Lord, Have (No) Mercy upon ISIS!!??

Yes, I must write on this too. Please read one more piece on this event. 

I spent much of last night following the reportage of ISIS over the last few months. Unspeakable cruelties, against women, children, fathers, girls, boys. Against Yazidis, Christians, other Muslims. I felt sick, angry. I felt hatred. I did not know what to say except

Lord have mercy, have mercy .  . .

But----NO! In my next breath, No mercy. Lord have NO mercy on this evil! Do something! Yes, Lord, have NO mercy and DO something!

Such challenges never go unanswered, it seems. In my gospel readings, I realized the Hebrew people in Jesus' day felt the same. The injustices and unspeakable cruelties against them! They wanted what we want still and now----a Winning God. 
 A triumphant God, an arm-raised victory-fisted God!!

And this is just who they got! The Messiah they were waiting for, look who He chose! He didn't go to the seats of power; he went straight to the poor, the hungry, the pathetic, the unworthy, the victims.

And there it happened: Healings of every sickness. The dead raised to happy life. Massive feedings from a little lunch. Demons screaming out. The blasting wind and sinking waves scolded into peace. . And finally they got it, these men trailing behind his cloak, watching everyone who touched it get healed. 

"Who do you say that I am?" he asks them.

 Peter answers, knowing for the first time the truth of his own words, "You are the Christ."

Finally, after so many head-spinning victories and miracles, Peter sees him for who He is. 

He is THE CHRIST, the anointed one! They know, finally! What can't this man-God do?? He has done all things well, healed every disease. There is nothing, no demon, no force, no wind, no Pharisee that can take Him down, this Christ!

There He is. I want THIS God, this two-fisted, truth-tongued, all-healing God, who will vanquish all His enemies!

But then, what does Jesus the Christ, the anointed one do, immediately upon that recognition, those words? Listen again:

Peter: "You are THE Christ."

"And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things . … and be rejected . . . and be killed . . . 

Do you hear this? Can we hear this through the ears of those men? Now that you know who I am---finally (O ye of so-little faith!)----this is the kind of Who-I-Am I am. I am the Christ, the anointed one who will suffer and be beaten and will die. 

No! No! No! Not THAT kind of CHRIST! We want the Winning God, the Victory God, the Vanquishing God! 

This is where Peter rebukes Jesus, saying, Never Lord!

And Jesus sees Satan in Peter's human words, which would have been our words. 

But of course, Jesus IS the winning God, the victorious God, the Everything-Good God who accomplishes all this with the greatest display of power ever: the power to lay down his life. The power to suffer and die. For us.  For evil. For sickness. For his friends. Yes, for his enemies. 

And He gives us the power to lay down our lives. Even before the knife, kneeling by the Mediterranean Sea, moments before death. Those men, speaking the name of Jesus until they could not . . . .

ISIS believes they have destroyed these men. ISIS believes they have proven the strength and superior power of Islam over "the nations of the cross." They could not be more wrong. In every act of brutality and murder, ISIS proves their weakness, their evil, their own already-destroyed hearts. 
And the ones they kill, attest to the victory of a suffering Christ who lay down his life that we may also lay down ours. 

And finally, these men are not dead, but living still. 

Lord have mercy? 
He already has. In so many ways.
In mostly Muslim Egypt, because of these murders, there is an unprecedented openness and sympathy to the Coptic Christians. 1.65 million tracts have been printed and distributed with Bible verses about blessing in the midst of suffering. And this poignant, powerful poem in colloquial Arabic as well:

Two Rows by the Sea

Who fears the other?

The row in orange, watching

paradise open?

Or the row in black, with minds

evil and broken?

(for more on this, see CT's fascinating coverage here)

I believe there will be much fruit around the world from the words on those pages, from the blood of those men. (Even if the photos were photoshopped and they were not killed "by the sea" but in some studio. No matter.)

Lord have mercy?  

He already has.  The poem reminds us how.

Because of His mercy, we're freed from 

the row we were standing in, the row 

 in black, knives in hand, 

     "with minds 

                  evil and broken."

Because of His mercy, we ask now 

that we too would be given 

 the courage, the faith, the love

to kneel in the sand in orange,

before those who hate us,

                 paradise open,"

and whispering, 

with our last breath

the name that can save them too,


Lord, have mercy. 

He already has.

20 Photos + Videos to Make Us Well, Stop Time + Beat Our Narcissism

As I begin this, I'm sick in bed. And I'm lonely enough to greet even this fly with joy. 

The weather is not helping. It's blowing 50 mph and the sky is draining all the rain that should be falling on California and Texas instead of here. We're drowning in precip here, day and week after week. My bedroom windows are bowing under its galing breath. I am under siege, my bed just two feet from this window. (Mind you, this is inside. Not possible to film outside today.) 


The forecast---mostly the same for the next few days. (And, off and on for the rest of winter, which lasts until May. But all of you on the East Coast must forgive my narcissistic complaints. You're huddling under -30 temps and 5 feet of snow---so don't pity me for a second. )

          But, despite the despair some of us surely feel, there is awe in all of this, too.  We need awe desperately. A number of researchers have studied awe recently, and all reports verify something we've all experienced: Awe stops time and makes us better people. More specifically, events and moments that inspire awe  increase our perception of our available time. Our schedules halt before a blood-red moon. As we lose ourselves in the march of an ant or the shooting of a star, we are humbled to our own true size and significance.   Such moments reduce our irritability and increase our empathy for others. We are more likely to feel connected to others. We are more likely to help those in need.
(More here. )

         I felt it this week, when I glanced up over my house, how my heart slowed enough to squish out of my chest and launch toward that moon! Then I brought my sons out of the house to see it with me. 

              Everywhere you can find this. Look outside your own window. And look here, at the calving of  three miles of glacier---the largest calving ever filmed. Take a deep breath before you start:

           And here, these insects at our feet we take no notice of except to kill. Here is how the early morning dew dresses them in jewels!


           We need awe like we need oxygen, like we need God himself. Because it is awe that leads us to Him. It is awe that finally shakes us loose from our stranglehold on the clock, and our stranglehold on our own pitiable selves. We are indeed shrinking our already small selves with our narcissism and self-absorption. Our children measure alarmingly low levels of empathy and sky-high levels of self-focus. 

We need them to see dragonflies, sun dogs, a blade of grass, volcanoes (see this incredible time-lapse of an eruption)

Our task--for them, for ourselves, for the sake of all the world---is to awaken to the world. The self will begin to find its proper place when we swivel our eyes to the window. Give your child--and yourself---a good camera, a microscope, binoculars. Start watching. 

Here, from my window and my lens, glimpses from my own gallery of awe:

           And if you have no camera---others do. A new online journal  Behemoth (from the amazing people at Christianity Today) exists just for this, to bring us beauty and awe. It's cost? 1.99 a month.      

Maybe start here:  Behemoth's links to Wonder on the Web


        By the time I finish writing this (the next day), the clouds have broken for a moment. I look from my bed and aim my camera to the waters out my window and see the ferry, struggling through massive seas. 


And it is working already. I am wonderstruck. Time slows as I watch. And I am full of empathy for my fellow Kodiakans on board---15 hours of gut-wrenching seasickness. I say a prayer for them . . . 

And I know it is true. 

Awe is our true oxygen. 

Breathe deeply. Open your eyes. 

Lose yourself.

Gain the world.

Grow toward others.

Glimpse the God who loves it all.

(Stellar explosion photographed by the Hubble telescope)

And-----begin your own gallery of Awe. 

A Modest Proposal: 50 Shades of Grey in Every Classroom!

If you are as deeply disturbed as I am about the new "sexual revolution" spawned by this book, would you help spread the word about this noxious book and movie? And------why have I written this as satire? As Flannery O'Connor has said, when people are deaf, sometimes you have to shout. 
Blessings and Thank you,


Thank goodness for E. L. James and her masterpiece, 50 Shades of Grey. And what genius timing---just before Valentines Day!  I for one am breathing a sigh of joy and relief. Finally someone has addressed our greatest social need! Yes, we are at war in various parts of the world, and there are oppressive and violent regimes across the waters, but there's an even greater war and greater need right here on our own soil: sexual repression. James, in a turn of brilliance, has pitched her considerable artistic skills toward this social ill. We can all be thankful for this trilogy which promises to finally unravel our dangerously puritanical culture where sex, our very life force, is virtually invisible in media, in our schools, in the public square. Look around. The  repercussions of this repression are obvious: far too many couples stay married out of obligation and duty only rather than pursuing their happiness and exploring their own sexuality. Young men and women, most of whom currently remain chaste before marriage, enter their honeymoon with no sexual experience whatsoever. It will take them years to gain the proficiency needed for a fully satisfying sex life. James can take credit for initiating that process far sooner. Teenagers, also victims of our puritanical mores, remain ignorant of their sexual potential. Rather than suppressing this natural appetite, James has opened up a whole new world to our middle and high school students who remain unhealthily focused on their studies. I propose copies of this book in every classroom!  

Every age can rejoice in this new wave of freedom, so desperately needed in our overly intellectual culture, where the mind is valued far more than the body, where education and morals are prized over our God-given instincts and appetites. 

I am pleased as well to inform you that James has partnered with several companies to provide a whole range of sex toys, so that every bedroom in the western world can now play out their own "50 Shades" fantasies. Finally, with the aid of these whips, silver balls, handcuffs, blindfolds, floggers, vibrators and many other assorted mechanisms and devices, sex can now deliver the full natural pleasure God intended! And more, thanks to these devices, you needn't love or even like your sexual partner to achieve orgasm.  You're freed from relational constraints altogether!

Some have critiqued aspects of James' novel, specifically the bondage, whippings, spankings and other acts of so-called violence and abuse. Nonsense. True sexual freedom means that two people are free to  do whatever they like in the privacy of their own "playroom," even if it include pain and physical restraints. Who are we to judge what is abuse? If this brings even a single person pleasure, what right do we have to curtail that pleasure?  

Some have also complained about the hero's objectification of Anastasia, a 23 year old innocent, who becomes "merely a plaything" to the glitteringly rich Christian Grey. Worriers fret that such behavior will encourage other men to objectify women. Impossible. American men have always seen women as their equal, appreciating their full value--mind, body, heart and soul. And American women are secure in their own identities,  feeling little or no pressure to please men. In fact, perhaps the world would be better off with a little more female submission? This may be James' most brilliant stroke yet----delivering a much-needed corrective to feminism.  

If any objections remain, consider this final point: the heroine is well-compensated for whatever small pains she experiences. She is showered with expensive gifts: a car, jewelry, even rides in his own private helicopter---imagine! This struggling college grad's  entrance into his fabulously wealthy world reveals the story's true heart:  this is a Cinderella story for our day, where rags become riches---more than enough compensation for trivial discomforts.

But Anastasia is not the only beneficiary. The societal benefits of James' rising influence are already obvious. James herself is a multi-millionaire, enjoying the well deserved rewards of her artistic labors and sacrifice. Middle-aged housewives everywhere are interested in sex again, delighting their husbands and thrilling all their new lovers. Sex toy factories are busy hiring new workers, teenagers are gaining needed sexual experience in preparation for marriage, and much more. But most of all, James, (dare I call her St. James?) has begun to liberate us from that repressive cloud of religiosity that has suffocated common sense and natural human freedoms. Perhaps, thanks to St. James,  the day is soon coming when we are all freed to pursue our own sexual appetites just as we choose. Imagine the day when our TV screens, Hollywood and the Internet are no longer populated by stiffly dressed, puritannical do-gooders who care only about the public good, and who behave as though sex were nonexistent? Or worse, as though it were strictly private and personal?

Three cheers to E. L. James, who in a world wracked with violence and injustice, has correctly diagnosed our culture's deepest need---and who offers an achievable personal solution: sexual liberty and orgasmic pleasure for all!

If you are as deeply disturbed as I am about this new "sexual revolution," would you help spread the word about this noxious book and movie? And--why have I written this as satire? As Flannery O'Connor has said, when people are deaf, sometimes you have to shout. 

Blessings and Thank you,


A Lost Child, "Burned Alive," and Ending Evil Now

A child was lost this last week. A child I knew. In the dark. In the forest by the cliffs. Someone who could fall down the ragged rocks to a brutal beach below. I was in agony for the parents of this child. We were praying, so many of us. Others ran to look with flashlights, friends from church, Coast Guard, the Navy, the state troopers. Kodiak is like that . ..

And the news around the world is so hard. This morning, how many more days will we wake to see these horrific words on our computer screens: hostages "beheaded." "tortured"  "burned alive"??   

I am sick at heart. 

And I am sick at heart of myself. In church on Sunday, our pastor spoke of sin. Who wants to hear about sin? I do. He spoke of sin in a new way. Not sin as in murdering, adultering, conniving, but sin as a gentle tipping of the scales toward ourselves. A subtle shifting of the weights we use to measure ourselves and others. And don't we do this? Don't we do this ALL this time, weight our Scale of Benefits and Praise just a wee bit heavier than everyone else's? And the Lord "hates dishonest scales." This is the root of all evil.

Done. Devastated. Tears. Forgive me these my great heavy sins, Lord

I went for a walk, as I do when I'm in troubled, lost. I went to the cliffs and woods, the same woods the child was lost in. I went to look for God. 

Where was God? We are always looking for him, I think, whether we know it or not. The Russian cosmonaut Titov was looking, telling a news conference in 1962 that 'In my travels around the earth I saw no God or angels.'" 

I was gone for two hours in the woods, around the lake. The griefs and fears of my friends, the evil of ISIS, the family in trouble . . . my own heavy heart.  I felt our common human lament and our human confusion: If you are there, God, why don’t you answer? And our second howl is like it: If you are there and you are good, why do you allow so much evil? 

But I recognize my own complicity in the presence of sin and the seeming absence of God. Anthony Bloom, in his classic, Beginning to Pray, has written, “We have no right to complain of the absence of God for we are a great deal more absent than he ever is.” 

So it is. How is it that we demand God’s presence in our own heartbreaks and even in our whimsies when we make ourselves so absent from him otherwise? I have so many ways of absenting myself, this one chief among them: 

Each time I tip my own scale, I diminish another and enlarge myself. 

And each time I enlarge my own presence, I perceive God's presence less. 

And without God's presence, I am prone to evil . . . 

We are not using the wondrous paradoxical power God has given us: to decrease so that He may increase. 


             The child was found that day by rescuers hours later. Safe. At the end of the two hours, I too felt saved, gloriously freed from the self, opened to the sky, the spruce trees themselves reaching for light, the ocean breathing in and out. I emptied out my worries, the burdens of my friends, the burden of myself. 

And I knew, the answer to the question of Evil and Suffering starts here. Here, in my small heart. When I open my over-weighted self-loving heart to God, I am emptied, overthrown. God comes near, moves in. And there is no room for evil in a God-dwelling heart.

Here is what we do about evil in the world right now: 

 We rout the evil in our own hearts. We tip the scales toward others. Always.

I can't stop ISIS. But I can do this here where I live. 

We can ALL do this.