Posts tagged ‘New York’

A Package Bomber and a Synagogue Shooter

It’s been a tragic week in our nation.  And that’s putting it mildly.  Beginning last Monday, a series of packages containing explosive devices began to turn up at homes, at business, and in post offices.  These packages were addressed to Democratic politicians, including the Obamas and the Clintons, as well as to financier George Soros, actor Robert De Niro, and CNN.  Though none of the packages detonated, they were sent by a man who was, to put it mildly, devotedly partisan in his views.  He drove a van covered with bumper stickers showing Democratic politicians in crosshairs.  He also posted violent and threatening rhetoric on social media.

Then, on Saturday, a gunman armed with an AR-15 and three rifles showed up at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  He shouted, “All Jews must die,” and opened fire.  By the time his shots fell silent, eleven were dead and a number of others were injured.  As investigators looked into this shooter’s past, he too was found to have posted violent and threatening rhetoric on social media.  He was also a member of an egregiously anti-Semitic online community.

It’s no secret that we’re a nation on edge.  A lot of people hate a lot of other people.  This hate, in turn, when coupled with a mental health crisis that seems to be creeping across our society, erupts in violence – just as it did in the case of these two men.

At this moment, when hatred is hot, Christians must be on the frontlines advocating for love.  Our culture is fighting the wrong demons.  Our culture sees demons in politicians and positions it doesn’t like.  It sees demons in religions and races it doesn’t like.  But Scripture is clear.  We are called to fight:

…not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

If we’re fighting other people, we’re doing it wrong.  Our struggle is against the demons the Bible identifies as truly demonic – not against the demons created for us on social media.

In his new book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other – And How To Heal, Senator Ben Sasse offers a convicting analysis of our cultural milieu:

It seems clear that in America today, we’re facing problems that feel too big for us, so we’re lashing out at each other, often over less important matters.  Many of us are using politics as a way to distract ourselves from the nagging sense that something bigger is wrong.  Not many of us would honestly argue that if our “side” just had more political power, we’d be able to fix what ails us.  Fortunately, we can avoid addressing the big problems as long as someone else – some nearer target – is standing in the way of our securing the political power even to try.  It’s easier to shriek at people on the other side of the street.  It’s comforting to be able to pin the problems on the freaks in the pink hats or the weirdos carrying the pro-life signs.

At least our contempt unites us with other Americans who think like we do.

At least we are not like them.

Senator Sasse speaks specifically to our political climate, but his words can be applied to our broader cultural problems as well.  There is an attitude prevalent among many that does not want to solve problems.  Instead, it only wants to grab power.  There is an attitude prevalent among many that does not seek understanding.  Instead, it only traffics in character assassination.  And the results, even if they are, thankfully, generally not violent, are certainly not good.  People begin to trade transcendent commitments for tribal grievances.  They stop looking at others as people who are precious by virtue of being created in God’s image and instead see them as enemies needing to be eradicated.  They make demons out of mortals.

The Psalmist describes God’s patience with the Israelites of old like this:

He was merciful; He forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time He restrained His anger and did not stir up His full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return. (Psalm 78:38-39)

God was patient with and merciful to the Israelites because He remembered who the Israelites were – mere, fragile mortals.  Their lives were so short and fragile that they were like passing breezes.  God is patient with and merciful to us because He remembers who we are – mere, fragile mortals.  Our lives are so short and fragile that we are like passing breezes.  Perhaps we should see each other like God sees us.  Perhaps we should restrain our anger and wrath like God does for us.  I hope this past week has taught us at least that much.

Life’s too short to hate.

October 29, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Big Apple And The Chicken Sandwich

A little over a week ago, Dan Piepenbring, writing for The New Yorker, derided what he called “Chick-fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City.”  He declared:

New York has taken to Chick-fil-A.  One of the Manhattan locations estimates that it sells a sandwich every six seconds, and the company has announced plans to open as many as a dozen more storefronts in the city.  And yet the brand’s arrival here feels like an infiltration, in no small part because of its pervasive Christian traditionalism.

Mr. Piepenbring goes on to single out the chain’s headquarters adorned with Bible verses, its policy to close its stores on Sundays, and its CEO’s publicly expressed concerns about same-sex marriage as examples of its “pervasive Christian traditionalism.”  As Mr. Piepenbring points out, the company’s purpose statement also betrays its founders’ Christian commitments.  Chick-fil-A’s purpose is:

To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.

As a Christian, such a corporate purpose statement does not trouble me, as it does Mr. Piepenbring.  A cardinal claim of Christianity is that what Christians believe cannot be divorced from the work they do.  The apostle Paul summarizes this spirit when he writes, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).  A Christian’s creeds, Paul says, should always result in gracious deeds.  Chick-fil-A’s purpose statement teases out this connection.  The first part of the statement explains that the company’s leaders desire to give glory to God.  This is a commitment to a creed.  The second part of the statement explains that the company’s leaders desire to positively impact all who interact with Chick-fil-A.  This is a promise to do good deeds.

There is a secular trend to espouse a kind of happy humanism that claims that people are perfectly able to do good deeds apart from having to appeal to ancient and, according to the secular mindset, distasteful theological convictions.  In this way of thinking, Chick-fil-A would do better to fashion itself as an inoffensively affable and vaguely moral corporation instead of explicitly appealing to, again, according to the secular mindset, burdensome and superstitious Christian convictions.

But why would Chick-fil-A want to do this?  Its founders certainly aren’t secular.  Furthermore, extracting faith from goodness is trickier than many secular humanists care to admit.  Even if something is perceived to be good, without an external source of authority like Christianity, secular humanism still struggles to offer consistent reasons why anyone ought to do good.  Furthermore, apart from faith, people not only have no unifying set of compelling reasons why they ought to do good, they also have no set of stable standards as to what is good.  A coherent morality without a transcendent authority will be inevitably fraught with fragility.

The age-old philosophical conundrums of moral authority aside, there is widespread agreement between Christians and secular humanists on the morality of things like human dignity, community involvement, and good, old-fashioned geniality.  All of these are values that Chick-fil-A, with its evangelical roots, and New Yorkers, many of whom hold more secular sensibilities, espouse.  For this, at least, we should be grateful.  Mr. Piepenbring, however, asserts that, in a city like New York, “Chick-fil-A…does not quite belong here…Its politics, its décor, and its commercial-evangelical messaging are inflected with…suburban piety.”  This may be true culturally if one assumes there is some inherent and necessary pitched battle between a down-home corporation and a high-brow cosmopolitanism, but it is certainly not true personally.  The people who work at Chick-fil-A in New York are from New York.  And my hunch is, they care about New York and desire to serve people around New York.  Maybe we should let them.  And maybe when they smile, chicken sandwich and waffle fries in hand, we should smile back.  After all, one does not have to agree with every value and belief of a particular slice of society to treat them in a way that is neighborly.

I’m pretty sure someone said something about that, somewhere.

April 23, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Where is God in Natural Disasters?

Credit: Charles Sykes, Associated Press

$30 billion.  That’s the amount of damage that Superstorm Sandy inflicted on just the state of New York.  New Jersey is still tallying the cost of the storm for them.  Of course, that is only the price of Sandy in dollars.  The price of Sandy in human terms is much higher.  More than 110 people lost their lives to the storm.  There is also the suffering of the survivors.  There is still no power in some areas.  Gas, though no longer rationed, is still in short supply.  People are still scavenging for basic supplies like toiletries and food.  And residents are still picking up the pieces of their shattered homesteads.

Whenever a storm of such magnitude hits, many people begin to wax metaphysical and ask, “Why?”  Why did this storm do so much damage?  Why did this storm hit in the first place?  Why did this storm hit me and ruin my life?  Why?

Over the years, Christians have had no shortage of answers – some good and some not-so-good – to the question, “Why?”  In Puritan New England, earthquakes were quite common.  In 1727, an earthquake of 5.5 on the Richter scale struck the Boston area.  In 1755, an even stronger earthquake of 6.2 struck.  The pastors of that day took these earthquakes signs of God’s judgment and called people to repent of their sins, specifically the sin of greed.  For these clergy, the answer to the “Why?” of natural disasters was quite:  God was angry at unrepentant Puritans.[1]

Blessedly, the theological answers given today are usually more nuanced and biblically sensitive, though this is not always the case.  (One thinks of Pat Robertson’s theologically inept comments following the Haiti earthquake of 2010 when he claimed the disaster specifically and Haiti’s poverty generally was the result of a pact that Haitians made the with the devil back in 1791.)[2]  Generally, however, Christians do not subscribe to such a tit for tat theory of divine retribution. After all, the story of Job unmistakably undermines such a crassly simplistic and moralistic view of retribution.

So what is the answer to the “Why?” of natural disasters, at least as far as God’s involvement is concerned?  Two points that will help us gain clarity concerning this question, even it is not fully answerable, are in order.

First, though it is treacherous to point to specific sins as causes of natural disasters, we can point to sin in general as playing a role in natural disasters.  This much is clear simply by turning the story of history’s first sin.  After Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God says to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you…It will produce thorns and thistles for you” (Genesis 3:17-18).  Thorns and thistles, hurricanes and tornados, earthquakes and blizzards are all due to the sinfulness of this world.  Before the Fall, such things were of no concern.  In this way, natural disasters are not natural at all, but unnatural results of sin.

Second, we must remember that our Lord is concerned about and helps those who suffer the devastating effects of natural disasters.  I cannot help but think of the short, but poignant, story of Jesus’ disciples when they were caught in a violent storm:

Then Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed Him.  Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke Him, saying, “Lord, save us!  We’re going to drown!”  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this?  Even the winds and the waves obey Him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)

Jesus’ peaceful sleep while the waves are breaking over the bow of the disciples’ boat is a picture that grips me.  For, on the one hand, such a picture encapsulates the feeling of many when a natural disaster devastates their lives.  “Where was Jesus when this disaster hit?  Why didn’t He stop it?  It feels like He was sleeping on the job!”  The disciples of the first century, just like us disciples of the twenty-first century, wrestled with such quandaries.  But on the other hand, Jesus’ peaceful sleep can be of great comfort.  For it reminds us that Jesus is not rattled or roused by the storms and disasters of this world because such storms and disasters have no power over Him.  Quite the contrary.  He has power over them!  This is why, with one little word of rebuke, He can calm the raging wind and waves.

Because Jesus has prevailing sovereignty over creation, we can take refuge in Him, for we know that, even when natural disasters strike, Jesus has everything under control.  As the Psalmist reminds us:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  (Psalm 46:1-3)

The earth may give way, the mountains may fall, the storms may come, but this is still our Father’s world.  He has it under His control and, even more importantly, He has it under His care.

Do not be afraid.


[1] For a brief history of the Puritan response to natural disasters, see John Fea, “Seeing the Hand of God in Natural Disasters,” Patheos Evangelical (8.31.2011).

[2] For Pat Robertson’s comments, see Ryan Smith, Pat Robertson: “Haiti ‘Cursed’ After ‘Pact to the Devil,’” CBS News (1.13.2010).

November 19, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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