Is it the End of the World?

Is it the End of the World?

Good, Good Friday

posted by jfletcher

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”


Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8)

The Garden Tomb “complex” in east Jerusalem, the traditional site of Jesus’ death and resurrection for Protestants, is a lovely, park-like setting. Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, is not far at all from the small tomb cut from a sheer rock wall.

Discovered in the 19th century by a British army officer, “Gordon’s Calvary” fits in many ways the Gospel accounts of these iconic events. Just outside the present-day walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, the ugly rock cliff (not terribly high!) is only yards from the tomb itself.

Stooping inside the small doorway, one is struck by the coolness and, well, emptiness of the tomb. A narrow groove just at the base of the entrance could easily have held in place a large stone after the body had been set inside.



For pilgrims, there are places in the park to observe communion, to sit and reflect, and stroll.

Not all believe, of course. Our world is a churning chaos of competing religions.

For Christian believers, however, today marks the day that our Lord was crucified. He stood in our place to take the punishment for sin.

That is why it is called “Good Friday.” He bought us at great price, and His triumph three days later means that He has the power of life over death.

Not a bad thing to meditate on today.

Not bad at all.


Rebels Without a Cause

posted by jfletcher

Those who dismiss the late James Dean as merely a brooding, self-absorbed young actor miss the point, I think.

Dean, who evidently suffered both from the early loss of his mother and from abuse at the hands of a trusted clergyman, really was Jim Stark in many respects. The Nicholas Ray-directed film, “Rebel Without a Cause,” was the perfect vehicle for Dean to make a statement about American society in the 1950s.

One of the statements had wrapped inside it a more nuanced reality: American youth in the days of the American “space race” with the Soviets were caught in an existential “angst” that had been brewing on our shores since the late 19th century.MV5BMTg2ODcxOTU1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzA3ODI1MDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_


Enamored with the philosophy of naturalism as espoused by Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, and Herbert Spencer, American clergymen (incredibly!) like Henry Ward Beecher were bent on deconstructing the Bible.

Bizarre as this seems, it’s true. It left entire generations without a spiritual anchor, as they entered the shivering void without a belief in a Creator that cares for each of us, completely. And America’s determination to pass the Soviets in space exploration propelled even farther the notion that the universe is powered by the Impersonal Force.

Beecher in particular loathed the traditional Christian teaching that sin separates man from his Creator. In addition to preaching a completely new view of divine punishment — he denied its existence, as did Darwin — Beecher also embraced Spencer’s ideas on social Darwinism. That is, the precious few who are strong enough to advance society are superior to the rag-tag dregs of humanity, those who toiled so that the few could advance. This single line of thought drove such men as Andrew Carnegie, who symbolically shoveled the working masses into the furnaces of industry.


This view is diabolical, and diametrically opposed to the Gospel itself, which holds that the Shepherd (Christ) is completely committed to the well being of each of the sheep, that is, humanity. He will go anywhere and leave the 99 as it were, to retrieve the lost one.

Darwinism knows no such landscape. For the pure naturalist, random processes brought about everything. Nature simply moves along in unfeeling, unthinking fashion, allowing death and destruction (“nature is red in tooth and claw”) to steamroll the weak, paving the way for, in some sense, the advancement of the universe. No one knows of course what the ultimate end of such a landscape is; it might all burn out, or it might lurch along for eons.

Just as we cannot be sure of our origins, we more crucially cannot know where we are going.


And that is terrifying.

It was this basic framework of life, this narrative, that Jim Stark and his post-World War 2 band of rebels without a cause found themselves stumbling through.

Stark is angry with his parents. His mother and grandmother dominate the father (portrayed in excellent fashion by Jim Backus, later of Thurston Howell III fame in “Gilligan’s Island”). Watching Frank Stark bumble his way through life is painful, yet if that’s all we see, we miss the fact that he is simply a nice man who wants everyone to get along.

Jim needs more, though. Much more. He needs to know that someone is in charge, someone besides him.

We are all like that. When we put our feet on the floor each morning, if we believe that we are on our own, the tendency is to want to get back in bed and pull the covers over our faces. The world is too daunting to be met alone.


That, I believe, is the message behind “Rebel.” Stark, his 24-hour friend Plato, and girlfriend Judy each struggle with the absence of a healthy home life. They are, in effect, wandering in that cold void Carl Sagan was famous for intoning.

In fact, that one note calls to mind, for me, the most compelling scene in “Rebel.” Jammed into the planetarium at the iconic Griffith Observatory overlooking Hollywood, teens stare up at a dark mass filled with stars as a Dr. Minton (Ian Wolfe) warbles on an on about the fairly desperate environment each of us shivers in — that cold void of the universe. Here each of us suffers the ultimate terror of not mattering to an Impersonal Force that cares not whether we are ground up in death, or whether we sprint ahead of the other wretches for a few seconds in time, only to be of course swallowed up too by the specter of death.


Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory

One can see the palpable looks of fear and revulsion on the teens’ faces. They get it. They understand that if this version of reality is indeed true, then we are all lost. Muddling through only prolongs the suffering.

This is the net effect of Darwinian philosophy. And it is philosophy.

After the Scopes “Monkey Trial” of 1925, the grip of Darwinian philosophy began to assert itself over America. Bible-believing fundamentalists retreated into enclaves and left the spiritual successors of Beecher (such as Harry Emerson Fosdick) to spread what Francis Schaeffer would come to call a “Theology of Despair.”


This is what Jim Stark & Friends grappled with. Their parents did not have answers. Their teachers did not have answers. And they knew that they didn’t have answers. All sectors of society were contributing to the nihilistic worldview of history’s recent philosophers.

Dean reflected on all this during an interview before the film released:

“I think the one thing this picture shows that’s new is the psychological disproportion of the kids’ demands on the parents. Parents are often at fault, but the kids have some work to do, too.”

This was key, because Dean intuitively knew that each succeeding generation does not necessarily understand any more than previous generations. In our American culture today, especially among evangelical millennials, there is the feeling that yes, we have arrived at true understanding and have left behind our parents’ archaic Christian understandings of life.


James Dean’s “Jim Stark” was much more than a red jacket and white t-shirt. He was an observer of humanity, and for a brief moment, he showed us that if Dr. Minton’s view is the correct one — against the Bible’s portrayal of ultimate compassion and love from the Man from Nazareth — then all is indeed lost.

In point of fact, though, the Bible is defensible. Would that its guidelines for life and supernatural message had been taught to countless American youth these past hundred years. The Book tells us that we are all rebels, but the Creator wants us to bathe in the light of His love.

The New Testament writers believed that. They had simple faith, unlike the naturalism embraced by teachers who came much later. Paul, John, Peter & Friends preached a different reality.

A cause worth dying for.


The King of Zionism

posted by jfletcher

Each year, various groups and individuals seek to politicize the memory of Martin Luther King, on the national holiday in his honor.

So I will, too.

Perhaps a little-known fact about “MLK” is that he was a strong supporter of the Jewish state. In Israel, he saw hope for the future, and a sparkling democracy — though perhaps still fledgling at the time. His affinity for Zionism still inspires, and in some ways, puts his legacy at odds with some of his “successors/hangers-on” who today identify with the Palestinian narrative.

During the riots in Ferguson, Palestinian Muslim infiltrators (there is no other word) came alongside blacks with the message: “We are all brown-skinned brothers who are being persecuted by a ruling majority.” It was just another brick in the long road of Muslim propaganda, designed to dupe well-meaning, even legitimately persecuted minorities.


Soviet-style propaganda gained traction with “revolutionaries” like Yasser Arafat, who saw the value in duping Westerners, to support his macabre vision for the future…that didn’t include Israel.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not such a person. The Civil Rights icon was a clear-eyed visionary, and his discernment about friends and foes would have been a moral compass for his own followers, had he lived.

Other men forever linked with King include the Kennedy brothers, Jack and Bobby.

Israel exists as a sovereign nation in her ancient homeland, including Jerusalem.

Israel exists as a sovereign nation in her ancient homeland, including Jerusalem.


Both were admirers of Israel; a young John Kennedy visited Palestine in 1939; his brother followed after statehood. They recognized the potential in this new outpost in the Middle East, and both brothers had traveled extensively abroad, no doubt adding to their discernment about the world they would soon lead.

King, in that tumultuous decade of the ‘60s, said of Israel:

“The whole world must see that Israel must exist and has the right to exist, and is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world.”

He also understood the need for Israel’s right to self-defense:

“Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”


Interestingly, King foresaw a problem that seemingly plagues much of the world today (including, incredibly, some American evangelical leadership):

“When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.” His attorney, Clarence B. Jones, elaborated:

“Martin… warned repeatedly that anti-Semitism would soon be disguised as anti-Zionism.”

That in fact is where we are today, with even a segment of King’s modern community, clergy, being infected with such attitudes. Note the number of such people today, including folks like Brian McLaren, who will publish tributes to King at the same time they write often of their displeasure with Zionism.

For the record, Zionism is a biblical term describing Israel, the Jews, or Jerusalem, but in modern parlance it is more of a political term. Simply put, it is the game-changing idea that Jews have a right to settle their ancient homeland and remain a sovereign nation.

King understood this, which makes him a man for all time.


Kay Wilson—Choosing Life

posted by jfletcher

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the horrific Palestinian terror attack on my friend, Kay Wilson, and her friend, Kristine Luken. Kay survived, somehow; Kristine, a Christian, did not.

Their attackers targeted them because they were looking to kill Jews. Ironically, Kristine was a person who exhibited Christian love, yet because of mistaken identity, she was brutally stabbed and murdered.

I think, though, that of the many lessons in this story, there are two things that come to my mind:

•Kristine and Kay are the best examples of genuine love between Jews and Christians, who today fight a common enemy. Even in the Holocaust, there were a few Christians — “Righteous Gentiles”—who refused to turn over Jews to the Nazi barbarians. As a Christian, I love Jews simply because I do. There is no other agenda. They are a noble people, often besieged, but personal commitment to them is lasting.



•Kay Wilson, an Israeli, exemplifies power…the right kind of power. If I may say it this way, Kay symbolizes the good version of The Triumph of the Will. She doesn’t hate, she works for reconciliation and understanding. And she, slight of build and forever wearing scars from her attack, is also tough and undefeated.

Just like the Jewish people.


Below is an account of the day that changed two women forever. Hopefully, it will change many more, for we must understand our enemy and meet him on a multi-front war. Civilization is under attack, but ultimately, as a Christian, I believe Good will triumph over evil.

Here’s to Kay and Kristine!

“ISRAEL CHOOSES LIFE: Four years ago today Israeli tour guide Kay Wilson and her American Christian friend Kristine Luken were brutally attacked with machetes by Palestinian terrorists. During the course of the attack Kay stabbed her attacker with her small knife. She then played dead and despite 13-machete wounds and 30 broken bones, she walked a mile, gagged and bound until she found help. His blood on her knife lead to the capture of a 13-man Palestinian terror cell who confessed to the murder of Kristine simply because they thought she was Jewish.


“Today Kay’s story could have been one of bitterness. Instead, it is one of hope. She now shares her story worldwide as a speaker for StandWithUs:
‘My survival is a testimony to where hatred and incitement leads, yet my survival is also a witness to ‘choosing life,’ which is the mandate of our people. I hope that my story will continue to honour Kristine’s memory and provide a strong and necessary defence of my beautiful Israel.'”

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