Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Nike Ain't No Shoe: The Superbowl and the Worship of Sports, Sex, and Stardom

This post needs a one paragraph disclaimer to be properly understood by readers, so here goes. One of the complaints leveled against me as a pastor and writer is that I'm too free. My grace theology, say some, possesses too much liberty and too little law. I plead guilty. Whether it is loving homosexuals to Christ rather than lambasting them at church, or leading wine collectors to Christ over a glass of wine in their homes, or strongly advocating that institutional churches must change methodologies or die a slow death of traditional irrelevancy, my message is one of Christ's grace and love toward sinners and a repudiation of institutional church authority, control and extra-biblical laws. This Sunday our church will participate in our annual Souper Sunday emphasis where we will share in a fellowship meal after our morning services and take a collection for a new food ministry in our community called Loaves and Fishes.  Several of our small groups will be meeting on Sunday night for Super Bowl parties. We respect churches who have Sunday night corporate worship services, but we do not. The title of this post might make you think that I am about to write something condemning of those who watch the Super Bowl, those who cancel Sunday night services for Super Bowl parties, or those who purchase Nike goods. I am not. The fact is, one of my favorite cousin's wife is a high level executive of Nike, and the charitable work they do is fantastic. I like the Super Bowl as much as anyone else. This post is simply a caution to all Americans, not just Christians, that not all that glitters around the Super Bowl is gold.

This Sunday is the second annual Pray for the Johns Day.  A "john" is a one who pays for sex. In recent years, those involved in putting a stop to human trafficking have reported that use of children and teenagers prostituted for paid sex has been on the upsurge during athletic contests in America, particularly the Super Bowl. Did you ever think we would come to the place in America where people are encouraged to pray for "johns" on Super Bowl Sunday? Probably not. Yet, there is an axiom about our world that the ancient Romans used: Historia non facet saltum - History makes no leaps. America has not arrived overnight at the place where young girls and boys are being taken to the city which hosts the Super Bowl so that "johns" can pay to have sex with them. The problems in New Orleans this weekend during the Super Bowl are outgrowths of America's decades long fascination with sports, sex, and stardom.

The closest event to compare our modern day Super Bowl with is the ancient Greek Olympics. When most Americans hear the word Olympics, they think of a world-wide athletic competition that the modern Olympics represent. But the modern Olympics didn't begin until 1896. The ancient Olympics began in 776 BC and ended in AD 393.  For centuries, the Olympics were Grecian games, open only to free-born Greeks athletes. Much like the American Super Bowl, the rest of the world paid scant attention to the ancient Olympics. However, Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great  decreed in AD 393 that the Olympics should end. Rome had conquered Greece in the second century BC and had adopted Greek culture and language. Yet
Emperor Theodosius, most likely a genuine believer in Jesus Christ and not just a politically expedient Christian like Constantine,  thought the Olympics had become a detriment to Greco/Roman culture and civilization. The athletes at the Olympics had become professionals. Those who won their events were granted free food and lodging for life and were admired by all. Theodosius opined that young people knew more about Olympic athletes than they did Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato. Even worse, Theodosius felt that the Olympics had become a playground for sex and worship of the human form. Olympia, the only site where the ancient Olympics were held during their 1170 year existence, was a city dedicated to the gods. The ancient Greek aphorisms "Know thyself" and "Everything in moderation," had been lost in the collective consciousness of society. People were indulging themselves in all kinds of excess and immorality, and the Olympics had become almost a celebration of that indulgence.

From the start of the Olympic Games until the beginning of the 5th century BC, there were just a few buildings in Olympia, including the Temple of Hera (wife of Zeus) and a crude athletic stadium. However, the Temple of Zeus was built between the years 472-457 BC, and this magnificent structure stood as the centerpiece of Olympia for the remainder of Olympic history. The Temple of Zeus was designed to accommodate the 13-meter-high gold and ivory statue of Zeus, dedicated and placed in the Temple in 435 BC. The Statue of Zeus in Olympia was considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It remains to this day one of the largest statues ever raised within an enclosed room. The figure depicted Zeus, seated on a throne, with a scepter in his left hand and Nike (winged victory) in his right hand. Grecians who visited Olympia considered their pilgrimage to Zeus's most sacred locale as a highlight of their year. As time went by, the people would walk out of their religious worship of the philandering and mythical Zeus and live out their sexual fantasies in Olympia as they cheered their athletes to victory.

Sport, sex and stardom. Olympia, Zeus, and Nike. History makes no leaps. This Sunday the Super Bowl is in the Super Dome in New Orleans. Mardi Gras begins the next week in New Orleans. After this Sunday, we will have a new team of American athletic heroes. Our country is very similar to ancient Greece. Our gods just have different names. Before anybody gets too excited about the Super Bowl, remember that in the grand scheme of human existence, measured in millenia (776 BC to AD 2013) or eternity, this weekend's big game amounts to very little. What counts is that we do our a small part to put an end to the exploitation of children and young people in America. Pray for the johns this Sunday, and pray for those in authority who will be arresting those johns.

And keep your eye on the big picture.  Our civilization and our culture, including the Super Bowl, will one day be gone. Only Christ and His Kingdom never end.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Rendezvous with Death: Blanche Debar Booth, Enid, and the Mystery Surrounding John Wilkes Booth's Death

I have written extensively on what seems to be growing evidence that John Wilkes Booth did not die in the early morning hours of April 26, 1865 as stated in the official record. Booth, according to the accepted historical narrative, was shot by a soldier from the Union's 16th Cavalry named Boston Corbett while hiding in a Virginia farmer's tobacco barn. John Wilkes Booth's family members do not believe this version of their forefather's death, and they say someone else died at Garrett's farm and that their ancestor escaped. Booth's descendants filed suit in 1996 to force the exhumation of the body that the government claims is Booth's. DNA tests could answer definitively whether the body was Booth's, and that is what the Booth family desired--an answer. However, the cemetery's attorneys argued before the judges that if an exhumation of the body took place, the processs would violate what was supposed to be an inviolable written contract between Green Mount Cemetery and Booth's mother (signed in 1869) that her son's remains would never be disturbed. The courts ruled in favor of the cemetery and the body was not exhumed. The family continues to press in their efforts to obtain DNA testing. 
Since that mid-1990's court ruling, trace DNA testing has dramatically improved. In addition,  documents have been uncovered that indicate Booth had assistance from government officials in his escape from Washington, D.C. and that he did not die at Garrett's farm. Respected historians and authors Leonard F. Guttridge (now deceased) and Ray A. Neff wrote a book entitled Dark Union in 2003. In the book, the authors reveal how previously unknown primary source materials, papers deemed authentic by the FBI and Department of Defense examiners, implicate Lincoln's Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in plotting to have the President kidnapped or killed on April 14, 1865.  Dark Union further reveals that the men Stanton sent in pursuit of Booth were loyal to Secretary of War and that they eventually allowed Booth to escape. If true, the question then becomes, "Who was shot at Garrett's farm on April 26, 1865?" There are at least three possible and very plausible answers (other than Booth) from those who are proponents of Booth's escape. However, whom they believe was shot is a subject for another post. I desire in this post to focus on the fact that a few Booth family members swore that they met with John Wilkes Booth after 1865.

One such family member is stage actress Blanche Debar Booth (1844-1930). Blanche was considered "the most beautiful woman on the American stage" in her day, and she was Booth's favorite niece. In March 1922, just eight years before her death,  Blanche swore that she had an encounter with John Wilkes Booth in Enid, Oklahoma (some newspaper accounts say El Reno) in the early 1900's. Again in 1925, Blanche swore that her uncle approached her while she was getting to perform in Enid--35 years after the government said he died. Even when Fred L. Black--the investigator assigned by automobile magnate Henry Ford to look into the matter--attempted to dissuade Blanche Debar Booth from her testimony, she stood firm.

"I exchanged but a word or two with him, letting him know I was too fatigued to see anyone."

According to her sworn testimony, she didn't know the man calling her name on the other side of the dressing room door was her aged uncle. She told the inquirer who wished to see her that she was preparing for her performance and he needed to go away.  Blanche said that her uncle then slid a card under the door of the downtown opera house dressing room with these handwritten words on it, "Wouldn't you like to meet your Johnny?" using the name John Wilkes always used when referring to himself with family members. Blanche did not immediately pick up the card, but continued getting ready. When she saw the card and read the words printed on it, she flung open her door, looking frantically for her uncle. Booth was gone. She swore that the distinctive handwriting and signature was that of her uncle's. She wouldn't budge from her views--particularly because she had heard from her other uncles and her own grandmother of personal meetings they had with Booth over the years.

Blanche DeBar Booth was the daughter of Junius (Jr.) Booth, John Wilkes' brother.  After Lincoln was assassinated, Blanche was interviewed by a Missouri state law enforcement officer who described her as "an unmitigated rebel" and "possessed of considerable personal attractions, of a vigorous mind and marked histrionic ability."  After Lincoln's murder, she dropped her last name to dodge her uncle John's infamy. She retained her striking looks.  She created a sensation in Chicago in 1871 when she put on the first play there after the city was all but destroyed by fire.

Blanche Debar Booth is one of just a handful of 19th century stage actors from whom we have a recording of  her talents. In the YouTube audio below, you can hear how Blanche would have dramatically portrayed her craft on stage in the 1800's and early 1900's. The audio is her actual voice quoting a poem appropriate for the mystery surrounding her brother's death. Whether or not Blanche Debar Booth is telling the truth about meeting her uncle in Enid is up for debate, but nobody can question that as the Booth family continues to press for DNA testing of vertebrae from the "body in the barn," until answers are given to them, the mystery of John Wilkes Booth death will continue.

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade...
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair...
I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town...

And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Performed by Blanche DeBar Booth (1844-1930)
Favorite Niece of John Wilkes Booth

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Internal Beauty of Soul and Spirit

I recently came across a story from the World War II era that gives some encouragement to young people looking for a spouse to concentrate on the internal beauty of the soul and spirit of any prospective mate before focusing on external looks. The story begins with a young man named John Blanchard who was home in Florida on furlough from the Army. He happened to be in the city library browsing through books when he found some notes penciled in the margin of an old textbook. The soft, elegant handwriting and the insightful notes reflected a "thoughtful soul and insightful mind." John Blanchard turned to the front of the old textbook and found the book's previous owner, Miss Holly Maynell. With some effort and assistance from the librarian, John was able to track down Holly's current address.

Holly lived far away in New York City, so John was unable to meet her before going off to war, but he did introduce himself to Holly through a letter, inviting her to correspond. During the next thirteen months, the two young people came to know each other through words. John Blanchard eventually sent a photograph of himself to Holly and requested one of her, but she refused. She wrote, "If you really care for me, it would not matter what I look like." True enough, each letter from Holly only added to John's appreciation for his girlfriend. "It really doesn't matter what she looked like," he thought. "She inspires me with her words."

A romance was blossoming. The day at long last arrived when John Blanchard was to return from the battlefields of Europe. John and Holly scheduled their first meeting for 7:00 p.m. at Central Station in New York City. "You'll recognize me," she wrote, "by the red rose I'll be wearing on my lapel." So at 7.00 p.m. John Blanchard stood on the grand concourse of Grand Central Station looking for the girl whose heart he loved, but whose face he'd never seen. John Blanchard explains in his own words what happened next:
"A young woman was coming toward me, her figure long and slim. Her blonde hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears; her eyes were blue as flowers. Her lips and chin had a gentle firmness, and in her pale green suit she was like springtime come alive. I started toward her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was not wearing a rose. As I moved, a small provocative smile curved her lips. "Going my way, sailor?" she murmured.

Almost uncontrollably, I made one step closer to her, and then I saw Holly Maynell. She was standing almost directly behind the girl. A woman well past 40, she had graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than plump, her thick-ankled feet thrust into low-heeled shoes. The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. I felt as though I was split in two, so keen was my desire to follow her, and yet so deep was my longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned me and upheld my own. And there she stood. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible, her gray eyes had a warm and kindly twinkle. I did not hesitate. My fingers gripped the small worn blue leather copy of the book that was to identify me to her.

This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even better than love, a friendship for which I had been and must ever by grateful. I squared my shoulders and saluted and held out the book to the woman, even though while I spoke I felt choked by the bitterness of my disappointment. "I'm Lieutenant John Blanchard, and you must be Miss Maynell. I am so glad you could meet me; may I take you to dinner?" The woman's face broadened into a tolerant smile. "I don't know what this is about, son," she answered, "but the young lady in the green suit who just went by, she begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should tell you that she is waiting for you in the big restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test!"

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Goodbye Grandma: We'll Join You Soon

This Saturday morning, January 19, 2013, in a beautiful log house at the end of Cherry Hollow Drive in Edmond, Oklahoma, my 95-year-old maternal grandmother went home to be with the Lord. Virginia Pearl Salyer Cherry, born November 30, 1917 in a small house just outside Anadarko, Oklahoma, was the daughter of an East Texas oil field worker who had come to Oklahoma during World War I to work the new Anardarko oil play in southwestern Oklahoma.

After her father "Pop" Salyer was severely burned in an oil field accident in Davenport, Oklahoma, Virginia's father moved the family to a farm just north of Minco, Oklahoma where Virginia Salyer lived with her parents and two younger siblings from 1928-1931-- the beginning of the Great Depression. When the farm failed, Pop went back into oil field work and moved his family to East Texas where Virginia would graduate from Leverett's Chapel High School, Kilgore, Texas in May of 1935 at the age of 17. My grandmother attended Kilgore Junior College the fall of 1935 in Kilgore, Texas, majoring in English Literature. It was the summer of 1936, while at home with her parents, who by then had moved to a little petroleum community called New London, Texas, that Virginia Salyer met the man who would be her future husband.

Frederick Tinsley Donne Cherry (1912-1970) had been a star football player for the University of Oklahoma from 1929-1931. Fred had graduated from OU with a petroleum engineering degree and was working as an engineer for the British American Oil Company. He had been invited by "Pop" Salyer, Virginia's father, to the Salyer family home for breakfast. When Virginia got out of bed and saw her family had company, she promptly decided she better make herself a little more presentable. According to grandmother, "I quickly brushed my hair and threw on a dress. I had seen this young man walking around the lease with my father and thought to myself, 'Hmm... I really want to meet him. He is a really handsome fella." The courtship that began that August morning in 1936 around the breakfast table would last for five months, and on January 27, 1937, Virginia Salyer would marry Fred Cherry in a ceremony held at the Turner Town Baptist Church, just outside New London, Texas.

Though Virginia had attended the Methodist church by herself as a young person in Minco, it wasn't until Fred Cherry entered the Salyer family that the Salyers, including Virginia, came to faith in Christ. Fred, an evangelist at heart, led Virginia, Virginia's parents and her siblings to faith in Christ. Fred baptized Pop and Basil, Virginia's father and brother, at the Turner Town Baptist Church just a month after he married into the family. Basil would die one month later on March 18, 1937 in the New London School explosion. Eleven year old Basil would be one of nearly three hundred people who died that day when a bubble of natural gas that had formed beneath the foundation of the school ignited, causing a horrific explosion and the largest school disaster in terms of deaths in the history of America. A young reporter named Walter Cronkite covered the New London explosion and toward the end of his illustrious career with CBS he called it the story that impacted him the most during his professional reporting. The conversion of Basil Salyer and his sudden and tragic death a month later gave both Fred and Virginia a measure of eternal perspective and the importance of Christian evangelism.

Virginia's husband, Fred Cherry, was drafted to fight in World War II and had a distinguished career as an Army officer in Europe, enduring the London blitz and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. Virginia would give birth to four children prior to Fred's war service, children that included my mother, Mary Cherry, and would then give birth to seven additional children after Fred returned from Europe. In 1950, just a few years after returning from the battle field, Fred gave up a career in oil and business and entered full-time Christian evangelism. In the summer of 1950 the Cherrys purchased a log home in Edmond, Oklahoma, just north of Oklahoma City, and for the past sixty-two years plus, my grandmother has called this her home. For two decades, Virginia Cherry cared for the Cherry children as her husband traversed the United States holding two-week, and sometimes three-week revival meetings. She held down the fort, disciplined the kids, stretched the scarce dollars to make sure enough food was on the table, and was a pillar of faith and courage to her children and the growing numbers of grand-children. When Fred suddenly died of a heart attack in 1970, Virginia Cherry remained in the log house and her eleven children and their families all gathered for holidays with "Grandma Cherry."

For the past few years I have made it a point to drive to Edmond to spend time with my grandmother. With the help of my mother, a professional editor, we were able to write Virginia Cherry's story. At our 2012 Thanksgiving gather, I gave a power-point presentation tracing Grandma Cherry's lineage from her parents side (the Salyers and the Chapmans) back to England and Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English Literature. I gave her a hard back copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales for her birthday, and tried to express how much she meant to our family. Most of Virginia's life  was overshadowed by her well-known husband, but in my estimation, Virginia was the strength, the backbone, the character, and the heart of the Cherry family.A few months ago, Logan and I made a video of Grandma Cherry. I include the video here as a closing tribute to one of the most remarkable women I've ever known. Goodbye Grandma Cherry. We'll join you soon! Thanks for leaving such a wonderful legacy of faith for 11 children, 42 grandchildren, 108 great-grandchildren and 6 great-great children!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Main Reason for the Second Amendment

I am at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee doing some research on a man who called himself John Wilkes Booth and married a woman named Louisa Payne in 1872. My wife, Rachelle, is doing some doctoral work at Vanderbilt University. Saturday, Rachelle and I drove to the Cumberland Plateau and did a little site seeing near the Stone's Gate at Beersheba Springs (picture left). Just over my left shoulder, across the Cumberland Ridge, is a little community called Athens, Tennessee

Most Americans have never heard of Athens, Tennessee, or the Battle of Athens.  The events that took place there in 1946 have bearing on any discussion regarding the revocation of the Second Amendment by Presidential order. It was in Athens, Tennessee in 1946 that a group of World War II veterans led townspeople in an armed revolt against corrupt and brutal politicians. It is very frustrating to talk to people who believe that the Second Amendment is about the freedom to have guns for hunting or personal defense. Our American forefathers included the Second Amendment for the very reason that the WW II veterans took up arms in Athens in 1946. The film below, a television documentary about The Battle of Athens, is fifteen minutes long, but it is worth your time to watch. Pay close attention to the actual photos at the end of the film and the plaques commemorating the actions of the veterans. I don't think there is a better or more accurate example for why the Second Amendment will always be needed in America. It is important that Americans base their views on gun control on the principles of freedom and not the emotions of fear.


Friday, January 04, 2013

The Intellectual Laziness of Us Americans

America is in trouble. The freedoms we have known for over two centuries are fading fast. Many are sounding the alarm, but the vast majority of Americans remain unconcerned. Like many ancient civilizations which have come and gone, physical comforts and sensual pleasures are the primary focus of  most Americans. Rather than comprehending the importance of knowing, most Americans care only for the experience of feeling. It is as if comfortableness has exalted itself to the throne of the American heart. As a result, the intellectual strength needed to sustain the civil freedoms that produced American's societal comforts in the first place has disappeared like a morning mist. Knowledge is power, and most Americans are losing their power because we have lost our knowledge. Whereas most elementary school students in the 1800's learned Latin, Greek, philosophy and the natural sciences, most American adults today could not tell you the philosophical basis for what we call Western civilization.

I want to show you in this post how three contemporary men--Socrates of Athens, Ezra of Israel, and Confucius of China--advocated learning as the answer for the problems in their respective civilizations. These men and their advocacy of life-long learning had a profound effect on their countries and the world at large. Much of what they advocated has been lost in our culture. As long as Americans are only concerned with comforts, we will see very little need for stretching our minds to understand the concepts that built our comforts. In my opinion, one of the best things that could happen to America in the next five years is a total economic collapse which would wipe away all the comforts that cause us to ignore life-long learning. History is repeating itself, and for our American way of life to continue we are going to need some people who are invigorated with the challenge of intellectual pursuit.


Athens  during the 5th century BC is considered the birthplace of what we call Western civilization. Socrates (c. 470-399 BC), the son of a stone mason and mid-wife, possessed a remarkable intellect and became convinced at an early age that learning was the path to virtue and the surest road to happiness. Perhaps the emphasis on mental training arose because Socrates was an ugly and uncoordinated man physically, at least by the contemporary standards of his fellow Athenians. The Olympic Games had begun in 776 BC, and Grecian culture was all about molding the finest male physical specimans in their gymnasiums in order to attain victory for the gods.  So in an age where male physical beauty and prowess was esteemed, Socrates was indeed an outcast. This seemed to bother Socrates little. Though he exercised throughout his life, Socrates developed a paunch in his thirties, and with his distinctive bowlegged walk, the people of Athens often made cruel jokes about him. When asked why he did not resent being mocked, Socrates said, "If a man slaps my face, he does me no evil, only himself."

Socrates decided early in life to be a teacher of others. In 5th century Greece, education was handled privately, among individual families, and it was mostly the privilege of only the wealthy and upper class. Socrates, a middle-class man himself, strongly felt that education for the poor was the only way Greek states could ultimately succeed against invasion attempts by rival nations, especially the Persians. Socrates took no pay to be what he called "an examiner" of men. For this reason, Socrates learned to live on the bare necessities of life. He is famous for sayings like, "Some men live to eat. I eat to live." "Greedy people do not appreciate delicacies." "Those who drink a lot don't relish rare wines." "Poverty is a shortcut to self-control." "Nothing is said to be in favor of riches and high birth, which are easy roads to evil."

Socrates star pupil was a young man named Plato (c. 427-347 BC). The central event of Plato's life was being taught by Socrates. Since Socrates himself never wrote anything down, the only way we know of Socrates is through the writings of Plato and others. Plato is considered the first professional academic, for after Socrates death in 399 BC, Plato founded the Academy in a suburban park in Athens. The Academy was the first for-pay university in Western Civilization. A seventeen-year-old young man named Aristotle (384-322 BC) traveled from Thessolonica to study at the Academy. After Plato's death, Aristotle founded his own university in Athens called the Lyceum, a rival to the the Academy. The competetion among universities that we experience today officially began with the Lyceum's founding in 335 BC. Aristotle's star pupil was Alexander the Great, who would conquer the known world militarily. Thus, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are considered the triumvirate fathers of Western philosophy and Western civilization.


Few Christians realize that Ezra the scribe (c. 493-440 BC) was a contemporary of Socrates.  Ezra was born in Babylon (modern day Iraq). King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had invaded Judah and carried off Hebrew captives while destroying the Temple and the city of Jerusalem (587 BC) nearly a century before Ezra was born in Babylon. After the fall of Jerusalem (587 BC) the Hebrew captives were held in Babylonian slavery until 539 BC when Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, invaded Babylonian and defeated the Babylonians. Cyrus issued a decree in 538 BC that some of the Hebrews could return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild their Jewish Temple.  Ezra was born in Babylon four decades after those first Jews returned to Jerusalem to begin their work. As Hebrew young men came of age in Babylon, many of them were sent to help their fathers and grandfathers rebuild the Temple and the city walls.

When Ezra grew to be a Hebrew man, he refused to return to Jerusalem and stayed in Babylon to study and learn. He, like Socrates, believed the education of the mind was more important than the comforts of the body. It was only in 458 BC, the year Socrates turned twelve years old in Athens, that the educated and erudite thirty-five-year-old Ezra left Babylon for Jerusalem. Rumors had reached King Artexerses that the Hebrew men in Jerusalem had begun marrying pagan women, had become sloven in their work, and were in need of reform.

When Ezra arrived in Jerusalem, he was shocked by what he found. You can read about Ezra's discoveries in the book of Ezra, chapters 7,8,9, and 10. The Hebrews were not keeping the Law of God. They were more interested in their personal comforts and daily sensual pleasures than any discipline of the mind. They intermarried with women from surrounding pagan countries, and any semblence of morality or moral education was gone. Judaism credits Ezra with establishing the Great Assembly of scholars and prophets, the forerunner of the Sanhedrin, as the authority on matters of religious and Hebrew cultural law. Similar to the Plato's Academy and Aristotles Lyceum, Ezra's Great Assembly raised the educational level of the Hebrew culture. Ezra is considered metaphorically by the Jews as "the flowers that appeared on the earth," signfying the person who led Israel in a springtime rebirth of learning and education.


A few years before Socrates was born in Athens, and during the time that Ezra lived in Babylon, a man named Kung Fu-tzu, (known by the Latinized Confucius) lived in Shantung, China. Born in 551 BC and dying at age seventy-three in 479 BC, just twenty years before an adult Ezra left Babylon for Jerusalem (458 BC), Confucius, whose name Kung Fu-Tsu means "Philosopher Kung," became the Chinese equivalent of the Hebrew Ezra and the Grecian Socrates.

Confucius devoted his life to the moral and cultural transformation of his society by stressing the importance of all Chinese people--rich and poor, young and old--learning the six intellectual arts of Chinese culture: ritual, calligraphy, arithmetic, music, archery and charioteering. Contrary to the Chinese beliefs of his day which emphasized only the latter two, Confucius believed that no amount of physical expertise could ever replace the importance of intellectual learning.

Confucius taught that a person should be "so deep in study that he forgets to eat, so full of joy in learning he ignores all practical worries, and so busy acquiring knowledge he does not notice old age coming on. Education, for Confucius, was the process whereby civilization, and the minds and bodies of those privileged to enjoy it, breathed and lived" (see Paul Johnson, A Man for Our Times).

The descendents of Confucius live today in the same area their forefather was born seventy-six generations ago. Much of Chinese culture today is indebted to the emphasis Confucius placed on learning. Israel in our modern times, much like China, is saturated with a culture of learning. Western civilization, from Europe to South America, is indebted to the Socratic and Platonic influence of 5th century Athens.

America, however, is going downhill fast.

As a follower of Jesus Christ I could advocate that what is missing in our culture is what we Christians call "revival." But as one who understands that there have been great cultures in this world that have never been influenced by the Christian faith, I will settle for a secondary advocacy as a hopeful rescue for our country. We need Americans of all ages interested in learning.

Sadly, it seems we have raised up several generations of Americans who care more about video games than reading, more about pop-culture trivia than philosophical truth, and more about personal comfort than societal concerns. We are about to lose all our American comforts. It is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when. When we do, don't despair.

Just maybe God will show us grace and raise up an American Socrates, an American Ezra or an American Confucius. God knows we need one.