The Promise

Exactly 102 years ago today, Ottoman authorities arrested and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals and community leaders from Constantinople. April 24, 1915 became the start date for what the relatively few people who even know about it now call the Armenian Genocide. When the massacres and deportations finally ended in the early 1920s, about 1.5 million of Turkey’s 2 million Armenians were dead. That’s 3/4 of the entire population.

I wasn’t planning on writing about The Promise. After first seeing the trailers, I hadn’t even planned on seeing it until it was out on DVD. Then I found out that there were tens of thousands of negative reviews for the film online when it hadn’t even been released yet. That caught my attention, because often the stories people work hardest to silence are the ones it’s most important to tell.sometimes the stories people work hardest to silence are the ones it's most important to tell | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Having seen the film now I’d say that’s definitely the case here. And not only is it an important story, it’s a well done film despite what critics are saying. Continue reading

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It Doesn’t Matter Who’s President. What Matters Is How You Act

So the election happened a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, one of our candidates won. We all knew it was going to happen. Most of us wouldn’t have been all that happy either way, plenty of people would have been scared and upset with either outcome, and some few would have been dancing for joy when their candidate won because they honestly thought they’d be a good president.

My title is a bit misleading, I suppose. It does matter who the president is because that impacts the future course of our nation, how other nations see us, and the policy that affects every day life for many people. But now that Donald Trump is president, we have to live with it. He won fairly according to the rules set up in our country. If Hillary Clinton had won, I’d be writing pretty much the exact same thing.

But though it does matter who’s president, it is shocking to see how many people are taking their candidate’s loss as a personal affront and the way they’re vilifying other Americans who disagreed with them. If you supported Trump, you’re therefore a racist misogynist who hates Muslims and women. If you supported Clinton, you’re therefore an air-head liberal not in touch with reality and careless of society’s moral decline. And on and on we go, painting people we don’t know with broad bush strokes according to how we view the candidate they supported.

That has to stop. We are not our political parties. We don’t always vote for someone because we agree with all their actions or every view they hold. (Just in case you’re wondering, I voted 3rd party because I couldn’t in good conscience choose either Clinton or Trump. My alternate plan was not voting at all.) Some people who voted for Trump did so because they preferred his policies even though they couldn’t stand his personal morals and don’t share the bigoted views that have been associated with his campaign. Some people who voted for Clinton did so because they thought she was the less-terrifying option or agreed with her policies, not because they wanted a female president at any cost or permission to slaughter babies.

But if you go out and use Trump’s election as an excuse to harass a young black woman walking at her college or suggest a Muslim woman hang herself with her headscarf, then you become exactly the type of bigot that scares non-Trump supporters. And if you sit in your dorm room sobbing until you vomit or march around shouting that he’s not your president because you didn’t get your way in the election, you become the self-entitled liberal that disgusts non-Clinton supporters.

How you and I choose to act in response to the election results has become so much more important than who won and who lost. If we want to hold our country and the new president to a higher standard, we must first start by holding ourselves to a higher standard. Don’t want to live in a country where people are harassed for how they look, think, or worship? Then don’t go around harassing people who disagree with you and stand up against such harrasment whenever you can. Dislike the idea of someone being thrown out of your country for speaking their mind or living life how they choose? Don’t threaten someone else’s liberties of expression and belief.

It’s become startlingly obvious to people throughout America that there are plenty of Americans who don’t agree with us. Yet we still have to live together. We need to find a way to disagree without attacking each other. We need to figure out how to work together for a more united society while still respecting others’ differences. And we need to give our new president a chance to live up to his promises to “bind the wounds of division,” “work together and unify our great country,” and “deal fairly with everyone, with everyone — all people and all other nations” as we “seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.”

Whether or not you believe him is moot at this point. Encourage him to actually do it instead of pretending he’s not president. And meanwhile, remember to be the change you want to see in the world. Or, to quote Gandhi more directly, “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” Instead of adapting to the growing culture of hate, let’s dig deep inside ourselves and stand for goodness.

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Eternity Has Begun

“Eternity has begun for us.”

That phrase was used in a message on the First Day of the Feast of Tabernacles this year, and it kept cropping up in conversations and sermons throughout the rest of the week where I was keeping the Feast.

In my churches, we teach that people who are not called today will get a chance at salvation after the second resurrection. The books will be opened, giving them understanding of the Bible, and then after an unspecified period of time they’ll be “judged according to their works” (Rev. 20:11-13). For those in God’s household today, though, judgement has already begun. This is our chance at eternal life.

Eternity Has Begun | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Great Responsibility

Those of us who’ve responded to God’s call and entered a covenant with Him have been given great gifts of understanding. After we receive an invitation to become firstfruits, God teaches us “things which angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:12). The kingdom of God is a mystery that isn’t shared with just anyone yet, and for a very good reason.

And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:47-48)

The more someone knows, the more they’re accountable for. Today, God is working with a select few — people He knows can make it if they will truly follow Him and love with all their hearts, minds, and souls. Even so, we’re warned quite clearly that there will be people in the churches who think they’re serving God but still don’t “get it.”

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt. 7:21-23)

We can’t follow God however we want, even if it looks good from the outside, and expect to make it into His kingdom. We have to follow God the way He commands, and cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Run To Obtain

As God gets to know us on our walk with Him, He’s purifying and molding us into a “new creation” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). At the same time, we’re being judged to see how we measure up. Are we growing? Do we desire a relationship with Him? Will we submit to His headship in our lives?

In Matthew 25, Jesus says that when He “comes in His glory” He will gather people before Him and divide them into two groups. By this time, the judgement is already made — He knows who is a sheep and who is a goat (Matt. 25:31-46). When we stand before Christ, it will be too late to try and convince Him you really were a sheep who just acted like a goat sometimes. We have to commit ourselves to His way of life now.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

God isn’t going to make you or me a firstfruit just because we showed up for church. There isn’t a participation prize. Not everyone who runs a race wins, and not everyone who claims to follow Jesus will be in His kingdom. We have to discipline ourselves to run in a way that qualifies us to receive the ultimate prize.

God wants people in His family who are teachable and humble — who respond to His work in their lives and take an active role. Only God can transform us, but we can chose whether or not to let Him. We can choose to strive for “an imperishable crown.”

Judgement Today

 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. (1 Cor. 11:31-32)

The uses of “judge” in 1 Corinthians 11:31 come from two different Greek words. “If we would judge” — diakrino, to discern (G1252) — “ourselves, we would not be judged” — krino, tried in a solemn judicial manner (G2919). If we would exercise discernment and take a good look at ourselves, we would behave in such a way that there was no need for a divine judicial ruling to correct and motivate us.

There’s still cause for hope even when we don’t exercise perfect discernment in judging ourselves. God’s first response when judging someone is to give them a chance to change, not destroy them. He judges and chastens us as a Father does His children (Heb. 12:5-11). It’s for our correction and growth.

For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now, “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Pet. 4:17-18)

“The time has come,” Peter said, and that was almost 2,000 years ago. The house of God is still going through “a solemn judgement, a judicial trial” (Zodhiates, G2917, krima). God is looking at us right now, refining us and correcting us to make certain of our character. He wants us to fill important roles in His family, and He won’t give us those roles if we aren’t a good fit — it wouldn’t be fair to the people God’s family is serving and teaching in the Millennium.

Becoming like Christ is the key to our transformation from someone who would be judged as a goat to someone who will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We have to follow His example completely, develop a close relationship with Him, and learn to obey God’s commands. Hebrews tells us that even Jesus, “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). If God in the flesh had to learn and suffer, it follows that we will as well. Indeed, the context of 1 Peter 4:17-18 is suffering “according to the will of God” without being ashamed (1 Pet. 4:16, 19).

In a proper Christian context, trials are seen as a good thing because they are a tool God uses to bring us closer to Him. Suffering, chastisement, and judgement are part of the refining, discipline process of turning us into firstfruits. It’s meant as a stepping stone — not a stumbling block — on the way to eternity.

The Power of Fiction

Fiction affects society, for good or ill, often as much or more than real-life situations. If Charles Dickens had lectured about the plight of real-life orphans in London, would it have had the same effect as writing Oliver Twist? Or to use an example I see as very negative, would as many people have been obsessed with an essay about BDSM as they were with 50 Shades of Gray?

Fiction is powerful. We talked about this a couple weeks ago, but all in a positive light since I was arguing that fiction has value. It can also have a more negative influence as well, which is why I think both writes and readers have a responsibility to self-censor. It’s not up to someone to tell writers not to write a certain kind of book or discuss a specific topic, or to tell readers what they can and cannot read. But it is a good idea (particularly if you’re a Christian) to think carefully about the reading and writing choices we make.

Writer Responsibility

On March 31, 1750, Samuel Johnson published what has become one of the most famous statements in regards to the potential of fiction. While I don’t agree with his arguments against imaginative invention of the fantastic (I write fantasy, after all), this passage intrigues me:

if the power of example is so great as to take possession of the memory by a kind of violence, and produce effects almost without the intervention of the will, care ought to be taken that, when the choice is unrestrained, the best examples only should be exhibited; and that which is likely to operate so strongly should not be mischievous or uncertain in its effects.”

I think what Johnson is saying is that authors have a responsibility not to use the power they weld to influence their readers negatively. Responsible authors exercise a form of self-censorship, which doesn’t necessarily mean they shouldn’t talk about complex or even “bad” ideas. But fiction can be enormously influential, and authors should be conscious of the fact that what they are writing has the potential to fill their readers’ minds.

Writers of fiction set out to create a story that draws readers in, and once this happens the readers are under the writer’s influence. Johnson thought that, “the best examples only should be exhibited” so that there is nothing “mischievous or uncertain” in fiction’s effect. I don’t think we need to go that far, but we should be mindful of the power we have to influence readers.

Reader Responsibility

As readers, we should also be mindful of what we expose our minds to, remembering that we’re giving our reading material the opportunity to change or influence our thinking. I came across a great article titled “Self Censorship Better Than Book Banning” a few weeks ago about teaching your children how to make good decisions about their reading material instead of trusting the schools or government to ban “inappropriate” books (which will be defined differently for each individual).

This is pretty much what my mother did, though I wasn’t required to talk about every book with her after reading it (I usually did anyway, so she didn’t really need a rule). The only time I remember my mother taking away a book was when I broke down sobbing one day and confessed that I was having trouble dealing with the main character losing her father to cancer. There were a few other books that she strongly recommended I give up, and I usually (eventually) agreed with her. Harry Potter was “banned” in our house when it first came out, and that’s the only book I can remember being specifically told not to read.

It seems to have worked for the most part. There are books I wish I hadn’t read (and a few I’m sure that I really I shouldn’t have been reading), but for the most part I’m glad I had that freedom. It helped teach me to think for myself, which, to reference John Keating from Dead Poets Society, is the goal of good education.