November 21, 2017

A Biblical and Historical Perspective on Cremation

by James Carlton Stephens

Carlton W. Stephens in his Army uniformIt was the most intense spiritual pain I had ever felt. I doubled to the ground weeping as I heard that my Father Carlton had just passed into eternity. Death waits for no man, it comes suddenly and then the preparations need to be made. The mortuary called. “Do you want him embalmed? Is there going to be an autopsy?”

As I spoke with the funeral director I asked him, “How are Christian’s and Jew’s burials traditionally handled?”

“They are buried. Some are put in a simple white shroud.” The option of cremation did not even come up. The body was not embalmed, nor made up, but placed in a simple closed pinewood coffin, and shipped to Texas for transport to Oakland Cemetery near Gorman where Carlton grew up and his parents are buried.

Our family flew out and the memory of the drive in the station wagon hearse through the countryside, the farmers pausing in the field, removing their hats, and bowing their heads in respect of one of theirs who had passed was deeply moving.

A Texas colleague Brant Pelphrey had kindly driven down to conduct the graveside service. Relatives we had never met were in attendance from the Stephens’ family line, an emotional passage in time.

God was so gracious to us throughout the process. Our fellowship group, Joint Heirs had pulled together finances enabling our family to fly out to Texas. Elizabeth’s father David had contributed $500, and then the mortuary bills amounting to $5,000 were taken care of in a rather mysterious chain of events.

When Dad passed, his second ex-wife called me to pick up his belongings, items she decided not to keep. One of our interns Randy Ritzema accompanied me to her home in Camarillo. I’d asked Elizabeth as I prepared to go to throw the dolly in the back of the pick-up, but somehow it was overlooked.

As we were taken into the room where he passed I recalled the conversation I’d had with the paramedic, himself a Christian, who said his countenance was full of light as if he had just seen Jesus receive him in his home going. It was encouraging. He said he’d seen the contrary, too many times; the horrible countenance of those who passed into eternity without making peace with their Creator Jesus Christ.

I was taken aback when I discovered evidence that his suits and clothes had been gone through as if she had been searching for something. After we’d cleaned out his closet I turned my attention to his three drawer file cabinet. As I opened the file drawer, she said, ‘I did find a rough will for you.’

As I prepared to move the filing cabinet to the pick-up, we didn’t have the cart, so we took out one drawer at a time. As I took out the final bottom drawer, there at the bottom was an envelope with a cartoon drawing that my Dad loved to doodle so often. His ex-wife excitedly said, “Open it!”

So I did and as I opened it, my eyes were met by $100 bills, $5,000 to be exact. The amount that the funeral bills totaled! Nothing takes God by surprise! Earlier I had asked my brother and mother to help, but to no avail. And his ex-wife snidely added, “O that’s where he hid it.”

The mortuary director prior to my finding the envelope had suggested a payment plan, but I in faith said, “I believe God will take care of it. Could you hold the credit card payment for a day? God is faithful He knows what we need before we even ask.”  Our faith was cemented in place by God’s goodness.

At Oakland Cemetery, after the internment we had communion and concluded by singing the great hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Unbeknownst to me it was written by Thomas O. Chisholm in 1923, the same year my Dad Carlton was born.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.


Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

 

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

 

God had shown His merciful hand to our sorrowing family as only He can. His presence was strong that day. On my Dad’s tombstone is now engraved, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”   Psalm 73:26

Indeed His Word is a light to our path and a lamp unto our feet. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”  -Proverbs 3:5-6.

A  Biblical Perspective on Cremation

Ever since our landlady’s daughter ran out of the house screaming after she found her father’s cremains in a jar, I have been wrestling with the subject of cremation and proper Christian burial rites. While she had the option of taking them to the local cemetery, she instead chose to bury them in the front yard under a juniper tree.  It was quite uncomfortable thinking about Ernie being buried on the premises.

As I thought back on the course of my arrangements with the mortuary, I realized that the subject of cremation had never once come up with the mortuary director.  I assumed that the Christian perspective on burial was settled; that is until I started a search on the internet where I discovered a wide range of opinions about this increasingly delicate subject.

So why is a biblical perspective necessary? A survey conducted by George Barna’s group the American Culture and Faith Institute on May 24, 2017  revealed a disturbing gap in the Church which may provide some justification for presenting a biblical perspective, in which they found that “only 30% of born again adults have a biblical worldview.”  Few pastors touch on this subject and not a few prominent pastors permit the practice.  Most believers are familiar with junk mail that arrives periodically in their mailbox touting the services of the Neptune Society who remind us,   “It’s cheaper! It’s environmentally friendly!”  Teaching on the subject is almost nonexistent.

However, tales of ashes being spread at Disneyland at one’s favorite ride abound.  The ride, “It’s a Small World,” the Haunted House, and Space Mountain seemed be among the favorites.  Others have chosen  a more expensive and otherworldly method by having their ashes delivered into space on Space X.  One Buddhist friend has a vase with one of his members in his home; another neighbor has his mother’s on his shelf.  When the choice of burial is left to the public, let the family fights begin.

Who’s in charge of Ernie’s ashes? Do we inter cremains (the term applied to the remains left after cremation) in our front yard under the juniper tree or at Forest Lawn’s Columbarium established for individual memorial spaces?  Their memorial cremation package starts at $5,595 and that doesn’t include the columbarium and the burial sites which range in price up to $16,500 in the Garden of Contemplation.  If you choose your ashes to be interred in one of the 4,794 underground crypt spaces in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles you should expect to shell out $20,000 as a starting price for one of the 4300 crypts or cremains niches to lay beside the likes of Gregory Peck or the third century Catholic martyr Saint Vibiana.

A Brief History of Cremation in America

Until the late 1800’s,  the question of cremation was reserved to those few on the fringes, such as Colonel Henry Steele Olcott and Madame Blavatsky, Theosophists and known widely in Buddhist circles as the White Buddhists.  Olcott in particular was set on introducing the Hindu practice of cremation into the US and did so through an immigrant from Europe who wanted the right to be buried as Hindus and Buddhists were in Asia. Olcott exclaimed when Baron Joseph Henry Louis Charles De Palm made his burial plans explicit, “Here, at last, was the chance of having a body to burn.”  And so the wheels were set in motion to host the first cremation.  His biggest hurdle was that crematoriums did not yet exist in America.  When Olcott announced the cremation, over two thousand tickets were sold and the press was set in a feeding frenzy.  Madame Blavatsky, completing her magnum opus Isis Unveiled was to be present with her disciples performing their incantations, waving palm leaves over the coffin surrounded

by seven candles representing seven planets.  As the ceremony began Olcott, exclaimed, ““There is but one first cause, uncreated,”

A Methodist minister interrupted and exclaimed “That’s a lie!”

It was written in the Theosophical account of the ceremony, “As the troublesome Methodist was led away by the police, Madame Blavatsky, seated among the audience, stood up and pointed accusingly at him. “He’s a bigot—that’s what he is!” she yelled indignantly. The crowd burst into laughter, and any remaining tension was harmlessly dissipated.” Human nature has not changed as social justice warriors pushing cultural and religious boundaries continue to attempt to push their own agendas.

Although an open air cremation was not allowed at the time, the Baron’s body was preserved in clay until a crematory could be found. It was not long until an eccentric doctor who had built a crematory offered to perform the ceremony. The press attended and wrote that it was a horrific sight as the Barron’s burning remains looked like a mummy or as one journalist wrote, “a roasted pig.” Afterward the ceremony, they scattered his ashes in a local body of water.

Whose Authority Are We Under?

For Hindus and Buddhists cremation has been an ancient cultural practice that continues to this day.  Recently, the world’s longest reigning monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand  passed away and preparations for his cremation involve a temple to perform his last rites. It will take over a year to construct and will be accompanied by elaborate ceremonies across the nation.

November 19 2012 Obama pours water on Friday Buddha at Swedegon Pagoda in BurmaWhat pattern are we following as Christians?  We are taught “Do not imitate the detestable practices of the nations” (Deuteronomy 18:9). Wayne Jackson in “The Burial of Christ’s Body” is careful to emphasize not only the death, but also the burial of Jesus Christ.  It was the custom of the ruling Sanhedrin  for any sentenced to death “not to be buried in the sepulchers of their fathers; but two burying places were appointed by the council, one for those that were slain by the sword and strangled, the other for those that were stoned who also were hanged and burnt (Lightfoot, 2.374; emphasis original).

When our LORD Jesus Christ died His body was prepared by Joseph, a secret believer within the Sanhedrin, according to Jewish tradition and laid it in his sealed tomb prior to His physical resurrection.

Have we sought to carefully search the Scriptures regarding the subject of cremation?  Some use the excuse that the subject of cremation is not prohibited in the Bible, so is not an issue.  Other individuals resort to pragmatic, non-biblical reasoning and claim that it is ecologically friendly and inexpensive.  As Bible believing Christians our source of authority is not pragmatism, but the Word of God.

But, claims one believer a medical doctor in Santa Barbara, there is nothing wrong with cremation, it is good for the environment. He said, ‘I think it would be peaceful having my ashes sprinkled among some trees.’  Although the following passage does not directly relate to cremation, it reminds us of our duty to diligently search the Scriptures to make sure that what is being taught is according to His Word. “Jesus answered and said unto them, you do error not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God (Matthew 22:29).”  In the parable of the wedding feast Jesus spoke about His Kingdom in a parable and how the acts of disobedience were treated by the King. Their mistreatment of His Son was not taken lightly as those who delivered the invitation were brutally murdered. His just response was the burning of their city. Yes, burning.

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage (Matthew 22:1-9).”

Cremation Scriptures:

The following Scriptures speak about the undesirable nature of cremation, of burning human remains and the importance of the human body, soul and spirit. Our Lord Jesus Christ was not cremated, but was crucified, died, and interred in a rich man’s tomb according to a 700 year prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, and rose from the dead.  His body, soul and Spirit served as a witness to those who did not believe in the bodily resurrection.  He appeared to his disciples and others who beheld Him and also ate a meal He prepared for them of fish on the Sea of Galilee which He partook of, demonstrating that He was and is not a ghost, but the Risen Savior of the World.

So why has cremation as a burial rite grown so dramatically? In 1999, over 25 percent chose cremation and it is predicted that by 2017 it will be 50 percent.  Are there fewer Christians or has the Church adopted the wishes of its congregants? In response to the rapid adoption of cremation permitted by the Catholic Church since 1963, the Vatican announced in 2017 that it does not support the scattering of ashes, nor keeping loved one’s ashes at home in an urn or being made into jewelry. It reconfirmed that they believe in a bodily resurrection of the dead and urge those who have chosen cremation to have their loved ones interred in a cemetery or columbarium awaiting that final call.

Why are there no crematories in Israel?

08 02 2017 Yom HashoahThe Nazi extermination program at Auschwitz of the Jewish people was heavily weighted towards cremation.  The acrid white smoke of burning human flesh hung over the valleys and was a daily reminder to those imprisoned that their time was short.  The survivors of Auschwitz, including my late father in law David Lascar, himself a prisoner and laborer in various concentration camps in Germany, spoke little about the horror of his experience.  He was assigned as a gas pipefitter.  One can only imagine what his assignment was. As he lay on his death bed he moaned, “Save the children from the gas chambers!”

The memory of Auschwitz is fresh in the minds of those who survived and in the generations following who annually commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  A crematorium would be an anathema to the Jewish people, salt in fresh wounds.

Americans don’t like to talk about death the prerequisite for cremation. One doesn’t see many mortuary door to door salesman peddling crypts to a neighboring cemetery.  But death comes and few plan for its arrival.  What’s the easiest way to dispose of Ernie’s ashes? Depends on where one lives.  Today, it seems it is more often than not left to chance or a family squabble.

Why then is cremation an anathema?

Many initially begin with the death of King Saul on the battlefield with his sons (I Samuel 31:12; II Samuel 2:4-6). However, some read more into the rationale for cremation than is actually in the text. Recall, King Saul was decapitated by his enemies who proudly displayed his remains on their city wall.  His body stripped of its armor and dignity, the Israelites retrieved it and decided to burn him as his body was marred almost beyond recognition.  They did however preserve his bones and gave them a stately burial.

According to a search of the Hebrew scholars website Sefaria which has digitized over a million pages of Hebrew related text, Hebrew religious expert David Zimmer emphatically states, “We can find no source in Tanakh (Old Testament) for cremation of the human body as part of a Jewish tradition for honorable burial.”  The Scriptures wholeheartedly attest against the practice as a close study of the Word will demonstrate.

As one remembers Achan who fought in a battle alongside of Joshua who commanded that no spoils be taken from their enemy. Achan, enticed by the beauty of an embroidered fabric, bars of gold and silver, chose to hide the forbidden booty under his tent. An example was made of his disobedience and his entire family and flock stoned and then burnt them. (Joshua 7:15, 25).

In the Torah, burning was required for certain types of immoral behavior.  “And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they: that there be no wickedness among you” (Leviticus 20:14).

Recall also the prophet who lived almost 300 years before King Josiah in I Kings 13:1-2.  There “came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee.”

And then in fulfillment of the man of God’s prophecy, Josiah enters the scene.  “Furthermore, the altar that was at Bethel and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down. Then he demolished its stones, ground them to dust, and burned the Asherah. 16Now when Josiah turned, he saw the graves that were there on the mountain, and he sent and took the bones from the graves and burned them on the altar and defiled it according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these things. 17Then he said, “What is this monument that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the grave of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.”…

After James and John, the sons of thunder itinerating with their LORD Jesus observed that His message was not received asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them (Luke 9:54)?”

Jesus replied indirectly and likened their judgment to those cities which were unrepentant, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades (Matthew 11:21).”

Jeremiah the prophet spoke directly to the King carrying forth the Word of the LORD warning of the destruction to come upon the city if he did not repent.  “All the counsel you have received has only worn you out! Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you. 14 Surely they are like stubble; the fire will burn them up. They cannot even save themselves from the power of the flame. These are not coals for warmth; this is not a fire to sit by. 15 That is all they are to you— these you have dealt with and labored with since childhood. All of them go on in their error; there is not one that can save you” (Jeremiah 29:22).

The more one searches the Scriptures, the more on discovers that the refining fire of God purges and is a tool He uses to judge His enemies and chasten His disobedient people.  The very Scripture that originally convicted me of sin and my need for a Savior was “But the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat. The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”

But with judgment there is also a promise and directive from the LORD, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-11).

Justifying cremation is difficult in the full light of Scripture. While nothing is impossible for God, e.g., reconstituting those who have been burned in horrible fires or burned at the stake, our LORD Jesus’ burial provides a clear example of a dignified rest of the human body bought with His precious blood. We are not our own, but totally belong to Him in body, soul and spirit.

May the LORD enlighten our eyes and give us wisdom and understanding when death visits and we or our loved ones are ushered into your eternal rest.

May you know Jesus Christ and Him crucified, believing on His atoning blood as our faithful High Priest and find rest in Him as our sole refuge and consolation for all eternity.

 

 

Cremation Study Scriptures

Leviticus 20:14; 21:9

1 Samuel 31:12; 2 Samuel 2:4-6; 2 Samuel 23:7.

Joshua 7:15, 25.

1 Kings 13:1-2.

2 Kings 1:10; 23:4; 23:15, 16.

1 Chronicles 14:12.

Deuteronomy 13:16; 32:21-22; 9:21.

Ezekiel 28:18.

Isaiah 47:9-15.

Jeremiah 29:22.

Revelation 20:9

An Open Letter to the 2016 US Conference of Mayors Regarding the Keynote Speaker the XIV Dalai Lama

An Open Letter to the 2016 US Conference of Mayors

Regarding the Keynote address by the XIV Dalai Lama on June 26, 2016

Site: Indianapolis, Indiana

Date: June 24-28, 2016

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

by James C. Stephens

In 1996, the XIV Dalai Lama, recognized at that time as the god-king of Tibet, was awarded the key to the City of Pasadena.  Concerned about the series of events, Dr. Arthur Glasser, Dean Emeritus of Fuller School of Intercultural Studies and I attended the Dalai Lama’s acceptance speech at Pasadena City Hall.

In an interview, aired on CBN, I asked Dr. Glasser how one should address the visit of the Dalai Lama. He replied, “He is a foreign personage of prominence, we should be respectful of him, but to offer him the key to the city, Christians would tend to react. They would say, ‘the key, the authority, what sort of authority is going to be understood by the Dalai Lama?”

Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and the Dalai Lama being awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal in the US Capitol Rotunda.

Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and the Dalai Lama being awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal in the US Capitol Rotunda.

As a former Buddhist youth leader and graduate of a Buddhist Study Academy, I had an intimate knowledge of the practice of Buddhism (1970-1984).  In 1981, prior to a Buddhist pilgrimage I had an accident in a train station in Japan.  For the following three years, I investigated other religious paths and practices and made a decision to become a follower of Jesus Christ, believing Him to be my Savior and Messiah.  In the ensuing years, I have studied Christianity as zealously as I had Buddhism, and came to deeply respect the historic Christian faith as originally delivered to the Jewish Apostles.

At the same time, I have continued to watch with concern, the deterioration of Christianity in the West and the funding of various religious traditions in America that have taken root through Government support.  I have closely watched the Dalai Lama and his work in the US and have seriously investigated his worldview, one which he carefully disguises in his public personae as a man of peace.  Formerly a paid agent of the CIA, his work continues to be heavily supported by the US Government as a key speaker at major universities, corporate venues, coliseums, and government halls.  It was also quite disconcerting that he was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Second Anniversary of 9-11 at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. He now has become a leading spokesman for climate change.

While I understand that his story is quite engaging, have seen movies about his life, read many of his books, heard him speak,   I find myself questioning the American public’s naiveté in writing him a spiritual blank check and elevating him,  in a sense,  to the position of “the pluralist pope” by providing a public platform to introduce his curriculum of secular ethics to our public school system.

As leaders of your respective cities, I urge you to pursue a candid and intelligent survey of the available external evidence of my concerns, which I believe will satisfy a reasonable mind.  While, I agree with Dr. Glasser that we should treat dignitaries from other countries with respect, our mandate as gatekeepers requires us to carefully weigh any proposal or ideas arising from those who are invited into our house, in this case, the US Council of Mayors.

In the early nineties, while teaching in the UK, I spoke to the Director of the London Buddhist Society who proudly showed me the loophole in the 1988 Religious Reform Act which opened the door in the UK to teach all religions and introduced a new curriculum overriding centuries of public policy wherein Christianity had been taught in their school system for hundreds of years.  Fast forward to 2016, and Sadiq Khan the new Mayor of London is a Muslim and all of Europe is in the throes of great religious turmoil as a result of the refugee crisis. The Dalai Lama recently shocked others when he stated, “There are now too many (refugees),” he said. “Europe, for example Germany, cannot become an Arab land,” he added with a laugh. “Germany is Germany. From a moral point of view too, I think that the refugees should only be admitted temporarily. The goal should be that they return and help rebuild their countries.” (India Times, June 01, 2016 by Kunal Anand).

The stability of a nation depends upon its religious statecraft, but also upon religious freedom and freedom of conscience.  Engraved on the North entrance of Los Angeles City Hall, the words of Israel’s King Solomon, the wisest King in history ring true,

“Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.”

Samuel P. Huntington, Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University warned in his 1993 essay on The Clash of Civilizations, “What ultimately counts for people is not political ideology or economic interest. Faith and family, blood and belief are what people identify with and what they will fight and die for.”   While it is the duty of Christians in pluralist societies to cooperate with people of other faiths in seeking a just ordering of society, we are also required to hold to our original founding principles that made America a land in which refugees were welcomed to her shores.  It is a very simple question of hospitality, you are welcome to stay in our home, but there are a few rules you must follow. A guest is no longer a guest, when they begin to tell you how to run your own household. A lesson we all must remember as most of us are guests (immigrants) to Turtle Island.  The First Nations know that the land belongs to the Creator and not to any one man and if violated will vomit those out which defile her.

Charles Bridges (1794-1869), one of the leaders of the Evangelical party in the Church in England called its leader’s decisions into question when they began to chase after the traditions of men which had not proven to provide steady counsel to direct the affairs of state.  He stated, “The Bible exhibits a divinely appointed remedy commensurate with man’s infinite distress, and accepted of God in its power and prevalence. Who can doubt the excellency of the things that are written, so rich in counsel and knowledge—‘words fit for a prince to speak, and the best man in the world to hear? Such a minute and practical standard for relative life and social obligation!”

Over the last several years, the Dalai Lama has been developing a secular curriculum of ethics that he desires to be introduced into the curriculum of our nation’s schools.  His talks on “Beyond Religion” that seemingly appeal to the secularist mindset are touted to teach compassion and ethics without religion.  As Mayors, many struggle with the pluralist mix of religious and “none’s” in their cities.  However, embracing an untried curriculum with a questionable agenda designed by scholars from a progressive, Buddhist socialist background albeit supposedly stripped of any religious intent, still presents a major challenge to the prevailing foundations of the United States of America.

“If the foundations be destroyed, how can the righteous stand?”  Who now becomes the interpreter of what is right and what is wrong in a nation that has abandoned the faith of her fathers?  Some may argue, “Oh, but it’s for those who are not religious” and the like.  However, our laws and justice system were founded on Judeo-Christian principles as any astute legal mind will attest.  New curriculum proposals are serious changes of course that pack within them, unforeseen consequences. Making quick friends will bring lasting regrets.  This is not limited to any one foreign guest or leader in our nation, as our internal issues and crisis require more than a new Band-Aid. Our moral crisis is severe and it is not time to switch boats in midstream.  While the Dalai Lama as a foreign personage may provide key insight into our shortcomings providing a valuable outsider’s point of view, it does not mean that the solution he holds out with the other hand is an acceptable alternative.

The prophets of Troy, warned the city fathers not to trust Greeks bearing gifts.  The prophets out rightly said, “Burn the Trojan Horse.”   The City fathers instead accepted the gift and you know the rest of the old story.  Not unlike King Hezekiah that showed his enemy all his treasure stores unwisely, only later to have the City sacked.  It didn’t happen overnight, but set in motion a process whose seeds of destruction were carefully planted over time.

Yes, peace and compassion and mindfulness at first may sound wonderful. Who would reject them?  A wise man however, remembers “caveat emptor,” buyer beware.  The seller of his wares may call into doubt the integrity of the country’s foundation, promoting vain imaginations of how peace can be won by just calling a city a city of compassion. One may clean the outside of the cup, but inside it’s full of dead man’s bones.  As a young Buddhist, I recall marching in a Buddhist Brass Band dressed up in Santa Claus uniforms and playing Christian hymns  for the Los Angeles Mayor’s Christmas party.  Marketing Buddhism as American as Mom and Apple Pie; strategies cooked up by Madison Fifth Avenue Ad executives.

So, when you listen to the Dalai Lama and his fascinating story, one must ask oneself the more difficult questions as a mature leader whose constituency no doubt contains a high portion of Christians, “Why has the Dalai Lama been chosen as the keynote speaker? What is the agenda? Am I about to embrace something I have no understanding of and discard what I have known? Am I willing to implement an ideology that may be divisive to many of the people I shepherd? As the wise King Solomon said, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end leads to destruction.”   Even the wisest king lost his way for a time and embraced many false ideologies, before coming to his senses at the end of his life. Is it not better to question your own judgment upfront and seek what your elders once taught? Why waste present possibilities and needed reformation by embracing what you only perceive to be a better way?

Doubts may arise as distance lends enchantment to the view. Carefully weigh and survey the information you hear for the destiny of your city depends upon the wisdom of its counselors.

“When warnings for instruction are not received, they are tokens of destruction. This is a truth which none almost deny, and none almost believe. Had it been believed, many desolating judgments in former ages had been prevented; nations and cities should have abode in prosperity, which are now sunk into ruin, yea, into hell.”

               -(John Owen to the UK Parliament in a day of reflection on the nation’s spiritual state).

 

Resources:

EpicycleMedia:  The Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism playlist.

https://youtu.be/5oAZMn3Vx6E?list=PL6ysZa-S0tJs_l4PCIVlIQseHTebCFiXq

“The Dalai Lama and the Anatomy of Politically Correct Buddhism” by James C. Stephens based on a chapter in InterVarsity Press’s Guide to New Religious Movements edited by Dr. Ronald Enroth, Sociology Professor at Westmont College, Santa Barbara.

http://www.worldviews101.com/?p=2420

Dalai Lama and the Kalachakra: A Wake-Up Call for the West.  Stephens’ Interview of Victor Trimondi on the Dalai Lama and 9-11 (in English and Chinese).

http://www.worldviews101.com/?s=interview.

The Shadow of the Dalai Lama: Sexuality, Magic and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism by Victor and Victoria Trimondi

This study is not for the fainthearted. If you want to live in the world of fantasy, don’t read this expose.

http://www.trimondi.de/SDLE/Contents.htm.

“Our study is divided into two parts. The first contain a depiction and critique of the religious foundations of Tibetan (“Tantric”) Buddhism and is entitled Ritual as Politics. The second part (Politics as Ritual) examines the power politics of the Kundun (Dalai Lama) and its historical preconditions. The relationship between political power and religion is thus central to our book.”

Critical Forum for the Investigation of the Kalachakra Tantra and the Shambhala Myth.

http://www.trimondi.de/SDLE/Annex.htm.

The Kalachakra-Tantra is anything but pacifist, rather, it prophesies and promotes a bloody religious war for world domination between Buddhists and non-Buddhists (Shambhala myth).

The text explicitly names the “leaders” of the three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) as opponents of Buddhism: “Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, the White-Clad one [Mani], Muhammad and Mathani [the Mahdi]”. The Kalachakra Tantra describes them as “the family of the demonic snakes” (Shri Kalachakra I. 154).

Thus, the Kalachakra Tantra is opposed to all religions of Semitic origin, and for this reason has been pressed into service by right-wing radical and anti-Semitic circles for their racist propaganda.

The Kalachakra Tantra invokes a global war between the Islamic and the non-Islamic world in which the followers of Mohammed are presented as the principal enemies of the Buddhists. The original text refers to Mecca, where the “mighty, merciless idol of the barbarians” lives as a “demonic incarnation” (Shri Kalachakra I. 154).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

High Holy Days and Sand Mandala at Pico Union Project

March 19 2014 The Ten Commandments Photo iNote: I wrote this letter to Craig Taubman at Pico Union Project hoping to get a response on my concerns about his invitation to Tibetan lamas to build a sand mandala during the High Holy Days. I also expressed my objections to the questionable interfaith model he is building and desires to see reproduced across the nation.

Sincerely,

James Stephens
September 20, 2015
___________________________________

September 17, 2015

Dear Craig,

My name is James Stephens. I came across your website recently and was quite interested in your efforts to restore Sinai Synagogue, the historic site of Los Angeles’ first Synagogue. At the same time, I was quite dismayed to hear that you had invited Tibetan Buddhist lamas to build a sand mandala in the midst of the High Holy Days.

Why might you ask? As a former devout Buddhist of fourteen years and now a follower of Yeshua Ha’Moshiach and a Torah observant believer, I found myself grieved knowing much about the intent of the lama’s ritual having thoroughly studied it for over 25 years.

First of all, I do believe in the command to love one’s neighbor as thyself. To genuinely love one’s neighbor, one must be truthful. You have children. You know that they venture into areas which can cause them great harm. We tell them, “Don’t touch the oven. You’ll get burned. It’s hot.” As they grow older, they make their own decisions and often reap the blessings or pay the consequences for their poor choices.

I love the lyrics composed by Paul Simon, “Fools,” said I, “you do not know, Silence like a cancer grows/ Hear my words that I might teach you/Take my arms that I might reach you” /But my words like silent raindrops fell/ And echoed in the wells of silence./ And the people bowed and prayed/to the Neon god they made/and the sign flashed out its warning/in the words that it was forming/and the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls/And tenement halls/And whispered in the sound of silence.”

Etched over the arch of one of the entries to LA City Hall the words of King Solomon remind us like those prophets, “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Matthew Henry commenting on this wisdom said, “An upright man will venture the displeasure of the greatest to bring truth to light.”

Personally, I know little about your life story except that which I gleaned after visiting your site. I did read that you like to hear others stories. As a former Buddhist and graduate of a Buddhist institution, married to a Messianic Jewish wife whose father was a holocaust survivor, I clearly recognize the barriers that exist between human beings because of their ethnic and religious make-up. I also recognize that it takes courage and time to get to know one’s neighbor, neighbors that often come from very different backgrounds.

In 1993, I attended the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in order to get a face to face perspective on other’s beliefs and a sense of who they were, what their story was. For ten days, I intently listened and asked questions about their beliefs. While talking with a Burmese Buddhist monk, we quickly cleared the air about the use of politically correct religious speech and agreed that it was often harmful to genuine understanding. We agreed that Buddhism and Christianity both held to exclusive religious points of view and were diametrically opposed to one another. With clear boundaries established, we could respect one another and talk about our fundamental issues as human beings.

One Buddhist monk at Wat Thai Temple in North Hollywood invited me inside the temple and asked me to “tell him the story of creation.” He even asked me to read the Scriptures to him in between his interaction with worshippers in his context.

During the Ten Days of Awe, I pulled out an old sermon entitled, “The Necessity of Self-Examination” by Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s greatest theologians. It was based upon his meditations on Psalm 139 verses 23-24. “Search me O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I love King David, a man of God’s own heart, a shepherd boy who listened intently to God, and as any human is capable of, ended up making some very tragic choices. His adultery and pre-meditated murder of his loyal commander Uriah was the first time I wept reading the Bible. I was grieved. Our spiritual leaders are supposed to hold to the highest standards, and here he falls. He confesses, “Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight.”

Edwards shines the looking glass on our hearts and observes, “Many are very careful that they do not proceed in mistakes, where their temporal interest is concerned. They will be strictly careful that they be not led on blindfold in the bargains which they make: in their traffic one with another, they are careful to have their eyes about them and to see that they go safely in these cases; and why not, where the interest of their soul is concerned?”

“Good fences make good neighbors.” Old proverbs are the currency of years of experience. When the young King Rehoboam went his own way, neglecting the counsel of his elders and just listening to those in his new inner circle, he went astray. He did not finish well. One quote of Rabbi David Wolpe resonated with me when I read Ellul’s Jewels, “Our darkness and sins are part of us, stitched into our soul.” Jeremiah the prophet wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

When I was at the Parliament, there were many experimental exercises in Interfaith worship. Exercises that I as a former Buddhist knew intimately and now as a follower of Yeshua Ha’Moshiach (Jesus Christ) could not embrace. I witnessed persons from other faiths who chose not to be involved as well because of their religious convictions. They were respectful, but they also were in a temporary venue which had established certain ground rules. Unfortunately, even then participants were encouraged to sign “The Declaration of a Global Ethic” which read that “we embrace the practices of all the world’s religions.” From my extensive past experience of all sorts of religious practices, I could not sign it as a follower of Yeshua Ha’Moshiach.

All ground is not holy ground. When a Tibetan Buddhist builds a sand mandala, they conduct rituals to bind demons from entering them and subjugate all other gods under their dominion. It is a religious portal, a palace, home to 722 deities depending on the type of mandala. Deities we would call fallen angels. In the dissolution ceremony the sand that is given to others carries with it the incantations of the Lamas. In the past, the sand mandalas were constructed with the blood of human sacrifices. According to John Huntington from Ohio State University and curator of the Himalayan Art Collection, “the most efficacious skull used in the mandalas were the skull of a sixteen year old virgin.” These are not my opinions, but are based upon interviews with Lamas at Pacific Asia Museum who construct the mandalas and from extensive reading of Buddhist documents as well. To the public the mandalas are intriguing works of art. Is what I say true?

As a watchman, someone who has knowledge of various practices, it is my duty to warn others, especially leaders, lest the blood be on my own hands (Ezekiel 33). I do not want to displease Hashem in anyway. Tibetans are often cheerful and amiable people. I have hosted Tibetan Christians in our home and have also been asked by Tibetan Buddhists for the Scriptures and even went as far as I delivering a copy to Kopan Gompa, a Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Kathmandu, Nepal.

You were quoted as saying that you wanted to create, “neutral ground in which to work on interfaith connections and collaboration between Jews, Christians, Muslims and others without any limitation or ground rules.” That sounds like a prescription for a dangerous fall. One must ask oneself, “What am I seeking to accomplish when I assimilate other religion’s practices into my daily life?” While God has given man free will, Is it just to take others on your own personal quest? It is certain that teachers bear greater judgment.

Boundaries are critical. When an epidemic is being treated, the one treating the disease must be careful lest he become a victim. You were quoted in an article for JTA as saying, “You can’t expect the world to love each other if you can’t model it in your houses of worship. At such point in time that our houses of worship become more open, on that day, God will be one and God’s name will be one. It’s only at that point that it can happen.”

My opinion is not what is important here in response. God said through His prophet Isaiah, “I am the LORD, that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isaiah 42:8). “God does not tolerate rivals (Nahum 1:2) Jamieson-Faucet and Brown comment, “We are jealous only of those we love: a husband, of a wife; a king of his subject’s loyalty. God is jealous of men because He loves them. God will not bear a rival in His claims on them.”

The most important question to be answered is “What does the LORD require of me? “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Leviticus 19:33-34). You were quoted as saying, “Let people model it in their own houses of worship.” My question is, “Why bring into one place every religious practice and belief?” The LORD said, “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, be very careful not to imitate the detestable customs of the nations living there” (Deuteronomy 18:9). King Solomon said, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is death.” Even then, being the wisest man on earth, did he not fall because he took on so many wives and accommodated their religious practices, building high places and idols for each of them to practice their faith? It may be that it is time to remember what Moses was given by Adonai on Mount Sinai, the original gathering place lest we replace Him with our own modern day version of the Golden Calf.

“For they went and served other gods and worshipped them, gods that they did not know and that He had not given to them. And the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger, in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 29:26).

“Cursed is the one who makes a carved or molded image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of a craftsman, and set it up in secret. And all the people shall say, Amen.” (Deuteronomy 27:15).

And yet if we repent, He waits for us to return to Him and promises,

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).

2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15 Thou shalt not steal.

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.