Monday, April 30, 2007

Between Barack and the Wright Place

Pastors can wield enormous influence in the life of someone seeking spiritual answers. Such was the case of Pastor Wright a U.C.C. minister in Chicago and Barack Obama-- a relationship that has been built over the last twenty years, and reveals a good deal about the interests and yearnings of Senator O'Bama, and why he came to embrace the Christian faith There is a very interesting article about this relationship in this morning N.Y. Times. Here is the link---

Jeremiah Wright is like many African American preachers of his generation. His especial strength is in the area of the social Gospel when it comes to his preaching. He sounds like a more flamboyant and less eloquent version of Martin Luther King Jr., with the benefit of hindsight that Martin did not have. Two things about Wright's preaching that did not much characterize King is his Afrocentric approach to theology and preaching, and his attempt to relate the Gospel to black music culture-- including R+B. Hip Hop is apparently too recent for Pastor Wright.

One of the interesting angles of this article is that it chronicles briefly the friendship between Barack and Jim Wallis. Here is an interesting quote from Jim about Barack--- “He comes from a very secular, skeptical family,” said Jim Wallis, a Christian antipoverty activist and longtime friend of Mr. Obama. “His faith is really a personal and an adult choice. His is a conversion story.”

In other words, all the rhetoric from the Fox Noise Channel about Barack's Muslim school education can be ignored. It was no more influential in his religious or spiritual life than the fact that he went to a Catholic school for a while when he was young as well. What is also clear about Barack's embracing of the Christian faith is that it was certainly not politically motivated. Barack spent a long time reflecting on whether to become a Christian or not during a period in his life where there was little or nothing to be gained politically by doing so. Obama is not a one dimensional figure, and his faith reflects his larger values in some respects-- particularly his attempt to find good in various different approaches to contentious issues.

For example Jodi Kantor, who wrote the article for the Times relates this-- "Mr. Obama reassures liberal audiences about the role of religion in public life, and he tells conservative Christians that he understands why abortion horrifies them and why they may prefer to curb H.I.V. through abstinence instead of condoms. AIDS has spread in part because “the relationship between men and women, between sexuality and spirituality, has broken down, and needs to be repaired,” he said to thunderous applause in December at the megachurch in California led by the Rev. Rick Warren, a best-selling author." ( thanks to the N.Y. Times for the use of the quoted material. Please read and cite the original article).

Obama's positions will not entirely please either the religious or secular right or the religious or secular left either. He is his own person, and so far as I can see, while he tries to listen to and relate to everyone, he panders to no one.

I do not know if Barack Obama is electable. To most white conservative Evangelicals he will surely appear to be a liberal Protestant at best, even if his faith is accepted as genuine. And of course there are genuine concerns about his lack of experience in Washington in very uncertain times, but of course that didn't prevent George W. Bush from becoming President.

What I do know is this--- all, and I do mean all of the Presidents since Nixon have been Protestant Christians who could or at least tried to relate to Protestant constituencies, including especially Evangelicals. We will see what happens come the fall, and the weeding out process of candidates. Rick Warren took enormous personal heat for having Obama at his AIDS conference at Saddleback. This may be a barometer of how Obama would be received in other large white Evangelical settings as well. Time will tell.

In the meantime, we should pray for all the candidates running for our highest office. The next four years promise to be rough ones for America with lots of hard choices, and a massive Federal debt thanks to the war in Iraq.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Heroes or Saints? Who are our Cultural Icons?

Believe it or not, the word hero never comes up in the NT. But the word saint occurs over 60 times. And here's the really interesting thing-- it always in the plural! Saints are not formed in a vacuum or by isolate action or spiritual effort. Saints are formed in a community, the community of faith.

Our world loves heroes, indeed idolizes them and puts them up on pedestals they are bound to fall off of. I was recently back in Washington D.C. and took a friend for a tour on the Mall. It struck me how much our country is founded on a belief in "great man" (or woman) syndrome. There was the Washington monument, there was the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, there were the names of the Vietnam soldiers who died, and so on. We assume that things that really matter are accomplished by great individuals, and of course there is some truth to that, but actually in almost any given case it took a team effort. Abraham Lincoln would have had no memorial if he hadn't finally found a few generals that could beat Robert E. Lee in a pitched battle.

In his wonderful book on Christian ethics called Improvisation, Sam Wells has some fantastic reflections on the difference between a hero and a saint, and why the NT extols the latter not the former. Here are a couple of excerpts---

"there is a significant difference between the kind of story that is told about heroes and the kind of story that is told about saints. The heroes always make a decisive intervention at a moment when things are looking like they could all go badly wrong [see the new Nicholas Cage movie]. The hero steps up and makes everything turn out right. In other words, the hero is always at the center of the story. By contrast, the saint is not necessarily a crucial character. The saint may be almost invisible, easily missed, quickly forgotten. The hero's story is always about the hero. The saint is always at the periphery of a story that is really about God. ...The hero's story is told to celebrate the virtues of the hero. The hero' strength, courage, wisdom, or great timing: such are the qualities on which the hero's decisive intervention rests. By contrast the saint may not be strong, brave, clever, or opportunistic. But the saint is faithful [consider the hall of faith in Hebrews 11]. The story of the hero is told to rejoice in valor. The story of the saint is told to celebrate faith....

"The definitive heroic icon is the soldier, who is prepared to risk death for the sake of a higher good. The noblest death is death in battle, for battle offers the greatest danger, thus requiring the greatest courage. The story assumes that in a world of limited resources there is bound to be conflict at some stage so that good may prevail. But the saints assume a very different story. They do not need to learn how to fight over competing goods, because Christ has fought for and secured the true good, and the goods that matter now are not limited or in short supply. Love, joy peace, faithfulness, gentleness-- these do not rise or fall with the stock market. The saint's story does not presuppose scarcity [think oil for example]; it does not require the perpetuation of violence. Whereas the icon of heroism is the soldier, the icon of sanctity is the martyr. The solder faces death in battle; the saint faces death by not going to battle. The soldier's heroism is its own reward: it makes sense in any language that respects nobility and aspires to greatness. The martyr's sanctity makes no sense unless rewarded by God: it has no place in any story except that of Christ's redeeming sacrifice and the martyr's heavenly crown... A hero fears failure, flees mistakes, and know no repentance: the saint knows that light only comes through the cracks, that beauty is as much (if not more) about restoration as about creation."

"Finally, the hero stands alone against the world. The story of the hero shows how he or she stands out from the community by the excellence of his or her virtue, the decisiveness of his or her intervention, or their simple right to have his or her story told. The story of God tells how he expects a response from his disciples that they cannot give on their own: they depend not only on him, but on one another for resources that can sustain faithful lives, and they discover that their dependence on one another is not a handicap but is central to their witness....Saints are never alone. They assume, demand, require community-- a special kind of community, the communion of the saints. Heroes have learned to depend on themselves: saints learn to depend on God and on the community of faith. The church is God's new language, and it speaks not of a country fit for heroes to live in but of a commonwealth of saints" (Improvisation, pp. 43-44).

My question to you is, after you reflect on this-- Why is our world so fixated on heroes, and so ignorant of or ignoring saints? And then I would ask--- who have been your heroes, and who have been your saints? Who helped you more to be a true Christian person? Who taught you more about what real Christian living and leadership should look like? Who, finally seemed more like Jesus, and less like Samson?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007



Patrick Stone arose Friday, packed his bags, paid his tab, and revved his engine for a trip back to Monaco. This time, the Chateau gates opened for its new owner. He arrived in time for afternoon tea on the terrace. Anjolie brought him fresh shrimp salad in an avocado shell, a glass of local white wine and the recent editions of the papers – it was time to catch up on the news.

Stone tended to read the papers back to front, doing the crossword and the comics first, leafing through the sports and the business news, and finally looking at the dreary and depressing headlines. He came to Thursday’s headlines. At that moment, he choked and spent the next minute trying to stop coughing while he wiped his eyes.

On page one of every major newspaper to be found in Monaco there was a story about the Lazarus stone and the other related artifacts.

The Times of London read –


The NY Times article headlined –


The International Herald Tribune article reported


Reading the article closely now he notice that his name was nowhere mentioned, thankfully, but the story did say that the British Museum was co-operating with the Jerusalem authorities. Reading on, he discovered a quotation from the Jerusalem press conference – “prosecute to the full extent of the law.” Stone murmured to himself, “I’m a US citizen. The long arm of the Jerusalem law can’t stretch this far. Besides, they don’t even know I’m here. I haven’t used my real passport since London, or any credit cards. How can they find me?” He was wrong about that, for he had forgotten to use his fake passport at the Monaco border so preoccupied was he with he thoughts about the house.

All the same, he decided he would go ahead and transfer the rest of his millions into his Credit Lyonnais account, because he remembered that St. James had his Swiss bank account number. Going back into the house to the library where he had set up his laptop he hopped on the internet, went to the bank website, punched in his access code and account number and the following message came up ACCESS DENIED: ACCOUNT FROZEN. A wave of panic hit Stone and his thoughts began to race in various directions.

Thus far he had paid $2.5 million for the house, $100,000 plus on the car, and who knows how much on hotel tabs, food, clothes and the realtor’s fees. He had been informed that the upkeep on the house and the staff cost $10,000 a month. There was in addition the usual expenses like gas, food, heating, cooling, not to mention the enormous insurance premiums.

When Stone calmed down he figured he still had plenty of money left from the $10 million he had transferred into Credit Lyonnais. He knew the Swiss Bank would never give out the number of the account into which the money had been shifted. They were famous, or infamous, for stonewalling such requests. Nevertheless, he decided he had best retain an attorney, so on the advice of his butler he called a local firm, chatted for a while with one of the barristers, promised to send in a retainer fee, and felt altogether better. Let the world fuss and fume, he was safe here in his fortress, his Chateau Puissant, his powerful home.

Authorities on both sides of the French border with Monaco were busy Friday after being alerted to the possibility of an alleged international criminal in their midst. Extradition papers were being drawn up. The Duchy especially had no desire to harbor a rich thief in a nation full of rich people worried about neighbors who steal stuff. Should Dr. Stone use his real passport again, they would be ready.

A weekend of intense detective work determined that one Dr. Patrick Stone had purchased Chateau Puissant in Monaco just three days earlier. A very unhappy Francois Boule was obliged on Sunday to open his files and reveal details about his client. Stone lived alone. Boule described a quiet man happy just to sit in a library. He knew Jacques, the butler, quite well. Quiet phone calls were made to the estate. The coast was clear; all was ready.

Sunday evening at eight o’clock, Stone was taking a bubble bath in a huge porcelain claw-foot tub. He had nearly dozed off and never heard the police enter the room. Stone opened his eyes to see a gun pointing at his face!

Stone screamed.

“Dr. Stone, please step out of the tub, here is your robe.” Stone was in such shock that he actually did what he was told like a robot. He was taken to his bedroom, told to dress and then handcuffed with his arms behind his back.

The staff, having been roused by Jacques, was lined up at the main door. Anjolie cried – she rather liked the little man. Stone was marched out, put in the back of the police van, and driven off. All the paperwork being in order, Stone was turned over to the Israeli authorities who had a jet waiting at the airport. Tel Aviv was a short flight away, where yet another police van was waiting. So too were the press and the presses were held long enough to roll with the story and photos of Stone’s capture. But would he implicate Art West, or blame him entirely? Thus far he remained silent, as a stone.


Sammy Cohen bought every paper he could find at Steinmatsky’s on Ben Yehuda and took them to work early Monday morning. Grace had already arrived.

The Jerusalem Post reported –


Ha’Aretz read in modern Hebrew read,


The International Herald Tribune lead with,


“I reckon this begins to redeem our honor,” he said to Grace.

“Not until the trial sorts things out,” she replied cautiously.

“You sure do know how to take the fun out of things,” he said grumpily. “I am on my way to the jail to interview our Dr. Stone. It should be a most enlightening morning.”

By mid-morning, Sammy was on the phone with the local authorities. Judge Joshua Dershowitz had set a pre-trial hearing for Thursday, and it was clear that the Israeli court system was clearing its dockets to make room for an expeditious trial. There would be no delaying motions slowing down this juggernaut. Patrick Stone, of course, was entitled to expert legal counsel, and it would take time for him to choose a lawyer and prepare for trial. Stone had been savvy enough and had enough wits about him to demand a trial by jury, since he was an American citizen.

Sammy had spoken with the firm of Levi, Levi and Strauss and they had informed him that they were the team selected to prosecute Stone. The senior partner, Mr. Benjamin Levi, told Sammy that the best way to head off extradition to Britain was to make clear to Judge Dershowitz that the crimes Stone had committed occurred right here in Jerusalem, with the exception of selling the inscribed stone to the British Museum. Sammy quite agreed. He also informed Benjamin that Harry Scholer, an American lawyer and expert in antiquities, was in town and familiar with the case. Mr. Levi agreed to invite Harry to work with him and come to the pretrial hearing. Sammy was feeling good about his mended relationship with Harry. He called Art and invited them both to the IAA office.

Sammy’s secretary ushered them both in as soon as they arrived. Sammy handed the papers to Harry and Art who remarked,

“Well, they got their man. It sounds as if it was humiliating though – the butler must have known Stone was still in the tub! How did he get caught though?”

“I interviewed Stone this morning. He had two passports – one real, and one not. Thursday Interpol tracked down the information that he had just purchased a house in Monaco, complete with street address! Trust me, Stone is genuinely in shock at having been caught. He’s either very naive or very stupid!”

After rehashing all the news stories and Sammy’s interview, Harry exclaimed, “Jacta alea est!” Art smiled, and remembered his years taking Latin in senior high school. Julius Caesar, crossing the Rubicon, cries out, “Let the dice fly!.” Indeed many in Jerusalem would be riveted to the trial for the next few weeks. For this very reason Art had decided to have his press conference on the Lazarus findings just before the trial began, otherwise it would receive little notice at all in the aftermath of the trial.

Lunchtime was approaching. Harry and Sammy agreed to continue their conversation over local Mediterranean delicacies. Art decided to join Grace, busy working on manuscripts for the day. He caught her in the midst of examining the smaller papyri fragments from the Lazarus tomb.

“I’ve decided to do the press conference before the trial, giving my lecture on the religious implications of the Lazarus scroll this week. It’s just too much competition to wait until later. I’ve notified the press I will do this day after tomorrow, and Hebrew University is amenable. Will you come and introduce me?” said Art.

“Of course. This is a wise move in my judgment, as Jerusalem is going to be talking about this trial and its outcome for a long time. Hey, I’ve discovered lots of surprising details about these little manuscripts. Care to spend the afternoon here?”

“Absolutely, but let me ring up Hannah. I want to know if they’ve seen the papers and how Kahlil reacted.” Art called the shop. Hannah was excited. Her words tumbled over themselves.

“You will never guess what happened this morning. When I showed the picture on the front page of the Palestinian paper to my father, he cried out, “There he is! I remember him now! He is the man who shot me!”

Hannah rushed on. “But I said to father, ‘We have shown you this picture before! Why now do you remember?’ All he said was, ‘I don’t know, my daughter, but Allah’s will be done!’”

Art turned to Grace. “I have some surprising details for you too,” he laughed and related his conversation with Hannah.

For the rest of Monday afternoon, Grace and Art enjoyed pouring over the Aramaic of the Lazarus documents. Grace brought out the fragment of John 21 with the story of the breakfast by the sea.

“Notice that this fragment is in the same hand as the main manuscript, but the fragment that tells the tale of the demise of the Beloved Disciple, right at the end of John 21, may be in another hand. The last few verses, 23 to 25, certainly are in another hand. Note the part which reads,

‘”But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said

‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?’”

“Plus, the following verses about the Beloved Disciple writing these things down and there not being enough books to contain Jesus’ stories are clearly by the later hand. The comment about thinking the Beloved Disciple would not die before the second coming makes good sense, assuming the Beloved Disciple was Lazarus and had been raised from the dead. You can see the disciples thinking, Jesus had already raised him from the dead, surely he would not die again. It must have been something of a shock when he did die again.”

“I agree,” said Art. “And I have been pondering another mystery. We have no fragments of the so-called prologue which begins John’s Gospel. When was it added? Apparently it was added by the final editor of the Gospel sometime later, and perhaps in a very different venue. The logos hymn is profound and reflects on the idea that the divine Son of God existed before all time, helped in making all of creation, and then took on flesh himself and became Jesus. It is the kind of philosophical reflection one might expect in the Diaspora, when there was concern to witness to Gentiles who knew Plato and Aristotle but did not know the Old Testament. And here’s another interesting and tantalizing clue. You remember the story about Jesus speaking to the Greeks, probably Greek speaking Jews? In this Aramaic manuscript it makes clear that Jesus is speaking to Jews from the Diaspora present in Jerusalem for the festival who speak Greek, but in the Gospel of John it is ambiguous, it could actually refer to Greeks, or Gentiles in general.”

“Fascinating,” said Grace. “Do you think then that Lazarus knew he was coming close to the end, and that while he had written down individual stories all along during his life, stories say like the woman caught in adultery, that when he sought to compose his memoirs, he had way too much material for one piece of papyrus, and so many of the stories got left out – he had to pick and choose? This is what John 21.25 [“Jesus did many other things as well. If everyone of them was written down, I suppose that even the whole world could not contain the books that would be written”] suggests frustration due to the limitations of working with a papyrus. If the writer of that verse had been dealing with a codex, a book to which leaves could be added, then we might not have that verse added by the editor.”

“No, and now we clearly know that the Beloved Disciple, Eliezar, had other tales to tell, but they wouldn’t fit in this papyrus. We are just fortunate to have what we have. This is going to revolutionize Gospel studies, and historical Jesus studies.”

“Suppose for a minute, Grace, that the earliest image of Jesus we have is the image in the Fourth Gospel. I have argued that this is perfectly possible since this Gospel bears a clear resemblance to other early Jewish wisdom literature like the Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach. The so-called high Christology of this Gospel is not the residue of a long evolution of thinking about Jesus that started with the idea he was a man and finished with the idea he was divine as well as human. Suppose again this Gospel is the earliest portrait of Jesus. Then what? It certainly shoots the Jesus Seminar ideas about Jesus all to pieces.”

“Yes,” said Grace. “And most contemporary Jewish ideas about Jesus receive a pretty good challenge as well. I am going to go back and read through Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, and this Gospel again and see what I can come up with. I’ll let you know whether I think it is possible this is the earliest Gospel tale.”

“But Grace, on the basis of the textual evidence we now know beyond reasonable doubt that this is the earliest Gospel material. One can say that it involves the perspective of a unique person and therefore a unique perspective, but one can’t question the timing, I don’t think. This means too that the divine and human Jesus portrayed for instance in Paul’s letters, say in Philippians 2. 5-11, is not a creation of Paul, who in any case was writing in the fifties, not after the eyewitnesses had all died off.”

“Well,” said Grace. “It’s a theory. I’ll think about. I just have a hard time getting my mind wrapped around the idea of monotheistic early Jews thinking of Jesus, a real human being, as God, or divine. As Acts 17 says, “We will talk about these things . . . another time.”

The small article that appeared on the first page of Ha’ Aretz on Tuesday morning announced that Professor West would be lecturing at 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning on the theological and historical implications of the Lazarus tomb artifacts. It caught the attention of many, including the TV crews already arriving for the trial. But by far the most important person who noticed this article lived on the north side of Jerusalem, cut out the article tacked it to his bulletin board, and wrote over it THIS MUST BE STOPPED NOW.


Simon Siegal was minding his own business sitting in his favorite café in Harvard Square, drinking an iced latté and checking the headlines on his laptop. A photo of an American citizen, a Yale professor, arrested and extradited to Jerusalem on charges of theft, forgery and attempted murder certainly caught his attention. Here was a legal situation that made anyone sit up and take notice.

Standing 5'9" tall with curly hair, some said he looked like Billy Crystal. Simon Siegel had a propensity to talk at 900 miles an hour with a thick New England accent. His detractors called him ‘Simon Siegal, the legal beagle’ but he wouldn’t have generated such responses if he hadn’t become a very high profile lawyer who loved to throw himself into high profile cases. He wasn’t an ambulance chaser but the analogy with pirana in a feeding frenzy described pretty aptly how he normally behaved in courtroom. Simon loved both the challenge and the spotlight.

Siegal was born and raised in Portland Maine, and did his schooling up through college in that northernmost New England state. He went to Harvard Law School on a full ride scholarship. After some years of being part of a law firm in Boston, Simon was asked to join the American Civil Liberties Union, an offer he could hardly refuse as it gave him the opportunity to be involved in some of the most interesting cases imaginable.

He had successfully defended all of the following sorts of people: 1) African Americans fired from jobs apparently because of their race; 2) a Klan member denied the right to attend a major university because of his politics and racial opinions; 3) a prominent rap star on trial for using obscene gestures and even more obscene lyrics at concerts.

On the down side, he was still smarting over a recent loss. His client, a major tobacco company, was now required to pay out huge sums in a class action suit by cancer victims. He would like to be ‘The King of Torts’, as John Grisham put it, but his path took him in another direction. While he had won more detractors than admirers in most of those trials, he had also gained a reputation of being able to defend the indefensible. What was perhaps most interesting about Siegal on this morning is that for a period of three years right after law school Siegal had gone to Israel and had been first a law clerk and then a lawyer in the Israeli court system before beginning his Boston job.

Today, Siegal had no official plans – he was on vacation hoping to visit family and friends in the New England area. He made a spontaneous decision to use his influence to contact the Israeli authorities and offer his legal services to one Patrick Stone. This case was too juicy to ignore. His mind was already working on how he would defend Stone in the Israeli system. For now, however, he started a list: return to his apartment, contact his buddies at ACLU, pack, and catch the last flight to Tel Aviv yes, Monday, June 14 had now become a major calendar event.

Monday night’s trans-Atlantic flight proved bouncy – but he arrived in Tel Aviv about 3 PM Tuesday. On the flight, Siegal tracked the story over the internet and knew that the pre-trial hearing was scheduled for Thursday morning. He would need to act fast. While waiting for his baggage at Tel Aviv airport, Siegel called the authorities.

Jerusalem police, how may I direct your call?”

“Yes, this is Mr. Simon Siegal of the United States. Dr. Patrick Stone’s new lawyer. I have just arrived from Boston. I need to speak to my client immediately!”

said Siegal with all the power he could muster. Siegal realized his chances were slim of getting Stone himself, but he also knew he would get someone’s attention just by mentioning the name. Surprisingly, Patrick Stone himself was put on the line!

“Hello, is this really Simon Siegal?”

“Yes, and Simon says he is here to represent you!”

Stone’s response was instantaneous for he had heard much about Siegal and knew his reputation. “Wow! I convinced the police here that you really were my lawyer, even if you weren’t on record yet. I figured it was either the real you or someone at least interesting to talk to. That was quite a bluff on your part! When can you start?”

“I already have,” said Simon. “I’ll be in Jerusalem in about one hour. Until I arrive, and from now on, say nothing to anyone got it? Wednesday morning, first thing, I will see the judge. Then I will visit you. So, for now, just sit tight.”

“Right!” exclaimed Patrick, his spirits reviving a bit. Perhaps there was hope after all.

“Oh, one more thing, we need cash,” reminded Siegal.

“You will have to check all my accounts – Tennessee, Connecticut, Switzerland, Cannes – who knows what’s left?” said Stone, once again dejected. “There should be plenty still in the Credit Lyonnais account.”

“I’ll look into it,” said Siegal. “We will need secretaries and detectives to gather information. I would rather not engage a firm here to help me. There are some people here I can call on; I once worked in this legal system and know it fairly well.”

Even if he couldn’t get Patrick Stone exonerated, he could go for lesser charges, a lighter sentence – the legal limit. Siegal’s name would be in the news for some time.

Siegal rented a car, drove to Jerusalem and checked into the Seven Arches Hotel in time for a late dinner. True, it was a touristy spot, but he loved the view of the city from atop the Mount of Olives. Standing on the front steps, he looked across the Kidron Valley at the Dome of the Rock gleaming golden in the sunset. The city looked awash in twilight and shadow. Peaceful enough, now. Tomorrow Siegel would spread his legal wings. Thursday he would land in the courtroom.


Judge Joshua Dershowitz had been on the bench for many years and had gained a reputation for being tough on crime, while staying within the spirit of the law. Carrying his briefcase and computer bag, Siegal announced himself to the Judge’s secretary: “I am Simon Siegal, attorney-at-law, and I need to see Judge Dershowitz urgently as I am representing Patrick Stone.”

The secretary spoke into her call box and relayed the message. “Please have a seat and help yourself to a cherry Danish while you are waiting.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” said Siegal. In about fifteen minutes Siegal was summoned. Wiping crumbs from his mouth with a handkerchief, he marched forward into battle.

Simon had met Dershowitz once many years ago when Simon was just a law clerk, and Dershowitz was not yet a judge. Simon had been impressed with the tenacity of the man in the search for something resembling truth and justice. They shared a number of cases at that time. But now both men were much older and more seasoned, and it would be interesting to see how they would interact – the irresistible force meets the immovable object. Something had to give.

Dershowitz looked up from his desk and stood as Siegal came in and said “Shalom alechem,” to which Siegal responded, “Alechem shalom.”

“I see you haven’t forgotten your Jewish manners! Please have a seat Mr. Siegal, make yourself comfortable. You are here about the Patrick Stone matter?”

“Yes, indeed your honor, and I’m impressed that you remember me.”

“I do indeed. First, let me tell you that I have spoken with the US ambassador and he understands and accepts the need for justice to be done in this case here in Israel. The US government will not be intervening on Dr. Stone’s behalf. He got himself into this hot water, and it appears it will be your job to try and extricate him from his legal quagmire. Do you intend to do this solely on your own?”

“At this point, yes, but I’m keeping other options open. I presume my client cannot be tried here for any crime he allegedly committed in England.”

The judge pondered this and said, “Yes, you are right. Currently, he is being charged with forgery, attempted homicide, and theft of an antiquity. That’s a legal bundle for now. I’ll have my secretary give you a copy of the formal charges. The British authorities will want to try him for fraud. They are currently out of a great deal of money – insurance is pending of course.”

“Yes, that is an interesting list of allegations,” said Siegal smiling.

“The pre-trial hearing is Thursday morning, I believe. I hope you will give me sufficient time to prepare my case.”

“No more, no less, than the usual. If you need more time, then I suggest you hire more help or, better yet, work with one of our excellent legal offices.”

Siegal realized at this point that Judge Dershowitz would not appreciate an American stealing the limelight. He decided to gracefully bow out of the office.

Siegal had never been in this police building in Jerusalem because it was relatively new. However, when he arrived at the jail itself it looked anything but new. He noted the primitive conditions and the lack of air conditioning. His brain put this item in the credit ledger for the trial. Maybe he could allege poor treatment of Stone in general, or in particular for his US citizenship.

Siegal waited in an interrogation room until Stone was brought in. The guard left them alone and waited outside the door. Siegal began.

“First of all we must try to clean you up and make you look good for the papers for the pre-trial hearing tomorrow. Have you any other clothes?”

“Well, some of my belongings are still in my apartment. I left quickly with just two suitcases. Anything decent, well it’s all back in Monaco.”

“Fine, I will go get you a suit. Just write down your measurements. I will also bring you the necessary toiletries. You must look your best. There will be a lot of press nosing about and taking pictures. I need to ask you a few questions if I may? These questions will help me determine how to pursue the case and you must be candid with me.”

“OK,” said Stone with a sigh, realizing that nothing he was about to say was great for his case.

“Did you or did you not shoot Kahlil el Said?” asked Siegal.

Patrick began to relive the horror. “Yes, I did. We had had an argument in his shop on Tuesday, June first, and he refused to help me broker the Lazarus stone. I followed him later that night waiting for a good place to talk to him. He sat down on a bench in the park behind the Shrine of the Book. I intended to reason with him – and threaten him if necessary to sell the stone. At the least I wanted him to keep silent about my having the stone. I drew my derringer to scare him. The foolish man grabbed my hand! The gun went off – I didn’t even know it was loaded. He fell on me, grazing his head on the hard park bench on the way down. My arm was trapped under him. He is a very large man. I panicked, yanking my arm out from under him. I left the little derringer behind.”

“ So the prosecution, may in fact have some fingerprints of yours from the derringer, right?”

“I suppose, I didn’t mean to hurt him, you know.”

“OK, tell me about your derringer?”

“It’s a Civil War antique – belonged to my father. It only has one shot and only works at close range. Not very deadly I guess. I didn’t mean to hurt him, you know.”

“You keep saying that. Third question, did you or did you not, steal the Lazarus stone from the tomb?”

“Oh yes. Stupid I realize, but after all those years of being treated like an also ran compared to people like Arthur West just looking at that stone it was incredible. My teaching assistant, Ray Simpson, followed Art West when he was scouting out the tel behind the church in Bethany. He rang me when he was sure Art had found something. I got to the scene and West was already in the tel discovering this that and the other. I got angry. Simpson and I decided to entomb him – just to scare him.” Stone started laughing inanely.

“You didn’t really answer my question, Dr. Stone. But let’s talk about Simpson – was he in on this from the beginning?”

“Well, he agreed to follow Art West. That’s not kosher either, is it? Anyway, he agreed to help me entomb West. I convinced Ray it was a prank – to get him back for whatever. We figured he’d get out quickly enough – I planned to come back and check on him.”

“And you did go back, right?”

“Yes, around 11:30. I went alone. West was already gone – I guess the cemetery ghosts really scared him away! The opening wasn’t even closed up tight – sloppy work on West’s part. I think he got help from the church caretaker. I saw him earlier. Anyway, I photographed the inscription. I chiseled out the stone.”

“Finally. For the record, who made the copy of the stone and sent it to West?”

“Like I said, I took good pictures. And Ray is good at making copies. He knew I got that stone from the tomb, however. I didn’t even have to tell him. He’s not stupid. But he made the copy. I had him bring it to a courier and ship it to Art West to arrive Wednesday morning.”

“I have already made sure that any charges related to acts in the U.K. have been excluded. So, are there any other shady things done here in Israel I need to know about?”

‘”Well, there’s the papyri!”

“What, there’s more?!”

“Oh yeah, I found a small jar in an empty niche. It was full of manuscript fragments. You won’t believe what I did with those.” Stone started giggling again.

Siegal groaned as Patrick explained how he hid the manuscripts in the figurines before fleeing to the UK with the inscription.

“What have I gotten myself into?” thought Siegal. How could this mild–mannered professor, who never did anything wrong before, get himself into so much trouble?

“Very good,” said Siegal, although he was really thinking, very bad, indeed. “Let’s get ready to rumble. I’m going shopping for you and will be back later in the day. I’m hoping they will let me interview Raymond today. Do you have any friends or family that can come and support you?”

“No, there’s no one. Thanks so much, I could use a friend right now,” said Stone politely, hardly looking like a criminal of any sort.

But Siegal had already requested to be let out. He was in motion. So was this case – and that was all that mattered to him.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


I was talking with one of my former seminary students who now works at a Wesley Foundation at a major university in the South. She and her charges had been busy sending support to the Va. Tech students in the wake of the massacre in Blacksburg. Everyone had been praying and wringing their hands about what can be done. This horrific experience raised some important ethical concerns.

Where is the moral outrage about the ability of even mentally whacked out people to buy guns in this country? You heard none of the potential Presidential candidates saying anything about the need for tighter gun control laws last week. Indeed, hardly a member of Congress was saying anything. You might find this passing strange since over 80% of all Americans in recent polls have been all in favor of more gun control in this country. Why is this such a hard sell? Well because the 10-20% of those Americans who aren’t in favor of stricter gun control are better organized and they’ve got the NRA and the gun lobby to work for their point of view. It’s the best organized and the squeaky wheels which get the grease in our society.

It is interesting to me that even most American Christians, when they discuss these things, discuss them in terms of their Constitutional rights to bear firearms. They don’t ask whether the New Testament might have anything to say about Christian conduct in this regard. Never mind that the original strict constructionists of the Constitution had in mind that the colonies had a right to a militia and private citizens could keep their hunting rifles. They could never have envisioned young adults packing multiple round pistols or adults carting around AK 47s because they think they have a Constitutional right to do so. I would reject the NRA’s interpretation of the Constitution on these points, but that is a debate for another day. My question is--- are their ethical teachings in the New Testament that have a bearing as to whether Christians, as private citizens, should be bearing arms? Well yes, in fact there are texts to consider.

Let’s start with first of all the unequivocal NT principle that Christians are never to engage in taking revenge. Perhaps the plainest statement of this fact is found in Romans 12—Paul, writing to Roman Christians says this “Do not repay anyone evil for evil….If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written “it is mine to avenge, I will repay” says the Lord. On the contrary “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (12.17-21).

This is a reasonably clear statement of the basic Christian principle of “no retaliation”, but in fact it goes further by adding that instead of retaliation one is to do good even to one’s enemies, to ‘kill them with kindness’ as the old cliché goes. Notice the reference to enemies. Even enemies are not excluded from love and concern and indeed from ministering to at the point of their needs. The basic underlying issue here is leaving justice in God’s hands, rather than taking matters into our own hands. Even if someone does you a grave wrong, you are not to respond in kind, but rather leave it to God to deal with the perpetrator.

Does loving one’s enemies include enemies who are currently in the process of doing you harm? Well yes it does. Notice these two clauses back to back—“love your enemies and pray for those who are persecuting you that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the just and the unjust…” (Mt. 5.43-45). These of course are the words of Jesus, and among other things they rule out loving your enemies to death at the point of a gun. In context this saying teaches us a lot: 1) instead of responding with violence to violence we should be praying for those who are persecuting us. Notice it does not say praying about those who are persecuting us (for instance praying God will eliminate them quickly). No, this is about wishing them well, praying for their good and not their harm, just as Paul suggested in Rom. 12. It’s about overcoming evil with good. Notice as well that Jesus expects his disciples to be emulating the beneficent behavior of God the Father who blesses both the just and unjust with needed sunshine and precious rain. God is here depicted as indiscriminantly gracious-- pro-active, rather than reactive.

What about the famous text in Lk. 22.36-38 where Jesus seems to advise the disciples to go out and obtain a weapon? Again context is king here. Remember this is the same Jesus who: 1) advised that those who live by the sword will die by the sword and 2) who immediately put a stop to Peter’s violence against the high priest’s slave, and indeed reversed it’s effects by healing the man’s ear. So what is the meaning of this little story, taking into account the larger context of Jesus’ teaching? Vs. 37 is the key where Jesus quotes Is. 53.12—“he was numbered with the transgressors”. Jesus is saying to the disciples—you must fulfill your role as transgressors of what I have taught you!!! They must play the part of those who do exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught them in the Sermon on the Mount. The disciples become transgressors by seeking out weapons and then seeking to use them. This much is perfectly clear from the context for the disciples then go on to say “look Lord here is two swords”. They already have such weapons and Jesus responds in disgust to the fact that they are already transgressing his principles of non-violence by responding “that’s enough” (of this nonsense).

Clearly, Jesus knew that two swords would not be enough to hold off a Roman legion, so we must take his response as highly ironic not as straight forward. Either he says ironically “oh that will be plenty”, or more likely as I have suggested, he means “that will be enough” of this foolishness. Either way, there is absolutely no endorsement here by Jesus of his followers using weapons. Carrying weapons makes them fulfill the role of transgressors, as the citation of Is. 53.12 makes evident.

I could go on looking at text after text, but by now the point is clear--- both Jesus and Paul were opposed to the use of violence by mere mortals particularly their disciples, especially the use of violence as a form of vengeance. Vengeance was supposed to be in God’s hands, and this brings us to one more point. Jesus’ action in the temple is an example of God in the person of his Son taking vengeance against sin in his Holy Place. It is not an example of a mere human being given permission to do such things. This is why Jesus cites the Scripture “zeal for my house has consumed me”. The “my” in question is God of course, and so Jesus is acting in a divine role there. Even so, it should be noted that he does no physical harm at all to any human beings. The most one could get out of this story in Mk. 11 and par. is that justice, even when it comes to justice in the house of God, should be left to the hands of the divine.

What is the ethical cash value of the call to non-violence and non-retaliation in the NT when it comes to gun control? Several things should be said. In the first place it is just common sense, even if one is not a Christian, to believe that law enforcement should be left in the hands of the trained professionals--- the police and the military. I am frankly incredulous that we simply ignore the repeated pleas and cries of the police for tougher gun control laws, so that they will not be sitting ducks while trying to do their own jobs. This inherent contradiction in the rhetoric of the gun lobby makes no sense at all. The police are absolutely right—there are whole categories of weapons than cannot be called weapons of self-protection but rather are weapons of war, and no mere amateur or private citizen should have an inalienable right to own one.

For example, I am referring to automatic weapons such as machine guns, AK 47s, or the sort of weapons Mr. Cho was able to buy. These are not in any sense mere hunting weapons nor are they like a personal hand gun, such as a revolver. These weapons, which require large bullet clips, have no purpose except the destruction of human lives on a massive scale. Even if one believes owning a gun is alright for self protection or hunting purposes, no Christian should be endorsing the right of anyone to own these sorts of WMDs which wrek havoc with our police, and empower gangs, drug dealers, and crazed individuals to create one tragedy after another.

At this juncture in the argument, someone usually points to Canada. Canada does indeed, at least in some cases, have more liberal gun laws than America. They have far fewer killings as well. Why is that? It has to do with the Rambo and wild west history of America, a history unlike the history of Canada in various respects. The British Empire, including Canada, had a long history of training people in restraint, in not using violence to try and solve human problems. That history is still in play in Canada. They did not, in the way the American colonies did, perpetrate a revolution against British rule.

Ever since our Founding Fathers, we have believed in the use of violence to establish our claims upon the land, and to maintain those claims. We still believe violence works. This was the basis of going to war in Iraq—“a military solution”. Here is where I say, that as America becomes a less and less Christian country, with less and less restraint on all sorts ethical issues WHAT WE NEED IS NOT LESS GUN CONTROL, WE NEED MORE. When the society becomes more and more ill, sinful, dysfunctional, what is needed is less access to the ability to create havoc and mayhem by using major weapons.

In surely one of the greatest ironies in recent American history a Romanian Holocaust survivor who taught at Virginia Tech, on Holocaust remembrance day, deliberately got in the way of Mr. Cho’s bullets, laying down his life to save some of his students. This is precisely what Jesus had in mind when he said “greater love has no one, than he lay down his life for his friends”. Lives can indeed be saved by such sacrifices, and even the most dedicated pacifist should be ready to intervene in this way to stop the violence.

Christians believe they have the gift of eternal life. They do not need to be protecting their own lives at all costs. This simply isn’t necessary for a Christian. Of course it is true that Christians who have families must take that into consideration when seeking to act sacrificially in a dangerous situations, but nevertheless, in principle the idea that Jesus put before his disciples was to be prepared to take up their crosses and be martyred, as he was. It is forgiveness and self-sacrificial love, even to the point of dying, not killing, which stops the cycle of violence and upholds what God has in mind for all his children. This is what Jesus’ own death teaches us, and notice he was even busy forgiving his tormentors while dying on the cross.

The prophets told us that God’s goal was to get us to the point where we would one day, at least by the eschaton, beat our swords into plowshares, and study war no more. Every Christian has a chance to be a preview of that coming Kingdom now, if they will live by the principles of non-violence that Jesus modeled for, and taught all, human beings. What would happen if all, or a large majority of the Christians in America took seriously such a mandate? What would happen if more of us behaved like the Amish in western Pennsylvania and the way last year they handled the carnage wrought on their children in a small school house? I do not know what would happen humanly speaking. The world would likely see it as weakness, not meekness. But this I know—Jesus would be smiling. The words of the exalted Lord to Paul was “why are you persecuting me?” Any attack on Jesus’ people, is an attack on Jesus. And so the response should be left in Jesus’ hands. “Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord—I will repay.” Think on these things.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Redoubtable "Miss Potter"

G rated films are scarce as hen's teeth these days, but "Miss Potter" is such a film and very good one at that. Rene Zellwegger plays Beatrix Potter, the early 20th century authoress of the wonderful little animal tales about Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddle Duck and a cast of thousands. Rene also had a hand in making this movie and dealing with its script, and it appears she is multi-talented, as this is very well done. It is of course a period piece set in London and the beautiful Lake District in the northwest of England, and it shows to good effect the beauty of the English countryside and country life.

Beatrix Potter was a thoroughly remarkable woman, not just the writer of the best-selling children's books of all time. For one thing she was an early preservationist, wanting to prevent the raping of the beautiful landscape of England by over eager developers. With her royalties she was able to buy up a lot of beautiful land in the Lake District and bequeathed 4,000 acres of gorgeous real estate to the National Trust when she died. If only there were a few dozen Beatrix Potters in America.

The movie is absolutely family friendly, and includes a little CG magic as Beatrix's animal characters come to life briefly in several of the scenes. But it is not overdone, and it enhances a tale about a woman with a vivid imagination and a gift of writing who also was a rather good artist as well.

The story however is not just about 'a portrait of an artist as a young woman'. Beatrix grew up in rather posh circumstances in London, and made the mistake of falling in love with a man who published her books, something "not done" and beneath her station in the minds of her parents who called Mr. Warne a 'tradesman', a truly dismissive epithet. The story comes to a head when Beatrix at 31 accepts the proposal of Mr. Warne, and rejects her parents attempts to over-rule this act. She reminds them that they are social climbers living on money earned by their grandparents who were 'tradesmen' and so are hypocrites!!!

The story has many charms and dimensions, and the acting is simply superb, though apart from Zellweger Americans will not much recognize the cast. No matter, the story is well presented, and at less than 2 hours long definitely kid friendly.

Imagine a movie that does not rely on violence, sex, star power, or special effects and yet works very well-- shocking, but true :) By all means go and see this charming little film which is in limited release. Even if you are not a fan of Ms. Potter's wonderful books, this story has enough romance and charm to appeal to even the most adult and serious of audiences.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Fasting for Darfur--Hungering for Justice

(Picture courtesy of the Washington Post)

Meet Jay McKinley. Jay has a cross tatooed on his forehead. The cross says Start Loving, and in fact this is what Jay calls himself these days.

I was walking down Massachusetts Ave. (one of the Embassy rows in D.C.) and Jay was standing outside the Sudanese embassy protesting the atrocities in Darfur. At least 450,000 people have died in the horrible ethnic and religious cleansing that has been going on in the Darfur region of Sudan, most victims being Christians living in Christian villages in the western end of that region. Many of those villages have been entirely destroyed, and the Sudanese government has done little or nothing to stop it. Indeed they were one of the instigators who supported and armed a rebel group that got this disaster started in 2003. President Bush yesterday said he found the situation evil and appalling, but took no action, apparently because there may be something brewing in the United Nations by way of intervention. We shall see. But back to Jay.

Jay is an ordinary guy, a former businessman, software salesman, in Pennsylvania, who quit his job and as of March 1 began fasting and and on March 13th living on the sidewalk in front of the Sudanese embassy in D.C., until they do something about the ongoing disaster in their country.

Jay became convicted that this is what the Lord wanted him to do, to raise awareness for the thousands of people, including thousands of Christians that continue to die in the blood-letting there.

Jay is my age, 55, and at this point he has been fasting for longer than Jesus did-- well beyond 40 days. His story was in last Saturday's Washington Post. His mind is starting to slow, he is constantly nauseous, he can barely move, his kidneys have mostly shut down causing his legs to swell, but his heart is strong and he is determined to take this to the end if need be or until something significant is done to help the plight of the Christians and others in Darfur.

Jay sleeps in a green sleeping bag, but is not allowed to sleep flat on the sidewalk or else he will be picked up for vagrancy. Nearby is a statue of Ghandi, who, after Jesus, is his inspiration for doing what he is doing. During the day if someone comes to the embassy he tries to stand up and has a large orange sign explaining why he is there. When no one is around he simply reads his Bible.

Jay has left his family behind in Pennsylvania, so convicted was he that he was supposed to do this. They know he is likely to die soon, and one of his sons recently visited him. I don't really see this as much different than what some of the original disciples did when they were called away from their families by Jesus to come and follow him.

Why is he doing this? Besides saying its what the Lord wants him to do he says: "Babies are being killed. Women are being gang raped and mutilated. What kind of human beings are we if we don't respond?" What kind indeed. Where exactly is the Christian church's capacity for moral outrage about this, when many human beings, including many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being murdered daily?

Now I need to tell you Jay is a pretty normal guy, not a kook. He has a bachelor's degree from Ithaca college and an MBA from Syracuse. He reads his Bible daily and Christian literature. Recently he quoted Teilhard de Chardin one of the more interesting Catholic thinkers of the 20th century: "After we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love. Then for the second time in history, man will have discovered fire."

Jay so inspired a local D.C. tatoo artist that he tatooed the cross with Start Loving in it on his forehead for free.

Jay stands alone on the street corner. No one joins him. When I saw this, I wondered if I had the courage and conviction and guts to do what he was doing. When asked by reporters why he is offering up this apparently futile gesture alone he says "I'm here because my brothers and sisters are being killed. It's not my responsibility what others do. Its only my responsibility what I do. I can do nothing less in the face of this atrocity." Choking back tears he adds 'I wish I had a thousand lives to give. But I have mine and this is how I choose to spend it."

What was it that Jesus said-- "Greater love has no man, than he lay down his life for his friends." Well Jay doesn't even know these folks in Darfur, but he knows they are his brothers and sisters.

I am reminded of the great poem by John Donne which says (I am paraphrasing) "No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away from Europe, Europe is the less. Any man's death diminishes me, for I am a part of mankind. Therefore do not seek to know for whom the bell tolls-- it tolls for thee."

God bless you Jay, and God have mercy on Darfur-- soon and very soon.

(with thanks to the Washington Post and Delphine Schrank a Post staff writer for some of this information which I have rewritten).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Supreme Court Bans Partial Birth Abortion in Landmark Decision

In what has been quickly hailed as the most significant Supreme Court Decision on abortion since Row vs. Wade, second trimester partial birth abortion was declared illegal in a 5 to 4 decision by the Supreme Court today. Reaction to the decision was swift on both sides with the pro-choice groups picketing the Supreme Court building today. President Bush was quick to applaud the decision.

The decision itself described this abortion procedure as both gruesome and unnecessary. In this procedure, labor is induced and when the child is partially born it is then killed. Some doctors were quick to suggest that this will make abortion more dangerous for women because some claim this is the safest second trimester procedure. Others say that it is completely unnecessary since there are other safe means to abort a fetus.

What is especially remarkable about this decision is no exception is made to the ban even if the life of the mother is in danger.

It will be remembered that President Bush moved swiftly to sign the original bill into law which had passed Congress in Nov. 2003. The bill was proposed by Sen. Rick Santorum and others in 2003, and it then underwent challenge after challenge until the case came before the Supreme Court three years.

You can read the story here----

Debate has of course begun on whether this will embolden challenges to other radical abortion procedures in individual states. Perhaps most fundamentally this decision reflects a belief that a woman should not be allowed to do whatever she pleases with the child in her womb. At a minimum this decision signals a belief that some forms of abortion are inhumane and should not be legal.

For those of us who are pro-life this is an important day in a long struggle, but in reality it is only a small victory for the life of unborn children since abortions can be performed in various other ways.