A Meditation on the Wisdom of the Cross

flower star                       A Meditation on the Wisdom of the Cross

“Agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

That admonition from 1 Corinthians 1:10 sounds pretty crazy today, doesn’t it? And there may indeed be a touch of idealism in St. Paul’s words. It comes, however, at the beginning of the apostle’s homily on what he calls the wisdom of the cross. There is nothing idealistic about the cross of Christ, and only in that context does our text makes sense.

Factions had arisen in the community due to the cult of personality, and Paul has been chiding the Corinthians because some say: I follow Paul, or I follow Apollos, or I follow Cephas. Sectarianism, or what some today call grouping, had displaced the harmony that should have reigned among them. Yet instead of telling them what to do about that, Paul seems to drop the subject.

But he hasn’t dropped the ball. Ingeniously in 1 Corinthians chapters 1-3, he explains why the remedy for their, and our, sectarianism is found in the unifying cross of Christ. But they don’t get this, he says, because they are spiritually immature (1 Cor. 3:1-4). You can almost hear him shouting, Grow up, people! Stop grouping. End your sectarian divisions (1 Cor. 3:21) at the foot of the cross.

Prayer: Our Father, take what seems like an impossible ideal and make it real in our communities and nations. Grant us the grace to live the wisdom of the cross, the “Yes!” to unity in diversity.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Today’s Sons of Thunder and the Call of Jesus

peaceful water sceneDuring a church luncheon recently, I landed in a long conversation with new friend who is on a self-imposed learning curve about Christian – Muslim relations. He is reading what Muslims themselves think about their religion, currently in the area of what Islam teaches about love and mercy.

Driving home that afternoon, I found myself giving this Christian high marks for reading original sources. He is avoiding a number of traps. (1) Of making up his mind about Islam based solely the news media’s continual barrage of reporting on terrorism. (2) Of drawing conclusions without having read anything other than non-Muslim sources. (3) Of taking his cues from the diabolic rantings of the militant extremists. I’m hear to warn you that if those are your only sources, that militant radicalism may subtly, over time, begin knocking even the most well-meaning Christians off their stride of following the Price of Peace.

I don’t mean that they will suddenly grab a gun and start shooting. It’s subtler than that. For instance, and briefly, in a milder form, the path of military solutions to the knotty problems of backing down the appeal and the spread of the jihadis militant ideology has displaced the tough slog of inter-religious dialogue and what Chris Seiple calls relational diplomacy.   And in extreme forms, even some long-churched believers can now be heard singing “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.

All of this plunged me, not for the first time, meditatively into what it means to be an ongoing follower of Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace, and this day my thoughts turned to those of Jesus’ followers whom he knew as “sons of thunder” (James and John; Mark 3:17). I want to conclude this post with the text I reflected on, and leave you to do your own soul-searching.

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for him to be received up, that he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before his face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare [things] for him. But [the Samaritans] did not receive him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But he turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”And they went to another village.  Luke 9:52-56 (NKJV)

The Son of God is not the son of Zeus, Ares, the god of war and of weapons of war. He is Jesus, the Prince of Peace, Sar Shalom. Just as those two first century sons of thunder needed that rebuke from Jesus, and then had to think through and work out the implications of being ongoing disciples of Sar Shalom in their own lives, perhaps Christianity’s sons of thunder today need a reminder that it is not the militants that Jesus pronounced as blessed.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Christy Rush (permission via Creative Commons)


Islam at nightIn the wake of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris that left 12 persons dead, Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, declared, “It is a war against terrorism, against jihad, against radical Islam.” President  Hollande, Valls’s boss, was more measured. “Those who committed these terrorist acts, those terrorists, those fanatics, have nothing to do with the Muslim religion,” he said during preparations for the Paris solidarity March.

There is more going on in the two comments than at first meets the eye. It is not just that Hollande’s is more accommodating to Islam. The two French leaders contradicted each other. From 9/11, to the London Underground bombing, to al Qaeda in Yemen and Boka Haram in Nigeria and the beheadings by ISIS in Iraq, two incompatible views about the role of Islam have saturated political views, the world media, and local coffee bars. Islam is the problem. Islam is not the problem. The horrific and well-planned Paris attack has made this serious bone of contention hugely public again, including comments by leaders such as Hollande and Valls.

Broadly speaking, behind the contradictory views lies, on the one hand, the organizing principle of “inclusion” found in multiculturalism, which too often makes excuses for jihadist violence, and, on the other hand, a religious, political, and social fundamentalism, such as is found in strains of American Evangelicalism, which has a complete and uncomplicated identification of Islam as a violent religion. In the former view, Islam is not the problem. In the latter, Islam is the problem.

The real problem, however, is that neither argument fits the facts. At the end of the day, both leak like a sieve. They lazily avoid the hard and time-consuming work of acknowledging and addressing all of the relevant facts. That’s half of my conclusion after more than a decade of work in the areas of Christian – Muslim relations and U.S. – Middle East foreign policy. The other half is this: Although it is wrong to say that Islam is the problem, it certainly is true that Islam has a problem.

Part of my work has entailed extensive research into this problem, and I recently began feeling brave enough to collect my thoughts about it in a formal essay. Besides writing deadlines and related pressing work, however, I hesitated to start the essay because, heart on sleeve, it would not be easy to write, to aptly cover what needs to be said. I also thought that someone wiser ought to tackle this.

And then I breathed a sigh of relief after reading John Azumah’s essay in First Things. Well written, tightly argued, amply illustrated, and covering all the cardinal issues in just a few thousand words, the essay ought to be required reading. Azumah is associate professor of World Christianity and Islam at Columbia Theological Seminary, and his essay, “Challenging Radical Islam, An Explanation of Islam’s Relation to Terrorism and Violence,” brilliantly subverts both the “Islam is the problem” and “Islam is not the problem” arguments.

Another crucial service Azumah performs for us is this. He deconstructs the is / is not arguments in a way that leaves us at the end of the essay taking away a fair, balanced, and clear understanding of the problems that Islam has, and he explains why only Muslims can solve them. Further, he is well aware that when you point a finger, three more point back at you. So I appreciated his humility, which at the end of the essay addresses ways in which we Christians also need reform.

Enough said. Read Azumah’s essay. He’s spared me a lot of work. And as a fellow writer, I can tell you he worked hard on this one.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Image permission of flickr.com.

President Obama, Symbolic Power, Paris, and Public Perception

Paris march millions Every picture tells a story. Finally, instead of more excuses from the Obama administration about why the President was MIA among the world leaders at the Paris unity-against-terrorism March on Sunday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday afternoon that “we should have sent someone with a higher profile to the event.”

All day long Monday, images poured into and out of the media of the million+ people who had quietly gathered in the Place de la Nation Square to show the world’s solidarity for the victims of the Paris terrorist attack. At the head of the marching throng were pictured 40 world leaders walking arm-in-arm. But what many saw was: Where is the President of the United States?

Too short of a notice to get the President there, said the White House, given all the high security measures that would have been needed. It would have disrupted this important event.

And yet, there was British Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and the King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the others. Their security teams pulled off their attendance on short notice.

Paris march world leadersWorse, the scene lacked the presence of any top U.S. officials. That also stared everyone in the face. No U.S. Vice-President. No Secretary of State. Even Attorney General Eric Holder, who had been at a summit on terrorism in Paris that morning, did not take part. There were no senior cabinet officials either. Only U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley and her staff were present.

Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s “Global Public Square,” called the absence of top U.S. officials a “pathetic” mistake. I agree. “I thought this was why God invented Vice-Presidents,” Zakaria quipped.

It’s true that the states represented their by their leaders at the Paris march don’t give a wit about the symbolic “message of the missing president.” The U.S. has been, is now, and shall remain adamantly united with them in their anti-terrorism policies. These leaders know that. Certainly France isn’t fussed about the symbolic message. After the Paris attack last week, President Obama made it a point to reassure French President Hollande of America’s solid partnership with its old ally France on the anti-terrorism front.

Nevertheless, emotional symbols in foreign affairs, like doctrines and explanations, play roles outside the corridors of a state’s power, where they can evoke public responses that can settle in and alter perception. The Paris solidarity march carries such a high degree of symbolism that President Obama’s absence was a glaring image that negatively affected world opinion. For a state that lacks the street cred it had in the world before the war about Iraq, it was indeed a pathetic mistake.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Top photo, AP. Bottom photo, Reuters.

This Bad Weather Is No Joke

woman refugee caught in snowA personal note from Charles Strohmer:

Severe winter weather has now blown in, adding misery to the already desperate struggle to survive that is being faced by displaced Iraqi and Syrian families who have fled ISIS and are holed up in makeshift refugee camps, small tents, abandoned buildings, and other shelters. Please check out this brilliant piece of photo journalism put together by Alice Speri.

I began blogging about this crisis, here and here, before the winter set in, to help raise awareness and support for the Cradle of Christianity Project, which is providing immediate aid to relieve the misery. Please think about doing more than just looking at these images. Check out the story of how this this remarkable Project arose and see if it’s one you can get behind with a gift, prayers, forwards, shares, tweets, or more.

refugee baby caught in snow stormIt’s been very moving to hear from people who have said they wanted to help these families but did not know how to do that. We are here. They are there. There was no bridge. Now with the Cradle Fund there is. If you want to jump right to ways to support, here’s the page.

Thank you,


For more information. Like a growing number of people who are now following and supporting the Cradle Fund, here you can find many more moving stories and pictures about how the people are living in these stopgap conditions (from Chris’s blogs among the displaced families). Also check out IGE’s Facebook page and the above links as well.

Here are some FAQs about the Cradle Fund. Also Chris is providing personal updates from the region, including photos, on the IGE website and Twitter. Coverage of the Fund is also found at Christianity Today, CBN, and MPAC and Fox News.

Other posts and updates on this blog about the Cradle Fund: The Cradle Fund: Helpless No More /// The Cradle Fund: A Bridge for Shalom in the Middle East  /// The Cradle Fund: Getting Thousands Safely Through a Middle East Winter.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Images courtesy of Alice Speri and VICE NEWS.


SunsetThe evangelist Reinhard Bonnke recently ran a full-page, color advert in Christianity Today. He’s going to be preaching the gospel at a large stadium in Houston, and a headline for the ad read “America Shall Be Saved.” More gospel preaching across our land? I, for one, welcome this counter to the winds of unjust change that blow in. But I had to ask: Can “America” be saved? Advertising can be deceptive, promising what it cannot fulfill. An advert for the gospel should not do that. But this advert is misleading. Here’s why.

Years ago, when my wife and I were hosting a well-traveled British evangelist and his European wife in our home, Alan (not his real name) and I stepped outside into the warm air, where we wandered the yard and caught each other up on our doings. I heard about his evangelistic work in Africa and the modest success he was having there getting people saved. He heard about the “worldview and wisdom” teaching and writing I was doing those years. Eventually, as can happen with old friends on a lazy sunny day, we got to solving the world problems, and the conversation turned beefy for both of us.

I had been complaining about injustice and corruption in politics and went off on a rant about some law or other Congress had passed. “Not much anyone can do about it now,” I said. Sensing his moment, Alan had the answer: “I’d love to preach the gospel in Washington, DC. Just think how cool it would be to get all those guys saved.”

“But that wouldn’t solve the political problems,” I said. “Leaving aside the fact that we can’t save anyone, sure, what a miracle if suddenly they all got saved tomorrow! But let’s think about this for a minute. Let’s say that one Friday evening you held an evangelistic event for a full session of Congress, had an altar call, and everyone there now had their fire insurance. My question is: What do these pols do on Monday?”

“They go back to work.”

“Right. And what do they go back to work with? Pretend you had been preaching to all the teachers and principals of an entire school district or to all the journalists and editors that work for a corporate news network. They all got saved. Next day they would return to work in the same school system or the same broadcasting organization as the day before. What would have changed in either system?”

Here’s the dilemma. In our thought experiment, the pols themselves would have been changed deeply morally as individuals but the political system itself would have remained largely untouched. Sure, most likely some moral transformations in some of the characters would have resulted in some immediate changes. The Speaker of the House might have repented of adultery. A Senator might have resigned after confessing he stole campaign funds. A legislator might have stepped down because he suddenly felt a call to the poor.

But personal individual moral transformations, crucial as they are, do not remove corruption or injustice from the existing system that is its seedbed. So the pols in Congress would simply return to work with the same old system – the good, bad, and ugly of it – that was previously in place. What else is there? God forbid the government should come to a halt and force us to rethink it! No. No. A thousands time No. Just throw more money at it. Keep it going.

Congress in sessionIn an article he wrote many years before I was thinking about this issue, Jim Skillen nailed it: “Just laws and good public policies will not automatically flow from a renewal of individual ethical concern, and public justice will not automatically take care of itself if we simply concentrate hard enough on our families and schools and churches.”

Gospel-shaped moral transformations of individuals must lead to degrees of moral recovery not only of our homes, schools, and news rooms but of all aspects of society. If not, godly obedience is found wanting and the winds of corruption and injustice will blow into every quarter with increasing strength. In other words, a gospel-shaped wisdom will only influence society “by way of dedicated, purposeful action fit for each arena” – including law and politics.

“A republic,” Skillen concludes, “cannot be reformed apart from action by citizens prepared to serve their civic neighbors through laws and policies that do justice to all. Political renewal requires political action. Legal reform requires wise juridical acts and judgments. No shortcuts are available. Nothing human automatically cares of itself.”

Those saved school teachers and journalists and pols would have to move on from individual moral change to the long hard work of going back to the Book, and finding other wise resources as well, for helping to make the systems less corrupt and more just for all. But especially back to the Book.

Scripture, of course, doesn’t carry encyclopedic knowledge for answering every question that will come up. Not even close. But as a professor friend of mine likes to say: “Scripture may impinge on whatever is being tackled, so the right way to begin any investigation is to start by seeing what God might have to say about it.”

Will America itself be saved? Not just its people? Not by what takes place in Houston. Get everyone saved night after night there, and the song remains the same: “What happens the next day when?”

©2014 by Charles Strohmer