Presidential Cooperation

This past week, President Obama addressed the UN General Assembly. He spoke to several issues hoping make the world a better place. Notable among them was his plans for the world to come together and battle terrorism. Among his suggestions were guidelines to interrupt the flow of money to support terrorism. Specifically a plan to prevent citizens from one part of the world, funding subversive organizations in other parts.

On one front it looks like a great idea for our president to cooperate with the rest of the world. We like that he is showing leadership. But on the home front, I wonder why it is he has chosen to place blame on his opponents rather than to extend an olive branch of compromise? He has preferred to save his spirit of cooperation for the international scene.

The idea of laws being instituted over our country by the international community bothers me. Specifically as a Christian, who supports missionary work all around the world, I am concerned. You see the definition of terrorism is different from place to place, and miscommunication can be disastrous. On a side note, this is why a group like ISIS can think it is a good idea to publicly behead American citizens. They think they are saying to America, “Stay away from us.” They don’t know what we hear then saying is, “We need to be wiped off the face of the earth.” Miscommunication can be pretty extreme indeed.

In the future it seems very probable some locations will define the work of missionaries as terrorism. At that point, will every mission minded church in America be deemed guilty of supporting terrorist organizations or activities?

 

Failed Tyranny

The next episode for Jamison’s Battlefields. Here are the previous episodes in order. Like any story you will get the most out of it by reading it in sequence.

The first battlefield was The Battle for the Mind.  Zilkas Asteroid Belt, Jamison’s Rescue,  Dinner with an Alien, Dibolocos Attack, Departure Orders, Homecoming, Into the Darkness, The Family BusinessJewel’s Place, ShanghaiedFirst MarkThe Pirate’s Life, Defensive Position, Adrift, Self Sacrifice, Crash DownThe Lake HouseDancing with Egopods, Lunch with Aliens and Kilkian Alignment

The second battlefield is The Battle of the Hands, Here are the previous episodes in this battlefield Learning to SeeMaintaining Common SenseMeeting CompagnoUnseating DibolocosThe Journey HomewardAmbush on Platinum 9, Refit, Retrain and Rethink, Saved by Rodent Weed, Convoys and Propaganda,  Changing the Moon, Expanding HorizonsRunning the Blockade, Dueling Politicians and Legislation, Delegation, and Deliberation  Today we get Episode 35.

For the next few mornings they began to deal with the issues brought forward by the different committees. A couple of the delegates were not interested in the process. They skipped meetings, and generally only attended whatever meetings were mandatory. These same delegates were the ones who took the most advantage of the privileges afforded them. They demanded the best of everything and lots of it.

In the afternoons, Jamison led his group to specify their recommendations. Regarding the family, they established parents as responsible for their children until they reach the age of twenty. Children were required to be under their parents authority until this age. The taking of another’s life was made illegal except when commanded to do so in a military action or in the course of defending yourself or another person, For sexual ethics there were some who wanted all sexual activity outside of marriage to be punishable by law. Others felt this was too invasive. Ultimately rape was made illegal, but other sexual activity, although they agreed it was wrong they did not make illegal. Theft of course was made illegal. Lying for reasons of deceiving people in the areas of financial gain, political manipulation and similar cases were made punishable by law, but most forms of lying were not. In the area of social justice they seemed to have an impasse as to whether individuals should be entitled to the same standard of living they saw in their neighbors. But in the long run no way to codify the idea into law was discovered.

Eventually their recommendations for the moral code then was ready, but then they had to decide what to do about the loyalty code. It was determined that a person would be free to choose to align. However it was also determined that once aligned a person could not change their mind, nor would any future alignments other than with these two be allowed. No one could force another person to align with either the Kilkians or the Dibolocos. Opportunities for people of similar alignment to gather were discussed at length. Eventually the fourth loyalty code was determined to prohibit any regulation of such gatherings.

Jamison felt a great deal of hesitation about the loyalty code. It seemed to fit with everything he had learned about alignment from Colopher, but it also didn’t quite set right. It was as if something in the back of his mind was nagging him. But since his committee as a whole felt settled, he had to take the next step which was presenting the report to the congress. They organized their idea into a list of ten, putting the four loyalty laws first, and then the six moral laws following. Then presented them to the group for the greater discussion.

As he expected the report was met with a large amount of resistance from those who had gained their power through immoral dealings and businesses. Jamison took note that these individuals were also the ones who were taking the welfare of the nation lightly and as secondary to their own privileges.

He was however surprised that even those who agreed with the code in the general sense often did not agree as to where best to draw the line between what was legally allowable and what was not. During the course of the first days discussion almost nothing was agreed upon and it seemed to him the congress was getting divided into three different groups. First were those aligned with the Kilkians who favored the proposal. Then there were the unaligned who favored the morality but were confused as to why a loyalty code was included. Then there were those aligned with the Dibolocos, who favored the loyalty code but argued with the moral code.

They argued the first day without making any headway. Then they argued the points for an entire second day. Jamison became aware that the last group had began calling everyone else terrorists. They accused them of wanting to use force to coerce everyone else into accepting their viewpoint. This title got turned back on them though when shortly into the third day of deliberation a group of them drew their weapons in what appeared to be an orchestrated plan to murder certain opposing delegates. When the leader of the group called out what appeared to be a command they spread out and drew their weapons. The leader pointed his weapon at Commodore and Vice-Chancellor Galvez and pulled the trigger.  In his haste, he had forgotten to turn off the safety. Cursing he fumbled for the button and the instant the weapon was activated a bolt of laser light shot out of the large chandelier on the ceiling and instantly killed him.  It had been so strong a shot that it practically cremated him in the one shot.

His co-conspirators, saw him fall but most were confused aiming their weapons at different delegates, including all of Jamison’s committee. But like their leader as soon as the weapon was armed the laser struck them dead. The room rang out with shrieks of terror. The room had gotten many degrees hotter through the short battle, and the smell of burning flesh was overwhelming the room. A few of the aggressors realized what was happening and quickly surrendered to soldiers who were rushing in.

Chancellor Johnston was pounding his gavel on the podium, but appeared shell shocked. Commodore Galvez, who didn’t seem shocked at all, eventually reached over stilled his hand and began addressing the group.

“Gentlemen, those of you who are still alive, please be still. These men who have attempted to take control of the government through violence are largely dead. The ones who are alive are being arrested and will be executed as soon as the judiciary completes processing them.

“The events you weapon that killed them was put into place in order to protect you delegates from any outside attack. Many of you wondered why we never required you to check your weapons before entering, the reason is the sensors and weaponry over your head will kill anyone holding an armed weapon making the restriction unnecessary. This weapon, and these defenses were not intended to protect you from each other. We designed this arena as a place of law and order, never did we think the delegates of these colonies would try to solve their differences by violence wrought against one another.”

He went on for over an hour. It was the kind of lecture only a military man knew how to bring and when he was done most everyone in the room felt they had been dragged into actions which were below their dignity. At first Jamison thought the whole situation had pretty much ruined their intentions and progress. But as the lecture dragged on, he realized the Vice-Chancellor was priming the remaining delegates to think of their positions as one for honorable people, who behaved with decorum and who respect the law, each other and their colonies.

 

Political Parties

They were eventually dismissed, and since Jamison’s committee had no immediate work to do he took a leisurely lunch and spent his time in the library and other common areas. While it might appear to the outside that this would have been relaxing, Jamison found it to be anything but comfortable. The unaligned opponents to his committee’s recommendations approached him in a steady stream. They would ask for clarification, discuss disagreements and either begin to change their minds or agree to disagree. Then another would show up to take his place and it would start all over again.

Jamison was often tempted to dismiss the politicians or worse to upbraid them for their failure to understand. But he didn’t. In fact, as the process continued he began to see value in it. He suspected that by the time the next morning session began he might have a majority in favor of the 10 laws his committee had proposed. He continued this schmoozing with the other delegates up to dinner, and then through dinner he continued to be approached by others. During this time he saw Commodore Galvez watching him from across the dining hall.

His motions were very similar to those he had seen all day long. It was the action taken by a man waiting for the previous man to finish so that he could be next to start a spontaneous conversation. But Galvez didn’t hang around and wait. He disappeared and Jamison assumed he had been mistaken.

Three different delegates bought him a different dessert, not realizing perhaps how full he had become, before he headed back to his quarters. He let himself into the apartment and immediately knew he was not alone. He didn’t feel threatened so he walked into the main room without taking any guard for his safety. Galvez was seated there.

“I was beginning to think you were planning on staying out all night.”

“Nah, just had a lot of people who wanted to talk to me today.”

“I suppose they wanted to discuss the army having weapons of mass destruction hidden in the walls around them.”

Jamison thought about it, and said, “Actually not a single person brought that up. Although now that you mention it, I want to thank you for having them there. If you didn’t I would likely be dead.”

“As would I.”

A moment of silence settled on them and Jamison settled into the other chair in his sitting room.

“Your comments after the event were well spoken. It was exactly the kind of words we all needed to hear.”

“Thank you. Speeches are the prerogative of rank in this man’s fighting force.”

Again the silence settled around them. Not the silence of two friends totally comfortable and well acquainted with each other’s company. This was the pregnant silence of a man who knows he needs to say something, but dreads beginning the conversation.

“Would you like something to drink, I have sweet plankton tea?”

“No. But thank you. I actually wanted to talk with you about your alignment. Why do you want to include this silly loyalty code? Other than that you will have almost a unanimous approval for the moral code.”

Jamison knew he would have to answer carefully. He knew he wanted the loyalty code because it complemented the will of the Kilkian king. At least, it did to the best of his understanding. The king wanted people to be free to choose to align with him, rather than being coerced by the circumstances of culture and law.

“In short I am trying to work with the new realities we have now that we are interacting with Kilkians and Dibolocos on a regular basis. We need a way to form one society despite the fact that our citizens have chosen to very different paths of who to serve.”

“Are the two really all that different?” The question was ludicrous knowing everything Jamison knew, but for people like Galvez it was the key question. They saw all forms of alignment as an unnecessary subservience of the citizens. They saw remaining unaligned as the way to preserve their freedom.

“The two are very different, but even more importantly, the one who stays unaligned is actually serving the Dibolocos, whether they admit it or not. Can I tell you about my story? Would you mind hearing what has happened to me in the last year?”

Galvez ascented and the two talked all night long. They drank all the sweet plankton tea and then switched to strong coffee. Finally as the sun peaked over the hills. Galvez was making the choice to align with the Kilkians. They celebrated over breakfast and as they entered the chambers together laughing and talking as if they were the oldest of friends, everyone else in the room took note of the new alliance.

Jamison was given the floor again in order to further discussion of the laws he had proposed. This time he saw only two groups come out of the discussion. These two groups would form the first two political parties for the colonies. Those who were whole heartedly in agreement came to be called Advocates because they advocated working with the aliens. The other group which was actually a little larger and stronger were called Isolationists because they wanted to live without any connection to the aliens.

It took another two days, but the ten law standard eventually passed. The isolationists allowing its passage not because they agree with the loyalty code but because they began to realize it also protected them from being forced to align against their wills.

Screech-Owl

Today I found out that my brother’s family has an owl living around their house. This is the sort of news that gets a birder’s attention.

I saw a picture posted online. It was obviously a small owl, but the picture did not provide for accurate scale. It had bright yellow eyes and small ear tufts. They live slightly northwest of Phoenix, Arizona.

Given only this amount of information can the bird be positively identified?

There are eight large owls, and eleven small owls. This was obviously one of the small ones.

Of the small owls there are four which have ear tufts.

Of the small owls with ear tufts there are two that would regularly occur in that range.

Of the small owls, with ear tufts, in that range, only the western screech-owl has the yellow eyes. So it seems likely the bird is a western screech-owl—likely but not absolutely certain.

The detail that is most likely to confuse the results is range. It is common for birds to be seen outside of their normal range. Birders frequently remind each other that the birds don’t read the field guides or honor their defined ranges.

As it happens there is another owl, the whiskered screech-owl, that looks extremely similar to the western screech-owl. The whiskered is usually further south, but it is entirely possible for a bird to have wandered outside of the normal range.

Christians could benefit from a discussion of range as well. One of the identifying marks of a believer is their moral stand. This pattern of living means there are certain places a believer is unlikely to go.

Many years ago I was in a church that had a church covenant pasted in the front of their hymnals. It said, among other things, that the members of the church would not consume alcohol, and would not go into businesses that offer alcohol. I liked it. But I didn’t find it easy to follow back then.

Furthermore in today’s world it would be impractical to follow such a guideline. Very few restaurants do not serve alcohol. Of course it would be possible to simply stop eating out at the places that do. However, every grocery store sells alcohol and therefore it would be impossible to buy food to prepare at home. So a strict adherence to the guideline would mean eating out at every meal, and predominantly from fast food places.

This point serves to illustrate how hard it is to stay within your range. But I also know that many, if not most, Christians today do not agree with the guideline and therefore will not attempt to follow it. While we could have a lengthy discussion of whether it is right or wrong, what is and is not lawful or allowable for believers, that is not my point at the moment.

What I want you to see for now is a simpler point. Christians are less identifiable in today’s world because they have taken away one of the field marks. Many people bemoan the loss of witness in today’s world, but they don’t seem to make the connection to our behavior. In years gone by believers were better at being different than the world around them, and this inherently attracted people who wanted to improve their life. Today Christians seem more interested in standing up for their rights than growing the kingdom, and the resulting patterns of behavior are not as attractive to the lost as past patterns were.

Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord; do not touch any unclean thing, and I will welcome you. 2 Corinthians 6:17 (HCSB)

ISIS Cradle

The world is coming together to deal with the threat presented by ISIS. This organization has the world’s attention in the same way the Taliban and Al Qaeda did before it.

Personally I wish the world would take up a different question. Why is it that another organization has risen up, after we had already dealt with the previous threats?

Too many policy makers have an unrealistic viewpoint of the culture of the Middle East and of the Islamic religion. These leaders are steeped in the politically correct rhetoric of the West, and they seek to understand the world through this lens. They are not seeing the problem realistically.

They need to learn a couple of lessons.

First, enemies will often lie to you. The form of this falsehood might be tucked behind a religious façade, but that does not make it any less of a lie. Islamic teaching does advocate conversion by the sword. It does encourage violence against infidels, and especially a hatred of Jews. The picture of moderate Muslims as practicing a peaceful religion is largely an invention of the West.

Second, empowering one Islamic group over another does not mean the group we assisted will see us as partners. They will largely accept the assistance and still see us as infidels who are inherently counted among their enemies.

Third, we are decreasing in both the will and resources necessary to oppose each successive wave of terrorism. This is why the emphasis has gone from doing whatever it takes, to making sure we don’t commit to boots on the ground. So as we become less willing and less able to oppose terrorists we need to either find a way to stop the rise of new groups, or learn to live with daily terrorism on a greater scale.

 

Legislation, Delegation, and Deliberation

The next episode for Jamison’s Battlefields. Here are the previous episodes in order. Like any story you will get the most out of it by reading it in sequence.

The first battlefield was The Battle for the Mind.  Zilkas Asteroid Belt, Jamison’s Rescue,  Dinner with an Alien, Dibolocos Attack, Departure Orders, Homecoming, Into the Darkness, The Family BusinessJewel’s Place, ShanghaiedFirst MarkThe Pirate’s Life, Defensive Position, Adrift, Self Sacrifice, Crash DownThe Lake HouseDancing with Egopods, Lunch with Aliens and Kilkian Alignment

The second battlefield is The Battle of the Hands, Here are the previous episodes in this battlefield Learning to SeeMaintaining Common SenseMeeting CompagnoUnseating DibolocosThe Journey HomewardAmbush on Platinum 9, Refit, Retrain and Rethink, Saved by Rodent Weed, Convoys and Propaganda,  Changing the Moon, Expanding HorizonsRunning the Blockade and Dueling Politicians.  Today we get Episode 34.

 

Legislation, Delegation and Deliberation

The next day when Jamison entered the governing chamber he noticed that most of the delegates treated him differently. They hushed as he approached. They side stepped to let him pass. Others made sure to approach him and greet him prior to the day’s work. The change made Jamison nervous. He didn’t know exactly how to respond to the insincere brown nosing from a few of them. But he also didn’t trust the new respect being given by the others. His days as a pirate had taught him that if people feared you they are more likely to stick a knife in your back.

That morning Commodore Galvez announced their first step toward self-government would be to determine what style of leadership to use. For the next couple of hours different styles were discussed. Then each delegate’s console allowed them to vote from among several of the possibilities. The two possibilities which got the most votes were similar to each other. The first allowed for a president who presided over a legislative house, a small judicial committee and a military wing. The other possibility was a Chancellor who presided over a legislative house, with two Vice-Chancellors representing the military and the judiciary.

These two options were then considered in depth, and eventually the second was chosen. The next day they would select their Chancellor, and Vice Chancellors. But they also would have to select a basic set of sub-committees to take on various tasks. They would decide those groups once they had their own Chancellor in charge of the congress.

The next morning they were allowed to make nominations, via their consoles. They started with the position of Chancellor. After the first round of nominations there were 37 candidates. But after most declined the position there were 13. Jamison was glad to see he was on the list and he made the assumption he would be the first Chancellor. He remembered that his calling from the king had been to be the law giver. It was his role to bring law and order to the colonies.

He was greatly perplexed when in the next round of voting he only got two votes. There were three candidates whose vote totals stood well above all the others, so these three were put forward and allowed to each speak for a half hour about what they would do if selected as chancellor. A final round of voting then was held in which the first Chancellor was selected to be the man Jamison had saved from Richards and his gang of thugs. His name was Robert Johnston.

Then Jamison began to consider that perhaps being the Vice-Chancellor in charge of the judiciary would best allow him to fulfill his calling. This position was the next one to be taken up and the same process was used. After the first round of nominations there were seven candidates, and Jamison was not one of them. He was now certain that something had gone terribly wrong.

Shortly one of the representatives from the capital was placed in charge of the Judiciary. He would have authority over all of the courts, including those which manage law enforcement and those handling civil matters. It was noted that this second category would include any grievances against the government brought be citizens.

Jamison briefly wondered if he might be the Vice Chancellor in charge of the military, but this did not seem to fit with his calling at all. And when Commodore Galvez, asked for an exception, that this position would be held by a ranking officer, he was quickly appointed to that role.

The group adjourned for the day with these three key positions in place. The next day they sought to divide up the most urgent tasks they needed to do next. A committee was formed to establish districts and election protocols. Another was shaped to form law enforcement for every colony. Another was formed to place courts in each. Another was formed to consider how to fund the government. Chancellor Johnston was given quite a bit of leeway for appointing the Chairmen and members of these committees. The only time voting took place was when someone objected or asked for a formal count.

Jamison was almost to the point of despair and beginning to lose focus on the progress of the group. He had expected because of the promises of the Kilkian king and Colopher that he would be one of the key leaders. However all the key positions seemed to have already been passed and now he was stuck with nothing left to do but grunt-work. While distracted in this way he startled to realize Chancellor Johnston was addressing him.

After a moment or two of embarrassment he realized he was being appointed as chairman of a committee on Laws. In order for the colonies to be united they would need to share their most basic legal code. So the formation of laws regarding the most elemental aspects of right and wrong would fall to this committee. Suddenly it was obvious that he had not been chosen for any of those other positions because this committee fit his calling very specifically.

By noon that day they had their committees selected, and it was determined that each morning they would meet in congress, but each afternoon they would adjourn to committees. The committee recommendations had to pass a vote of the whole congress, but by allowing committees to do the bulk of the work simultaneously they would be able to cover more ground each day.

So after lunch Jamison headed into his first meeting of the Committee on Basic Law. He immediately noticed the other four men in the room had all also aligned with the Kilkians. This brought him a deep sense of relief. He would not have to fight for common decency within the committee, but he knew when the recommendations went before the congress they would meet resistance.

The five began to brainstorm a list and from this list began to prioritize what they felt was important enough to codify. Jamison was surprised to notice that even though they were all aligned, and seemingly should be unified, the men did not have agreement in everything that should be illegal. There easily agreed as to what was right and wrong, but differed often as to what was wrong enough to be punished by law.

At the end of the first day a little progress had been made, but they were not ready to report. They had two short lists. One list was moral in nature: it included protecting the family, murder, sexual behavior, stealing, lying and social justice. While this list was generally agreed upon the details of how to flesh it out were far from settled. A second list was about alignment: Kilkian alignment, no aligning with new aliens, not speaking against the Kilkian king, and celebrations of alignment. They all wanted these items because of their own loyalty to the Kilkian king. However they were not at all certain it would be the right thing to do to legislate these issues rather than to leave them in the realm of personal conscience.

This summarized much of the problem. The King wanted people to know right from wrong, but also wanted them to have the freedom to choose right. Those areas where doing wrong caused harm to others must carry a penalty. This serves to protect the public from the anarchy, piracy and their own moral weaknesses.

Mystery and Revelation

There is a place for mystery in theology. God is bigger than us by such a magnitude that we cannot expect to understand everything about Him. He is beyond our comprehension.

But information does not have to come from reason, it can also come from education. Much of what you know was taught to you, in addition to what you figured out. When it comes to God, He wants us to know Him, and therefore He reveals Himself to us.

When it comes to understanding God, we can be too intrigued by mystery. It becomes a romantic concept. It also makes a great excuse for not studying deeper or working harder to understand God. But I think this love affair with mystery is a mistake. God delights in revealing Himself to us, and a wisdom is found by the one who delights in studying to know more.

Furthermore, being intrigued by mystery can be dangerous. From Gnosticism forward to the latest person claiming to be the second coming of Christ, the devil has used the idea of mysteries known only to a select few, to seduce humanity away from the true knowledge of God. Anytime you hear someone speaking of a secret of the ages that God has revealed only to them, beware.

So while mysteries do exist, our love affair with mysteries should be made to submit to a love for the things of God. Study God’s word and find the answers to His mysteries there.

 

White-Faced Ibis

White-Faced Ibis

I have been aware for several years that white-faced ibis live in our area, but had not been able to catch a picture of them. Recently a couple of church members told me the fields around them would occasionally be crowded with birds. Since I have been out of bird pictures to use on my blog or in the newsletter, I asked if they could call me next time it happened.

When I got there the fields were full of ibis such as this one. This is a white-faced ibis, but that white face only occurs on mature, breeding males. It is not breeding season and most of the birds were immature. So none of the pictures I got will include that feature. They are uniformly dark birds but when in the light they reflect in colors from copper to chestnut to metallic green. They are classified as wading birds but the downward curved bill is only carried by a few waders. Their plump shape, and relatively short legs also make for an unusual sighting. The bird is something of a conundrum.

Do people ever look at you in a similar way? Are we, as Christians, a conundrum to the world and community around us? If so, it is a situation that should not surprise us. It might even be a situation we strive to embrace.

When we commit ourselves to Christ we are promising to do our best to become like Him. It is God’s work in us that brings about this transformation, but is our part of the bargain to cooperate with the process. So just as the world did not understand Jesus it will also fail to understand those who are simply trying to be Christ-like.

Jesus made it clear that the world would not understand us. In fact, He took it further by saying the world would hate us for our ways. But this awkwardness, this conflict—if it goes that far—is compensated by a simple fact. We were not made for this world, nor is our citizenship here.

2 Corinthians 5:20 (HCSB) Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.”

So don’t be surprised by, or worried about, how your faith makes you awkward in the world. Instead be worried if it doesn’t.