...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Workable Solutions - V

I'm currently taking a fairly interesting class - I think its called Religion & the Media - which I need to finally finsih my undergrad. Its most about reading, watching and/or perusing websites, and writing commentaries on what these various media sources say about religion & faith. Not a very difficult class, I can assure you, and the majority of my classmates pieces run something like this, which is a review of the Da Vinci Code:

The idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and carried on a bloodline that was the true church. Obviously this goes against the Catholic view and brings questions to my mind. Like, who is God? and what is the true message of Jesus. After reading this book an answer that I found was one of harmony. the true meaning of church and spirit is harmony and balance between all creatures. The peace you find in love is the peace that God would want. Not the rules and guidelines laid down by the church.

From such pithy comments, we are supposed to write a 10 page paper at the end of the semester on religion & faith in America today. I can hardly wait. We also have to read A New Religious America by Diana Eck, upon which I will reflect more in the future. But this quote got me thinking:

"In a sense, [Christianity] became stronger precisely because the churches no longer had any support from public tax coffers; they had to compete with one another in the free market of Christian ideas in order to thrive, and one of the consequences of this unprecedented approach to religious freedom was the proliferation of churches."

As a society, it is clear that capitalism has informed and permeated virtually every nook & cranny of our public and private lives. We certainly live in a consumer society, but I had never regarded the institutional church as producer of religious goods, so to speak. But, of course, why shouldn't we think about it in this way? Churches clearly brand themselves and attempt to use marketing to bring people in the door - which likely means more money to do more things. Now, I'm not questioning anyone's motives (except, maybe teleevangelists and the like) because I do not doubt that most churches want to reach people with the Gospel and regard the additional resources offered by new members as a blessing they will use to reach even more people. But, to what extent do churches regard each other as competition? The reality is that "people" is the resource the church industry must mine, and particularly in areas with less population density, "people" is a relatively scarce resource, especially after other factors are brought into the equation.

I will have to develop this thought further (I don't have much time to do so right now) but a workable solution towards unity is to not regard other churches as competition for a resource. We have to move beyond a capitalist model of church.


I saw this through a link on The Revealer yesterday, and was simultaneously disgusted by this person's arrogance and intrigued by my sympathy for his position on some things. Read the article and you'll see what I mean - I've talked to too many people trying to play-up the Bible's more difficult passages as some kind of pretext for dismissing Christianity and/or God, to give his points on "Bible porn" much weight. It was the other half of his beliefs that intrigued me.

Because I didn't really want anybody to have a conversion experience, I went to be a counselor at [the youth conference] to save the children from being saved.

I certainly share his dim view of mere intellectual or emotion driven converstion experiences. I became a Christian at a Younglife camp in California, and years later, I came to understand how I had been psychologically manipulated into that decision. For me, and I'm sure for a great many others, these decisions were real and lives changed because of them. But I'm equally sure that these "decisions" aren't real for a significant segment of kids that go to such camps or conferences and this alienates them from faith. It seems clear that the author falls firmly into the latter and we can see how this has poisoned his view of Christ and Christianity. In my current position as a youth pastor, I really try go a different way in teaching kids about Christ, and not just because it could create people like this.

From Kierkegaard I knew that "Truth is Subjectivity," from Nietzsche that Christians were pop-Platonists, and from Rene Girard that the New Testament revealed the scapegoat mechanism secretly present in all other myths. I knew Christianity, like life, was something far more complex and messy and hard and weird than you could explain to teens in a week. And I knew that it was condescending and wrong to make teens feel dysfunctional if they did not have a Jesus experience in just the way [the youth conference] had pre-ordained for them.

While I agree with the latter half of this statement, it is ironic (and hypocritical) to malign the conference for "condescension" towards kids who do not fit the conference's mold, and yet turn around and display that exact same attitude towards the kids that do. As for his philosophical musings, I can only point out that if you need someone to "reveal" Christ being offered in our place in a "scapegoat mechanism" in the NT, you probably shouldn't be trying to write articles on religion, much less counsel highschoolers.

I still considered myself a Christian, but I had no statement of belief. I wasn't even sure if belief itself was very Christlike.

I'm still dumbfounded by this. If you have no statement of belief, I'm not sure you are actually able to describe yourself with a label that is defined by a statement of belief. And that last sentence - well, I'm almost speechless. I suppose one could argue that Christ, being God, *knew* about Himself and as such, did not require any belief, but I don't think this is what the author is trying to say.

My logic, as I explained it to Dale, was that not every kid at [the youth conference] was going to connect with the rah-rah, happy shiny form of evangelicalism. I felt that it was my role to reach out to these kids. And if it took a few shenanigans to win them for Jesus, I thought it was worth it. I don't really know if I believed any of this.

Right up until that last sentence, I was with him. Like it or not, "church" is a dirty word to some people and their perception of God is mediated by their animosity towards shiny, happy Christians and our stainless steel church. Unless we can break down those (I can't really say misconceptions because there is an unfortunate degree of accuracy in their views) barriers, the love of Christ will ever be hidden behind our peppy songs, coffee carts in the lobby and catchy sermon titles. And I really do believe that.

I was nervous about desanctifying this, the most sacred point of...many young people's lives. But [my teenagers] were mock-sobbing, loudly blowing their noses, hardly able to keep from busting out laughing.

Ahhh, the value of derision and arrogance to achieve existential bliss. The thing that really bothers me is that these kids were assigned to him - they were not necessarily the disillusioned, disaffected youth that he believes would not connect with the message of the youth conference. These kids could have been me! They could have been someoen whose life was forever changed by a momentary experience that would not let them go, by the haunting memory of joy and the pursuit of love, and this guy destroyed that opportunity. And for what? So he could make a point? So he could make himself feel better about his own bad experiences by forcing them on someone else? I sincerely hope that I never fall victim to this kind of mentality, and I'm not saying that in a "thank God I'm not like that sinner" way. I have been like that at times in my past - thought I knew more, was too cool, or whatever, to listen to what others are saying and dismissed them without a second thought - I hope I never fall back into that place again.

I asked my kids what they thought of the altar call. No one had been paying enough attention to even know what was being said. Disgusted, I went to explain the whole program: just how and why [the youth conference] had been trying to save them, and how I had been trying to save them from that.  What I had been trying to teach them that week was that salvation isn't enough. You aren't altogether without merit before you accept Jesus and you certainly aren't altogether good once you do accept him. You can't judge others based on whether or not they call themselves Christian or if they've had some special experience where Jesus entered their life. I don't know what happens after you die, I told them, but if Jesus is up there separating the sheep from the goats based on whether or not they get all weepy when Amy Grant songs are played soft, I don't want anything to do with it.

Salvation isn't enough. This idea has been rolling around in my head since I read this article. If he means merely getting saved isn't enough, that knowing (or just thinking) "I've got a ticket into heaven" but that doesn't translate into any real change in ourselves or in our lives, then yeah, salvation isn't enough, because quite frankly, that ain't salvation. And this, I think, is the central deficiency of Protestant salvation theology. It is granular, happening at a single point of time, which renders verses like Philippians 2:12 utterly meaningless. How can you "work out your salvation" if it happened in a split second? I think the irony in this whole article is that it is the minimalist understanding of faith, salvation & theology that permeates evangelical thought, and its willing cooperation with pop culture in the name of Christ, that produced this author and influenced his actions. Would he have had the same struggles in a fuller tradition? Would he have regarded Christianity as facile & unthinking had he faced the weight of Patristic thought? For the sake of the kids entrusted to me, what can I learn from this?


Not the only one

I just had lunch with the gentleman doing the in-town church plant in conjunction with my church. He had expressed some things he did not like about the way church is done here and ways he would like to do things differently with the plant, but I had no idea how deep his misgivings really went. Today he brought up our complete lack of depth and the worshitainment* we do on Sunday morning that tends to only nominally include the Bible, and the fact that we as a staff never get into the Bible together. (The most we do is pray at staff meetings, and that is normally focused on specific prayer requests.) He pointed out our lack of growth both numerically and in the spiritual maturity of our congregation, which is what has sent alarm bells ringing in my head in the past.

Now, in my mind, the most interesting part is how the plant is being viewed by him and by our church, and by extension our denomination. I've noted in the past how his vision seems to be a significant departure from the way our senior pastor describes his vision for our multi-site approach. The planter wants a worshipful, Bible-plumbing church that is deeper, more spiritually mature and that has a stronger commitment to the Gospel than it does to being relevant. Whereas our senior pastor and the head of church plants for our denomination has gone so far as to suggest the church plant be a video venue** for the senior pastor's sermons. As he pointed out, our lack of numerical growth kind of indicates that what we're doing isn't really working, so why should we try to make an exact copy in your plant? All 3 of them have a meeting tomorrow and the CP says he is going to address these issues and state in no uncertain terms that he will not be reproducing a carbon copy of this church because he cannot get on board with what we do here. I asked him what he would do if the respective positions were too far apart and no compromise could be reached and he said he didn't know. What I do know is that his denominational financing will be running out and our church can't afford to finance this church plant on its own, so it may end up being a on/off kind of thing with no middle ground.

I cannot tell you how much relief I feel knowing that someone else on staff shares our concerns and problems with this place. The CP is a very mature, dedicated, prayerful man, so it encourages me to a great extent that he shares my misgivings. But damn! we had just resolved ourself to staying here for a couple of years and now I'm wondering if that was the right decision.

*I don't know if anyone has ever used that word before (someone probably has) but dang if I dont' like it! I may need to look into a copyright or something. :)

**For those of you who don't know, a video venue is a site that plays a tape, either of a complete service or just the sermon, to a group. Some churches have experienced good success with the video venue approach. Personally, I think it is antithetical to what church is about and should be avoided except under very specific situations that render it better than nothing.

A disturbing new reality

As the situation in Iraq either deteriorates, improves or remains constant depending on whom you listen to for your news, one thing is abundantly clear; the remaining "Axis of Evil" states are making a mad-dash for the nuclear finish line while we are tied up in Baghdad. Which only makes sense - up until the Iraq situation, America's military was considered so vastly superior to any other force on the planet that no nation would have thought about risking open conflict with the US. But now, our military superiority, while still unmatched in actual war-fighting, has shown its soft underbelly in post conflict management and counterinsurgency. A point aptly made in this month's Atlantic Monthly in an article by James Fallows (subscription required for the online article - I read it last week at Border's) who points out that the threat of our military was more effective than actual combat in some ways.

So now we have Iran and North Korea moving towards uranium enrichment for "peaceful" reasons while the US is hamstrung in Iraq. Yes, we can destroy those nuclear facilities with longrange missiles or a direct air strike, but the consequences in both cases could be disastrous. North Korea could respond with a conventional attack on South Korea, and considering it has several thousand artillery pieces and rocket launchers within striking distance of Seoul, a conventional response could be as equally devastating to the South Korean capital as an actual nuclear weapon. And this before a single troop crosses the DMZ. With Iran, a strike would likely result in thousands of Iranian fighters moving into Iraq causing even more destabilization in the Middle East - extending this conflict considerably and likely causing a huge increase in US casualties, not to mention Iraqi deaths. The reality is that a strike against these nuclear facilities is not a good option and the UN is being only slightly less ineffective than it normally is, so what real options are open to us? Not many. We may have to face the reality of a nuclear Iran, which is clearly going to destabilize the region more than a democratic Iraq (still little more than a dream at this point) can hope to counter. Iraq may prove to be the single greatest strategic blunder in US history.


Workable Solutions - IV

Hat tip to neothelogue for this link. There is also some commentary on Christianitytoday's news blog - scroll down a bit to find it.

From the article - "Yet such discussions [about communion] are important because they go to the heart of the Christian faith, say clergy and denominational officials. They affect the way believers perceive and take part in one of the most sacred events in Christian history: the meal Jesus shared with his disciples the night before his crucifixion. And they affect efforts to foster unity among Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians and end theological and liturgical disputes that have created deep divisions in Christianity."

This quote is a bit broader than the topics of my posts, which is finding workable solutions towards the problem of Protestantism's schismatic tendencies. But it does highlight another key area that will have to be addressed, one that follows closely in parallel with the other issues discussed thus far.

Historically, Protestantism has tended to relegate communion to a secondary status, probably in an overreaction to all things Catholic. This has meant communion being downgraded to a symbol and not a sacrament, and being practiced infrequently. My church, for instance, practices communion every 4-6 weeks and even then it is not the focus of the service. One of my biggest problems with our approach is the fact that communion is inserted where its "appropriate" in a sermon series, but it normally doesn't feel appropriate to me, and it usually doesn't relate very well to the topic of the sermon. I'm not sure how typical this is across the Protestant spectrum (which ostensibly includes Anglicans, who seem to be of a variety of opinions on communion according to Pontificator), but I'm pretty certain it is not at all out of the ordinary.

Finding a workable solution on this issue requires us to ask: How central is communion to our worship and why? How does communion fit in with and compare to other worship practices? How should we view communion - symbol, sacrament or somewhere in between? How frequently should we take communion? And, of course, is our communion open or closed?

Step IV - Develop a broad consensus on exactly what communion is, how we should practice it and membership/faith requirements necessary to receive it.


Workable Solutions - III

(See parts I and II)

Step I in workable solutions towards Protestant unity is to redefine sola scriptura across Protestant boundaries that will get everyone on the same page on exactly what is authoritative. Ideally (though I did not discuss this), such a redefinition would also include a theory on the nature of inspiration and resolve any issues about textual variations within the canon, including potentially "uninspired" parts - like Acts 8:37 or the alleged "extra" ending to Mark. Step II was to figure out a way to overcome the diversity of interpretations in such a way that Protestant groups are able to fully recognize other group as legitimately Christian. This would likely require an abandonment of key distinctives in some, or many, areas and a near total ecclesial & theological reformation of some churches.

Though it may sound a little odd, Step III is figuring out how we are going to view history, because quite frankly, Protestantism is departure on many points of Christian history. Some of these departures are major and some are minor, but any way we look at them, we have to have a comprehensive way of receiving and interpreting history. I think the majority of Christian sects & denominations believe in a specific Golden Age of Christianity. For some, this age could only be during the life of the Apostles. When St John finally died on Patmos, the Golden Age ended and thus began the Church's long slide into corruption and apostasy. For other groups, the first 4 centuries are normative and they may accept some of the Ecumenical Councils as authoritative (to what degree varies by group). There is a continuum here, with Catholic and Orthodox on one end (who arguably don't believe that, in essence, the Golden Age ever really ended) and very strict Protestants on the other that may even suspect some of the teachings that cropped up during the Apostles' time.

As I said before, history is important because Protestantism departs from historic Christian thought in many areas. We are not liturgical, sacramental, hierarchical (for the most part) or overtly mystical. We believe in sola scriptura, though no such doctrine was ever embraced by the church-historic, reject many sources of authority early Christians fully accepted, and we are, quite frankly, inherently schismatic. Read through the earliest Church Fathers (those most likely to be favorably considered across the spectrum), and you will see an emphasis on unity, mutual submission and loving cohesion that seems impossible to achieve in our day and age, and that is not the focus of the majority of Christians. Early Christians viewed the Church as the mediator of their faith, in that the only true experience of Christ was found within His body. We tend to hold similar views about the Bible, and not the church, because we find the church intrinsically untrustworthy. It is only a human endeavor, and one that does not appear to be specially favored by the Holy Spirit, at least not the same way Scripture is.

So we have to figure out exactly what is normative for us. If a belief in sacarmental worship can be proven of the earliest Christians (and I think it can), should we change our services and your theology to conform to this historical standard? If the early church embraced a clear hierarchy of male-only leadership, should be conform to that as well? And perhaps the real sticking point - if the early church regarded extra-biblical material as authoritative, how do we deal with that? We have left history unengaged for too long, simply assuming we are modeling ourselves after NT worship, but this is not the case. We may have captured certain parts of it, and we may be doing a good job of what we're doing, but we need to figure out if it is what we are supposed to be doing.

Step III is developing a consistent view & interpretation of history across Protestantism. One that deals with questions of worship & ecclesiology, extra-biblical authority and the sacraments.


Dangerous Knowledge

After work yesterday, I went home and took some time to read a bit and to pray about the issues I mentioned in the previous post. I decided the best place to start reading my 38 volume Church Fathers birthday present (still the best ever!) was, oddly enough, at the beginning. The very first work is the First Epistle of Clement, which I have almost finished. Its a telling experience to read the words of someone who lived 1900 years ago - the style, content and focus of the work can be difficult obstacles since they are so different from modern texts. For having to write by hand, I have noticed that these writers were actually very verbose, frequently readdressing the same point several times from different angles. I don't know if this was a conscious decision to stress the importance of what they were trying to say, or merely conforming to the style of the day, but I like the richness & depth it produces. It does not presume the reader will know or think about all of these angles & nuances, and so the author is a like a tour guide taking the much longer but vastly superior scenic route, pointing out all the details and giving the reader a chance to savor and ponder what is before him.

Clement writes:

"These things therefore being manifest to us, and since we look into the depths of the divine knowledge, it behoves [sic] us to do all in order, which the Lord has commanded us to perform....Ye see, brethren, that the greater the knowledge that has been vouchsafed to us, the greater also is the danger to which we are exposed." Chapters 40 & 41

Clement here is not speaking about danger from an external source - from heretics, the Roman government or even the devil himself - no, Clement is speaking about the danger God poses to us. He says, "[t]hose, therefore, who do anything beyond that which is agreeable to His will, are punished..." Having been entrusted with the gift of divine knowledge, we must make every effort to see it is handled and treated with the respect & reverence it so clearly deserves. I think this is one of the fundamental differences I see between Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Protestantism doesn't treat divine knowledge disrespectfully, but they do handle it in a familiar fashion. They treat it as a family member instead of a respected house-guest. The priest of the parish my wife and I attended for a few months used to describe this is as "putting Jesus in your pocket," which I think is an apt description. There is undoubtedly love, devotion and commitment to Christ, but the tone is frequently casual, and there is certainly little perception of the danger of the knowledge we have been given.

Hebrews 2:1-3a "For this reason we must pay much closer to attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (NASB)

Will our familiarity breed contempt, as the saying goes? I fear that it might, because we have lost sight of the dangerous glory of God. A recent article in Relevant Magazine hightlights an interview with John Fischer, who says:

"Faith is necessary for a more dangerous life...It finally dawned on me that the message of ‘Safety’ was really bugging me. It almost starts to appear that the bulk of the Christian sub-culture, all these Christian products in the Christian world, however it got started, it appears to exist today out of a fear of the world and a desire to be safe within a subculture where we can still enjoy all those worldly things, but they have been made safe for us and for our consumption. Like a Good Christian Seal of Approval...I think in terms of individual faith it has also affected us. Faith itself has to come in the midst of some kind of tension, pressure, fear, whatever. If everything is fine and we’re comfortable and we’re only around people of faith, in an environment of faith, then who needs faith?"

I think Fischer is right. There is an effort to scrub things clean and make them safe for more consumption (which he explores later in the article), but we are forgetting that what we need is not cleanliness but redemption. The ideas & things we surround ourselves with are in just as much need of regeneration and salvation as we are, and we have forgotten that. We have taken the glory & knowledge of God and turned them into cheesy t-shirts, Christianized comic books and consumer driven churches. We have, in short, neglected so great a salvation.


Houses, decisions and where do we want to be?

My wife and I went looking at houses this weekend, partially because our lease is up on our apartment (and we're very low on storage space in it) and partially because we were bored. We found a nice little 2 bedroom, 2 bath number with a good sized yard and a lot of updates. The owner was something of a handyman, so there is some nice woodwork, and several rooms have had new drywall & paint in the last year or so. It would still need a little work, but in our price range we're not going to find anything that doesn't. From the numerous crucifixes and the small Mary statuette in the front yard, I gathered that the homeowners are Catholic, which could explain why its priced a bit under the market. He could probably get another 5-10% on it, but he told the realtor he "didn't want to be greedy."

The question for my wife and I is not whether we want the house - it seems like a good deal and would be pretty well suited for the youth ministry. No, the question is how long we are going to be here. Right now I don't think either one of us is partiuclarly happy, with either our church or our social life. We don't feely strongly connected here and there aren't many couples our age. A young-marrieds small group is starting up, so hopefully things will change with that, but right now we don't have any friends. We know plenty of people, but they are mostly the parents of the kids that are in my youth group.

For me, the biggest question is how long can I stick this out? How long before I know this isn't the right place and am satisfied that I can leave? For all its shortcomings, there are some great things happening at this church and it feels like some momentum is starting to build in the youth group. I'm learning areas I need to improve in and am actively seeking to introduce new & challenging ideas to these kids, but I still struggle as to whether or not I'm really cut out for this job, if I'm actually good at it. I don't know if those doubts are warranted or not, but there is so much upheaval in our life right now it is hard not to hear them. Couple that with the issues I have with this church in particular, and my larger seeking for the truth about Christ and His Church, and you've got one confused puppy. (Speaking of which, getting a house would be great because then we could get a dog. I miss my dog. If ever there is a doubt about the goodness of God, just look at a dog and be encouraged.)


GetReligion: Honest questions for W

GetReligion: Honest questions for W

I saw this piece over on Get Religion. I'm not overly surprised by this, but I think it speaks volumes to the disconnect between the Republican's base and the true motivations and actions of Republican leadership. George Bush claims he is a Christian (something I am certainly in no position to deny or question), and yet he is failing in regards to one of the most important signifiers of Christian thought - love your enemies. The problem is not just that he is failing in this regard; I think there are probably tens of thousands of evangelical Christians who are also failing to shoulder the burden of loving their enemies and praying for those who persecute them. Can we truly assume "God is on our side" if we are failing to uphold one the central tenets of our faith?


Emerging Worship or Repackaged Consumerism?

I got the book "Emerging Worship" by Dan Kimball a few weeks ago and have been reading through it a bit sporadically. I read his prevous book, "The Emerging Church" and found it interesting. So far, EW has been more a primer on re-thinking how the church does worship and how we, as church leaders particularly, should redirect our efforts towards a more holistic, Spirit-led worship experience and away from the slick, packaged show ideal that dominates right now. A move and an idea I'm all for. The content & style of our Sundary morning worship service (which is obviously the central communal act at virtually every church in the US, much less the world) is largely market-driven. What do the people want? What will they respond to? In this area, I think a delicate balance must be struck. No one is going to come to a church that includes a 4 hour head-standing period as part of its worship experience, but putting too much emphasis on numerical growth can lead to a consumeristic church. One that plays to people's tastes instead of their needs, which means the church mostly becomes a sanitized reflection of the exterior culture.

A guy in my office gave me a copy of an article from the Sep 02 GQ magazine. In it, the author commits himself to entering the Christian sub-culture for a week to see what there is to see. Walter Kirn writes:

"The new Ark, the cultural Ark, built to save the chosen from the Great Media Flood [of secular culture], also has two of
everything, I'm learning. You say you're a Pearl Jam fan? Check out Third Day. They sound just like them...with a slightly different message: Repent! You say you like Grisham and Clancy-style potboilers? Grab a copy of Ted Dekker's Heaven's Wager-same stick-figure characterizations, same preschool prose, just a slightly different message: Repent!...That's the convincing logic of the Ark. If a person is going to waste his life cranking the stereo, clicking the remote, reading paperback pulp and chasing diet fads, he may as well save his soul while he's at it."

The same can equally be true of many seeker-sensitive or Willowcreek type churches. Like a good concert or motivational speaker? Come to Sunday morning service and hear similar songs and an oddly familiar thereapeutic talk with a slightly different message: Repent! Emerging worship is meant to be an antidote to that, and it sounds like it is, but at a certain level its just the same thing with different props. If only a few people come to an emergent worship gathering, what pastor isn't going to start changing elements here and there to make it more appealing to people? If the majority of the regular attenders all say they want to use some old hymns or that they think the incense is too strong - what pastor isn't going listen to that? I honestly think its a very short step from emerging worship to just another form of consumerized Christianity for a new generation. What about emerging worship is timeless or transcendent? What about it draws the individual out of themselves into a direct experience of God? How will it avoid the emotionalism that, in my opinion, plagues modern worship?


Hostage Children

I don't even know what to say about terrorists taking hundreds of children hostage. Let us hope the Russians don't undertake another innovative rescue operation like they did at that theater in Moscow. The narcotic gas they used to knock the hostage takers out ended up killing more people than the terrorists did, and it would certainly kill small children.

While I certainly agree that only a monster would put the life of a child on the line for political motives, it still remains that what these terrorists are after are entirely rational motives - the release of fellow "freedom fighters", maintaining instability in Chechnya which will hopefully drive the Russians out and, of course, to influence the Russian people. The question, of course, is will tactics like this work? I don't know. Like 9/11, it could rally the Russian people to their leader and strengthen their resolve. Then again, Russia is a very different country and both the history of and threat of continued violence could very well sap their resolve.

Right now, though, those hostages AND those terrorists need our prayers.

Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy