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Friday, November 29, 2013

Be Like Jesus.

Many of you will be out Christmas shopping this weekend - have a wonderful time, and please, drive safely.

And please remember, as you make your rounds, that there will be people standing on cold sidewalks, ringing bells for the Salvation Army, on behalf of those for whom all the breaks have been bad.

Please include them in your generosity.

Jesus would.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Thanksgiving's been around for a long time in this country - since 1621, after the Pilgrims' first harvest. The party lasted three days, and was attended by 90 Indians, and 53 Pilgrims.

Up through the Civil War, it was an unofficial holiday, marked individually by presidential proclamation (and which proclamations always referred to a duty to be thankful to God...food for thought for the 'exclusion clause boosters). It was often invoked to commemorate military victories, such as the 1777 victory over the British at Saratoga.

In 1863 President Lincoln made it official, and set the date as the last Thursday in November. The tide of the Civil War had turned at Gettysburg earlier that year, and he felt it appropriate to celebrate.

In 1939, FDR realized that November had five Thursdays. Since the country was still in the grip of the Depression, he wanted to increase the Christmas shopping season, and moved it to the next-to-last Thursday of the month.

Still with me?

Finally, in 1942 Congress passed a law making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November, period.

But that wasn't the end, and some states continued to observe the "last Thursday" tradition. Texas did so until 1956, but Texans do go their own way.

So there it is - a holiday that began as thanks to the Almighty, was invoked for military victory, and eventually was shifted to enhance the Christmas shopping season.

So don't feel guilty about celebrating the fact that you have enough to eat, that you live in a strong, kick-butt country, and that you're going to go shopping on Friday.

Do thank God...but remember that these things we do are things for which we should be thankful, too.

Monday, November 25, 2013


Patience is one of the 'cardinal' virtues, and for good reason.

The world teaches us to be impatient. Why? There's good money in it. The more you want, and the faster you want it, the more risks you're willing to take to get it.

Like signing a loan for a payment you can't afford at an interest rate that used to be the province of loan sharks.

Or making a purchase on impulse, and telling your spouse about it later.

Spontaneous is good...but not when it turns into stupid.

Impatience colors our personal lives, as well. Think about your marriage...are there things about your spouse that make you impatient? (Stop rolling your eyes...yes, I know it's a dumb question!)

Have you talked about it, and is some change happening? If so...I bet it's happening more slowly than you'd like. The toilet seat gets put down some of the time now, but not all of the time?

Patience accepts work toward a destination as something of value on itself. Patience steps away from zero-tolerance, and admits that imperfection, when headed in the right direction, is okay, too.

Patience is about the soul, not the goal.

Patience is love.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What Your Spouse Needs.from You

Hugs? Yes, absolutely, but everyone needs them, not just spouses.

Attention? Yes, but so do your kids and pets.

Money? Don't go there.

Nice tries all, but they miss the mark. What your spouse - wife or husband - really needs is RESPECT.

You'd think it would be a no-brainer. All too often it is - a literal no-brainer, as in "he picked up the laundry and left his brain on the counter".

How many times have you seen couples that trade verbal 'zingers' in your presence? Watching two people who should have a care for each other - and who should know better - trade barbed comments across a dinner table isn't pretty.

Maybe they think it's funny?

Actually - yes, they do. When Barbara and I divorced (we are remarried, don't worry!) we went to counseling. I was a smug, self-satisfied jackass, and I spent a good part of the time making what I thought were clever comments...until the counselor (a Catholic priest) told me to shut the f*** up.

I learned, too late, and then kept learning until we were able to reach back and save our marriage.

Insulting each other in public is bad, but talking about a spouse behind his or her back is worse, because it sets up the unwitting party as the 'last to know'.

And it's so common. Hang out with men, and soon enough you'll hear them complain about their wives, and tell stories about how airheaded their 'woman' is.

And - I'm told - women do much the same thing, in talking about their husbands.

"Hey, we're just venting." Really? Venting is talking to a neutral person, like a clergyman or a counselor. Talking to someone who's already 'on your side' builds a consensus against your mate.

Yes, a consensus. Against the person you promised to love, honor, and cherish (unless you're venting to your buds).

Marriage is the ultimate vulnerability to which an adult can be open. We come open-handed for a reason.

Honor that.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Faith and Torture

Torture is an ugly word. That's why we call it enhanced interrogation.

The subject has gotten a lot of attention over the past few years, from "America doesn't torture" to "how else are we going to get the information we need to prevent terrorist attacks" to "it's not effective, because a subject will say anything to get it to stop".

There are some things we can address quickly.

  • America has used torture in the past, and will use it in the future.
  • The American way of torture is a walk in the park compared to the way real pros do it. I volunteered for a waterboarding test, years ago, and while it was nasty it wasn't the worst thing in the world. I would hate to fall into the hands of the Iranians, or the North Koreans, or the Cubans. Death would be preferable.
  • The information received since 9/11 was suspect for two reason. One, yes, some people will do anything to avoid torture. Two, the subjects were sophisticated enough to know that while they would be uncomfortable, they were, in the hands of Americans, quite safe.
But these are practicalities. What about the morality? Can you hurt someone for a cause?

What about if a loved one was kidnapped, and threatened with death? Would you sanction it then?

These are not "extreme" cases. These are tests to find one's moral threshold, because if you can make an exception based on personal feelings...you've bought into the concept.

Which is not necessarily wrong.

What does the Bible say? A bit, actually.

There is the story of the man who was forgiven a large debt by his king, and then went to shake someone else down for a much smaller amount. When the king found our, the chap was "handed over to the torturers". Jesus didn't add an editorial comment about torture being wrong.

There are those who will wind up in the Lake of Fire for all eternity - we've been warned.

God could certainly set up a Hell that would be something like an everlasting high-school history class, but he didn't.

The real Hell is more like being trapped in the locker room by the Goon Squad, and all the coaches have gone home. A bad day out.

Torture. And in this case, God isn't trying to get information from you. If you'll get Hell, it'll be a torture you earned.

And perhaps that is how people of faith might best view it - that someone who has aligned himself with the terrorists, the killers, the kidnappers, has chosen a path that necessarily leads to enhanced interrogation. It was their choice - they could have turned away.

But they didn't, and it's just deserts.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Intelligent Morons

It is said that there are some people who have been educated beyond their intelligence. Yo can find a great number of these by Googling "Humanist Manifesto".

Humanism is a pretty word for atheism, and its symbol is a stylized figure with its arms outstretched upward - the 'happy human'.

Guess he's not thinking about Dachau, or Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, or Rwanda, or the West Side Boys in Sierra Leone, or...well, you get the idea.

The latest Humanist document is called "Humanism and its Aspirations", from 2003. It's pretty short. The Humanist Manifesto, from 1933, optimistically extolled human dignity and potential.

Then came World War Two, and its rather nasty cast of villains. The Humanists looked pretty stupid, and have made several attempts to water down their philosophy.

Thus, we can quote the whole package here:

  • Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.
  • Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.
  • Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. 
  • Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.
  • Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.
  • Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.

Right. Let's take these one by one. It'll be fun.

Knowledge of the world comes from the scientific method...great, except with phenomena you can't reproduce in a lab. Like, say, Near-Death Experiences. Any volunteers? Hey, it's for science!

NDE's exist; to deny them requires the denial of every single recorded anecdotal account. You can't leave one unexplained. Arm-waving, shouting "it's religious, we don;'t believe it!" isn't allowed.

Humans are the product of evolution? Oh? Can you point to any instance of observed evolution that does not require unproven assumptions? We have not seen one species evolve from another. We have seen adaptation, but that's not the same thing. A polar bear has transparent, hollow hair shafts to allow flotation and enhance insulation; but it's still a bear.

Ethical values come from need, and are tested from experience...depends on who needs what. The Nazis needs lebensraum, and the Poles were in the way. The Nazis sure tested the heck out of the people they didn;t like, that's for sure.

Life's fulfillment comes from participating in the service of humane ideals. Well, not bad. But again, who decides what's humane? Some people think that killing Grandma when she needs a walker is humane. I mean, if you';re thirty and fit, having to use a walker would be unbearable, right?

Humans are social by nature...sorry, I need to pause, and laugh. I'm not social. I know a lot of people who aren't, and who should not be forced into "relationships" by well-meaning social engineers.

And as for benefiting society to maximize happiness, that sounds a bit like "work for we who are in power, and be happy that we are comfortable". 

Or, perhaps, the sign that the Nazis (remember them?) - arbeit macht frei - work makes you free.

The fact is that none of this crap works. At best, it's Pollyannish twaddle that could have been written by a high-school sophomore who never cracked a history book.

At worst, it's sneaky egalitarianism that wants power, and wants to make us want to support that power.

We need God. Without a Divine focus, we're simply at the mercy of the articulate, glib, and rich people who would forge our ethics in their own image.

People like Oliver Stone.

Or Kurt Vonnegut.

Or a bunch of Nobel Prize-winning scientists, who clearly feel that expertise in one field makes them experts in all.

No doubt these worthy gentry are intelligent.

And they are also morons.

And with that, I shake the dust from my feet, and leave their benighted company.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Black Thursday

Just when you thought commercialism couldn't be more idiotic, we will now have Black Thursday - stores open on Thanksgiving for Christmas shopping.

And since it's before Black Friday, the selection will be better, and the feeding frenzy even more enthusiastic. Better borrow your kid's football padding.

On second thought, better borrow his football team, to run interference for you.

This is getting ridiculous. Thanksgiving is supposed to be one of the few paid holidays for the American worker, and now a number of individuals will be told - hey, you're coming in! Better TiVo the parade and the game!

And you can wave to your family as you're coming in at the end of Black Thursday, and they're getting ready to head out on Black Friday.

This is crazy. Are we so totally bereft of interest, imagination, and a sense of family and community that we have to take every opportunity to go shopping?

Do we really need more Duck Dynasty t-shirts or Neiman-Marcus scarves?

Is it worth walking out on Thanksgiving to see what kind of deal you can get in Electronics?

Is it worth truncating Thanksgiving night to camp out in front of the entrance to your favorite store, ready to claw your way to the head of the line?

I had a friend who participated in Black Friday for many years, because her daughter just had to have certain toys for Christmas, and they sold out quickly.

"Of course, it's probably my fault that she's so spoiled," said my friend with a shrug.

A universal observation.

What do you think - is Black Thursday a good opportunity, or are our holidays being stolen by commercial interests? Will you participate?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Story Time

Every so often I'm asked what my favorite Bible verse is.

The answer I give usually disconcerts the questioner.

I don't have one.

To me, the Bible is about stories. It's about God working His way into the consciousness of the Jewish people, and His breakthrough - and sacrifice - in a wider world.

It's the story of the shepherd boy, David, who became a flawed king. An adulterer and a murderer, he learned that even a king has to bow to Someone.

Then there's Peter, an ex-fisherman who became the mainspring of the first Christian church in the world.

It's about a guy named Saul who changed his name to Paul, and worked tirelessly to spread the Good News. Brave man, Paul, enduring prison and a fatal trip back to Rome.

To me, these (and more!) are the jewels of Scripture.

And there are stories that make me distinctly uncomfortable. The death of Ananais and Sapphira, for instance...Peter comes across as kind of cruel, and the Holy Spirit as capricious. Ananais and Sapphira were certainly greedy deceivers, but death seemed a bit harsh.

It only serves to underscore that I don't understand everything about God.

What about you? Do you find inspiration and comfort from individual passages, or do you hold to the stories?

Or both?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Don't Try This at Home

When I was growing up, Ouija Boards were a Big Thing. They consisted of a board with letters around the edge, and a planchette, a wheeled pointer that would be used to point at letters to form words and sentences. The 'operator's eyes are closed.

And, of course, the messages came from...somewhere else...and were transmitted through the person whose hands lay on the planchette.

A variation on this exercise is automatic writing, in which a pen is mounted to the planchette, and is used to actually write the words. (A vivid description of automatic writing is given in Nevil Shute's novel No Highway; Shute is the bloke who wrote A Town Like Alice, serialized on PBS a number of years back.)

Seeing this in practice is unnerving, because while often the 'messages' are gibberish, sometimes they're not. They can be bland, like "Hello" or "How is the weather?", or simple, and slightly incongruous statements such as "There is a table".

Occasionally they seem friendly.

And there are a significant number of communications that are evil, filled with hate and fear and threat. Makes the hair on the nape of my neck stand up, writing about them. I won;'t quote the ones I have seen.

It's easy to dismiss the Quija Board / automatic writing phenomenon as an expression of the operaor's subconscious - i's what his benighed, blindfolded person would wan to say.

That's a simple, rational explanation. I believe it's quite wrong. First, in cases I've seen there's been a lack of internal consistency in the 'personality' and knowledge base of the operator and what was written. Phrasing was different, and there were things written that the operator should not have known.

Second, visual observation of the planchette's movement indicated some kind of external control. It was jerky, but the operator's hands were relaxed.

Something is out there...but what?

I don't think it's your Dear Departed Aunt Mildred. If you look at near-death experiences, and at the Bible, you find no indication that the 'departed' would have any trouble contacting us if they needed to do so. We are their 'shadow world'. A clumsy board 'game' would be laughable to them.

So, who? Given the number of malign contacts that come up, I think that when we play around with this stuff, we kick a hole in the 'hedge of protection' God has put around us...and give access to something unspeakably bad.

The existence of demons has been a given in almost every culture on this planet - including Western Christianity. Some would now scoff, thinking that, well, we can go to the moon, and we're too grown up to believe in demons.

We can no longer go to the moon. That knowledge and experience base has been lost.

And the demons aren't scoffing. They're waiting.

Don't play around with this stuff.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Defending Christianity

Christians are under attack in the US. No question.

From efforts to remove roadside memorial crosses to the removal of the Ten Commandments from public buildings...and to say nothing of prayer...it's as if our government has turned away from Christianity, in shame that becomes a self-destroying anger.

Did I say "as if"? Sorry, This is exactly what's happening.

The reasons are many, but most are rooted in the 60s and 70s, when rejection of authority became the norm, and one was pilloried for rebelling against the "young peoples' rebellion". (See, you couldn't rebel against the rebels, which pretty well sums up the whole nutcase couple of decades...which culminated in disco, as if to prove my point.)

But if we reject authority, with what do we replace it? Another authority, or course, but this time the "correct" authority.

And the correct authority says that we have to be tolerant. Tolerant of everyone, because after all, are not good and bad merely a matter of perspective?

So we Christians are enjoined to be tolerant, and to put aside our narrow-minded dogmatic interpretation of good and evil.

The funny thing is, the Commissars of Correctness think this is a nice trap. If Christians practice toleration of something minor, we'll be served something major to tolerate.

And eventually we'll be painted into a corner, where the Commissars will triumphantly say that we're not so different from the pagans, after all. We can see their point of view to tolerate them...so we are them.

They have a point. It seems that when we know Evil, we choose it. From which tree was Adam told not to take the fruit? The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (The Star Wars cosmology also touches on this - the Jedi do not learn nor use the dark side of the Force; the Sith use it, and are consumed by it to become wholly evil.)

How do we defend our faith, and take back our country? Simple. Be intolerant of what offends your faith.

Be narrowminded when you're told you should be "open", when being open leads to sin.

Don't agree just to be nice. Nice guys who cave in on their principles are pathetic losers.

Set an example of not abandoning your faith. You'll be ridiculed, and people will call you names.

But there will be that young person down the street who sees you, and thinks, "I want what she wants!"

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Healing Ministries, and Promising Too Much

No one wants to be sick, or suffer the effects of wounds or injury. No one wants to die.

We look to Scripture for answers and comfort, and there we seem to find the promise that illnesses can be miraculously healed, if we just have enough faith.

But a lot of Christians still get sick. And die.

There's a discontinuity somewhere. Either we don't understand the process, or we're misinterpreting its meaning in our lives on Earth.

Perhaps we should adjust our focus on what, exactly, Jesus did when he walked the hills of Judea.

He healed people, yes - but He did not heal everyone, and His Ministry could in no way be called a 'healing ministry', at least the way we think about it today. Instead He performed healing miracles with a purpose - the paralytic lowered through the roof was healed to show to show the importance of friendship, the blind man was healed to prove that it wan;t the parents' evil , it was just blindness.

Could He have healed everyone? Sure.

Did He omit to heal everyone as a punishment, or to drive them closer to the Father? No. He didn't heal everyone because we have to walk in the world, and the world's a dangerous place.

We're expected to deal with those dangers with grace and faith.

Does this mean there are no miraculous healings? Of course not, and there definitely have been miracles - but we should carefully consider whether the healings were granted for a purpose other than an individual blessing. We may never know.

Bu one thing we do know - or should - and that is that a healing can't be 'fuzzy'. If we're to claim a God of Miracles, we can't tie him to questionable proof and shoddy recordkeeping. And we certainly can't tie him to lies.

A prominent TV evangelist (who shall remain nameless, as he has lawyers and I don't) commonly runs healing services in which miracles are claimed and trumpeted. But the people who are healed look normal...the folks who have cerebral palsy, or shriveled limbs, are not allowed up to the stage. They are kept off-camera, as well.

The people who are allowed up are slain in the spirit, toss away crutches or stand from their wheelchairs, and walk off. That's great, but there's no follow-up, no proof.

He has a TV show on which he'll occasionally call out to members of the viewing audience with certain afflictions, and say they're healed. "There's a man watching with liver cancer...you are healed!" Unverifiable, and ultimately empty.

Another gentleman has claimed...drum roll, please - to raise the dead. When pressed, he admitted to bringing a couple of people back for five minutes, and one for ten.

Cancel the new wardrobe. Death from natural causes is not a drop off a cliff - it's a slow descent, and it is definitely possible to bring people back for a few minutes. I've done it, and have seen it done. But it's not a resurrection.

Are these men sincere? I don't know, and it doesn't matter. What does matter is this -

When we claim to perform miracles in Jesus' name we have to be darn certain that they are miracles. We are His hands and feet.

We can';t use His hands to write lies, or His feet to travel cynically false paths.

He deserves better, by our hands.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Positive Take on the Ten Commandments, Part 2 - No Idols

What kind of dimwit would worship a golden calf - and one that he had a hand in making, at that?

Quite a few dimwits, as Moses found out.

The Second Commandment, forbidding idolatry, sounds pretty 'forbidding' - God says that He'll punish the great-grandchildren of those who disobey, while He'll offer blessings through a thousand generations.

Quite a carrot, and quite a stick. Guess He thinks this one's important.

And yes, it is. The world of Moses was pretty well ruled by idols and totems, and those idols were devoutly worshiped because they were thought to really be the god,

The God of the Hebrews found this distasteful. He's not a local god, confined to a specific place and time, constrained to inhabit a shell built be those who worship him.

He's not a bird of the air or a beast of the fields of a fish of the sea.

Our God is a Big-G God, and all of Creation is his beat. That's the message He wanted to get across.  He has the power - not some wood or stone carving, or some metal casting.

And He's not a calf or a sheep or a ram or an eagle. He is us, because we are made in His image.

I think this is what He's telling us, that we can put away the infantile attachment to objects, and step boldly out in faith to worship something we can't see.

"You're grownups," says God. "Act that way."

There are those who think that we've replaced the golden calf with other things, like money and power and vacations in Bermuda. But that's not really true - I don't know anyone who prays to their billfold, or asks their Ferrari for intercession.

And if you're thinking of American Idol, let it go, because no one's paying religious homage to the singers.

We may let these things come between us and God, but it's a world away from the Israelites and their calf. We get too busy to spend time with The Man, The Israelites sought to replace...really replace him.

And God said, "NO!"

(You might question the ;worship' of saints and the Virgin Mary practiced in the Catholic and orthodox churches. It's not really the same - the correct term is 'veneration' which means 'respecting', and praying to saints or the Virgin Mary does not assume they are divine. Rather, one prays for their intercession - one is asking them to pray to God with and for the petitioner. Their statues are certainly not idols; they are to call to mind the saint or the Virgin Mary, but are in no way inhabited by them.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Sunshine Award - Call and Response

Well, it's happened, for the first time in my life. I've been nominated for an award!

The Sunshine Award, to be exact, and since Susannah Friis (susannahfriis.com) nominated me, she gets to ask the interview questions...

Here goes!

  1. What goals have you accomplished this year? I wrote two self-help books (being primed for Kindle now) and began another novel. I've also increased my fitness level to pass the PT qualification test for BUD/S (Navy SEAL school), and am on track to operational fitness by the end of the year. I'm pretty happy with that, as I'm 52 years old, and very seriously ill. Exercise hurts, but not being fit hursts worse.
  2. What do you think is your best quality? Willingness. If asked to help someone, I've learned to cultivate willingness, because help given reluctantly is worse than none at all.
  3. What was the last compliment you received and what was the last one you paid to someone? Last one received was this evening. I was making brownies, and set the oven to 450, not 350. My wife was rather pleased that I caught it before they brownies lit off. Last one given was to my wife, about an hour ago, when I pointed out to her how professionally she had behaved in an uncomfortable situation she described that happened at her job.
  4. What are you looking forward to during the rest of 2013? Finishing "Magic Dragon", my novel-in-progress set during the final months of the Viet Nam war, and dealing with the evacuation of orphans.
  5. Do you have a favorite, kind of 'lift-me-up' quote? Sure. It's from Al Sever's book, "Xin Loi, Viet Nam". "We don't have rights - only responsibilities."
  6. What inspired you to start blogging? Same reason I write. I wanted to give something to people, let them see that they can make a difference in building a better world.
  7. What is creativity for you? That's a tough one. I don't see myself as creative, much less an artiste. My aspiration has always been to be something of a tradesman, as far as writing is concerned. professional and competent, with the story taking precedence over my persona.
  8. What about yourself do you want to improve? I'd like to learn to be a better husband. I fear that I'm really too reserved.
  9. What's the one thing you can't live without? A sense of purpose and mission in what I'm doing. I can't just 'hang out'.
  10. What's your favorite way to relax? I learned long ago to take relaxation in short doses - then back to work. So I usually have a book and a diet soda with me, and will take opportunities for "five-minute-vacations". I don't need or want more time than that.
Now it's my turn to nominate -

"Tales from the Redhead"
Beth Vogt
Becky Doughty
Gwendolyn Gage
Dave Hamlin

Give it a shot!