It’s time for a little update, not much, but I am no longer new to blogging. I have been at it a few years. Not that I have gained any particular stature. I simply can’t claim to be new at it. I still write as part of my profession, but blogging is more interesting. Blogging is my way of sharpening ideas and fleshing them out. I know I don’t always “get it right”, but it’s the journey that counts.
I have been on a journey for truth since I emerged from the haze and confusion of adolescence, much of it self-induced. Stepping out of that myopic existence I began to get an inkling that a world of truth lay in front of me to encounter, and so I set off. I didn’t realize, then, how much faith is required to seek truth. Continue reading “My Journey”→
During the second half of the Obama administration and leading up to and through much of the Trump administration, immigrants were much in the news. The country was divided over how immigrants should be handled: whether we should build a wall and be more restrictive at the borders; how strictly we should enforce the laws; whether the laws should be changed; whether immigrants from certain countries should be restricted or prohibited; and so on.
Much of the public “discussion” was inflamed with political rhetoric. The tone was angry on both “sides”. It seemed that most people were talking past each other. People took extreme positions. The issues were couched in all or nothing language, as if the choices were to open the borders wide or shut them down completely.
As I talked with people privately on both “sides”, though, the tenor and tone was different. I didn’t speak with anyone who advocated open borders with no security or regulations. I didn’t speak with anyone who wanted to close the borders and keep everyone out. Most people really fell in the middle; it was the inflamed rhetoric that created the appearance that people were amassed at the polar extremes, like angry mobs with pitchforks in their hands.
The heat of the immigration discussion has died down, but the issues haven’t gone away. President Biden has undone most or all of the executive orders issued by President Trump to tighten up border security and other immigration controls, but the laws haven’t changed.
We can expect less and enforcement and efforts to , but the laws haven’t changed. The issues haven’t been resolved. Our immigration system is still not very workable, and issues are bound to boil to the surface again and demand attention.
I first seriously dug into the “issue” of immigration in the Obama administration. I was buffeted by the opposing winds of the political rhetoric, but I wanted to know how Christians should view immigration… if there was a definitive Christian position to be taken. Most Christians knew were well-versed in the political rhetoric, but I wasn’t hearing a biblically focused critique of the subject.
The Syrian refugee crisis was flooding the news and my conscience. I had to confess that I didn’t know where God stood. I didn’t know what the Bible said on immigration, if anything. I wanted to step back from the political fray and do my own searching of Scripture and meditation to let God speak to me on the issue.
I spent a weekend searching the Scriptures. I discovered that the Bible has much to say on the subject. The terms, aliens, strangers and sojourners, were found throughout Scripture from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and those terms permeated everything from start to finish.
I found that Scripture speaks very clearly and directly on subject and left me little room to wonder how we ought to respond to immigration issues in our current day. I wrote about it for the first time in November 12, 2014 in the article, Immigration: the Strangers Among Us.
God’s “view” of immigrants is closely aligned with how God relationship with Abraham and his descendants. We might forget that told Abraham his descendants “would be foreigners in a strange land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years”. (Gen. 15:13; and Acts 7:6) Thus, Abraham’s faith prompted him to live “like a stranger in a foreign country” (as did Isaac and Jacob) (Heb. 11:9)
“For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
In fact, this status of being an alien and a stranger on the earth applies to all people of faith in the past:
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
The status of God’s people as aliens and strangers was built into the very fabric of the their relationship with God and emphasized by centuries of living with that status.
I recently read an article by Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald, Waking Up After QAnon: How Can the Church Respond, posted by Christianity Today. The secondary headline is: Evangelicals disproportionately believed conspiracy theories in 2020. How do we recover?
I do not agree completely with everything in this article, but I think it is more “right” than wrong. The following assertion, for instance, certainly rings true to me:
“For years a segment of Christianity has sought to reclaim the United States of America as a Christian nation—or at the very least a nation founded upon Judeo-Christian values. However, they have, at the same time, witnessed the American culture (and, yes, what they see as American elites—media giants, big tech, politicians, and Hollywood) adopt a more secular and progressive agenda.”
I know this to be true because I “grew up” in Christianity in an atmosphere influenced by the Moral Majority and efforts to reclaim the Christian heritage of this country. It was a patriotic movement made “sacred” with Christian reference and fervor.
The community in which I was engaged out of college joined the effort. It seemed that some momentum was being generated in the direction of reclaiming the United States as a Christian nation…. at least while I remained in that community. When I left to go to law school, my perspective changed.
Looking back, I see that patriotic Christianity appeals to a certain narrative of faith and a desire to protect what is familiar and comfortable. It affirms a sense of place in the world as an American Christian who believes fully that the United States was blessed by God more than other nations in the world and stands alike a city set on a hill for the world to see.
While I think there may be some truth to that blessing from God, we shouldn’t confuse His blessing for a time (and for His greater purpose) with our own desires for prosperity, influence, protection of lifestyle, culture and familiar life. God raises kings, and he takes them down.
The patriotic movement in the church going back in time was influenced, in part, by the “prosperity gospel”. A certain exhilaration accompanies the thinking that we are part of a sacred movement of God’s people uniquely blessed with faith. It was a kind of manifest destiny for the church.
I imagine the 1st Century Jews saw the world similarly, though they didn’t have the prosperity or power of American Christians in 1st Century Judea. Their sense of being God’s people and being culturally “right”, however, made it difficult for them to accept that God loved Gentiles who didn’t observe Jewish rituals. It caused the first schism in the early church.
The American exceptionalism that is part of the allure of this politically-charged faith embraces modern Israel and the Jewish state. They see a kinship there, and I believe are prone to the same kind of error that the early church fell into.
Moving on from that community of my early walk in Christ and seeing faith and the world from different angles changed my perspective. I loved my time in the community of my early Christian years. They did many things right, and they were eager and earnest in their faith in refreshing ways, but I have come to see that God is bigger than our patriotic ideas of Him.
(Not that all the people in the church I attended wandered down that road. I know many of them still, and many of them did not get swept up in the patriotic fervor. They have adjusted and adapted, and their perspectives have changed also.)
The real point here is that God has a global and universal purpose. We are as much a part of that purpose as my brothers and sisters in China, or India or in the African American churches in the US.
That is not to say that everyone is right about the way they view the world from their own unique vantage points and perspectives, but it means I need to listen to them because they offer perspective that I have trouble seeing from my own, limited position. Perhaps, if we can all come together in the shared experience of Christ who died for all mankind and learn to set aside the things that divide us, we can catch a more global and universal glimpse of what God is doing in the world.
The Stetzer and MacDonald article makes the following statement regarding the headlong embrace of Donald Trump: “Christians need to understand how this foolishness not only hurts relationships in the local church and community but diminishes our witness. In such situations, our gospel witness is at stake and we cannot afford to be passive.” This is a major concern.
We may have trouble seeing the ways in which we have wandered off the narrow path unless we take time to listen to what other believes are saying.
“How can you say your religion is right and everyone else has it wrong?” This is a common challenge to Christianity and to all religions that claim to have exclusive truth. All of the world religions do make exclusive truth claims.
A commitment to a set of exclusive religious principles is especially anathema in a post-modern world. It’s the cardinal sin of post-modernism. In such a world, it seems crude and out of step to believe, let alone admit that you believe, that some religious and philosophical assertions are true and others aren’t.
It’s much more acceptable to say that I can have “my belief”, and you can have “your belief”. We would quickly add, “What’s true for me doesn’t have to be true for you.” We believe with religious truth that people should be able to have their preferred spiritual cake and eat it too.
We do this with ethics also. People sometimes conflate religious or spiritual truth with ethics, but that’s maybe another topic for another time.
In the western, post-modern world, it’s ok for me to believe in chakras, or karma, or queer theory or a particular gender identity (even if my gender identity is unique to me), or aliens and whatever ethical construct goes with those things. It doesn’t need to be internally cohesive. It doesn’t really matter what a person believes, as long as she doesn’t claim it to be universal or exclusive. Claims of universality and exclusivity though, are not tolerated.
The problem, though, is that we can’t escape making exclusive truth claims. The very claim that no one can make exclusive truth claims is an exclusive truth claim. The person who says exclusive truth claims are not valid is making that claim against all other people who hold differently and claiming they are wrong.
I believe that people who are making the claim that religious people (especially) should not make excusive truth claims are doing so in response to the fanatical, self-righteous, judgmental and militant tendency of some people who make exclusive truth claims. Much tension and in the world, cruelties perpetrated against other people and even wars are the result of exclusive religious truth claims. We can’t deny it.
So what do we do? Following are some thoughts on the subject of truth claims, with some additional comments on the subject of tolerance and respect.
What is your identity? Are you just a name? A member of a family? A citizen of a country?
We might give different answers in different contexts, to the question, depending on who is asking “Who are you”? To a certain extent, our identity flows out of our lived experiences.
I identify as a son, a member of a larger family with ancestors who settled in Naperville, IL after emigrating from the Alsace region of France/Germany. I identify as a father and a husband. I identify as the son of a father, who is a lawyer, and I identify as a lawyer myself.
I also identify as a born-again Christian, oen who was once lost and is now found, a follower of Jesus Christ in the process of being renewed in my mind conformed to the image of God.
How we identify ourselves in an ultimate sense reflects our core values and what is ultimately most important to us. Thus, if someone is asking me about my highest identity, or the basis of all identities, or what is my central identify out of which all other identities now flow, I would say I identity as a child of God and follower of Jesus.
Such is the effect of being born again: born into the family of God – born of the Spirit. (John 3:7-8) It means that we now cry to God, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15) “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Gal. 4:6)
Our identity as children of God flows out of our experience of being born again. This identity is first and foremost. It is the identity that qualifies all other identities.
Or, at least it should….
Other identities flow from being born again. We no longer identify as being of the world, though we continue to live in the world. (John 17:16) We identify as citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), and we identify as “aliens and strangers” in this world. (1 Pet. 2:11)
We know these things, but we might ask, “How much has this identify taken ahold of me?” And, “How much do I identify as a child of God, a citizen of heaven, no longer of this world, but an alien and stranger here?”
“Is this my experience? Do I live this out as my fundamental identity?”
The pull of the world is great. I have to be honest, myself: I experience long stretches of time in which I could not say with integrity that I am living as an alien and stranger in this world. I find myself identifying more closely than I should, perhaps, with things of this world. My experience doesn’t always reveal close alignment with my citizenship in heaven.
The following story really brought the reality of the effect of experience on personal identity home to me. It showed me that how we identify at the core of our being is tied into lived experience, and our lived experience reveals our hearts.
I took a detour today from my usual paths and discovered Dulguun Bayasgalan, an indie-folk singer-songwriter from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Anyone who knows me well knows that I like exploring new music. I spend much more time listening to new music (mostly current music) then the older music of 1960’s and 1970’s that are my musical roots. I can now add new Mongolian music to my playlist.
Dulguun Bayasgalan goes by Magnolian because of another Mongolian artist with the same first name. Magnolian is a play on the words Mongolian and magnolia.
Magnolian made a debut of sorts at Mongolia’s biggest music festival in June 2015 as a solo act. Since then he released his first single, “Someday”, in September 2015, featuring his wife, Enkhjin Batjargal on vocals. In October of 2016, Magnolian played his first international showcase at Zandari Festa in South Korea. He made his North American debut at SXSW in Austin, Texas in March of 2017. He is now the second most streamed Mongolian artist on Spotify.
One of my interests in music is the roots of modern music. In that vein, let’s explore some traditional and modern Mongolian music, which would have had some influence on Magnolian, before we get to his music. I think you will see the influence, but he takes it in a much different direction. (If you are more into modern indie rock than Mongolian heavy metal, stick with me to the end.)
First, let’s listen to Chinggis Khaanii Magtaal (Ode to Chinggis Khaan) performed by Batzorig Vaanchig on top of a mountain in Bayanhongor Mongolia for full effect. He displays the “throat-singing” style of traditional Mongolian music and their heritage that is strongly influenced by Genghis Khan:
Following is a traditional Mongolian song, Toroi Bandi, that (to me) has a very modern feel to it. I’m not the only one, obviously, as one of the comments to the video is that it sounds like heavy metal before electricity.
I note the slowdown and change of pace in the middle of the song. I see the same kind of stylistic change in Magnolian’s music, leaving behind the throat signing, and sounding very much like current indie music in the United States.
But first, I want to showcase The HU, Mongolia’s most popular band making music currently. The HU fuse traditional Mongolian throat-singing and musical instruments with modern melodies and themes. You have may have heard them before, not even knowing it, in their song, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. The HU aren’t singing in Mongolian here. They created their own language for the song that was incorporated into the Stars Wars game of the same name.