Giving Thanks

The American festival of Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year. The fall of the year is fully with us, the historical harvest has been collected, and it is time to give thanks. A time of thanks-giving is, at the same time, a religious and a secular festival. Although increasingly encroached upon by the commercial, it is not distorted by the material in the way Christmas has become. It is unique as an opportunity for everyone, whether religious or not, to give thanks; Give thanks to God almighty; Give thanks to your personal version of the creator; or simply give thanks to those around you.

Our family has read the story of the first Massachusetts Colony Thanksgiving. Rooted in the English tradition of Harvest Festival, that first event at Plymouth was prompted by a good harvest. Giving thanks to God, giving thanks for the help of native Americans, and giving thanks to one another for the survival of the colony, inspired a tradition.

We have also visited Berkeley Plantation on Virginia’s James River, to join the commemoration of the first Thanksgiving celebrated in North America, preceding the Plymouth celebration by a couple of years. That occasion includes a re-enactment of the arrival of the first colonists and their encounter with the native population. Today the small native American tribes of the area are blessed by a strong Christian tradition, and their dance performance often includes a prayer or a psalm.

Regardless of one’s personal faith, Thanksgiving presents an opportunity to Christian, Jew, Muslim alike; a secular holiday and an opportunity to choose how, and to whom, to give thanks.

A friend recently reminded me of the importance for the Christian to give thanks. Paul tells us through his first letter to the Thessalonian church to: give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess 5:18). Giving thanks once a year on Thanksgiving, is manageable for many; but giving thanks in all circumstance, and on every day, is a totally different experience.

I’m sometimes inclined to moan and complain. When I am feeling sorry for myself, or when I am annoyed with someone or something, I’m quick to offer a word of complaint to those around me, or a prayer of complaint to the Lord. According to the scripture, that is not God’s will for me. Sometimes as an antidote to my complaints, and sometimes as a practical expression of praise, I have developed a practice of giving thanks for my family, for my colleagues, and for the provision of the Lord.

This practice, in the form of personal liturgy, is valuable for several reasons. Firstly, it reminds me of how blessed I am, even when I have forgotten, or chosen not to remember. Secondly it reminds me to pray a blessing upon others; upon my family, upon my colleagues, and upon the work that they do. And thirdly, but by no means the last reason, it reminds me of my human condition. Without God, I am nothing. Without His spirit in me, I am lost. Without the blessing of his presence and provision, my life is meaningless.

And so, I am led to a deeper level of gratitude. I am reminded that He who holds the depths of the earth in His hands (Ps. 95:4), and He who has marked off the heavens with the breadth of His hand (Isa. 40:12), has also searched me and known me (Ps. 139:1). He has made me for a purpose, has life for me to live and work for me to do.

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EYES CLOSED AND EARS WIDE OPEN

(A Reflection on the Divisions in Our Society)

 We have become used to reports of Jihadists driving vehicles into crowds of people. It’s happened prominently in France, Germany and Britain with tragic consequences. However, we were not prepared for a domestic event in Charlottesville, VA on Saturday. A disturbed young man chose to drive his car at high speed into a crowd protesting an officially permitted demonstration by a group of white supremacists.

Charlottesville is an historic city. It was home to Thomas Jefferson and is the site of his University of Virginia. Earlier this year the city council voted to rename a city park from Lee Park to Emancipation Park and to remove a statue of Confederate General, Robert E. Lee [i]. For several years a debate has ebbed and flowed in the American south about the place of Confederate Statues and Symbols in the Public Square. There are those who criticize them as ongoing symbols of white supremacy and historical injustice; while others claim them as part of their heritage and history.

The debate boiled over in Charlottesville on the weekend as people rallied in support of Confederate history encountered those who want to remove its symbols. Tragically a young civil rights lawyer died and other people were seriously injured. These events occurred not only against the backdrop of a debate about the place of the Confederacy, but also amidst the anguish surrounding recent police shootings of unarmed African-Americans. CNN predicts a looming fight in southern cities still struggling with the legacy of slavery and what to do with Civil War monuments and symbols that represent heritage to some and hate to others.[ii]

Our American society is divided over many issues. Our society is also increasingly pluralistic. Richmond society was once defined by divisions between black and white. It is now a melting pot of the nations. According to Global Frontiers[iii] staff in Richmond people born in over 120 nations can be found in Richmond. As both the general media and social media make issues that once were local into national issues, more and more divisions in our society become apparent. I believe that a factor in the election of Donald Trump as president was a failure of the Washington political establishment to listen to the concerns of middle America over at least the last twenty-five years. Factory and mine-workers across states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia saw jobs lost to imports and environmental policy. Free trade agreements that were touted as paths to greater prosperity failed to replace the manufacturing jobs that were lost. At the same time Wall Street greed, asset-stripped, rather than invested in, grass-roots American factories that had provided stable livelihoods[iv]. Those who are not listened to may sometimes feel abandoned.

Similarly, I believe that the shock Brexit vote in the United Kingdom last year resulted in part from a failure of Westminster to listen to the concerns of Middle England about immigration and the lack of integration in city communities.

As I reflected on the Charlottesville events of last weekend just sixty miles up the road from Richmond I thought about all of those involved who might feel un-listened to.

Jesus challenged those who have ears to hear, to listen, on multiple occasions[v] but he also spoke about the eyes.

When Jesus spoke the words: If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell [vi], He had been speaking about the sin of lust. But what if our eyes cause us to stumble for other reasons. Jesus may have been talking about sexual lust and its consequence played out in the thought lives and actions of men and women. He might also have talked of the lust of gluttony or greed and their consequence in our eating or material habits. But what if he was also talking about our eyes as the gateways to the judgments of the heart? Elsewhere in what has become known as his Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks about the importance of not passing judgment. The words: Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you [vii] are immediately followed by an injunction to remove that which affects our sight before endeavoring to remove obstacles for another.

My recent introspection has reminded me how quickly I pass judgments with my eyes. The homeless person begging at the traffic intersection; the veiled woman in the store; and the person who simply looks different from me, all become subjects that I assess, for right or wrong, for good or bad. I venture to suggest that we all do this. A media image of crowds chanting Death to America, becomes an indictment of all in that faraway city. A photo of anger expressed by white or black, brown or yellow, long-haired or skinhead, tattooed or pierced, can stir resentment toward all of a particular class or color. Yet Jesus’ eyes stirred compassion. When He saw the crowds, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.[viii]

As I think about the judgments and the resulting exclusion that flow from sight’s first impression I wonder how much I have really listened. A young man, for reasons not yet fully public, drove his car into a crowd. According to the BBC his father died before he was born and he had a broken relationship with his paraplegic mother.[ix] If someone had really listened to the pain in his life would he have chosen to do what he did? Similarly, how many of us really listen to the pain of impoverished inner-city African-American youth?… or for that matter to the frustrations of the young growing up in Middle Eastern cities destroyed by sectarianism? And how many have listened to the underlying thoughts of the white nationalist who feels abandoned by a world around him that constantly talks about injustice toward minorities, and an open door to immigrants of other ethnic backgrounds without considering the perceived damage done to his heritage. In one way or another all these voices express a feeling of exclusion from broader society. As theologian Miroslav Volf writes: Exclusion takes place when the violence of expulsion, assimilation or subjugation and the indifference of abandonment replace the dynamics of taking in and keeping out as well as the mutuality of giving and receiving. [x]

As our eyes have become gateways for discrimination and exclusion, our ears should become tools for listening to the deep hurts of the world and a welcoming means to include. As we are reminded of Jesus’ injunction to those who have ears to listen, let us listen between and behind the lines to what the Spirit is saying to us about the brokenness in front of us, and the shattered feelings of a wider world. May my eyes be closed to the judgments of first impression and my ears be wide open to listen to all who are ‘other’ than myelf!

 

[i] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/us/charlottesville-rally-protest-statue.html (Accessed August 15, 2017)

[ii] http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/15/us/charlottesville-lee-park-confrontation/index.html (Accessed August 15, 2017)

[iii] http://globalfrontiermissions.org/

[iv] See for example the story of Lancaster, Ohio, and the American glass industry as related in: Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town – Brian Alexander – pub. St. Martin’s Press, 2017

[v] See for example: Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35

[vi] Matthew 5:29

[vii] Matthew 7:1-2

[viii] Matthew 9:36

[ix] Who is suspect James Allen Fields Jr? – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-40923489 (Accessed August 15, 2017)

[x] Exclusion and Embrace – A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation – Miroslav Volf – Abingdon Press 1996 – p.67

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A Short History of Recent British Voting

UK flag WORDS

Explanation

Following the 1707 Act of Union, Scotland and England & Wales united to become the Kingdom of Great Britain. The 1800 Act of Union united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The nation subsequently gained its present title as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927 following the departure of much of Ireland upon independence as the Irish Free State in 1922.

For much of the last century most British elections have been clear choices between the Conservative (officially the Conservative and Unionist) and the Labour parties. During those years nationalist agendas in Scotland and Wales have ebbed and flowed, while Unionists and Nationalists have competed for influence over the peoples of Northern Ireland.

Thus in 2014 (September 18th – Scottish referendum on the question: Should Scotland be an independent country?) 44.7% of Scots voted to dissolve the Union, while 55.3% of Scots voted to preserve the Union.

Then in 2015 (May 7th – British General Election) more Scots voted to promote a nationalist agenda (Scottish Nationalist Party vote share 50%) so the Scottish Unionists (in this case a mixture of Conservative, Liberal and Labour candidates) were voted out of their seats in Parliament (The Scottish Nationalists had 6 seats out of 59 in the 2010 Parliament – as a result of the 2015 poll they took 56 seats, leaving the Conservatives with 1, the Labour party with 1 and the Liberals with 1, compared to 1, 41 and 11 respectively in the 2010 Parliament). Meanwhile south of the border, the Conservative Unionists increased their vote share slightly but gained seats at the expense of the Labour and Liberal parties, who have been generally favorable to the European Union, as the Nationalist and anti-European Union agenda of the United Kingdom Independence Party who won a 14% share of the vote and one seat in the 2015 Parliament.

In 2016 (United Kingdom European Union Membership Referendum) many English and Welsh who are passionate about the Union of the United Kingdom voted to dissolve the union with the European Union (53.3% to 46.7%), while many in Scotland voted to preserve union with the European Union (62% to 38%). Incidentally Northern Ireland also voted in favor of staying in the European Union (55.8% to 44.2%). As a result, the Conservative leader, David Cameron who favored remaining in Europe resigned and was replaced by Theresa May who also favored remain but agreed to lead the country out of Europe.

And now in 2017 many former Conservative voters, scared about leaving the Union on unfavorable terms have voted for a Labour party that they believe is more concerned about by the realities of dissolving the Union. Yet north of the border many have voted for the Scottish Conservative party and therefore for an agenda that plans to leave the European Union (the Conservative party gained 12 seats and painted large rural areas of the map blue, that were formerly yellow) at the expense of a Nationalist party that wants to remain in Europe while getting out of Britain. A consequence of the realignment of the vote means that the Conservative Party have lost their majority in Parliament and have turned for support to the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, who represent both a strongly Unionist (with the United Kingdom) and Nationalist anti-European agenda. At the same time the Sinn Fein Irish Nationalists who also represent both a strongly Unionist (with the Republic of Ireland) and Nationalist, Out-of-the United Kingdom agenda, and who elected seven Members of Parliament last week, always refuse to take their seats in Westminster, ensuring that Theresa May may not have to look over her shoulder quite so often.

1776 was so much easier!

And with apologies to: Cricket Explained to a Foreigner

https://www.futilitycloset.com/2009/12/27/cricket-explained-to-a-foreigner/

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A COCKTAIL, A COMFY CHAIR AND A CROWN OF THORNS

crown-of-thorns-lgYesterday’s events in Manchester, England, reminded me of the following article which I wrote ten years ago in March 2007. They are a reflection on the futility of the suicide bomber, compared to the death of Him who knew exactly what He was doing in offering His life as a sacrifice for the cause of His Kingdom.

 

A survivor who saw the driver of the truck said that he was smiling as he drove to his destruction. On October 23rd, 1983, a truck laden with explosives was crashed into the American marine compound in Beirut killing 241 American servicemen and several Lebanese. A similar incident at the same moment in the neighboring French compound killed 58. Two suicide bombers took more than 300 people with them into eternity. The Middle East has been filled with these incidents over recent years; Lebanon, Israel, Gaza and Iraq. The latter is presently the site of daily occurrences of this kind taking dozens, if not hundreds of lives.

In 1993, in his first western television interview Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah, the leader of the Hezbollah, attempted to explain the attitude of mind of a Muslim martyr. He spoke of one who drives a truck with a smile on his face, knowing he is entering into true life. He likened this to a person being in a sauna for a long time. “He is very thirsty and tired and hot and he is suffering from the effects of the high temperature. Then he is told that if he opens the door, he can go into a quiet, comfortable room, drink a nice cocktail and hear classical music. Then he will open the door and go through without hesitation, knowing that what he leaves behind is not a high price to pay, and what awaits him is of much greater value”[i]

During the Iran/ Iraq war, teenage Iranians would fold Qu’ranic inscriptions inside black bandannas and bind them around their foreheads. They would then head off to the front. Some of them marched into minefields to clear them in their quest for eternity; others willingly sacrificed themselves in waves of no-man’s-land warfare. One young soldier stated: “..to be martyred while opposing God’s enemies brings us closer to God. There are two phases to martyrdom: we approach God and we also remove the obstacles that exist between God and the people. Those who create obstacles for God in this world are the enemies of God”[ii]  Another wrote, shortly before his death: “I’m not frightened of the day of resurrection…when the first drop of martyr’s blood is spilt, all his sins are cleansed”[iii]

According to a saying of Mohammed martyrdom equates to an atonement of blood sacrifice. Among six things the martyr receives from Allah, he is forgiven at the first shedding of his blood. [iv] In the Palestine of today there is little hope. The young man born in a refugee camp has no hope of returning to the land his ancestor’s farmed. His home may lie in ruins, victim of Israeli retribution. He has no hope of a worthwhile job and no hope of escape to another land where he can be treated as an equal and a citizen. The offer of the blessings of martyrdom is attractive by comparison.

Similarly, for the frustrated son of Muslim immigrants to the cities of Western Europe, there is an attraction. Growing up in the French HLM, or the English inner-city, color and cultural divide cause him to fall victim to derogatory racial epithets. Subtle profiling may hinder his opportunity for education and employment. He was born into the so-called developed world, but his roots are in the under-developed world his parents left decades before. Radical Islam offers him a hope and an identity.

We do not know what exactly was in the minds of Mohammed Atta and his brethren in the days preceding September 11, 2001, nor in the mind of Abdel-Basset Odeh on the morning of March 27, 2002 before he walked into a Netanya hotel and detonated his bomb amidst a crowd of Israeli Jews celebrating Passover. They are among the most well-known of multitudes down the ages who have pursued a suicidal course on behalf of the Lord of Death. Whether attracted by a quiet release from pain, the memorial of a blaze of glory or the carnal pleasure of perpetual virgins, the attraction of suicide in the cause of Islam is selfish. Crowned with the words of Allah, burdened by personal pain and clinging to a vain promise of atonement, the martyr enters an empty eternity in search of a comfy chair and a long cool drink.

But we do know what was in the mind of another who went willingly to his death. The Word of God tells of him: Who being very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing…humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross![v] He who knew no wrongdoing, who was pure and spotless, willingly gave his life, not for personal gain, but for the salvation of his brothers. As he went to his death he struggled under the weight, not of a bomb, but of a wooden cross whose explosive consequence has shattered the darkness and restored the lives of a multitude of broken people. As he allowed himself to be nailed to that cross, surrendering himself, he allowed not a headscarf filled with Arab script, but a crown of thorns to be pressed down upon his brow. And there upon the brow of the King of Kings spout a thousand bloody pinpricks, each one offering a cleansing atonement to the life of a would-be martyr; each one proclaiming love for the sons of Ishmael.

On a dark day, long ago He stumbled under the weight of His cross. Another was recruited to carry it for him. Nothing justifies the violent actions of the Shahid, the Muslim martyr, but our challenge today is to lay aside our own lives, lift the burden of his cross and share for him the power of the blood that can set all men free!

 

[i] Robert Fisk -The Great War for Civilization – 2005, Alfred A Knopf – p. 477

[ii] Ibid – p. 203

[iii] Ibid – p. 286

[iv] Al-Miqdam ibn madikarib Ma’dikarib MISHKAT AL-MASABIH “The martyr receives six good things from Allah: he is forgiven at the first shedding of his blood; he is shown his abode in Paradise; he is preserved from the punishment in the grave; he is kept safe from the greatest terror; he has placed on his head the crown of honour, a ruby of which is better than the world and what it contains; he is married to seventy-two wives of the maidens with large dark eyes; and is made intercessor for seventy of his relatives.” Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah transmitted it.

[v] Philippians 2:6 – 8

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TURKEY, VENEZUELA AND THE SEPARATION OF POWERS

A few days ago I was at the gym. I looked up at a large screen TV to see a news report on the Mother of All Protests taking place in downtown Caracas, Venezuela. The political opposition had mobilized thousands to protest the regime of President Maduro. Below the images from Caracas and the subtitles for the silent screen, a ribbon reported on the statements of President Erdogan concerning changes to the Turkish constitution that will result from the referendum on April 16th.

I am intrigued by developments in both these countries. I was also somewhat amused to see the stories competing for attention across a CNN broadcast. I’ve been in both nations within the last few weeks and have thoughts about how they and the wider world are being impacted by government. At the same time, a friend wrote in response to my post on the Malatya Martyrs – https://thefullerreport.com/2017/04/18/malatya-remembered/ – asking for any comments I have on what is happening with the Turkish government.

In an Easter Sunday referendum the Turkish people approved by a slim majority measures that will significantly increase the power of the Turkish presidency. Current President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, served as Prime Minister of Turkey from 2003 until 2014, and was widely hailed as the leader who turned the Turkish economy around, causing substantial growth in many parts of the nation. Since becoming President, Erdoğan has pushed for changes to Turkey’s constitution that would change the government from the parliamentary one that originated in the 1923 creation of the modern Turkish state to an executive presidency. The prime ministerial role would be abolished and much more power would be vested in the presidency. Proposed changes would also make it possible for the political independency of the presidency to end. Erdoğan would thus be able to return to the ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) which he co-founded in 2001.

It is often the case that it is difficult to get the full facts of news events. There has been plenty of news in the USA about so-called ‘fake news’. However, it does seem that the current president of Turkey has been pushing for changes in Turkey’s constitution for several years. During the two parliamentary elections in 2015 the AKP was endeavoring to gain the kind of majority that would enable them to make constitutional changes. This was impossible in the June election because for the first time in more than a decade the party lost its majority and the Kurdish party gained seats in the Parliament. The AKP failed to form a coalition government so called new elections in November. Conveniently, violence in some Kurdish areas broke out, resulting in a reduced vote for the Kurdish party and a renewed majority for the AKP.

The coup attempt last year has been blamed by the president on the Gulenist movement, an Islamic transnational religious and social movement led by the Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen[i], who was at one time an ally of Erdoğan. Thousands of Turks in government, administration, education, military and police have been detained. Some have been jailed, many have lost their jobs. Our family befriended a Turkish administrator and his family when he was studying in Richmond. We visited him in 2015. He was one of several Turks who drew my attention to the writings of Fetullah Gulen. He is one of those who lost his job as a result of the failed coup attempt.

Erdoğan has stated that: A presidential system would ensure confidence and stability in Turkey[ii] He has stated that it would bring Turkish government more in line with the Presidential systems which operate in France and the USA. The previous figurehead role of President, for which he is the incumbent, would become the central executive role. The recent referendum has therefore been an opportunity to consolidate power as Erdoğan argues that an all-powerful presidency is a guarantee that the political instability that used to plague Turkey will not return[iii]. Among the proposed changes are the following:

  • Prime minister role scrapped, new vice president role created
  • President becomes head of government as well as state, and can retain political party ties
  • President given sweeping powers, with ability to enact laws by decree and dismiss parliament
  • Parliament no longer able to scrutinise ministers
  • Parliament given limited powers to investigate or impeach president [iv]

Critics argue that by voting in favor the country will get rid of all the checks and balances that keep the government in line[v].

On April 26th in a further post-coup purge: 1,009 covert ‘imams’ in 72 provinces have been taken into custody so far [vi] in what was reported as a further important step in purging the nations of the Gulenist element. It was widely expected that the post-coup purge would accelerate once President Erdogan achieved the victory he wanted in a referendum on expanding his powers. He feels emboldened and there’s no longer a risk of jeopardising potential referendum votes, states BBC correspondent in Istanbul, Mark Lowen[vii]

I believe President Erdoğan is exhibiting the kind of paranoia that those in power for a long-time often exhibit. They are concerned for their legacy, they want what they believe is the best for that which they have led and created in their own image, and that vision limits their ability to work with those who see things differently.

 

The Venezuelan situation communicates a similar idea. Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998 as a Socialist seeking to alleviate the poverty of many Venezuelans. He was elected several times more with a strong popular mandate as his social reform programs, funded by high oil revenues (Venezuela is one of the top ten oil producing nations in the world and has the largest proven oil reserves of any nation[viii]), resulted in improvements in areas such as poverty, literacy, income equality, and quality of life[ix]. The proverbial good times ceased to roll however when the oil price collapsed in 2009.

My contact with colleagues and friends in Venezuela and my visits in 2012 and 2017 have shown me that the nation is not an easy place to live. There are shortages of basic food and medical supplies. Venezuela’s lack of foreign currency means that they have directly traded oil for meat from Uruguay and toilet paper from Trinidad. During my recent visit, rice and wheat flour were in short supply. Plenty of packaged bread was available but not the flour to make the traditional bakers loaves. A shortage of corn meal in Caracas meant that ordinary households resorted to grinding their own corn to produce the flour for the traditional arepas. I stayed in a nice apartment with a beautiful modern kitchen, however faucets in the kitchen and flush mechanisms in the bathrooms did not work properly because of a lack of parts to repair plumbing.

The flight of money from the nation has caused the government to implement increasingly strict currency controls, and inflation is operating at hyper levels[x]. During my visit in March the official exchange rate for the Venezuelan Bolivar was around 10 to the dollar, however black marketeers were offering over 4,000 for the dollar. At the official exchange rate a kilo of rice, when obtainable in a supermarket, cost several thousand dollars.

There have been weeks of intermittent protests against the current president, Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded to the presidency upon the death of Chavez in 2013. His government has imprisoned opposition leaders, endeavored to have the Supreme Court nullify the powers of the legislature, and blamed the USA and other western governments for encouraging chaos in Venezuela[xi] . On April 7, the government banned opposition leader, Hector Capriles, who ran a very close second to Maduro in the 2013 election, and planned to run again in next year’s election, from political activity for 15 years.

I believe Maduro is unfit for office. He certainly does not have the experience or track-record of his predecessor. Unlike Erdoğan he cannot claim credit for economic and social advances in his nation. However, Chavez followers faithfully adhere to him as Chavez’ appointed successor.

The insecure will often lash out at anyone they can blame when the things they value go wrong, or when former supporters turn against them. When this happens at a national level, dictatorships emerge and chaos ensues.

In both these modern cases leaders are meddling with the balance of separated powers which has previously benefited the good governance of their nations. In the USA, powers are clearly separated. The Executive, Legislature and Judiciary are designed to operate independently of each other and thus provide checks and balances upon overreach. I believe that this characteristic of the US Constitution lies behind the peaceful transition of power between presidents that has been our history since 1797 when George Washington retired to Mount Vernon. In his farewell address he made clear the value of a constitutional separation of powers as a defence against ‘a real despotism’[xii] I have written further on this subject in my post entitled The Inauguration at https://thefullerreport.com/2017/01/26/the-inauguration/ .

Good leadership requires the leader to listen to all his constituency. He may have gained a majority in an election, however he still has to lead all the electorate. The passage of the referendum in Turkey was by a slim margin. The election of President Trump in the United States was not by a majority. The slim margin of the Brexit vote in the UK was a democratic mandate for exit from the European Union but not a mandate to ignore the interests of the minority. All of these votes give a mandate. However they also carry a responsibility to handle the mandate with care. Every elected leader and every appointed leader, regardless of style has a responsibility to listen to the opposition, if their leadership is ultimately to win hearts and minds to their vision for leadership into the future. I fear for the futures of Turkey and Venezuela under the current leadership, and encourage you to pray for peaceful change.

 

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%BClen_movement (accessed 4/26/2017)

[ii] Anadolu Online – http://aa.com.tr/en/politics/erdogan-calls-on-all-parties-to-back-charter-reform/755857 (accessed 4/22/2017)

[iii] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-13746679 (accessed 4/18/2017)

[iv] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/Erdogans_Turkey (accessed 4/26/2017)

[v] Esra Ozyurek,Chair for Contemporary Turkish Studies at the London School of Economics – quoted from http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/15/europe/turkey-erdogan-referendum-politics/index.html (accessed 4/26/2017)

[vi] Suleyman Soylu, Turkish Interior Minister, quoted at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39716631 (accessed 4/26/2017)

[vii] ibid

[viii] http://geab.eu/en/top-10-countries-with-the-worlds-biggest-oil-reserves/ (accessed 4/26/2017)

[ix] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Chavez (accessed 4/26/2017)

[x] “Venezuelan consumer prices rose 800 percent in 2016 while the economy contracted by 18.6 percent, according to preliminary central bank figures seen by Reuters, the sharpest contraction in 13 years and the worst inflation reading on record”. http://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/20/venezuela-2016-inflation-hits-800-percent-gdp-shrinks-19-percent-document.html (accessed 4/26/2017)

[xi] See for example https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/14/venezuela-president-declares-60-day-state-of-emergency-blaming-us-for-instability (accessed 4/26/2017)

[xii] “It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power and proneness to abuse it which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern, some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield.” George Washington, Farewell Address to the American People – SENATE DOCUMENT NO. 106–21, WASHINGTON, 2000 – p. 19

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Malatya Remembered

One day in April of 2007 I was sitting in my office in Richmond when I received a call from a friend. “Some guys have been held hostage and we believe they may have been murdered. We don’t know who they are, but they are in Malatya!”

Malatya is a city in Turkey where friends of mine were involved in Christian ministry to the local community. I have known one of them, from England, since the early 1990s. The others are from the United States. As further information began to emerge from the events of that day in 2007, I learned that a German translator, a Turkish pastor and a Turkish Bible student had been brutally murdered by five young Turkish nationalists who stated that they did what they did for the sake of the Turkish nation. One of them carried a note which said in Turkish: “They are trying to take our country away, take our religion away,”[i]

My friends and their families were physically unharmed but the impact on their lives was devastating. During the following weeks they moved to Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. There the growing community of young local believers and international church-workers has developed several successful initiatives that are discipling Turks, and ministering to the large Iraqi and Syrian refugee community. One of the families that was displaced from Malatya eventually moved back there and established a worshipping community among the local deaf population.

In the weeks following this tragedy, I found myself doing a lot of soul-searching. A long history of Christian martyrdom has become an integral and essential part of the experience of the church. Despite this I still found myself asking the Lord why such an event had to happen in Turkey, a modern nation, keenly endeavoring to find favor among Western liberal democracies.

I was led to the book of Revelation and the words:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.[ii]

It seemed to me that these words placed the three men who died in Malatya, firmly in the category of “The Awaited Ones”. I don’t find this to be an encouraging idea, however, cast against the backdrop of an eternity that only the Lord God understands, the idea of a pre-determined cast of martyrs can be appreciated even when not fully understood.

The New International Version of the Bible translates Paul’s well known words in his first letter to the Corinthians as he speaks of the present state of the believer: For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.[iii] The mirrors of Paul’s day were of polished metal, not glass, so any reflection would be darkened and clear only to the extent of the perfection of the metal surface. However, the Greek word here translated as reflection is better translated as obscurely, because it has the same root as the word for riddle or enigma. Paul is conveying the message that our present view of God is far from perfect; it is shrouded in mysteries.

We have just passed through the season of commemorating the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the moment of his death we are reminded that the curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom. We understand this to mean that God was tearing down that which symbolized the separation between himself and man created by the sin of man. In all our imperfections, I believe there are times when we get glimpses of that other world where God dwells in unapproachable light[iv]. We cannot know what the three men in Malatya saw as they experienced the moment of their deaths. However, we do know that Stephen, the first martyr, had such a glimpse of eternity as he stood before his accusers and said: I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.[v] For a moment, two worlds came together, and one who was about to die could describe what he saw in that realm of unapproachable light. Unlike John’s revelation, Stephen did not see souls of those martyred dwelling below the altar, because he was yet to take the first place there.

Torn and mangled and covered over in our own blood, we cry out as loud as we are able that we are worshippers of God through Christ,[vi] are some immortal words from the pen of the second century writer Tertullian. He understood that martyrdom played an extricable role in the advance of the Kingdom of God. The idea that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church is a further thought ascribed to him when he writes: the Christian blood you spill is like the seed you sow, it springs from the earth again, and fructifies the more[vii]

In March I was visiting in the city of Ankara and attended Sunday worship at a Turkish church. During the preaching a young woman leaned forward behind me and my traveling companions and began to translate into English for us. At the end of the service we turned to thank her. She introduced herself as German-born but raised in Turkey. The more she spoke, the more I realized that she was the daughter of the Bible translator who died ten years earlier. I had heard her mother speak in an American church in 2011. She had said that after her husband’s funeral she had gathered her children together and asked what they should now do. Her husband and their father was never coming back, they were still living in Malatya and she was unsure what they should do next. Her older daughter, aged thirteen at the time, and who now stood before us had replied with words to the effect that: Daddy came to live among these people and to share the love of Jesus with them; How could we possibly leave? The family stayed. She herself had come to Ankara to study and is a full part of the witness of the local church in the city.

The martyrdom of God’s servants will not slow the advance of the church. I am convinced that the church in Turkey today is stronger than it was ten years ago, and the blood of these three men was not shed in vain.

 

Necati Aydin, Tilmann Geske & Uğur Yüksel died for their faith in Jesus Christ in Malatya, Turkey, on April 18, 2007. Ten years on we remember, with gratitude, their lives and witness to the Gospel.

_____________________________________________________________

[i] Quoted in Christianity Today – “Finally: Killers of Malatya Martyrs Sentenced to Life in Turkish Prison”- 9/28/2016

[ii] Revelation 6:9-11 (NIV)

[iii] I Corinthians 13:12

[iv] I Tim 6:16

[v] Acts 7:56

[vi] The Apology of Tertullian – trans. William Reeve – (The Ancient & Modern Library of Theological Literature, vol. 31 – Griffith, Farran, Okeden & Welsh – London) – 1889 – p.68

[vii] Ibid – p.144

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The Inauguration

A few days ago a new president was sworn into office. He is a wealthy property developer with no previous political experience. He has been married several times and has five children. He was elected on a slate of goals that will bring changes to the nation over which he aspired to preside. His election was a surprise result for the people who elected him.

The similarity with President Donald Trump ends there, for I am not speaking of an American inauguration, but of a Gambian inauguration. Unfortunately for Adama Barrow, his transition to power in West Africa failed to live up to the promise of a smooth transition expected in the days immediately following the December election.

Once again an African leader clings to power despite the democratic process. Yahya Jammeh, the defeated incumbent, had held power since leading a military coup against his predecessor, Dawda Jawara, in 1994. Serving as only the second President in Gambia’s history, he had taken power from a man who, like many post-independence African leaders had led the nation for more than thirty years. In Jammeh’s case, it was not a coup that deposed him, but a democratic election resulting in fewer people voting for him than his main opponent. Although he initially conceded defeat, on December 9th, he rejected the result citing “unacceptable abnormalities”[1].

A few years ago our family visited Pope’s Creek on Virginia’s Northern Neck, the birthplace of George Washington. The National Parks guide who narrated the story of the plantation and its famous son told us that the greatness of George Washington established a principle that has been fundamental to the American republic from the inception of the presidency. At the end of the War of Independence, after the British had been finally defeated at Yorktown, Washington surrendered his military command. Professor Gordon Wood in his essay on the example of George Washington states: It was extraordinary, it was unprecedented in modern times—a victorious general surrendering his arms and returning to his farm.[2] Furthermore, George Washington did not do this once, he did it a second time when he stepped down from the presidency after his second term. Many expected him to serve for life, but he inaugurated the smooth transition of power to his successor John Adams. That the chief executive of a state should willingly relinquish his office was an object lesson in republicanism at a time when the republican experiment throughout the Atlantic world was very much in doubt.[3]

The character and the resolve of one founding father laid a foundation for an unbroken chain of four-year terms in office, which recently inaugurated its fifty-eighth term as Donald John Trump raised his right hand and solemnly swore to uphold the constitution of the United States of America

As President Ronald Reagan stated in his first inaugural address: The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every 4-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.[4]

Contrast that with post-colonial Africa, a continent now made up of more than fifty nations. By the end of the 1980s Africa was known for its enduring presidencies. In the words of Martin Meredith, they were: dictators who strutted the stage, tolerating neither opposition nor dissent, rigging elections, emasculating the courts, cowing the press, stifling the universities, demanding abject servility and making themselves exceedingly rich … By the end of the 1980s not a single African head of state in three decades had allowed himself to be voted out of office. [5] Leaders cling to power until they either die, or are replaced in violent circumstances. At the end of the millennium of one hundred and fifty Heads of State who had led in Africa since independence, only six had voluntarily relinquished power.

Zimbabwe has become an economic disaster in recent years. Once a major food-producer in the southern part of the continent, much farmland now lies underutilized and drought hinders the fruitfulness of active land. Yet Robert Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, stated early last year that he would remain until God says ‘come’, when former U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged African leaders not to cling to power.[6]

Fortunately Yahya Jammeh eventually agreed to leave Gambia, opening the way for his successor to return on January 26th. Meanwhile, as Europe continues to deal with fleeing African flotsam, rejected by a conceited continental oligarchy and washed up on its shores, the American experiment will survive the Trump presidency, however long it lasts.

As Bobby Clinton states: A leader ought to want to finish well.[7]

 

[1] “Gambia leader Yahya Jammeh rejects election result”. BBC News. 10 December 2016. Retrieved 2017-1-20

[2] The Greatness of George Washington – Gordon Wood – Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1992 p.3

[3] Ibid p.5

[4] Ronald Reagan First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981 – http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=43130 (Accessed January 21, 2017)

[5] The Fate of Africa – Martin Meredith – Public Affairs, New York 2005 – pg. 378

[6] Until God Says Come – http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-zimbabwe-mugabe-idUKKCN0VR0L6. Retrieved 2017-1-25

[7] Finishing Well – Dr. J. Robert Clinton, 2007

Posted in Culture and Politics, Nations, Politics | Tagged , | 1 Comment