my ancestors participated, as a white male I have reaped the benefits of what was done. It was done because "we" were Christian and the native peoples were "pagan savages" who were worthy of slaughter. (For a more complete exposition of how "Manifest Destiny" worked in American history, see the book by Richard Hughes, Myths America Lives By. Bibliographical information and a review by yours truly can be found by clicking here. Review originally appeared in The Christian Chronicle.)

I'm not sure what to do about this issue except to keep talking about it. Anybody got a flak jacket I can borrow?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Philippines typhoon disaster: update

My friend Salvador Cariaga sent the following text message from the disaster site on the Philippine island of Luzon, near the Mayon Volcano:
Toured around the volcano. Devastation and damage everywhere. Most houses, crops and schools destroyed. Stench of death still lingering. Images of despair all over. Lava flow, typhoon, mudslides, floodin; another typhoon would bring more mudslides and flooding. Too much for people to bear. Food shortage and widespread disease feared.

A good news account can be found here:

If you wish to donate, see information in the previous posts (below).


Typhoon Utor

The second typhoon to hit the Philippines in ten days, Typhoon Utor, killed "only" five people. The damage from the first one, Typhoon Durian, is still largely unassessed. Some areas are still unaccessible because of mud slides that have blocked roads. See the story here:

My friend Salvador is on his way to the disaster area -- he's probably already there as of this writing (10:45 AM CT, Tuesday, December 12). Here is his last message before leaving:

Typhoon Disaster Update (12/12/06)
In a few hours, I will be leaving for the disaster site where Jun Arcilla, Elmer Palacio and several other colleages have been scouting for several days now. Elmer's sister and cousin lived in separate communities. Both their houses were destroyed by mudslide. His cousin had to evacuate his whole family to Manila. They lost everything. Jun Arcilla has also been networking with his contacts in Albay and Sorsogon. Aside from scouting how we could be of help, he has also been zealously evangelizing and teaching people the word of God. He found a Christian family in Pilar and they have been working with him and taking him around.

Wednesday, we will meet with MARCH for Christ workers in Legaspi. My brother, Dr. Sam and several others in our contingent will join forces with MARCH and conduct a medical and dental mission on December 13-15. MARCH have been doing feeding mission and helping thousands of people. Gigie Caranza and a dozen other workers have been there since last week. Based on the information I have gleaned from our brothers in the field and news network, they need the three basic necessities: food, shelter, and clothing. Over a million is supposed to be affected by the disaster, many are left homeless.

If you wish to help, please send material things like food and
clothes to:

Jun Patricio
c/o Makati Church of Christ.
1598 Archimedes St
Brg Lapaz Makati, (near brgh hall)
Metro Manila

For cash donations, please send it to the bank account of Mactan Church of Christ:

Metro Bank, Pusok,
Lapu-Lapu City

Foreign donors can send their check to:

BandS Ministries
P.O. Box 1926
Colleyville, Texas 76034

You may
contact Dr. Bailey at or

If you need further information, please email me or text me at +63 917 6243719

In His Service,

Salvador Cariaga

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Typhoon Durian

Odd name for a typhoon: Durian. In the Philippine Islands, which Typhoon Durian hit just a few days ago, Durian is a fruit -- a "stinky fruit" for which, they tell me, one must develop a taste. Apparently it smells so bad that it is illegal to carry one on any public transportation. No kidding.

And now, after Durian, another typhoon has hit the Philippines. One of my old college friends, Salvador Cariaga, has been a missionary in the Philippines since his graduation from Oklahoma Christian University in 1983. The Philippines is a very poor country generally, and the people who have gone to the disaster site to minister to those in crisis do not have a lot.

Below, I will paste several messages I've received from my friend, Salvador, along with information which will tell you how to donate to the relief efforts.

First, the "official" plea for assistance.

Manila authorities say over 1200 dead. Hundreds of villages destroyed.

Two scout teams will start serving the typhoon victims today in Albay. We have joined forces with MARCH for Christ led by Chito Cusi. While some will be providing food and medical care, others will be scouting the area and working with the government and relief agencies on how we can be most effective.
We are looking for sources of cheap used clothing to buy and ship them in site as soon as possible. We are sourcing out funding for that and canned foods also to provide for the victims.

Next week, larger teams will arrive to do more medical mission and provide spiritual and emotional counseling. Jun Arcilla, preacher of Mandaue Church of Christ, and a native of Albay and Dr. Teves, a Christian surgeon were sent by BANDS to do the inital work there. BANDS (Body and Soul), led by Dr. John Bailey, is sponsoring a larger team next week.

To help with the disaster victims,
please send it to:

BandS Ministries

P.O. Box 1926

Colleyville, Texas 76034

You may contact Dr. Bailey at or send them to your home church and they will contact us.

Salvador Cariaga

carla calhoun wrote:
Viet Nam update:
Currently: 59 dead
Areas affected: Within two months of typhoon Xangsane hitting both the Philippines and Viet Nam, typhoon Durian has followed the same path leaving the Philippines and travelling parallel to the southern Vietnamese coast. Typhoon Durian made landfall in the southern Vietnamese province of Vung Tau and the Mekong river delta on the evening of Tuesday 5 December 2006. The eye of the typhoon crossed Phu Qui island in Binh Thuan province, destroying homes, community infrastructure and disrupting out communications and electrical systems. Initial estimates by the authorities and Viet Nam Red Cross (VNRC) officials indicate 48 people dead, 184 injured and ten missing. Over 120,000 houses are reported to have collapsed or had their roofs blown off and approximately 700 boats have been sunk.
The most affected areas are Phu Qui island in Binh Thuan province, Ba Ria Vung Tau, Tien Giang, Ben Tre, and Vinh Long provinces. Heavy rains as a result of the typhoon in Danang, Quang Nam and Quang Ngai provinces have increased river water levels to dangerous heights.

Philippine Update:
MANILA, Dec. 6 (Xinhua) -- The death toll in the aftermath of typhoon Durian has risen to 543 with over 2,000 people reported injured or missing in Albay province, central Philippines, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said on Wednesday.

Two men with BANDS will be out today assessing the damage.
Salvador Cariaga will keep us posted on news and updates.

Pray for the families in these areas. May the Christian brothers be blessed as they render aid to their neighbors. More information to follow on how to help.


Carla Calhoun saw this story on Asianews and thought you should see it.


Manila authorities say over 1200 dead. Hundreds of villages destroyed. Article:PHILIPPINES - VIETNAM Typhoon Durian:
reconstruction could take yearsThis is the estimation of the Filipino authorities. The typhoon killed 1200 people and buried 700 villages. Moving to Vietnam, it left 54 dead in its wake. If you want to see the full article click here

Asianews is not responsable for the content of this e-mail


Filipino Christian workers now on site."Manila authorities say over 1200 dead. Hundreds of villages destroyed." Two teams started serving the typhoon victims yesterday in Albay. Jun Arcilla, formerly from Catanduanes, now minister of Mandaue Church of Christ in Cebu, surveyed the area and interviewed the victims. He reported witnessing a sea of refugees. The constant rain is making matters worse for the rescuers and the survivors. The Philippine newspaper PDI estimated that over a million people were displaced with hundreds of villages wiped out. Elmer Palacio, a preacher in Cebu has a sister in Bacacay, Albay. He said their home was totally destroyed. Her family was devastated and do not know where to go and what to do. A local official found her husband wandering in town aimlessly. I promised emergency fund to tied them over until we get there. MARCH for Christ also have a small team in Albay. Gigi Caranza and Naga brethren are on site preparing a feeding program for the survivors. A joint medical and dental mission will be held early next week with Dr. Samuel Cariaga and other doctors. Preachers from the churches of Christ will also assist in the counseling and spiritual guidance. We hope to provide food and clothing during this mission. Later on, we hope to participate in the rebuilding program and help provide a new home for those who lost everything. We will also ask Philippine churches of Christ to contribute for this cause. Some have already offered used clothes and money. BANDS (Body and Soul), led by Dr. John Bailey, has provided us the seed money to respond immediately. We will need $10,000 for next week's mission and more for the second and third. This will help with the medicine, food, clothes, and temporary shelter for the survivors. We also need a portion of this to transport volunteers, feed and house them. To help with this disaster effort , please send it to:

BandS Ministries

P.O. Box 1926

Colleyville, Texas 76034

You may contact Dr. Bailey at or send your help to your home church and they will contact us.

For local donations, please send it to

Jun Patricio
c/o Makati Church of Christ.
1598 Archimedes St
Brg Lapaz Makati (near brgh hall)

We are negotiating with Manila brethren who are duly registered with the government to be official conduit of funds locally and abroad. The information should be available sometime today. For more information, please contact me or Jun Patricio at MARCH for Christ can be reached through Chito Cusi at

In His Service,

Salvador Cariaga

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------This document has been forwarded from the ReliefWeb site. Sender: carla calhoun ( Source: Philippine National Red CrossDate: 06 Dec 2006

As typhoon Reming (international name: Durian) continues to move out of the country, thousands of affected families are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Houses and infrastructure suffered massive damage from volcanic debris and mudflows from Mt. Mayon, leaving hundreds deadwhile survivors have sought refuge in packed evacuation centers.

Within hours of the disaster, the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) immediately deployed their local disaster response teams to heavilyafflicted areas for rescue and initial relief distribution.

Reports coming in from the field have placed the level of destruction much higher than during the recent typhoon Milenyo. Conflicting initial reports put the death toll anywhere between 200 and 500, and about 140,000 families badly affected. These figures are expected to rise significantly whencommunication lines are restored in areas including Catanduanes andSorsogon.

The PNRC sent three teams of experts yesterday to ravaged areas of Albay, Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, Quezon and Marinduque to gain a generalimpression of the scale of damage and to gauge the immediate needs ofaffected families there.

PNRC chairman Richard J. Gordon yesterday (Dec 2) flew over Albay andCatanduanes aboard a chopper and observed that, while there was apparently heavier loss of lives in Albay, reports indicate that Catanduanes seems to have suffered heavy damage to property and infrastructure. He also met with some government officials of Albay and Catanduanes who told him of their commitment to assist the affected families.

"Because of the typhoon's extensive damage to property and infrastructure," said Gordon, "many people are without roofs over their heads or access to essential services." He also noted that food and drinking water are inshort supply; details, however, as to the number of families and days they need to be served have not yet been finalized.

The most vulnerable communities, Gordon pointed out, are those living adistance away from the urban centers, whose farms have been heavilydamaged, with coconut plantations and rice fields, as well as banana and abaca groves rendered virtually unproductive for the next season.

"With little alternative sources of sustenance," said Gordon, "thesevulnerable communities need immediate relief to tide them over for theimmediate term, and then some assistance to get them back on their feetwith livelihood assistance.

"It is vital to help them regain their self-reliance and dignity, for this is the core humanitarian mission of the Red Cross: “ to help save lives, improve lives," added Gordon.

For his part, Roger Bracke, head of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) delegation in Manila, said of the aerial surveywith Gordon as well as of interviews with people on the ground that"communities are still shell-shocked" and that ongoing food distribution is "on a scale that is not relevant."

Bracke added that they saw about 80-150 buried houses with only the roofs showing, adding however that he cannot release any figures yet based onjust one visit. More assessment teams will be deployed in the coming days to help form a more complete picture of the typhoon damage.

The international community has been responding well to the disaster. The IFRC has released an initial emergency assistance of 100,000 Swiss Francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund, and is preparing to release aninternational appeal soon. The Netherlands Red Cross has pledged 40,000Euros.

The Canadian government has also pledged one million Canadian dollars, half of which was coursed through the IFRC and the other 500,000 through theCanadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

"We need to send out the message that, while we will dig into our ownresources in response to this disaster, our means are inadequate and wewill appreciate and welcome humanitarian assistance in whatever form that the world can extend to us in this time of great need," said Gordon.

As for local companies, the Rotary Club pledged to contribute in-kinddonations, while Globe Telecom is accepting donations through its G-Cash and Donate-A-Load programs. Smart Philippines, on the other hand, willdistribute relief supplies in Albay together with the PNRC on Monday.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the documents carried by theReliefWeb site are those of the authors and are not necessarily shared by UN OCHA or the ReliefWeb secretariat. Inclusion of links to sites outside the United Nations does not imply endorsement of the contents of thosesites. Any user comments added to forwarded Email messages are those of the comment authors.

AND FINALLY: TEXT MESSAGES FROM RELIEF WORKERS IN THE DISASTER AREAS. I will cut and paste as they were sent to me. Salvador has provided "translations" of the shorthand texts and of some of the language where necessary.

Another typhoon hit the Philippines yesterday. The wind and rain was strong here in Cebu whole day and night. There are flooding here that caused traffic jams around the city. It even leaked in my house. They had to cancel the ASIAN SUMMIT, a meeting of heads of state in the region due to the weather. However, our woes here are nothing compared to the Bicol area. Jun Arcilla, a veteran of many disaster relief effort said that it is 100 times worse than the Leyte landslide disaster. Note recent few text messages I got....

Text messages from the local volunteers on the disaster area.....
"Never in a distant history dat Ligaspi, Albay, Daraga xperience dis DELUGE, Dis whole cities u can imagine were covered with flood waters more than 10ft. never be4. Its not an exageration wen I said its 100 times more than GUINSAUGON. Tens of towns ERASED. Manu ar buried, smel of death s all over in many places we saw." Jun Arcilla, preacher, Mandaue Church of Christ, working in the disaster area. 12/8 7:39 pm. Translation: "Never in a distant history that Daraga, Legaspi, Albay experienced this DELUGE. These whole cities you can imagine were covered with flood waters more than ten feet.
Never before. It is not an exageration when I said it is a hundred times more than GUINSAUGON. Tens of towns ERASED. Many are burried. Smell of deth are all over in many places we saw."

" I can feel d fear of d pepol nw dat again ders heavy dwnpour. Im afraid dis wl triger another mud flw at Mayon." Jun Arcilla, minister of Mandaue Church of Christ, working in the disaster area. Translation: "I can feel the fear of the people now that again there's heavy down pour. I am afraid this will trigger another mud flow at Mayon (Volcano)." Sent 12/9/06 at 10pm
"Pilar Sorsogon: Madilim sa labas mlakas ang ulan at hanging bagyo na dito dilikado na naman ang Mayon area. Divotional kami dito. Jst finis our diner with Adi family." Jun Arcilla 12/9/06 9:13 pm. Translation: " Pilar Sorsogon: It is dark outside. The rain and wind are very strong. It is typhoon again here. The Mayon (volcano) area is dangerous again. We are having devotional (service). Just finnished our dinner with the Adi family."
"Medyo mahangin at maulan d2 sa bayandong. Wer ok, nagtransfer kami ng place mas safety." Elmer Palacio, preacher in Babag, Lapu-Lapu City visiting Mayon where her sister's house was completely demolished. Sent 12/0/06 8pm.
Translation: "It is windy and raining hard here in Bayandon. We are ok. We trantransfere to a safer place."
"Ang mga lava frm vomayon sa brgy padang, Legaspi ang na grabehan, maraming namatayang town of St. Domingo mudlow and nakasira, un ang nadaanan namid. Malakas na ulan at medyo mahangin na rin." Elmer Palacio, sent 12/9 2:12 pm
Translation: " The lava from Mayon Volcano is worse in Padang, Legaspi. Many died in the town of St. Domingo due to destruction of the mudflow. We passed by there. The rain is strong and it is windy also."
"Some o most of d ppol hir dont ask clothes ecept sa mga naanod n natabonan ng haws, wat dey nid now, fud, medcine, n 4 rebuilding der house. I dont know kung bagyo nasad kini ron." Elmer Palacio. 12/9 3:04 pm. "Some or most of the people here do no t ask clothes except whose house was washed out or burried. What they need now are food, medicine, and for rebuilding their house. I do not know if another typhoon is coming."
"Im at bayandon na. Kawawa mga ung lugar at tao talaga, 368 hawhold, 207 totaly damage na mga bahay, naanod ung iba. Walang pagkukunan ng income dahil nasira lahat, bago lang kami nagusap sa capt nila." Elmer Palacio.
12/0 11:54 am Translation: "I am at Bayandon already. I feel pity for the place and the people. 368 house hold, 207 houses are totally damaged. Some were washed out. They have no source of income anymore because everything was destroyed. I just spoke to their local chief."

Salvador Cariaga

(Dec. 7, 2006)
Filipino Christian workers now on site
"Manila authorities say over 1200 dead. Hundreds of villages destroyed."
Two teams started serving the typhoon victims yesterday in Albay. Jun Arcilla, formerly from Catanduanes, now minister of Mandaue Church of Christ in Cebu, surveyed the area and interviewed the victims. He reported witnessing a sea of refugees. The constant rain is making matters worse for the rescuers and the survivors. The Philippine newspaper PDI estimated that over a million people were displaced with hundreds of villages wiped out.
Elmer Palacio, a preacher in Cebu has a sister in Bacacay, Albay. He said their home was totally destroyed. Her family was devastated and do not know where to go and what to do. A local official found her husband wandering in town aimlessly. I promised emergency fund to tied them over until we get there.
MARCH for Christ also have a small team in Albay. Gigi Caranza and Naga brethren are on site preparing a feeding program for the survivors. A joint medical and dental mission will be held early next week with Dr. Samuel Cariaga and other doctors. Preachers from the churches of Christ will also assist in the counseling and spiritual guidance. We hope to provide food and clothing during this mission. Later on, we hope to participate in the rebuilding program and help provide a new home for those who lost everything. We will also ask Philippine churches of Christ to contribute for this cause. Some have already offered used clothes and money.
BANDS (Body and Soul), led by Dr. John Bailey, has provided us the seed money to respond immediately. We will need $10,000 for next week's mission and more for the second and third. This will help with the medicine, food, clothes, and temporary shelter for the survivors. We also need a portion of this to transport volunteers, feed and house them. To help with this disaster effort , please send it to:

BandS Ministries
P.O. Box 1926
Colleyville, Texas 76034

You may contact Dr. Bailey at or send your help to your home church and they will contact us.
For local donations, please send it to

Jun Patricio c/o Makati Church of Christ.
1598 Archimedes St
Brg Lapaz Makati (near brgh hall)

We are negotiating with Manila brethren who are duly registered with the government to be official conduit of funds locally and abroad. The information should be available sometime today. For more information, please contact me or Jun Patricio at MARCH for Christ can be reached through Chito Cusi at

In His Service,

Salvador Cariaga

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Faithful Questioning

William of Saint-Thierry (ca. 1085-1148) was a French monk, theologian and "mystic" who had been a close friend of Bernard of Clairvaux. He was an early critic of the rationalistic theology later known as "Scholasticism," and opposed the rationalistic theology of Peter Abelard before Bernard of Clairvaux did so -- and in fact encouraged Bernard to oppose him.

He was not, however, by any means against asking questions or using one's intellect. He was not an irrationalist, neither was he antirational. What he opposed was questioning that seemed to him to be unfaithful and wholly rooted in cynicism rather than in faith and faithful pursuit of truth. Cynical questioning is rooted in pride rather than in discipleship.

In his work The Mirror of Charity, William wrote:

When more obscure mysteries are presented to your timid nature by your faith, Christian soul, take courage and say, "How are these to come about?", not in a controversial spirit but with the love of a disciple.

Let your questioning be your prayer, your love, your piety, your humble desire; not seeking to plumb the depths of God's majesty, but looking for salvation in the healing acts of God who saves us. And the Angel of great counsel will reply to you: "When the Counsellor comes, he whom I shall send from the Father, he will bring to mind all things, and teach you all truth." For no one "knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him; so also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God."

Hasten then to be a sharer in the Holy Spirit. He is present when he is called upon; nor could he be called upon if he were not present. When, on being called upon, he comes, it is with the abundance of the blessings of God. He is the flowing of the river which gives joy to God's city.

And if, when he comes, he finds you humble and still and respecting the words of God, he will rest upon you; and he will reveal to you what God the Father withdraws from the wise and prudent of this world; and those things will begin to dawn upon you which Wisdom could say to the disciples when on this earth, but which they were unable to bear, until the Spirit of truth came who was to teach them all truth.

In the diligent seeking after or learning of these matters it would be vain to expect from any human teacher what cannot be sought or learnt from the lips of Truth himself. For as that Truth says, "God is spirit," and as it is necessary for those who adore him to do so in spirit and in truth, so for those who wish to learn of him or know him it is only in the Holy Spirit that the understanding of the faith and the perception of the pure and unadorned truth ought to be sought.

For in the darknesses and ignorance of this life, he is the light which enlightens the lowly of spirit; he is the love which draws us; he is the sweetening presence; he the human being's approach to God; he the love of the loving; he is devotion; he is piety.

He reveals to the faithful the justice of God which starts from faith and ends in faith; when for grace he gives grace, and for the faith which is by hearing the faith which gives light.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

One More Way our Tax $$ Pay for Torture

Wallis radio address

A radio address by Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics, and head honcho of Sojourners, a non-partisan PAC that tries to get political leaders to pay attention to Christian moral values. Wallis was invited by new Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid "to deliver their weekly radio address and speak about the values that could unite Americans at this critical time" as a conscious attempt to "set a new tone" for politics and leadership in the United States.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

This is a question all too commonly asked: "Why can’t we all just get along?" It just seems so simple – the things people fight over are either so clear cut to us that one side is obviously wrong and the other obviously right, or they are so trivial that it is obvious to us that no one should be fighting over them at all.

Of course, upon reflection we can probably see that the question presumes that the parties involved share my point of view, which (of course) is presumed to be right, "objective," fair, rational and "obvious." If these silly people would just see things my way, wouldn’t the world be a better place!?!

Our sense of privilege prohibits us from understanding the position those involved in a given struggle. If I don’t feel their passion for their cause, if I haven’t felt their pain, this "ivory tower" position makes their issues seem small, even trivial, like trying to spot landmarks from 35,000 feet up in an airplane. What would seem incredibly large, even insurmountable, from my normal vantage point of 6 feet tall, is barely noticeable from the airplane. A 10,000 foot tall mountain would be a challenge to climb; but seen from the airplane, the steep slopes seem gradual and the peak seems little more than a rolling hill. So, the fact that I haven’t felt their pain and passion doesn’t make my vantage point more right than theirs – in fact, it may make it horribly wrong by trivializing their struggle. Then, I disparagingly state that they just ought to know better! The fact that they don’t indicates that, well, they just aren’t very smart.

On the other hand, it could be that I have felt something of their pain and passion – the pain of losing someone I love, the passion of trying to see that it doesn’t happen again, either to me or to someone else.

We Americans lead insulated lives. For us, death is an insult, a slap in the face – an obnoxious snub of our sense of entitlement. There is no doubt that we have things pretty good in the U.S., generally speaking. Our culture has become a culture of entitlement: things that used to be extraordinary gifts or privileges are now thought to be "rights" – things like peace and long life. I was struck by this last year on a trip to the Philippines, where for the first time in my life I encountered abject poverty. Here were people generally happy, but living on a subsistence level, day to day. At a cold spring, I encountered some kids swimming, hanging from trees, dropping into the water, "hamming it up" for the camera. I commented on their simple life and obvious happiness to my Filipino friend, Salvador, who reminded me that it would be true until they got sick and their parents couldn’t afford to take them to a doctor. What I take for granted wasn’t even within the realm of consideration for them.

My wife and I long ago developed a hobby of visiting old cemeteries. I’m fascinated by them – by the stories they don’t tell but to which they give clues. We’ve found old grave markers that list, for instance, six or seven children of one family, all of which died within two weeks. What happened? A flu epidemic? Starvation? How did the parents deal with such loss? Did they lose their faith? Take revenge on killers? Slip into depression? No clue – but having lost a child, I wonder. And having seen many people deal with death in any number of ways, it seems clear to me that we’re just not used to it. For us, death is no longer a part of life.

We see on TV sometimes people who have lost a loved one to a violent crime, and frequently they want revenge, sometimes disguised as "justice." They want the killer to die or to suffer. They want an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, life for a life. I wonder sometimes at the hate they seem to exude. Life has been unfair to them, truly, but why the hate? Perhaps it is related to that sense of entitlement – that sense that everything should go according to plan. And if it doesn’t, someone must answer for it! Someone must pay!

How odd that the same sense of entitlement that prohibits us from understanding someone else’s passionate struggle creates in ourselves such a hate.

Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard spoke of the tremendous nature of the choice we each must make between love and hate.

There is a tremendous danger in which we find ourselves by being human, a danger that consists in the fact that we are placed between two tremendous powers. The choice is left to us. We must either love or hate, and not to love is to hate. So hostile are these two powers that the slightest inclination towards the one side becomes absolute opposition to the other. Let us not forget this tremendous danger in which we exist. To forget is to have made your choice. (Kierkegaard, Either/Or).

To not have consciously chosen could indeed explain why the sense of entitlement can have such disparate results. On the other hand, to not have chosen to love others is in itself a choice to love myself – or as Kierkegaard puts it, it is a choice of the world over God:

Each person must choose between God and the world, God and mammon. This is the eternal, unchangeable condition of choice that can never be evaded - no, never in all eternity. No one can say, "God and world, they are not, after all, so absolutely different. One can combine them both in one choice." This is to
refrain from choosing. When there is a choice between two, then to want to choose both is just to shrink from the choice "to one's own destruction" (Heb. 10:39). No one can say, "One can choose a little mammon and also God as well." No, it is presumptuous ridicule of God if someone thinks that only the person who desires great wealth chooses mammon. Alas, the person who insists on having a penny without God, wants to have a penny all for himself. He thereby chooses mammon. A penny is enough, the choice is made, he has chosen mammon; that it is
little makes not the slightest difference. (Idem.)

Why can’t we all just get along? We’ve chosen the world -- ourselves! -- over God.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

True Wisdom

Saint Bernard, abbot, On the search for wisdom

Let us work for the food which does not perish; let us do the work of our salvation. Let us work in the Lord’s vineyard so that we may deserve to receive our daily penny. Let us work in Wisdom who says: “Those who work with my help will not sin.” “The field is the world,” said the Truth, let us dig in it; a treasure lies hidden, let us dig it up. It is Wisdom herself who is drawn out from the hidden places. We all seek her, we all long for her.

“If you will inquire,” he says, “inquire; turn and come back.” Do you ask what you are to turn back from? He replies, “Turn back from your appetites.” “But,” you say, “if I cannot find Wisdom in my own appetites where do I find it? My soul longs passionately for Wisdom, and if I did happen to find her, it would not be enough just to find her unless I could put into my lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over. And rightly so. For “happy is the man who finds Wisdom and is rich in understanding.” Seek her, therefore, whilst she may be found, and call on her whilst she is near. Do you want to know how near she is? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart,” but only if you seek it with a true heart. Then you will find Wisdom with your heart and from your lips will pour forth understanding.

You have indeed found honey if you have found wisdom, only do not eat too much lest you gorge yourself and become ill. So eat, as to be always hungry. For Wisdom herself says, “Those who eat me will hunger for more.” Do not set too great a store on what you have; do not gorge yourself lest you vomit and what you seemed to have is taken away from you because you gave up the search too soon. Not even whilst wisdom may be found, whilst she is near, should we give up searching and calling on her. Otherwise just as, in the words of Solomon, “It is not god to eat much honey,” so “he who pries into majesty will be overwhelmed by its glory.”

It is a true saying, “happy is the man who finds wisdom,” and it is even truer to say, “happy,” or rather, more happy, “is the man” who dwells with her. Perhaps this is what is meant by pouring forth.

Clearly, you pour forth wisdom or understanding from your lips in three ways: if on your lips there is the admission of your own sinfulness, thanksgiving and the voice of praise, and words that encourage. For indeed, “a man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.” And “at the beginning of his speech the righteous man is his own accuser”; and in the middle of his words he gives praise to God, and in the third place, if so far wisdom has poured forth, he must also encourage his neighbor.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Obey Your Thirst!

Instead of religious discourse being a type of drink designed to satisfy our thirst for answers, Jesus made his teaching salty, evoking thirst. Instead of offering a scientific explanation that would convince, or publicizing the miracles so as to compel his listeners, Jesus engaged in a poetic discourse that spoke to the heart of those who would listen. In a world where people believe they are not hungry, we must not offer food but rather an aroma that helps them desire the food that we cannot provide. We are a people who are born from a response to hints of the divine. Not only this, but we must embrace the idea that we are also called to be hints of the divine.

Peter Rollins, How (Not) To Speak of God.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Word to the Victorious

The key to the obedience of God’s people is not their effectiveness but their patience. The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of the right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and the other kinds of power in every human conflict; the triumph of the right, although it is assured, is sure because of the power of the resurrection and not because of any calculation of causes and effects, nor because of the inherently greater strength of the good guys. The relationship between the obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection.

John Howard Yoder

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Response to Travis

Travis (glad you're "here"!): you asked if we are not told to protect each other. I would say that, no, we are indeed not told that. I don't know of any passage in the New Testament (or Old, for that matter) that might point in that direction. Many people take it for granted that self-defense, or at least defense of another, is instinctive, therefore "natural" and a God-given duty or right. Certainly it is instinctual -- all levels of species have an instinct for self-preservation. However, I don't think Christians are called to live on the level of "nature," and certainly not of brute beasts.

I think you're right that American law has long been divorced from (if it was ever married to) Biblical principles. I'm not sure exactly what distinction you are making between "justice" and "fairness." But, "justice" as defined in the OT (see Isaiah 1 and other prophets, for instance) is rooted in God's character, particularly in his care for the poor, widows, orphans, and generally for the oppressed and disenfranchised. For Israel this frequently meant the "stranger," which meant foreigners. Of course, from our perspective to care for these people would be acts of mercy -- which is exactly the point. In the OT "justice" collapses into "mercy." OUR concept of "justice" is "eye for eye and tooth for tooth," or "getting what one deserves." But what God calls "justice" are those acts by which we care for the weak.

I'm rambling a little (1 AM!) so all of this doesn't directly pertain to your post. Sorry. But, in the case of Sadaam, yes, he probably would try to recruit while in prison. I don't think that justifies killing him.

I think a more important and more basic question is not what the nation should do, but what ethical principles should guide Christians. Nations will always act in their own self-interest as they perceive it. Can Christians use self-interest as an ethical guide? Doesn't seem right to me.

But that's why Christians should, in my opinion, participate in the governing process (even voting) with a certain level of reluctance. I voted -- but then felt like I needed a shower! Neither party has a corner on Godliness (duh), and each includes people who will misuse the power we give them. Each promises to keep us safe. I think that's just one of the lies they have to tell in order to get elected (don't think it's really possible), but their intent is always to do whatever is necessary to accomplish that task (American safety), even if it means killing lots of non-Americans. So, voting for them is giving them power to do that. Doing so is not justice, in the Biblical sense, nor is it loving our enemies. Well, nations will do what nations will do (that's the point of Romans 13, and NOT that Christians are licensed to kill on behalf of the government if so ordered) -- and God will use them for his own purposes as he sees fit. That has nothing to do with Christians. We aren't called to rid the world of evil (as W. claimed our current war on terror would do!), to keep it safe, or to rule the world. We're called to be salt and light and to love all of God's creation as God loves it (Mt. 5:48).



Comments on Josh Kingcade's statement

Josh Nichols (Oklahoma City, OK) wroteat 10:09am on November 7th, 2006
Good explanation, Josh. I am going to make a series of comments as the comment block is only allows a certain number of characters. Here we go. The death penalty is
something I have struggled wiht for a long time...and will probably continue to struggle with it. I admittedly am caught between a rock and a hard place with this issue. I am one who would never feel comfortable sentencing someone to death (as a judge or juror). I don't want that decision on me. But, at the same time, I don't lose any sleep when others do it

That's bad, I know...but, it is not so much that I am being hypocritical, but more so that I am at a loss on where to stand with this issue. Am I out for revenge if I am for it? Am I in opposition of my government if I am against it? I appreciate your comments as it gives me a little more perspective. However, the Saddam situation, in my opinion, doesn't fit with the "revenge" scenerio. I think many people would like to see him dead out of revenge, but others for the protection of people. Your right, God will grant judgment, but he has also put people in place to grant judgment in the legal sense while on earth, not for revenge, but for justice and protection.

The Saddam situaiton is one that throws me more into
confusion as I fear for the people as long as he is still alive, but at the same time, could I grant such a verdict myself - I don't know. But, point being, I don't think it is always about revenge. I do like that we don't execute immediately because it gives people a chance to find God. And this is one situation we are not to place judgment. For example Jeffrey Dahmer (spelling??)
studied with a Christian preacher and was baptized for the remission of sins. Some say it was a facade. I personally disagree because someone who has commmitted the crimes to the extent of his knows they aren't getting out of prison or reducing a sentence because they found God. Despite my opinion or anyone elses, that is for God to determine an no one else

To close, your thoughts are intriguing and good to know as I think many Christians shy away from the topic. I appreciate your willingness to share and challenge your readers. It has definately helped me realize that I need to do some more studying on the matter.

William Chip Kooi
wroteat 2:11pm on November 7th, 2006
2 cents worth: Christians should oppose the death penalty because the death penalty makes a judgment about a person that only God is qualified to make -- that he/she is beyond God's redemptive power. Further, I think even the Old Testament teaches that life is God's and God's alone both to give and to take away (rightfully). So, though at times in the OT God orders killings and wars, these episodes do not authorize us, without a
direct communication from God (as Joshua, Saul, David, etc., seem to have had) to take another human life. Or so it seems to me. Chip

Travis Campbell wroteat 5:38pm on November 7th, 2006
are we not also told to protect each other though? on the saddam note: what if he were sentenced to prison and used it as a recruiting ground? wouldn't that endanger more lives?on
a side note: i don't know if i really believe that the law follows christian America the law does not care about fairness, its main concern is being just. many politicians that claim to be christian leaders do it simply to further their own ambitions not to further the mission of christianity.

Josh Nichols (Oklahoma City, OK) wroteat 9:23pm on November 7th, 2006
Response to Chip: Once again, my mind has been sparked by great comments. Chip, your comment about the judgment the DP makes - one being beyone God's redemptive power - I struggle with this one. The DP is the maximum penalty for a crime, and it is typically carried out after a very lengthy stay. Life without parole is next in line, that I am aware of. Thus, does someone deserve a reduced sentence, whether DP or Life w/o Parole or Community Service, because they find God and
obey the Gospel? If I read Romans right, man is without excuse when it comes to God. Thus, our responsibility is to spread the word, theirs is to seek it & obey it once found. Although I'm still working thru where I stand with the DP. I don't view it as judging one's ability to be redeemed. Actually, if the
executions happened immediately...that would really help me with my stance, & I would agree more with this specific part of your comment. Anyways, thanks for the challenging comments - I love this stuff.

On the Death Penalty

The following is from Josh Kingcade, originally posted on his Facebook.

Why I Oppose the
Death Penalty

by Josh Kingcade (notes) 4:28am Tuesday,
Nov 7
As I’ve watched the Oklahoma gubernatorial debates, and now with the Saddam Hussein verdict, I thought about how to articulate my opposition to the death penalty. Those of us who oppose it inevitably get called weak or soft on criminals. I will try to give a reasoned defense of my opposition.Some oppose
the death penalty on pragmatic grounds – that is, they believe that the death penalty in America yields too many errors, and that since we’ve executed many innocent people, we should stop sentencing people to death. However, if our country could guarantee 100% mistake-free executions, this group of people would again support the death penalty. In sum, their opposition is not moral, but rather they are opposed to how it’s done and the risk for error. My opposition is beyond that. Even if the government could guarantee that only guilty people would be executed, I would still oppose it.

1. I refuse to condone the killing of someone for economic reasons. Some supporters of the death penalty say they don’t want their tax dollars going to fund a lifetime of imprisonment for a murderer. Execute them, they say, and keep us from paying for their existence. No life, unborn baby or convicted murderer, should never be equated with some dollar amount. That is a poor and unbiblical way to look at people. Jesus would never attach an economic amount to a human being. We cannot sentence someone to die simply because we don’t want to fund their existence.

2. I fully support life imprisonments for dangerous criminals. There is no reason to let them back on the street. They pose a threat, and they deserve to be punished for their crimes, even if that means a lifetime behind bars. So let’s think for a minute:
why would you kill someone instead of giving them life in prison? I’ve already named one reason: money. The other reason I can think of? Revenge.

Now, look, if someone killed a member of my family, I’d want their head to ROLL. But I would also not want my emotions to be the deciding factor in someone’s life. Thank goodness our justice system does not hinge on the emotions of the plaintiff. So while I might want that person dead, I rest easier knowing that a reasonable, uninvolved judge can render a sensible verdict.

So again, why would you kill someone instead of sending them to prison for life? Because you want to avenge your loved one’s death. This is perfectly natural, but it is neither biblical nor a justifiable reason to kill someone. Christ tells us to love our enemies and not to seek revenge. God will take care of that.

Some argue that Romans 13 gives government this right. I would agree for the most part. But remember, when Paul was writing, the government was totally pagan. Paul was saying, “I know the government is totally opposed to Christianity, and I know none of you Christians have a place in that government, but you must submit to that government.”

Things are different now. Our government is, at least in part, based on Christian principles (or it pretends to be). We have Christians in high places in the government, and we have Christians deciding laws on capital punishment. So I would argue that Americans and the American government have every right to impose the death penalty. Christians, however, should have no part in it. Human life is not ours to take.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


From the Second Vatican Council's pastoral constitution "Gaudium et spes" on the Church in the modern world: The promotion of peace

Peace is not the mere absence of war or the simple maintenance of a balance of power between forces, nor can it be imposed at the dictate of absolute power. It is called, rightly and properly, a work of justice. It is the product of order, the order implanted in human society by its divine founder, to be realised in practice as men hunger and thirst for ever more perfect justice. The common good of the human race is subject to the eternal law as its primary principle, but its requirements in practice keep changing with the passage of time. The result is that peace is never established finally and for ever; the building up of peace has to go on all the time. Again, the human will is weak and wounded by sin; the search for peace therefore demands from each individual constant control of the passions, and from legitimate authority untiring vigilance. Even this is not enough. Peace here on earth cannot be maintained unless the good of the human person is safeguarded, and men are willing to trust each other and share their riches of spirit and talent. If peace is to be established it is absolutely necessary to have a firm determination to respect other persons and peoples and their dignity, and to be zealous in the practice of brotherhood. Peace is therefore the fruit also of love; love goes beyond what justice can achieve. Peace on earth, born of love for one’s neighbour, is the sign and the effect of the peace of Christ that flows from God the Father. In his own person the incarnate Son, the Prince of Peace, reconciled all men to God through his death on the cross. In his human nature he destroyed hatred and restored unity to all mankind in one people and one body. Raised on high by the resurrection, he sent the Spirit of love into the hearts of men. All Christians are thus urgently summoned to live the truth in love, and to join all true peacemakers in prayer and work for peace. Moved by the same spirit, we cannot but praise those who renounce violence in defence of rights, and have recourse to means of defence otherwise available to the less powerful as well, provided that this can be done without injury to the rights and obligations of others or of the community.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

On Religion

What’s Wrong With Religion?

In my first post, I used the word "religion" to describe one of the ways human beings have tried to solve their own personal problems and the problems of the world. I also said it hadn’t worked.

Yet, most people would view me as "a religious person," and I am in fact a Christian and a member of a church. Perhaps some clarification is in order.

I’m using "religion" in the sense that it was used by people like Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "religion" is the strictly human attempt to "get to God," to "justify ourselves," and to give our lives meaning.

Bonhoeffer, in a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethge (Letters and Papers from Prison) on April 30, 1944, spoke of his peace of mind and how it was leading him to a new evaluation of his faith:

You've no need to worry about me at all, as I'm getting on uncommonly well - you would be surprised, if you came to see me. People here keep on telling me (as you can see, I feel very flattered by it) that I'm "radiating so much peace around me," and that I'm "always so cheerful," - so that the feelings that I sometimes have to the contrary must, I suppose, rest on an illusion (not that I really believe that at all!). You would be surprised, and perhaps even worried, by my theological thoughts and the conclusions that they lead to; and this is where I miss you most of all, because I don't know anyone else with whom I could so well discuss them to have my thinking clarified. What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience - and that means the time of religion in general. We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious any more. Even those who honestly describe themselves as "religious" do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by "religious."
Our whole nineteen-hundred-year-old Christian preaching and theology rest on the "religious a priori" of mankind. [N.B. Bonhoeffer (with Kierkegaard and Barth--see below) has in mind Schleiermacher's concept of the basic religious intuition that he (Schleiermacher) thinks is common to all human beings.]

"Christianity" has always been a form - perhaps the true form - of "religion." But if one day it becomes clear that this a priori does not exist at all, but was historically conditioned and transient form of human self-expression, and if therefore man becomes radically religionless - and I think that that is already more or less the case (else how is it, for example, that this war, in contrast to all previous ones, is not calling forth any "religious" reaction?) - what does that mean for "Christianity?" It means that the foundation is taken away from the whole of what has up to now been our "Christianity," and that there remain only a few "last survivors of the age of chivalry," or a few intellectually dishonest people, on whom we can descend as "religious." Are they to be the chosen few? Is it on this dubious group of people that we are to pounce in fervor, pique, or indignation, in order to sell them our goods? Are we to fall upon a few unfortunate people in their hour of need and exercise a sort of religious compulsion on them? If we don't want to do all that, if our final judgment must be that the western form of Christianity, too, was only a preliminary stage to a complete absence of religion, what kind of situation emerges for us, for the church? How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well? Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity - and even this garment has looked very different at different times - then what is a religionless Christianity?

Barth, who is the only one to have started along this line of thought, did not carry it to completion, but arrived at a positivism of revelation, which in the last analysis is essentially a restoration. For the religionless working man (or any other man) nothing decisive is gained here. The questions to be answered would surely be: What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God - without religion, i.e. without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even "speak" as we used to) in a "secular" way about "God?" In what way are we "religionless-secular" Christians, in what way are we the εκκλησια, those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favored, but rather as belonging wholly to the world? In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? What is the place of worship and prayer in a religionless situation? Does the secret discipline, or alternatively the difference (which I have suggested to you before) between the penultimate and ultimate, take on a new importance here?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Pauline question whether περιτομη [circumcision] is a condition of justification seems to me in present-day terms to be whether religion is a condition of salvation. Freedom from περιτομη is also freedom from religion. I often ask myself why a "Christian instinct" often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, by which I don't in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, "in brotherhood." While I'm often reluctant to mention God by name to religious people - because that name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I feel myself to be slightly dishonest (it's particularly bad when others start to talk in religious jargon; I then dry up almost completely and feel awkward and uncomfortable) - to people with no religion I can on occasion mention him by name quite calmly and as a matter of course. Religious people speak of God when human knowledge (perhaps simply because they are too lazy to think) has come to an end, or when human resources fail - in fact it is always the deus ex machina that they bring on to the scene, either for the apparent solution of insoluble problems, or as strength in human failure - always, that is to say, exploiting human weakness or human boundaries. Of necessity, that can go on only till people can by their own strength push these boundaries somewhat further out, so that God becomes superfluous as a deus ex machina. I've come to be doubtful of talking about any human boundaries (is even death, which people now hardly fear, and is sin, which they now hardly understand, still a genuine boundary today?). It always seems to me that we are trying anxiously in this way to reserve some space for God; I should like to speak of God not on the boundaries but at the center, not in weaknesses but in strength; and therefore not in death and guilt but in man's life and goodness. As to the boundaries, it seems to me better to be silent and leave the insoluble unsolved. Belief in the resurrection is not the "solution" of the problem of death. God's "beyond" is not the beyond of our cognitive faculties. The transcendence of epistemological theory has nothing to do with the transcendence of God. God is beyond in the midst of our life. The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village. That is how it is in the Old Testament, and in this sense we still read the New Testament far too little in the light of the Old. How this religionless Christianity looks, what form it takes, is something that I'm thinking about a great deal, and I shall be writing to you again about it soon. It may be that on us in particular, midway between East and West, there will fall a heavy responsibility.
Now I really must stop. It would be fine to have a word from you about all this; it would mean a great deal to me - probably more than you can imagine. Some time, just read Prov. 22.11, 12;† there is something that will bar the way to any escapism disguised as piety.

All the very best.
Your Dietrich

[†Some have suggested that Bonhoeffer meant to refer to Proverbs 24:11-12 ("Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, 'Behold, we did not know this.' does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not requite man according to his work?"), but I think it is more logical to believe that he meant Psalms rather than Proverbs, thus referring to Psalm 22:11-12 in the German Bible, which correspond to verses 10-11 in English ("On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help."), and expressing that this verse would "bar the way to any escapism."]

What Bonhoeffer had found was that, in the most dire circumstances, there was something sustaining him that was deeper and sturdier than religion – than "religious practices." What was it? It is too easy to simply say "it was his faith in Jesus Christ." Many "religious" people would make the same claim – yet it was indeed, as Bonhoeffer pointed out, their religion, their Christianity, in fact, that led them to act in ungodly ways.

I won’t try to unpack his "religionless Christianity" phrase here, though it’s worth a great deal of contemplation. I want only to deal with the concept of "religion," and to determine why it hasn’t done what so many think it ought to do.

When Soren Kierkegaard, the "Great Dane" – a profoundly committed Christian and one of the most profound thinkers of his era – examined the general state of religion in Denmark in his era (1813-1855), he found it to be empty of real, honest discipleship. Everyone wanted to be (and was) a "Christian," but no one wanted to follow Jesus. Denmark was part of "Christendom," but this rendered discipleship to Jesus impossible. So, though his language distinguishes between "Christendom" and "Christianity," this distinction is the same as that between "religion" and "discipleship."

‘Imitation’, ‘the following of Christ’, this precisely is the point from where the human race winces, here it is principally that the difficulty lies, here is where the question really is decided whether one will accept Christianity or not. If pressure is brought to bear at this point, and a strong pressure–in that same degree there are few Christians. If at this point a convenient accommodation is made (so that Christianity becomes, intellectually, a doctrine), many enter into Christianity. If it is done away with entirely (so that Christianity becomes, existentially, as easy as mythology and poetry, while imitation is exaggeration, a ludicrous exaggeration), then Christianity widens out to such a degree that Christendom and the world almost correspond, or all become Christians, then Christianity has triumphed completely–in other words, it is done away with. [Soren Kierkegaard, Judge for Yourselves!, trans. Walter Lowrie (London: Princeton University Press, 1944), 197.]

This has to be said; so be it now said.
Whoever thou art, whatever in other respects thy life may be, my friend, by ceasing to take part (if ordinarily thou dost) in the public worship of God, as it now is (with the claim that it is the Christianity of the New Testament), thou hast constantly one guilt the less [than others in Christendom], and that a great one: thou dost not take part in treating God as a fool by calling that the Christianity of the New Testament, which is not the Christianity of the New Testament.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Yes, such is the fact : the official worship of God (with the claim of being the Christianity of the New Testament) is, Christianly, a counterfeit, a forgery. [Soren Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom, trans. Walter Lowrie (Boston: Beacon Press, 1956), 59. Italics original.]

Does Kierkegaard’s description of 19th century Copenhagen apply to 21st century America? Perhaps. Likely. Certainly. And this is, precisely, why "religion" does not "work." "Religion" is what we humans invent, in the west, to keep ourselves protected from the risks of actual discipleship. Following Jesus can be dangerous, you know! I mean, if we really "take up the cross and follow him . . ." – where was he going with his cross? Uh, I’m not sure I want to go there. Or so our reasoning goes, all too frequently.

For Karl Barth (d. 1968), religion is precisely what opposes God’s revelation of himself. It contradicts it, effectively blocking it by anticipating it – i.e., by forming a "mold" designed to receive the molten revelation which would force the revelation into its preconceived shape. The revelation, then, would not be free to "be itself"; it would be changed by its reception, and in fact would, therefore, no longer be God’s revealing of himself.

From the standpoint of revelation religion is clearly seen to be a human attempt to anticipate what God in His revelation wills to do and does do. It is the attempted replacement of the divine work by a human manufacture. The divine reality offered and manifested to us in revelation is replaced by a concept of God arbitrarily and wilfully evolved by man. . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
From the standpoint of revelation, man’s religion is simply an assumption and assertion of this kind, and as such it is an activity which contradicts revelation–contradicts it, because it is only through truth that truth can come to man. If man tries to grasp at truth of himself, he tries to grasp at it a priori. But in that case he does not do what he has to do when the truth comes to him. He does not believe. If he did, he would listen ; but in religion he talks. If he did, he would accept a gift ; but in religion he takes something for himself. If he did, he would let God Himself intercede for God : but in religion he ventures to grasp at God. Because it is a grasping, religion is the contradiction of revelation, the concentrated expression of human unbelief, i.e., an attitude and activity which is directly opposed to faith. It is a feeble but defiant, and arrogant but hopeless, attempt to create something which man could do, but now cannot do, or can do only because and if God Himself creates it for him : the knowledge of the truth, the knowledge of God. [Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1/2, trans. Geoffrey Bromiley (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956), 302-303.]

"Religion," then, may fulfill the role assigned to it by Marx or Nietzsche – it can keep people "under control," to some degree. But it is superficial – it will not, it cannot change the person at his or her most basic level. It can keep behavior "in check" through fear and inhibition, but it won’t change anyone.

Which it precisely why "religion" "doesn’t work." It hasn’t solved the world’s problems because it can’t. Fear and domination only go so far toward keeping people "in check."

Not to mention the fact that, with far too great a frequency, "religion" has cultivated fear not of consequences of bad behavior but of "enemies," and has encouraged violence upon these "enemies." Christianity is no less guilty than any other religion--witness the Crusades, the violence in Northern Ireland, or even the American doctrine of "Manifest Destiny" which declared that it was God’s plan for "us" (the white Europeans of Christian faith) to own all of the land from Atlantic to Pacific, and which underwrote the genocide by which it was accomplished.

Of course, some would protest that these actions were not the result of "true Christianity." Barth, Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard would all agree. But this only highlights the problem: the "truth" of any religion can be perverted, subverted and/or subsumed under and to serve the purposes and ideological agenda of a group or nation.

And it is not only the "false believers," or those who intentionally pervert and subvert, who are responsible. It is all too frequently the "true believers" who are responsible. The early church historian Eusebius, for instance, was so enamored of the Emperor Constantine that he could not perceive how the triumphalism of the church in this era would subvert its theology and use it for the purposes of underwriting the agenda of the empire. Eric Hoffer’s book True Believer, expounds on the power of mass psychology in the form of nationalistic fervor to move "true believers" to almost unthinkable actions [Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (New York: Harper and Row, 1951.)]. Any great (or non-great, for that matter) system of thought, true or not, can be manipulated toward such ends. Christianity is no exception.

So what? I believe it is important that we Christians take a good look at how Christianity has become a "religion," i.e., how it has been subverted to serve our nationalistic and economic agendas. In part, we need to repent of that. Further, however, we need to do so in order to exonerate the one we call "Lord." I think we owe him at least that much.