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The horrific atrocities devised and committed by Abdelhamid Adaaoud and his band of imbecilic terrorists prompted an analyst to

The Kingdom Not the Caliphate

The horrific atrocities devised and committed by Abdelhamid Adaaoud and his band of hell-bound terrorists prompted an analyst to explain the appeal of ISIS to the young impressionable losers attracted from around the world: that ISIS promises meaning and purpose to empty and drifting lives.

But he didn't stop there in his analysis. He went on to not so subtly condemn Western society for providing no other alternative than a life of ease, materialism, and (no, he didn't say it, but could have) selfishness. 

That bleak assessment of us doesn't jibe with my experience.  The households and pulpits I have frequented have been insistent, if not always eloquent or persuasive, that one of the major strategies for a meaningful life is to be useful: not just to make money, but to make friends. 

On one of those long, long Thursday afternoons in the church I last served, when one after another thirteen year old confirmand would enter my study for a face-to-face with the pastor, one of them carried a loose-leaf book covered with wrapping paper on which he had sketched his heart's desire, a Lamborghini. The subject for the afternoon was The Sermon on the Mount.  I guided him to Matthew 6 and hinted that Jesus told us not to worry about where we would live, what we would eat or drink... and (getting a little anachronistic) what we would drive.  I met the lad twenty years later; he had no recollection of that afternoon or the drawing.  He now drives a Chevy SUV.  Financial limitation not pastoral advice is the likely reason for vehicular choice.  But, smart guy on TV, don't tell me that we are raising children without pointing them in the right direction and insisting that life is a lot more than Lamborghinis and a couch on which to watch endless football games.

Coming closer to home: I am inordinately (but justifiably) proud of a couple of twenty-three year olds who spent most of those years growing up within easy reach of my unamplified voice and its occasional advice.  They now aspire to lives of service, one as a doctor, the other as a judge.  I have regularly disabused them of any fantasies about making a lot of money, telling them that they'll always have enough for a satisfying life if they do their jobs well, that our society will always need their skills and will show appreciation with the salaries paid.  "Be useful and all these things will be added unto you," Jesus never said it, but the thought is a fair interpretation of the clinching line in Matthew 6.

The analyst mentioned another appeal of ISIS, its call to sacrifice your life for a greater cause.  The road to that cause may be bloodstained with decapitations, but the caliphate which emerges will be a glorious triumph for Allah and the minions who make it happen.

"Sacrifice":  I have consciously erased it from my sermonic vocabulary and my biography.  They told me I might have been publisher of Time magazine.  They told me I should have been president of Syracuse University. They told me I was wasting my talent in a small church in Brooklyn when larger pulpits beckoned.  I suspect I could have made a fortune if I had followed a well-worn path by earlier collegiate alumni to Wall Street. Doing what I have done with my life was no sacrifice, though some tried to put that label on me.  Doing what I have done - being a pastor and being useful to those at hand - is (forgive me the arrogance) the wisdom for a fulfilling life. And it's no sacrifice. 

Someone taught me that.  My mother, surely.  My pastors, of course.  Jesus, eternally.  The word is out there.  So don't tell me that Western society is doomed to fail in a contest for the minds and hearts of the disaffected young because of the failure to offer an alternative.

Not on my watch anyway.  


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