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“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

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by  / June 24, 2017

An American college student returned to the United States with severe brain damage after being held in a North Korean prison camp died last week. When Otto Warmbier, 22, arrived back home earlier this month he was reported to be in stable condition, though doctors said he had severe brain damage. Warmbier was accused of entering the country with the intent of “bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity” and charged with subversion and a “hostile act” for purportedly attempting to steal a propaganda banner from a hotel. After a one-hour trial Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Here are nine things you should know about North Korea, the most repressive nation on the planet:

1. North Korea was created after the country was divided in the aftermath of World War II. Following the surrender of Japanese forces in 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander for the Allied powers, issued General Order No. 1. In this order, the Japanese empire was required to surrender all portions of Korea north of 38 north latitude to the Soviet Union and all of Korea south of that marker to the United States (the arbitrary choice of the dividing line, which has affected international relations for more than 70 years, was “recommended by two tired colonels working late at night”). That December, the Soviets installed a communist guerrilla leader named Kim Il-sung as the chairman of the North Korean branch of the Korean Communist Party. When the DPRK was formed in September 1948, the Soviets recognized Kim Il-sung as the leader of Korea, both North and South. The autocratic Kim family—Kim Il-sung, his son Kim Jong-il, and grandson Kim Jong-un—have ruled the country every since.

2. Attempting to make his dream of unification a reality, Kim Il-sung launched the first military action of the Cold War by invading the Republic of Korea (ROK) in July 1950. The United Nations came to the aide of South Korea, with the United States providing more than two-thirds of the military forces. After four months of fighting, the DPRK was on the verge of losing when China came to their rescue. The fighting continued until 1953 when an armistice was signed that created the Korean Demilitarized Zone, separating North and South Korea. Because no peace treaty was ever signed, and because the United States has a mutual defense treaty with the Republic of Korea, the United States is positioned to go to war if the DPRK resumes attacks on South Korea.

3. Soon after taking control of his country, Kim Il-sung developed such a strong personality cult that under the DPRK constitution he remains, even in death, the “eternal President of the Republic.” Within a year of being appointed premier, Kim Il-sung was referring to himself as “The Great Leader” and erecting statues of himself (the country now has more than 500 statues of him). His birthday is a national holiday known as the “Day of the Sun,” and in 1997 Kim Il-sung even created a new calendar that recalculated time from the year 1912, when he “came to earth from heaven.”

4. In 1972, after he surrendered his Soviet premiership and became president of North Korea, Kim Il-sung instituted the ideology known as Juche, a form of hyper-nationalistic self-reliance. As the DPRK explains, “The Juche idea means, in a nutshell, that the masters of the revolution and construction are the masses of the people and that they are also the motive force of the revolution and construction. The Juche idea is based on the philosophical principle that man is the master of everything and decides everything.” Writing in the Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, Grace Lee explains how this official autarkic state ideology is used to keep the North Korean population under control:

The Kim Il Sung regime instructed the North Korean people in the juche ideology using an analogy drawn from human anatomy. The Great Leader is the brain that makes decisions and issues orders, the Party is the nervous system that channels information, and the people are the bone and muscle that physically execute the orders. This belief system, inculcated in North Koreans since early childhood, made them docile and loyal to Kim Il Sung even in the face of famines and energy crises that have devastated the country.

5. Kim Il-sung placed his son in positions of power so that in 1994 Kim Jong-il would become the “supreme leader” of the DPRK. Over the next three years, Kim Jong-il’s agricultural system would cause a famine that killed 3 million of the country’s 22 million people. (Under the idea of JucheThe Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann says, “Farmers were expected to overcome mother nature and grow enough crops to feed the entire population.”) In 2012 North Koreans again suffered from another man-made famine that led to mass starvation. According to a credible report by Asia Press international, North Korean authorities even imposed severe punishment for suspected acts of cannibalism and selling human meat.

6.  As his people starved, Kim Jong-il focused on a policy of songun (military first), spending about one-third of the nation’s income to maintain the world’s fourth-largest army. The citizens of the country are extremely poor (annual GDP per capita in 2014 was $538, compared to $27,221 in South Korea and $55,836 in the United States), so to keep control of the population the Kim family has maintained a massive system of kwanliso (gulag-like political prison camps). As Human Rights Watch explains:

Between 80,000 and 120,000 North Koreans are estimated to still be in kwanliso, which are characterized by systemic abuse and deadly conditions, including torture and sexual abuse by guards, near-starvation rations, back-breaking forced labor in dangerous conditions, and executions. Working conditions at these sites are extremely difficult, including exposure to harsh weather, rudimFor the entary tools, lack of safety equipment, and high risks of workplace accidents. Death rates in these camps are extremely high, political prison camp survivors told Human Rights Watch.

7. Knowledge of the outside world is limited for most North Korean citizens. All legal televisions are tuned to state-controlled domestic programming, and outside of a closed domestic network, there is no internet access. The state maintains a network of informants who monitor and report to the authorities fellow citizens they suspect of criminal or subversive behavior, USA Today notes, and unauthorized access to non-state radio or TV broadcasts is severely punished.

8.  Freedom of religion or belief does not exist in North Korea and is, in fact, profoundly suppressed…

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“Sin demands to have a man by himself. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.”

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Tomorrow is Father’s Day, and my sermon will be based on 1 Kings 2:1-4. In that passage, King David said to his son, Solomon, “Be strong and show yourself a man.” I will conclude my message about an American icon who became a follower of Jesus. A recent book about this man says that he was a “movie star, race car driver, motorcycle legend, sex symbol, fashion icon, and, of course, King of Cool.”

Virtue and Vice on Display

Even with all of our modern devotion to moral relativism, people still know virtue—and vice—when they see it.

Chuck Colson liked to quote Karl Barth’s observation that Christians should do theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

Now I’m not sure what Chuck would have thought of podcasts, but Barth’s quote came to mind while listening to a recent episode of the Tony Kornheiser Show.

In the final segment, Kornheiser and his guests talked about two stories in the news. The first was an article in the Washington Post about Tim Tebow playing in baseball’s Single-A minor league after his stint in sports limelight.

Tebow was a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the University of Florida. And while his NFL career wasn’t nearly as successful, he still had great moments.

But what has long set Tebow apart, of course, is his Christian faith. It’s drawn millions of people to love him. It’s also why he has been the object of what George Weigel called “irrational hatred,” despite his many charitable efforts and the fact that he doesn’t force his faith on anyone.

Recently, the Post’s Barry Svrluga spent a day in Hagerstown, Maryland, watching Tebow in action. And he admitted that his initial skepticism (maybe even cynicism) quickly changed when he saw Tebow interact with fans, some of whom had driven hundreds of miles to see him. He talked about Tebow’s “prom experience for kids with special needs” called “Night to Shine.”

Svrluga had this to say to those who are cynical or dismissive about Tebow’s decision to now play minor league baseball and to question his motives: Before you form your opinion about Tim Tebow, “Talk to the people who made the pilgrimage here,” he said, “and look at the smiles in right field in the early evening.”

Everyone on the show agreed. Kornheiser, who’s Jewish, even joked that if he had spent a few more minutes with Tebow he might have ended up converting. He and his guests could not say enough good things about Tim Tebow.

Then the conversation turned to a very different subject: Harvard’s rescinding of at least ten offers of admission to members of its incoming freshman class. Harvard took this highly unusual step because of a Facebook group created by members of that class.

Their posts contained “offensive jokes about school shootings, the Holocaust, [sexual perversion] and the death of children and minorities.” And these are just the ones we can mention on this commentary.

All the guests on the Kornheiser show agreed—and so do I: Harvard did the right thing.

But it’s the juxtaposition of the Harvard story with Tebow that brought to mind what C.S. Lewis said in “The Abolition of Man”: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

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A thoughtful read!

t2gospel

ISIS CRUCIFIXION

When 22 people died outside a concert hall in Manchester, England, the media coverage was wall to wall.  The cry went up that something must be done! Journalists followed the investigation.  Press briefings were scheduled regularly. With broken hearts, we pored over color photographs of the victims, many of them only children, and we listened to bystanders describe their horror.  The world grieved as the story unfolded for a week.

Five days later, 29 Christians in Egypt died when terrorists attacked their bus. Forty-two others were seriously injured and the assassins got away.  That story vanished in less than 48 hours.  No color photos.  No interviews with authorities. No tragic details.

Here’s what you probably never heard.  The Christian group of parents, grandparents, and children were traveling in two buses to pray at a monastery. Their vehicles were stopped by terrorists outside the town of Minya.  After the buses were…

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The rich world of  his ancestors set the standards for Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s own life. It gave him a certainty of judgement and manner that cannot be acquired in a single generation. He grew up in a family that believed that the essence of learning lay not in a formal education but in the deeply rooted obligation to be guardians of a great historical obligation and intellectual tradition. To Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this meant learning to understand and respect the ideas and experiences of earlier generations It could also lead him to decisions and actions that conflicted with those of his ancestors–and, precisely  in this way, to honor them. Ultimately, it might even mean voluntarily accepting history’s inevitable judgement on the world of his ancestors–while not allowing this to distract from delight in its amicable representatives.   

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 13.

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Julie Tafel (Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Grandmother)…had inherited the alert critical sensibilities of  her ancestors. She actively participated in discussions on women’s issues and devoted herself to practical and organizational matters, like establishing a home for older women or vocational centers for girls.   

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 12.

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