The 21– Muhammad’s answer to the people of the cross…

“Life itself, without faith, would have been worthless to them. It would be mere existence–
an existence more lowly than that of the animals, for animals are perfect in and of themselves, but humans are imperfect;
their aim for perfection requires divine assistance.”

Martin Mosebach author of the book The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs


(book cover)

My friends at Plough Publishing have gifted me with another tantalizing morsel
book for perusal and review.
Well, my publishing friend actually was offering several books for sharing but I requested the hard copy of
but one book—
The 21.

It is the story of those murdered and martyred Egyptian Copts on a Libyan seaside in 2015,
at the hands of ISIS—a story that continues to haunt me.

And it seems that I am not alone in feeling haunted by the memory of this heinous act.
The German author, Martin Mosebach is haunted as well.

Obviously, in order to delve into the story, Mr. Mosebach watched the full video of the beheadings
that was still floating around out there somewhere in cyberspace…that odd juxtaposition of
both space and time where nothing seems to die despite any and all humans involved either eventually
or having long since died.

At the time, as well as now, I did not nor do I care to watch such.

There have been many highly publicized videoed beheadings…
all carried out in the name of Allah by ISIS over past 5 or 6 years, but I have not watched them.

And yet oddly millions have been drawn to watching as if having bought a ticket to some macabre
Hollywood blockbuster…mesmerized by the unthinkable…
The unthinkable of one human being ending the life of another human being–
A life that is literally being held in the hands of an executioner…
or better put, a life’s head pulled up by the hair, all in order to sever the neck and eventually
the head more readily from its body.

Mosebach notes in his book how the original ISIS video actually cut away from what became an extended
as well as messy time the executioners were having in literally cutting the heads from the bodies…
not neat and quick as say the swift effortless job of a guillotine.
And it was very apparent that for the sake of the video’s shock value and propaganda,
the executioners desperately needed, as well as wanted, to look as professional, in control
and as efficient as possible.

A messy beheading can give the impression of being amateurish and ISIS wants nothing
to do with appearing amateurish or not being in complete control—as that feeds into their
desire to always appear large and in charge.

After watching the video and studying the odd camera image of the captors marching their
prisoners to the shoreline while appearing as black-clad giants
next to their captives who were wearing the unmistakable orange jumpsuits reminiscent of the Islamic
prisoners at Gitanomao, as each captive appeared small and less than–

Mosebach was moved by the posturing of the captors mirrored by the near emotionless
and oddly resigned yet the serene sense of their captives.
Prayers could be seen and heard flowing from the lips of the captives as well as the offered
praise for Jesus Christ despite knowing their fate was soon to be grisly.
There were no cries for mercy or of fear …but only controlled prayers to Jesus.

Early in the book Mosebach wonders aloud whether or not martyrdom and Christianity must
always go hand in hand…as he inquisitively muses
“as long as there are Christians there will also be martyrs?”

Mosebach knew that he must make his way to Egypt to visit the
homes and families of these martyred men.
And that he desperately needed to know more about the Copts and the Coptic faith.

The Copts are as old as Christianity itself–for they are some of the earliest known followers
of the Christian faith. Coptic actually means Egyptian—so these are Egyptian Christians.
They originated in the city of Alexandria and claim the author of the book of Mark,
that being John Mark, as their founder and first ‘bishop.’

Long before there was a Latin West or Eastern faith, long before there was
an East and West spilt in the faith, there were the Copts.

According to gotquestions.com,
Prior to the “Great” East/West Schism of A.D. 1054,
the Coptics were separated from the rest by the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451.
The council met to discuss the Incarnation of Christ and declared that Christ was
“one hypostasis in two natures” (i.e., one person who shares two distinct natures).
This became standard orthodoxy for Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic,
and Protestant churches from then on Coptic understanding is that Christ is one nature from two natures:
“the Logos Incarnate.”
In this understanding, Christ is from, not in, two natures: full humanity and full divinity.
Some in the Coptic Orthodox Church believe that their position was misunderstood at
the Council of Chalcedon and take great pains to ensure that they are not seen as Monophysitic
(denying the two natures of Christ), but rather “Miaphysitic”
(believing in one composite/conjoined nature from two).
Some believe that perhaps the council understood the church correctly,
but wanted to exile the church for its refusal to take part in politics or due to the rivalry
between the bishops of Alexandria and Rome.
To this day, 95 percent of Christians in Alexandria are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

It is interesting to note that when the Coptics were under the rule of the Roman Empire,
they suffered severe persecution and death for their steadfast faith and beliefs in Christ while
refusing to worship emperors. However, by A.D. 641,
yet another tribulation began when the Arab conquest took place,
overthrowing the Romans’ rule in Egypt and, at first, relieving the Coptic Church from persecution.
What appeared to be their liberty and freedom became yet again bondage.
The societal strength and control of the Arabs caused the Coptics to endure a major language and
culture change as well as confront the Islamic faith. Unfortunately,
over the centuries, Christianity lost foothold and most Coptics converted to Islam.

I am only to page 26 in the story and Mosebach has not yet traveled to Egypt—
so I am hopeful to read a story rich in history, Faith, resilience, forgiveness and above all Hope—
Hope despite the choking backdrop of Evil.

Some of his words prick the skin.
I find it difficult reading the words written by those who are not Americans…
those who write about America and our politics…
words about our leaders, our actions, our lack of action,
our complications in world affairs…
because like most Americans, I like to think our hearts are in the right place but I also know that
our National actions and reactions are deeply complicated by our politics.
Actions and reactions that fail not only our hearts and our people but fail those of our world.

I think as Americans we tend to feel a responsibility, albeit it a false responsibility, to
make the world a better place and to be the quintessential Superman for those in need.
We sometimes fail…we fail others and we fail ourselves.
So it does hurt reading the words of those who keenly notice.
But as they say, the truth can often hurt.

Throughout his quest, while seeking truth and information, Mosebach is moved by what he
actually does find…
that being a deeply sincere forgiveness found in the hearts of the Copts.
A century’s long-oppressed people who can find the capacity to truly forgive those
who have brutally killed their own families.

Unlike those of the Islamic State who seek misguided bloody, torturous and grisly revenge…
the Copts literally embrace the words of Christ…to forgive one’s enemies, no matter what.
For it is in forgiveness that we find our true liberation and hope.

Their faith goes beyond what we think of Christianity in the West.
That of an ever-growing, feel good wannabe that is polarizing and lukewarm at best.

The Copts seem to understand that our Faith transcends this earth.
Life on this earth is a blink of an eye that matters not…what matters is Christ and Christ alone.
Nothing more, nothing less.

I’ll offer more as I progress as time allows but for now, I will leave us with the
words of Mr. Mosebach…

Much as the brutal nature of their deaths and the firmness,
even stubbornness with which they confessed their faith seem to match one another in context,
we find their fate equally eerie.
Hasn’t the Western world, with its openness toward discussion and dialogue,
long since overcome such life-threatening opposites?
We live in an era of strict religious privatization and want to see it
subjected to secular law.
Society seems to have reached a consensus to reject proselytizing and religious zeal.
Hadn’t all that put an end to the merciless, all-or-nothings alternatives or believe or leave,
renounce your faith or die?

Here is a link to Christianity Today and a story about the Copts and forgiveness.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/april/forgiveness-muslims-moved-coptic-christians-egypt-isis.html

culpability

“Alas, human vices, however horrible one might imagine them to be,
contain the proof (were it only in their infinite expansion) of man’s longing for the infinite;
but it is a longing that often takes the wrong route.
It is my belief that the reason behind all culpable excesses lies in this
depravation of the sense of the infinite.”

Charles Baudelaire

16-truman.w529.h352.2x
(Truman Library)

Any one of a certain age is no doubt familiar with the images of President Harry Truman and of his famous sign, kept on his desk in his office, within the Oval Office.

The Buck Stops Here

President Truman came into office wearing a very heavy mantle weighted down by grave responsibility.

The Nation was wading through the throws of WWII, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the longest serving US president, had died suddenly in office, resulting in Harry Truman, who was the current vice president, being sworn into the highest office in the land.

It was Harry Truman who had the final word in the decision to bomb Japan…
A decision which decisively ended the war…
Yet it was to be a haunting decision laced with grave and costly repercussions for generations to come…

However it is not to nuclear weaponry or WWII that I wish to cast today’s thoughts but rather to that solitary desk plaque.

The Buck Stops Here.

We all know what it means.
We all expect our leaders, as well as anyone charged with the responsibility of overseeing others, to know what it means.

On more than one occasion President Truman referred to the desk sign in public statements. For example, in an address at the National War College on December 19, 1952 Mr. Truman said, “You know, it’s easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done, after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you — and on my desk I have a motto which says The Buck Stops Here’ — the decision has to be made.”
In his farewell address to the American people given in January 1953, President Truman referred to this concept very specifically in asserting that,
“The President–whoever he is–has to decide.
He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him.
That’s his job.”

(Excerpt taken from the Truman Library)

Meaning that a leader, a person in charge of other people, a person who is to cast definitive decisions and choices which effect others is to be the last and final word…
and that in turn, he or she must live with that final word…as in own that final word.

People who where the buck stops can either be lauded for their decisions or held culpable when those decisions run amuck.

Wikipedia states that the word Culpability means…

A person is culpable if they cause a negative event and
(1) the act was intentional;
(2) the act and its consequences could have been controlled (i.e., the agent knew the likely consequences, the agent was not coerced, and the agent overcame hurdles to make the event happen); and
(3) the person provided no excuse or justification for the actions.[1]

Culpability descends from the Latin concept of fault (culpa). The concept of culpability is intimately tied up with notions of agency, freedom, and free will. All are commonly held to be necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for culpability.

Today’s news has been rife with the latest findings from the various “powers that be” committees, those of men and women tasked with the Congressional reports, which are being issued regarding the Benghazi Embassy attack.

In that fateful 2012 attack, in which four Americans–the US Ambassador, an informations officer and two CIA operatives, were maliciously and brutally killed, the Obama Administration has been found guilty of being “lax” in providing the necessary security for the Embassy. The Administration was also cited for being slow to send in military response to defend the deadly attack.
An attack which Americans were helpless to prevent and stave off.

Culpability….

The deaths of these four Americans were brutal to say the least.
When the Embassy was overtaken, Ambassador Stevens was seized by the militants and was sexually assaulted, his body mutilated, cattle prodded and burned before being paraded through the streets where he was left for dead.

In announcing the conclusion of the committee’s investigation, chairman Trey Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina, said: “Nothing was en route to Libya at the time the last two Americans were killed almost eight hours after the attacks began.”
US help was too slow because of “an obsession with hurting the Libyans’ feelings,” he said.

(BBC)

Americans were brutally tortured and murdered…their bodies were savagely desecrated because…
an Administration didn’t want to hurt feelings….

Culpability.

Secretary of State Clinton has been cleared in the latest report of any wrong doing although the administration of which she was a pivotal member has been found to be negligent concerning the attack and subsequent deaths of these four Americans by its overtly slow response to the intel concerning the growing animosity toward the Americans in Libya at that time, especially regarding Benghazi’s unrest…in particular, that of the Embassy, as well as being too slow to send in military reinforcements once the attack was under way.

This is a story that has left me deeply troubled since first being reported.
However my troubled mind and heart pales in comparison to that of the families of these victims….
The wives, the children, the mothers, the fathers, the brothers, the sisters….

And now that time has passed, and millions of dollars have been spent “investigating,” while leaders and people who, where the buck should have stopped, have instead gone on with their lives, their campaigns, their jobs, trying to forget…seemingly trying to ignore this awful attack that was and remains so bad and so heinous…pretending that it never took place… we’re all left wondering….

Maybe President Truman’s sign needs to be returned to the Oval Office….

Onward Christian Soldier

Onward, Christian soldiers,
marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
going on before!
Christ, the royal Master,
leads again the foe;
Forward into battle,
see his banner go!

Openning stanza to the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers
lyrics by the Englishman Sabine Baring-Gould 1865

DSCN0255
(stainglass window of St George, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
II Timothy 2:3

Christianity to the non believer, as well as to many of the faithful, must appear to be a faith of conjecture.

On the one hand we are reminded to be like minded with Christ… to forgive without ceasing…70 times 7…
We are to be peace minded when attacked by offering the other cheek, our cloak, our possessions…
We are the followers of the “Sacrificial Lamb” who when lead before his shearers is dumb, as he opened not his mouth…
As there are those who have long considered Christians weak, passive and non-agressive to a fault.

Yet there are others who eagerly finger point and recall that throughout history Christians have been known to rile against those who were not of the faith. Waging crusades and “holy” wars…as we are all left wondering what sort of war could ever be considered “holy” as that seems to be the epitome of oxymorons.

And yet we are called to be soldiers for Christ…

However’s today’s global family is currently witnessing an extreme example of a holy war, or caliphate. This war is being raged on a terrorizing global level by the Islamic extremists Daesh otherwise known ISIS.
It is a caliphate to be carried out against the infidel and all non muslims as per the Quran.
And yet our western governments continue to assure us that the Islamic faith is one of peace.

Despite the continuing airstrikes conducted by US, UN, British, French, Russian and other coalition forces, the numbers of IS recruits has only continued growing by leaps and bounds.

Stories of what happens to those civilians who fall under IS control continue making headlines.
Beheadings, shootings, torture, caged burnings, crucifixions—all manner of public executions are rampant.

The following link is to a recent story found on the BBC concerning IS, or Daesh’s, growing occupation in Libya, as well as elsewhere throughout northern Africa and the Middle East. The article is a collection of firsthand accounts of those who “got out” before total occupation but sadly left family and friends behind. The stories of the barbaric brutality, which is on an alarming rise, is most sobering if not stomach turning…

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35325072

It has also been almost a year since the tragic news of the young American aid worker Kayla Mueller’s horrific death at the hands of IS leaders. Just yesterday there was a news article stating that her parents would soon be making their first public statement regarding their daughter’s kidnapping and subsequent death— as well as their failed attempts to negotiate with her captors and of the ensuing war of words with the American Government over those negotiations.

Whereas our Government has long held the stance that the families of any Americans taken hostage by hostile nationals would not be allowed to “negotiate” a loved one’s release by paying ransoms, the irony is sadly found in the Government’s negotiating with the Taliban for the release of the American soldier Bowe Berghdahl— by exchanging 5 terrorist prisoners—all of which has rung a sour note with the Muellers as well as other families such as the families of James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

Berghdahl, as it turns out, had purportedly gone AWOL and was a suspected Taliban sympathizer.
He is soon to be tried in a military court of law, facing a court martial with a sentence of life in prison…
Our Government exchanged five terrorist prisoners for this purported AWOL soldier while the Muellers are left trying to make sense a Government “threatening” their attempts to pay a private ransom for their own daughter.

http://news.yahoo.com/murdered-hostage-kayla-mueller-s-family-is-speaking-out-013516761.html

In 1941, after three years of fighting that was raging across the European continent and prior to US involvement, President Franklin Roosevelt met secretly with the British Prime minister Winston Churchill aboard the HMS Prince of Wales in the middle of the North Atlantic. The meeting of these two leading allied leaders was for the creating of the Atlantic Charter, a charter that would help to define a post-war world. During the time the two leaders were meeting, Churchill was charged with arranging a joint church service to be held aboard ship for all the attendees. He chose all the hymns with Onward Christian Soldiers being his foremost choice. Following the meeting, in a radio broadcast, Churchill later reccounted his reasoning for his choice of hymn…

We sang “Onward, Christian Soldiers” indeed, and I felt that this was no vain presumption, but that we had the right to feel that we serving a cause for the sake of which a trumpet has sounded from on high. When I looked upon that densely packed congregation of fighting men of the same language, of the same faith, of the same fundamental laws, of the same ideals … it swept across me that here was the only hope, but also the sure hope, of saving the world from measureless degradation.

Churchill’s words could easily be spoken today…“it swept across me that here was the only hope, but also the sure hope, of saving the world from measureless degradation.”

May we be reminded that as Christians we are to be that living embodiment of hope, that sure hope, as we march forward as the Soldiers for Christ casting His brilliant Light into a world held hostage by darkness.

“When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you.
Deuteronomy 20:1