Counting the Omer is keeping the commandment to count 50 days (seven Sabbaths plus one day) between the offering of the first fruits of the barley harvest (often called First Fruits) until the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) (Leviticus 23:15-21). This year The Barking Fox is counting the omer with modern pictures of people named in the Bible.
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.
The 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.
What 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?
Even superheroes have their weaknesses. If it were not so, the stories about them would be over very quickly and would not be quite so interesting. This is perhaps a reflection of our human condition. No individual is complete within himself or herself. We need one another to do things we cannot do for ourselves and to watch out for dangers hidden in our blind spots. Together we survive and thrive, but separately we grow weak and perish.
Hopefully we learn this lesson in childhood. Good children’s literature certainly upholds this principle, whether it is The Cat in the Hat helping bored children amuse themselves and then clean up the mess, or The Ugly Duckling finding unexpected help to teach him who he is. So it is with The Five Chinese Brothers, a classic modern retelling of an ancient Chinese story. In her 1938 version of the tale, Claire Huchet Bishop tells of five remarkable brothers who live with their mother near the sea. Although they are identical, each brother has a unique ability. One can swallow the sea, and thus is a highly successful fisherman. The second brother has a neck as hard as iron, the third can stretch his legs to any length, the fourth is immune to fire, and the fifth can hold his breath as long as he desires.
One day the First Brother goes fishing in the company of a lad who had begged to go with him. When the brother swallows the sea, the boy runs out to collect the treasures exposed on the now dry ground. Before long the Brother grows tired and signals to the lad to return, but he ignores the signals and continues wandering along the seabed. When the Brother must release the sea from his mouth, the waters cover the wayward boy. In sadness the Brother returns home, where he is arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by beheading.
Happily for the family, the execution never succeeds. The First Brother has opportunity to go home and say farewell to his mother, but it is the Second Brother who returns. His neck of iron turns the executioner’s blade, leading to a revised sentence of death by drowning. The sequence repeats, with each Brother coming in to overcome successive sentences – the Third Brother’s long legs prevent drowning in the sea; the Fourth Brother’s resistance to fire defeats the flames of the execution stake; and the Fifth Brother survives an airless night in a sealed oven. Having failed to execute the offender, and not realizing that his Brothers have taken his place each time, the judge proclaims him innocent.
How simple and how profound is the lesson from this children’s tale. Brothers need one another, each contributing of his abilities to do his essential part in bringing peace and long life to the family and to the nation. That is just as King David said:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever. (Psalm 133:1-3 NASB)
What would happen if the Vice President of the United States committed murder and got away with it? It is not a rhetorical question; such a thing happened long ago, in the early days of the American Republic. On July 11, 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed fellow New Yorker Alexander Hamilton. The two had been adversaries for several years, and eventually their enmity resulted in a duel at a neutral site in Weehawken, New Jersey. It is unclear who fired first, but it is certain that Hamilton fell mortally wounded, dying the next day in New York City. Burr fled, facing charges of murder both in New York and New Jersey, but later returned to the city of Washington to complete his tenure as Vice President. In time the charges of murder were dropped, but Burr’s political career was over. Thoroughly disgraced and out of favor with President Thomas Jefferson, he moved to the West in search of new opportunities.
The American frontier in those days separated the United States from the Empire of Spain in Florida and along a continental-sized line from Louisiana to what would become the Oregon Territory. It did not take long for an enterprising man like Aaron Burr to create opportunities for himself, whether legal or not. It is said that he intrigued with Spanish and American officials on a scheme to separate Mexico from Spain and the western territories from the United States and establish a new empire with himself as its chief. Although the full extent of Burr’s plans will never be known, there was enough truth to the allegations of intrigue to result in his arrest and prosecution by the Jefferson Administration on charges of treason. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, personally presided over the famous trial in August 1807. The Chief Justice had instructed the jury that conviction required testimony by two witnesses to a specific, overt act. When the prosecution could not meet that standard, the jury declared Burr not guilty.
In the election of 1800 Aaron Burr had come within a whisker of winning the presidency. By 1808 he was a political outsider living in exile. By 1812 he had returned to the United State, but he never returned to power. His family, his law practice, and his health deteriorated over the remaining years of his life as he watched his nation grow in size and power without him. Although endowed with considerable gifts and abilities to govern, his grasp for power ensured that his legacy would not be as one of America’s great men, but as a byword, a legal precedent, and a footnote in history. Yet from him, perhaps, we can learn something more about what Yeshua of Nazareth meant by His cryptic observation:
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. (Matthew 11:12 NASB)
In a response to a reader’s question about his works, author Stephen R. Donaldson provided this enlightening comment about the motivation behind his writing:
I’m a storyteller, not a polemicist. As such, my only mission is to help my readers understand my characters and appreciate what those poor sods are going through. (Stephen R. Donaldson Official Website, February 23, 2004)
Donaldson’s best known writings might be categorized as postmodern American science fiction and fantasy literature. The worlds he creates are not the pristine, archetypical fantasy worlds of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but darker realms that mirror our present ambiguous reality. Donaldson explores human nature in a secular, relativistic world detached from the moral underpinnings of Christian civilization. Good and evil manifest in the worlds he creates, but they are often uncomfortably intertwined so as to be nearly indistinguishable. Such is the case with his most famous protagonist, the anti-hero Thomas Covenant. In ten novels published over the span of 36 years, Donaldson follows Covenant through three epic quests in The Land, the world of his creation where magic and Earthpower shape the lives of mortals. Covenant is one of the most unlikely heroes in the history of literature: a leper living in present-day America who is magically transported to The Land to save it from destruction by Lord Foul the Despiser. He wears a wedding band of white gold, the source of Wild Magic, which is the greatest power ever known in The Land. He does not know how to wield this power, nor does he desire to do so, yet the dire circumstances of The Land compel him to find a way. Each victory comes at a cost. Ultimately it is Covenant himself who pays the greatest price, and thus he earns not only sympathy, but redemption.
We learn much about power in White Gold Wielder, the last novel of The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. The Elohim, supernatural beings who keep watch over the Earth, “silence” Covenant, placing him in a catatonic state so he will not use his ring unwisely and risk destruction of the world. After Covenant is revived by his companion Linden Avery, Findail of the Elohim explains their actions to her:
The ring-wielder we silenced, not to harm him, but to spare the Earth the ill of power without sight . . . Thus the choice would have fallen to you in the end. His ring you might have taken unto yourself, thereby healing the breach between sight and power. Or perhaps you might have ceded the ring to me, empowering the Elohim to save the Earth after their fashion. Then would we have had no need to fear ourselves, for a power given is altogether different than one wrested away.
Findail’s declaration, “a power given is altogether different than one wrested away,” is a restatement of something taught long ago by One Who understood power:
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NASB)