I've met a few people in my life who've claimed, cluelessly I think, that like Popeye, "I yam what I yam." Sounds cool, but it's baloney, especially if it's a masquerade for faults that could be addressed. No one is changeless but God, who by the way doesn't need to change. But we, human beings, are a work-in-progress. We often need to change, to grow, to become, and the good news is: we can.
Solomon. Just the name catches your attention. The man lived, and he lived as king during Ancient Israel's Golden Age.
Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. During his life he spoke more than 3,000 proverbs, left us with portions of Scripture, and undoubtedly spoke and did a lot more than has been recorded for us. But what we have is significant.
Solomon wondered aloud about the meaning of life, because his general observations led him to cry, "Meaningless, meaningless. Utterly meaningless. Everything is meaningless" (Ecc. 1:2). Now had he stopped there he would have ended up like Ernest Hemingway or Kurt Cobain, who took their own lives with shotguns because life didn't seem worth living to them. But Solomon did not stop there. He systematically investigated and tried just about all the world had to offer, then he came to his conclusion.
In the last chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes, one of the most philosophical and one of my favorite books of the Bible, Solomon said, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth...Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (12:1,13).
What interests and what grieves me about this topic is how easily some Christians seem to align themselves with a way of interpreting the Scripture that ends with Christians believing the modern secular state of Israel can do not wrong. Further, people who embrace this approach argue that the United States should stand as Israel's uncritical ally. For many, though not all, who assume this position, it's an easy next step to taking an anti-Arab outlook.
For the record, I'm not against Israel per se, and I am certainly not anti-Jew. But neither am I anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian, or for that matter anti-Turk or anti-Iranian. This I can say about a people or people group even though I certainly disagree from time to time, if not often, with what given national governments do or how they position themselves, whether Israel or Arab world countries, Turkey, or Iran.
The article entitled "Confused Christians" simply recognizes that the Word of God calls upon Christian people to love all, to forgive as Christ forgave us, to share the message of the Gospel with all, to be no one's sworn enemy. This isn't la-la land thinking. I acknowledge the presence of evil in the world and the necessity of dealing with it harshlly via law and order, criminal justice systems, governments, and unfortunately at times armed forces and coercion. But these biblical principles of justice stand for all people, no matter their ethnic, racial, or national heritage or homeland.
Christians, I believe, need to pray for and work toward peace and reconciliation between Jews and Arabs even if history seems to suggest the impossibility of this outcome. God loves Jews and Arabs and salvation by faith in Christ is available to all.
Gambling continues to plaque our society and my use of a word like "plague" gives away my perspective. Gambling is not a good thing in any way, shape, or form. It does not produce; it only takes. It does not build up; it tears down. Gambling is presented as "gaming," yet it's impact upon long-term gamblers, many who become "problem gamblers," is anything but fun and games.
Ironically, no one knows this better than serious gamblers who will tell you, as they have me, "No one wins at gambling." In fact, likely the greatest cynics about gambling are those who operate casinos in places like Las Vegas. Their comments are devastating about the people they see come and go, people who lose not only their money but often their self-respect. This is true even if the people doing the losing are "Whales," the wealthy big fish the casinos like to hook because they lose so much and lose often.
Gambling is a time bomb in a pretty package. It may tick slowly for a given person, but it does tick and it will someday go off.
All this makes it especially perplexing to hear about Christians gambling or to hear some of them defend the practice as just so much harmless entertainment. With them I must respectfully disagree. Gambling is a no-win proposition that undermines first a bank account, then social and/or professional relationships, then a life. And there is much in Scripture that speaks if not "about" gambling than certianly "to" gambling.
Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and for that matter many other regions, people believe in something called the Evil Eye. It’s a superstition, but it’s real to those who believe it.
The Evil Eye is the idea that someone can look at you and, whether intentional or not and whether realized or not, cause you discomfort, injury, or bad luck. To “give someone” purposely the evil eye is the height of social ill will. The Evil Eye may also be sourced in demons or other worldly spirits that have in their power the ability to plague people with all manner of bad developments.
In the Middle East it is also possible, according to belief in the Evil Eye, to induce evil upon a person unwittingly, simply by calling attention to something good in his or her life. For example, those who believe in the Evil Eye would be horrified to hear you say they have “a lovely child” or are living in “a very attractive home.” Such compliments invite the negative attention of the Evil Eye.
Because people really do believe in the Evil Eye, charms of all shapes and sizes have been developed to ward off the potential and power of its curse. Usually such charms are made of dark blue glass or some other hard polished material on which a light blue circle is imprinted, which in turn is centered by a dark circle or dot. The design suggests an eye.
To me it’s paradoxical: wear an eye to ward off the effects of the Evil Eye. But what people believe they believe. I’ve seen these charms in shops in Cairo, Istanbul, cities in Cyprus, Beirut and other Lebanese cities. I’ve seen people wearing them on the street as necklaces, bracelets, or some other amulet. And I’ve seen them hanging from the rearview mirrors of cars.
It’s sad, actually, for the Evil Eye is nothing but a superstition, and the charms are nothing but powerless talismans. You might “give someone the evil eye,” as is said in America, but you’re giving them nothing but a glaring, frowning stare. You nor I nor anyone else holds the power of good or bad luck over anyone.
One reason we don’t hold the power of good or bad luck is that we’re finite beings. Another is that there’s no such thing as luck of any kind. Certainly Christians should believe this, though some Christians in the Middle East are susceptible to the cultural influence of the Evil Eye. But from the perspective of Christian theology you must recognize that the idea of a Sovereign God and luck are mutually exclusive concepts. Both cannot exist.
Yet people persist in believing in luck, “just in case.” Americans don’t often wear blue charms to ward off the Evil Eye, but Americans do, more often than we generally admit, embrace a host of good luck charms. Just walk through a casino and ask gamblers if they believe in luck; then ask them what’s their good luck charm. You’ll hear about rabbits feet, a special penny in a shoe, a certain piece of clothing, beads, baubles, crystals, crosses, even a given woman, and more. Professional athletes aren’t much behind gamblers in their belief in luck and lucky charms.
So while we don’t see many Evil Eye charms in America (we will), we do see our own version of lucky artifacts. Sad thing is though: it’s all a waste of time and money.
Local communities continue to grab for the brass ring, their pot of gold at the end of a rainbow called casino gambling. Problem is, when they get there the pot of gold is either empty or being taken elsewhere. Gambling rarely if ever delivers the economic wellbeing communities expect.
Meanwhile gambling stimulates or at least makes more likely a long list of individual and social pathologies. These not-so-good spin-offs ("negative externalities," the economists call them) of gambling are rarely reported: higher rates of suicide and divorce, skyrocketing incidences of bankruptcy, job absenteeism, petty crime, and more. If these sorts of social indicators associated with gambling are not often reported, the costs incurred because of them in health care and criminal justice are even less often reported. If they were, if an accurate cost/benefit analysis could be honestly developed, it would most often demonstrate that casinos in the long run do not benefit local communities, a few constructions jobs in the beginning and a few card dealer jobs ongoing notwithstanding.