Friday, August 31, 2012

James takes on Harbinger Seven, The Erez Tree Part 4: Tree of Hope or Defiance of God?

(This is a very rough post because it turned out there was so much that needed to be covered, took me most of the day to get the information together and I haven't yet fully commented on all of it or edited it either. But I wanted to post it in its rough form anyway. That usually helps me see what I need to do next.)

I'm beginning to think that much of this sort of hairsplitting irrelevance must come from the simple fact that these critics, including James, did not see 9/11 as God's judgment before The Harbinger came out and don't habitually think in terms of calamities as God's judgment, as I tend to do. A major reason I have taken such an interest in The Harbinger is that I did see it that way and Cahn's revelation of the harbingers hit me as a literal manifestation of that fact, which I've speculated comes perhaps as a way to wake up those who didn't recognize it as God's judgment in the first place. Perhaps it has awakened some, but those who rejected the judgment interpretation at the time, and are inclined to deny that SORT of interpretation as a general rule, may be simply elaborating their position in this strange attempt to find fault with the book.

The next subject James gets into under this heading of the Erez Tree particularly demonstrates this frame of mind. Here James is attacking the very heart of the message of The Harbinger, in fact the very heart of Isaiah 9:10. This is a theme that comes up in the context of other harbingers as well, but here it concerns the understanding of the planting of the Norway spruce in the place of the uprooted sycamore.
The third major problem with Cahn's theory of The Erez Tree harbinger concerns Israel's attitude and unmitigated act of defiance. Israel wanted to show the Assyrians that their attacks had neither permanently destroyed the nation nor their resolve to survive all attempts to annihilate them. Yet Israel also knew that the Assyrians were merely instruments in the hands of God who was severely judging them. Their intentional defiance was ultimately directed at the Lord.

Likewise, Cahn portrays the placement of the Tree of Hope (the Norway spruce) at Ground Zero as an equally significant act of defiance toward God. This is despite the complete lack of supporting evidence. Those at the ceremony simply were not defying God. They were not even necessarily showing defiance toward America's enemies at that point in time. They were focused on bringing a message of comfort and hope to the soul of a nation that had not fully recovered from 9/11.[THFOF p. 106]
Where does James get this idea that Israel's defiance was intentional? Isaiah 9:9 says they determined to rebuild "in the pride and arrogance of their hearts," but what's to say that they consciously intended to defy God any more than America did? Are we supposed to assume that because they were Israel who had been so favored by God that they would know they were defying God but that we in modern America wouldn't, although the people doing the ceremony over the Tree of Hope were supposedly Christians who ought to know the ways of God? Not to mention that most of us were raised with SOME sense of our Biblical heritage which also leaves us no excuse. Even further, that even the heathen who have had no exposure to the Bible are said in scripture to be without excuse as God's handiwork is apparent to all in some sense.

Seems to me that Israel's intention to rebuild could just as well be described in the words James applied to America, as being
focused on bringing a message of comfort and hope to the soul of a nation that had not fully recovered from [the Assyrian attack.]
Did not Israel's false prophets customarily prophesy "Peace, peace, when there is no peace?" Isn't that the essence of their false prophecies down the centuries, that they denied the hand of God in judgment, denied the prophecies of judgment to come that were given by the true prophets, even persecuted and murdered the true prophets because they didn't like their messages?

How is this different from America's blindness to God's hand in 9/11 and the frequently expressed anger at those few who dared to tell us that's what it was? God's people Israel were often guilty of failing to see God's workings and failing to listen to God's prophets. This doesn't mean they were any more "intentional" in their failure than America has been since 9/11 -- it's the way of the flesh, the common tendency of fallen humanity to follow our own fallible minds and forget God, and even God's people fail in this way if we are not careful. This way of the flesh IS prideful and arrogant by its very nature, as we regard ourselves as independent of God, not thinking of Him at all most of the time.

The angry denial that 9/11 was God's judgment of America is the same kind of pride and arrogance as Isaiah describes in the hearts of the people of ancient Israel. But the denial doesn't have to be angry to be defiance of God. Even the Tree of Hope is a way of crying "peace, peace, when there is no peace." When what was needed was acall to turn back the sins of the nation that had brought God's judgment against us. The planters of the Tree of Hope were indeed seeking to bring “a message of hope and comfort” to the nation. As were the political leaders Daschle and Edwards when they quoted Isaiah 9:10, as were all America’s leaders who promised one way or another that we would rebuild.


This IS the attitude of defiance of God but James doesn’t recognize it. He says that Cahn “disregards” the intention to bring comfort and hope “in favor of trying to create more support for his theories:
[The Prophet] “The Erez Tree becomes another symbol of the nation and its defiance – a living symbol of their confidence in their national resurgence, their tree of hope.”

[Kaplan] “A tree of hope, but not a good hope.”

[The Prophet] “No,” he replied, “a prideful, self-centered, and godless hope. What they saw as a tree of hope was, in reality, a harbinger of judgment.”

[Kaplan] “They replaced the fallen Sycamore with the Erez Tree!”

[The Prophet] “The sign of a nation’s false hope and defiance before God.”

[Kaplan] “It’s like something out of a movie . . . it’s surreal.”

[The Prophet] “Except that it’s real.”

[Kaplan] “Who was behind the decision to do that?” I asked.

[The Prophet] “No one,” he answered. “No one in the sense of any one person making it all happen or trying to fulfill the prophecy.”

[Kaplan] “No one had any idea what they were doing?”

[The Prophet] “No one.”
That is the essence of the message of The Harbinger right there, and James misses it by a million miles. He’s quoted this dialogue in order to declare:
Cahn imposes a clearly wrong interpretation on the events surrounding the placing of the Tree of Hope and misrepresents those who were involved. However, even two years after 9/11, the spirit at the dedication ceremony at St. Paul’s Chapel was consistent with what had happened at the church during the year following the terrorist attacks. In September 2002, National Geographic published an article by a minister at the church in which he described his experience during that year:
More than 5,000 people used their special gifts to transform St. Paul’s into a place of rest and refuge. Musicians, clergy, podiatrists, lawyers, soccer moms, and folks of every imaginable type poured coffee, swept floors, took out the trash, and served more than a half a million meals. Emerging at St. Paul’s was a dynamic I think of as a reciprocity of gratitude, a circle of thanksgiving – in which volunteers and rescue and recovery workers tried to outdo each other with acts of kindness and love, leaving both giver and receiver changed. This circle of gratitude was infectious, and I hope it continues to spread. In fact, I hope it turns into an epidemic.
That minister’s heart is clearly reflected in the words he spoke just a few days after the attacks: “But we would gladly give up St. Paul’s to have saved just one life across the street.” Even someone who might have sharp theological disagreements with whatever might be preached on any given Sunday at that church can readily see there was no spirit of defiance against God in this place – intentional or otherwise. It is simply unreasonable and misleading to suggest that the placement, dedication and lighting ceremonies for the Tree of Hope were any different.

The 21-foot Norway spruce was lowered into the ground on November 22, 2003. This was followed by a prayer service and lighting ceremony on November 29, when St. Paul’s was filled to capacity. Rather than an unintentional act of defiance toward God, it was an intentional act of worship and reliance on Him. Although some might argue that many there were not actually worshiping the God of the Bible, when it comes to assessing motives the important point is that thehy believed that they were. It is not their theology that is in question.

Many internet articles purport to quote part of the prayer of dedication as including a reference to "the divine in all of us." Of course, if true, this statement would be heresy. However, as of this writing, despite extensive research by this author, the oirgianl source of that prayer has not been located. It appears that most if not all writers my be referencing a message by Jonathan Cahn at his church, but this has not been confirumed. Unfortunately, the endnote reference on pate 94 of The Harbinger, which is also said to be a quogte from the dedication ceremony, only mentions the name of the speaker and cites no source for the quote.

However, even if true, it would be difficult to characterize this as defiance with a malicious heart. Although Israel’s defiance would have fallen into the category of an intentional ‘high-handed sin, “ such was not the case at the dedication of the Tree of Hope.

The plaque at the site of the Tree of Hope has the following inscription:
Ground Zero workers helped plant this Norway spruce on November 22, 2003, in place of a giant sycamore that was struck down during the collapse of the World Trade Center. In a special thanksgiving service, St. Paul’s dedicated the new tree as “The Tree of Hope,” a reminder and affirmation of the power of love in the face of tragedy.
I copied out all of that verbatim because I just couldn't believe my eyes and wanted to be sure I was seeing what I was seeing. There is absolutely NOTHING in anything James quotes from the minister at that church or that plaque that couldn't have been said by a Mormon or a New Age practitioner or a Unity believer or even an atheist.

What James misreads as apparently a true Christian spirit in "that minister's heart" I read as the soul of antichrist defiance of God itself because it denies God's judgment on the nation and prides itself on its supposed compassion at the human level. I can't find the speech dedicating the Tree of Hope anywhere online either, but I did find a page at the Trinity Wall Street Church site, of which the St. Paul's Chapel is a part, that clearly indicates it would be in keeping with that church's views to use such a phrase as "the divine in all of us."

When I first started researching the background for The Harbinger I found sermons at this Trinity Church that clearly misrepresent the gospel of Jesus Christ, denying His Deity among other things. I wish I had linked them at the time, but there's plenty enough at that site to show that it is a screamingly apostate church. For instance I just found a blog that identifies the theology there as Liberation Theology or at least some form of the Social Gospel, and as far as I looked I couldn't find one single statement of the true gospel of salvation in Christ, but a lot of existentialist New Agey gobbledygook that could almost be said to deify The Poor.

Below I've collected a hodgepodge of quotes that I'll try to get back and clean up, but if you read through them you'll find him talking only about social issues, about how he's writing a book about Barack Obama, he speaks positively about Roman Catholicism, talks about "gay rights," and especially carries on about The Poor. I've bolded the most UNChristian parts.
The Fullness

Preaching as Liberation Theology with the Poor in Mind
Every church community faces the task of authentic proclamation of the good news of God in Christ. The issue of poverty remains part of the fabric of human life. It does seem that in the words of Jesus, we will always have the poor with us. However, what distinguishes the church from other social institutions is how the church addresses this reality. How does the church place the poor as one of its prized treasures or concerns? Even in affluent communities, how does the church remind its people of the need to be attentive to the needs of the poor?

I base my preaching on the Good News of God in Christ: one that is good news for the poor, one in which the poor know they are the recipients of the reign of God, a democracy in which they are subjects. And I see myself as participating in God’s continuing action of sending manna for food, the prophets for moral nourishment, and the Bread of Life as Eucharist for the world.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Holy Eucharist is called the Mass – it is from the Latin Word for dismissal. This word serves as a reminder that, as much as worship is about gathering as community, it is just as much about, going into the world to love and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.

So whenever we pray, whenever we worship, we should view ourselves as participating in the life, work, mission and love of God. Our liturgies should call us into a work for justice, freedom, peace and righteousness. Liturgies remind us of that profound call to love God and neighbor with our whole, mind, heart and strength.

Years ago, while serving as a missionary in the Amazon jungles of Brazil, I was made very aware of the power of liturgy to transform human lives. Throughout much of Latin America during the fifties, sixties and early seventies, many of these countries poorest people did not means of getting their voices heard through the regular political channels. Many of them turned to the churches, primarily the Roman Catholic Churches and this led to the development of the base communities and the Liberation Theology Movement.

After the gospel was read, the dramatization of the gospel began. With the dramatization, I noticed something in the gospel that after thirty years of reading I had never noticed before. A group of three women entered on stage carrying buckets for water, two of them fainted along the way, and only the Samaritan woman got to the well. On the other end of the stage the disciple are complaining that they are hungry. Jesus sends all of them to go and buy food. He walks towards the center of the stage. The narrator shouted the following: Lack of water and food increasingly divide our families and get in the way of the family staying together in love. We need easier access to water and we need more basis food supplies. We are thirsty, we are starving.”

The dramatization showed the Samaritan woman highlighting all her needs: lack of water, losing her husbands to the city life, struggling to make ends meet and telling her whole life to Jesus. Jesus listened and promised to help her and to help her village. They ended the dramatization with Jesus and the disciples meeting the woman and all the villagers. They get together and plant corn and dig a well. The closing scene showed the disciples baptizing the villagers and the whole church standing to sing, “Amazing Grace.”

I remember thinking, “Wow. Now this is what you call liturgy!”

The president says his view continues to evolve. I recently heard a commentator say that the president is too “young, hip, cool, and smart not to believe in gay marriage”. I believe and agree with that. Barack Obama, I believe, believes that gays and lesbians should marry. That said, on this issue; I think the president’s claim to be evolving does not pose a huge problem. In this day and age, where actions speak louder than words; the president’s action show that he supports gay marriage. Was it St Francis who said, “Preach the gospel at all time and when necessary use words”. I guess one could say, preach the gospel of gay marriage at all times and when necessary answer people’s questions about whether you believe in gay marriage. The kind of evolution practiced by the president offers more hope of justice than many “evolutions” present in our churches and society today. Let the reader remember, we are all evolving…

For me, the Incarnation (God occupying a human for in the person of Jesus) stands as the most sensibly and mysterious belief. God became a human being, Jesus Christ, a man, invited us all to become like God. This is good news, gospel. To believe in the gospel is to believe that God occupies every human being and God loves the poor in a special way.

In the book, Barack says, “Blessed are those who live a preferential love for the poor…. Blessed are those who die before their time because they are poor. Woe to those who advocate solving the economic woes [by putting burdens] on the backs of the poor. They advocate balancing the debt by cutting the social programs and refusing to tax the richest in the country.”

On May 1, I had the great honor of being part of a Trinity Institute program called May Day Teach-In, an attempt to address many of the issues facing our nation/world and the issues raised by the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Religious and secular leaders were invited to discuss the issues of justice and the poor; in a context described as part convention, rally, and renewal.

Our first presenter, the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Senior Minister Emeritus, The Riverside Church, New York, reminded us of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who preached against and pointed to the triple threat/evils of Racism, Militarism, and Materialism. Then, the Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, rector, Trinity Wall Street, spoke about the unity of actions between TWS and OWS to confront poverty and raise the issues.

Master of Ceremonies, Charles B. Strozier, professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and musicians Peader and Pio helped introduce and pave the way for the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, the Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, rector, Trinity Wall Street, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, Blanche Wiesen Cook, Diego IbaƱez, Joyce Carol Oates, Bryan K. Parsons, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, James W. Jones and I to offer thoughs about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

It was a hopeful discussion with many strong challenges.

I wanted to summarize my thoughts

•I wish Trinity Church had started the Movement. I wish we had been the ones to give birth to the Movement.
•Reminded the group that our greatest spiritual call is to love the divine in the other by caring for the poor and those most in need. Any worship where the poor do not receive preferential option and love borders on idolatry.
•It is idolatrous to disrespect the poor.
•Then I told a story that emphasized the importance of giving away what is precious to us.
•Then I shared the words of a holy man, I was honored to have met, Dom Helder Camara from brazil who said, “When I feed the poor they call me a saint; when I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist.”
•How I wish, I said, we could all be called communists.
•Then I shared a story about the importance of not being afraid.
•I reminded the group that Jesus spoke a lot more about money than we are willing to admit or are aware.
•I encouraged all of us to be grateful for the challenges that come from the OWS Movement.
•Then I mentioned I wished we were able to do the conference in the streets instead of the studio.


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