And Then There Were Four

I am the youngest of seven children born under three marriages, but comprising only two constellations of siblings: Russell and Larum. I was perhaps six months old when my eldest brother Ronald went off to Vietnam. That should give you some sense of the remoteness the baby in the family can feel toward his oldest siblings. But ours was far from a normal family. “Blended” wouldn’t do it justice, so I leave that tale for another day.

Six boys and one girl, which means that both mom and sis were strong women in a way that could put to shame many a man I have known. Mom buried three husbands and two sons. I am very grateful she was already home to greet the latest departure. On Friday, September 29, 2017, Michael, my third-oldest brother, went home to be with his Lord and enjoy a family reunion I can only hope for. And then there were four.

The Four crop
The Four at Mike’s Night to Remember. R-to-L: Ronald, Eric, Barbara, and me.

One would think that having six siblings would minimize the intense sense of loss somewhat. But it doesn’t. Seven is the full set. Anyone missing leaves us less. I felt this first at the news of my brother John’s death in 1992. He was only forty-three; I was nearly twenty-eight and already overly familiar with the process of grief having lost my father when I was thirteen. As I recall it, I was deep into a construction project with my son Nikolai—a toddling two-year-old who loved stacking the blocks up into imaginary castles almost as much as I did—when I received the news. I was totally unprepared for my reaction: shock, sorrow, and relief. Relief? Yes, relief. I suppose it is time to introduce you to my brother John.

John Clark Larum
Brother John in his younger years.

John was my mother’s second son. She was a recently minted nineteen-year-old when she had him. Though young, the drama of life had already swept her into a tale that would ultimately rival any soap opera and still surprises audiences when I tell it. John was the only boy among us with black hair. “You don’t look like the rest of them,” folks would often say. “If I only had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that,” was his frequent reply. The rest of us boys were redheads. Barbara stood out because she was the girl. John, well, John was different.

All my siblings are charming, but I admit I am biased. John was charming in a way that would make women who knew better swoon. Handsome, athletic, driven, brilliant and armed at an early age with a sociopathic lack of conscience, John was an exhilarating and dangerous roller coaster to ride. As life would have it, he was the older sibling who showed up on the scene to “help” my mother when my father was dying of emphysema and lung cancer. “Help” meant that he was there to engage and challenge his teenaged baby brothers, Timothy and Nikolas (that’s me on the right—people often confused us even though our names only share two letters), who were the last left at home. And “help” is in quotes because his move to Arkansas from California wasn’t motivated by any sense of obligation or altruism. Narcotics officers were hot on his tail and he thought it best to let his California market fade away in his rearview mirror.

John taught us all the things older brothers shouldn’t teach their younger siblings and a few that they absolutely should. The shoulds ran the range from expanding my literary horizons to knowing how to put my fist through wood if necessary. The should-not’s I won’t list, except for this one: if you want to score a million dollars, don’t try stealing it from one guy; instead, find a way to con a million people out of a buck. That was John, the consummate conman.

Our last conversation was a godsend. We must have talked on the phone for nearly two hours. I laughed so hard I couldn’t cry anymore. “I finally got your number from Mother, but she still wouldn’t give me your address,” he said. I laughed. “John, you know I love you. I simply can’t afford you.” He laughed. Good times. He died of an overdose not long after that call. It was like having a chunk of my heart pulled out. I was sad he was gone and relieved that the danger had passed.

2007 was a monumental year for me. In June of that year, I began a new career in waste management. After nearly twenty years working in the installation and warehousing side of the commercial office furnishings industry, I landed a job managing a materials recovery facility. Essentially, I went from opening cardboard boxes to recycling them. I knew next to nothing about waste hauling and even less about running a processing facility. Fourteen-hour days were not uncommon and the commute simply added to the load. It was about midday on a Thursday when my wife called me with the news. There was no easy way to say it. My brother Timothy had passed away the night before. I have never been a big Halloween fan. His death on October 31, 2007, didn’t improve my opinion of the day any.

Classic me, I tried to keep working. I think I was able to function for about an hour and half before I admitted to myself the impossibility of it. I had to go home. Tim was my Irish twin. He was No. 6 to my No. 7, the only other biological child of my father. I should have been prepared for my reaction to the news: shock, sorrow, and ultimately relief. Relief? Yes, relief. Please let me explain.

Timothy wasn’t dangerous like John. As far as I know, he never ran a con in his life. He loved his family, cherished our mother, and adored his daughter. He was physically talented and fearless. I see cliffs as something to climb. He climbed cliffs to find higher ground to dive from. I learned to fight for self-preservation. He liked to fight for fun. I had to teach myself how to laugh out loud. His laughter could always shake the room and was more infectious than Ebola. Though some may disagree, I believe my head outweighs my heart. His heart was always bigger than his head.

Timothy taught me to dance, got me hooked on restaurant work, and had a way of talking me into schemes I should have known better to avoid—like driving him and his best friend to a party because mom never said I couldn’t take the car, never mind that I was only fourteen and unlicensed. In many ways, ours was a case of classic sibling rivalry. But our conflicts were always tempered with an abiding affection for each other. Being last in line, we experienced the most together. It was a treasure trove of memories none of the other siblings had in common. News of his death was like taking a .45-slug to the chest. The hole is still there.

My last conversation with him was a godsend. I was at work checking on one of our auxiliary warehouses when he called me on my cell phone. He was distraught over many things. He had recently been assaulted at a gas station by a group of thugs who felt he had cut them off on the highway. The experience had left him humbled and profoundly shaken. Our brother Eric, with whom we were both very close, had moved back to Spain. To make matters worse, the Spain we had grown up in no longer existed. Prone to nostalgia, the physical loss of the country he grew up in left his identity somewhat adrift. Last but not least, his little girl was going to be a legal adult and the chances of her deciding to move out to him were slim to none. There was really ever only one salve for our wounds: Jesus.

As I spoke with Timothy, we encouraged one another in our faith. I believe I helped him define his distress and in doing so, brought some relief. If the above leads you to believe that the conversation was sad and somber because of its content, then I can only surmise that the reader hasn’t spent much personal time in the company of Larums. That is not our way. There are few traumas that we can’t laugh our way through. Aside from the usual jocularity, the joy of this conversation was in the shared hearts of brothers who truly knew each other.

Timothy Larum
Brother Timothy as he was often found – laughing! (With his daughter Tiffany.)

Timothy worked hard and played harder. He died of a heroin overdose. Mother said he must have been shocked to come to and see Jesus. She believed as I do that the high was his aim, not suicide. He was only forty-four years old.

Hard as John was to live with, Mother never fully recovered from his death. Timothy was the only honest-to-goodness mamma’s boy among us. I feared she would sink in the sorrow of his passing and never return to us. She proved me wrong. She was always surprising like that. I had been casting about in my mind for how to broach the subject of God’s mercy in Timothy’s exit with her. She kindly beat me to the punch. “Sad as I am,” she said, “I am thankful he went that way. Maybe God allowed it to save us all from something worse. What if he had gotten into an accident drunk behind the wheel and killed someone? He wouldn’t have been able to live with that. I think God was merciful to us.” That is what I mean by relief.

My earliest memory of Timothy and Michael is the same. Ron and Mike were playing catch with Tim in the living room of our California home. Timothy was the ball and he was having a blast. Having older brothers over six feet tall when you are a toddler is like having your own personal amusement park. If Timothy wasn’t an adrenalin junkie at birth, he certainly was one by the age of three.

My next memory of Michael was of him working on our mother’s car. It was an Opel coupe. I recall coming out of the house and walking down the driveway just in time to see him reach under the hood, pick the engine up, and set it down on the ground. Did I mention that Michael was big? Some people don’t believe in giants. I grew up with them.

An imposing six-and-a-half feet tall, Michael was a gearhead and a consummate prankster. When Charles Manson was going helter-skelter, Michael was knocking on the neighbors’ doors and keeling over with a toy knife protruding from his chest, his white t-shirt smeared with ketchup. I don’t know if he ever encountered an engine he didn’t think needed to come apart. He worked as a lumberjack, married young, had two children, and ultimately found his way to being employed by IBM. My grease monkey, lumberjack, giant of a brother wound up being an executive in a high-tech computer company. Folks who may consider me to be loud and perhaps a bit obnoxious have little appreciation for the din of brilliance I grew up under. As the baby, I had to be persistent to be heard. If that didn’t work, I got louder.

Siblings
November 2005 – the last time we would all be together. L-to-R: Barbara, Timothy, Michael, Mom, me, Ronald, and Eric

Our last conversation was a godsend. Michael suffered a catastrophic stroke early in 2012. We were unsure at the time if he would survive it. He did, but not entirely. Strokes have a way of removing restraint on certain aspects of personality. Certain aspects of Michael’s personality were in continual need of restraint. His wife and children were heroic in his care, but not without a price. Eventually, my nephew Matthew had to set Michael’s phone to receive only. I had not called him in some time. My sister Barbara reached out to me to let me know Michael really wanted to hear from me. Were it not for her, I would have missed the opportunity.

I am ashamed to say that I never ventured out to California to see him in the nursing home. At first I was dealing with enough fires on the home front. But ultimately, it boiled down to plain selfishness. Selfishness and fear. I had made my way through cancer. I was weary of digging holes. I didn’t possess the courage to see him that way. I kept my distance. I’m the baby, gotta love me.

I called Michael and we had a beautiful talk. He reminisced about his last visit to Virginia. I had taken my two oldest boys, Nikolai and Gavin, to play disc golf with my brother Eric. While we were chatting in the park, an old geezer who looked like a slightly run over Mark Twain shuffled his way to us and started talking to the boys. It was all I could do to keep a straight face. Michael had them going a good while before he stood up to his imposing full height and removed his Billy Bob teeth to reveal himself. We still laugh about it. The kids were so impressed that my wife bought Billy Bob teeth for all to wear when they met the new dentist. The gag worked great. Thanks, Michael!

We talked about that epic day in the park, about the time he came to my church, about the grace of God, about the love of family. In his bed, paralyzed from the waist down and a good chunk of his brain missing, Michael talked with me as a loving, older brother. He asked about my life, about my kids, about my plans. How does someone love like that? Here I was, almost put out to call him. There he was, laid low in a nursing home loving on his baby brother. It leaves me undone.

He wrestled with survival, unsure of whether he wanted to stay or go. When the news came, the feelings were familiar: sorrow and relief. His suffering was over. His time had come. Mom had a party in heaven, I am sure.

I know our times are in His hands. I believe in the imminent return of Jesus Christ and hope to experience having my mortality swallowed up by life. But if that doesn’t happen in my lifetime, I know that my corruption will put on incorruption. All that being said, if I go before He comes the only one I want feeling any relief is the Devil. I want to be full of years and in a good old age. I want to be in the same shape as Moses, whose eye wasn’t dim nor his natural force abated.

Rest in peace, my brothers. The days of our reunion will by far outweigh the days of our lives.

 

 

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True Horror: A Halloween Tale

Rationalists are ill equipped to deal with the realities of the underworld. Reports of paranormal activity are viewed skeptically if not derisively. People who swear they have seen a ghost or are sure that their house is haunted are considered gullible, delusional, or deceitful. Scientific man wouldn’t recognize a demon if it slapped him in the face. After all, in a universe without God, how can there be such a thing as a devil?

Despite the substantial gains that secular humanism appears to have made in establishing a materialistic world view for the masses of Western civilization, popular culture belies their success. If rationalism reigns supreme, why is Halloween one of the fastest-growing consumer holidays?[1] Modern man may take his stand to explain this away with psychological arguments about humanity’s proclivity for pretense or sociological theories about the propagation of the traditions of youth that adults bequeath to their children in commemoration of romanticized memories, but this doesn’t go quite far enough to justify the macabre. A recent survey of Halloween costume picks has witches, zombies, and vampires in the top ten. No one should be surprised, least of all the Devil; who came in a disappointing eleventh in the survey just below a three-way tie between serial killers, tarts, and politicians[2] – which one could argue would give him tenth place representation on influence alone.

To Christians who bemoan the open embracement of the occult that Halloween provides, I would advise a review of Church history if they wish to know the reasons for its popular continuance. The ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween), the festival of the dead, was transmuted by the Church into All Hallows Eve through the implementation of celebrations and rites that incorporated the pagan holiday in order to be culturally relevant in their outreach.[3] This approach continues into the modern era in which fellowship halls across the Evangelical spectrum are opened up to alternative events where children can enjoy a little bit of dress up and lots of sugar in a “safe” environment. Personally, I think it would be safer for them to see the realities of the spirit realm.

The ancients believed in sacred times and places, seasons and shrines where the vail between this dimension and the next was nothing more than a wisp of gossamer easily moved aside by the wind. Such instincts led them to communal worship in admiration or for appeasement and safety. When the otherworldly was afoot, best be in the company of brothers. Anyone who has had even a fleeting moment of fear in the dark knows the sensation of a haunted place. And most have felt this brush on their skin at one time or another with the lights on. To encounter the spiritual is common to the human condition, for we are spirit beings. Halloween’s centuries long continuance is a testament of this.

But the pretend horrors of Halloween are nothing compared to the true terrors that the spirit realm holds. The costume masks are mere grotesques of the dangers of the dark. And the children of darkness hold no candle to the terrors of the heavenlies. One could pile demons, ghosts, and lycans atop all the wiccans, walking corpses, and blood suckers[4] in the world and not come close to matching the menace of the lowly insects of the spirit realm, let alone its higher beings.

Revelation 9:1-12 (Contemporary English Version)
1 When the fifth angel blew his trumpet, I saw a star fall from the sky to earth. It was given the key to the tunnel that leads down to the deep pit.
2 As it opened the tunnel, smoke poured out like the smoke of a great furnace. The sun and the air turned dark because of the smoke.
3 Locusts came out of the smoke and covered the earth. They were given the same power that scorpions have.
4 The locusts were told not to harm the grass on the earth or any plant or any tree. They were to punish only those people who did not have God’s mark on their foreheads.
5 The locusts were allowed to make them suffer for five months, but not to kill them. The suffering they caused was like the sting of a scorpion.
6 In those days people will want to die, but they will not be able to. They will hope for death, but it will escape from them.
7 These locusts looked like horses ready for battle. On their heads they wore something like gold crowns, and they had human faces.
8 Their hair was like a woman’s long hair, and their teeth were like those of a lion.
9 On their chests they wore armor made of iron. Their wings roared like an army of horse-drawn chariots rushing into battle.
10 Their tails were like a scorpion’s tail with a stinger that had the power to hurt someone for five months.
11 Their king was the angel in charge of the deep pit. In Hebrew his name was Abaddon, and in Greek it was Apollyon.
12 The first horrible thing has now happened! But wait. Two more horrible things will happen soon.

If you think these scorpions are bad news, consider the specter of the horses of the underworld:

Revelation 9:17b-19 (CEV)
17b The heads of the horses looked like lions, with fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.
18 One-third of all people were killed by the three terrible troubles caused by the fire, the smoke, and the sulfur.
19 The horses had powerful mouths, and their tails were like poisonous snakes that bite and hurt.

As bad as these are, the Dragon is even worse.

Revelation 12:3-4 (CEV)
3 Something else appeared in the sky. It was a huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and a crown on each of its seven heads.
4 With its tail, it dragged a third of the stars from the sky and threw them down to the earth. Then the dragon turned toward the woman, because it wanted to eat her child as soon as it was born.

No horror tale pretended to by man in a bid for free candy or filmed by him to sell sweets and popcorn to the adoring masses can touch the realities that hell holds captive. And the dwellers of the dark kingdom are but pale shadows of the terrifying light of the bright ones.

Ezekiel 1:4-14 (New King James Version)
4 Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
5 Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man.
6 Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings.
7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze.
8 The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings.
9 Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward.
10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle.
11 Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies.
12 And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went.
13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning.
14 And the living creatures ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lightning.
24 When they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of many waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a tumult like the noise of an army; and when they stood still, they let down their wings.

These creatures – taller than tornadoes, brighter than lightning, loud as the voice of the Almighty – worship One more terrifying than themselves.[5]

Revelation 1:12-18 (NKJV)
12 Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands,
13 and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.
14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;
15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters;
16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.
17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.
18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

John’s vision of Jesus glorified was far more terrible than his glimpse of Him transfigured.[6] True horror would be to perish beneath the sword of the Living Lord returning from Heaven[7], to die at the hand of the One who died for you because His grace was rejected.

2 Corinthians 6:2 (NKJV)
For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.”  Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Matthew 10:28 (NKJV)
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

This year, as in the centuries before it, many will don themselves in mockeries of the spirit realm. They will mum their way through occult pantomimes, oblivious to the true dangers lurking in the darkness or the worse danger of rejecting the Light. Man’s reason may deny these realities. But his heart and the hair at the nape of his neck know better. Evil is real, but it trembles before God.[8] It is far better to feel His embrace at our repentance[9] than to face the hand of His judgment,[10] for “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

John 3:16 (NKJV)
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

[1] Treacy Reynolds, “Record Number of Americans Buy Halloween Costumes”, https://nrf.com/media/press-releases/record-number-of-americans-buy-halloween-costumes, accessed 10/18/15.
[2] https://nrf.com/sites/default/files/Images/Media%20Center/Costumes%209-12-15%20press.pdf, accessed 10/18/15.
[3] Jack Santino, “Halloween: The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows”, The Library of Congress American Folklife Center, http://www.loc.gov/folklife/halloween.html, accessed 10/30/15.
[4] The reader is free to choose vampires or politicians or both for this reference.
[5] See Rev 4:6-11
[6] Matt 17:1-2
[7] Rev 19:11-18
[8] James 2:19
[9] Luke 15:10
[10] Heb 10:31

Crusaders and Jihadis: The False Equivalence

President Obama touched off a firestorm of condemnation from the political right and Christian conservatives for remarks he made during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 2015. The offending comment? “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”[1]

One is free to take umbrage at the President’s admonition for humility in light of the excesses of the past. But to argue against the historicity of his statement simply betrays ignorance of the facts. Crusaders did push east and pillaged under the banner of the cross. Slavery and institutionalized racism were justified through the warped usage of Scripture. Historical facts aren’t the problem with the President’s rhetorical device. The problem is its perpetuation of the false equivalence of radical Islam with Crusading Christianity; be the crusaders Knights Templar or knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

This false equivalence is commonplace in secular appeals to tolerance, perhaps because true secular humanists believe that people of any faith are radicalized to some extent and are thus equally unreasonable. But as much as some might wish it so, all faiths do not fit into the same level playing field. In the maintenance of diplomatic relations (after all, Saudi Arabia is the current guarantor of the value of America’s monetary system) and a politically correct society, it makes sense that the President would trot out the societal sins of supposedly Christian nations as an appeal for understanding in the face of the brutality that is the Islamic State[2] and by extension Dar-al-Islam.[3]

Humanity is brutal. History – modern history in particular – teaches us this.[4] That people of faith commit brutalities should not be surprising to anyone. But for a true comparison of the faiths in question, Christianity and Islam, one should first examine the lives of their founders and only then take stock of their followers to determine which expressions of belief are aberrant and which are faithful. It is with this intent that I humbly present the following comparison of Jesus of Nazareth and Abu al-Qasim Muhammad.

Jesus of Nazareth was a monotheist his entire life. He was born into a Jewish family[5] and publically taught the Shema, “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord.”[6] Muhammad was born into the family of the Banu Hashim, a branch of the powerful Quraysh, which was the ruling tribe of Mecca that was responsible for guarding Mecca’s most sacred shrine, the Ka’bah.[7] At this time, the shrine was a center of Arabian pagan worship and pilgrimage[8] and contained 360 idols, of which Allah was one.[9] This part of Muhammad’s background is critical to understanding his development of Islam later in life.

According to the Gospel records, Jesus had an encounter with the devil in the early days of his ministry. The recorded response he had to the devil’s various temptations was “It is written.” Thus, by continual appeals to the Jewish holy writ, Jesus triumphed over the devil’s temptations.[10] Muhammad’s interaction with the devil had a different outcome. In order to conciliate the Quraysh who were hesitant to embrace his newly proclaimed monotheism, Muhammad spoke what have become known as the “Satanic verses” in which he allowed for the Arabian gods al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat to be intercessory spirits with Allah. He later recanted this declaration with verses that implied that Satan had cast the words into his previous recitation.[11]

In one of the many encounters that Jesus had with the religious establishment of his day, a woman who had been captured in the act of adultery was brought before him for judgment. The Law of Moses commanded stoning as the punishment for adultery and they wanted to know what Jesus would do. In a response worthy of Solomon, Jesus declared “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, all the accusers left. “Did no one condemn you?” Jesus asked the woman. “No one, Lord,” she said. “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”[12] Muhammad’s encounters with adulterous women went a bit differently. In one of them, a woman from Ghamid came to him, confessed to adultery, and asked for purification. When Muhammad learned that she was pregnant, he mercifully allowed her to give birth and raise the child until it was weaned. Thereupon, he ordered the woman buried alive up to her chest and then stoned to death.[13]

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.”[14] Jesus backed up these words with dramatic actions as we shall see later. Muhammad ordered the assassination of Ka’b ibn Al-Ashraf because Al-Ashraf had “hurt Allah and His Apostle.”[15] The nature of the hurt? Ka’b had written poetic verses which were critical of Muhammad and decried the outcomes of the Battle of Badr.[16]

Jesus counseled against divorce, declaring that its cause was unforgiveness in the human heart.[17] Muhammad arranged the marriage of Zaynab bint Jahsh to his adopted son. After they divorced, Muhammad took her as his wife.[18] His action was sanctified through revelations in the Qur’an.[19]

All conical records portray Jesus as celibate throughout his life and a bachelor at the time of his execution.[20] Additionally, his concern for and estimation of children are well documented.[21] Muhammad became betrothed to his third wife, Aisha, when she was six years old. The marriage was consummated, in Aisha’s words, when she was nine.[22]

On the night of his arrest, Jesus made it clear that he went willingly. When he asked the mob that invaded the garden who they were looking for, they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” “I am he,” he said and they all lurched backward and fell to the ground.[23] Jesus then offered himself up for arrest and requested that his disciples be let go. But Peter would have none of it. He drew his sword and cut the right ear off Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Jesus told Peter to put the sword away and then healed Malchus’s ear.[24] Muhammad had no reservations with regard to the use of the sword. He commanded the beheading of unbelievers met in battle.[25] He also killed prisoners of war. One such instance occurred after the Battle of the Trench in Medina. Muhammad ordered the slaughter of all the males of the Jewish tribe known as the Banu Qurayza who had confronted his forces in battle.[26] All the males, estimates range from 600 to 900, were led to the city square and beheaded. Their women and children were sold into slavery. [27] One he kept for himself as a concubine.[28]

In his testimony before Pontius Pilate, Jesus made it clear that he had not come to set up an earthly kingdom. In answer to Pilate’s question if Jesus was King of the Jews, he replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”[29] A quote from a former professor of Islamic history at Al-Azhar University, Mark A. Gabriel, offers a good contrast:

“With Allah by their side, Muhammad and his army set their sights on conquering the world. This is the Muhammad that the Islamic radical is emulating. Muhammad personally led his army into twenty-six battles, and they were very successful. The motley group that began in a desolate city in the desert subdued the cities of Arabia one by one until, right before his death, Muhammad had total control of the entire Arabian Peninsula.”[30]

Most Muslims are not Jihadis and most Christians are not Crusaders or cross burners. But in light of the teachings and histories of Muhammad and Jesus, which adherents of these faiths exhibit faithfulness to the example of their founders?

[1] President Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President at National Prayer Breakfast”,  hereafter cited as RPNPB, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/05/remarks-president-national-prayer-breakfast, (accessed February 6, 2015).
[2] It has been the policy of the White House to refer to the group as ISIL and the President maintained this preference in his comments. Using ISIL instead of ISIS or some other designation is more diplomatic nuance which the author believes is ill advised whatever its motivation.
[3] Dar-al-Islam, “the house of Islam”; i.e., the Islamic world.
[4] Even as I write this, it is reported that ISIS has beheaded 20 Coptic Christians as a warning to “crusaders.” Updated to 21 the next day. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/02/15/video-purports-to-show-isis-militants-beheading-christian-hostages/, (accessed February 15, 2015). I cannot but help to wonder if they are somehow trying to resonate with the President’s recent remarks.
[5] Matt 1:18-25; Luke 2:4-7. All Biblical references are to the King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.
[6] Mark 12:28-30; Deut 6:4-5
[7] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “Muhammad”, Encyclopædia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/396226/Muhammad, (accessed February 8, 2015).
[8] “Ka’bah”, Encyclopædia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/309173/Kabah, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[9] Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History, © 2000, 2002 by Karen Armstrong, p.11, https://archive.org/stream/IslamAShortHistoryKarenArmstrong/Islam-A-Short-History-Karen-Armstrong#page/n49/mode/2up, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[10] Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13
[11] Silas, “Muhammad and the Satanic Verses”, http://www.answering-islam.org/Responses/Saifullah/sverses.htm, (accessed February 8, 2015). I have endeavored to restrict citations regarding Muhammad to accepted authoritative sources and Islamic sources. Answering Islam is not an Islamic site. But the author of the article did such a fantastic job documenting the evidence for the Satanic verses that I felt no need to replicate them.
[12] John 8:2-11 New American Standard Bible
[13] From the Hadith Shaih Muslim, Book 17, Number 4206, http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/muslim/017-smt.php, (accessed February 14, 2015).
[14] Matt 5:44
[15] From the Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Book 59, Number 369, http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/bukhari/059-sbt.php, (accessed February 15, 2015). In sending the assassins, Muhammad authorized lying and deception to get the job done.
[16] W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Medina, Oxford, 1956, p. 18, https://archive.org/stream/muhammadatmedina029655mbp#page/n39/mode/1up, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[17] Matt 5:31-32; 19:1-9
[18] Muslims cast this incestuous story in their version of a liberating light, i.e. that blood and legal relations shouldn’t be equated. See “Zaynab bint Jahsh”, http://www.islamswomen.com/articles/zaynab_bint_jahsh.php, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[19] Qur’an 33:36-37
[20] The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Old Testament prophetic literature also depicts the Messiah as such.
[21] Matt 19:13-15
[22] From Hadith Sahih Bukhari, Book 58, Number 234-235, http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/bukhari/058-sbt.php, (accessed February 14, 2015). It is estimated that Muhammad was in his fifties at the time of their marriage. Imagine this scene in most modern Western countries: a middle-aged man dreams of a little girl and falls in love with her picture, marries and has intercourse with her while she is prepubescent. This is the scene that is romanticized in the cited Hadith.
[23] John 18:1-6
[24] John 18:7-11; Luke 22:50-51
[25] Qur’an 47:4
[26] “Muhammad and the Jews of Medina”, http://www.pbs.org/muhammad/ma_jews.shtml, (accessed February 8, 2015).
[27] Richard A. Gabriel, “Muhammad: The Warrior Prophet”, http://www.historynet.com/muhammad-the-warrior-prophet.htm, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[28] “List of Muhammad’s Wives and Concubines”, No. 8, http://wikiislam.net/wiki/List_of_Muhammads_Wives_and_Concubines, (accessed February 15, 2015).
[29] John 18:36 New International Version. Scripturally, Christianity is only a political movement in its eschatology. The King is shown as returning to set up His Kingdom on earth, not his servants taking up the sword to make it so.
[30] Mark A. Gabriel, PhD, Journey Into the Mind of an Islamic Terrorist, (Lake Mary: Frontline 2006), 131.

Denarii, Dollars, and Day Laborers: A Living Wage Tale – Part 2

“Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” Jesus of Nazareth on labor relations, circa AD 33.[1]

“And whereas conditions of labour exist involving such injustice, hardship, and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest…and an improvement of those conditions is urgently required; as, for example, by…the provision of an adequate living wage…[and] recognition of the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value…” Preamble to the International Labor Organization Constitution, AD 1919.[2]

I believe that both the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 were birthed out of two ideals: a reasonable desire for fairness (defined as an equality of outcomes) and a belief that employers have a predisposition for exploiting labor. Our legislators meant well and believed that by such regulations, they would improve the lot of all workers. Though it would be fun to debate the veracity of that, it’s not the purpose of this post. I’m not here to argue about their effectiveness. I am here to argue about their legitimacy in a free market economy.

On January 28, 2014, President Obama will give his fifth State of the Union Address. Rest assured that he will bang the drum of an “adequate living wage” and an increase to the minimum wage. Members of Congress will stand and applaud. Man-on-the-street interviews will find the populace very accepting of the proposal. Proponents for the poor will claim it as another step toward “wage equality”. And employers everywhere will begin estimating how much more they will need to charge for their products once another synthetic wage increase goes into effect.

In a truly free market, employers vie for labor based on market value. If there is a large supply of labor, the price goes down. If the labor supply is limited, the price goes up. It matters not what type of labor is in view, whether skilled or unskilled. For instance, our institutions of higher learning produce more lawyers than the current market demands. So, though the median wage for lawyers in 2012 was around $113,000 per year, it doesn’t mean that 2014 graduates will make that in 2015. Those looking for jobs after graduation often have to settle for posts that are tangential to the legal profession. Many agree to come aboard firms for much lower pay simply to get in the door. Supply and demand, plain and simple.

But who is going to shed a tear for the plight of lawyers? What politician would be able to rabble-rouse the populace over the issue of unfair wages to professionals?  Will we see a law enacted that forces law firms to pay a minimum hourly wage to new lawyers in order to guarantee their ability to pay off their school loans and have enough left over to eat? I doubt it. After all, why would lawyers need a living wage?

Though I believe the above argument makes sense, somehow its validity dissolves in face of the day laborer and the minimum wage worker. Emotion overrules reason to the degree that folks who haven’t been paid minimum wage in decades clamor passionately for the need of fast food workers to make over $10 an hour.

I worked in an Arby’s Restaurant in my late teens. I had a coworker who took off to Alaska during the canning season to make some quick money. He had heard that the cannery workers could make $15 an hour (this was in the early 1980s). When he got there, the cannery was on strike. So he wound up working at the Arby’s – for well over twice the minimum wage. Why? Supply and demand. Virginia had a much larger unskilled labor supply than Alaska did at the time. To attract workers to food service jobs, Virginia employers only had to offer minimum wage. Alaska employers had to sweeten the pot to attract workers from other venues. This is how the free market is supposed to work.

But ever since the social upheavals of the early twentieth century, progressives of all stripes have pressed to stipulate what employers must pay, regardless of market conditions. They sold these notions to the employers themselves by claiming that it protects them from competitors who might gain an unfair advantage by paying less for their labor. If everyone is forced to do it, they reasoned, it levels the playing field. All the while, freedom – both of people and markets – bled out more and more.

Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the field was given primarily to illustrate spiritual truths. But contained in it are all the issues of market value, fair pay, labor relations, and employer freedoms. I won’t print the entire parable here, but I would encourage you to pick your Bible up and read it. You will find it in Matthew 20:1-16.

In the parable, a landowner negotiates with a group of men to work in his vineyard for the day. The market value for a day’s work[3] was one denarius and the landowner hired the men for that wage. Supposing that the work began at sunup, 6 AM, the landowner hired additional laborers at 9 AM, 12 PM, 3 PM, and 5 PM. When the sun went down at 6 PM, the landowner paid all the workers one denarius each. I’ll attempt to bring this a bit closer to home.

Minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. Supposing that four of the twelve hours would be paid at overtime rates, let’s call the average day wage for 12 hours $102.[4] With this conversion, the average hourly wage result per worker class is illustrated in the table below. 

wage table

In today’s rhetoric, the landowner’s generosity caused a 1200% economic inequality between the top wage earner and the lowest wage earner. This is obviously unfair. After all, a group of men labored for twelve hours and only made what men who worked for a single hour made. Time to go on strike, file a complaint with the Department of Labor, and get in front of any camera that will listen to how evil the employer is. In swoops the government mandating that all laborers be paid $17 an hour because the landowner can obviously afford it. Furthermore, the landowner is restrained from giving discretionary bonuses. All laborers of a particular class must make the same wage. And if a bonus is to be handed out, it cannot be based on generosity; unless the employer is willing to be equally generous with everybody.

It’s interesting to see what side of this argument Jesus lands on. When the first laborer hired accuses him of unfairness, he says, “Friend, I’m not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work the day for $102? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man that was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?” Jesus doesn’t land on the side of fairness, defined as equal outcomes. He lands on the side of freedom – the freedom to use his money to compensate labor as he saw fit.

I’ve worked in corporate America for quite some time now. I’ve known more than a few human resource professionals in my day and have had to dabble a bit in the trade myself. Trust me, if Jesus were a CEO today and pulled a stunt like that on the factory floor, his head of HR would have a heart attack. And the demand for lawyers would go up the week after payday.


[1] Matthew 20:15 New International Version

[3] At the time, this was a nominal 12 hour work day. These would be longer hours in the summer and shorter in the winter as regardless the season, the daylight hours were divided equally into twelve parts.

[4] The math: ($7.25 x 8) + ($7.25 x 1.5 x 4) = $101.50. I rounded up in the text to make more cents.