Sunday, February 12, 2012

A forgotten story from Second Kings

The first lesson this morning was the story of Naaman the Syrian leper. It’s an old favorite.

Naaman, a general in the Aramean army sends to the King of Israel for a miraculous healing. The king sees Naaman’s approach as a means of picking a fight. Elijah comes to the king and saves the day. It’s a great story focusing on the healing power of Israel’s God and the duty of obedience. That is as least part of the message.

When we read the lesson in church we generally stop with Naaman declaring the greatness of Israel’s God.

It’s a shame we don’t read further. There is another interesting story that follows on the heels of the Naaman story: the story of Gehazi, the servant of Elisha (2 Kings 5:20 – 27).

When Naaman is healed of his leprosy he attempts to pay off Elisha with part of his “ten talents of silver, six thousands shekels of gold and ten sets of garments.” Elisha refuses. Naaman then requests soil from Israel in order to have a proper sacrificial site in Aram.

But after Naaman leaves Elisha, Elisha’s servant Gehazi chases him down and convinces Naaman to give a proper tribute to Elisha: a talent of silver and two fancy suits. Then he lies to the prophet (never a wise thing to do). As a consequence of his greed, Gehazi is cursed with leprosy.

How have I missed this lovely little story all these years?

And what would the prosperity gospel, give to get, preachers say about this? If God wanted to bestow riches upon his faithful servants, wouldn’t Elisha be toward the front of the line? And why would Gehazi be cursed for his greed? The idea that God gives goodies to the children in response to their faithful sowing the seeds of faith seems to me to be belied by the story of Elisha and Gehazi. But I think the whole prosperity Gospel is nonsense anyway.

Thoughts on Iran

Just saw one of the many Israel may bomb Iran sequences on “Weekend with Alex Witt.”

What I’m not clear about in this is why Iran, if they had an atomic bomb, would have any credible threat to use it on Israel.

First, atomic bombs aren’t able to pick out individuals by religion and kill only Jews (or only Jews and the few Christians left in Israel). So if they were to bomb Israel they’d be killing lots of Palestinians and other Arabic, Muslim believers along with the Jews.
Second, the idea of “assured mutual destruction” that kept the Cold War from ever going hot would seem to apply to Iran. If it ever bombed Israel, both Israel and its allies would return the strike many fold, causing far more destruction and death in Iran than Iran could cause in Israel.

It does not seem to me that there is a realistic threat of Iran getting a nuclear weapon and being in a position to actually use it. No matter how wild the rhetoric, the reality is that nation states tend to act mostly in their own best interests. Perhaps toning down the rhetoric from the world outside Iran would be a good idea. Maybe if Iran didn’t feel that they were threatened on all sides (as Juan Cole pointed out) they might respond differently. If I were Iranian, I’d feel that my country was threatened by outside interests who had installed a repressive regime in the past and looked like it wanted to do so again.

This is too reminiscent of the warm up for the Iraq invasion. Bellicosity cost us a trillion dollars and left two weak regimes in power surrounded by civil war. Attacking Iran would just solidify the mullahs and fail to stop the enrichment of uranium. Maybe we should try serious diplomacy and stop rattling the sabres.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Is This Me?

Every time I pass a mirror and look in it, this is what I see.

I shaved the beard last Saturday, and most of the hair on my head is gone. I still have all the other body hair, including most of my eyebrows. I think I've lost my eyelashes.

I look more like my father, even more like my late uncle Viktor. I never knew Viktor, but I've always felt there was a strong resemblance between him and my father - but Viktor had a narrower, less rounded face.

What I don't look like is me. I haven't been without a beard since 1993 -- when I played the role of Charlie Brown in our congregation's little theatre production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." I had hair on my head then, but no beard.

Now, no beard, no hair. It'll grow back, I'm told. But having been bald for so many years, loss of hair is the least of my worries.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Something I Don't Understand

The conservative right in this country gets to have its conscience stroked by objecting to abortion and demanding that none of its contributions to charity nor its tax money be used to fund abortions.

How come I don't get my morals paid attention to? I object to drones bombing innocent civilians. I don't want my tax money used for a "missile defense shield" that fails to work and seems to violate treaties. I object to my tax money being used to target scientists in Iran for assassination. This isn't a political position, this is a moral position.

Or as a bumper sticker bit of theology puts it, "When Jesus said 'love your neighbor' I'm pretty sure he meant don't kill them."