Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Monday, December 24, 2012

On Christmas and Slaughter

By Dr. Jennifer Myhre

Jennifer Myhre is physician who has served with World Harvest Mission since 1991, and has worked in East Africa since 1993 – currently working at AIC Kijabe Hospital in Kenya. She is married to Dr. Scott Myhre and has four children. She is also among the readers of the Clothesline Report. Scott and Jennifer blog regularly at a fantastic site where this was blog entry was originally posted. Go check out their site: we link to it on the CR. I promise that you won’t regret it. 


Having spent 17 of the last 20 Christmases in Africa, the wind which blows in a drier hotter season now feels familiar, and the flashing spastic lights we bought in our capital a couple years back (our first electrified season) feel appropriately chaotic.  Last year was our first in Kijabe (Kenya), and I remember the church Christmas pageant which included a band of skinny little camouflage-clad Kenyan boys as Herod’s soldiers marching in like a rebel resistance army, and Jesus’ parents fleeing before them like any other refugees. I don’t recall much focus on this part of the story in America as I grew up.  Our plays ended half-way through Matthew 2, with the gifts of the magi, while the scene was still serenely beautiful and triumphant.  

The slaughter of innocent children gives the story a jarring, uncomfortable ending, dangling, unresolved, and terrible.  Rachel weeping for her children, because they are no more.

Poussin: Massacre of the Innocents
Five years ago on this day I had just flown from Bundibugyo (Uganda) to Kampala to see my own children for whom I had wept, thinking that Scott and I might be no more, after surviving a 3-week ebola-exposure incubation.  Many innocents had died all around us.  That Christmas was awash in grief, much like Christmas in Connecticut this year.  The 20 first-graders who died, and their six heroic teachers and administrators, are a modern-day slaughter of the innocents.  Angry evil lashing out at those who are defenseless.

We should not have dropped this part of the Christmas story all these years.  Because slaughter is the context of Christmas.  The whole story hinges on the presence of rampant evil.  When masses of children are violently killed, it becomes hard to deny the reality of injustice and suffering, the horrible brokenness of our world.  And in Revelation 12, we see the evil pictured as a great serpent, seeking to devour God’s holy child.

Christianity is not about a moral standard, who is right and who is wrong, winning arguments or elections.  It’s not about the right songs or the right politics, or power, or influence.  It’s not about an intangible inward assurance of a distantly future eternal location.

Christmas and Christianity are about redemption of a real evil in our real world.  This is a serious business.  People get hurt.  The evil that made Adam Lanza mentally ill, that tortured his life, that deprived him of treatment or cure, that deceived him into believing this last act of horror was something he needed to do.  The evil that split up his family, that lured his mother into buying assault weapons capable of firing hundreds of rounds of deadly ammunition in a matter of minutes, the evil that insinuates that limiting this sort of weapon to the military is an infringement of human rights.  The evil that kills twenty African children every three minutes of every hour of every day of every year, over and over.  The evil manifest in viruses that turn love and motherhood into death, in greedy dictators who steal from their own people and ruthless terrorists who throw grenades into neighborhoods, in failed crops, hunger, ill-equipped hospitals, careless drivers, floods and droughts.

On this continent it would be absurd to deny the horror and heartache of evil, just as absurd as it would be to do so in Newtown.  Or in Bethlehem, when the bloodied bodies of baby boys were being buried.

Evil in Bethlehem: Leon Congiet's "Massacre of the Innocents"
The birth of the child who is God ushers in a turning point in the story.  A foe capable of meeting evil, and defeating it.  Disguised and humbled in human flesh.  The incarnation sets in motion a complete reversal of all that is wrong, all that is sorrowful, all that is painful, and in the course of this battle, a lot of people die.  The baby survives and becomes the man who will refuse to ride against Roman powers as a King. That is a victory too small, a territory too temporary.  This King will choose a path of suffering, voluntarily taking on all that evil could throw at him, in his own body, nailed to a tree.  Like the teachers at Sandy Hook who put their bodies in the path of bullets, trying to protect the children.  This King will defeat evil.  He will walk out of a tomb, so that every 6 and 7-year-old gunned down, every starving baby, and even the Adam Lanzas of the world, can be redeemed.

We saw the Hobbit movie a few days ago.  The filmmakers inserted a scene at Rivendell in which Gandalf muses that it is not so much the power of armies that keeps evil at bay, but the ordinary acts of courage and kindness that preserve our world – the community outpouring of love which will heal hearts in Newtown; the tenacious pushing of a teenage girl who gave birth to a baby; and the steady painful walk he took towards death.  The daily self-sacrifice of his followers who sweep streets and teach children and suture wounds and defend the fatherless.

Evil is real.  Innocents suffer.  But the story does not end there.


From the Clothesline Report, we pray that the redemptive power of the incarnation will invade your world – however broken it may be – and ours, in the year ahead.  And may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Response: We Will Rebuild!

Nobody likes a coward. We want our leaders to be resolute when we’re threatened.
We think of the classic example, when all seemed lost after Dunkirk in 1940. Who would not have been stirred by Churchill’s defiance?  “We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender….”

And in the same vein, who can blame the governors of New York and New Jersey for their bravado after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy?

"Working together,” said New York’s Andrew Cuomo, “we will rebuild stronger and better than ever before, so New York is better prepared and has the infrastructure in place to handle future major weather incidents."

In New Jersey, Chris Christie was no less optimistic: "I'm confident we can rebuild, that we will rebuild, and we'll rebuild together."

Not surprisingly, both governors’ approval ratings have soared. Never surrender; never retreat. We love this stuff.

Court Square Station in Queens as flooding started
But Wednesday evening, I squeezed into a packed hall at NYU to listen to some of New York’s leading experts – climate scientists, meteorologists, sociologists, public health experts and more – reflect on city planning in the post-Sandy era. They all agreed on one thing: When sea levels are rising, only fools refuse to retreat.

Among the experts was Klaus Jacob, a geophysicist with a 40-year career at Columbia University, and a leading New York City advisor regarding the impacts of climate change.  For the last decade, Jacob has warned anyone willing to listen about New York’s vulnerability to climate change.  In 2011, he predicted in a major New York state report that a “100-year storm” – almost exactly what Sandy turned out to be – would flood the subway system in about forty minutes; all major tunnels would be flooded in about an hour; and costs would total about $58 billion.

It’s uncanny how accurate Jacob’s 2011 report was.  Early estimates have put the bill for Sandy at $52 billion, and the number is climbing.

86th Street Station in Manhattan
But Dr. Jacob has a much more sober warning for us. “100-year storms” hit us infrequently; in any year, there’s about a 1% chance that one will strike. On average, that’s one per century, let’s say. But add 2-4 feet of sea level rise, which Jacob and New York’s ClimAID researchers are projecting this century, and the same flooding will occur every 3 to 10 years, he told the NYU audience Wednesday evening.

“You can’t have the whole system being shut down once a decade,” said Jacob a year ago. “What’s important is that we’re vulnerable right now to the 100-year storm. After 40 minutes of rain the entire subway system could be underwater.”

You heard that right. Before we ever heard of Sandy, Jacob was predicting that sea-level rise will give us one of these events every decade on the high side. On the low side? One Sandy-like flood every three years.

Seaside Heights, NJ after Hurricane Sandy
Now, a year ago, some of us would have said Jacob was simply making scientific projections, an exercise often ridiculed by climate skeptics. Hurricane Irene had hit us pretty hard. Many people thought it might be related to climate change. But the climate discussion was still hostage to our national game of political football, and few people really listened. After Hurricane Sandy, NPR host Steve Curwood asked him in a radio interview if this was finally the wake-up call the city – and the country – needed to begin to seriously plan for the ravages of climate change.

“Last year’s [Hurricane] Irene should have been the wake-up call,” answered Jacob. “And then we should have gotten into action. So this is the second wake-up call… how many wake-up calls do we need?”

So let’s say we’ve wakened up. What should we do? I have one suggestion for starters: Before we join the cheering section for the rebuilding of communities in the path of the rising seas, let’s acknowledge that we are fundamentally changing the earth, for ourselves and for distant – and comparatively innocent – people. You may be able to imagine Fortress New York. But no one’s seriously talking about Fortress Bangladesh.

Building seawalls around our threatened cities is probably unwise. But continuing on our carbon binge from inside climate fortresses raises fundamental questions of justice for anyone attuned to the call to care for God’s creation, and for his most vulnerable children.

If you’d like to make your voice about creation care heard in Congress, feel free to copy and edit this letter, and send it to your congressional representatives by clicking here.  And consider adding one message: Please don’t lure people back into harm’s way by promising to rebuild in places from which we should be thoughtfully retreating.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Write to Congress? What Should I Say?

A dear friend read my last post, and followed my suggested link to write her congressman. When she got to the website, she paused:  WHAT SHOULD I SAY??

Good question. You’re concerned about abuse of the creation. You want to protect it for its Maker, for your children, and for all people. But what, specifically should you tell your Senators and Congressperson? As much as you’d like to write your original thoughts, let me suggest you start with something from my pen. Copy and paste it, shorten it, add to it, personalize it as you wish. But at least this will give you a start.

And when you're finished, here's a reminder of how to reach your Congressional representatives: Just click here.

Dear Senator/Representative ________________:

I am writing to urge you to respond to the growing weight of evidence that our present environmental policies are leading to disastrous and unjust results for us, for our children, and for those who are least able to adapt to the damage we are inflicting on the earth. Even though environmental policy has recently become politicized, there is no place for political posturing on issues like the unfolding mass extinction of threatened species, loss of vital habitats and ecosystems, acidification of the oceans, sea level rise, and rapid global climate change. 

Despite controversy that still simmers in Congress, the National Academy of Sciences and virtually all leading scientific associations have made clear the reality of the following dangerous developments:

  • The global climate is rapidly changing due to unparalleled concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, resulting in severe droughts, catastrophic flooding, intense tropical storms, and coastal damage;
  • Roughly one-third of all assessed species are threatened with extinction due to habitat destruction and over-exploitation, and climate change is now expected to threaten roughly half of all known species with extinction;
  • Oceans have absorbed much of the carbon we’ve poured into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, and are now one-third more acidic than they were a generation ago, imperiling countless marine species and ecosystems on which mankind depends; and
  • Sea levels are rising as oceans warm and ice sheets melt, and are projected to wreak unfathomable damage on the world’s coastal communities, including Miami, New York and New Orleans.

Unless our country acts promptly to protect the earth, our children will inherit a largely unrecognizable planet, beset by famine, displaced populations, altered disease vectors, mass human migration and desperate resource conflicts. In light of these risks, I ask you to take the following steps:

  • Support incentives and research for clean energy and efficiency technologies, such as wind, geothermal, solar energy and efficiency standards. While natural gas is less polluting than coal and has a transitional role in our energy mix, we should not delude ourselves by calling it clean energy.
  • Support global agreements on climate change. The U.S. alone refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and our opposition undermined global efforts to rein in a problem which has now become a global crisis. Global warming is global, and so are its solutions.
  • Eliminate subsidies for polluting fossil fuel industries. Oil, coal and gas are mature industries that do not need – or deserve – taxpayer subsidies. “Energy independence” may sound appealing as a slogan, but with free markets, we can be no more independent than the highest international bidder.
  • Establish a price on carbon emissions. No one has a right to profit from polluting activities, leaving the costs and consequences to our children and those on distant shores. We have successfully limited the emission of ozone-destroying CFCs through market mechanisms, and must do the same with earth-heating greenhouse gases.
  • Defend the EPA from attacks as it acts to protect us from polluters. In particular, support the EPA’s limitations on emissions of heavy metals, sulfur, CO2 and particulates from new and existing power plants.

People who labor to defend the earth lack the lobbying budgets available to polluting industries. But we have a just cause, the vote, and the willingness to take all measures to protect the earth and its most vulnerable children. We look to you as our representative to defend it for all people, both now and in our children's day.


You've got a voice. Let them hear it!
Don’t forget: It’s easy to reach your Congressional representatives. Just click here.

Thanks for writing, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood