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Ordinary Legends: A Review of T.S. 44 – The Button Tree Prophet, by William Spires

One of those unfortunate traits of any generation is the tendency to ignore our elders. Those who take time to talk with and listen to parents, grandparents, and other older people often come away with unexpected blessings. After all, they have lived through experiences that everyone must encounter at some point, and thus have acquired valuable lessons to share with younger people who have yet to go through those experiences. Of course, that is what we expect. What surprises us is that the ordinary life experience of our elders frequently turns out to be the stuff of legends. Will Spires discovered this in conversation with his father. What he learned about his father’s childhood in Columbia, South Carolina, during World War II inspired him to build a coming-of-age story that resonates with readers on many levels.

Spires’ first novel, T.S. 44: The Button Tree Prophet, investigates the world of an ordinary boy from a working-class family. But then, what is ordinary about a boy losing his father on the eve of his tenth birthday? Perhaps that is what makes this novel so compelling from the first page. Travis Shipley’s life is already what contemporary readers would describe as underprivileged. His family is poor, his parents are uneducated, the Great Depression has drained his country of much of its vitality, and global war is redefining every facet of human interaction. In a world where everything that once was normal is now in transition, the merciless scythe of cancer snatches away the greatest source of stability in his young life. All that he has to help him find the right direction is a button his father gives him just before his death, charging him with the task of finding out what it means to be a button.

How Travis adjusts to this new reality is the vehicle by which Spires conducts us on a captivating journey through the convulsions impacting the urban, industrial, segregated American South of the mid-twentieth century. The fact that this Southern society is decidedly Christian – at least culturally – explains why this is a story of faith. Few stories of the South in that era could be otherwise. Christianity defines the culture for all the characters, regardless of their color, economic status, education, or even religion. That is where we find the first unique point of Spires’ novel. As Travis moves through the fog of grief and the daily reality of grinding poverty, he encounters help from unexpected sources. Chief among them is Jacob Meadows, a disabled World War I veteran who serves as the local truant officer. We quickly learn that Meadows, an observant Jew, is somehow able to move comfortably between the Jewish and Christian communities. This is surprising on several counts. First, the average reader likely is not aware that the Jewish community of South Carolina has ancient roots, going back to the earliest colonial days. Spires provides the historical background, establishing credible reason for Meadows to be simultaneously Jewish and Southern. That helps explain the next unusual point: how Jews interact with Christians in the American South. It is actually not so unusual. As a minority in every place where they have lived through the ages, Jews have learned to interact with the larger community, and simultaneously find space to be Jewish. Jacob Meadows helps us understand how that worked out in South Carolina. But then there is the strangest point of all: how this Jewish man can interact with Christians on their own terms. Spires provides not only a plausible explanation, but a very strong one. The answer comes from Meadows’ experience on the battlefields of France in the First World War, where differences of belief and practice fade in the presence of a brotherhood born of sacrificial love extending beyond the grave.

That is what makes Jacob Meadows the perfect mentor for young Travis. As unlikely as it may seem, it is he who is best equipped to help the lad through the inevitable questioning of and anger at God for the hard trials he endures. Meadows comes in at precisely the right moment, helping not only Travis, but his mother. Sarah Shipley is a woman already worn down by the ordeal of caring for her dying husband. Her new role as single parent of a precocious and willful son is all the more difficult because of her long hours at work earning just enough to pay the bills. The Shipley family needs stability and normalcy, which Meadows is willing and able to provide it in good measure. Others assist him, although not always by design. One is Alfred Patterson, a hard-nosed journalist who learns of Travis’ story, and another is Annie Wright, Travis’ classmate and neighbor, who is dealing with her own father issues. Then there is the Ragman, a black shoeshine artist whose long career as a railroad porter and as a pastor give him just the right words to speak into Travis’ life at the moment he needs them.

The encounter with the Ragman stands as one of the most poignant episodes of T.S. 44. This is where Spires deals with one of the ugliest features of the American South: segregation. Spires does not hit it head on. In fact, he does not hit any issue head on. Many aspects of life in that era are uncomfortable and even reprehensible by contemporary standards. The secondary status of African-Americans is but one. So also are the divisions between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, the powerful and the weak, men and women, and Christian and Jew. Moreover, the ubiquitous presence of cigarettes is something contemporary readers will find uncomfortable and even disgusting. Yet all these are part of the reality of mid-twentieth century America. Spires incorporates all of that reality into his story without judgment. That is one of the strengths of his work; had he engaged in judgement, his novel would be nothing more than a shrill cry for social justice that would bypass the deeper human truths he conveys. Thus we see the poignancy of the Ragman’s meeting with Travis: an old black man and a young white boy connecting on very human terms, even in defiance of the color barrier and other realities that otherwise would keep them apart.

In time, Travis finds an answer to the question of what it means to be a button. The Ragman is one of those who help him find that answer. Along the way, Travis not only receives help from unexpected sources, but finds himself helping others in unexpected ways. In the end, a tragedy that should never befall one so young imparts a life lesson that few learn even in old age: every one of us impacts multitudes of others in ways we usually do not realize. What Travis Shipley learns is that it is better to make that impact a good one by easing the burdens of others whenever possible. This opens him to what may only be described as a miraculous encounter with his Creator. Is that miracle believable? By the time Travis is ready to walk it out, the question is turned on its head. He has already come through improbable circumstances just by making himself available for God to use as He pleases. In a sense, his very survival to the age of ten is miraculous. Why, then, should he question Divine intervention at all? If it comes in small things like responding with compassion to the presence of a mouse in his room, then surely it is there in moments of great need. And that is how Travis Shipley, the unlikely Button Tree Prophet of Columbia, South Carolina, teaches us what it means to be human.

T.S. 44: The Button Tree Prophet is available at Key of David Publishing (https://www.keyofdavidpublishing.com/).


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2018.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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Understanding the Seed of Abraham: A Review of Redeemed Israel – Reunited and Restored By Batya Ruth Wootten

One of these days, the people of God will be amazed to learn that any power Satan retains is only that which God allows him to have, or that God’s people themselves give to him. That is the testimony of Scripture (Job 1:6-12, 2:1-10; Isaiah 14:12-20, Colossians 2:8-15; Ephesians 4:7-10; Psalm 68:18-19). It is a testimony lived out in recent centuries as Christians and Jews of all denominations and sects cling tightly to their own unique perspective of the Creator’s work, while questioning the inclusion of others with them in that work. The result is a terminal fragmentation, evident in the declining effectiveness of the church (at least in the West), and a Judaism split between an assimilated Diaspora and an internally focused observant segment largely concentrated in Israel.

The stumbling block, of course, is the Messiah – the one Christians call Jesus Christ, but whom Jews for the most part disregard. Even those who fall in between these two major elements of God’s people have their issues. Although Messianic Jews and non-Jewish Hebrew Roots adherents agree that Jesus (whom they call by his Hebrew name, Yeshua) is the Messiah, and that the Torah (teaching, instruction, direction, law) of God are still applicable to Yeshua’s followers, the agreement tends to stop at that point. Thus the terminal fragmentation persists even in this expanding space that is filling the gap between Judaism and Christianity.

Where is the remedy for this sad state of affairs? Batya Ruth Wootten offers an answer in Redeemed Israel – Reunited and Restored. Her answer rests squarely on the question of identity, a question that leads her to ask, “If our God is the God of Israel, and the Jewish people are Israel, then who is the Church?

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Pictures for Pondering II

Connecting the dots in Scripture can be lots of fun – and challenging. The fun part is the “Aha!” moment when something finally makes sense. The challenging part is when that “Aha!” moment presents a different picture from what we have learned all our lives. Do we take that new revelation and run with it, knowing it can make waves, or do we set it aside and hope that it never comes up again?

This second offering of Pictures for Pondering may be a challenge. As with the first edition, posted last spring, these are images from Bible passages prepared originally for posting on YouVersion (the Bible App). The first edition presented some interesting perspectives on the Kingdom of Heaven, Law and Grace, and prophecy, but also some whimsical illustrations. This time there is an attempt at a unifying theme. Part of the challenge is identifying that theme. The other part is investigating it from Scripture to see if it is so.

Good hunting!

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Remembering ALL Our Roots

This is a season of reflection at The Barking Fox.  Part of the reason is getting settled at last in our new home in North Carolina.  There is no hiding the fact that I am a Southern boy, with roots growing to a depth of 200 years in Alabama and nearly three centuries in the Carolinas.  Hopefully I will have opportunity to explore those roots and share any findings that would be of interest to others.

bfb160918-keith-greenWhat has reminded me of a central part of my roots has been the opportunity to listen to worship music that has ministered to my soul for as long as I have been on this earth. Recently I shared one of those songs by the late Keith Green.  Now I share another:  an old hymn made new again as I pondered its meaning.  

In the Baptist Hymnal on my bookshelf its is called There Is a Fountain.  The lyrics come not only from Scripture (Zechariah 13:1), but from the life experience of William Cowper, an Englishman who penned these words in the same era that my Scottish-American ancestors began their contribution to the history of this continent. 

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains
Lose all their guilty stains
Lose all their guilty stains
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day
And there may I, though vile as he
Wash all my sins away
Wash all my sins away
Wash all my sins away
And there may I, though vile as he
Wash all my sins away

Ever since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be till I die
And shall be till I die
And shall be till I die
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be till I die

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Finding Israelite Identity in the New Covenant

©Harper Collins Christian Publishing. Used by permission.

ReverendFun.com.  © Harper Collins Christian Publishing.  Used by permission.

Language is a perilous thing.  It can unite us, but quite often it does the opposite.  That, by the way, was God’s intent.  We know that from the story of how He created the different languages of the earth as presented in Genesis 11:

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.  It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.”  And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.  They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”  The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.  The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language.  And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”  So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.  Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.  (Genesis 11:1-9 NASB, emphasis added)

Ever since then that curse of language has been with us.  And, by the way, so has the curse of nations.

Curse of nations?  Yes, it does seem to be a curse.  It would seem that the Lord did not intend for humanity to be scattered and separated across the face of the planet in competing factions.  Nevertheless, nations were His idea.  The story of the Tower of Babel explains why.  You’ll notice that mankind also had an idea of uniting themselves as one people, but their idea was not the same as the Almighty’s.  They wanted to be a single, unified power that could challenge YHVH for sovereignty over this planet.  Since these people lived in the generations immediately after the Great Flood, we can suppose that some of them harbored a little resentment at God’s destruction of the pre-Flood civilization.  Maybe they thought they could do things better than their ancestors, perhaps by building a strong defense that could ward off any further Divine intervention in human affairs.  Now since our God does not change (Numbers 23:19; I Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8), and since the eternal governing principles of the universe which He established do not change (Psalm 119:44; II Kings 17:37; Matthew 5:18, 24:34-35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33), He had to do something about this blatant rebellion.  There can only be one God, after all. 

The problem with sin is that it seeks to create many gods – in fact, as many as there are human beings on the earth.  That is at the heart of Satan’s insidious deception spoken to our mother Eve:  “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  (Genesis 3:5 NASB)  Tragically, the way our Creator dealt with the deception before the Flood was to destroy humanity.  I would surmise He had little choice in the matter since all of humanity apparently was united as a single people, most likely under satanic leadership (not unlike the world we are anticipating at the end of this age when Messiah returns).  To make sure He did not have to make a complete end of the human race this time around, the Lord God created nations and then scattered them across the earth.  If they were divided in language, they would soon be divided in every other imaginable way, and the resultant wars and rumors of wars would ensure that a united human empire would not arise to defy the Living God until the end of days.  In the meantime the Living God could go about the process of cultivating His redemptive work in human hearts while they remained in the nations.

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Through the Bible with The Barking Fox

What is the purpose of a covenant if the parties in it do not keep their ends of the agreement?  The parties enter into a covenant expecting certain results, but those results cannot come about if the covenanters fail to do what they said they would do, or do what they agreed not to do.  With that in mind, look at what the New Covenant says:

 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.  “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”  (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NASB, emphasis added; see also Hebrews 8:8-11)

This is YHVH’s part of the New (or Renewed) Covenant.  He enters into this agreement with the entire nation of Israel, promising to put His Law (or Torah) on the hearts of the people so they will live as He created them to live.  Then He will be the God of Israel, and they will know Him intimately.

This is the New Covenant that has come into effect by the redemptive work of Messiah Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice, and it applies to all who accept this gift of salvation offered by YHVH.  What, then, is our part of the bargain?  Do we agree to sit around for eternity, enjoying an endless party at God’s expense, and literally living happily ever after?  Not exactly.  Eternal life and the joy of the Lord are the rewards of keeping this bargain with God, but our part of the agreement involves things like this:

Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.  (Psalm 119:11 NKJV)

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.  By this we know that we are in Him:  the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.  (I John 2:3-6 NASB)

In other words, our part of the covenant is to learn the Word of God and do what it says; His part is to help us in this process.  That is the purpose of His Holy Spirit, the Gift of God to make our hearts ready to receive His truth, which He writes on our hearts (John 14:16-26; Ezekiel 11:19-20; Deuteronomy 30:6-8).

Here is a tool to help God’s covenant partners keep their part of the agreement.  This is a Bible reading plan that goes through the entire Bible in one year, but in a slightly different way.  This plan is a combination of the Jewish and Christian approaches toward the Scriptures.

The Jewish approach is to read through the Torah (the books of Moses:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) in weekly portions, combined with selections from the Haftorah, which are selected readings from the Prophets and other books of the Tanakh (Old Testament).  The Torah cycle begins after the Fall Feasts of Yom Teruah (Trumpets, also called Rosh Hashanah), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and Sukkot (Tabernacles) and goes through the entire year to the next occurrence of the Fall Feasts.  This year the cycle begins the week of October 4-10.  In this reading plan the Torah cycle is broken down into daily portions as one would normally find in any Jewish or Messianic reading plan.  The weekly Haftorah readings occur each Shabbat (Sabbath), with additional Haftorah selections for the Feasts appearing at those special times during the year.

One Christian approach to reading the Bible is to go through all 66 books of the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings (New Testament) every year.  This plan does that also.  All of the Tanakh, starting with Joshua and ending with Malachi, as well as the Apostolic Writings from Matthew to Revelation, appear as daily portions along with the daily Torah and weekly Haftorah readings.  There is no intentional connection of these daily readings with the Torah portions, just a straightforward presentation of each book in bite-sized portions in the order they appear in the Christian canon.

If you are in search of an organized approach to the Word of God, maybe this can help.  Whatever you do, please do get into the Word so that it can get into you!

Please click here to download the Bible reading plan:  TBF Bible Readings 5776 (PDF)


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014-2016.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

Fox Byte 5775 #47: Re’eh (See)

רְאֵה

Farmer Maggot and his dogs. (Source: Deviant Art, ©2010-2015 ringbearer80)

Farmer Maggot and his dogs. (Source: Deviant Art, ©2010-2015 ringbearer80)

It is understandable why Peter Jackson had to take considerable license with The Lord of the Rings when he brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s mammoth work to the screen, and yet his choices inevitably brought disappointment to Tolkien aficionados.  Why, for example, did Jackson choose to minimize the presence of Farmer Maggot?  Tolkienists take issue with the fact that his role in The Fellowship of the Ring was diminished to the point of insignificance.  In the book, Farmer Maggot saved Frodo and his companions as they fled the Shire, giving them provision and helping them elude Sauron’s dreaded Black Riders.  It was unexpected help, for Frodo had considered Farmer Maggot an enemy.  As a child Frodo had taken a liking to Maggot’s mushrooms, and on more than one occasion absconded with portions of the good farmer’s crop.  Such youthful mischief roused Maggot’s anger, compelling him to chase Frodo from his land and threaten him with his very large dogs should he ever return.  And so it was that Frodo grew up fearing Farmer Maggot, never knowing that beneath his fierce anger lay a loyal, generous, and hospitable heart.  Thanks to the mediation of his companion Pippin, and to the dire need of the moment, Frodo at last gained opportunity to get to know the real Farmer Maggot.  He explained as much as they prepared to leave Maggot’s home:

Thank you very much indeed for your kindness!  I’ve been in terror of you and your dogs for over thirty years, Farmer Maggot, though you may laugh to hear it.  It’s a pity:  for I’ve missed a good friend.

Frodo’s words present us with an all-too-familiar and all-too-tragic reality.  How often have individuals, families, and nations remained at odds over ancient offenses, the causes of which are long forgotten?  How much suffering has multiplied on the earth because natural allies regard each other as enemies, or at least minimize their contact with each other out of mistrust and misbegotten fear?  And how much greater is that tragedy if the people who regard each other in this way are the two parts of YHVH’s people?  In truth, Moses and Yeshua have no contradictions or arguments, but their followers think they do, and for that reason Jews and Christians have separated themselves from one another for twenty centuries.

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Fox Byte 5775 #46: Eikev (Because)

עֵקֶב

Since the first stage production of Of Mice and Men in 1937, the play has gripped audiences and readers for its deep and disturbing probe into human nature. It has also spawned innumerable parodies and references in popular culture that have diluted the power of the piece. (Photos: Lon Chaney Jr & Burgess Meredith in the film 'Of Mice and Men' in 1939, Chris O'Dowd & James Franco in 'Of Mice and Men' in 2014 on Broadway, from "Dogs, Bromance & James Franco: 12 Things Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You About Of Mice and Men", by By Pete Croatto, April 12, 2014, Broadway.com)

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men has gripped audiences with its disturbing probe of human nature since 1937.  (Photos: Lon Chaney Jr & Burgess Meredith in the 1939 film version; Chris O’Dowd & James Franco in the 2014 Broadway production, from “Dogs, Bromance & James Franco: 12 Things Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You About Of Mice and Men”, by By Pete Croatto, April 12, 2014, Broadway.com)

What is this tendency of human minds to discard unpleasant things and cling to what is pleasant, nice, and amusing?  This can be useful in remembering loved ones who pass from this earth.  Whatever annoyances or difficulties they presented us in life fade from our memories, leaving only the glow of happy moments – of childhood kindnesses, of good smells and kind voices, of triumphant moments when a cooperative effort and patience brings victory over a harsh trial.  This is good, but in truth these happy things have no meaning if not set apart by the unhappy things.

This truth of life has its reflection in art.  Consider, for example, Of Mice and Men, a tragedy penned in 1937 by John Steinbeck to portray the pain of American society in the midst of the Great Depression.  It is the tale of George and Lennie, two migrant farm workers in California with a dream of owning a farm of their own one day.  From the opening of the play we see that Lennie labors under mental challenges that make him unable to care for himself.  He depends on George to keep him out of trouble and think for both of them.  All he knows is that he likes to pet nice, soft things with his fingers, and that one day when he and George have a place of their own, he can tend the rabbits they will raise.  Lennie is simple, kind, trusting, and hardworking, but he does not know his own strength.  The soft things he pets often end up dead.  At first it is a mouse, then a puppy, and finally a flirtatious woman who invites him to stroke her hair.  This last “bad thing” is something George cannot fix except by ensuring Lennie will never hurt anyone again.  The play ends as George tells Lennie one more time about the rabbits, and then takes his life.

The quintessential parody of Of Mice and Men appeared in the 1961 Looney Toons short, The Abominable Snow Rabbit". (Photo © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., used by permission of the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity)

The quintessential parody of Steinbeck’s work appeared in the 1961 Looney Toons short, “The Abominable Snow Rabbit”. (Photo © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., used by permission of the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity)

Steinbeck lived to see his sublime tragedy dismembered and parodied in superficial popular culture, beginning with animated cartoons.  As Of Mice and Men became an Oscar-nominated film in 1940, Warner Brothers gave birth to a new American icon, Bugs Bunny.  It did not take long before Lennie’s simpleminded fixation with furry rabbits became a standard feature in Looney Toons shorts, reaching a climax in 1961 with “The Abominable Snow Rabbit”.  In the cartoon Lennie becomes an Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas who encounters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.  Mistaking Daffy for a rabbit, the snowman picks him up and utters these now-famous words:

Just what I always wanted.  My own little bunny rabbit.  I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him and pat him and pet him and rub him and caress him.

With these lines, this absurd cartoon illustrates how distorted shadows supplant what is unpleasant and tragic, leaving only a form of the truth, but lacking its power.  Those who have no knowledge of Steinbeck’s story will laugh at the cartoon, but they remain ignorant of the full context, and are thus robbed of the life lessons Steinbeck sought to impart.  The same is true of those who take the Bible in sound bites rather than in its full context, including these words of Moses:

And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you.  (Deuteronomy 7:13 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #45: Va’etchanan (And I Pleaded)

וָאֶתְחַנַּן

Left to right: Vittorio Orlando (Italy), David Lloyd George (Great Britain), Georges Clemenceau (France), Woodrow Wilson (United States).In a sense one might say that this present global system is Woodrow Wilson’s fault.  The Armistice that ended the hostilities of World War I on November 11, 1918, took shape after the German Empire embraced President Wilson’s Fourteen Points as the basis for negotiating peace with the Allies.  Wilson had presented the Fourteen Points in a speech to Congress at the beginning of 1918 as his proposal for ending the war and reshaping the world so that such a massive conflict could never happen again.  A better world might have been the outcome had his plan been adopted in its entirety, but, sadly, it was not to be.  Wilson personally led the American negotiating team to the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919, but during the lengthy proceedings he became gravely ill.  The other Allied leaders took advantage of his illness to turn the peace conference into a revenge conference.  Many of Wilson’s principles found their way into the Versailles Treaty and subsequent agreements, but not as he intended.  The fruit of Versailles was a vindictive dismemberment of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires, along with a humiliating disarmament of Germany and assessment of a war reparations debt that the German nation finally finished paying 92 years later.  The Versailles Treaty did incorporate Wilson’s vision of a League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations, but the President’s own people rejected it.  When the US Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, the United States turned away from an active role in managing the community of nations, thereby ensuring that the League of Nations would be nothing more than a hollow shell.

It is easy to summarize the Fourteen Points.  They call for open negotiations among nations, freedom of the seas, free trade, disarmament to the greatest extent possible, evacuation and restoration of territories occupied during the war; “autonomous development” (a fancy way of saying independence) of peoples under the rule of the world’s great empires, readjustment of borders to reflect lines of nationality, and establishment of the League of Nations to oversee this new international order.  The summary, however, does not convey the enormity of the tasks involved in implementing each point.  Consider just one point:  establishment of an independent Poland.  That single act required dismemberment of three empires; creation of a Polish government with power and resources to run the country; international recognition and assistance; and a host of other actions to ensure Poland’s unhindered reentry into the community of nations after nearly 120 years of foreign occupation.  It would be foolish to think that Wilson’s Fourteen Points were the only items under consideration in the Allies’ peace deliberations.  In truth, they were only the beginning of the process, not the end.

This should remind us of something in Scripture.  The analogy dawned immediately on President Georges Clemenceau of France.  On hearing of the Fourteen Points, he is reported to have said,

Quatorze?  Le bon Dieu n’a que dix.  (Fourteen?  The Good Lord only has ten.)

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Fox Byte 5775 #31: Emor (Say)

אֱמֹר

Queen Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and King Arthur (Nigel Terry) in the 1981 John Boorman film Excalibur.  (Photo from obituary of Nigel Terry, 1945-2015, at The Telegraph)

Queen Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and King Arthur (Nigel Terry) in the 1981 John Boorman film Excalibur. (Photo from obituary of Nigel Terry, 1945-2015, at The Telegraph)

At some point between the withdrawal of Rome’s legions in 410 CE and the advent of Saxon England in the 6th Century, a Celtic chieftain named Arthur restored a measure of order to Britain.  Arthur’s reign occupied a bubble in time, set apart from the chaos that preceded and followed it.  Although the mists of time shroud the truth of Arthur’s career, the legends born of that truth still inspire us 1,500 years after his passing.  Who cannot admire a king so good, so wise, so honorable, and so humble that his very presence compels the allegiance and obedience of all good people?  Such a king is invincible, for no evil thing can overcome him.  If Arthur has a fault, it is that he bestows his love too freely and trusts too completely.  And in this we find the enduring tragedy of King Arthur.  His downfall and the end of his shining kingdom of Camelot came not at the hands of an enemy, but through his beloved bride and his greatest friend.  We rejoice with Arthur that he finds in Guenevere a queen of exquisite purity, grace, beauty, wisdom, and kindness, and we rejoice still more when he is joined by Lancelot, the epitome of knightly honor, courage, and fidelity.  How it wounds us when Guenevere and Lancelot cannot remain true to their king, but fall to the attraction they have for one another.  Their adulterous affair ruins the king and the kingdom with him.

One of many moving interpretations of the Arthurian legend is John Boorman’s film Excalibur, starring Nigel Terry as Arthur, Cherie Lunghi as Guenevere, and Nicholas Clay as Lancelot.  At the high point of the film, all is well in the kingdom except for the perpetual absence of Lancelot.  Because of his attraction for Guenevere, the good knight has exiled himself from court so as to avoid temptation.  Everyone in the kingdom seems to understand this, everyone, that is, except the king himself.  No one speaks of this matter until one day when Sir Gawain (played by Liam Neeson) takes it upon himself to address this blight on Camelot’s perfection.  Gawain accuses the queen of driving Lancelot from the company of Arthur’s knights.  Stung at the assault on her honor, Guenevere turns to Arthur and cries, “Will you not champion me?”  He replies:

I cannot!  I am your King, and I must be your judge in this.  Lancelot must do it.  He also stands accused.  I decree – that at sunrise, two days from now, the champions will meet, and the truth shall be known.  For by the law of God, no knight who is false can win in combat with one who is true.

The trial by combat proves Guenevere’s innocence as Lancelot defeats Gawain, but which the secret is exposed Guenevere can no longer hide her attraction.  Before long she and Lancelot are indeed lovers, leaving Arthur devastated and bringing about the dissolution of Camelot.  Yet in the end Arthur has a chance to restore order by leading his knights in one last, desperate battle against Mordred, his mortal enemy.  On the eve of the battle he goes to visit Guenevere, who has turned from her sin and sought a life of holiness in a convent.  There she has kept Arthur’s great sword, Excalibur, in hope that one day he will take it up again in the cause of justice.  After receiving the sword from her, Arthur bids Guenevere farewell with these words:

I’ve often thought that in the hereafter of our lives, when I owe no more to the future, can be just a man, we might meet.  You’d come to me, claim me yours, know that I am your husband.  It is a dream I have.

Arthur’s dream is the very dream, and the very promise, of the Holy One of Israel.

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