The St. Croix Review speaks for middle America, and brings you essays from patriotic Americans.
Our Mission Is to Reawaken the Genuine American Spirit: of living in a good, great, and growing nation - as free individuals.Wartime Recollections
Elizabeth W. Moss was a Lieutenant in the United States Navy Nurse Corps during W.W. II. Her husband, Captain Robert A. Moss (retired), is a long-time subscriber to The St. Croix Review. The St. Croix Review will eagerly publish stories from our readership that reflect American history and the genuine American spirit.
There is a painting that hangs in our hallway. It will surely never hang in the Louvre, but I cherish it and rarely pass it by without being reminded, just for an instant, of the most moving and rewarding experience of my nine proud years in the United States Navy Nurse Corps.
The painting shows a pair of B-29s flying low over an austere Japanese landscape. There is a "rainbow" bridge in the foreground and a group of grim looking prison barracks. A dozen parachutes are drifting down into the camp; a few have already landed. They are cargo chutes attached to crates bound with steel straps. The crates contain food, cigarettes, and clothing. A close look at the painting shows that it is not done on canvas, but rather on what appears to be silk. The artist has written an inscription across the bottom:
War Is Over, August, 1945. Uncle Remembers Prisoners.
Sakai River, Tobata, Japan, Fukuoka Camp No. 3.
Miss Elizabeth from Sally
It was, indeed, August of 1945. I was a junior grade lieutenant, serving as an anesthetist in the Navy Hospital Ship USS Haven. We were part of an immense task force that was anchored in Pearl Harbor preparing for that final goal of the Pacific War - the invasion of the Japanese homeland.
Then suddenly there were the two atomic bombs and it was over. Hundreds of ships at Pearl erupted with whistles, flares, bells, and searchlights, but within hours Haven was ordered to join a task group bound for the devastated port of Nagasaki. Our mission was to release the Allied prisoners that were being held in the nearby Japanese prison camps.
Ten days later our force was cautiously standing into Nagasaki Harbor. I say "cautiously" because we had no idea how complete the surrender had been and how we would be received. We were escorted by the cruiser USS Wichita and some destroyers. Leading all of us was a flotilla of minesweepers, because the entrance had been heavily mined by the defending Japanese. Eventually we made fast to a wharf where there was a railroad spur and we got ready to receive our patients.
To this day, almost 69 years after the event, I am moved to tears - tears of joy, of compassion, of elation, of overwhelming emotion - when I reflect upon the scene that followed. The prisoners arrived in rail boxcars. They were of all nationalities - Americans, British (some from the fall of Singapore), Dutch, French, Malaysian, and Indonesian. As the trains rolled in we were all cheering. Bands from the Wichita and Haven played "Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here," and "California Here I Come," and many of the popular tunes of the time. Everyone was crying. Yes, I mean everyone! I saw crusty Chief Petty Officers, who had seen four years of Pacific hell, with tears streaming down their grizzled cheeks.
As we got the prisoners off the trains - most were mere scarecrows - we got them into showers and de-lousing stations that had been set up on the pier. We separated those that were ambulatory from those that needed more immediate medical care, and we listened to them talking.
"Doughnuts? Doughnuts!" one of them exclaimed. "I forgot there were such things."
They marveled at the stuff in the magazines and newspapers we handed out. "Shirley Temple." one POW remarked upon seeing the young star's picture on a magazine cover. "They told us she was dead!"
But the most poignant and chilling talk dealt with their experience as prisoners. Some of these men had been on the infamous Bataan Death March and had endured unspeakable mental and physical suffering, and yet they would tell of their ordeals in the most matter-of-fact, almost detached, manner.
The lack of rancor in their delivery only served to enhance the horror of their words.
It was my custom to make regular visits to my patients for as long as they were aboard the ship. During these rounds I met a young Indonesian soldier who I knew only by his nickname, "Sally." One day Sally said to me:
Miss Elizabeth, before the war I was an artist, and if you could get me some paints I would like to do a picture for you.
The ship's Recreation Officer provided a paint set and so it was that Sally produced the painting that hangs in our hallway and still, after all these years, arrests my attention.
Why is it painted on silk, you ask? And what are those rust-colored stains on the painting? Well, you see, Sally didn't have any proper canvas upon which to paint, but he had saved a piece of one of those parachutes that had been brought to the inmates of Fukuoka Camp No. 3 - the first assurance that "Uncle Remembers Prisoners."
Sally was apologetic about the rust-colored stains:
I tried to find a clean piece of silk, Miss Elizabeth, but most of the parachutes had blood on them. You see, we prisoners were so eager to get into those crates that a lot of us got cut when we were tearing off those metal bands that were wrapped around the boxes.
A few days later Sally was moved to another hospital ship for the voyage back to his native Sumatra. I never saw him again. *
The following is a summary of the December/January 2014/2015 issue of the St. Croix Review:
In "May I Be Inspired," Barry MacDonald writes of the power of prayer.
In "Meditations on Machado," Paul R. Suszko finds inspiration in the ephemeral beauty offered by the words of a Spanish poet.
Paul Kengor, in "When the Communists Murdered a Priest," relates a horrid crime, and yet finds transcendent meaning in the outcome; in "The Liberal Religion of 'Tolerance,' he shows a stark difference between liberals and conservatives, the liberal's selective practice of tolerance, and the nasty essence of today's liberals; in "The Scandal Continues: President Obama's Skipped Intelligence Briefings," he shows the President's essential fecklessness.
Mark Hendrickson, in "A Free-Market Economist's Take on Ken Burns' 'The Roosevelts'" is fascinated, inspired, and prompted to asks questions about what our nation needs by the documentary's exploration of the characters of three great Americans; in "Saudi Arabia Versus the Keystone Pipeline," he shows how the free market works to the advantage of consumers.
In "The Other University Bubble," Herbert London writes that as the cost of a university education has exploded, the value of the liberal arts curriculum has collapsed.
In "Whither Free Speech," Timothy S. Goeglein writes that a new, virulent intolerance is sweeping America's universities; religious expression is especially under attack.
Allan Brownfeld, in "Eric Cantor: New Poster-Boy for the Transition from Congressman to Well-Paid Lobbyist," shows how venal Republicans and Democrats have become: while in Congress they provide advantages to big business, and after leaving Congress they become lobbyists for big business; in "One Thing Congress Has Managed to Achieve: Legalizing What Always Used to Be Viewed as Corruption," he reveals how corrupt Congress has become by presenting historical perspective and current practice.
Philip Vander Elst, in "God the Creator," cites testimonials, Bible verses, reason, and inspiration in support of Christian faith.
S. Fred Singer, in "Climate Science Does Not Support IPCC Conclusions," discusses future temperatures and rising sea levels, and shows how the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change twists evidence to reach an alarming result.
Twila Brase, in "Seven Smart Reasons Not to Enroll in Obamacare," suggests paying the tax penalty would be less expensive. Claim one of 9 exemptions, or 14 hardship waivers.
In "We Are a Nation of Immigrants," Robert L. Wichterman asserts that immigrants should assimilate American values and become proud of their new nation.
In "America the Bountiful," Mark E. Mishanie describes an incident that brought home to him what America is: a land of refuge in a troubled world.
Jo Ann Gardner, in "Understanding the Bible from the Ground Up in the Book of Ruth," gives an insightful close reading to a wonderful story.
Jigs Gardner, in "A Dying Folk Culture," describes the insular, clannish, originally Scottish immigrants who farmed the severe land alongside him; these people vanished long ago.
Jigs Gardner, in "Kenneth Roberts and the Art of Historical Fiction," presents a fine author who describes an infamous but brilliant American general: Benedict Arnold.
In "An Intriguing Proposition," Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin review four articles concerning Western/Islamic issues.
Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin write from Brownsville, Minnesota.
We subscribe to a weekly publication, Israel News, four pages of opinion pieces from the Israeli and American press (e.g., The Jerusalem Post and Commentary magazine). We used to get it by mail from Toronto, but now we get it online (www.bayt.ca). In the issue of Aug. 15 there is a long piece by David Goldman, taken from Middle East Forum, "The One-State Solution Is on Our Doorstep." His argument is that the states on Israel's borders are disintegrating and eventually Israel will be the only state "able to govern Judea and Samaria . . . the only military force capable of securing its borders." The author's account of the chaos in the region needs no elaboration here - it is the stuff of our daily headlines. The states arbitrarily carved out of the Ottoman Empire are reverting to tribal and religious entities at war with one another. What may not be immediately clear to us is that the remaining states, mainly Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey, "will alternately support and suppress the new irregular armies as their interests require."
Meanwhile, "a great demographic change overshadows the actions of all the contenders," i.e., the decline of Muslim fertility and the rise in Jewish fertility. The fall is most extreme in Iran (a fertility rate of just 1.6 children) and Turkey (1.8 children for Turkish women). The rate for replacement is 2.1. The Jewish fertility rate now stands at 3.3 children per woman. Furthermore, Jewish immigration is positive and accelerating as anti-Semitism rises in Europe, while Palestinian emigration is estimated at 10,000 per year. Jews will soon constitute at least a 60 percent majority in the territories. This is not wishful thinking; we have seen these demographic figures elsewhere. As the author says:
The inability of the Palestine Authority to govern, the inability of Hamas to distance itself from its patron in Tehran, and the collapse of the surrounding states eventually will require Israel to assume control over the West Bank.
And Jordan's security "requires a strong IDF presence on its western border." Whether the situation will work out in this way, we do not know, but it is an interesting idea, and we would do well to keep it in mind as events unfold.
The September 15 issue of The Weekly Standard contains three fine essays about Islamic threats and our inadequate responses: "They have a Strategy" by Thomas Joscelyn, "Rotherham's Collaborators" by Sam Schulman, and "A Muslim Identity Crisis" by Reuel Gerecht.
Joscelyn begins by quoting Obama's statement, "We don't have a strategy yet" for dealing with the Islamic insurgencies in Syria and Iraq (ISIL), and he goes on to say that that's because he doesn't think we need one. Obama has always thought that the only jihadists who matter are the ones who flew the planes into the Twin Towers; that is, those who carry out attacks in the U.S. Joscelyn points out that America was never al Qaeda's primary target because the real goal was "to establish Islamic emirates . . . and eventually restore the caliphate." America was attacked only because it supported the regimes al Qaeda wanted to replace. Today there are tactical differences between al Qaeda and ISIL (chiefly, the pace at which to inculcate its jihadist ideology within a population), but the primary goal remains the same. So long as the administration does not understand that, or resists its implications, our response to the worldwide insurgencies will be piecemeal and ineffective.
"Rotherham's Collaborators" is a shocking exposure of the stupidity, incompetence, and cowardice of the British authorities when they came to deal with a gang of men, mostly Pakistanis, who were sexually exploiting young white girls on a grand scale. Political correctness played a large part in the pusillanimity of the authorities, but Schulman shows how the report on the scandal documents the crime of bureaucracy:
. . . the public services . . . have been marinated in a managerial culture that makes it almost impossible for a frontline institution . . . to see that they and their partners are doing virtually nothing at all about childhood sexual exploitation.
The Gerecht article, "A Muslim Identity Crisis," is not so horrifying because it doesn't deal directly with the crimes perpetrated in Rotherham, but rather with an intellectual understanding of the Muslim perpetrators and what they represent. The author says that there is a "moral distemper" in Muslim communities, both in the West and the Middle East. Jihadism in the Middle East is the most severe disorder, and he suggests that the kind of behavior seen in Rotherham is "part of the same ethical matrix that encourages young men to abandon Europe for the battlefields of Syria and Iraq." So much for assertion; now for the explanation: "Islam conveys a powerful sense of group identity." He points out that even when their faith has eroded ". . . the collective identity can remain." The Rotherham girls "existed outside their moral universe." The author calls for "soul-searching" on the part of authorities, but wherever that phrase appears, you know the demand is hopeless. Such an institutional failure is more likely to send its enablers scurrying to create shelters of verbiage. Gerecht makes an excellent point:
If Muslim immigrants to Western lands refuse to adopt the standards that Westerners consider fundamental to their identity, both cultural and political, then Westerners should
rise in high dudgeon.
The point to carry away from this essay is that:
The predators of Rotherham, like the hundreds of young European Muslims who've gone to join Islamic radical groups in Syria and Iraq, ought to signal that there is a serious illness within that needs to be more aggressively treated. *
A reader writes, mildly rebuking me for ignoring the beauty ensuing when neglected farmlands revert to their natural state. The implied condescension is trivial, but the insensitivity to the farmer's viewpoint is disappointing. Have I so obviously failed in these "Letters" to show the farmer's cherishing of the land, of its metes and bounds, its cultivated edges staunchly standing against the chaotic tapestry of the wild natural world? No farmer can look upon the reversion of cultivated land with equanimity: he knows at what cost it was won.
I have lived in melancholy landscapes, decaying pastoral communities in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Vermont, but none was so devastating as Cape Breton because it had been going on for so long (80 years when we arrived) and it was so definitely irrevocable.
Although there were some Micmac Indians on the island, as well as a couple of settlements of Acadians - French who had been banished from Nova Scotia by the British in the 18th century - the main settlement was accomplished, in the first half of the 19th century, by Scots, mostly from the Highlands and the Hebrides, the Western Isles. They received grants of land, and in time thousands of small farms dotted the island, subsistence farms where the labors of every member of the large families managed to feed and clothe themselves with little surplus. I have known men born in the 1920s and '30s who never saw money in their youth. Every inch of the land was used; even the grass beside the road was harvested, as I have seen in old photographs. As I wrote in a previous "Letter," "The Backlands":
By 1890, at the height of whatever agricultural prosperity Cape Breton was destined to know, there were ten small subsistence farms in the Backlands. . . . It was a life sustainable only so long as there were no better prospects within reach, and by the end of the century those prospects were getting closer. Sons were leaving to work in the new steel mill in Sydney or they took ship to Boston for factory work, and their sisters joined them to become maids, nurses, seamstresses. As soon as this exodus began - and bear in mind that these sons and daughters would be the most resourceful, the ones with the most initiative - the little farms were doomed.
Those left on the farms in the 1890s died in the 1940s and '50s, and then the whole edifice collapsed. It finished off the Backlands, a three-mile stretch in the middle of the neck of the peninsula where there had once been ten farms. As late as the 1940s there were three farms visible from our doorstep. Now they were so overgrown only an experienced eye could see where there had once been fields.
What was more interesting to us, however, was the life still lived around us outside the Backlands, a few miles away but still our neighbors. They had hung on to their farms because the men worked at the gypsum quarry eight miles down the peninsula, an enterprise founded in the 1950s. The actual farming was desultory: a cow or two, perhaps a horse, a pig, a dozen hens, butter might still be made. The storekeeper shipped one thousand pounds of butter each year to Newfoundland, all collected in the area, and that sounds like a lot, but in fact only takes four people making five pounds a week (I regularly made more than that). Most of the men, all in their 50s or early 60s, kept their distance from us, but a couple were friendly. Most of the women were deeply suspicious, to be expected in backwoods rural areas where, unlike their men, they don't get away from the household much, so don't learn a measure of tolerance by mingling with others.
Making friends in a folk culture is crucial. In a modern contractual society, a storekeeper doesn't care who you are - your money's as good as the next man's - but in Cape Breton we could not buy locally some things we needed and the storekeepers would not order them. Finally we had to go to the city of Sydney to make our purchases from wholesalers. But within a couple of years we made enough friends in the city and countryside to be admitted within the cultural circle, and then not enough could be done for us: a broken plow point? No problem - forge a new one at the steel plant, no charge. Say the word and the deed was done.
The social organization of the Highland Scots, based on clans (only a slight advance from tribalism) was relatively primitive in the 19th century. When the emigrants landed in Cape Breton, they settled largely by clans. At the end of the peninsula fifteen miles west of us, nearly everyone was a MacNeil, Roman Catholics from the Isle of Barra, while it was all Protestant Mathesons and MacDonalds our way. There was no social mixing. A Protestant-Catholic marriage was regarded as a "mixed marriage." Some of these neighbors, living only fifteen miles apart all their lives, met for the first time on the neutral ground of our kitchen.
Clannishness narrowed the horizons of those lives, made them more than usually (for backwoods dwellers) suspicious, not only of strangers but of any innovation. How often have I heard Cape Bretoners say, "It was good enough for my grandfather and father, it's good enough for me!"? Nor was this only rhetoric: when I successfully introduced birdsfoot trefoil as an excellent forage crop for heavy clay soils, they spoke the formula and stuck to their old (and inadequate) forage. Of course, as subsistence farmers they had never felt the driving force of market demand, the great agricultural modernizer.
I do not know when Cape Bretoners first began to feel inferior relative to the modern world (for all I know it might've been a Highland heritage), but by the 1950s, when the island was joined to the mainland by a causeway, electricity was extended to the countryside, and many roads, including the TransCanada Highway, were paved, the forces of modernism - radio and TV, for example - were pervasive on the island, and the local sense of inferiority was expressed in fierce resentment of imagined slights from outsiders, and bragging about their own accomplishments. Like many Canadians, they already felt inferior to Americans. We knew all this, but nevertheless we were amazed when the Halifax publication of Jo Ann's first book, The Old Fashioned Fruit Garden, was noticed in the Sydney newspaper and she received several anonymous hate letters: who was she to tell accomplished Cape Bretoners how to grow and preserve fruit? They didn't need instruction from dirty draft dodgers (I was a 38-year-old father of four when we moved to Cape Breton)! After every succeeding book she received letters like that, but the strongest reaction came when, on a lecture tour, she mentioned to a Boston Globe interviewer that we used a privy, our water came from a hand pump in the kitchen, and we had neither a motor vehicle nor a phone. She received voluminous vitriolic denunciations, our mail driver refused any more to deliver eggs to our customers, and the head of the Cape Breton Agricultural Society published a denunciation of us on the front page of an island newspaper.
Clannishness, defensiveness, and ignorance determined ideas about us. We were regarded, even by our customers and friends, as quixotic eccentrics, but that was nothing new. But all sorts of bizarre stories, especially about our sources of income, astonished us. It could not be believed that we, obviously educated and cultured, were not wealthy, that we earned our living entirely from the farm. The most persistent theory was that we were drug dealers and that we grew "the best marijuana on the island" (I quote). This was believed by men with whom I worked in the woods for many years, who knew us well and ate many a meal at our table.
Nevertheless, we owe a great debt to Cape Breton. I count it a rare privilege to have known those people and that culture, even in its senescence (it was completely gone by the time we left; the countryside emptied out and there were no more neighbors). And the kind of arduous farming life that land and that climate forced on us was a tremendous learning and toughening experience from which we are still benefiting. Best of all, the friendships we made there were heartfelt and enduring. Any friends made in that grudging environment with its long cold dark winters, terrible winds off the North Atlantic, and desperate expedients of survival were bound to be friends indeed, and they are still friends, a dozen years after we left. Never again will we make such friends.
One other thing: although we knew some wealthy Cape Bretoners, there was very little class feeling because nearly everyone on the island was immediately or within memory a product of that sparse rural experience. It is only since we moved back to the U.S. that we have rediscovered the snobbery and bitterness of class antagonisms. *
Jo Ann Gardner is Jigs Gardner's wife; she has been a vital partner in his farming adventures.
As you may have noticed, the foundational text of our civilization is out of favor. The Navy, hotels, and other institutions are removing copies of the Gideon Bible from their accommodations and conference centers in response to complaints from atheist groups and offended individuals. This is just another round in the ongoing effort by the ruling elite to remove all signs of anything connected with religion in our culture. As a result, many people who in the past might have grown up with a passing familiarity with the Bible are entirely ignorant of what it has to offer - in its enthralling stories, its range of characters with all their foibles (in whom we recognize ourselves), and its lessons of life that ring as true today as they did when they were told - never having been encouraged to read it. This is especially true, I've discovered, of well-educated sophisticates, who are embarrassed by the very idea of owning a copy. Yet even they warm to the text when they discover how accessible, interesting, and compelling it can be when they learn it literally from the ground up. Too often the approach to teaching the Bible is abstract, while the elevated language of the King James translation (a poetic work in its own right), for instance, may move the text further away from our understanding. We should remember that the Bible was originally directed toward readership of shepherds and farmers, rooted in the land, and was written in terms they would understand. We, who are so far removed from them, must reconnect ourselves with their world. When we do so, the Bible comes to life. The very word "Bible" comes from the land, derived from byblos, the Greek name for the inner pith of the papyrus plant, from which the biblical scrolls were made.
I inadvertently discovered this technique during the time we farmed one hundred rough acres at the end of a sparsely populated peninsula on Cape Breton Island. This may seem like an unpromising setting for spiritual rejuvenation, but it was here, living from this difficult land, working not only in the kitchen and garden, but strenuously in fields, where I learned to build a ton of hay on a horse-drawn wagon, to pull at the other end of a cross-cut saw (Jigs was at the other end) to fell huge trees, and when necessary, to spread manure by moonlight after a full day's work, that I returned to Judaism after many years of neglect. When I turned my attention to the Hebrew Bible, saturated with direct and indirect references to the land, its topography, climate, and plants, I was astonished to discover that my experiences had attuned me to the text. From reading about Eden, through the hard journey of the Israelites to the Promised Land, I felt the presence of the text as a living document. Because today most people are separated from nature in any significant way, it is necessary to help them bridge that gap by teaching what was once common knowledge, what the biblical readership of shepherds and farmers knew from their daily life.
The Israelites' 40-year trek in the Sinai desert is a striking example of the importance of land in the Bible. Try recasting this narrative in another setting, along the coastline from Egypt to Canaan, a much shorter route. It doesn't work because the more difficult journey in the desert wilderness, an endless vista of rock-strewn ground and rising, jagged stone mountains gives God time to teach His newly-liberated people the rudiments of a new spiritual order. A landscape that challenges at every turn - in striking contrast to the relatively smooth course along the Mediterranean coast - and that forces one to draw on inner strength to survive, would inevitably toughen and mature former slaves used to taking orders, never having to think for themselves or develop their independence, totally reliant on their pagan masters for their daily sustenance. It is impossible to separate their journey from slavery to freedom from the desert landscape, which comes across, not as incidental background, but as a character in itself, a powerful force in the Israelites' physical and spiritual journey.
In the Book of Ruth, the land is present throughout. A tight, brilliantly crafted story of small town life, suggestive of a lively drama in four acts, it takes place in the town of Bethlehem (literally "house of bread") throughout the seven weeks' grain harvest, beginning with the barley harvest at Passover, and continuing through the wheat harvest, culminating in the festival of Shavuot or Pentecost on the fiftieth day. It is fascinating to see how the moral obligations of the town's citizens, spelled out in Leviticus, reformulated in Deuteronomy, work (or don't work) in daily life. At the top of the list is the most holy command to "love your neighbor and the stranger as yourself for you were strangers in Egypt" (Leviticus 19:18, 34), a moral imperative probably derived from the shepherd code of feeding strangers in a hostile desert where sources of food and water are few and far between; as a kind of insurance, the giver of hospitality would expect the same in return (this is virtually identical to the western cowboy code, a staple in stories, novels, and movies). Remember Abraham ran, not walked, to feed the three strangers that called on him (Genesis 18:2-5)); the fact that his nephew Lot merely "walked" (Genesis 19:2), suggests the differences between them. When Eliezer, Abraham's servant, is sent on a quest to Mesopotamia to find his son Isaac a wife, he is very favorably impressed by Rebekah's consideration for his thirsty animals, watering them "until they finished drinking." We pass over this phrase, like so many in the text, but you can bet that a readership of shepherds would be able to roughly calculate that the amount of water she would have to draw to slake the thirst of ten camels traveling from the land of Canaan would come to about five gallons each. This is a signal to the reader that Rebekah is a strong young woman (in every sense) and a fit mate for Isaac. We miss a great deal of the Bible's vitality when we discount or don't understand the importance of such homely details.
As farming came to dominate shepherd life (this continued at the edges of cultivation) and the gap widened between farmers and the landless or poor, it was necessary to institute agricultural-based laws to provide for widows, orphans, and strangers. Previous legislation (various forms of tithing, for instance), subject to vagaries of interpretation and corruption, were strengthened by laws directed at farmers who were, among other directives, to leave the gleanings in the grain field - the stalks that fell to the ground behind the grain reaper and not picked up in the sheaf. In this way, the poor could, by their own efforts, provide for themselves without having to beg, since what they took was considered to be rightly theirs, not a handout. If the law was meant to protect the destitute, it also blessed the provider by instilling in the Israelite psyche the link between blessing and giving.
The law central to the fulfillment of the Book of Ruth's plot is levirate marriage (or a form of it, as it turns out), another land-based law in which the brother of a deceased brother is obligated to offer marriage to the man's widow to provide an heir who will carry on his name, keep his land in the family, and sustain the now re-married widow.
Enter the Moabitess Ruth from a despised nation (the Moabites had refused hospitality to the Israelites during their desert journey, considered to be a serious violation of the desert code) with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who is returning home after having left Bethlehem with her husband, Elimelech, during a prolonged drought (not uncommon in Israelite life). The women, according to tradition, are destitute, having walked from Moab to Judah, a difficult, tiring journey. Both are due hospitality, if not love, according to the law: Naomi is a former neighbor and widow, Ruth, a stranger, also a widow. Ruth, moreover, has given up all her former ties with her pagan upbringing, declaring herself to be one with Naomi and her people ("Wherever you go, I will go. . . . Your people shall be my people, your God my God," Ruth 1:6). Essentially, she has converted to Judaism. What does the town's welcoming committee have to offer these women - food, drink, shelter, warmth, friendship? - nothing! The townswomen exclaim with unsuppressed vindictiveness, "Can this be Naomi?" one who, in Naomi's own words, "went away full and returned empty." (Ruth 1:19-21). Ruth is beneath notice. This is not an auspicious beginning for their new life in Bethlehem.
In the side note prefacing the second "act," the readers are told that Naomi has a kinsmen on her husband's side named Boaz, from which detail we assume he is a possible redeemer, a candidate for levirate marriage to Ruth. The plot, as we say, thickens! Since no one has come forth to help them (quite the contrary), Ruth makes up her mind to glean in the fields; she knows that this is a custom of the land that is permitted to her. But based on her negative experience so far, she is determined to only go "where I will be welcome." It is unthinkable that her beloved mother-in-law, once a leading citizen of the town, should humble herself to do the work of a pauper, working for hours beneath the hot sun, following the reaper around and around the field. Ruth's singular purpose, before which all obstacles fall, is to bring relief to her mother-in-law. Hers is a spontaneous act of hesed, of loving kindness, a central Jewish value that she naturally possesses in abundance. How impressed a readership of ordinary people must have been as they came to know her sterling character.
And it is, of course, in Boaz's field where Ruth is gleaning when he returns from Bethlehem. He notices at once that something is amiss in his fields: a young woman is gleaning right behind the reapers, rather than modestly sticking with the other young women who are tying the sheaves. It goes against all the prevailing mores of modesty that a young, lone female would place herself among the rough company of groups of young male workers in this way, perhaps subjected to unwanted physical contact, as seems likely in the light of Boaz's subsequent orders to his men. Ruth may have converted, but she appears to know little or nothing about the finer points of law, perhaps picking up whatever stalks fell on the ground, which would help to explain why she was being harassed. She wouldn't know that according to the accepted interpretation of the gleaning law, familiar to all as long-standing custom, Ruth is entitled to pick up two fallen stalks left behind the tied sheaf; three were regarded as belonging to the field's owner (Mishna Pe'ah 6:5). It is clear that this form of charity had always been considered as a way for the poor to earn their daily bread, nothing more, by gathering what would amount to not much more than a sheaf or armful of grain stalks.
How does this prosperous landowner act toward the destitute gleaner who has caused a commotion in his fields because she has acted improperly? Not only does he not chastise her for her unusual activities in the field, which he has seen himself, but takes steps to protect her:
Listen to me, daughter. Don't go to glean in another field. Don't go elsewhere but stay here close to my girls [female workers]. Keep your eyes on the field the men are reaping and follow them [the girls who are tying the sheaves]. I have ordered the men not to molest you." (Ruth 2:8-9)
Ruth, overcome by his generosity, prostrates herself on the ground, and asks "Why are you so kind as to single me out, when I am a foreigner?" (Ruth 2:10)
This scene in the grain field, and the ensuing action (not all of which we witness but are told about), are essential to the working out of the plot.
Boaz tells her that he knows her entire history (but not that they are related and so he would have family obligations to her and Naomi), how she left the land of her birth to live among "a people you had not known before. May the Lord reward your deeds." (Ruth 2:12)
Later he invites her to lunch with his staff (surely unusual) and when she goes out again to glean, he instructs his workers to violate the law by ordering them to let her glean among the sheaves without interference no matter how many stalks she picks up; they were also instructed to pull out some stalks from them for her to glean, and on no account to scold her. His is a two-fold violation since justice demands that owners not show favoritism, equality before the law being a staple of Deuteronomy. His over-the-top generosity is revealed when, after she has threshed what she has gleaned, we are told that it came to about an ephah of barley, an amount that a biblical readership would have no trouble working out, while we might read this and be unaware of its implications. In fact, Ruth took away a ten-day supply of bread, in addition to which she carried away the surplus of what she had at Boaz's generous lunch, altogether an unprecedented haul for a destitute gleaner.
It is this action in the grain field, of Ruth's hesed toward Naomi and Boaz's hesed toward Ruth, that moves the plot forward to its conclusion and the fulfillment of the law of levirate marriage. What has unlocked his heart and pushed him to what are probably uncharacteristic acts of hesed is that he sees directly into Ruth's heart and he is overwhelmed. To him, the fact that she violated customs of modesty in the field and perhaps even violated law by gleaning more than was her due, is of no account. What matters, he understands, are her good deeds. This puts the law in a new light for him.
But we are not there yet, for, although generous to a fault, Boaz has confined his generosity to going beyond what is required of him as a landowner, but he has not yet fulfilled his family obligations. Now it is Naomi, who gratified by Boaz's kindness, and anxious about her daughter-in-law's future - the harvest is coming to an end - explains to Ruth that Boaz is a redeemer and urges her to nudge him into fulfilling his duty. What follows is the famous scene on the threshing floor, where Ruth goes beyond her mother-in-law's more modest sounding advice ("He will tell you what to do," Ruth 3:4), and boldly proposes marriage to the bewildered and flattered Boaz (he is older than she).
We see later that her selflessness and sense of loving duty opens even the most closed hearts. Before the curtain comes down on the last act, the women of Bethlehem declare to Naomi, now a grandmother, that "Your daughter-in-law loves you and is better to you than seven sons." (Ruth 4:14)
This marvelous biblical story teaches us how real people confront their obligations. It is not always a straightforward matter, given the complexities of human feelings. It is the example of Ruth, an outsider who stands above the rest with her pure motives, who moves those around her to fulfill their duties, and in this way the law is accomplished. She, moreover, comes across, not as a stick figure, programmed to "do good," but as a person whose passion seems very human, whose spiritual odyssey, as it has been called, seems very human. We not only admire her, we can try to emulate her in our own way.
Our understanding of Ruth is considerably deepened when we look at the text from the ground up, when we understand the central importance of the grain fields in this drama, not just as a backdrop, but as a living reality in the lives of very real people. *
Mark E. Mishainie writes from Baldwin New York.
Recently, while driving along a barren highway on a trip to Wyoming I stopped at a tiny town in the middle of nowhere that had a few dusty little convenience stores and a half rusted gas station.
There was a store on the lower floor of a two-story walk up building. It said "Jewelry and Chocolates" on the outside. Inside, there was a long set of rooms, half of which was devoted to glass cases of homemade chocolate and hot chocolate. The other half of the store was the jewelry shop, filled with cases of handmade jewelry.
I was immediately dazzled by all the beautiful Persian carpets on the floor. The chocolate shop was manned by a middle-aged gentleman with an accent I had trouble identifying. The jewelry shop was manned by a middle-aged lady with the same accent. She told me that she handmade all the jewelry while her husband made all the chocolates. They had a few teenage girls from the local area helping with the chocolates. "They are like our family," the lady said.
Most of their business, it turns out, came from tourists and tourist buses on the way to Montana and Utah and California. The tourists would stop here because the couple allowed them to use their bathrooms, and while they did the tourists also bought items from the store.
I told the lady how much I admired her Persian carpets and how surprised I was to find this decoration in the middle of nowhere. She laughed and said:
My husband and I have come here many years ago from Iran and we opened this shop, and we do okay, thank God. We come here because, we flee from our country because you see, my husband is originally Zoroastrian and I Baha'i, and they not like us in Iran and threaten us. Most of our families, they wind up in London, but we get here and that is a long story too.
The lady and her husband then took me to a room that was devoted to Baha'i prayer - a lovely tea room with couches where tea and cakes were served while prayer discussion commenced.
"We have Baha'i visitors who come," the lady explained:
They come from Wyoming and Montana and Utah. We pray for peace in the world and the end of violence and hatred. We pray for the unity of mankind.
I was immediately taken by the scene, and I bought some jewelry for my wife and chocolates (mostly to show my support for the couple). I then wished them Godspeed and peace and contentment for the rest of their days.
As I drove away, a thought crossed my mind: I live in America, a land of wealth and plenty where there is general peace; where there is religious and ethnic tolerance for the most part; where we can buy a home and a car and electronics; and where we can forget the problems of the rest of the world. But can we? Could I? Here in the middle of nowhere, I found the world and the terrible things that can happen that make people refugees and displaced citizens of the world. My conclusion: We can't close our eyes and make the rest of the world disappear. The world will always find us. *
This past year was the biggest test for the Affordable Care Act. And Obamacare failed miserably on many levels. From technological enrollment glitches to privacy concerns, Obamacare didn't gain many new fans in 2014. In fact, the government healthcare plan alienated more than it won over.
As the next open enrollment period approaches on November 15, the uninsured should think twice - actually 7 times - about enrolling in Obamacare.
Obamacare is fraught with problems, and citizens have the choice to stay away from this federal healthcare plan in 2015. Experts in the healthcare field were wary of Obamacare long before the rollout, and this past year has proven them right.
Those who are currently uninsured or want to change their plan can do so when the "marketplace" opens again and remains open through February 15, 2015.
There are seven smart reasons not to enroll:
Higher Premiums - The higher cost of coverage, due to new taxes and mandates, is unaffordable for many, even with federal taxpayer-funded premium subsidies.
Limited Choice of Providers - Many health plans offering coverage through the few state exchanges and the federal exchange at HealthCare.Gov have cut the choices of doctors, clinics and hospitals, creating "narrow networks."
Limited Choice of Coverage - Obamacare coverage options are HMO-like managed care plans offering federally approved "qualified health plan" policies. Catastrophic major medical plans, or true insurance, have been outlawed by Obamacare except for individuals age 29 and younger.
Privacy Intrusions - The federal government collects data on individuals, employers, and navigators from application forms, state databases, health plans and other sources to track and store data on household income, tax status, employment, family status, health, citizenship, insurance status, incarceration and more. Nothing is private.
No Private Insurance - Obamacare, which requires application to the federal government, is "Medicaid for the middle class" or, simply, a second-tier Medicaid program.
IRS Enforcement and "Clawbacks" - Most are unaware that they may be subject to expensive repayments to the IRS, or "clawbacks," if their status changes during the coverage year. Individuals must check in with the government exchange if a patient's financial or family status changes. Meanwhile, the financial accountability system won't be ready until 2016. Can you trust the IRS, accused of unfairly targeting conservative organizations, with your finances?
States and Insurance Companies are Dumping Obamacare - 39 states either declined to set up state healthcare insurance exchanges in the first place or started them and then backed away because of various problems. Likewise, at least one insurance company has pulled out of the government healthcare plan. PreferredOne Health Insurance, the insurance company with the most customers signed up for Obamacare in Minnesota, stated recently that continuing into 2015 is "not sustainable."
There are three legal ways to avoid signing up for government-run healthcare coverage altogether, which puts Americans' private medical data at risk, compromises care, ties the hands of medical professionals and takes more money out of Americans' pockets.
Buy private insurance outside of the government exchanges, such as a private policy, employer-sponsored coverage, or a private insurance exchange.
Pay the penalty tax in 2016 for being without coverage in 2015. In 2015, the penalty tax increases to 2 percent of net income or $325, whichever is greater - still less expensive and less risky than high government premiums.
Claim one of the 9 Obamacare exemptions, or one of the 14 hardship waivers. *
S. Fred Singer is professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and director of the Science & Environmental Policy Project. His specialty is atmospheric and space physics. An expert in remote sensing and satellites, he served as the founding director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service and, more recently, as vice chair of the U.S. National Advisory Committee on Oceans & Atmosphere. He is a senior fellow of the Heartland Institute and the Independent Institute, and an elected fellow of several scientific and engineering organizations. He co-authored the New York Times best-seller Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years. In 2007, he founded and has since chaired the NIPCC (Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change), which has released several scientific reports [See www.NIPCCreport.org]. For recent writings, see http://www.americanthinker.com/s_fred_singer/ and also Google Scholar. This article is republished from The American Thinker.
Since 2008, the Chicago-based, libertarian-leaning Heartland Institute has organized nine ICCCs (International Conferences on Climate Change). Norman Rogers (American Thinker, Aug. 9, 2014) has given a general overview of ICCC-9 (at Las Vegas), which attracted an audience of well over 600 and featured speakers from 12 nations. Here I present a more detailed and personalized account of the two main science issues that appear to be of general concern. The first has to do with future temperatures and the second has to do with future sea level rise (SLR).
When it comes to global average surface temperature, the concern seems to be to remain below 2 C. It should be recognized that this limit is entirely arbitrary. There is no established scientific basis for assigning special significance to it; it just happens to be the "Goldilocks" number. Here is what I mean: If one were to choose 0.5 ¼C, people will say "we've already seen that and nothing much has happened." However, if we were to choose 5 ¼C, people will say, "we'll never see that much warming - hence of no significance." That is why 2 ¼C may have become the alarmists' choice.
The real question relates to climate sensitivity - defined as the temperature rise associated with a doubling of CO2 (the definition varies slightly between different authors).
The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) initially claimed a very large climate sensitivity. But after the first Assessment Report of 1990, climate sensitivity dropped from 4.5 to about 2.5 ¼C. From then on, IPCC only considered the last part of the 20th century and no longer claimed the earlier warming (1910-40) to be manmade.
In my view, climate sensitivity may actually be close to zero. This means CO2 has very little influence on climate change - probably because of negative feedback. There is still debate, however, about what kind of negative feedback to expect: Should it come from water vapor or from clouds?
I want to critique IPCC reports #1 (1990) to #5 (2013). As a so-called "expert reviewer" I have enjoyed a unique platform for observing successive IPCC drafts. It is rather amusing that IPCC Summaries talk about increasing certainty for anthropogenic global warming (AGW or, in other words, human caused global warming), while at the same time modeled temperatures increasingly diverge from those actually observed.
We note that each report "Summary" is produced by a political consensus, unlike the underlying scientific report. (Doubting readers can visit the IPCC web site.) As Rogers points out, the UN mandate is:
Understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change. . . .
There is no mandate to consider any other causations, such as natural ones related to solar change and ocean circulation cycles - just presumptive human causes, mainly fossil fuels. The IPCC sees a human climate-fingerprint everywhere because that is what they are looking for.
Specifically, IPCC Assessment Report 1 indicates a climate sensitivity of 4.5 ¼C, by considering both reported temperature increases (1910-1940 and 1975-1997) to be anthropogenic (human caused). After severe criticism of this "evidence," IPCC dropped the climate sensitivity to 2.5 ¼C by considering only the most recent decades of reported global warming as anthropogenic. The earlier warming (1910-1940) is now considered to be caused by natural forces.
Having given up on anthropogenic forcing for 1910-40, IPCC then considered different types of evidence to support anthropogenic global warming for the interval 1975-2000. In their 1996 report, Assessment Report 2, Ben Santer "manufactured" the so-called Hotspot, a calculated maximum warming of the upper troposphere, and claimed it as a fingerprint of AGW. This is incorrect on two counts: The Hotspot is not a fingerprint of AGW at all; and, it does not even exist. It was cherry-picked from the (balloon-radiosonde) temperature record, where a segment shows a short-term increase while there has been no long-term increase - as clearly seen from the actual data.
The disparity between models and observations is striking. It nicely illustrates the major source of scientific disagreement - between those who rely on model calculations vs. those who rely on observations.
In IPCC Assessment Report 3 , IPCC no longer uses the Hotspot but have gone to Mike Mann' s notorious Hockey Stick Graph - claiming that, in the past 1000 years, only the 20th century showed unusual warming.
A close examination of the proxy data used in the Hockey Stick Graph shows that the warming was not unusual at all and was probably less than existed 1000 years ago - and that major warming comes only by adding the (reported) temperature curve from instruments. Note also that Mann suppresses his post-1979 proxy data, which probably showed no such warming.
Because of many valid criticisms, the Hockey Stick argument has now been dropped by IPCC and is no longer used to claim AGW. Instead, both Assessment Report 4  and Assessment Report 5 , in their chapters on "Attribution," rely on very peculiar circular arguments for supporting AGW.
Both reports "curve-fit" a calculated curve to the reported temp data of the second half of the 20th century. (This can always be done by choosing a suitable value of climate sensitivity, and an assumed aerosol forcing.) After having obtained a reasonable fit, they then remove the greenhouse-gas forcing, and of course, obtain an unforced model curve that no longer shows any temp increase. But they then claim that this gap with respect to the data represents sure evidence for AGW. This claim defies logic and makes absolutely no sense. They simply modified the calculated curve and then claimed that the resultant gap proves anthropogenic warming.
It is generally accepted that sea level has risen by about 400 feet (120 meters) since the depth of the most recent ice age, about 18,000 years ago. The best values come from coral data in the Caribbean.
The UN's IPCC in its five reports has attempted to estimate seal level rise (SLR) expected by the year 2100. These estimates have been decreasing, with the lowest values obtained in the draft of Assessment Report 4 . However, the final version of Assessment Report 4 shows slightly larger estimates.
Assessment Report 4  still produces reasonable values for SLR. But by the time Assessment Report 5 came around, we can see a rough doubling of both lowest and highest estimates.
We now look at the summary result (from chapter 13 of Assessment Report 5) in some detail in and pose the crucial question: Is there reliable evidence for acceleration in SLR associated with temp rise and CO2 increase during the 20th century? As we shall see, the answer is NO.
The first question one might ask of why does SLR suddenly accelerate in 1880, going from zero to about 7 inches per century (18cm/cy)? The answer may be that IPCC data does not agree with other data that show no such acceleration.
Next, why is there an acceleration shown at 1993? The answer may be that IPCC introduced a new observational method, based on Radar from satellites. But as cogently argued by Willie Soon, the new data set is problematic and disagrees with the traditional data from tidal gauges. The latter do not show any acceleration during recent centuries. On the contrary, some tidal-gauge analyses show a deceleration around 1960. The cause is not known but its reality has not been questioned. It certainly disagrees with the more rapid rise reported from satellites.
My best estimate for the year 2100 is a further sea level rise of about 15cm and continued rise thereafter of about the same value (18cm/cy) - independent of any short term temp fluctuations. In my opinion, there is nothing we can do about this natural rise, which will continue until the next Ice Age - when sea level will drop as ice accumulates in the Polar Regions and on glaciers. Meanwhile, we should follow the Dutch example: relax and build dikes.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
. . . says Psalm 8. Psalm 89 declares in verses 11, 12, and 14:
The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. You created the north and the south; Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name. . . . Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness goes before you.
Compare these songs of praise to God the Creator with these words of Philip Pullman, the atheist author of the best-selling His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy:
. . . if there is a God and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against.
Bertrand Russell, the 20th century's most famous atheist philosopher, speaking in a similar vein, declared in 1927:
The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men.
How can one explain these totally contrasting attitudes towards God? Why are so many Western intellectuals and opinion-formers not only unbelievers, but hostile unbelievers, who think that Christianity involves the degrading worship of power because the idea of God implies some kind of Cosmic Dictator or Hitler? Why, also, are Christians in this country so often lukewarm and apathetic about their faith, behaving as if relating to God was like dealing with a difficult relative or the Inland Revenue?
I have become increasingly convinced over the years that the main reason for these negative attitudes towards God is that so many people simply do not understand who He really is and what they owe to Him. There is also the paradox that many who claim not to believe in God are angry with Him because of the problem of evil. They blame Him for the suffering they see in the world and encounter in their own lives. Unpacking the truth that God is the Creator and our Creator, with all that this implies, is, I believe, the key to overcoming these negative attitudes. It is also the key to understanding what life is really about.
How, then, do we know that God is real and is our Creator? How do we know that He is loving and good? Answer: because the evidence for His existence and goodness is under our noses if only we have eyes to see!
Look, to start with, at the incredible complexity of our own human bodies. Think about our eyes and ears and hands, perfectly designed to enable us to see and hear, hold objects and use tools. Think about our digestive systems that allow us to fuel our bodies with food and get rid of waste. Think about our bodies' complex immune systems that protect us against disease and help us to recover from illnesses. Think, above all, about the "miracle" of human reproduction - how babies are conceived and then developed in their mothers' wombs. It is estimated that our human DNA - that incredible biological software system driving and directing the whole process of human reproduction and development - contains more organised information within every human cell than the Encyclopaedia Britannica! Is all this evidence of purposive design simply an illusion? Not according to Dean Kenyon, America's leading scientist in the field of chemical evolution. Abandoning his former belief that unguided natural forces could explain the origin of life, Kenyon now argues:
This new realm of molecular genetics [is] where we see the most compelling evidence of design on the Earth.
If we take our eyes off ourselves, and look at the animal kingdom, and the rest of Nature, what, again, do we see? The same evidence of intelligent design. We see it, for instance, in the migratory and nest-building instincts of birds. We see it in the extraordinarily effective navigational systems of bats and whales. We see it in the significant fact that our universe appears to be governed by a few simple laws of physics finely tuned to support life, and expressible in the language of mathematics. Do all these features of our world suggest that it has a purely accidental origin? I don't think so, and I speak as a former atheist. More to the point, many top scientists don't think so either, and they include Nobel Prize winners and former sceptics and unbelievers.
To quote one of Britain's most famous astronomers, the late Sir Fred Hoyle:
A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in Nature.
Another distinguished contemporary astronomer and former atheist, Allan Rex Sandage, dubbed the "Grand Old Man of Cosmology" by The New York Times, has publicly declared:
It was my science that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science. It was only through the supernatural that I could understand the mystery of existence.
Finally, let me quote to you the words of Dr. Arno Penzias, a Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist:
I invite you to examine the snapshot provided by half a century's worth of astrophysical data and see what the pieces of the universe actually look like. . . . In order to achieve consistency with our observations we must . . . assume not only creation of matter and energy out of nothing, but creation of space and time as well. The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses [including Genesis], the Psalms, and the Bible as a whole.
These quotes, and the facts underlying them, are surely an impressive testimony to the truthfulness of the opening words of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
The evidence that God exists and is our Creator, as Psalm 8 and many other parts of the Bible proclaims, is therefore overwhelming, but it is further reinforced by two other significant facts about human consciousness. The first of these is the very existence of the religious impulse in human beings. From the dawn of history, belief in a God or a collection of gods, and the instinct to pray and worship, has been common to all peoples and cultures. Why should this be the case if there is no Creator? Why should the unintended human products of a random and accidental universe, be under the illusion that there is some ultimate Power or Being behind all things? We experience hunger because our bodies are designed to run on food. We feel sexual desire because our bodies are designed for sexual reproduction. Is it not therefore likely that we have an instinct to worship God because He exists and created us to be dependent on Him?
The final piece of evidence pointing to the reality of God the Creator is the existence of our moral consciousness, our sense of right and wrong. The very fact that so many people disbelieve in God because of the problem of evil and suffering, reveals the existence within them of an internal moral standard by which they judge the world and find it wanting. But where does this moral standard, this sense of right and wrong, come from? If it is purely subjective, like our taste in clothes, it cannot be used as a credible argument against God's existence and goodness. If, on the other hand, it is an objective moral standard - an expression of ultimate truth - not something we have made up in our heads, this suggests that it has an eternal and non-human origin, and therefore points us to God as the divine source of our deepest and most precious values. In short, when we look at all the facts, weighing the existence of evil and suffering against the evidence of intelligent design and our knowledge of right and wrong, we are not confronted by the non-existence of God. Rather, we see a created order that is basically good but seemingly spoiled. Something appears to have gone badly wrong. Why?
It is precisely at this point that we can begin to see our need for the revealed truth of God's Word in the Bible, notably in the Book of Genesis. Since only God was present at the beginning of all things, being the Creator, only He can reveal to us the real truth about our origins. Only He can reveal to us how the universe, and all its living creatures, including human beings, really came into existence. Only He can reveal to us why things have gone wrong. Modern scientists, by contrast, are fallible human beings like the rest of us. They can only make informed guesses about this dim and distant past, since they were not present as observers and cannot conduct adequate experiments to test their rival theories about it.
What, then, does the Book of Genesis reveal in its first three critical chapters? It boldly tells us that God is not only the Creator of all things, but that His original Creation was good. It then reveals how evil, suffering, and death came into our world as a result of an act of disobedience to God by our ancestors, Adam and Eve, the first human couple. How are we to understand these famous opening chapters of the Bible, and their relevance not only to the doctrine of God the Creator, but also to our own lives today?
The first thing that needs to be said is that these chapters are not, repeat not, just an edifying fairy story. Whilst there are legitimate disagreements among Christian scholars about the correct interpretation of some of the details of these opening chapters of Genesis, they tell, I believe, a true story based on real events. I have three reasons for saying this.
First, in Matthew 19:4-5 and Mark 10:6-9 we have the testimony of Jesus, no less, to the historicity of both the creation of the universe and the creation of Adam and Eve. Adam is also named as the founder of the human race in the genealogy of Jesus listed in the last 14 verses of Luke, chapter 3. In Matthew 23 35, Luke 17:26, and Matthew 24:37-39, we also have the testimony of Jesus to the historical reality of both the murder of Abel (described in Genesis, chapter 4), and the story of Noah and the Great Flood, described in Genesis, chapters 6-9. Now if Jesus was only a first century Jewish carpenter from Nazareth, his testimony to the truthfulness of Genesis can be ignored. But we know better, don't we? We have the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels to the fact that Jesus performed many mighty miracles, was acknowledged to be sinless even by His enemies, and rose from the dead after His crucifixion. Consequently, as God the Son Incarnate, through Whom (before His Incarnation) all things were made, as we are told in the opening verses of John's Gospel, Jesus' testimony to the truthfulness of Genesis is authoritative. He should know since He was there at the beginning!
The second reason for believing the story told in Genesis about Creation and the origin of evil, is that it is supported by a great deal of circumstantial anthropological evidence. Nearly every culture and religious tradition in the world, including that of the ancient Chinese, has stories about one God, some original golden age, the alienation of humankind from God or the gods, and the destruction of an evil human race through a great Flood which only spares one righteous man and his family. If you want to see the evidence for this, and the scholarly studies supporting it, read the last chapter of The Long War Against God, a very thought-provoking and well documented book by the late Henry Morris, a fine creationist scientist and Bible scholar. I can also recommend other creationist scientific literature if you're interested.
The third piece of circumstantial evidence supporting the truthfulness of the Genesis story is the significant fact that human beings down the ages have always acknowledged a Moral Law which they seem unable to obey, a truth documented by C. S. Lewis in the appendix to his book, The Abolition of Man. Why is there this gap between our knowledge of right and wrong and our actual behaviour?
Only the story of the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden really explains this paradox, since it illuminates the whole issue of Who God is and what we owe Him. Let me explain.
If God is the Creator of the universe and of ourselves, what does this tell us about Him and our relationship to Him? It tells us that God is the source and fountainhead of all life, all love, all intelligence, all beauty, goodness, and truth. It tells us, to put it another way, that as Creator, God is life personified, love personified, beauty, goodness and truth personified. As such, God is the source of our being, the fuel on which we are supposed to run. By creating us in His own image, God has loved us into existence so that we can share His life and His love with Him and with each other, and do so, moreover, in a perfect and beautiful universe for all eternity. That was and is the Divine plan. That is what life is supposed to be about! And please note, at this point, the significance in this respect of the revelation that God our Creator is a unity of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since love always involves relationships between people, and God is Love - as the Bible tells us repeatedly - it makes perfect philosophical sense that the relationship of love has existed from all eternity within God between the different persons of the Trinity! And it is in order to be drawn into this Love, which has created all things, that we, and the whole universe, were made! That is why, on reflection, it should not surprise us that the first indication that our God is a unity of different persons crops up in Genesis 1:26: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness . . . etc.
What has all this got to do with the Fall of Man and the origin of evil? Everything! Because we have been created by God, we depend on Him like a plant depends on sunlight. Because we have been created in God's image, we have been given the gift of free will, since without it we cannot make that willing gift and surrender of ourselves to God, and to each other, that true love always involves. God has also given us free will so that we can create beauty, discover truth, and explore and understand all that He has made. But there is a catch. Our possession of free will gives us the ability to reject God and turn away from Him through disobedience to His will. And that is what happened in the Garden of Eden. By eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve separated themselves from God, and by doing so, gave evil an entrance into their hearts and into the world. Like plants refusing to grow towards the sunlight, the first human couple not only sinned by failing to trust the wisdom and love of their Creator. They cut themselves off from the source of all physical and spiritual life, and death - physical and spiritual came into God's originally perfect Creation.
How can fallen and sinful human beings be reconnected with their Creator? The answer to that question is provided in the whole of the rest of the Bible, which describes God's rescue plan. That is what the Gospel is about, and I don't need to explain it to a Christian audience. The question we need to consider is what are the implications of the theology of Creation for us today as Christians?
The first and most important is that we belong to God and we should live for Him. He ought to be the centre around which our lives, our work, our possessions, and our relationships revolve. Do you put Him first in everything?
The second and related implication is that the only appropriate response to God is obedience and worship. His infinite love, goodness, wisdom and beauty, should naturally inspire in us complete trust and adoration. Is it not significant, in this regard, that most of the world's greatest composers both recognised the existence of God and responded to His goodness and beauty in imperishable music? Handel did so, Bach did so, Haydn did so. So too did Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Dvorak and Stravinsky. "God is ever before my eyes," wrote Mozart:
I realise His omnipotence and I fear His anger; but I also recognise His love, His compassion, and His tenderness towards His creatures.
The third implication of the theology of Creation is that God can meet every need and perform miracles in our lives, and the lives of those around us, if we will only surrender to Him and let His will rule our lives. George Mueller proved this in the 19th century when he raised the equivalent, in our money, of 100 million for his orphanages, through prayer alone rather than fundraising.
The fourth implication of the theology of Creation is that since God is the source of all life, goodness, beauty and truth, He is present in all human activities that reflect and celebrate these values. His face can be seen and shown in the arts and the sciences, in Nature and in human relationships. Ask God to open your eyes and baptise your imagination, so that you can hear His voice in music, see His joy in the birth of a baby, glimpse His sense of humour when you see a cat chasing its tail, and see His beauty in the face of a lovely princess in a fairytale.
Finally, and most important of all, the theology of Creation should teach us to value individuals as ends in themselves, beings made in God's image (however marred by sin) with immortal souls and an infinite potential for good or evil. To quote C. S. Lewis:
You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
May these truths, by the grace of God, and the help of the Holy Spirit, renew our hearts, our relationships, and our lives. *
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
These simple lines were written by the early 20th century Spanish poet Antonio Machado. They can be translated along with the associated verse as follows:
Traveler, your footsteps
are the road and nothing more;
traveler, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
By walking the road is made
and when we turn to look back
we see the path that
will never be traveled again.
Traveler, there is no road,
only tracks of foam on the sea. (Translation by Armand F. Baker)
Many have read these lines before, and many have pondered their meaning. They were brought to my attention indirectly, when I heard a fragment quoted in Spanish by a character in Cormac McCarthy's screenplay and movie, "The Counselor." Ironically, in the movie the lines are spoken by the head of a drug cartel who is offering no solace to the protagonist - a man who must accept the unfortunate reality of his situation. Thus, I came to a well-known piece of writing obliquely, from an unexpected angle. But often it is advisable to approach reality from the side in order to achieve a complete appreciation of its exquisite complexity. Then we might joyously read between the lines. We should not expect to arrive at the truth by assaulting it head on: Reality is more subtle.
Contained within this verse are the essential beliefs of the poet. As with most good poetry, when approaching Machado, we are faced with a tangle of ideas and suggestions. Some are vague, and others can be felt immediately as we glance upon them. There are hints of something fundamental, a consciousness that is present just beyond our grasp. We try to unpack the hidden meaning by carefully considering every word. We peel apart the layers slowly. We must be patient, because reality does not present itself to the hasty. By mindfully casting the bright light of a naked bulb on our subject, we may know its contents. We must be receptive to the invitation, however. So I say, let your feet dance upon Luna, or upon the stars if you wish.
The first line of the poem tells us there is no prescribed path to the Promised Land. We come to understand that we create the road by choosing our steps. We cannot know exactly where this road will lead, because it does not exist except for the next step. If we turn to look back, we notice that the path we've traced is at once unique and universal. It is a slippery path, because tracks of foam on the sea are ephemeral. We must savor each moment, because no moment can be completely retained. But it is equally true that no moment is ever completely lost. When we touch something, we leave our mark on it. It may seem that others have traveled this way before, but no one treads with precisely the same footsteps.
The more we probe the words, the more they become full with meaning. Coincidentally, we begin to experience a connection to the divine spirit that runs through all things. The invisible heart that throbs at the core of reality slowly emerges. We come to understand that it is not a singular source, but that it is complex and interconnected. The whole feels the effects of stimulus of any small part. The sea that Machado speaks of is understood to represent the vast, limitless pool of consciousness from which all sensation and experience are derived. We are excited by the endless possibilities this offers, and maybe even a bit frightened by the sheer magnitude of it. Nevertheless, we seek to experience it.
Through deep and repetitive meditation, done in the manner of those ancient Ukrainian rosary-bead chanters, we may circle around the truth and merge with it. When we do gain a glimpse, it is a shuddering experience that socks us. We are momentarily immersed in the sea of ethereal love that we all yearn to return to, time and time again. We may allow the waves to carry us, to wash over us. It is nourishing to shed our individuality and commune with the vital energy that gave birth to all of us. It is an abundant spring of renewal that we may bathe in, if we so choose.
In another of his poems, Machado wrote:
Last night as I was sleeping, I dreamt - marvelous error! - that I had a beehive here inside my heart. And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures. (Version by Robert Bly)
Here we have the sense of the sweet pot of honey at the center of enlightenment. Yum! Delicious! It's there for all who wish to tap into it. And of course the image of bees humming around a beehive - it speaks of liveliness and fruitful activity. A beautiful buzzing it is!
When we taste reality in its unfiltered, natural state, then we know why we strive our whole lives to find that elemental medium. The urge is to hold it, to possess it, but it cannot be held, it cannot be possessed. Yet, once we learn to access the source, we may return to its fountain many times. Each time will be different. And each time will be satisfying, in its own way.
Machado's words sometimes feel slightly melancholy, because we all tend to want to capture a glorious moment, and hold it. We would love to be certain about the road ahead, and know that it will lead to a particular place. But at some level we know that the infinite unfurling is endlessly varied and unscripted. It is like a multicolored field of flowers in perpetual bloom. So the advice Machado gives us is to plunge into this sea, make some waves, leave a wake, and keep swimming. Sometimes we might take refuge in a lifeboat, but we always return to the sea. Sometimes we may even take a magic carpet ride, and then we return to the sea.
Machado also wrote these lines:
I never looked for glory nor to leave in others the memory of my song; I love worlds that are subtle, weightless and delicate, like soap bubbles. I like to see them painted red with sunlight, float under the blue sky, tremble and suddenly burst. (Translation by Armand F. Baker)
We all have the capacity to revel in the immediacy and energy of the sacred spring, while knowing the transient nature of experience. The road we travel is a journal of each individual life. It is a story with no end in sight. While we may occasionally glance in the rearview mirror to see where we've been, we keep making new entries in our personal diaries every moment. When we peruse these entries, we see ourselves revealed for who we are. And we come to know that the times of our lives are very much like Machado's soap bubbles. *