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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mightier Than The Sword

This morning I heard a story on the radio about two girls who became pen pals over forty years ago, as part of a school project. One was in Oregon, the other in Australia.

For all that time they wrote letters, back and forth, sharing their hearts. And finally they've met.

And what now? Facebook? Emails? Phone calls?

No. Letters. They're more powerful, both women agree.

When was the last time you got a personal letter. or even a postcard? I remember when I did. September, 2001. They were from my then-fiance, now wife, and yes, I still have them.

We exchanged emails, too, and left messages on one another's phones. But even though I meant to download the emails, they're now lost/

The phone messages eventually disappeared, too.

But the letters are still there, carrying the messages they carried thirteen years ago, and carrying the emotion of the person who wrote them in the press of pen on paper, the slant of letters and lines. Emotions I can read more clearly now, after more than a decade together.

That, I think, is the power of the written word. It's a living thing, not constrained by a cage of clocks to one moment, but allowing an interpretation ongoing, down the river of time.

Writing letters today would take discipline. It would take a deliberate effort to turn one's back on an aspect of convenience, to buy pen and paper and envelopes and stamps, and hardest of all...to wait for a reply.

But maybe l;earning to wait in this area will help us to learn to wait in others. Maybe patience is a virtue, after all, and one that we can learn...and should learn, because...

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. The shall rise up with wings as eagles. The Shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hearts, Faith, and the Prophet

A few centuries ago a prominent religious leader warned against extremism.

It wasn't Jesus.

It wasn't Paul.

It wasn't Augustine of Hippo.

It was Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.

He also advised good treatment for the people of the Book - Jews and Christians.

Something is very wrong in what we are being taught about Islam. You leaf through the Internet for about ten seconds, and you'll find a lot of websites - many, unfortunately, with a Christian outlook - that go as far as suggesting that Muslims be exterminated.

You get a prominent TV cleric who talks about 'sweeping away' the Muslim shrines on Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

Muslims have a different set of beliefs. Does that make them less human?

Does that give us, as Christians, the right to ignore the positive, accepting parts of their beliefs, and merely focus on the hate-filled messages of a few?

Would WE want to be represented in our faith by Westboro baptist Church? (You remember - the guys that show up at the funerals of US troops and give thanks/)

And maybe we should remember this - Christ initially came for the Jews, and when He was rejected, turned to the Gentiles.

Are we rejecting Christ, in the hatred we support? Will we knock, and find His door barred - "I never knew you?" - because of what we tolerate in our hearts and faith?

Just asking.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Nurturing Compliments

When you were dating, did your mate-to-be shower you with compliments, on everything from you hair to your taste in music?

Has that changed?

Do you miss those days?

The sincerely given compliment is one of the most important things in marriage - or in almost any relationship. It waters the soul, and opens up a channel of communication between two hearts that is hard to emulate in any other aspect.

If this has gone out of your life, it may be worth looking at why...it may not be what you think. And a lot of it might be on you.

Maybe your spouse is taking you for granted? That's a common complaint, and sometimes true, but the fact is that it often goes both ways. If roles are rigidly divided, as to who does the dishes, who does the laundry, etc., there's the natural tendency to, "I did MY job, why haven't you finished YOURS?"

Doing the work together's a lot better - or letting the person who's less tired handle it. Almost any strategy to avoid the "this is my job,. that's yours" is a good one.

Are you suspicious that compliments come with strings attached? Sometimes they do - but often they don't, and being spring-loaded to "What does he want from me NOW?" is surprisingly easy to pick up, in your body language and tone of voice.

Being suspected of wrongdoing often enough will make anyone avoid the situation. Like the cat who sits on a hot stove, and will never sit on any stove again - even a cold one.

Finally, do you accept compliments gracefully? Or do you throw them back, and point out that the compliment really isn't deserved?

A compliment's like a present. If someone gives you a gift, and you hand it back, saying no, thanks, I don't really rate this...will you expect another one soon?

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

See the Future, Be the Future

Jack Nicklaus, possibly the greatest golfer that ever played, said that 90% of his success was due to visualization. He played every shot in his head until he was completely confident that he could physically carry out what he'd already rehearsed.

Jesus said that we should see what we pray for as if we already have it.

So why aren't there more people playing really good golf, or receiving what they pray for?

Simple. We don't do the visualization. We skip that step, except for a cursory "I see myself in this picture."

Not terribly effective, unless you count wishful thinking as a good life strategy.

The whole point of visualization is preparation. In golf, it's preparing your body for a successful shot by preparing your mind for success.

Same thing in prayer. Seeing yourself receiving your prayers - really seeing the result - puts you hand in hand with Jesus in making sure it gets done.

Let's say you're praying for your troubled marriage. You don't want a divorce but your husband is out with his 20-year-old secretary five nights a week and you're looking at the pruning shears with a new eye.

What do you visualize? What do you see, in that healed relationship? Do you see yourself enjoying each other's company, the way you used to? Having quiet evenings at home, just being together?

(Stop thinking about the pruning shears, please.)

Those are the things to visualize, not with an "I wish" wistfulness, but with a Technicolor representation of your husband being the man he promised to be. You need to visualize the details - what he's wearing, how he's sitting, what his voice sounds like, what's on the end table, what lights are on. You need the whole package.

But what good does it do? You can maybe prepare yourself through visualization, but how can you affect someone else?

Turns out, you can. Try this trick - next time you're in the Food Curt at the mall, pick someone whose back is to you. Will that person to turn and look at you. Visualize the head turning, the direction it turns. Visualize the person's face, at least what you know of it.

Chances are that your 'target' will turn, and look in your direction, puzzled. Don't forget to smile back.

To the more complex marriage situation, Norman Vincent Peale (he of "The Power of Positive Thinking") once had a woman in his congregation whose husband was out gallivantin' with his secretary. he wanted a divorce.

She said, "All right - but I want sixty days before I agree."

He was puzzled, but didn't give it much thought as he went out the door. And out he went, night after night.

Meanwhile his wife was picturing him sitting in his old armchair, reading. She saw the curl of his hair, the folds of his clothes, and smelled the smoke of the pipe he smoked.

Night after night, he went out. Night after night, she saw him at home.

And then one night he hesitated on the way to the door, said, "I don't really feel like going anywhere", and sat down.

The next night he was out again, but his wife didn't quit.

More and more often he stayed home, until one night he was reading in his chair, and she said to him, "This is the sixtieth day."

He looked up, and said, "So?"

"After sixty days, I said I'd agree to a divorce, if you still wanted one."

He snorted, turned the page in his book, and said, "Don't be silly."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Downton Abbey

I'm a guy. Anything I say about women may be wrong. Okay?

And I'm about to go nuts with generalities.

But I may have figured something out. The main difference between men and women is not in relationships, or interests, or chemistry, or planet of origin.

It's time.

Men live in episodic time. For a guy, a typical event timeline is quite short, and when a specific event is over...it's over. The memory goes into a kind of neutral archive, an emotional cold-storage locker.

Women live - I think - in a continuum. What happens in a woman's life today is directly and intimately related to what happened last week, last month, or ten years ago. Pursuant to that, what a woman experiences today will color her life in the future, to a much greater degree than it would a man's.

Men live a sitcom life. There's generally almost no carryover from one episode to the next. As such, they are relatively easy to figure out. Understand the episode, and you understand the man.

Women live series that go on for years, and build up such layers of complexity that one simply can't walk into a woman's life and expect to understand what's happening in her heart within a few minutes. The backstory is everything.

A prime - and almost cliched - example of this is romance. For a woman, a romantic evening begins long before the actual event, with anticipation, hope, and communication. The dinner at the Top Of The Mark is the culmination of a process that takes days or weeks to unfold, and can only be fully enjoyed in its completeness.

For a man it's different. "Want to have dinner at the Top Of The Mark? You do? Cool. I'll pick you up next Friday at seven."

He'll probably make arrangements for a nice wine, and make sure of what's on the menu, and verify that he has a suit that's more or less clean, and socks that match, at least broadly, in color.

Then he'll go clean the carburetor, and all thoughts of romance will dissipate in the wonder of an engine that breathes better.

Are men horrible pagan barbarians?Yes.

Oh, sorry, I meant, no. Men are just different, but expecting them to fully understand the full texture of a woman's life is like taking a cat to the opera.

And in the end, just as a cat needs a home that provides structure and food, men need women. A woman's heart is the emotional repository of tradition and feeling, and it's only there that most men can find a place, and continuity, and meaning, in the world.

What do you think?

To The Moon, Alice!

I hated "The Honeymooners". Never understood what was funny about Jackie Gleason.

But "to the moon" is a good quote, because that's where we should be going, as a nation.

It's not that we don't have enough problems here, and it can be hard to justify spending money on spaceflight, especially to a place where we've already 'been there, done that'.

There are sound technical reasons for returning to the moon - but there's an overriding moral one, and that is that we are in danger of losing our optimism, and losing the dreams that made this country what it is today.

Optimism requires a look ahead, and a look up. It requires a call to courage, both moral and physical. It requires faith. And in the past, we had those qualities in some abundance.

A country without faith would not have survived the Great Depression intact. The recession of 2008-2011 was nothing in comparison. The Crash of 1929 and its aftermath put a quarter of the nation out of work, and required the government to change its focus from caretaker to activist.

A country without courage would not have gotten through the twin crises of Viet Nam and Watergate with as little permanent damage as we have had.

\But now - it seems we've lost the direction we had. We routinely elect, and then seek to tear apart, our elected officials. We look for bad things to think about entertainment giants - it's a far cry from fan clubs - remember those?

Will going to the moon - or anywhere in space - help? Not immediately. But when we can look up there, and realize that there are people on that small white orb, living and working, and that they came from down here, it'll change the way we think about the connections between places.

And the connections between events. Suddenly it won't matter as much, to many people, who in Hollywood divorced whom.

The optimism we can generate with a consistent, hard effort will have benefits here, too...because optimism fulfilled creates confidence, and it's confidence that solves the problems at home. It's the attitude, "Sure, we can fix that - after all, we're going to the Moon."

We owe it to ourselves.

Friday, July 19, 2013

How to Lose Your Faith

Tired of being a good and faithful servant?

All that hope getting you down?

Heaven seems like it'll be a bore?

Well, there's a way out! All you have to do is lose your faith, and you, too, can live a miserable, pointless existence - a random walk between two black pits.

The best way to get started in losing your faith is to cultivate friends who pretend to be Christian...but live like flaming pagans. They should be people you look up to, so being accepted by them will be important to you. Put yourself in their care, and they'll carefully start to corrode the solid foundations God (that busybody!) has made for you.

Then...ditch 'em. They are still pretending to be Christian, after all, so when you've used them up, spit them out. Find some acolytes of your own...and work to cultivate some true atheist friends.

Your new buds should be smart, funny, and attractive. Looking good in a Speedo is a plus. A big plus! You can bask in their glory, and when they slam religion, you can join in.

Read authors who are unbelievers. When reading a memoir, turn to the last page. If you see the word 'God', put it away!. The story's just a Christian commercial. Not worth your time.

Be cruel. Cruel is fun, as Donald Trump knows, and don't you want to be like him? Why be nice, especially to losers? They're future worm food anyway - yes, like you - but you can step higher when you step on their heads. They're losers. Who cares?

There you go. Try this, and watch hope fade away!

Watch kindness evaporate like ice in August!

And watch God pull every trick in the book to get you back.

Remember...He wrote the book.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Seven Steps To A Better Marriage

Marriage is hard. This stuff isn't. Try it.

  1. Listen - take the time to listen to your mate, and learn about what they're doing, what they're feeling. Do you know what your spouse does from 8 to 5 every day? That's close a bit more than a quarter of the life you've chosen to spend together. Do you know what's in your mate's heart? I knew a woman who thought her husband was happy and content...until he killed himself. "I never asked him how he really felt."
  2. Touch - we're physical beings, and we've been given a sensitive skin by God for a reason. A gentle touch is one of the most reassuring things you can give your spouse, and, conversely, withholding touch is one of the most destructive. During the bad old days of Communism in Romania, infants whose parents were sent to labor camps were put in orphanages where they were rarely held, or even touched. Many of these children grew up to become the focus of adoption horror stories in the US - they had no feeling of empathy for living creatures, and no regard for anyone but themselves.
  3. Do - you and your mate have different tastes in many things, and it's far more important to do thing together than to do what you want to do. Guys, that means you have to watch "Sleepless in Seattle" for the sixth time, and stay awake. Ladies, get the earplugs out, for you are going to the local racetrack. And no "suffering martyr" pose. You're not starving in Rwanda - and there's something to enjoy in any situation. Grow up, take your place at your mate's side, and at the very least take pleasure in their pleasure.
  4. Talk - always speak positively of your mate. In public, certainly, but also in private.If you have to criticize, do so with care, making sure to build up your mate's positive attributes. Be accurate in what you say, and never go into predicting the future. The words "you always" should be banned from your lexicon, but no one "always" does anything. You don't know the future - but your words can shape it, so make sure they shape it for good.
  5. Support - everyone has bad patches in their life or their confidence, and it's your job to help build your mate back up. Emphasize the good, and the abilities that you admire. And be patient, because some things take time to go through - this is what you signed up for, this is the "for worse" part.
  6. Make love - sex is a part of marriage that some Christians seem to feel was one of God's mistakes, except for procreation. It's actually part of the emotional/physical/spiritual glue that holds marriages together, and has to be included. No time? Pass on the PBS series you've been watching. Sex is more important. Tired? It isn't all that labor intensive. Excuses are a way to create distance, and once that distance opens up - going back isn't easy. And guys - remember that for your wife, making love in the evening begins before breakfast, in the way that you treat her...and that they way you treat her should not have strings or expectations attached. Sound confusing? It really isn't. Treat her like you love her, all day, every day, and that she doesn't have to "do" anything to be treated that way. Simple, eh?
  7. Pray - pray together, every day. Invite God into your marriage, and make sure that you try to see your spouse as God does - as a precious individual worthy of the greatest care and love you can give.
There you go. Do this - and your marriage will be better. Guaranteed.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Past Forgiveness

On Facebook, I just signed a petition demanding the harshest punishment possible for a man who dragged a dog behind his car as 'punishment' for killing a couple of chicks. There was a picture of the dog - still alive at the end of its ordeal.

I can forgive a lot of things that have been done to me. It's personal, and so it's easier to somehow work my way out from under the accumulated weight of hatred.

But this? My first response would be to shoot the man in the head. That would be the second response, too. In fact, on the 'optional actions' list...that's all there is.

Is there something wrong with my soul? Am I a shell of a Christian only, with the heart and soul of a savage?

It may be self-serving, but I don't think so. What speaks to the heart in a case like this is the abuse of innocence, the deliberate actions that this man took to accomplish his evil on a creature that didn't understand what was happening.

It's the abuse of a position of power, and the enjoyment of tormenting someone weaker.

And that is unacceptable. Unacceptable for a society, unacceptable for me.

If I manufactured forgiveness, looking at this monster as a misguided but still beloved Child of God, I'd be diluting and bleaching the faith that I have..and implicit if that faith is a love of Right and a hatred - yes, hatred - for Wrong.

So I don't forgive him, or those like him. Pursue them to the ends of the earth, and kill them.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Jesus' Sound Bites

Do you spread the Gospel through sound bites?

Or do you tell the stories of Jesus' life, and the life of the Apostles?

With the increasing popularity of line-by-line Bible study, many people are able to come up with a passage for any occasion - in fact, a whole string of them.

It's not a new concept. Educated men would compete in stringing together Shakespearean tags to carry on a conversation, without resorting to 'plain English' - Winston Churchill was particularly adept at this.

However, it rather misses the point of the whole thing. The whole thing being, well, the Bible.

The Old and New Testaments were produced at a time when oral history and storytelling was the only way to disseminate information. Yes, there were printed copies, but they were few and far between, and most people had a finely-honed memory that would allow them to carry the message, and deliver it accurately.

The whole reason for the documents was the stories, in their entirety. Jesus' sayings, lifted from context and sprinkled here and there in conversation, is a common thing among Christians today but it would have been virtually unknown in the First Century.

Instead, the tales would have been recounted...the woman at the well, the crippled man lowered through the roof. The audience would have sat patiently, and learned the meaning behind the words, the shrewd sense and sly humor that Jesus had, that only comes out when you listen to him for awhile.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ghost Story

Christians aren't supposed to believe in ghosts.

But one day, about twenty years ago, I returned to my house after a short walk. The front door was unlocked. As I put out my hand - the knob turned.

The house was empty.

Same house, same period of time...I was in bed, and suddenly the mattress creaked and moved, as if someone had sat down next to me. No one was there, but I could see a depression in the mattress.

What does one make of this? What did I make of it?

I figured it was a ghost. It wasn't unfriendly - quite the opposite. The presence was friendly, and even helpful. When I worked in my shop, I'd find tools I thought I'd misplaced, lying in plain sight.

That's not all. A few years ago, I saw an old friend in Wal-Mart. He walked past me, turned, and smiled, then walked on. The last time I saw him, he had been shot through the head.

My wife saw him too, that day in the store.

And finally, in the days after my brother died, there was a constant smell of cigarette smoke in the house. We don't smoke cigarettes. He did.

What does one make of this? I have no idea. But in each case, there was some measure of comfort, and perhaps the hand of God was moving across my days, using the best tools for the job, that I could see His love.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Least of These

Sometime yesterday, a driver near our house hit a small, young terrier. The impact broke her back, and tossed her into a ditch filled with muddy water from a recent storm.

As I write this, she's clean, dry, and happy, sitting in a crate a few feet away from me. She's watching me now. She says to say, "Hi!"

We found her because of Barbara's sharp eyes. She noticed the mud-colored dog in the mud-colored water, as we were driving back from the train station (she commutes by rail).

Little One still doesn't have a name, but she has a home. She has friends. She is loved. She will have a cart for her back legs.

When all this happened, I thought, boy, God has a weird sense of humor. Yet another dog, and a paralyzed one at that?

And then I felt a sense of profound shame, because humor has nothing to do with this at all. This was a tragedy, and I firmly believe that God guided our steps to bring us to the point where I lifted Little One from the mud, and told her she was safe, forever.God did what he could, with the instruments at hand, to make it work.

We did take her to the vet, and had to tell the vet that we had no money (long story). The vet looked her over, said her back was broken and she was paralyzed, but otherwise she was healthy. He said he really couldn't do anything meaningful for her.

We had no money, and needed none.

Is that part of the miracle? So often we read of people who receive a windfall when they need it, but what of a situation where money becomes superfluous?

I don't know. But I think God's hand has been it work.

Even it's a dog's story, and not my own.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Western Christians have a First-World problem.

We tend to read the promises in the Gospels as being directly applicable to our lives in this world, and we read them with the slant that gives us the message that we want.

Prosperity teaching is the most prominent example. God wants to 'prosper' us - which is taken as, He wants us to be rich.

Some preachers take it further, saying that Jesus was rich, so we should we not be rich as well?

Jesus was rich? Sure...he could afford to be a wandering preacher. Could you?

Then there is the prayer of Jabez - enlarge my territory! Taken as...make me rich!

One very prominent fellow said that he receives the favor of God often. Parking spaces open up for him on the downtown streets of s major city.

There are so many examples of Scripture that are used to support this line of thought.

Now switch to, say, Darfur. Wealth is not really an option for most. Survival is often not an option. Does this mean that God has somehow chosen to curse the people of Darfur, while showering blessings on our upper-class Christians?

Or is it something in their black or brown skins, that should make them expect less from Him?

Or...are we worshiping a God we've modified to meet our desires?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Final Frontier

It's hard to believe that the US manned space program began 50 years ago - and reached its peak only ten years later. It's been downhill ever since.

In 1969, NASA did something that was almost impossible - it sent three men to the moon, landed and recovered two of them, and brought them safely back to Earth.

Then they did it again. And then four more times (not counting the aborted Apollo 13, which nevertheless returned with crew alive).

In 1972 it was over. The cell phone was far over the horizon, and Steve Job's Apple 2 still a few years off. The Internet? Uh...no. All of what NASA accomplished was done with 1950s and early 1960s technology.

And then the story went south. In the aftermath of Vietnam, egged on by idiotic academic eggheads and reporters whose celebrity raised them to the status of oracles, the US collectively hung its head in shame.

We abandoned the high frontier, and chose to concentrate on using the Space Shuttle to do things that could be done better and cheaper by unmanned rockets - launch satellites. The story of space became that of a trucking company., You call, we haul.

The fuel for the space program slowly leaked away. That fuel is imagination and passion, and after the first couple of shuttle flights, it was gone. I mean, think about it...Apollo was a Greek god, the messenger. The Space Shuttle was reminiscent of the New York-DC airline shuttle...crowded, bad seats, bad moods. Yee-ha.

What would have happened if we'd kept our courage? We can't know. Would we have gone to Mars? Maybe, but it was a huge step beyond the moon, and we probably would have lost some astronauts in the attempt. It would have cost a LOT.

Moon bases? Undoubtedly. We still would have lost astronauts. And it would have cost a lot, too.

But we lost astronauts, anyway. On Challenger, in 1986, and on Columbia, in 2003. And it still cost a lot.

What would we have gained? Again, it's impossible to know, but we might have had a country where kids looked to the stars, rather than to the next text message on their phone.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Even Atheists Have Faith

It's not a contradiction - it takes a lot of faith to be a dedicated atheist.

The origin of 'everything', including life, is and always will be an unknown. We may develop models for the origin of the universe; they may explain everything we can see. But they may not be correct.

Look at Sir Issac Newton. He developed what is called 'Newtonian Mechanics', which explained everything that could be measured and observed in the 17th century. It worked very, very well, and engineers use it to this day - because at the scale at which the observed world works, it's a good model.

But it's fundamentally wrong. When you go to the very big and very fast, or very small, the Newtonian model breaks down completely. And since it can't explain everything - it's fundamentally wrong, when looked upon as a template for 'how the world works'. It's a partial answer...kind of a physics band-aid.

Newton didn't have all the facts. He didn't think on the scales where his model would stop working. Not his fault - he was limited by restrictions in what he could observe.

So it is with anything that tries to explain everything. We can only see what we can see. If we look at the Big Bang Theory, we can 'imagine' the conditions inside the singularity that, smaller than a pinpoint, contained all matter and energy.

But what was outside that pinpoint? Nothing? What is nothing?

All of these questions require some degree of faith to answer, and to live with. And that faith can be just as deep as that of a religious person who believes that God moved upon the face of the water.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Faith of the Long Rifleman

There's recently been a spate of books by and about snipers. This is puzzling.

First, the 'name' - most prefer to be called long riflemen, with the exception of those who have attended Marine Scout Sniper training. 'Sniper', as a generic term, is Hollywood. (I may be dating myself here - the term may be more acceptable now.)

Second, the most valuable commodity to the long rifleman is anonymity. This usually carries over into private life, and writing an autobiography is...different.

But the books are a good thing, because, dear reader, they give you an idea of what is done on your behalf. It's not what you think, and these gentlemen aren't what you think they are.

The primary mission of the long rifleman is not killing. It's information gathering. These men are trained to move quietly through hostile places, observe, and remember. Many, if not most missions are completed without a shot being fired.

When shooting is part of the equation, the long rifleman is generally not an assassin, targeting specific named individuals. His job - and he works with a spotter who identifies and monitors targets, as well as providing security - is control of the battlespace. This means killing individuals who pose the greatest threat to friendly forces. First in line is leadership - officers and noncoms. Second are radio operators. Leaving the enemy leaderless and out of touch is an effective way of reducing their effectiveness.

And when shooting is part of the equation, the long rifleman is in an almost unique position. He sees, and in a sense gets to know, the people he will kill. Through the scope, he can see the face, and the expressions - fatigue, anger, a smile. For the long rifleman, the target is inescapably human.

What kind of man can do this? Not the Hollywood stone-cold killer. And certainly not the empathetic 'feeler'. It's a job for a man of solid faith.

There are two personality types that have to be weeded out in training. The killer is one - they can develop what's called the 'Texas Tower Syndrome', named after the individual who shot a number of students on the University of Texas campus in Austin in 1966. When this kicks in, the rifleman starts shooting - and doesn't stop. He has the power of life and death in his hands, with no direct authority but his own conscience...and his conscience folds its tent and steals away.

The other type is the man who identifies too strongly with the target's humanity. The label here is 'Stockholm Syndrome', named after a terrorist event in which hostages and terrorists bonded and identified with one another. While the ethos is laudable in most circumstances, it isn't part of the long rifleman's mission.

The candidates who make it through selection and training (which is almost impossibly difficult, both physically and technically) are well-balanced individuals, generally possessing both a strong devotion to duty, and a strong faith.

Because when the trigger is pulled, a soul is committed to God. And a long rifleman who disbelieved in the Almighty would soon go mad.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Revenge and Forgiveness

There are times when people do us ill to the point where we want payback. Either proportional, or wildly disproportional.

Usually, we would, in our hearts, opt for disproportional.

But there is a problem. He's standing there in front of us, in a robe, with long flowing hair, and a beard.

That pesky meddlesome busybody.


HE says, we have to forgive. period.

Well, if THEY asked forgiveness...

Uh, no. He says, forgive. Period. As in, 'out trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us'.

Crap. I don't see an escape clause, do you?

He did elaborate, while hanging on the cross. "Forgive them, because they don't know what they're doing."

And that says it all. None of us really know what we're doing, in God's accounting. We may feel that we're following the rules pretty well, but the crap that's in our hearts condemns us as surely as if we'd taken a Taliban solution to our enemies.

So, grudgingly...He has to allow us that, I hope...we forgive.

And when we repeat it every day, re-forgiving those who wronged us, even when we're sure that they're high-fiving at our discomfort.

That forgiveness may save them. Or not.

But it saves us.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

No Statue for The Contractor

These, in the day that Heaven was falling,
the hour when Earth's foundations fled
followed their mercenary calling
and took their wages, and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended,
they stood, and Earth's foundations stay.
What God abandoned, these defended,
and saved the sum of things for pay.

"Epitath on a Mercenary Army" - A.E. Housman

You can see them in the background, on CNN...opening the doors of the armored dignitary-bearing SUVs before the wheels stop, and stepping out, watchful.

When the dignitary emerges, they walk the diamond, one man in front, one on each side, one at the back door.

They don't have uniforms, but they do...blue or gray Kevlar, beards and longish hair, wraparound sunglasses. And either M-4s or AKs, and pistols in drop-leg holsters.

This is the popular image of the security contractor, the soldier-for-hire who gained fame in America's recent Near East wars. They're widely seen as amoral professional killers, ready to fight for the highest bidder (which happens to be the USA, at the moment).

They're triggerhappy, like the Blackwater operatives who went cyclic in a Baghdad plaza, killing and wounding a large number of 'collaterals'. Did they have a reason? Sure, but who really cares what it was? They're mercenaries, after all.

It's convenient image. Makes them easy to dislike, and when you hear about some of them being killed, you can stifle a yawn and move on.

I'm not going to mount an impassioned defense. There are those who understand, but if you don't, I can't make you.

But I will say this. There are many diplomats and aid workers who came home...because a contractor didn't.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Greater love hath no man, than he would willingly lay down his life for his friends.

That is not only a testament to love - it's a definition of the word 'friendship', and a call to what can be the supreme sacrifice in its name.

The question of what makes a friend is slippery. Common interests? I share common interests with lots of people whom I've met, and we're not friends.

Common values? Same story.

Friendship is something that comes from the heart, and something that embeds itself so deeply that removing it a something of a surgical intervention. It's something like love.

In fact, it is love. C.S. Lewis wrote about it in "The Four Loves", and phrased it exactly that way.

Friendship is something you can't walk away from. It exerts a call, across the years and across the miles, and can be a conversation taken up, exactly where you left off, after thirty years.

Some friendships are born of a single word, some take time to develop from what at first is disdain, dislike, or even hatred. Sometimes we hate things in others that, deep down, we recognize we need.

Does a true friendship need nurturing? Sure, but not as much as you may think. If it requires constant attention...it's not really friendship. It's neediness, on one side or the other.

The nurturing a friendship needs is to be there when you're needed, and having your friend know that you are, without question.

You can count on a friend.

Even unto death.

Monday, July 1, 2013


There may come a time in your life where everything goes wrong - you're in freefall, and you're just waiting to hit something hard, to hit bottom.

I hope it never happens, because it's a seriously unpleasant feeling. When everything you worked for melts away, and even the little things go wrong, distracting you from trying to find a way to arrest the drop and start fixing the Big Picture.

Though it may be cold comfort, Shakespeare recognized this, in Richard III - "If you can say it is the worst, the worst is not yet."

So what do you do? As everything breaks around you, can you do anything?


  1. Yell at God. let him know that it's not fair, and you're not happy. In "Fiddler on the Roof", Tevieh did this, in the opening scene.
  2. Don't flap. There's a saying at NASA - when there's an emergency in space, when in doubt, do nothing. You need focused action - acting quickly and without sufficient thought can waste time and resources you'll need later.
  3. Don't blame the people closest to you. If the problem was caused by unavoidable circumstance, accept the fact that there's no one to blame. If it was done by an individual or an entity, hate them all you want, but don't let that spill over onto your family and friends.
  4. Take time to grieve. You will need this. You're hurting, on the way down, and yhou need to let that happen.
  5. Try to remember that the hardest thing is the transition, and its speed - from rich to poor, from well to ill, from whole to maimed. Once you understand that this is a passage, and that its speed is really what's dizzying.
  6. Accept help. There is no time in life for pride, especially now.
  7. It may be hard to love or trust God, but try not to hate Him. Remember, He had to watch the world go wrong, and watch the world torture and murder His Son. He's getting no pleasure from watching your pain. Why can't He heal it instantly? If you can figure out why He didn't pluck Jesus from the Cross, you'll know the answer.
Above all, accept your own humanity. If you're the victim of an identity theft that stripped your bank accounts, don't pretend to be forgiving if you're not. You're not Mother Teresa. And even she wasn't all that forgiving of people who abused the people she cared for.

This isn't just intellectual gas. I am in free all, and have had to learn to cope, daily. Sometimes I do ok, sometimes not.

But, like the guy who jumped off the skyscraper, before he hit bottom, he said to himself, passing each floor...

"So far so good!"