Lack of Faith in the West … Or?

Wow. It’s been a super busy time for me and I haven’t posted anything in months. Which is definitely unusual. I’ve started writing several posts, but haven’t had the time to finish them (which really means that I’m not sure that what I’m writing is true ¬†ūüėÄ )

However, although I am still scary busy, I have enough brain space to ask a few questions. I think they are useful questions.

Question 1

How many times have you heard someone bemoan the fact that there are so many more miracles and healings in Africa or Asia or Latin America than in the West?

Do you think that it is true? … I tend to think it is true. The most common explanation: The faith of the West is dying out as we rely more and more on technology and science to do the things that God used to do for us. I tend to think there is some truth in that too.

Question 2

What kind of Father is God? Is He more of a “Do Everything For You” or a “Do Everything With You” kind of Dad?

This is, I think, a telling question because it puts the situation (and the relative capacity to help) in a different light. One expects a good parent to do things for their children that their children are incapable of doing themselves. But one also expects a good parent to let their children to for themselves the things which they can do, even if they can’t do it nearly as well as their parents. In the same way, one might expect that in countries where advanced medicine was available for healing, that believers would be expected to take a more prominent role in the care of the wounded and sick. One might also expect that God would act more frequently in places where believers have little capacity to help others heal.

Question 3

Is it the church or God who is performing below capacity in the West?

I don’t think I need to comment on that one, aside from saying that it’s not a fair question. It’s worth asking unfair questions, sometimes.

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One Ring to Rule Them All

I have been reading a book called The Gospel according to Tolkien. It’s not very good. But, while I was trying to read it, my mind jumped down a rabbit trail.

How good is the One Ring as an example of what sin is like in our lives?

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Think about it for a second.

  1. No one can beat the Ring by willpower. Not Gandalf, not Elrond, not Frodo, nobody.
  2. The Ring never quits tempting people.
  3. When you are around other Ringbearers, the power of the Ring increases.
  4. When you are in places of evil, the power of the Ring increases.
  5. The longer you stay in the company of the Ring, the stronger its hold on you grows.
  6. The Ring eventually causes its own destruction.
  7. The Ring causes its wearer to love and hate it.
  8. The Ring preys on your strengths, not your weaknesses.
  9. The Ring is entrusted to us. (That’s an interesting one.)
  10. As the power of the Ring grows, it comes to dominate one’s thoughts.
  11. The only way to defeat the Ring is to give it up (or destroy it).
  12. The more one uses the Ring, the more one wants to use it.

I mean, come on. That’s brilliant. Way to go, J.R. ¬†… R.

 

 

WannaCry – The End of an Era

Everyone is talking about the WannaCry virus. How to avoid? What it does. But no one is talking yet about what it means.

It means either the end of pirated software, music, and movies and/or the end of non-cash transactions as we know it. It is simple, if you think about it. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if this attack was perpetrated by a Sony or a Microsoft. The long-term benefits for them are going to be huge.

For the last 40 years, computer viruses have been about fun, mafia, and intelligence. Catching a virus was not a big deal, in macro terms, because viruses can only indirectly earn money. So the mafia could use viruses to create “zombie computers” to launch coordinated cyber-attacks for vengeance or as a protection racket. Governments could use viruses to gain intelligence or mess with enemy capability. Random hackers could make viruses because they were bored, or wanted access to something. But the amount of people interested in making viruses was very limited. Some people have used ransomware in the past, but it has been pretty small scale.

So what just happened in sociological terms? Well, a few billion people just found out that it is possible to use computers to steal money from other people. The new equation is

A Good virus + A Virtual Bank Account = Money.

There are billions of people with access to Facebook, Instagram, etc. They have internet access and they are confronted daily¬†with the global income gap. I have been saying (privately, not publicly) that if the west didn’t want economic refugees, they shouldn’t have created social media. It’s human nature. Americans are screaming about inequality because the wealth gap between the rich and the middle class¬†in America. What do you think the folks in the global middle class, with a median household income that is 5 times less than the American middle class are feeling? Now what do you think the global POOR are thinking and feeling?

So, we have a few billion people with computers, internet access, and a huge economic incentive. To that combustible mixture, we add the monetization of viruses. How’s that for relevant?

All those people who are cracking software and ripping videos and music, now have a great incentive to add a smidgen of extra code. Code that waits and waits and waits, and then you get the message

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So the world now has, oh, 20 or 30 thousand men and women who are really, really, smart. They are 4 standard deviations outside of the norm on the IQ scale. They are young, computer-savvy, and poor. Still thinking about using pirated software? Do you trust it?

Not to mention the organized criminal element. Bad guys already doing bad things have just had a major “awakening” to new possibilities.

And the political uses! Look at the uproar over possible Russian involvement in the American election. Can you imagine what would happen if Russia, for example, created Ransomware that targeted Muslims or Arab-speakers and linked it to an American bank account? Misdirection is so easy in a digital world.

Of course, we could change our monetary system. I made the suggestion in a post on¬†Anonymity as a Service¬†that payment should be linked to digital identities so that anonymity could be broken if the law was broken. However, with virtual accounts and untraceable money, this system would also be exploitable. Unless one outlaws virtual accounts worldwide and crypto-currencies like Bitcoin. Somehow. I’m not sure that¬†that can happen, but I’m sure people are going to be talking about it pretty soon. After all, we have to blame SOMEBODY!

So there you have it. The end of the era of digital piracy. Nothing will happen immediately, of course. Just wait.

 

My Right to Not be Offended

I think that we would all agree that I have the right not to be offended. And I’m sure that, in our enlightened age, you are eager to not offend me. So I will provide you a short list of things that offend me for your compliance. Please do not trample my rights or I will have to call you a hater.

And, although my preferences don’t really need explanation, I will provide some small justification as an expression of my self-hood, which is intrinsically valuable.

List of People who Offend Me

  1. People who use Offensive Language – This one is obvious. It’s right there in the word itself. “Offensive” language. That means the f-word, the s-word, b-word, pretty much any word Ned Flanders¬†wouldn’t use.
  2. People who regularly watch pornography – You watch people have sex for fun and are support the sex trafficking industry. Offensive.
  3. People who believe political violence is okay.¬†– Yes, ignorant college protesters that means you. If you think it’s okay to punch / kick / push someone because they disagree with you, I think it’s okay for police to shoot you in the heart with a rubber bullet. Highly offensive.
  4. Ugly and Stupid People –¬†I know. It’s not your fault. This one kind of makes ME a bad person. But I still find it offensive.
  5. People who make me feel like a bad person. –¬†See number 4. Nobody likes to feel like a bad person.
  6. People who think they are smarter than they are. – I find your need for a reality check¬†offensive. This is mitigated by my feelings of moral superiority towards you, but this mitigation is itself mitigated by my feelings of guilt at feeling morally superior, so … still offensive.

And finally

People who don’t fall into categories 1-6. ¬†–¬†You’re so stinking perfect and gracious. You don’t even make me feel bad, which is kind of amazing. But you do make me look bad (at least in comparison), and that is OFFENSIVE!

Well. I have made my preferences clear. Now, I expect you all to bend your lives around my need for SAFETY from offense. I will use violence to protect myself. Which is defensive violence by definition (even if preemptive) because you were already being (or might have been about to be) offensive.

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Alternatively, we could embrace a truth that generalizes fairly well. ¬†“¬†I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people‚ÄĒ ¬†not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.”

If you don’t want to be offended in your life on this earth, the moon is calling your name.¬†

Pharaoh and the Egyptians

Sometimes the revelation that we receive about God comes in precisely those places where are questions about God were the most serious or significant, at least that has been my experience. Most of my most significant questions tend to be about God’s justice. Why Job? Why the Amalekites? Why was Abram chosen? Why the flood then, and not before or later? The answers to these question are often a very, very long time in coming, and I don’t have an answer to most of them. But, sometimes, when I finally stumble across a piece of the answer, it is rich.

The plagues of Exodus is one of those big questions in my mind. Haven’t you ever wondered about that? Why did these 10 plagues fall on the whole nation because of the actions of one man? Why not the generation before or after? Were they more or less good? The frogs, locusts, the blood, the darkness … the firstborn. Terrible judgments! How is that fair?

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Or perhaps that is the wrong question. Perhaps my misconceptions hide the message. It started to become clear when I realized that Jesus and the Apostles modelled the right relationship between people and their rulers. Pay your taxes, respect and honor to those whom it is due, and an absolute refusal to do evil or refrain from doing good (along with a willingness to accept the consequences for those actions). You see, government, from the most primitive tribal leadership to the most sophisticated democracy, from oligarchy to plutocracy to dictatorship, always depends on the consent of (at least some of) the governed. Many dictators have learned the hard way that armies can rebel, spies can be converted, and butlers can assassinate. One man is always one man. Their power is always conferred by the people, whether through fear or through love.

Then I noticed that there are almost no third parties in the Exodus story. Each person was either oppressor or oppressed. The two exceptions are Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses’s wife’s family, and they both supported the oppressed at significant personal risk.

Do you remember how the Exodus story begins? With the calculated oppression of the Israelites culminating in the murder of all Hebrew baby boys. And who do you think murdered these boys? Was it the Pharaoh? No, it wasn’t. The Pharaoh just made the decision, but Egyptians carried out the sentence. How did these midwives know women were pregnant? Do you think the Hebrew mothers were reporting in to the midwives so that their babies could be killed? Nor did Egyptians speak out on behalf of these babies.

Pharaoh’s every cruel command was carried out (or not) by people. Every day, they had a choice to be an oppressor or to join with the oppressed. That is a very difficult choice to make, especially with a government as ruthless as the Egyptian Pharaoh’s tended to be. But again, rebellion was always, always possible if enough people decided that Pharaoh was doing wrong.

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God made it very clear during the first plagues whose side was in the right, and it wasn’t cruel Pharaoh. We can see that some Egyptians did choose to side with the oppressed.

Exodus 12:37 (NIV) –¬†¬†The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds.

It seems clear that, at some point, these people decided to join the Israelites, and from thence, partook in Israel’s protection from the plagues.

It wasn’t just Pharaoh’s heart which was hard. The people of Egypt’s hearts were hard as well. They together were cruel, oath-breakers, and at the last filled with a thirst for revenge. And together they received the punishment for their actions.

These are timely words for us today. If God held the subjects of the god-king, the Pharaoh, who ruled with an iron fist and had the power of life and death, for the actions of their nation, how much more will he hold the citizens of a representative democracy responsible for the actions of their nation? God held Egyptian slaves as well ¬†as leaders for the way they treated foreign workers and economic refugees, how much more the “disenchanted” of the United States? Oh … you forgot that? That the Israelites fled to Egypt because they didn’t have enough food to eat in their own country? Probably a good thing to remember, since the Old Testament reminds us to remember the Exodus and how to treat strangers and foreigners a LOT, e.g. Exodus 12:21, 23:9, 12:49, etc.

The point is, in the battle against oppression, there are no disinterested bystanders. We don’t get to “mind our own business”. We are either oppressing or we are siding with the oppressed, not in our discourse, but in our actions. Which one are you siding with?

 

NOTE: I am¬†taking for granted the extent of the plagues (i.e. hyperbole) because obviously to whatever extent the language is hyperbolic, the problem disappears and the arguments don’t need to be made.

RIP Ahok

The List of Politicians Josh Meares Respects (LoPJMR) is an extremely short list. It is not as popular as People Magazines’s World’s Most Beautiful People or the Forbes Billionaire List. But, much like the Ivy League during March Madness, the LoPJMR is inconsequential, but very proud of its selectivity. In fact, the LoPJMR is so selective that it only has one member: Jakarta’s current governor,¬†Basuki Tjahaja Purnama aka Ahok.

How could I, Josh Meares, respect a politician? I mean respect is a much more meaningful word than say “tolerate”, “occasionally agree with” or “like”. Aren’t politicians down at the bottom of the scum bucket: dirty, corrupt, deal-makers who live to enrich themselves and exercise power over others? In fact, a young Ahok said almost exactly that to his father at one time. To which his father replied, “And they always will be if good men don’t become politicians!” And so, the fate of one of the world’s largest cities was shifted, just a bit, from its axis. Ahok decided to become a good, decent, moral politician. In Indonesia! Ahok is ethnically Chinese, and a devout, open Christian living in a mostly tolerant Muslim-majority society. Ahok was doomed from the start, by being Christian and by being Chinese.¬†And yet, somehow, his honesty, forthrightness, and willingness to battle corruption made an impression.

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Jokowi and Ahok – A new Jakarta

In 2012, my first year in Indonesia, Ahok became the running mate of Joko Widodo “Jokowi” in the Jakarta gubernatorial election. Jakarta is one of the world’s largest (more than 12 million residents) and most corrupt cities. This unlikely pair couldn’t be more different in everything except opposing corruption. Jokowi was the Islamic man of the people, gentle, humble, relatively soft spoken. Ahok was the Christian outsider, business man, and incredibly direct. Incredibly enough, despite some moderate protests by radical Islamic groups like the FPI (Islamic Defense Front), Jokowi and Ahok won! They immediately began making significant changes in Jakarta, starting by allowing the media into the budget meetings. The result: in the first year, around 30% of the city’s budget went unspent. Corrupt politicians weren’t able to just split the money among themselves and their supporters. And the crowd went wild!

Jokowi rode this wave of success to become President Jokowi in 2014. He ran with an Islamic running mate, of course. And now, Jakarta, a city with more than 10 million Muslims had their first Christian governor since the 60s. The riots started IMMEDIATELY. Fatwas were declared, the FPI mobilized, death threats were issued. And Ahok ramped up his anti-corruption program. He implemented an e-budgeting system to improve transparency. At significant risk to his own life, he directly confronted his opponents, openly and honestly. He was accused of pretty much everything. His consistent response was, “OK. Check me out. Investigate. Anything you need, I’ll provide it.” And then, inevitably, Ahok would be declared innocent. Blameless even.

At the same time, Ahok was riding the Anti-Corruption Police, keeping the public pressure on, making sure cases were brought to completion. Never have more high-profile people been jailed. Death threats poured in because Ahok was jeopardizing one of the more lucrative businesses in the world. They came from extremist Muslims, mafia syndicates, and general well-wishers. If I may paraphrase his response, “I must do what is right, live or die. To live is Christ, to die is gain.” Amazingly, Jakarta began to change visibly. Cops started to be afraid to ask for bribes because they would be prosecuted. Rivers got cleaned up, infrastructure got fixed. Flooding was reduced. The Jakarta public transport system got major upgrades. The traffic that has been rated the worst in the world in 2015 began to get a little better. It’s amazing what tearing the leeches off does for your health.

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Jakarta before Ahok and after

But corruption does not go quietly into the night. Corruption tried everything to bring Ahok down, and everything failed. Until it played the trump card, just before the Jakarta gubernatorial elections. They posted a video of a speech by Ahok with faked subtitles, and accused him of blasphemy against Islam. The video went viral and the reaction was immediate. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in the capital.

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In Indonesia, blaspheming a “religion” is a crime, judged by religious courts. (I put religion in quotes because as far as I know, no religion except Islam has ever been blasphemed.) The video subtitles were immediately proven fake. Even though quite a few of his accusers were jailed themselves for false testimony, the trial dragged on for months. Instead of fighting corruption or campaigning for election as governor, Governor Ahok sat in the religious courtroom, hoping not to get too much jail time by the Islamic judges for, well, I’m not exactly sure what they’ve been trying him for since they proved the video faked.

The delaying tactic worked like a charm. Ahok just lost the gubernatorial election. Ahok, by almost any measure, the best governor that Jakarta has ever had, just lost the election. And it was in defeat that he really earned my respect. A good, honest, successful Christian makes an amazing difference in the life of one of the world’s biggest cities in only two years and loses the election. It’s back to business as usual in Jakarta. But, there was no crying, or prophesying doom (which seems to be the most popular response to losing an election lately), or name-calling, or demands for a recount. Instead, Ahok, after graciously thanking his supporters, smiled and said this, “God gives, and God takes away. No one can become Governor without God’s permission … Am I disappointed? Yes. Sad? Yes. But don’t be discouraged! Don’t remember all the bad things said (about us) during this campaign. Jakarta is our home together. We must support Anies (his opponent) as well as we can. … We will continue to work hard to make good on our promises until October.” The man is literally cheated out of the election, he is called a dirty Christian Chinaman, among other less polite things. Discrimination based on race and religion. He is still in court for blasphemy against Islam, and he is likely to go to jail. But he doesn’t whine, he doesn’t cry, he doesn’t threaten, he doesn’t prophecy. ¬†He doesn’t even make excuses. “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away” Blessed be the name of the Lord. What a statement of belief.

You probably don’t know, and you definitely don’t care, Mr. Ahok, but with that answer you made my list. Wish we had a 1,000 more like you, both in Indo and in my country.

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RIP Ahok – Resign In Peace, and hopefully Reign in Peace for a few more months

 

Black and White make Grey?

The Earth is a bipolar, centered object. Like every sphere, it has a geometric center. It also has two magnetic poles: north and south. It is a simple, elegant system with movements and forces that are constant and calculable.

Christianity is a centered, multi-polar faith. Like the n-Body Problem in physics, it is messy and complicated. There are movements and forces, but they aren’t calculable. The “geometric” center of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ. Christians aren’t centered on a point, but on a person. If there is no Christ, there is no Christianity. But Christianity has many more than 2 poles, conceptually speaking. Christianity requires us to hold and balance many opposing ideas in tension. In the end, all of these opposing poles meet in the center, in Jesus Christ. Justice and mercy. Love and wrath. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Jesus: God and man. The Bible, the work of divinely inspired humans. Complicated, eh?

The world we live in is no checkerboard either. Is it right to forgive a murderer? Of course, it is. We are commanded to. But what if the murderer kills again? We have shown mercy and love to the murderer, but were we loving and compassionate towards his new victims?

I believe that Christians are people bound to black and white convictions. But we are living in a world of gray choices. To deny the truth of the grayness is to be naive. “The world isn’t black and white.” However, I believe that we must consciously reject the grayness. It seems as if we should be expecting good actions to result in evil in this world. After all, Jesus was crucified. To live in the gray with a black and white faith is to be an ambassador of Christ.

But how do we live black and white lives in a gray world? Here we are humbled and utterly dependent on God. Do we feed the 5,000 or send them away hungry? Jesus did both on consecutive days … to the same group of people. Do we cast the sinful Christian out of the church or do we embrace him in fellowship? Paul did both to the same person.

The “thou shall not”‘s of Scripture that we concentrate so hard on are fairly easy to understand, if not always to obey. They are matters of the Holy Spirit and the will. The “thou shalt”‘s of Scripture are much more difficult and require great wisdom, dependence, and the leading of the Spirit.