eNews For The Week Of March 27, 2012
In This Week’s Issue
- Saudi Grand Mufti Says Destroy Churches - (Read)
- Dealing With The Easter Dilemma - (Read)
- Healing and Trayvon Martin - (Read)
Memory Verse of the Week
Important News Headlines
Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin wants to visit Israel in June, and has
expressed interest in unveiling a monument in Netanya honoring Jewish Red Army
soldiers who fought in World War II, a senior Israeli official told Haaretz on
Monday. srael is expected to be Putin's second foreign destination after he is
inaugurated on May 7. Putin is due to travel to the United States on May 20 to
attend the G8 summit, where he is slated to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama.
A clearly divided Supreme Court cast serious doubts on the Obama administration's signature health care law Tuesday, emboldening the Republicans who now are eagerly campaigning to kill it.
In a historic clash that foreshadows a close election-year decision, justices revealed sharp splits about whether Congress went too far in mandating that U.S. residents buy health insurance or pay a penalty. But while the justices appear as divided as the country itself, skepticism dominated during the unusually long oral arguments.
"The federal government is not supposed to be a government that has all powers," Justice Antonin Scalia said. "It's supposed to be a government of limited powers. ... If the government can do this, what else can it not do?"
The Salt Lake Tribune
Researchers have devised a nano-sized sensor to read the sequence of a single DNA molecule. The technique is fast and inexpensive and could make DNA sequencing widely available, possibly leading to affordable personalized medicines. "We augmented a protein nanopore we developed for this purpose with a molecular motor that moves a DNA strand through the pore a nucleotide at a time," said Jens Gundlach, a University of Washington physics professor who leads the research team. Gundlach said the nanopore technique also can be used to identify how DNA is modified in a given individual. Such modifications, referred to as epigenetic DNA modifications, take place as chemical reactions within cells and are underlying causes of various conditions.
Pope Benedict arrived in Cuba on Monday and told the government it had nothing to
fear from the Catholic Church, asking for more freedoms to help the communist
country in times of change. Just three days after saying that communism no longer
works in Cuba, the pope took a softer stance as he landed in the eastern city of
Santiago de Cuba for a three-day trip aimed at boosting the Church's role on the
island. The 84-year-old German pope delivered a carefully worded, nuanced and
balanced arrival address after he was greeted warmly by President Raul Castro.
He was less direct in his criticism of Cuba's one-party political system than he
had been when speaking to reporters on Friday, although he did offer some thinly
veiled phrases addressing Cuba's human rights record.
Joachim Gauck, the former East German pastor, dissident and head of the commission that opened the files of the East German secret police after the fall of the Berlin Wall has become the new president of the Federal Republic of Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel was described as finding Mr. Gauck too "unpolitical" for the job (read that as too forthright and unbending). Mr. Gauck's message is clear. He insists that freedom is the most important element in democracy because "above all, freedom bestows culture, substance and content on our society." We'll see where Germany's new President takes his leadership of the strongest country in Europe.
The New York Times
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Articles And Commentary
SAUDI GRAND MUFTI SAYS DESTROY CHURCHES
Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Shaikh issued a fatwa last week declaring that all churches on the Arabian Peninsula should be destroyed, raising surprisingly few cries of alarm around the world. While Saudi Arabia is on friendly relations with the United States, the country is not on especially kind terms with the Christians within its borders. Church leaders in Europe did offer displeasure at the fatwa, but one of the most direct and vocal criticism actually came from the The Ahl al-Bait World Assembly of Muslims, which rebuked the Grand Mufti, insisting that Saudi Arabia's Wahhabism "is not true Islam."
A Kuwaiti civil society organization approached the Grand Mufti last week, asking what he thought of the new Kuwaiti constitution article that forbids new churches to be built in the country. Kuwait had originally considered removing all Christians churches, but recognizing the number of Christians residing in the country, instead settled on preventing new structures from being built.
In response, the Grand Mufti issued a ruling that all churches on the Arabian Peninsula, including those in Kuwait, should be wiped out, citing Mohammed's position that no religion but Islam should exist on the peninsula.
Roman Catholic bishops in Germany and Austria responded sharply to the fatwa, concerned about the human rights of non Muslims working in the Persian Gulf region. Russian Orthodox Archbishop Mark of Yegoryevsk said the ruling was "alarming." Still, it seems that most of the world overlooked the statement.
One loud shout of disagreement, however, surprisingly came from other Muslims. The Ahl al-Bait World Assembly said in a statement, "First of all everyone should know that Wahhabi Muftis are not representatives of Islam." The Assembly jumped on the Grand Mufti, rebuking him for interfering with the affairs of the other Muslim nations on the Arabian Peninsula. It denounced the Saudi Arabian brand of Islam, calling it, "a fabricated cult." The statement, published by Ahl al-Bait News Agency (ABNA) on Tuesday, pointed out that Christians, Jews, and Muslims had coexisted throughout the ages, and it declared that the new fatwa contradicted the commands of Allah. "[T]herefore it is not only condemned by Shiite Muslims, but Sunni Muslims are also appalled."
The Assembly didn't stop at rejecting the fatwa. It went on to rebuke Western governments for supporting the Wahhabi terrorists in spite of their attacks on their fellow Muslims in Iraq, Pakistan, and Iran. The statement warned Christian nations that they would be the Wahhabis' victims one day as well.
Christians in Saudi Arabia:
Saudi Arabia has a small Christian population, but no churches are allowed to be built in the country. Christians must quietly worship at home (and not get caught at it), and all non-Muslim houses of worship are explicitly banned. The other Gulf states – Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates – do have a few churches for the 3.5 million Christians in the region, most of whom are foreign workers from countries like the Philippines.
German Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, commented that, "It would be a slap in the face to these people if the few churches available to them were to be taken away." The foreign workers in on the Saudi Arabian peninsula help make the economy work. Muslims have great religious freedom in Christian countries, while Christians are treated with much less respect and can be in outright danger in Muslim nations. This is unequivocally true in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia gets away with murder, yet Saudi King Abdullah is considered a reasonable partner in working with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to find solutions to the Syrian problem. Clinton will be in Riyadh later this week to discuss what to do about Syria. (Saudi Arabia and Qatar have already called for arming the Syrian opposition, but the United States and Turkey want to look at helping the opposition with non violent assistance, like communications equipment.) Saudi Arabia is ruled with a truncheon, and protesting may be punishable by death in Riyadh, but King Abdullah can freely promote uprisings in places like Libya and Syria. The King will sit with Clinton in judgment of Bashar al-Assad, agreeing that he is unfit to be the president of Syria, days after the Saudi Grand Mufti has called for the destruction of all the churches in the countries around the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia may be on friendly diplomatic terms with the United States and the West, but perhaps the West is morally irresponsible to be on friendly terms with Riyadh.
DEALING WITH THE EASTER DILEMMA
The Easter Season is here, complete with baskets and cellophane grass and chocolate bunnies in every store. While we enjoy the chocolate bunnies and malted eggs, it's pretty obvious that cellophane grass has absolutely nothing to do with the Resurrection of our Lord. This time of year brings with it the annual uncomfortable question; what should we – as Christians – celebrate?
The term "Easter" itself alludes to the pagan roots of the holiday. The name comes from the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar (also, Astarte). It was the pagan preoccupation with fertility that linked rabbits' rapid breeding with the golden egg of Astarte. Passover, and therefore the Resurrection of Jesus, occur in the springtime. As Christianity spread, the celebration that Christ had conquered death came neatly at a time when the pagan world was celebrating the renewal of nature after the death of winter. And so, today we have Easter egg hunts at churches across America on Resurrection Sunday.
Is that good? Should we, as Christians, allow remnants of pagan celebrations into our celebration of Christ? For those who understand that Easter's fuzzy bunnies are really the residue of ancient Babylonian fertility religions, there seem to be two general choices.
1. Reject Easter Traditions: Some Christians separate themselves from the remnants of those old fertility religions. They remember Christ's Resurrection and forgo all the chocolate and hard boiled eggs. They may even celebrate Passover and Jesus as the Passover Lamb. They rejoice that he was raised again as the Firstborn from the dead (Col 1:18) on Sunday, the Feast of Firstfruits.
2: Make Use Of Easter Traditions: Some Christians, on the other hand, see the Easter traditions as another opportunity to spread the Gospel. Some may take 12 plastic eggs, for example, and fill each one with one object from the story of Jesus' betrayal and death and his raising from the dead. The eggs contain things like coins, a sponge, nails, and a cross while the last one is empty, representing the empty tomb. Other people dye eggs, using each color to symbolize a different aspect of Christ's death and resurrection (red stands for his blood, etc). There are dozens of ways that Sunday School teachers and parents have incorporated the current Easter traditions into the celebration of Jesus Christ's resurrection.
Which is the better way?
We do not face this issue only at Easter. Most Christian holidays have leftover pagan traditions mixed into their celebrations. Do we stop giving out Valentines because boys and girls paired up for the (loosely connected) Roman festival of Lupercalia? Do we stop hanging mistletoe because it was once a part of fertility rights – or throw out Christmas altogether because the Romans celebrated Saturnalia in late December? Are those things unholy because they were once connected to paganism? Or can we use them as opportunities to spread the Gospel to our secular culture? How do we deal with these things according to the Word of God?
To The Jews First:
God gave Israel a law and a sacrificial system that would help them understand how the death of the Messiah could pay for sins. He gave them the Passover so they could understand that the blood of the Lamb would protect them from the wrath of God. God gave Israel feasts that stood as prophetic symbols - as types - of His plan for redemption. The Jews were primed to understand the purpose and mission of the Messiah, and while the eyes of many were blinded for a time, Jesus clearly stated that he came to the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matt. 15:24).
Yet, Jesus came to save the whole world. The Gospel was for the Jews first, but also for the Gentiles according to the Scriptures (Isaiah 49:6, Acts 10:45, Rom. 1:16). The purpose of Israel was to be a light that shined the truth of God to all peoples.
And Also to the Gentiles:
When evangelists in the Early Church went out to preach to the world, though, the pagan nations did not have the same background that the Jews had. They had sacrificial systems as well, but without the precious subtleties provided by the Law. They did not have the same feasts and laws to give them a cultural understanding of the messages they were being given. The missionaries had to find ways within the existing pagan cultures to help the gentiles appreciate who Jesus was.
Familiar with the Irish language and culture, St. Patrick worked to make use of local customs in order to help the pagans of Ireland understand Christianity. For example, tradition says he used the three-leafed clover, the shamrock, in order to explain the Trinity. Because the nature-worshiping religions saw the sun as a powerful symbol, he developed what is known as the Celtic Cross, with a circle around the central section of the cross. St. Patrick was not alone. Many early Church evangelists incorporated Christian teachings into existing celebrations, "Christianizing" those traditions.
Whether that was a good or bad thing has long been the subject of debate. Some argue that those celebrations are not in the Bible and that mixing Christian beliefs with pagan traditions is at best distracting and is at worst a form of bowing the knee to those false gods.
"Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you," (2 Cor. 6:17).
Others argue that Christianity has sanctified those celebrations, making the unholy holy.
"Unto the pure all things are pure:" (Titus 1:15).
Paul and Plato:
The Apostle Paul, sent by God to minister to the gentiles, believed in making the most of every opportunity (1 Cor. 9:18-23). Paul is famous for his use of Greek culture to get ideas across to his Greek audience. He constantly makes allusions to Plato with statements like, "…which are a shadow of things to come," (Col. 2:17) and "For now we see through a glass, darkly," (1 Cor. 13:10). Do Paul's frequent allusions to Plato indicate that Plato himself was inspired by God? No. Rather, Paul made use of Plato because his Greek audience understood Plato, and he could use Plato's ideas as tools to help gentile minds understand the truth about our lives in Jesus Christ.
Was he right to do this? Didn't he run the risk of making people think he was legitimizing the many unbiblical ideas Plato had? That's a good question.
Yet, Jesus appears to have done the exact same thing. Jesus makes a puzzling statement in Acts when he interrupts Paul (still "Saul" at that time) on the road to Damascus. He says, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks," (Acts 9:5).
"Kick against the pricks" is a phrase used multiple times in Greek plays, including in Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, and The Bacchae by Euripides. In both cases it has to do with a mortal's stubborn defiance of the deity. In The Bacchae, the mortal Pentheus has the god Dionysus bound (the chains slip off), refusing to believe that he's a god. Dionysus tells Pentheus, "Better to yield [me] prayer and sacrifice than kick against the pricks…" Like Pentheus, Saul was striving to look righteous even while dealing with his own temptations.
Does this reference mean that Jesus himself was anything like the god Dionysus? Of course not. It also does not indicate that Paul would suffer Pentheus' fate of being torn apart by wild women Yet, "kick against the pricks" would have had instant meaning for Saul of Tarsus with his education in Greek literature. It would also have had meaning to those in the Greek culture to whom Paul told his conversion story.
Tripping Our Brothers:
What do we do today? Hunting Easter eggs hardly makes children think of Babylonian fertility goddesses, and there is nothing intrinsically evil in eggs or chocolate rabbits. At the same time, we do have knowledge of the Feasts of Israel, the original celebrations meant to point the way to Christ. How should we behave?
Here is what Paul says on the matter. "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean," (Romans 14:14).
Those who genuinely believe it is wrong to give their children Easter baskets should not do so. Those who are convinced that it's harmless fun, however, should rejoice in their liberty. Paul says about these sorts of things, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind," (Romans 14:5).
And yet, we have a responsibility to not cause our brothers to stumble. "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock…" (1 Cor. 8:9, 11).
We should do nothing that could harm our fellow Christians or cause them to do something against their own consciences. We need to do everything we do with the heart of Christ, with love, and not out of pride or selfishness or judgmentalism. After all, the whole point of any Christian celebration is to bring glory to God. Let's make sure every decision we make it focused on that goal.
[And if we can enjoy some excellent food at the same time, then may God be glorified in that as well!]
HEALING AND TRAYVON MARTIN
Prayer and peace vigils were held from Sanford, Florida to Washington D.C. this weekend in honor of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old young man who was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman one month ago. Trayvon Martin never suspected that his trip to buy Skittles and iced tea would be his last, that his face would soon be on T-shirts and signs across the country. Martin represents a generation of young men who need to know they are important to their neighborhoods and to the people of their country. He represents a wobbly step in U.S. race relations, and the manner in which America handles this tragic situation could make all the difference between prolonged division and continued healing.
It's hard to know what exactly happened that rainy February night as Martin returned to his dad's fiancée's house after a trip to the local convenience store. Only one person living was involved in the fight that resulted in Martin's death. Only one person gets the chance to tell his side of the story, but bits and pieces of what happened that night have been collected from various sources. On Friday, the police released phone recordings of Zimmerman and of neighbors who heard the sounds of the fight and shooting. The police have described Zimmerman's injuries after the fight. Trayvon's girlfriend has come forward and given her account of what she heard from her side of the phone.
In the meanwhile, thousands of protestors want George Zimmerman arrested and brought to justice.
What is just, though? That's not an easy question to answer.
The Facts So Far:
Martin was unarmed. It was raining, so he had his sweatshirt hood over his head. He was talking on the phone to his girlfriend using a headset, walking through the gated community where his father's fiancée lived.
Zimmerman was wearing a red jacket and blue jeans. He said he was on his way to the grocery store. He called the police to report a suspicious person and described Martin as a black man acting strangely and possibly on drugs.
"Something's wrong with him," Zimmerman told the police dispatcher, according to one released recording. "Yep. He's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands." Zimmerman said, "He's checking me out," and then, "This guy looks like he's on drugs, he's definitely messed up." He adds, "These a**holes always get away."
The dispatcher is heard trying to discourage Zimmerman, asking, "Are you following him?.. Okay, we don't need you to do that."
Martin initially walked away, but then he returned to confront Zimmerman. His girlfriend told him to run, but said Martin responded that he wouldn't run. "What are you stopping me for?" Martin asked Zimmerman, according to the girl. "What are you doing around here?" she said Zimmerman responded.
Several neighbors heard the fight that ensued and called 911. The shouts of "Help! Help!" can be heard in the background. "There were gunshots right outside my house. There's someone screaming. I just heard a guy shot," said one neighbor. "Hurry up, they are right outside my house."
Martin's parents believe he was the one calling for help. Zimmerman claims he screamed for help when Martin attacked him. When police arrived, Zimmerman's nose had been bloodied, his back was wet and grassy, and the back of his head had lacerations from hitting the ground. Neighbors have said they saw somebody on top of the guy wearing the red jacket. Other neighbors said they saw the red jacket on top. "They're wrestling right in the back of my porch," one 911 caller declared, "The guy's yelling help and I'm not going out."
The Two Sides:
It's not a simple situation. From Zimmerman's point of view, there had been burglaries in the neighborhood, and the criminals had not been caught. He saw a young black man he thought was on drugs, whom he suspected (without any direct evidence) of potentially causing trouble. The young man attacked him, Zimmerman called for help, and he shot the young man in self defense as the young man tried to get his gun.
From Martin's point of view, a big Hispanic man got out of his SUV and started following him. He turned around to confront the man. The man had a gun and appeared hostile. It's reasonable to think that Martin attacked the man in self defense and tried to get the gun away. He got shot in the process and died.
Both men felt threatened. It seems both men acted in what they felt was self defense. The young black man was killed. The Hispanic man has not been arrested.
Black And White:
Regardless of what happened that night, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin did not deserve to die. Trayvon's parents are heartbroken; they lost their son, and Zimmerman's bad judgment is a big part of the reason why. At the same time, the police have not arrested Zimmerman because the evidence corroborates Zimmerman's claim of self-defense.
There has been an assumption across the country that Martin is dead because of the color of his skin. That's something that cannot be proven or disproven. Certainly, Zimmerman may have been racially biased and might have held Martin in suspicion because he was black. Unfortunately, innocent black men and women still face suspicion and harassment in America simply because of the shade of their skin, and they have reason to be frustrated. At the same time, it's not fair to assume Zimmerman was racially motivated just because Martin was black. It could have been simply that Martin was young and male. Had Martin been an old guy, black or white, Zimmerman might have easily ignored him. Zimmerman's family members say he has black relatives and friends and insist that he's not racist. We cannot know for certain whether race was the main issue.
What we do know is that Martin was talking on his cell phone using a headset, which would not be easily seen in the dark with his hood over his head, and Zimmerman mistakenly thought he was on drugs. It might be simply the fact that the young man was walking slowly, talking on an unseen phone that unjustly raised suspicions.
The New Black Panthers have offered a $10,000 bounty for the person who brings in Zimmerman, arguing that if the police won't bring him to justice, they'll make sure to do it. Zimmerman hasn't been home or gone to work since the shooting. The group hopes to have $1 million by next week. So far, most protestors have remained peaceful, seeking justice through the legal system, and the New Black Panthers could add a dangerous and potentially violent ingredient to this emotional case.
What should America do? We can warn neighborhood watch volunteers to allow police to do their jobs. We do not take away everybody's guns. We do not sit and point fingers at each other. We do exercise caution before assuming the worst of our neighbors.
Martin's parents and thousands of people around the country want Zimmerman arrested, but legally, the case will never go to trial if a court decides there's not enough evidence against Zimmerman to proceed. It has nothing to do with racism; it's how the justice system works.
Whether Zimmerman is arrested or not, America absolutely must not let Trayvon Martin's death be the cause for destruction and division. The best thing America can do is have his death be a catalyst for healing.
"Don't let his death be in vain. Make it count, make it stand for something," one woman in Sanford prayed during a prayer vigil.
America has moved a long way toward racial healing during the past 50 years. Blacks, Hispanics, Jews and Mormons hold high political offices. The Irish are given jobs as easily as the Italians. People sometimes forget that Denzel Washington is black and that Jackie Chan is Asian and that Tiger Woods is both. There is great hope that people can just be seen as people.
Still, when there are racial frustrations in the stew pot of America, we need to be willing to hear them. We need to truly be willing to love our neighbors, working on our own weaknesses and recognizing one another's strengths. We can all pray that Trayvon Martin becomes a catalyst for healing. We don't know what will happen regarding George Zimmerman, but Trayvon's parents should take note that people of all skin shades have stood up wanting justice for their son.
Pastor Moses Brown of Tampa disapproved of the Panthers' approach. "We believe in a message of justice, not hate," said Brown, who was in town to pray at the memorial. The Panthers chanted behind him while Brown said "I see parallel versions of how we are coping with this as a community. Some in anger and us, in prayer. But we are in America where we have our rights to expression."
Memory Verse Of The Week
Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.
James 5:4 KJV
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