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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Ball Drops

And it's 2014, just now as I write this.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot...does that mean we should forget them? Might be a good idea, in some cases.

A lot of us make New Year's Resolutions.

A lot of us resolve not to make resolutions, and then secretly make them anyway.

My resolution is to live to see 2015, or die trying.

Sorry. Bad joke.

What about you?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Six Steps to A Fresh New Year

Hard to believe, but it's almost time for another calendar. Twenty-fourteen...remember when 1984 had an ominous ring to it?

Well...it was pretty ominous, if only for the music that was popular that year. Could have been worse, though. Could have been disco.

All that aside, a New Year is a new page. It has the feeling of a fresh start, and while a lot of people - including me - tend to play it down, we really shouldn't. Playing it down is turning your back on an opportunity.

What's the best way to start a new year? Almost everyone has their own method - and unfortunately, many of those methods result in disappointment. Goals aren't reached, resolutions aren't kept, and the shine of the new takes on a quick tarnish.

So...here are some suggestions that I hope will help, and that I pray will keep the coming year shining, in some small way.
  • Get a new calendar. Even if yours has an extra month or two...start with a fresh one.It's a visual reminder of newness, and doesn't drag all the notes and appointments and their associated memories into the coming year.
  • Start the new year at work in a new outfit, or at least a couple of new accessories. 
  • Don't make any resolutions. At All. Stay off that road to disappointment.
  • Eat out somewhere you've never been...even if it's choosing a local hamburger place over the Golden Arches.
  • Hang a picture of somewhere you've never been, but would love to visit. Don't make it a 'resolution' to get there this year. Just keep it as a hope for 'someday'.
  • Clean the screens on your TV and computer.They are a window on the world.
Simpole things...almost trivial...but each of them will give you aquick feel-good glow, and taken together they'll help you get the coming year off to a bright, fresh, and positive start.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Missing the Christmas Target

Did you have a nice Christmas? I hope so, and hope that you're looking forward to 2014.

Too many people, though, didn't enjoy the Christmas experience. Putting aside (hate to say it that way) those who lost loved ones, dealt with illness or financial burdens, or had otherwise overwhelming external events, there are a host of ways to ruin Christmas.

All of which can be boiled down to one reason.

Putting oneself first.

In all of the dinner-table arguments...someone just had to have the fun of goading another until the argument began. Someone just had to be right. And the stakes? Nothing. Over 99% of arguments don't matter. They're just rearranging the rubble of the past.

In all of the 'must be perfect' Christmas preparations, where tempers fray and feelings get hurt, are the family and guests the first concern of the partygiver-in-chief?

Not likely. The main concern of this individual is his or her ability to live up to expectations that are made up of commercial images of the 'perfect' Christmas, and bright shiny - and overglossed - memories of what childhood Christmases were like.

It's a moving target. You can't hit it. So the arrows hit bystanders, instead.

But heck, at least it was satisfying to hit something, right? On the theory that breaking a dish or putting a fist through a wall helps win an argument.

Finally, there's the Dreaded Gift Exchange. You don't know what to 'git' someone, and instead of focusing on the potential needs or desires of the recipient, you look to your own need - the need not to look bad, or cheap, or unimaginative. Instead of being a joy, it becomes a burden.

Is this what Jesus would want in celebration of His birth?

Finally, perhaps the very worst thing you can do is to give your .spouse the feeling that you'd rather be somewhere else...back home with your real family.

Usually, this doesn't come from malice. It comes from homesickness, gleefully fueled by advertising and stupid sentimental songs.

When you hear "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and say, sadly, "only in my dreams", you may be honest...and you're also opening a wound that will never fully heal.

If your spouse's family is also out-of-town, he or she may retaliate in kind, and you'll be living similar Christmas wishes, that of being apart.

But if you are your spouse's only family, and the home you share is their only home...what then?

If any of these happened, don't sweat it. You'll have another chance next year.

You hope.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Real Meaning of the Day

Three-thirty am. An accidental poisoning, and a night of PTSD flashbacks.

Heck of a way to start Christmas.

Or maybe not, because there's no Currier and Ives moment, not gift, that would make this OK.

The carols fall flat, and I dread the morning of PBS music specials. I just can't face them right now. Where's that convoy escort job in Helmand when you need it?

But even nihilism has its limits. You might live through the work you hope will kill you.

On the other side of the darkness, then...what?

A baby, in a bed of straw, in a place far away and long ago...and here, and this very morning.

God, caring enough to come back for us.

Not as some awesome giant heaven-king, blinding us with white-gold fire. A baby, that we can pick up and hold.

A God we can protect.

And in so doing, we save our souls.

Monday, December 23, 2013

What Really Happened?

I recently saw a TV preacher who tired to make the point - and I don't know why - that there was an interval of between several months and over a year between the birth of Jesus and the visit of the Magi.

This, based on the words used in the KJV. "Babe" for the birth, as described by Luke; and "young child" as described by Matthew.

He also used as evidence the story the Herod ordered the killing of every child under the age of two, and not just babies.

As I said, I'm not sure what the point in doing this was/

But I do think it's kind of dumb. It messes with the traditional interpretation of the Nativity, and looks to re-interpret events of the past based on our 'present knowledge' -and, more importantly, our present prejudices.

In other words, we're tending to look at things and saying, "This is how we would act, so this is what probably happened".

Not considering that we are very different from them in many ways. We are softer, and while our knowledge base is broader, our faith is shakier.

If we had been kings of old, would we have taken off to follow a star? Probably not. Even if told by God to do it?

We probably would have talked ourselves out of it.

We're not strong, even though we wish we were. That's why it's important to hang onto what we can, and the places where faith and our culture are interwoven are really the best handholds of all.

As Christians, we're attacked by humanists from all fronts - and one of the favorite avenues is the perception of inaccuracies in the Bible.

The Nativity story is a tiny part of the Gospels. The timing of the Magi's visit is utterly unimportant to the meaning of the events.

But it is important to the way we celebrate Christmas, from songs to Nativity scenes.

It brings us together.

Don't mess with it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dinner Table Diplomacy

One of the prime loci for conflict at Christmas is...yes, the dinner table.

Breaking bread seems to make us want to break noses.

There are undoubtedly deep-seated psychological reasons for this. Perhaps we should place a therapist at the head of every dinner table, share how we're really feeling, and have a group hug afterwards...


Oh, very well. Here, then, are some suggestions for a harmonious dinner, with guests, in your house.

  • Remember that it's your house. You have the right to set some rules and boundaries, and you don't have to vacillate under pressure. "This is my choice" is a perfectly good answer when you turn a conversation from a sensitive subject, or choose to seat venomously warring cousins at separate tables.
  • Manage time - don't call the guests to the table until food is actually ready to be served. Waiting is a great incubator for idle thoughts and conflict. And have an activity scheduled to begin just after dessert - again, leave no time to sit at the table.
  • Use tall centerpieces to break up lines of sight across the table if you feel a conflict might brew. It's hard to argue through or around an immense floral spray.
  • If you serve alcohol, serve it sparingly, because it loosens inhibitions against "in your face" argumentative behaviour.
  • Put the dinner table - or tables - in view of the Christmas tree. It's a soothing element.
  • Play favorites by talking with the quietest guests. The effort to to this can forestall those who are argumentative.
  • Keep party favours - small wrapped gifts for each guest - in reserve. If necessary, distribute them to defuse developing tension.
  • Above all - keep calm, and don't be drawn into conflict. It takes two to argue. An individual talking without response will realize the silliness of his situation in short order.
If you're not the host, the last point will be most operative - you can't really control the overall flow of events, but you can control yourself.

If a guest begins to become confrontational during time spent socializing away from the table, you can have a preplanned strategy to cull that person from the 'herd'; lead him or her somewhere else, without referring to their poor behaviour. If distracted long enough, most people will forget what they had been talking about previously.

We wish you a Christmas season of joyful times and happy memories!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Great Expectations

In "Shrek the Halls", Donkey makes the comment, "Christmas ins't Christmas unless somebody cries".

It's funny, but it hits pretty close to the mark. Christmas is the time when we see perhaps the biggest gap between expectation and reality on the calendar.

We are bombarded by TV shows and commercials, old Currier and Ives prints, and sugary songs that make Christmas seem like an endless hug from Barney the purple dinosaur.

Reality is a bit different.

When the doorbell rings, and the folks we haven't seen in a year and might prefer to wait another year before seeing come through the door, we try to have our attitudes and behavior and smiley-face masks adjusted.

How long does that last for you?

Tensions surface quickly, turn into cracks, and while open warfare doesn't usually develop the whole experience is fraught with one-upsmanship and small digs and at the end of it, "Whew! I'm glad that's over".

Is there a way to stop the cycle?

Sure. Celebrate Christmas in Bora Bora with just your spouse. leave the kids in boarding school, and don't tell the family where you're going. Or if you'll come back.

Failing that...make an effort to be low-key. Where you think you have to decorate a lot, don't. Where you think you have to cook sumptuous meals, make them simple. When a multi-thousand-dollar gift list beckons, buy paperback books and CDs.

If the expectations are lowered going in, you may well find a refreshing release from the tyranny of the secular tradition in which we're bound.

And you might just get a little closer to the experience of the first Christmas Day.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Lights

There was a particular string of Christmas lights.

It carried twenty of the big, clunky old outdoor lights. The globes were transparent, delicate shades of yellow, red, blue, green, and purple, and you could see the filament within.

And they blinked.

Not all at once, or in a 'running' pattern, but individually, each according to its own unknown internal beat.

Those lights mesmerized me. I tried to time the blinks, looking for a pattern I could predict. But there was none.

They went their own individual ways.

There was a fragile beauty to them, a delicate majesty.

They are so much like us. Burning bright, and then going dark, to no visible pattern, but holding nonetheless to the hope that when the light goes out, it will come back.

Monday, December 9, 2013

This Year, Beat the Post-Christmas Blues

Does December 26 feel flat to you?

It does to me, sometimes. The Christmas music's gone from the radio, the decorations are coming down, and the only thing we really have to look forward to is Dick Clark.

Oops. He's dead.

Our Canadian and British friends have Boxing Day on the 26th - whatever that is.

But for the rest of us, there's nothing.

Or is there?

There can be, if we'll follow the old tradition of celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas, from the 25th to January 6 - the Feast of the Epiphany.

Here are the individual days -

December 25 - Christmas
December 26 - Stephen the Apostle
December 27 - John the Evangelist
December 28 - The Holy Innocents (the kids killed by King Herod)
December 29 - Thomas Becket
December 30 -  the Holy Family
December 31 -  St. Sylvester
January 1 - Solemnity of Mary (also the Holy Circumcision of Jesus...yes, really)
January 2 - Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen
January 3 - St. Genevieve and the Holy Name of Jesus
January 4 - Elizabeth Ann Seton and Simon Stylites
January 5 - Edward the Confessor (England), Julian the Hospitaler, and John Neumann. This is also the Twefth Night, as in the Shakespeare play.

The saints are those recognized by the Catholic church - the twelve days predated Martin Luther by quite a bit.

It may surprise one to learn that in some countries the tradition of the twelve days is still alive and well - in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth nations, many elements of the celebration survive. In England, it's generally practiced by the 'high' Anglican church, which has many Catholic trappings.

In the United States, it's not the case. Largely because of commercial interests ("After Christmas Sale! December 26!) we look at Christmas as a one-day event. Here on the 25th, and utterly gone the next day.

There has been some effort - largely commercial - to recast the twelve days to the period before Christmas Day, to put a different spin on shopping.

An extended celebration changes quite a bit. It almost has to focus on the real meaning of the holiday. Reliving Christmas Morning for twelve days running is way past tolerable, and twelve days of Christmas parties...ugh.

So, what to do?

One suggestion is to investigate the individual feast days between Christmas and Epiphany, and develop a themed evening that incorporates the traditional celebrations.

A less formal approach would be to exchange gifts on each of the twelve nights, with each gift symbolizing a wish of hope for the recipient in each month of the coming year.

However you may choose to do this - if you choose to follow this tradition - it'll make the season quite different for you and your family.

It'll make it richer.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Oh Come, Let Us Ignore Him

'Tis the season for largely ignoring Jesus.

The first major ice storm made its way through most of the United States last night, and another one is coming. Millions of people are without power. Some, because the power lines went down.

And some, because they have nowhere to go, and no one really cares.

Does the phrase, "the least of these" ring a bell?

Sure, many of the homeless are there because they made really, really bad decisions in life, for drugs or alcohol or crime.

The least of these.

Many are there because of mental illness.

The least of these.

Many are there because of bad luck - especially inj the recent recession.

The least of these.

Relief organizations do their best. Do you give money to the Salvation Army, when you see their representatives standing in the cold, ringing a bell?

The government doesn't do enough. We pay taxes that are supposed to benefit all of us. I fail to see how a presidential golfing vacation benefits all of us. I fail to see how congressional offices with twelve-foot ceiling benefit all of us.

We can do something. We can give money, and even our time, to organizations that help.

We can vote for candidates who want to make sure that no American freezes to death on our streets. But when was the last time you heard a candidate put that on his or her platform?

But in the end, we can't shift the responsibility. The smallest and most damaged souls in our environs are still God's children, and our brothers and sisters. Ours. It's up to us.

So many of us look to the old movie, "It's a Wonderful Life" as symbolic of Christmas, and of the spirit of community. The townspeople rally to help George in his hour of darkness.

Who are you rallying to help?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Beating the Christmas Blues

It's the most wonderful time of year!

Blah, blah, blah.

Christmas is wonderful for some people, and more power to them. But for some, for many, Christmas is an ordeal.

It's something to be endured.

It's a survival situation.

Does this strike a chord in you? Does something in all the gaiety grab at your heart and give you a choking feeling?

Do the popular, sentimental carols raise a wave of darkness?

Is Christmas shopping something you dread...not because of the crowds, but because you know that all the glitter and flash and bustle will leave you feeling cold and empty...and you can't even explain why?

And do you feel alone, unwilling to seek help from friends and family because you don't want to rain on their Christmas Parade?

If so, you're not alone. More people than you know - millions - feel the way you do.

And there are some things you can do...

  • Know this - it is not your fault, or your doing. No one has the right to make you feel guilty.
  • Ditch to sentimental music. If certain carols make you sad, don;t listen to them. If it's the radio...change the station. If your spouse puts on a CD - ask that it be changed. It doesn't matter that the songs are pretty and traditional. It doesn't matter that they were your parents' favorites. They are not helping you now.
  • Shop online. You don't owe it to anyone to make yourself feel worse by going to the mall, so don't. If you do your grocery shopping at a 'big-box' store, consider  switching to a dedicated grocery store like Albertson's or Kroger for the duration.
  • Cut back on commitments. If you don;t want to go to parties, politely decline invitations. You won't become an outcast, at least not among people who really care about you.
  • Cut back on decorating. Decorations can be freighted with memories and tradition, and these frequently trigger depression. If you have to put something up to keep peace in the family, consider buying a new, simplified set.
  • Drop the PJ tradition. If you do the present-opening ritual while wearing pajamas, consider getting dressed immediately you wake up. PJs are comfortable, yes, but lounging around in them is not empowering. It sucks energy and vitality from you when you need it most.
  • Don't explain. Follow the 'Mary Poppins' rule - "I never explain anything". Explaining the changes you're making can easily turn into a perceived need to justify them, and puts you on the defensive. Just make the changes, and keep the talk to "I decided to do it this way because I prefer it".
Perhaps the most challenging situation is when you have a spouse who's really into Christmas traditions - and you want to go from November to January, directly. In this case you have to violate the "don't explain" guideline, and be forthright about exactly how the holidays affect you. And then you have to be ready for your spouse's efforts, well meaning they may be, to "fix it".

Resist that, because you're not broken.

You're just you, and you have the right to happiness.

Even at Christmas.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Over the weekend, Barbara and I saw "The Mask of Zorro", with Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins. Great movie - funny, fast-paced, and satisfying.

But afterwards, Barbara said something that made me rather sad, on reflection. Long ago, she'd seen Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs", and in this very different role that the actor played, she saw shadows of Hannibal Lechter.

I was fortunate never to have seen that film, but I know the story and the details well enough. And I think it's a tragedy that for many people, Hopkins will be forever associated with that vile image.

But don';t we run the same risk in our daily lives? Each day, we play a role...not in the form of acting, but in simply moving through the day and interacting with others.

Most of those roles are forgettable. Can you remember what your spouse did last Tuesday? Or what your kids did a week ago Saturday?

Can you remember what you did a year ago today?

But some days stand out in memory like a sheet of flame. Usually these are the bad days, like knowing where you were when you heard about 9/11.

If a parent told you that you'd never amount to anything - you probably know exactly where you were and what you were doing.

If a spouse said something particularly cutting, the scene is stuck in your memory, ready to replay.

And the things you said or did - they're remembered, and they help define you in someone else's eyes.

The good things you did help to define you, too. but as Shakespeare said, "The evil men do lives after them, but the good is oft interr'd with their bones". Or, to use a more pithy military saying - "It takes seven 'attaboys' to make up for one 'dumbs**t!' ".

What this means is pretty simple. Be vigilant in what you say or do. Be the person you want others to remember. Guard your tongue, your actions, your heart.

Because you have an audience, and your performance matters.

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!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Positive Take on The Ten Commandments, Part 1 - No Other Gods

You will have no other gods besides Me.

The First Commandment can be said to be the hook, designed to get our attention. No other Gods. period. What about that do we not understand?

Modes and his homeboys certainly understood. They'd just come from Egypt, after all, where just about everything could be deified. The Egyptians had jackal-headed gods, and cow-headed gods, and gods that looked like storks. It was pretty confusing to the average Egyptian, who generally picked one god to worship in the house...or hut, temple. (This kind of 'selection' is common to most polytheistic cultures.)

Even so, there were a number of Israelites who would have been just as happy hedging their bets with other gods. Maybe the God of Israel wasn't quite strong enough in some areas...let's give Him some backup!

Hedging bets. That's really they key, isn't it?

The First Commandment really says, "count on me...you don't need anyone else".

In the 21st century, we don't have to much trouble with golden calves or gods with weird heads and weirder names. But we do have problems with hedging bets.

Such as - "he who dies with the most toys wins".

In other words...this might be all we got, this life. So grab what you can, and live life to the 'fullest'.

Who knows if you'll really get pie in the sky when you die?

God's saying, BELIEVE! It's such an important concept that He made it a Commandment.

The first one.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Stuff You Can't Afford to Lose

Most of what you have, you can afford to lose. Really.

You can't afford to lose faith.

You can afford to lose family - and one day, you will, in part or in whole.

You can afford to lose reputation, because it's what other people think of you, and you can't control that.

But you can't afford to lose your honor. Often seen as the handmaiden of reputation, it's far deeper, because it goes into your soul.

Honor, at its basic level, is being the person who does the right thing, and who can be depended on to do the right thing. You keep your covenants.


Because if you break one, just one time, you've changed your life forever. Yes, God will forgive you and put your sins as far away as the East is from the West.

But convincing your own heart to follow suit is almost impossible. You can forget for a long time, you can accept forgiveness from those you've wronged, you can convince yourself that it's along time past and you're a different person...

...and then a chance remark or a hint subtle as a summer-night breeze will bring it all back, in its dreadful grandeur.

And there is no temporal atonement. The Japanese Samurai thought they were onto something with seppuku...that all honor lost could be regained through the simple expedient of ritual suicide.

Which only serves to show why there aren't many practicing samurai still around, I guess.

For the rest of us, lost honor bows our heads, and shades our hearts. It shouldn't be thus...we should be able to feel washed clean, with a new start.

But most of us don;t, and can't. Fact of life. God may be disappointed, but I suspect He understands.

So teach your kids...your word is vital, and the promises you make before man and God have to be faithfully kept.

Because there are some burdens you simply can't put down.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Why Did Jesus Weep?

The last week saw the death of my beloved mother-in-law. It's like a mountain range has sudden;y departed my horizon, and I have lost my bearings in a world suddenly gone unfamiliar...and a landscape allowing cold winds to blow unimpeded.

It does make one think of life and death. And about the shortest verse in the Bible..."Jesus wept."

Why did He weep? On the face of it, this reaction doesn't make sense. he's God, right? He knows that not only will He restore Lazarus, but that all who turn to Him will rise again.

Well, maybe He was just being sympathetic. He felt the pain of Lazarus' family, and felt is so deeply that it brought tears.

This is also an unsatisfying answer. While a robust "Buck up, kids, I'll set this nonsense right" response would have been out-of-place, the sight of their leader weeping over a single death in a land where death was cheap would not have engendered much confidence in His disciples.

Beyond this, it's a bit condescending. If He could see so much further, beyond death's tragedy, the tears would have been...no disrespect intended...ingenuous.

So, why? Why did He cry?

I think He cried for two reasons. The first is that to truly represent and save us, He had to experience life sequentially, just like we do. He couldn't emotionally jump ahead a few pages and see the outcome. Lazarus' death was a fact. His resurrection was not yet a fact. He was therefore constrained to the Now, and not the Tomorrow.

Did He know that Lazarus would die, and that He would bring him back again? Evidence is that He did - delaying for four days made sure that, under Hebrew tradition, the soul had departed the body (which it was said to inhabit for three days after death). It also made sure that decomposition would be well advanced, which is why there was some reluctance to roll away the stone.

So with that a priori knowledge, why did Jesus weep?

I think that it is because raising Lazarus was a work of faith, and to identify with us, He had to live the feeling that, in the face of a monumental tragedy like the death of a friend, faith can be a slender reed indeed.

Faith is not knowing. Faith is belief in something unseen, and in this case as yet unconsummated.

We have some evidence that Jesus faced a very human struggle with faith, in the garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross.

And that is why I love Him. Because He gives me a shoulder to lean on...and had I been there, two thousand years ago, I could have returned the favor. He's my God.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Jesus Goes Skydiving

Heard something interesting on Bill Purvis' televised sermon last Sunday (October 20, 2013) - "some people don't look up until they hit bottom".

That is so true. I've known many people whose lives seemed to go into free-fall, and they kept trying, desperately, to work the problem. Trouble was, they became fixated on the rapidly growing, and very hard landscape beneath their feet.

If you commit the highly unnatural and illogical act of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane while wearing a parachute, one of the first things you'll learn is that you need to keep your eyes on the horizon as you approach the ground.

Best to learn this when you're told. learning by experience means you've just driven your femurs through your pelvis.

The problem is the same one that deer get when you see them in your headlights. Paralysis, and the total lack of ability to take effective action. You're scrabbling for the steel D-ring at the end of the ripcord, but your fingers can't make the connection.

You do have time to wonder how high you'll bounce.

When everything in your life is going wrong, and you stare at the oncoming disaster, you're going to funnel yourself right into it. Kind of like the old saying that when a man thinks he's going to die tomorrow, he'll usually find some way to make it happen.

But if you raise your eyes to the horizon - you will find that Jesus is falling at your side.

And look - he's reaching for the ripcord you can't reach!

Monday, October 21, 2013


Where did anyone get the idea that being a warrior was fun?

Every fight I've been in, I wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else.

There's that song, "Voice of Truth", with the lines:

"...surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors
shaking in their armor,
and wishing they'd have had the strength to stand..."

Much to Barbara's displeasure, I rewrote one line...

"...surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors
shaking in their armor,
and wishing they'd have had the sense to stay home..."

It's certainly more representative of most combat infantrymen.

And yet...why do so many return for another tour, forsaking home and family? They get into theater, and bind and moan about everything, and long to return home.

And then look forward to the next deployment.

Is this crazy? Are we madmen, who can't find anything better to do than dice with death like over-the-edge hot-rodders on Mulholland Boulevard?

Or are we cold killers, whose senses are so deadened that we can only feel through nihilism?

And do we love our families so lightly that we can leave them to a final government paycheck...or, for a contractor, sometimes nothing at all?

Are we patriots, looking, like modern-day Nathan Hales, for a place to give that one life for our country?

None of the above, I think...or at least, the above form only small pieces framing a larger whole.

Going into a fight, we're coming home.

Home is a place where life is reduced to elemental factors. Dry is better than wet, warm is better than cold. Defilade - when the enemy can't put direct fire on you - is better than being enfiladed (being shot at).

The guys around you are the most important thing in the world, and you can't let them down.

And that is the key. Your wife may divorce you, your kids may run away, your parents may disown you.

But somewhere out there is a guy who will go back-to-back with you, and is perfectly willing to die with you, surrounded by empty shell cases.

Kind of like Jesus.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Do We Misrepresent God?

There are so very many uplifting and encouraging Scripture verses...

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

"If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, nothing shall be impossible unto you."

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you."

They're wonderful, but often they don't work. We can't do all things, and much that we would like to accomplish remains out of reach.

And some doors stay closed, and we are given a stone rather than a loaf.

Many new Christians see the dichotomy, and look at preachers who see God's favor in obtaining a preferred parking spot, and conclude that Christianity is a sham. They drift away to Eastern religion, to New Age, or to an unfocused agnosticism.

Are we using "sound bite Scripture" to misrepresent God? Are we replacing the Man of Sorrows with Hello Kitty?

Sometimes, perhaps we are.

"Doing all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" means that one can do all through Christ who strengthens us. But Jesus was not a frivolous Savior, dispensing strength for whatever one wanted. He dispensed, and still gives, the kind of strength He needed to survive Calvary.

Not to swing a lucrative business deal

And the mustard seed...the point, I think, is that we don't have that perfect faith possessed by a seed. Through Adam's sin we have doubt mixed with our faith - always.

We can't move mountains just because we say, "Move!"

And when we ask, what are we asking for? Are we looking for grace, seeking after salvation, or are we using this passage as justification for "blab it and grab it"?

Are we knocking on the door to God's heart, or the door to the Ferrari dealership? Will He open both? Or does the door we choose make all the difference in the world?

The Bible isn't a collection of magic spells, and our wildest temporal dreams won't come true if we just believe hard enough.

It 's a guide to Salvation, and the path has been made for us. But those aren't the tracks of Air Jordans, and the aroma we smell is not Vera Wang for Men.

We walk in the path trodden by bare feet, weighted down by a Cross

What we smell is blood.

That's Christianity.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Not That Kind of God

Today I heard something on Family Life Radio that floored me.

It was a radio show intended for children - the scene that was set was a young woman whose mother died, being 'comforted' by a male friend with a goofy voice.

The young woman was wondering why there is so much suffering, and her 'friend' said that, well, if we didn't suffer, we wouldn't know what life was like when it was good.

He used the analogy of coming out of the water after swimming, in a chilly, clammy bathing suit, and then changing into nice cozy warm dry clothes. You wouldn't be able to appreciate the warm clothes unless you'd been uncomfortable before.

Perhaps that works for swimming.

But for someone who lost a parent, that explanation makes as much sense as chopping someone's leg off so that they could fully enjoy a lollipop later.

Losing a parent is a permanent, life-changing scar. To compare it to swimming, and to further turn it into a salutary lesson, is simply obscene.

The God of the New Testament wept at death, even though He knew it would all be set right. He knew that we'd hurt, and that even though the separation wasn't permanent, it would sometimes seem that way to us.

He grieved with us, and didn't try to turn it into a Bible School discussion topic.

Everyone has a bad day, but FLR sure spiked their own end zone on that one.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Searching For An Identity

 A few years ago I set out to find myself.

But I wasn't there. (Groan.)

Who am I, really? The question's important, in a practical sense, because it defines how we live our lives. It shapes what we say, and to whom we say it.

It points us toward the career we'll have - or the series of jobs. Who we'll marry, or who we'll leave.

But it seems to be getting hard for most people to answer. So they address it with externals.

Like dress. People who haven't been near a locker room for years wear jerseys with their favorite athlete's name, and a cap with the team logo.

Churchgoers wear military camouflage, uniforms they haven't earned, save for the money they spent to buy it.

And message t-shirts. "No Fear" was popular awhile back. But it's a meaningless moto slogan, for there are truly terrifying things out there.

Tattoos. Once the province of sailors, tattoos have become middle-class. I guess it's because they're safer. Did you know that in the early 20th century a seaman in the US Navy who became ill from a tattoo had to pay for his own treatment...and could be discharged?

But what drives people to disfigure the bodies that God gave them? And yes, I meant disfigure. Do you think Paul's guidelines for dress in church, and for Christians in general, would include tats?

If I wore a bone through my nose, some people would say it was an improvement...no, sorry, I mean most would say I looked like an idiot, and it was inappropriate to have something big stuck through my schnozz.

And having a few hundred ink-bearing punctures of your skin is ok?


I think it's a search for identity. We live in a world we can't comprehend, not really. I have a PhD in engineering, and wrote some pretty sophisticated structural analysis software. But I don't know how the Internet really works, or how this word processing program in Blogger works.

I can't fix our car. If I try, I'll just screw up the computer.

Everything that defines me as an individual seems to be available online, or stored in government or business memory banks.

And there's no control. Unless I hide cash in a mattress, it's only available to me at a bank's pleasure. If the electronics don't work, the money can be gone, or stripped from my account by someone on a foreign shore.

Or by my own government.

A world we don't understand owns us, and that feels bad. So we fight back the only way we know how, by synthesizing an identity. We wear certain clothes, tattoo ourselves, use jargon that makes us 'hip' in a constant effort do define who we are. "Yo, dawg," sounds fine in Compton. It sounds moronic in Olathe, Kansas.

Takes a lot of effort. A lot of unnecessary effort, really.

Because the only definition we need is that we were created, individually, by a God who loves us just as we are. We're not fooling Him with our posturing, and we're not impressing Him, save for our more outlandish antics which might make Him roll His eyes.

Why isn't that enough?

Because, I think, we secretly wonder if He's there at all. We're hedging our bets, to make ourselves little stand-in gods.

So much for faith.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why Do We Love To Hate?

If you watch one of the Trinity Broadcasting channels for long enough, you're sure to hear something like this:

"Not all Muslims are terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslim."

"The Antichrist will be Muslim."

"One glorious day the Mosque of Mullah Omar will be swept away (from Jerusalem's Temple Mount) and the Third Temple will take its place."

It seems that a lot of influential Christians really don't like Muslims.

In fact, most Muslims just want to live in peace, and abhor terrorism (and jihad reders, strictly speaking, to an inner struggle for faith in each believer).

We don't know who the Antichrist will be.

And I rather doubt that it's within Jesus' Great Commandment to gleefully look forward to the day that a structure important to many people of a different faith will be destroyed.

But why the emphasis on hatred? Why are we singling out a certain group as the people we love to hate?

It's happened before. A few generations ago, most terrorists were Irish, and yes, the Irish were hated by many Britons.

The Native American was respected until he was in the way of Manifest Destiny, and then turned into a hated enemy.

And the Jews...treated with careless disdain in most Western countries (including our own), and slaughtered in Russia and Germany.

Is it that we are unsure of our own 'goodness', and need to find someone 'worse' than we are, even if we have to create a fiction to justify it?

Or is it that we're so in love with the 'good vs. evil' conflict that we have to keep it going? In support of this...look at the writers who have "villains you love to hate". Characters whose death you're expected to applaud. Does this teach us that hating the 'bad guy', and delighting in his pain, is ok?

Or, most horribly, is it that we're simply bored, and we need to find someone in whose pursuit and killing we can take vicarious pleasure as spectators?

Are we the New Romans, enjoying refreshments while our lions devour the flavor-of-the-week?

We have to look at our hearts, and the people who guide our faith, very carefully. Most people, Christian or no, are about halfway between good and awful.

And to drag out an overworked cliche, we all cry when hurt.

And we all bleed red.

And no one, not even the worst villain, falls dead from a bullet to the heart.

They whimper, and struggle, and call out to their mothers.

Hatred is a choice. Free will. Yes or no.

Where do you stand?

Monday, October 7, 2013

But What About the Sabbath?

Recently I did something I almost never do. I called in on a radio talk show.

The station was one of the syndicated Christian broadcasters, and the program was hosted by a very prominent preacher. I got through, and felt honored.

The man was talking about the Sabbath, and decrying the fact that we have a 7-day-a-week economy. He felt that pretty much everything should close down on Sunday, in obedience to the Lord's command.

He made an exception for police, firefighters, medical staff, and the armed forces. Nice of him.

I have a neighbor who's a cop. When he's on patrol, sometimes he just needs to step into a McDonald's, use the necessities, and get some hot, fresh coffee and something to eat.

I said as much to the Radio preacher, and his comment was, "Well, on the Sabbath he can pack a thermos and a lunch."

And what about the people who work six days (or seven days!) a week at two jobs, and a few hours on Sunday are the only ones they have to spend with their families. A trip to an ice cream parlor can be a big deal for a kid.

Radio Preacher said, "They should go to church, and then spend family time at home." Then he hung up.

Personally, I found his attitude offensive. We live in a world in which we demand that many services are on call whenever we want them, and Christians are no exception. To demand that everyone follow the same calendar of work and rest is unrealistic at best, and hypocritical at worst.

There's no question that we should have a day of rest, reflection, and worship. But there's nothing magical about Sunday except for the fact that most church services happen then.

If your day off is Monday, you may not be able to attend your local church (you can watch worship on TBN), but you can spend time with the Lord in Scripture.

Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for us, and not we for it. Perhaps we should take his advice.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Do You Really Want a Christian America?

Most Christians would jump at the chance to make the United States a 'truly Christian nation'.

But I suspect that many of these have never really thought it through. They see the abolition of gay marriage and the re-institution of school prayer as prime goals, along with the teaching of Biblical Creation.

But there's more. A lot more. Christianity isn't a buffet. It's more like swallowing a whole cow.

First...parts of the system would look decidedly Communist. When the Apostles got together and established a community after Jesus' Ascension, the members gave Peter and the other leaders the money they got from selling their property...and were given that which they required for their daily needs. No less, but no more.

However, it would hardly be a welfare state, because if a person capable of working chose not to...then no food. But those who couldn't work due to age or illness would be treated with love and respect, not merely fobbed off with a pittance and warehoused in 'facilities'. In a Christian society visiting the old and the sick, to improve their lives and keep them active and happy, would be a must. So much for sleeping in on Saturday.

You might be driving something different, too, because borrowing more than you could afford to pay back would not happen. It's questionable as to whether any borrowing would be permissible, but Jesus was nothing if not practical, and one imagines that He would recognize that you need some kind of house (mortgage) and some kind of car.

A lot more double-wides than suburban showpieces, and a lot more VWs than Volvos.

But don't spend that Christian Dividend from lower mortgage and car payments just yet, because you've still got to give 10% off the top...of your gross income. Many of the other taxes would probably remain. Have to pay teachers and police and firemen and the military somehow.

And...bye-bye bling and muscle shirts and low-cut blouses and Air Jordans. We're dressing modestly, now. But maybe you can keep the Air Jordans if you're a basketball player.

Pornography would disappear, but so would a lot of television shows and movies that you may now enjoy. Decency standards would discourage looking with lust on another woman...

And there goes the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Your kids would learn to be a lot more respectful. Hooray!

So would you, to duly elected officials, your parents, your neighbors...

Uh, yay? Sorry, couldn't quite hear you.

We could go on, but I think you get the idea. A Christian nation would be very different, and would feel quite confining in many ways.

It would be hell for the very rich, and a paradise for the working poor.

Is this what you want?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fist of Jesus

Many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I faced a WWJD question.

A vacationing couple had taken a wrong turn at night, and met up with the wrong 'local'.

I was there, too. I corrected the situation.

What would Jesus have done? I won't presume to speak for Him, but I did note, mentally, that He was less than polite with the moneychangers in the temple. He convinced them to remove themselves. With a whip.

It seems that too often, we, as Christians, assume we have to pick up the pieces after something horrible is done. That's necessary, of course...providing aid and succor to the persecuted and displaced from Bosnia to Rwanda is a noble undertaking, and certainly within the Christian purview.

But should we do more? Is it enough to bandage the burns of those who are singed by the fires of Hell, or is it time to think about putting those fires out, at least where we live?

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Helping the hurt is certainly not 'doing nothing', but is it enough?

The answer I'm driving at - protecting the innocent directly, with appropriate force - presents a host of moral (and legal!) questions. But if we're serious about mobilizing our faith in action, I think we've got to at least consider the possibility.

Because, frankly, the secular world ain't cuttin' it.

Jesus said, "He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword."

I thought about that for awhile, and came up with three talking points...

  1. It's better than dying in bed.
  2. Heaven isn't a bad destination, even if it's premature.
  3. I didn't use a sword.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Evangelizing Real People

It sounds so easy...convince non-Christians that they're so far from God that only through Christ's sacrifice can they be saved, and they'll realize that they are caught in the depths of sin...and repent.

There's a guy who has a program on JCTV (one of the Trinity Broadcasting channels) who goes from city to city, confronting young people and asking them rhetorical questions..."Have you ever lied? Then you're a liar...Have you ever felt lust toward someone you're not married to? Then you're an adulterer...Have you ever hated? Then in God's eyes you're a murderer."

And, "If God were in Los Angeles and Hitler was in New York, from God's perspective you'd be standing just a couple of feet west of Hitler."

All Scripturally true, but most of this guy's interviewees patiently roll their eyes, and you can see them thinking..."Yeah. Right. I'm a nice person, I'll take my chances, and this guy's a nut."

The fact is that most people think they're OK. Not perfect, but a long way from Hitler, and making their introduction to our faith a tearing-down of their persona just doesn't win many converts.

Why do we do this? Why are we doing something that tends to drive people away?

Two words. I WANT.

I WANT to see someone say the Sinner's Prayer because of what I said.

I WANT to see the souls I win.

I WANT God to notice the fervor of my faith, and its Scriptural correctness.

Get the beam out of your "I", Christian.

The way to win most people to Jesus is by example. He gave us a blueprint for living, for walking the walk. Let your light shine in courtesy to all, in gentleness to all. Let your cheerful generosity to those less fortunate make people scratch their heads and say...

"I WANT to be like that!"

Friday, September 27, 2013

Did Jesus Enjoy Life?

When we read the Gospels, we get a lot of teaching, but surprisingly little emotion from the human side of the Man.

"Jesus wept," of course, the shortest verse in the Bible. And we saw him troubled in the Garden, and angry in the temple courtyard.

But we never see Him smile, let alone laugh.

Was life on Earth just a trial to Him, something to be borne until He could go Home?

I think not. I think He enjoyed the life He lived, for two reasons - one found in Scripture, and one that comes out of my own head.

When he was annointed with oil by the lady with the alabaster jar, and Judas said the oil should have been sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus disagreed. He said that He wouldn't always be there, but the poor would be.

The inference that can be drawn is that he liked, and was comforted by, the physical and symbolic treatment. If He was indifferent, He probably would have said, "Meh, Judas...good point. We gotta be ascetic, after all. Set an example."

From my own head...if He didn't enjoy life, how could He have claimed to have gone ahead of us into death, and through it to life again?

We fear death for two reasons. First, it's scary. Where do we go?

Second, many of us enjoy life...and even those with the meanest lives get some enjoyment - and we don't want it to end.

It must be frustrating for God. We're like kids playing in a vacant lot with old boards and bricks, and He's got an eternal Disneyland all set up for us - and we're afraid to go!

I think Jesus had to enjoy life - and to enjoy it deeply. He had to show that while He loved the smell of flowers and the taste of wine and the feel of doing carpentry, He could give it up...and there was something better waiting.

If it was easy for Him to walk away, how could we, with our trembling attachments, feel that He knew our hearts?

I think that for those 33 years...He had a blast.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sins and Sinners

Recently I posted a status on Facebook that suggested the Christians should be more concerned with the 18,000 kids that starve to death every day than with fighting gay marriage.

Hoo boy. I got hammered. Christians, it would seem - at least by the FB response - believe that God hates homosexuality, but doesn't mind starving kids.

Obviously, this is lunacy, and I'm sure it doesn't represent the views of most American Christians, but it's still kind of stunning.

Stunning because it flies in the face of something Jesus said. Something about removing the 2 x 4 from our own eye before bugging someone else about the bit of dirt in his.

I'm not saying that God approves of homosexuality. Like adultery, it's a sin.

But from what I understand, all Christians are living in the squalor of sin, every day. We fight it, and fail. We fight harder, and fall further.

Most of us aren't gay.

Many of us are adulterers, by Jesus' definition.

And nearly all of us cheerfully adopt the devil's favorite sin, the sin of pride.

It's pride that allows us to sit in judgement of gays, and look down on them, hating them as God's little hired assassins (for did not Jesus say that he who hates his brother is a murderer?).

But the sin of the gay or lesbian is a sin of the flesh. Something like gluttony.

And our pride is a sin of the soul. What is it they say? Beauty is skin=deep, but ugly goes clear down to the bone?

God help us.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Would That It Were So

"I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadow
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all"

Those lyrics, from White Houston's song "The Greatest Love", are so uplifting, and ring so solidly with confidence.

It's a pity that it's so very wrong.

Well, no. It's a pity that it's BS moto crap that gets way too much air time.

The lyrics base loving yourself on action - on independence, on living as one believes, on having a certain baseline store of dignity that can't be taken away.

But if you don't live up to those...what then? And there is no guarantee that one can live up to ideals like that.

Failure or success may depend on you in a footrace, but not in most of life. The rest of the world has a pretty big vote, and your best, full efforts may fall short, and you may never have had a real chance.

You can live the way you believe, and in most cases society will leave you alone. But would you live as you believe in a prison cell, or in poverty? Would you make your family come along for the ride, living as you believe?

Finally, yes, they can take away your dignity, and your self respect, and everything else. Anyone can be broken. Anyone. I was taught how to do it, and I know.

The greatest love doesn't come from heroic poses, or sloganeering, or even a successful life lived on one's own terms.

The greatest love is Jesus' acceptance of ourselves, fragility, brokenness, inconsistencies, compromises, and all. It's the only love that admits defeat, and in so doing makes the soul invincible.

The greatest love died on the Cross for your sins, and especially for the kind of moronic pride that's expressed in the song quoted above...and rose three days later to slam death to the mat. Permanently.

That doesn't need a motivational song. It just calls for humble gratitude.