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February 2012

Costa Concordia, Titanic, and the Last Days

Sometimes the spirit of an entire age is captured in a single event. Even better, sometimes the spirit of an entire age is bookended by two separate events, one defining the “before,” the other the “after.” Whenever this happens, it's a fine thing. It saves a lot of work. You don't have to read up on the entire age....don't you have a lot to do already? Just get your head around the two bookend events and you're homefree. Like Morgan Freeman said to Miss Daisy, "we don't have to worry about what's in the middle?" No. We don't.

 

Costa concordia sailing

 Titanic sailing

We have exactly this situation today with regard to the Costa Concordia, that luxury cruise liner that capsized January off the Italian coast. It's a nautical bookend. It's complement, the Titanic, also capsized, almost exactly a century ago, in 1912. The age thus bookended is the “last days”, as proclaimed by Jehovah's Witnesses. That age began in 1914 and is near completion, since we are “right around the corner” from the end of this system of things. 1914, you will remember, was the year of WWI, and marks the first time the entire world went to war concurrently. It was the year that events described in Luke 21:10 set off with a bang, and have intensified to our day. Odd as it may sound, that year is determined by biblical prophesy.

If ever there were contrasting events to illustrate the fulfillment of 2 Tim 3:1-5, they are to be found in these behemoth boats. Those verses of Timothy read:

"But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away."

In other words, the verses point to a general deterioration of human character. People have “gotten worse” during the last days. As Pop, who's even older than I am (and not a Witness)  readily asserts: the world is going “to hell in a handbasket.” But this is not necessarily easy to prove to one who thinks otherwise. It's subjective. If you show the verses to someone who doesn't agree that they apply more today than at other times, there's not much you can do about it. To some extent, it depends upon where you look. If you think in terms of technology, for instance, the notion of things worsening is patently untrue. One is reminded of that line from the 1968 book The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, “True, there has been progress in a materialistic way. But is it really progress when men send rockets to the moon, and yet cannot live together in peace on earth?” Some people think it is.

Still, the best chance we have of illustrating 2 Tim 3:1-5 lies in contrasting similar events occurring in different time frames. Like ship sinkings. Consider: after the Titanic struck a berg, back in 1912, the captain expedited rescue efforts, then went down with his ship. After the Costa Concordia struck a rock, in modern 2012, the captain, seen beforehand schmoozing up women in the bar, was among the first to jump ship. Titanic's crew, in 1912, urgently worked to shepherd passengers to lifeboats. Concordia's crew, in 2012, told them to go back to their rooms....surely this crisis would pass. With the 1912 Titanic, it was “women & children first.”* With the 2012 Corcordia it was “every person for himself.”

 
In short, all that was noble and self-sacrificing is replaced today with all that is cowardly and self-serving. That's the relevance of 2 Tim 3:1-5. Tell that to fatheads that can's see any change in people!

Even the big liners themselves seem to fulfill 2 Tim 3:1-5. Titanic, in 1912, went down majestically, gracefully, symmetrically. Concordia, in 2012, rolled over on its side like a huge fat pig and just lay there lolling in the sun, like our overstuffed cat does in hopes someone will scratch it's belly. People of the last days can't even sink a ship properly.

 

Titanic sinking

  Costa concordia

Okay, okay, so it doesn't prove anything, comparing the two sunken ships. It's pure symbolism. I understand that. But as symbolism goes, it doesn't get any better. I don't issue many prophesies, being a modest guy, but I'm comfortable with this one: James Cameron will never make a film entitled Concordia.

 

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*74% of the women on board Titanic were saved and 52% of the children, but only 20% of the men. (with major variations over First Class, Second Class and Third Class passengers)

 

Thanks to Aussie blogger Daniel for the inspiration.

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Tebowing to the God of Football

ImagesCAABPHPTWhen you mention some acquaintance by name, and your companion brightens because he knows the fellow, but then clouds over because your description doesn't match his, there's no mystery. It's two separate people you're speaking of, who happen to share the same name; it's not the same person at all. This is a no-brainer. The point is so obvious that's it hardly seems worth your time to read it or mine to write it. I do it anyway because of the one notable circumstance where it doesn't hold true....when the person we speak of is God.

In this case, common sense goes straight into the dumpster. When God is spoken of with markedly different attributes, different ways of approach, people do not say 'we're talking two different God's here.' Nope. Rather, it's the same God, we just approach him differently and think of him differently. Try doing that in conversation the next time Bob Brown is brought up.  Just try it. Insist that the fat bearded Bob Brown your neighbor knows is the identical squirrely little twirp of a Bob Brown you're speaking of, and that you both just approach him in different ways. Take note of how quickly you're written off as a dope.

Admittedly, it's not quite that simple. Trouble is, when we speak of God, everyone likes to assume that their God is the Big One, the One who is All-Powerful, the One who truly merits the capital 'G' in God, and not just an uncapitalized 'g', the same letter that is used to start unsavory words like 'garbage' or 'grunge.' I mean, no one wants to be stuck worshiping some low class loser of a god, and no one will admit to it. So it's not exactly the same as discussing Bob Brown, a name everyone knows might belong to a prince or a pig.

But it's close enough. After all, in Bible times, different nations worshiped different gods, and they all thought their Guy was the Big One. Note the first panel of that Charlie Brown strip; the roster of Gods back then included Mithra, Horus, Hercules, Zeus, and many others, as any Bible reader knows. Furthermore, it was understood that different gods had different attributes. When the fighting Israelites mopped up the hills with the Syrians, the latter figured it was due to Jehovah being a God of mountains. “Let's try 'em again on the flat lands,” they said. Alas, Jehovah turned out to be a God of the low plains as well. (1 Kings 20:23-25)

I'll take the old way of thinking any day. Different peoples worship different gods who have different attributes. The God of the Evangelicals, for instance, is a god of Football. I don't know how you can conclude any differently if you've watched Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos this season. Time and again, Tebow's quarterbacked his team to cliffhanger come-from-behind wins. Each time (and many times in between) he drops to one knee to thank Jesus. They say it's a verb now: 'tebowing.' Nobody, but nobody, 'praises the Lord' more on the football field than does Tebow. Is the Lord really honored that way?

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ImagesCA1Q31K4ImagesCAM9XC8S"When I saw him scoring, [the player who caught his 80 yard pass, clinching a 29-23 win over the Steelers, making for the quickest ending (11 seconds) to an overtime game in NFL history.] first of all, I just thought, 'Thank you, Lord,' '' Tebow said. "Then, I was running pretty fast, chasing him - Like I can catch up to D.T! Then I just jumped into the stands, first time I've done that. That was fun. Then, got on a knee and thanked the Lord again and tried to celebrate with my teammates and the fans."

The media eats all this up. ImagesCAP7G2RQThey love it. They take it all just as Tim means it, as a Feather in God's Cap, genuine praise for the Football God. After every punishing play (that goes well) he drops to his knee to praise the Lord.  All this in front of tens of thousands of fans. And the Evangelicals go nuts! “Players have been pointing to heaven when they score and joining in post-game prayer circles for more than a decade. And every time the limelight lands on a prayer moment, evangelicals are delighted,” says Tom Krattenmaker, author of Onward Christian Athletes. They're not embarrassed to be thus trivializing God.....they're delighted!

The guy wears John 3:16 painted on his eyelids, for crying out loud, as do many players. It's his favorite scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son....” A game or two before, he actually threw for 316 yards, and you should have heard the swooning and ecstasy. Evangelical fans, loudly thanking God for each and every spectacular play, have John 3:16 painted on their bare chests! Just once I'd like to see some player sporting Matt 6:5 on his eyelashes:

“when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen...”

Man, this stuff is offensive! How can anyone stand it? God is disinclined to do much about injustice, depravity and mayhem worldwide....all those things go unchecked....but he never misses a game, eagerly tweaking his favorite players on this team or that! How dare the Evangelicals link God with something so trivial! How dare they! Lemme tell you, the enemies of God are not to be found among the atheists. They're to be found among those who claim to be his friends. The only way I can keep from hurling my cookies on this is to point out that these guys are not worshiping Jehovah God at all, nor even his son Jesus. They are worshiping the god of Football.

And don't think I'm writing this way because I'm jealous over the attention Evangelicals are getting. Pulleeese! I'm not! Absolutely not! No! Beyond any ques.....oh, alright, I AM! I mean, c'mon! First it's the new cool don't-ya-love-me Mormons, now this for the Evangelicals. And what do we have?! Tracts featuring furry cute animals to hand out Sunday afternoon, knocking on doors, interrupting folks doing homage to the Football God! Give us something, please, so we can show that we're cool, too!2011 3 27 san diego 356 Even if it's Segways on which to ride house to house. That would work. I mean, we don't have to abandon the ministry totally, like everyone else does. We just have to take it into the 21rst century.

And please, please, please, don't think I have anything against football. I do not. Though, truth be told, it is sort of competitive, um...not to mention violent, two traits that can't rank it too highly on God's approval list. I suspect that, at best, God just mildly tolerates the game and those who watch it, reckoning it as just one more run-of-the-mill human foible. At any rate, I don't investigate too deeply, for fear that His disapproval may be stronger, and then I wouldn't be able to watch any more games, which I seldom do anyway, but why cut off your options?

It may even be that my only luke-warm interest in football stems, not from any latent righteousness on my part, but merely from my proximity to the nearby Buffalo Bills, our geographically closest NFL team. The God of Football has not been kind to the Bills for many many years....it has a way of cooling one's ardor. I don't know why He doesn't Treat them better. They also have players who pray to him. Like when ImagesCAAGI35WStevie Johnson dropped the game-winning pass in his team's overtime....it was a perfect pass, and it just flew through his fingers. So he prayed to God that evening, using Twitter:

"I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!!" the 24-year-old tweeted. "AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO..."

That's the trouble with being the Football god. You get praises from your worshipers on the winning team. But those on the losing team cuss you out something fierce.

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Tom Irregardless and Me    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

What We Learn From Earthquakes

240px-AlaskaQuake-FourthAvePreachers can' resist natural disasters as opportunities to beat people up. They just can't. See?.....they'll say, that's what you get....God's dishing out the punishment. You must have done something pretty bad.They won't agree as to just what that bad deed is, necessarily. Instead, they assign their own pet peeves to God, as though their gripe must be His gripe. Thus, when Katrina hit New Orleans, Pat Robertson right away said that God did it to show how mad he was about gays and abortion. Ron Nagin (mayor, not clergy) had no problem with God doing it, but changed the reason: God was steamed over America's foreign policy and treatment of blacks!

With characters like this, it's a wonder we're not all atheists! Perhaps the greatest public service Jehovah's Witnesses render at such times is to tell people God doesn't do it. He doesn't cause calamities. After all, why New Orleans? Why them? They're not exactly creampuffs up here in Rochester, either, but God hasn't smitten us. (though He has caused Kodak to flirt (quite promiscuously) with bankruptcy, humbling our once-proud city, causing that company even to blow up some of their empty buildings so as to get them off the tax rolls.)

Almost to a person, Haitians believed the quake that leveled Port-au-Prince (Dec 2009) was punishment from God. But Jehovah's Witnesses, preaching tent to tent afterwards, repudiated that preachers' pet notion and told them it wasn't. “We assure them,” says a local Witness in the December 2010 Awake magazine, “that the earthquake was a natural disaster and not God's doing. We show them Genesis 18:25. There, Abraham declares it unthinkable that God would destroy good people along with the bad. We also show them Luke 21:11. there, Jesus foretold great earthquakes for this time [“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;  and there will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences and food shortages; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs.”], and we explain that he will soon resurrect dead loved ones and remove all suffering.” The article goes on to relate the rebuilding work JWs carried out, both physical and spiritual.

But if God doesn't cause natural disasters, that doesn't mean they might nonetheless be a sign of the last days of this system of things. Just like the earthquakes mentioned above. Are they? And, regarding earthquakes, if God doesn't cause them, just why do they happen now in such numbers so as to validate Jesus' words? Has there really been a collosal increase in earthquakes? I used to think I knew. But I'm not so sure now.

However, it may be that in the new system, we'll have the good sense not to build in earthquake prone areas. Perhaps we won't build big cites, period...you've never seen a city in any of those paradise tracts, have you? Maybe we'll build with quake-proof materials and techniques....the Port-au-Prince Bethel, built that way, hardly suffered any damage at all, even as most of the city was reduced to rubble. Or it may even be that in choosing human rulership over God's Kingdom, people demonstrate preference for the government that cannot control natural disasters over the government that can. As we read about Jesus: "But they felt an unusual fear, and they would say to one another: “Who really is this, because even the wind and the sea obey him?” Maybe earthquakes will obey him in the new system, too. They don't obey Presidents, Prime Ministers, or Premiers, but maybe they'll obey Jesus.

Great earthquakes are right in there as one of the signs of the last days, even if we can't put our finger on exactly the cause. And I'm not dissuaded by full-of-themselves people who point out, with much self-satisfaction, that the “great” in great earthquakes is because of increased population. So? That doesn't mean they're not “great.” You think they measure things up there by the Richter scale? Might it be human suffering that triggers the “great?” Nor am I impressed when they carry on about how “better news coverage only means we're aware of earthquakes more than we used to be.” Nah.....that might be the case if we were tracking “earthquakes,” but we're not. We're tracking “great earthquakes.” A “great earthquake” always makes it's presence known, even if you don't have satellite TV.

But you have to keep up with changing times. You don't go plotting earthquakes on your world map time line trying to prove that they once were scarcer than hen's teeth, whereas now they shake things up every time you turn around.  It may not be that way. “The U.S. National Earthquake Information Center reports that earthquakes of 7.0 magnitude and greater remained "fairly constant" throughout the 20th century,” writes Awake! of 2002 March 22 p.9. “Note, though, that the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy does not require an increase in the number or power of earthquakes. All Jesus said was that there would be great earthquakes in one place after another. Furthermore, he stated that these events would mark the "beginning of pangs of distress." (Matthew 24:8) Distress is measured, not by the number of earthquakes or how they rate on the Richter scale, but by the effect that they have upon people."

Or take this excerpt from the Watchtower 2011 May 1 p.4:

The Bible does not emphasize the number of earthquakes during the last days. However, it does say that great earthquakes will occur in one place after another, making them one of the notable features of this momentous period of history.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? [this is a subheading, and subheadings are capitalized] Are we seeing great earthquakes, just as the Bible foretold? Earthquakes alone may not seem to be conclusive evidence that we are living in the last days. Yet, they are only one prophecy that is being fulfilled."

I've even heard some grousing from grousers that these quotes represents substantial JW toning down of prior statements regarding earthquake activity. Nah. All it shows is we're keeping up with advancing knowledge. What's wrong with that? We do it in the fields of earth geology and life development. Why not here?

In some ways, Jehovah's Witnesses are like the Lord impaled between two thieves, only in this case the thieves are so intractably opposed to one another that if you please one, you infuriate the other. If you do anything to keep up with advancing knowledge....a commendable feat in any other discipline....you incur the wrath of religionists, who accuse you of flip-flopping. And if you stay the course in any way, you tick off the scientists, who take for granted that when they say “jump,” you and everyone else ought to respond (and make it snappy!) “how high?”

Okay, okay, I'll back down a little on increased earthquake activity. But I'm sure not going to do it with regard to increased natural disasters. The ground is firmer here, practically quake-proof. For instance, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his 2012 State of the State address, observed that, while he didn't want to get into a debate on global warming.....is it or is it not happening?......“100 year floods are now happening every two years, so something is clearly happening.” I heard him. It's not in the printed transcript; like any decent speaker, Cuomo speaks extemporaneously a lot, and his speech was engrossing, whereas the transcript itself is a little dull, a bit like reading Cliff notes. So you'd have to dredge up his speech on YouTube. Someone must have put it there.

So....let's do natural disasters as the next topic.

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