Tag Archive | Apostle Paul

Not Satisfied with Half the Picture: My Quest for Truth Beyond Tradition

In April 2017, Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler sent out invitations to participate in a book project with the working title, Ten From The Nations: Exploring the Torah Awakening Among Non-Jews. Her motivation is to increase awareness of the fact that we are witnessing the gradual fulfillment of Zechariah 8:23. She did so by compiling testimonies from non-Jews who have experienced a Torah awakening of some sort, and from Jews who are actively building relationships with those who are stepping forward from the nations. Her book includes the voices of Christian Zionists, Bnei Noach, Ephraimites, Gerim and more.
It is an honor to be one of those invited to submit a testimony. What follows is the story of my journey into an appreciation of Torah and the Hebraic roots of my Christian faith.
For more information on Ten From The Nations, visit http://www.tenfromthenations.com/.

For the first few years of my life, people fell into one of two categories:  white, or black.  Then the rules changed and the world got complicated.

Scenes of my formative years. Left: going to church in Pensacola, Florida, with my father and older sister in 1962. Right: Dawson Memorial Baptist Church (with Pastor Edgar M. Arendall) and Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, Alabama.

The world into which I was born was white, Southern, and Baptist.  That was in 1961, when the requirements of my father’s career in insurance caused my parents to depart from their native Alabama and take up temporary residence in Pensacola, Florida.  As we moved back to Alabama in 1963, the Civil Rights Movement entered its most active stage.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail, sit-ins and marches defied segregationist strongholds, and the Federal Government took steps to correct a longstanding injustice.  Little of this turmoil impacted me until 1968, when a Federal judge ordered the desegregation of Birmingham’s public schools.  One day I went to school with my all-white third grade class of about 20 students; the next day the class had swelled to over forty, half of whom were black.

I cannot say whether the addition of so many new playmates of color caused any trauma to myself, but I know that it shook my parents to their core.  At the end of that academic year, they removed my brother and me from the public school, opting to make the financial sacrifice of placing us in the sanctuary of a Christian academy where we could receive a better education.  It also had the advantage in their eyes of being an all-white school.

Well, almost.  What may have escaped their notice was that Briarwood Christian School had a non-discrimination admissions policy.  That explains the presence of one black child in the kindergarten – the only black child enrolled there during my years at Briarwood.  My education was hardly interracial, and yet this turn of events triggered inexorable alterations to my worldview.  By the age of 8, I learned that the antiseptic white society into which I had been born was less utopian than I had been taught.  There was a world of color awaiting my exploration, and a host of questions that the scripted answers could not begin to satisfy.

What I had been taught was not all wrong.  Much of it was right, but it was incomplete.  So was the worldview of my black counterparts –much of it quite right, but incomplete.  Our combined worldviews formed a far more complete picture, with the white perspective filling gaps in the black perspective, and vice versa.  Thus my education proceeded along two parallel tracks:  a formal track provided by the teachers and preachers at school and church; and an informal track hidden in the recesses of my heart and soul and mind.  The hidden track evaluated everything presented to it, often reaching conclusions at odds with the accepted norms.  Hence the reason it remained hidden.

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My Favorite Super Bowl Commercial: What Do I Tell My Daughter?

Super Bowl LI has passed into the history books as one of the greatest games of the series.  It ranks as that in my opinion, with the New England Patriots staging the greatest comeback in the history of the game.  That, however, is not what made the event so monumental for me.  It was one of those much-anticipated but often disappointing Super Bowl commercials that surprised me by grabbing my heart and wrenching it into an emotional mess.  Oddly enough, it was an automobile commercial.

This jewel of an ad from Audi of America addressed an issue often considered a progressive or liberal cause.  Christian and Messianic conservatives tend to relegate this issue to a lesser status than sanctity of life, sanctity of marriage, or even national defense.  The issue is equal pay for equal work, the call to end wage discrimination against women.  The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) explains the problem this way:

American women who work full time, year round are paid only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men — and for women of color, the wage gap is even larger.  It’s long past time to close the gap.

According to my favorite Super Bowl commercial, Audi agrees.  The ad ends with the words, “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work.  Progress is for everyone.”  Yet it is not the end of the ad that captured my attention, but the beginning.

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The State of Israel and Ephraim’s Awakening: An Academic Investigation by Stephen Hindes

The concept of the "nation-state" was a product of the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War in 1648. The nation-state, however, is not the ultimate expression of God's Kingdom order. (The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, Gerard Terborch.)

The concept of the “nation-state” was a product of the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War in 1648. The nation-state, however, is not the ultimate expression of God’s Kingdom order. (The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, by Gerard Terborch.)

Thinking is hard.  If it were not hard, then more people would do it.

In truth, all of us prefer to remain in our comfort zones, where familiar things surround us – including familiar answers to questions and familiar solutions to familiar problems.  Most likely this preference for the familiar, the things we know and can deal with well enough, is a big reason few people take an active role in making the way for Messiah to come.

That last statement is bound to generate opposition.  Those who view it from the Christian side (including Messianic and Hebrew Roots believers) will say that Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) is the Messiah (Christ means Messiah, by the way), that he has come once, and that he will be coming back.  Those who approach from the Jewish side say that Messiah is yet to come.  The point of this article is not to address either perspective, but to consider something both have in common:  the faithful expectation that Messiah Son of David is coming as King of Israel to rule the nations from Zion.

If we all have this common expectation, then it would be wise to consider what that future Messianic realm will look like.  Maybe we should even consider what we have to do to make it happen.

This is where we run into the hard part.  We have to think about it, and that is scary and uncomfortable.  Those of us who have come from the Christian side have lived our lives expecting Messiah to return and fix everything.  According to our expectations, there is no effort required on our part to bring him here; he just shows up one day according to some predetermined timetable God established from the beginning.  To think, like our Jewish brethren, that we have responsibility for creating the conditions for Messiah’s coming (or return) requires a major paradigm shift.  It means we must step out in faith and do things that we usually leave up to God alone.

But then, that is the consistent testimony of Scripture –

  • Noah had to do things to secure the salvation of his family (such as think about how to follow the instructions God gave him to build that very large boat, and then actually do the work).
  • Abraham had to do things to receive the promises God gave him (such as pack up and leave comfortable, civilized Mesopotamia, and go to a hostile foreign land – first in Syria, and then in Canaan).
  • Moses had to do things to receive God’s instructions for the nation of Israel (such as walk to Egypt, then convince the elders of the people that God had spoken to him, and then seek an audience with Pharaoh – and that was only the beginning of the work he had to do!)

There are many more examples summarized in Hebrews 11.  The people in that “Hall of Faith” chapter deserve praise not because they sat around waiting for God to move, but because they got up and did the moving themselves in response to God’s promises.  As they moved, He provided direction, resources, help from others, and miraculous intervention when necessary.  Yet would YHVH have done so if they had not invested their own blood, sweat, treasure, and intellectual effort?

Probably not.  In fact, when God’s people sat around waiting for Him to move, He had to take extreme action just to get them off their backsides and into motion!  We see that in the record of the apostles.  Even though Yeshua had told them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, they were content to remain in Jerusalem until God raised up a man named Saul of Tarsus who forced them out (see Acts 8).

Which brings us to the dilemma of the present day.  Are we really at the “end of the age”, when Messiah is about to show up?  If so, what does that mean?  More importantly, what are we to do about it?  How do we prepare for Messiah’s reign in what will be a very real Kingdom centered in a very real place called Jerusalem?  What will this Kingdom look like?  How will it resemble what we know today in the modern nation-state system?  How will it be different?

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Picture of the Week 01/29/18

Paul says that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs waiting to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:20-22).  Does that mean creation is waiting for us to get our act together?bfb170129-romans-11_25-26


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2017.  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.

Israel 2016: A Lesson in Being Peculiar

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;  (I Peter 2:9 KJV)

The Church of All Nations, traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Church of All Nations, traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane.

The meaning of “peculiar” has changed somewhat since the publication of the King James Bible four hundred years ago.  In 1611 it meant special, set apart, treasured – in other words, holy.  Today it means odd, strange, or out-of-place, which is why the New King James uses the word “special” instead of peculiar.

The point of this language, both in I Peter and in the Torah passages Peter references (Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 14:1-2, 26:18-19), is that YHVH has designated the people of Israel as His own possession.  As such, Israelites will think, eat, speak, dress, and act differently than the rest of the world.  The fact that Peter draws on the Torah for his exhortation to First Century followers of Yeshua testifies to his belief in direct connection between them and Israel.  Paul agrees, which is why he says that we who take advantage of the grace offered through Yeshua’s redemptive work are adopted or grafted into the covenant people of Israel and become part of Abraham’s seed (Ephesians 2:8-13; Romans 11:16-27; Galatians 3:29).

As sincere Christians in traditional churches, we already had some measure of distinction from the world as we tried to speak kindly, treat one another nicely, refrain from vices, go to church regularly, and study the Bible.  All of that established us as different from “unchurched” people.  Observant Jews are also distinctive from the rest of the world in that they dress and eat differently, observe the Sabbath and the Feasts of the Lord, and make a concerted effort to take care of one another.  So what happens when sincere Christians start looking like observant Jews?

That is a lesson we learned yesterday in our walk around Jerusalem.  As Hebrews, we wear tzittzit in observance of the commandment in Numbers 15:37-41.  Many of us have also adopted the Jewish custom of keeping our heads covered, either with a kippa or with a hat of some kind.  This is normal in Jerusalem, where many varieties of tzittziyot and head coverings – as well as other dress – come together in an eclectic Jewish blend.  What made us peculiar even here, however, was what we did.

American Hebrews gathered in the Garden to study the Bible.

American Hebrews gathered in the Garden to study the Bible.

In our wanderings, we made our way to the foot of the Mount of Olives to read and discuss some scripture passages at the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane.  That in itself is peculiar:  why would these “Jewish” people want to go to a site associated with the Christian Jesus?  The garden is in the courtyard of the Church of All Nations, a Catholic church and a regular stop for Christian tour groups.  As we gathered on the edge of the garden and discussed the various events associated with the Mount of Olives, we received many puzzled looks from the groups who filed by us.  The quizzical looks continued when we left the garden as Arab vendors and Jewish pedestrians wondered the same thing:  why are these “Jews” going to a church?

The answer, of course, is not that we are trying to be Jewish, but that we are finding our own way in this appreciation of the whole Word of God.  

It is a peculiar journey.

(For the curious, the passages of interest included II Samuel 15 and Zechariah 14, which we discussed in the context of King David’s story prefiguring the life, ministry and second coming of Messiah Yeshua, the Son of David).  


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 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.

A Letter to the Jewish People (on teshuvah) by Ken Rank

 

Saint Paul James Tissot

Saint Paul
James Tissot

One would suppose that the Apostle Paul died without regrets, knowing that he had done all he could to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of YHVH and bring multitudes into it.  Then again, Paul was a fallible human being, just like the rest of us.  That is why he wrote things like this:

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  (I Timothy 1:15 NKJV)

Perhaps Paul’s chief regret was knowing that his actions had kept people out of the Kingdom.  Not intentionally, mind you; Paul was zealous for God, just as he testified of his Jewish brethren (Romans 10:1-4).  Yet his zeal in persecuting those who believed Yeshua of Nazareth to be Messiah most likely hardened the resistance of many to the message of redemption through that same Yeshua.  Afterward, having embraced that message and taken it to the Gentiles, he did his best to help people understand the full truth:  that salvation by grace through faith actually makes it possible to live by God’s established standard of righteousness given in Torah.

Tragically, the division that began in Paul’s day is still with us.  Judaism and Christianity have taken on completely different identities.  There are voices on both sides who realize that the two are not separate religions, or at least YHVH did not intend it to be so.  Those voices are now calling for understanding and dialogue.  It shouldn’t be that hard since Christians, Jews, and Messianic/Hebrew Roots believers all claim allegiance to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; all revere the same Scriptures; all hope for the same promises.  Why, then, can’t we all get along?

Ken Rank provides one very important answer to that question.  The beginning of the journey toward mutual respect and acceptance begins with humility and repentance (in Hebrew, teshuvah).  All of us have more to repent for than we think, and certainly more than we care to admit.  But what if our lack of willingness even to consider this question of repentance causes someone to miss coming into the Kingdom?  Meditate on that as you read Ken’s letter to our Jewish brethren.


A Letter to the Jewish People (on teshuvah)

Ken Rank  
October 7, 2016 
Originally published on United 2 Restore

United2Restore 01Over the last decade or so, my family has been keeping the Sabbath and biblical Holy Days.  We’re not Jewish, but we feel drawn to these days for our own reasons.  In the process of observance and celebration, we consider ourselves blessed in many ways.  As we annually cycle through the Appointed Times, we build upon those things we learned during the previous years.  And, as each cycle comes around, I find my focus narrowing on reconciliation and restoration between and for all of the B’ney Yisrael.

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Dying in the Wilderness

In The Brazen Serpent, James Tissot illustrates one of the many ways the Lord God cared for our fathers even as they lived out their sentence of death in the wilderness.

In The Brazen Serpent, James Tissot illustrates one of the many ways the Lord God cared for our fathers even as they lived out their sentence of death in the wilderness.

There is this problem among the people of God:  the expectation that He will come along and fix everything that is wrong in the world in an instant.  I suppose that perspective comes from the hope that one day we get to live happily ever after in some kind of undefinable paradise where the biggest problem we have for all eternity is deciding what we would like to eat.  For time immemorial, Jews and Christians of all varieties have engaged in this hope, expecting that Messiah will make everything all better without us having to do much of anything.  Messiah will indeed make everything all better, but the belief that it requires little if any effort on our part, or that it will be a pleasant experience, is nothing more than wishful thinking.  Such is the warning to ancient Israel, both the Jewish and non-Jewish parts of the nation:

Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, and sin as if with cart ropes; who say, “Let Him make speed, let Him hasten His work, that we may see it; and let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come to pass, that we may know it!”  (Isaiah 5:18-19 NASB)

Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord, for what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you?  It will be darkness and not light; as when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall and a snake bites him.  Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it?  (Amos 5:18-20 NASB)

The Apostle Paul issued the same warning to followers of Messiah Yeshua in his day, noting the direct linkage of those believers – both Jewish and non-Jewish – to the people of ancient Israel:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.  Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.  (I Corinthians 10:1-6 NASB)

This is the same apostle who admonished his readers to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13).  The application of his words is not limited to the ancient Mediterranean world, but to followers of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) down through the ages to this very day.  It is important to understand that Paul is not advocating a gospel of works for salvation, but is instead issuing an exhortation for us to take responsibility for what YHVH has given us freely by virtue of faith in Him and His Messiah.  From the very beginning our Creator has intended this to be so.  Consider His first recorded words to our first ancestors:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  (Genesis 1:27-28 NASB)

To put it another way, we are intended to rule with God over the part of creation He has placed under our jurisdiction (Exodus 19:5-6; Revelation 5:9-10, 20:4-6; I Peter 2:9-10; II Timothy 2:11-12).  More importantly, we are to rule with God as His bride (Isaiah 62:4-5; Revelation 19:7-8). 

What does one call the bride of a king?  Is it not a queen?  The question, then, is this:  does the King of the Universe desire a queen who is fully capable of ruling in His Name and whom He trusts to do so, or is He content with a fat, lazy queen who screams at her servants if her food is not cooked to her definition of perfection?

If we think of our eternal destiny in these terms, we begin to see the necessity of trials and tribulations to make us ready for our Creator’s ultimate purposes.  As we mature in our relationship with Him we should grow ever more eager for the test rather than building ever more elaborate schemes to avoid it.  The eager ones who seek to please their Master will prevail, but those who seek to avoid pain most likely will succeed neither in avoiding pain, nor in prevailing over anything.

This is the subject Ken Rank addresses in his article, “Dying in the Wilderness”, recently published on United2Restore.  Be careful!  Ken makes some paradigm-shifting observations here.  Reading this may cause you to question everything you have been taught about the End Times.


Dying in the Wilderness

Ken Rank  
January 6, 2016 
Originally published on United 2 Restore

We are part of Israel; we are children of the Most High God.  He loves us, He will care for us, He will sustain us . . . and He will leave us in the wilderness with our spiritual baggage intact unless we learn how to get beyond the minutia that we allow to divide us.

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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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When Brothers Don’t Get Along

On December 4, 2015, the B’Ney Yosef Region 35 Conference convened at Camp Copass in Denton, Texas, for the purpose of bringing together people in the central part of the United States to seek YHVH’s direction about His Kingdom work at this time.  The initial concept was to continue in the spirit of the First B’Ney Yosef National Congress in the interest of building Ephraimite (Israelite) identity among believers in Messiah Yeshua.  The Holy Spirit quickly expanded that concept into a call for repentance within the Hebrew Roots/Two House movement and reconciliation with other parts of the body of Messiah, particularly with our Christian brethren.  That was the motivation for this address which opened the conference.

BFB151204 MNF-IThe best boss I ever had was the man under whose supervision I served the last time I was in Iraq.  He was also the most profane man I have ever met.  The name of Jesus Christ was for him but one weapon in a formidable arsenal of expletives.  Not a single day passed that some outrage did not fall from his lips, causing my ears to burn and my heart to wonder how long I would have to endure such offense.  And yet I continued in his service, not merely because I had no choice (both of us, after all, were soldiers assigned to serve together), but because God gave me grace to look beyond the offense to see and benefit from the substantial qualities he possessed.  Those qualities included an encyclopedic knowledge of intelligence functions and procedures based on decades of hard experience.  He possessed as well a dogged determination to persevere through all opposition and achieve success in whatever goal he or his superiors established.  That determination sprang from his undying loyalty to the United States of America, and to his belief in the ultimate good of our mission in Iraq.  Yet none of that would have mattered in the least had this man lacked the greatest quality of all:  he regarded every person as having intrinsic value, and as a potential ally in achieving the goals set before him.  He may have spoken roughly, and even in private moments vented his frustration and anger, but he never diminished the value of the human beings in his charge, nor of those under whom he served.

We had occasion to work with military and civilian officials from a number of services and agencies.  Whether they were Army like us, or Marines, Air Force, or Navy, they were all “great Americans” in my boss’s opinion – if for no other reason than because they had volunteered to wear the uniform and be deployed to a Middle Eastern war zone.  He could not call our British, Australian, and German colleagues “great Americans”, but he did hold them in high esteem – while at the same time recognizing that the highest priorities for each of them were the interests of their own nations, not those of the United States.  The true professionals among us, regardless of nationality, recognized this.  We knew that at times there would be questions we could not ask and answers we could not give, but whenever and wherever possible we helped one another.

That “great American” description did extend to the civilian intelligence professionals we encountered.  Those men and women represented nearly all of the 16 agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community.  The ones you would expect were all there:  each of the agencies of the military services, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the State Department.  Our office dealt mostly with the CIA, whom my boss lovingly called, “Klingons”.  Like our foreign counterparts, they, and all the other intelligence agencies, had their own priorities which were not necessarily the same as ours in the Department of Defense.  Their vision of how to support the national interests of the United States sometimes clashed with ours, and the means and resources at their disposal often put them at an advantage over us.  We had much reason to distrust them, but we had even more reason to work with them – just as the Start Trek heroes found reason to cooperate with the Klingons to defeat their common enemies.

We laugh at the description of the CIA as Klingons, but long before I arrived in Iraq I understood exactly what my boss meant.  Early in my tenure in Washington, DC, I had occasion to work with the CIA on a joint project.  Most of the people with whom I worked were intelligence analysts, people not very different from myself.  They were well educated, often from privileged backgrounds, highly academic (a reflection of the CIA culture), and professionally courteous.  As part of our project we had to consult with a different type of CIA employee.  This person was not an analyst.  Intelligence analysts look at information from various sources and put it together in different ways to understand what it means.  They are the friendly face of the CIA.  There is another face, however, and it is not very friendly.  That face belongs to the operators, the men and women who go about the difficult business of collecting the information.  They are consummate professionals, very good at what they do, but they are not the kind of people you would want in your social circle.  Quite often the name by which they introduce themselves is not the name their parents gave them at birth.  In the course of their duties they will have to do some questionable things, and perhaps even some very unpleasant things, to acquire information their agency has commissioned them to gain.

This was the kind of person with whom we met in that office on the CIA campus in Langley, Virginia long ago.  He was an impressive man, and one whom I admired for his courage and devotion to his country.  I could tell without asking that he had suffered much personal loss in service to the nation, and that my own poor service paled in comparison to his.  Yet we could not be friends, and we would have difficulty working together as colleagues.  His world was one I could not enter, and my world was one he would not find comfortable.  Nevertheless, my work could not continue without him, and without me his work would have no meaning.  That is why I have never forgotten the man, although our paths have never crossed since that day.

BFB151204 US Intelligence CommunityWhat would happen if this vast intelligence community in the service of the United States of America ceased to function as designed?  What if the various individuals and organizations within it forgot that they were all Americans, and instead placed their own personal agendas, or the name and reputation of their own agencies and services, above the interests of the country?  That is not a rhetorical question; I can tell you what would happen.  I have seen it.  What happens is a fragmentation of the national intelligence establishment. 

For the most part that establishment consists of good, honest people trying to do the best they can with limited resources and time.  They have a tendency to focus exclusively on the work right in front of them, whether it is office administration, counterterrorism analysis, national technical means of information collection, the number of tanks in the Russian Far Eastern Military District, or poppy production in Afghanistan.  They forget that there is a wider world out there, and that their work is but one small piece in a very, very big puzzle.  It does not take much to convince them that their piece is the most important.  Once convinced, it is but a small step toward competing with others to gain a greater share of attention and resources.  Having entered that arena, it is nothing to begin pushing others aside in ever more aggressive ways, taking resources and people away from them so that one’s own piece of the puzzle grows in size and importance, and the competitors’ pieces shrink, or disappear altogether.  In time the picture that emerges is distorted at best, magnifying certain things to the extreme, diminishing others, and ignoring important bits that would otherwise tie together the seemingly contradictory reports from various sources.  That is the picture which goes before high level decision makers like the commanders of our forces in the Middle East, and even the President himself.  Is it any wonder, therefore, that we have national disasters such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?

My lesson from this should be clear.  National defense is a team effort.  I know my part of the effort, and my job is to do it to the best of my ability.  I do not know most of the millions of others involved in the effort, nor do I understand what they do.  I could not do what most of them do, nor could most of them do what I do.  Very few of them could be considered my friends, and most of them would probably never want to associate with me anyway.  Nevertheless, we need each other:  every warrior, every clerk, every mechanic, every technician, every lawyer, every cook, every aviator, every logistician, every sanitation worker.  If we do not find a way to cooperate, then this living, breathing organism we call the National Defense Establishment will fail, and with its failure the United States of America fails.

Is this any different from the living, breathing organism known as the Body of Messiah?

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Fox Byte 5776 #4: I’m Still Here

Jim Hawkins (voice by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns about the stars from John Silver (Brian Murray) in Treasure Planet, the 2002 Disney adaptation of Treasure Island. (Photo: Rotton Tomatoes)

Jim Hawkins (voice by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns about the stars from John Silver (Brian Murray) in Treasure Planet, the 2002 Disney adaptation of Treasure Island. (Photo: Rotten Tomatoes)

If Treasure Island is any indication, a young person’s transition to adulthood has always been awkward and painful.  At least it was so in the 1880s when Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his story for boys.  Stevenson’s adolescent hero, Jim Hawkins, has resonated with youth ever since.  What boy does not dream of adventure, travelling to exotic places, deciphering mysteries, and overcoming danger?  Such dreams have motivated boys for millennia in the hope that they can find their courage and discover their place in life.  If the opportunities are not forthcoming then boys will invent them, if for no other reason than to establish a place for themselves in their own minds and, hopefully, in the minds of their peers.

So it is with Jim Hawkins.  As the son of an innkeeper he has little hope of adventure until a strange turn of events sets him on a hazardous sea voyage in search of hidden pirate gold.  Jim proves to be the hero, thwarting the mutinous plot of rebellious sailors led by Long John Silver, saving the lives of the captain and loyal crew members, and discovering the treasure.  Not bad for an 18th century version of an underprivileged wayward teen.

Stevenson could not have envisioned the retelling of his story as a space travel adventure in which his hero is not merely underprivileged, but rebellious, sullen, introverted, and destined for a life at odds with society.  That is the Jim Hawkins of Treasure Planet, the 2002 animated feature by Walt Disney Pictures.  This space age Jim reflects the jaded, self-absorbed youth of the post-modern world.  We follow Jim’s transformation from wide-eyed, joyful toddler to embittered youth.  It is not a transformation he undertakes willingly.  It is not his fault that his parents quarrel, but he suffers incalculably on the morning his father walks out.  In an instant Jim is abandoned by the one person who could set him on the right course, leaving him to cast about for someone or something to give him purpose.  In time Long John Silver the pirate fills that role as the two of them develop a relationship that proves redemptive for them both.  There is a happy ending after all, but not without anguish along the way.

Jim’s angst is the subject of I’m Still Here, a song written for the film by John Rzeznik.  It is an anthem for an alienated generation which does not know its identity.  Cast adrift to find their own answers, these young people feel (with some justification) that their elders would rather they remain silent and invisible until they are able to join the adult world.  Yet how are they to do so if no one makes the effort to guide them?  Thus the youth have only two alternatives:  either despair and end their miserable lives, or hang on in defiance against all expectations.  Rzeznik’s lyrics tell us the option Jim Hawkins selects:

And you see the thing they never see,
All you wanted, I could be,
Now you know me, and I’m not afraid,
And I wanna tell you who I am,
Can you help me be a man? ,
They can’t break me,
As long as I know who I am.

The song ends with Jim’s defiant, yet hopeful, refrain, “I’m still here!”  His defiance is not unlike Job’s defiance in the face of what he perceives to be unjust accusations by his friends:

Teach me, and I will be silent; and show me how I have erred.  How painful are honest words!  But what does your argument prove?  Do you intend to reprove my words, when the words of one in despair belong to the wind?  (Job 6:24-26 NASB)

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