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Sunday, March 31, 2013


What does Easter mean to you?

To me it's the confirmation of hope. The most frightening thing I experienced, I experienced as a child - the fear of death. I was told, early on, that death simply meant extinction, total darkness, nothingness - a dreamless sleep without a morning.

Easter is the contradiction to all of that. Easter says that we will survive the physical death to which we're all beholden, and that the joy we sometimes taste in our lives will be our birthright in a new creation - one that will never end. And endless morning, if you will, without the need for sleep.

Original sin and the ransom of Christ's life are important, sure - but the heart of the Easter message, the heart of Christ's love, is that of the parent picking up the terrified child, and wiping away the tears, saying that there really isn't anything to be afraid of.

The tomb's empty. It's time to play!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hemingway was an Idiot

From the pen of Ernest Hemingway:

"There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter."

A good description of a psychopath, and a grave disservice to every man (and woman) who found a calling in the practice of war.

There's no question that combat has a siren call, and no question that it changes a participant - forever.

But the reason for the change, in a mentally stable Marine of soldier, is diametrically opposed to Hemingway's callous bluster.

The true attraction isn't the thrill of the hunt, or a callous enjoyment of killing. It's love.

Not love of mother and country and apple pie. It's love for the men with whom that life is held in common. It's the resolve never, ever to let them down, even at the risk, or cost of one's life.

There is no sense of mission higher than love. There is no duty greater than that which calls one to put the needs of one's fellows ahead of oneself.

This calling, this sense of mission, becomes the defining force in life. Not fighting, and not killing.

And this is precisely what changes an individual, and makes the life that comes after so hard to bear, for it doesn't exist in the civilian world.

Men at arms are not coldly blood-crazed automatons, living only for the rush. They live, and die, closer to God than the soft and dissolute civilians in whose service they are expended.

"Greater love hath no man, than he who lays down his life for his friends."

Jesus would have fitted right into a Marine line company.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Rapture Rap

Pop quiz - was the rapture ever mentioned by that name in the Bible?

Nope. The term was probably first used, or at least first introduced, by a father-and-son team of New England clergymen, Increase and Cotton Mather. It was based, of course, on Paul's famous passage in Thessalonians about 'meeting Jesus in the air', and several similar references from Revelation.

There's also the comment Jesus made, about two people working in a field - one will be taken, and one will be left.

It's an interesting and attractive paradigm, the possibility that one day you may suddenly be transported from your daily life into something completely different, and completely wonderful - permanent life in Jesus' presence. Who wouldn't want that?

Before we pack our bags...well, spiritually...there is something we may want to consider.

The Rapture, whenever and however it happens, will be the beginning of some really hard times for the people left on Earth. You get the free pass, and you get to miss all that. But a lot of people won't, and they'll need the help and example of Godly people, more than ever.

The Great Commission will be needed then, more than ever. And precisely at that time of need, the harvest will be waiting, but will the workers be few?

So many people who look forward to being Raptured Up are also those who claim they'll witness the Gospels, even at the risk of their own lives.

There's something inconsistent here. Either you're dedicated to the Great Commission, or you're not. If you are, being pulled out to leave the rest of the world to its own devices - and at the mercy of Satan - should leave an awfully bitter taste.

If you're not all that committed to the Commission, you might want to check your direction when you feel the 'float' coming on. Up is good, but if you're lukewarm on saving souls, up might not be operative. Something Jesus said about 'spitting out'...

We may not have a choice - but someone who's really following Christ should be hoping that they live a Rapture-free life, to be able to make the most of every possible minute of witnessing.

Anything less, and you're not Jesus' hands and feet - you're just hoping to do enough to get by, and get away.

Will you tell Jesus that He went to the Cross for that?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Friends of the Internet Age

I'm not sure if I like the Internet Age, after all.

It's absolute hell on friendship, for one thing.

For much of my life friendships formed tended to be friendships kept. Even when schooling and job changes forced moves, we kept in touch by writing letters, and the relationships thrived.

Until email. It's so easy, so convenient...and so forgettable. They're all gone, now, the friendships that transitioned from the voice and the pen to the pixel.

It doesn't seem logical that email is so completely unsuited to the maintenance of friendship. It can have the gravitas of a letter, and the immediacy of a phone call. What's missing?

In a word, commitment. To write a letter, you devote a piece of paper, and an envelope, and a stamp, and your time. You have to plan what you're going to write, because cross-outs look silly. It needs thought, and in that thought you appear on the page.

Email isn't like that. You can compose it in the email window itself, or in Word, and then paste it...but it's the same thing. You can do it quickly, make corrections on the fly, and send it without a thought.

Do you remember the small thrill when you sent a letter, dropped it in the mailbox? Do you get the same feeling from hitting 'send'?

Didn't think so.

When we wrote letters, there was always something to say, and a cartoon to draw to emphasize a point.

Of course, you can attach a cartoon now. You can choose from millions. Just not one you drew, especially for your friend.

I tried to keep the relationships alive through email. But you go long enough without a reply, and the massage is clear, even without an attached cartoon. Maybe I should have written a letter?

I did, actually, in some cases. But the time for pen and ink had passed.

It no longer matters, because I don't have any long-distance friends left. I've got the stationery and the envelopes and the paper and the stamps, but they're gathering dust.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Does Historical Fiction Need to be Accurate?

Here's one for the writers, and the readers.

A recent Facebook post by a literary agent asked whether, as a reader, one is bothered by errors in historical accuracy (in historical fiction) - for example, use of a weapon or chandelier six months before it would have been available, int he timeline of the story.

Personally, I feel that it's quite important. Historical fiction carries with it the responsibility to the period, and to the people that lived at the time. They generally no longer have a voice, so the author is their voice. To knowingly allow mistakes and inaccuracies does them a disservice.

There is so much information available, literally at one's fingertips, that mistakes really can't be justified - they're carelessness. The historical detail is important is setting a scene and ambiance, along with giving the characters an internally consistent world in which to live.

There are exceptions. An 'altenative history' plot may use an assumption that a technological advancement has taken place a bit earlier than it really did, for instance (I'm using that example because it's part of one of my works in progress). That's okay, in my book, as long as it's explained, and as long as the change doesn't wander into the realm of fantasy (in which case the work is really no longer historical fiction, but historical science fiction).

Another exception is sometime that might be essential to the plot, but about which not much is now known. A lot of they way people lived and did things in the past is now lost. An example, dating back only seventy years, is the way the Japanese Navy conducted operations with their aircraft carriers. Many writers assume that they operated pretty much as the American and British navies did - but that's not the case, and not much evidence now exists to say exactly how they did things. (This comes from Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully's book, Shattered Sword, a study of the 1942 Battle of Midway, written from the Japanese perspective.)

In a case like this, an author is justified in making a best guess. But where details aren't vital, and are only used to set the scene - a writer would be far better served to use facts that are known, and represent them accurately, rather than allowing known or easily knowable errors to appear.

Historical fiction is hard to write well, for this very reason. The amount of research needed is daunting. The rewards are great - look at Michael Shaara's Civil War trilogy, which truly brought the time, and the participants, to life.

What do you think? Important, somewhat important, or who cares, as long as the story's good?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Blast From the Past

NASCAR's Auto Cub 400, in Fontana, California, is now in the record books. Won by Kyle Busch, it was best noted by the last-lap duel between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin.

Former teammates with Joe Gibbs racing, Hamlin and Logano dislike one another intensely. In the Phoenix 500, Logano put Hamlin into the wall early in the race, after which Hamlin returned the favor by spinning out his opponent.

Logano wanted payback.

The duel in Fontana ended in a crash that wrecked Hamlin's car, and sent him to the hospital.

It wasn't an accident. Coming out of the final turn, Logano slid up into Hamlin's racer, determined to either crowd him out or wreck them both. He wrecked them both, letting a surprised Busch slide past to take the checkered flag.

In the post-race interview, Logano said that Hamlin had it coming. He spoke with a chilling honesty that was both callous, and refreshingly old-school.

Stock-car racing was never the domain of nice men. Largely organized by former bootleggers, it attracted the hard men who were willing to risk their lives driving fast, for a meager paycheck, and for personal pride.

Feuds were expected, fights common, and wrecking an opponent was part of the job. "That's racin'."

But today, NASCAR has been gentrified. Drivers are multimillionaires, and are courted by entertainers and politicians. They commute by Gulfstream jet, and live in houses that could double as resorts.

They make speeches. In the old days, the last thing anyone would have wanted was to hear a driver speak in public. The profane result would have been an unholy cross between embarrassing and horrifying.

Today Joey Logano was a throwback to those days. He wasn't nice, he wasn't a gentleman, and he didn't care. He's a driver, out to win, not to make friends.

And he's exactly what the sport needs.

You might say, times have changed, we need these people to be role models. But a role model for what? If you geld a stallion you get a horse, a sexless, relatively mild beast of burden.

When the last stallion is gelded, we'll have lost something that we might realize, too late, was worth keeping.

And eventually, there will be no more horses.

Monday, March 25, 2013

People Like Us

I'll admit it. I write feel-good stories. The literary equivalent of John Denver songs.

When I was studying writing, I was told that true literature had to be involved in a cause that somehow exposed the dark underbelly of the human condition. Writers were warriors, their pens mightier than any sword, holding a heedless society to the reality of its own injustice.

Maybe I shouldn't have giggled.

The truth of it is that I think I do more good when I feel good about the world, and I'm in a good mood. I think there are a lot of people like me - shallow, cheerful folk whistling "Rocky Mountain High" off-key. I write for them

And I don't like villains, so I don't write about them. Sure, there are people who do things that aren't nice, but they appear and depart quite quickly. There's the school of thought that one of the best characters a writer can have is a 'villian you love to hate'.

I don't enjoy hating anyone.

Yes, the world has problems. I've experienced quite a few of them myself, and have met people who were truly villainous.

But I write to entertain, and true horror is not entertaining. True villainy is not something to peruse on a Saturday evening in one's recliner.

And perhaps - I hope - that the truth is that most people are really pretty nice, and they deserve to have access to stories about...

Well, about people like them.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Heartbreak and Faith for a Penny

It's one of the saddest books I've ever read.

I recently bought a used copy of Robert Mrazek's A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight, by Robert Mrazek. It was withdrawn from a library, after only a year or so in circulation. It cost one cent, plus shipping. Less, actually - I had a coupon.

Maybe it broke too many hearts.

Torpedo Eight was deployed on the USS Hornet for the Battle of Midway, in early June, 1942. On June 4th, Commander John Waldron, half Oglala Sioux, let fifteen airplanes, and thirty men, against the First Carrier Striking Force of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Four aircraft carriers, fielding a combat air patrol of perhaps forty Zero fighters.

They never had a chance. All the airplanes were lost, and only one man, George "Tex" Gay, survived.

On the same dreadful morning, the "Torpedo 8 Detachment", under Lt. Langdon Fieberling, flew against the Japanese carriers from the airstrip on Midway. Of six airplanes and eighteen men, one airplane made it back to Midway, carrying two badly injured crewmen - Albert Earnest and Harry Ferrier - and a dead man, Jay Manning. The remaining five torpedo bombers, and fifteen men, vanished into flame and water.

Midway emerged as an American victory; by the end of that day all four Japanese carriers were sunk, or fatally damaged. The US Navy lost the USS Yorktown to a submarine, three days later.

Mrazek has done a masterful job in fleshing out these doomed warriors, telling us of their personalities and their lives. Their foibles, their joys, and the families and women who loved them.

Briefly, too briefly, these honored dead live again.

As a Christian, I'm constrained to wonder if they were saved, before John Waldron led these young men to their aerial Alamo.

Were they Born Again?

And as a Christian, I begin to realize that it is not their confession with the mouth, nor their justification by faith, nor their personal relationship with Jesus that mattered.

It is their existence, and the compassion of the God that loved them as much as He loved His own Son.

It is their courage and their fear, their piety and there fleshly excesses. It is their final fall, in hope or blank despair.

They were children of the Most High. I believe they still are, and that they fly above the steets of gold.

For a penny, my faith has been changed - and strengthened.

I'll leave the last words today to Robert Leckie, who served as a combat marine on Guadalcanal, New Gloucester, and Peleliu

"For those who fell,
there is no Hell,
not for the brave who died."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Hippies - Not Yet Extinct. Unfortunately.

Facebook has lately been inundated by posts that would tell us how evil the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been. The latest is the breathless announcement that birth defects and cancer in Fallujah 'exceed those seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki', The United States is blamed, obviously. Using depleted uranium and white phosphorus is supposedly the cause, used in 'military assaults'.

The source is Al Jazeera, which gained fame as the mouthpiece for Al Quaeda and the Taliban.

The technical idiocy of the argument barely merits mention; depleted uranium is highly non-radioactive, and white phosphorus consumes itself on exposure to oxygen. Depleted uranium is nonetheless very dangerous...if you happen to be a tank, since it's used in armor-piercing ammunition.

The main point, though, is not the absurdity of the argument, nor the reliability of the source. It's the desire to destroy the credibility of the United States, using a benchmark of cultural relativism that holds that Al Quaeda, the Taliban and their like have the same moral position as the US - and that evil is a matter of point of view.

It's hogwash. These people detonated bombs in hospitals and markets to make a political point, or simply to create chaos that would make their movements easier to hide. They used the mentally retarded as human bombs, and children as human shields.

When they capture Americans, they routinely torture them to death - and film it for later viewing on Al Jazeera. When American capture them, they're given first-rate medical treatment and are accorded more legal rights than most Americans enjoy.

So why the Facebook propaganda? Do the people who post this stuff really want to live under the kinds of governments they seem to support?

I doubt it. My guess is that they're seeking the kind of moral ascendancy that they perceive was gained by the hippies during the Viet Nam war. That if they can smear this country badly enough, they'll look like saints by comparison, and at no risk to themselves can acquire a feeling of self-righteous glory.

And, of course, they missed the 60s, and feel deprived. So they're throwing a tantrum.

Whatever the reason, one side effect is to create a feeling of wanting everything connected with the recent wars to go away.

And that is the main problem. Our wars were fought, at the order of a lawfully elected government, by an all-volunteer military. These people exchanged years of their life - and sometimes health, and life itself - for meager pay and the honor of being available to defend our way of life.

When the hippie wannabes throw enough garbage to make us all tired of the whole mess, they also intend to disgrace the people who fought.

It's unfair, and the height of ingratitude.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Lesser Form of Worship

Oh, how I wish I were different!

At church, I see people worshiopping with upraised hands, clearly taken up in the moment, taken up in the immanent presence of God.

I hear Christians talk about being in love with Jesus. The wording makes me cringe, but they say it with joy and fervor, and without hesitation - and I envy them

I believe in God, and that Jesus, His Son, came to Earth two thousand years ago to save humanity. I believe that he died, was buried, and rose from the dead after three days, and later ascended into Heaven.

Anyone who reads anything I've written (save engineering reports and papers!) will see a Christian thread running through everything - not because it defines me as a writer, but because it defines me as a person.

But I can't raise my arms in worship and feel anything but...well, like I'm raising my arms. And falling in love with Jesus feels, to me, like a grunt falling in love with a general. It's just the wrong metaphor.

I've been told, just do it and it'll come to you...but it doesn't.

Is a formal, somewhat hierarchical relationship with the Almighty a lesser kind oif faith? It sure feels like it. At any rate, it sure feels like a lot less fun, like I'm missing something.

Anyone care to share your experiences? Or suggest a way ahead?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Faith and Invasion

What to you do when you lose faith?

I suppose it happens to everyone, having a moment when all of Christianity seems so completely improbable, and feeling totally, completely lost.

The first time it happened to me, and also the last, was when I was eleven. I was playing right field on the local Little League team, and suddenly I had a vision of my life moving toward adulthood, middle age, old age, and ending in a cold grave, decaying on silk in a wooden box.

I almost ran off the field, but where was there to run?

Fortunately, one of the spectators was a Presbyterian minister. He saw that something had happened, and when I came in off the field at the close of the game he intercepted me.

"Want to get some ice cream?" he asked.

I said okay, but I didn't really care.

When we got to Baskin-Robbins, he sat me down and ordered for me. Then he asked what was wrong.

"I'm afraid to die," I said.

"Me, too."

He had been a chaplain in the Navy, during the Second World War. He'd seen men killed by bombs, torpedoes, and the human missles called kamikaze. He'd gone through it all without a scratch.

Then came the planning for Operation Olympic, the invasion of Japan. It was going to be the bloodiest and most brutal campaign in the history of warfare.

He volunteered to be in the middle of it. He volunteered to go ashore with the Marines, as they assaulted the plains that lay at the gateway to Tokyo.

"I was terrfied," he said. "But I couldn't show it, because the boys who I'd be ministering to depended on me. Their faith would only be as strong as mine, and they had to see that mine was strong. Not only know it. See it."

"How?" I asked.

"In everything I did, every word I said, they had to see that I was serving a higher authority. And to do that I always had to put them first. When there was a work party, I'd pitch in and help until the job was done. I'd make the rounds in their billets, and offer to listen until there was no one left who wanted to talk. And I held Sunday service even if no one showed up."

"Did that happen?"

"Once. I think they set me up, to see what I'd do." He smiled at the memory. "Whenever they tested me, whenever they shocked me, I told myself that they were going to be fed into a meat grinder. And I'd be there with them. If I couldn't pass their tests, how was I fit to die with them?"

"How did that help you from being scared?"

"I looked at dying as a privilege. Dying with my Marines was an honor, and I wanted to be able to live up to it." He looked at me seriously. "You're a good young man. You'll be a good marine one day, if you want to be. You've got the mark. If you're ever afraid, just remember this - there are thousands of Marines looking down on you right now, wondering if you'll measure up. If you make up your mind to live in a way that won't disappoint them, I think you won't be afraid any more."

He was right. Semper fi.

(Operation Olympic was unneeded after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. An estimated one million American, and five million Japanese lives were spared.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How Do Healing Prayers Work?

Does supplicatory prayer for healing - that is, prayer as a request for a desired outcome - work?

For most people, it probably doesn't seem to work too well. The list of people who've prayed for the healing of a loved one and seen that person die, for isntance, is probably longer than the list of those who have seen a documentable healing.

When prayer doesn't work, we either blame God for indifference, or blame ourselves for having too little faith. I'm not sure that we're being fair - either to God, or to ourselves.

Let me establish some background. First, I think that God created a world that works according to certain rules, like gravity. Without that level of internal and external consistency, there's be chaos. No gravity, and things go floating off into the distance. No 'every action produces and equal and opposite reaction', and driving a nail becomes impossible.

Next, it would seem that there are spiritual rules as well. We're told that if we have the faith of a grain of mustard seed we can tell a moiuntain to move to the sea, and it will...but we don't see that happening, or anything like it. It must therefore be possible, but something that occurs under very rare conditions. The faith of a mustard seed is great - and we don't come close.

Additoinally, a world in which people could pray away their problems would quickly become chaotic, as well. perhaps the desire to 'pray away trouble' is inconsistent with the ability to do it. I don't know, but not a lot of people are given winning lottery numbers as the result of prayer.

So how does it work? How do healings happen? They do happen. But how?

My theory is that God gave us a mind that's a lot more powerful than we dream it to be. It's old hat that a good mental attitude improves health, but what if a great - prayer supported - mental attitude can make the body heal itself? In other words - we pray for healing, and instead of curing the cancer God gives us the tools to do it ourselves?

I'll continue to pray for healing, for myself and for those I love (and I'm supposed to include those I hate...sigh). For a long time it seemed like a shot in the dark, but if there's a definite link between cause and effect, with the ends of each held by God...that gives a ton of confidence.

I feel better already!

Two Thousand Years of Wrong Turns

There's another hysterical preacher on TV, telling anyone who cares to listen that (Hallelujah!) God will show favor to His beloved people (Hallelujah!) and that God told him to pray over his audience (Oh, yeah!) and release fear and pain (Amen!) and doubt and sickness (Amen!)!

And now he's speaking in tongues.

Oh, he';s finished, and people are being invited to the altar, so that he can pray over them.

How did it come to this? How did the Jesus who carried a simple message of love and hope become a figurehead for charlatans who use techniques held in common with hypnosis?

Jesus never promised a life free from fear and pain, doubt and sickness. He experienced those Himself, and He was not delivered from them, through any kind of cosmic shortcut.

All He promised was that He'd walk that road with us, and that something wonderful was waiting for us on the other side.

He didn't need to use adult baby-talk. He didn't ask for Love Gifts in exchange for His message.

It was free for the asking, to those who would but listen.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Chopping Down the Family Tree

I  guess I'm lucky - I don't identify with any particular ethnic group, or 'people'. There's no pull toward tradition, or a homeland. No special meals for St. Patrick's Day, or the Emperor's Birthday, or Kwanza. A loose cannon rolling free through life. Kind of fun.

It can, however lead to some pretty stunning insensitivities on my part.

I made the comment to my wife that I find it absurd that there are people who are still taking umbrage over things that happened to their ancestors a hundred and more years ago. "They did this to my people!"

My thought was, "Come on. You don't know the people who were victimized, and neither did your parents. The policies that allowed those things to happen are long since changed, and the people who implemented the cruelties are long since dead."

Barbara said, "Careful..."

Not being the more clued-in conversationalist, I went on to say that getting mad about what happened to one's ancestors is a form of posing - like a non-pilot wearing a flight jacket. It's assuming a privilege one didn't earn.


So i wrapped up with a comment that this kind of 'put on' emotion is something for people who really don't have a life.

Well, I was set straight. Very straight! It seems that there are people to whom family and clan history are a vital part of who they are, and in criticizing their identification I'm disrespecting them ('The' includes my wife.)

Additionally, without a sense of where we come from, how can we know where we're going? How can we focus on what those cultures have to offer? One can't just cherrypick the good parts about 'tribal' history from popular books- one has to look at the full context, and the only way that can be preserved is through the preservation of living history in the form of members who honor their past.

Okay, I give.

The more right you think you are, the more wrong you can be.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Dedicated To The One I Don't Know

Do you really know your spouse?

It's okay, I'll answer for you. No.

When we're courting, our beloved is our world. A day without him or her is like a day without the sun rising, and the smallest smile can light a day far beyond any logically mandated effect.

But the way we listen to them, and hang on their every word, is very selective. We don't get very far along the courtship trail' before we have a vested interest in hearing only what we want to hear. If something seems to contradict the image we've built in our heads and hearts, we spit it back out, as having been misunderstood.

When we get married, sometimes it seems that we're marrying the little plastic bride-and-groom cake toppers, because the real person, and the real history, has been ignored for so long that it may as well not exist.

After the marriage, there are things we can no longer ignore.

So we get bored, and say, "whatever". Instead of going the extra mile and only picking up the prettiest parts of our beloved's life, we now won't go the extra two feet, because we feel we know it all, already.

Is it any wonder that so many couples complain that their mates don't understand? They don't want to understand.

So many people live as roommates in their homes.

How to reverse this?

It's the simplest and most complicated thing. Listen, and be willing to learn.

And never, ever judge.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Hard Graces

I think it was Robert Louis Stevenson who asked for the grace to see ourselves as others see us.

It's surely the way that calls us to our best, but sometimes  it can be breathtaking - it can knock the wind from you.

Recently, I had just that opportunity.

My God. Is that really me? Unfortunately, yes.

It was the redefinition of where I was, and the knowledge that there was nowhere to go but up, and it would be a steep climb.

It's hard to start climbing. It's even tempting not to bother. But that really isn't an option, because life does go on, whether you want it to or not, and even a decision to give up is still a decision to move. You can never really be static.

Where do you start? One thing, one small thing at a time. And then another. And then another.

It's self-serving to give the process honor, or even a great deal of meaning. It's just what you have to do.

There's no end result. There is, I hope, a perceptible lightening of the darkness, but even that isn't guaranteed. The only thing that is certain is that the next step is necessary, and that it isn't sufficient.

Seeing ourselves as others see us. The grace of humility

Friday, March 15, 2013

The End Of The World As We Don't Know It

God's going to pull the plug on the world sooner or later. That much is certain.

It seems that a lot of prominent Christians want to hurry him along. If you follow any amount of Christian television, or listen to K-LOVE of Family Life Radio, you'll get the repeated hammering message that we're definitely living in the last days.

Everything's being shaken. There are signs, signs, and more signs.

It should be sobering, and a bit scary. Instead, it's becoming rather silly.

Pointing to the 'increasing number of cataclysmic earthquakes', for example, as a marker for the fact that the very earth is 'groaning'.

Uh...no. Seismic activity is something that varies quite a bit, for reasons we don't fully understand, and we're not really seeing a marked increase in events. We do record more, because that, at least, is one thing we've learned to do rather well.

And wars? Sure, there are quite a few, but all of them, at present, are rather small-scale (though not to the people caught in them). South Sudan may be nasty, but it's not Armageddon.

Some people claim to have identified the Antichrist, just to top everything off, as a European diplomat connected with the EU. Justifying this is the claim that on March 23, all Americans will have to have a chip implanted that carries all health and personal information, including bank account information.There's even a picture.

Scary! And not even remotely true. The cited law, the Medical Devices Registry Act, was put forward to track the performance of things like artificial hips. There's no implant. March 23 will come and go like any other day. And the picture shows a device for measuring blood glucose in diabetics.

It's not new. The end of days has been predicted since Christ ascended. around 1900, the town of Santa Barbara, California was thrown into a panic because the letters "PCR" appeared overnight on a hillside. Prepare for Christ's Return!

Alas, no. It was advertising for Painted Cave Resort.

If you look at the Billy Graham Crusade "classics", in the 1980s Reverend Graham was talking about the doom of man as witnessed by the Soviet threat, and the spread of AIDS. But the Soviets are long gone, and not many people fear the still-deadly AIDS virus, since it's pretty easy to avoid.

Jesus said that no one, not even He, knew the hour of His return.

I think He meant for us to keep working until He got back.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Back To The Future

Sometimes I wonder what year it is.

While I generally write contemporary romance fiction, I also have done some historical stuff, and for that I do a lot of reading about the periods of interest (WW2 and the Civil War). A lot of reading.

My 'other job' is working on airplanes - typically old ones. The technology I use was mature by the 1930s, and the tools would be instantly familiar to a craftsman of that time. No computer-controlled machinery - can't afford it.

No fiberglass - don't like it.

One of the results is that a part of my worldview is firmly stuck with the clock set back about seventy years (and I'm not old enough to have lived through those years). It would be a conceit to say that I'm more a 'person of that time', but it seems safe enough to say that insofar as relating to the modern digital high-speed world, I sometimes feel like a fish out of water, and my wife says that sometimes I'll say things that belie a distinct lack of connection with Today./

I wonder - how many other writers go through this? Is the historical aspect of your work simply part of the job, or has it taken a part of you back, with no visible road back to the present?

If you'd like to share - I'd love to know.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Duke, PezDog, and the Blabbies

Most of our canine gang lives inside. They're either older, or Special Needs, and they enjoy both the company and the shelter.

However...there are a select and hardy group who actually prefer the great outdoors, and who resisted every suggestion that they might like a warm spot by the fire on a cold evening. Go figure.

The first of these is Duke, a black and tan coonhound. He came from a no-kill shelter, where by the time he was five months old he drove the staff to wits' end. We thought, well, we can tame him. Wrong.

Duke defines 'wild'. He's immensely strong, energetic, and almost completely uncoordinated. Bringing him in the house resulted in pawprints high up on the wall, and at least one door that had to be re-hung. In a huge run, he's happy as a clam.

PezDog, otherwise known as Elvis, steadfastly resisted any attempts to housetrain him. A black and fairly small Pit, he's Duke's neighbor and pal. He arrived one day when I was driving with the windows down. A small black shape darted into the road, and to miss him, I slid into the ditch. Elvis leaped through the driver's window, and bounced into the back seat. He curled up and quickly closed his eyes. "See? I'm asleep!"

He's called PezDog because he can walk on his hind legs, head thrown back, mouth open, waiting for a treat to be dropped in.

The Blabbies are two Black Labs, Bernard the Ninth and Labby. Bernard turned up when we lived in Texas; he was visiting with all the neighbors until a geriatric poodle decided to take a few pieces out of his underbelly. After that, he camped out on out porch until we took him in.

Except that he was terrified to come in. He's got a run which he absolutely will not leave. We've worked with him, but seven years later he's still afraid of his own shadow (literally...his shadow is another dog, in his eyes).

And then there's Labby, the imaginatively named newest addition to the group. Barbara was driving home from work one evening when she saw him standing in an intersection. She opened her door to see if he had tags (he didn't), and he smoothly jumped into the car, got into the passenger seat, and waited to go. "Well? I'm here, let's go!"

And I love them all.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Left Behind on the Way to Heaven

Marriage is supposed to be a side-by-side journey into the future, right?

What happens when one of the partners moves ahead at a quicker pace...or, from another point of view, when one of them lags behind?

One of the areas in which this often happens is, ironically, religious practice. One half of the marriage will suddenly catch fire, and see the hand and face of God in everything they touch. The world's suddenly redefined, and the language of the Bible becomes common currency around the house.

Sunday service is joined by Wednesday evening, and a couple of ministries.

The other spouse is usually at first dazzled by the meteoric flash of their other half. But then...

But then. It's easy to feel left behind, when this happens. Even a person of strong and placid faith may start to feel - and be made to feel - somehow lacking.

It can be one of the hardest trials of a marriage. Not because it'll end in divorce, but because the isolation the 'left behind' spouse can feel is a special kind of lonely. It's the lonely of being the only person in the room who didn't get the joke, the last kid picked for kickball, the only one without a date to the prom.

Is this what Jesus intended?

We can't control where our walk with God takes us, but we can make sure that our mate comes along for the ride.
  • Explain to your mate what's happening, and what you are feeling and experiencing. "I can't describe it, it's so wonderful!" is an excuse. God wants you to understand His grace, and a test for your understanding is being able to explain it to someone else.
  • Don't make large and sudden changes in your schedule. If the epiphany you experienced is real, the church and the ministries will still be there when you and your spouse arrive - on the same page - together.
  • Never, ever use the words, "You just don't understand" if your spouse just doesn't understand. No comment will more quickly block progress, and kill cooperation. Put someone down, and why will they want to climb up to join you?
  • Remember that your marriage is a sacrament, something like an earthly representation of what your relationship with the Almighty is supposed to be like. God will slow down and wait for you, and He'll never make you feel inferior for being slower than He is. Now it's your turn.
Epiphanies and fervor are wonderful. They make  the world brighter, and the link between earth and heaven that much more vivid.

Just remember that the epiphany is not the cornerstone of your faith. Your work for God is done here, day by day through slow degrees.

With your mate at your side.

Monday, March 11, 2013

On Being A Supportive Mate

Are you a supportive spouse?

You probably said, Yes. Partly because you really are, but also because no one wants to think that they're failing in this most important parts of marriage.

Support isn't just cheerleading, and it isn't 'doing your job' in the household. It's having a degree of understanding.

A surprising number of couples live in significant ignorance of what their spouse is doing, thinking, and feeling on a daily basis. Their lives touch and intersect through the day, which provides grist for the conversational and emotional mill, but beyond that, many husbands and wives simply don't take the time to find out what makes their spouses tick.

It's puzzling, in a way, because it's a complete reversal of what happened during courtship. When we're dating, our beloved is the world to us, and we hang on every word, every thought they express. We fancy that we know them better than they know themselves, and this may be true.

But what happens after marriage? Was it all about the thrill of the chase, a pursuit to get the benefits of marriage? And now that the chase is over, we relax and enjoy the fruits of our labors? Or does life get in the way, and are we so filled with care that we no longer have time for the other person in our lives, who has become so familiar?

Or do we think we know all there is to know?

People change and grow, and our mates are no exception. We have the opportunity to grow with them, and most couples throw it away.

We're married, and we live alone, bereft of the deep support that could be there if we'd just try a little harder.

If this sounds familiar, and you want to change, it's easy. Just look, and listen. What does your wife read, before she goes to sleep? Pick up the book, and read through it - without judgment. If it's a romance novel, don't dismiss it as 'woman stuff'. It's becoming part of her heart and her soul, and the warmth and kindness that's so much a part of romance is what gentled your manly nature to fall in love.

What sort of movies would your husband watch, left to himself? Again, don't be dismissive of testosterone-fueled action flicks, because as crass as they seem to you they often carry a message of pride, steadfastness, and loyalty that speak to something deep inside him. Probably something that attracted you in the first place.

Listen to what your mate says, and pay attention to the remarks you'd previously ignored. Is there a loss of faith, a questioning of the religious beliefs that you once shared? It's not weakness - it's fear, and a cry for help to the only person nearby.

Or has faith grown, has your mate become immersed in Scripture, leaving you a little bit behind? He or she wants you to catch up, and the words they speak are a hand extended.

Why starve in the midst of the banquet set before you by your mate, and by the God who brought you together?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Loyal Heart

After Miguel Guzman died, his family noticed that Captain, his Labrador, was behaving strangely. The dog would scratch frantically at the door in the evening, and disappear until morning.

The mystery was solved when they followed the dog. Captain had gone to sleep on his master's grave. He's been doing this for seven years. The cemetery doesn't lock the gates until he shows up, and makes sure he's safe through the night.

We read this, and we're not completely surprised. It's a dog, right? And dogs are loyal beyond...

Beyond what?

That's the question. Some might say that dogs are loyal beyond reason, and that a human would mourn for awhile, and then move on. But seven years?

For a dog, clearly, Loyalty is worth any price. It's worth dying for; witness the war dogs, police dogs, and family pets that have died protecting their people from attack, or from fire.

And what's harder is that it's worth living for. For Captain, loyalty means living every day with the memory of his master kept bright, and his master's remains kept close.

Dogs understand death. I've had dogs for over forty years, and when one of the pack dies, the others know it. They visit the grave, and they mourn.

But Captain does more - he understands the symbolism of his actions, and he understands the fact that some bonds transcend life.

Do you have a relationship like this in your life? If your spouse died, would you sleep on his or her grave?

Let's put it another way - would you be willing to turn a large part of your life into a memorial? Or would you move on, and leave the memory to fade into your history. Never forgotten, but dulled by time and, yes, eventual neglect.

What would your mate do?

Do you envy Mr. Guzman, just a little?

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Hardest Question In Christianity

One of the hardest questions for a Christian is why an otherwise loving God would allow horrible things to happen to His children.

No one really has an answer. Some preachers are honest about their limitations, and say, "I don't know".

Some, however, in trying to fit the question into a theological framework, step across the line from mystery into an almost stunning heartlessness, and offer explanations which have undoubtedly driven many away from the faith.

One of these explanations is that God allows bad things to happen for the purpose of making people "lean not upon their own understanding", and lean on Him for support.

On the face of it, it's not a bad argument when you look at events and occurrences that are more on the level of inconvenience than personal tragedy. Losing a job may be a salutary lesson in not depending on your own abilities, and not relying on the "I'm so good, I'm on top of the world" feeling that we can slip into when things are going really well.

But when you step across into the realm of fatal illnesses, car accidents that wipe out a family, and the torture and killing that fill the evening news, the picture changes. Using the model of God as a loving Father, it beggars the imagination that he would take the attitude that He'd willingly allow someone to suffer what can literally be compared to the tortures of hell, merely to mobilize a person's faith. It would be something akin to a parent letting a child drink poison, to teach a lesson.

Another suggestion that's almost as pernicious is that evil is permitted to befall an individual so that others may learn from the "offset" experience. Again, it seems plausible, and even compassionate...unless you happen to be the one whose life has suddenly gone horribly wrong. Napoleon - hardly the ideal role model - had an expression for it...pour l'encouragement les autres.

Granted, my line of reasoning presupposes the "innocence" of the victim; that is, the idea that the suffering is undeserved. Christ died for the sins of all, with the understanding that we are all guilty of sin that's irredeemable in the absence of God's grace.

But there's an unfortunate dichotomy, seen both in the Christianity we practice and in Scripture. Some individuals find God's "favor". A popular TV preacher has made the point that he's favored as a child of God in that a space will invariably open up in a crowded parking lot, just in time for his arrival...and that others find such favor in other ways.

While others, including some of the most devout Christians on the planet, watch the walls fall in on their hopes and dreams, and on their lives.

If we posit a God who's rather arbitrary in His affections, well and good. But most labor under the concept of fairness, which does, after all, devolve from our faith, and what are we to do with it?

I'm no theologian, but here are two possible explanations for why God lets bad things happen. I won't claim they're even remotely original.
  1. God made the world to operate under a certain set of rules which allow for the existence of evil, and to violate those rules would make Creation meaningless. Something like a baseball game in which players could suddenly decide that they don't have to touch all the bases...a home run would become a lot easier, but it wouldn't be baseball. The problem here is that miracles suddenly become very tough to explain, and we do know that they happen. The secondary supporting argument...which feels like a lot of arm waving...is that we don't know all the rules.
  2. Creation is a story, authored by God, and we're all characters in the play. We "live" on the flat pages that define our lives, and while we're bound to this existence we can't see the complete work. We can only live it, line by line.
Either of these allows a loving, compassionate God to step into our lives, and offer His compassion, made all the stronger by His hatred of what's befallen us, and by what He can't, in most cases, prevent. It's a lot easier to hide in His arms when we know that he hasn't stood by to let it happen.

What do you think? Does this question trouble you? How have you resolved it in your mind?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Marriage Legacy

And what if you die today?

Probably won't happen. The chances are excellent that, even if you're in one of our more dangerous professions, you'll come home tonight, safe and sound, and you'll be free to heal the silly arguments and petty selfish acts that saddened your spouse, and made you wonder, "Why did I do that?"

But one day, you'll be wrong, and the last thing you said, the last thing you did, will form the largest part of the legacy you leave of your life together.

We're bombarded bu talk of legacies - the values you leave your children, and the financial planning you can do to make sure that the estate that you can't take with you will speak for the person you were in this life.

But what about the most important relationship you'll ever have, with the person who pledged his or her life to yours, who shares your hopes and heartbreaks?

It's not about the grand gestures. It's about shutting up.

How many arguments start with, "You know, I didn't want to mention this, but..."

And how any tears have flowed from those words? Tears you saw, of anger and pain, and the tears shed privately, of hurt and of sorrow that things between you just don't live up to the vision you both had when you said, "I do"?

Well, here's a tip. If you "didn't want to mention it", don't. Unless it's a matter of life and death, of moral or financial disaster, let it alone.

"But...I have a right to speak out!"

Sure. But you also have the obligation to protect your spouse, and your marriage, from the dissatisfaction that you may temporarily feel, from the meanness and desire to pay back perceived slights that are a part of any shared life.

Can you even remember the causes of your last three arguments?

Probably not, but your spouse remembers the hurt, and the feeling of a nice day suddenly gone horribly wrong.

And one day - that nice day will be the last one you ever share. There will come a day when you can't make it up, when the last thing you say will have to stand.

That's the most important legacy you can leave.

It takes discipline, weighing every word before it comes out, and looking downrange at the collateral damage that will ensue if you let fly.

It flies in the face of everything we're told about marriage, that it's the place where you can say anything. Flies in the face of that 'wisdom', because that wisdom's a lie, formed in recent years from the deep yearning we all have to be able to live without consequences.

It contradicts the "in your face" culture, that tells us that it's right and proper to say what's on your mind, and downright unhealthy to "hold it in". That may be applicable to infants who have yet to be toilet trained, but that's about the limit.

And it ignores your implicit demand that you be accepted for what you are, warts and all, without reservation. The "right" to a place where you can let your hair down, take off the mask that keeps you from pouring coffee into a co-worker's computer or toss a dead rat into your stuck-up neighbor's swimming pool.

You have to be better, and stronger, than all of that.

"Unrealistic!", you're thinking? "I'll just be a doormat, and he or she will walk all over me!"

Hmmm. "Turn the other cheek." "Blessed are the meek." "Blessed are the peacemakers." Sounds like the words of a weakling, eh?

Let that weakness be your legacy of indomitable strength.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Play It As It Lies

A lie can't run far, because it has short legs, or so they say.

But some lies travel very far indeed, because we carry them.

Like most of the world, my wife and I have a Facebook account. We have friends, we follow the activities of some organizations, and some musicians (hooray for Bon Jovi and AC/DC!).

And, more and more often, we see the dark underbelly of the beast.

Many of our friends subscribe to "informational services", like I may look stupid but at least I'm having fun. These entities, whatever they really are and whoever is really behind them, offer canned messages that a subscriber can try on for fit, like clothes, sometimes sensible, sometimes outlandish. Finding a comfortable match, they can post these missives to their 'pages', to say concisely what they themselves might struggle to say, and what they themselves might never think of saying.

Sometimes funny, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes emotionally arresting.

And sometimes, just plain wrong.

"In March 2013 all US citizens will be required to have a microchip implanted that will carry all personal information, all medical information, and all banking information." This, accompanied by a plausible picture of a skeletal x-rayed hand, with a tiny cylindrical object, ominously placed.

"Starbucks refuses to send coffee to Marines fighting in Afghanistan, because Starbucks is against the war...please boycott them." Along with a slightly fuzzy scan of a letter purporting to be from a Recon Marine, confirming this cruel corporate statement.

It took me all of ten seconds to find out that both were simply not true. You're not going to be microchipped, and the picture shows a blood-glucose monitor for diabetics.

Starbucks supports the war, and supports our troops. Their corporate bylaws prohibit coffee donations to any but a few organizations, but they encourage their own employees, who receive a monthly allotment of free coffee, to make donations on their own

The truth is easy to find, but the truth doesn't matter, because it's more fun to believe the lie. We can find any conspiracy theory we like, and trumpet it abroad, accountable to no one save ourselves, and a conscience crippled by the ability to hide in plain sight, anonymous in the Global Village of bits and bytes and download speed.

The saddest thing of all is that many of these people are doing what they think is right, as an example of their faith...Christianity in action.

How did we get here?

Doesn't matter. We are here. Wandering together through a house of mirrors that show our most cherished fears, hidden in smoke that hides our base meanness that wishes only to lash out and hurt them. Someone.

As a society, there probably isn't much we can do. The genie is out of the bottle, and he's hopelessly blurred the line between the real world and its distorted reflection. Short of worldwide censorship, we'll never go back.

We can; however, save our own souls. We can choose to say what we mean, what we hope, and what we fear, in our own words and not in digital postcards borrowed from someone we'll never meet.

We can choose to research what we say.

We can choose to say "yes" when we mean yes, and to say "no" when we mean no.

The world may rush on to its digital abyss, in which all will be fiction, controlled from an apartment in Peoria, from an office in Murmansk, but we can step out of the stream.

And stand on the shore with Truth, and Decency, and Fair Play.

It's only from shore that we can effectively throw out a lifeline.

And with Jesus helping us pull, who's to say whom might be saved?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Open Doors

Some more marriage advice, courtesy the Imperial Japanese Navy. Nice to have an entire arm of a country's armed forces on call to help, eh?

During World War Two in the Pacific, the aircraft carrier came into its own as the Queen of Battle. Good news for the US; though we started the war with fewer hulls than the Japanese, we had the shipyard capacity to turn out a fleet of them in a very short time.

Japan, on the other hand, could never hope to match the output of the US, and every loss was a disaster that moved them measurably closer to defeat.  The Imperial Navy commissioned only a few carriers during the war, and of these, two were superlative in their own right. The Taiho was possibly the best aircraft carrier to be fielded by any of the combatants, and the Shinano was the largest, and the largest warship in the world until well into the 1950s.

And both were lost before they could make an impact, for the same reason...open doors.

Taiho was torpedoed, and though not badly damaged suffered leaks in the fuel tankage system for the aircraft she carried. Certain areas on the ship were unusable due to gasoline fumes, so watertight doors were opened, and fans turned on to vent them. Unfortunately, they were more spread than vented, turning Taiho into the largest fuel-air bomb ever built. The result, several hours later, was predictable, and lethal.

Shinano was lost in Japan's Inland Sea, on its maiden voyage. It was so new that the paint was still drying, and watertight doors were left open to vent the nasty-smelling vapors. The carrier crossed the path of the submarine USS Archerfish, and when it was torpedoed its watertight integrity was nonexistent, and Shinano went to the bottom forthwith. Had the doors been closed, she would have survived handily, for Shinano was built on a tough battleship hull.

Open doors sink ships, and sometimes they sink us.

What kind of open doors do you have in your life? Have you opened the door to gossip, thinking it won't hurt? Or to pornography, since it's not real, anyway, and what's the harm?

Or is the open door the image in your mind of your house, gleaned from years of Better Homes And Gardens, making a showpiece of a structure with exquisite decorations, but a cold and unwelcoming excuse for a home?

Or is it your '63 Corvette, because everyone needs a hobby, right?

These open doors don't do any harm on a daily basis, and sometimes we can make a case for them helping us cope with the bad days, or more fully enjoy the good. But each of them admits something foreign to our lives, something that divides us from spouse and family, something that walls us off from the Almighty.

The reckoning may not come; we may be lucky, and sail our perilous seas undamaged. But the fumes may be gathering, and it takes only a spark to set it off...a careless word to a neighbor, that shouldn't have been repeated but was, can estrange a spouse. Or a browser window that you meant to close, but the dog threw up and your wife came home...and your life together is forever c.hanged

Or the car takes so much of your time...you win a trophy and want more, for the meticulous work you did. And Sundays are prime hobby days, so your church attendance starts to get waterlogged, and as the progressive flooding continues your prayer life becomes more and more sluggish, wallowing low int he water, waves breaking over the deck, and there's no Figure walking across the water to save you.
Open doors.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Improving On Jesus

Many Christians wear bracelets inscribed WWJD - what would Jesus do?

They're intended both as an inspiration and a reminder, that there is a role model that's worth emulating in daily life. (Of course, for some the bracelet's mostly really cool jewelry.)

I think that sometimes that acronym's getting a bit ahead of things, though. It's all very well to participate in the thought experiment of WWJD, but it's also important to realize that it IS a thought experiment, dealing with a hypothetical Jesus.

And this postulated Jesus performs for us in our imagination, doing what we think He'd do, as an example for us.

Think that's harsh? How many times did your thought-Jesus have you do something you really, really didn't want to do?

When we think of what Jesus would did, we allow ourselves to hide from something that might be quite uncomfortable...what He did do.

Let's start with something really simple. Jesus drank wine. He didn't drink grape juice. He didn't drink water. Neither of those were a realistic choice in a hot climate with no refrigeration and scare supplies of any potable liquids. (If you're in a thought experiment mood, put out a bottle of grape juice and drink some every day, to see how long you'll be able to stand it. No, on second, thought, please don't.)

Under the banner of WWJD, many Christians refuse to touch alcohol, to the point where it's almost a shibboleth that "Christians don't drink". Some take it further; the TV preacher Andrew Womack has repeatedly said that he lives a holier life than over 99% of us, partly because he doesn't drink.

And that holiness, that definition of Christianity, is make-believe. The Bible certainly recognizes the dangers of drunkenness; look at Noah. What Jesus did do, as an example for us, is drink in moderation. Period. End of story. (Of course, you don't have to drink, if you don't like wine or are afraid you like it too much...we have other alternatives. But what you do have to do is recognize that abstaining from alcohol doesn't make you a 'better' Christian.)

Now let's try something hard. Jesus forgave the folks who tortured Him to death. When faced with, say, a family feud that's lasted for years, we're often moved by WWJD to extend the olive branch, to meet the conflict "halfway".

The commonly given excuse (sorry, no other word's appropriate) is that forgiveness is a two-way street, that we can't forgive Cousin Rachel unless Cousin Rachel is willing to apologize. Therefore, when she doesn't, we feel justified in keeping the dark evil little flame of resentment warming the ancient lizard-brain buried under the veneer of Christianity.

Forgiveness is not a two-way street. Walking arm-in-arm into the Hallmark Hall Of Fame sunset is, and maybe you and Cousin Rachel will never get that far. But forgiveness, and setting aside, now and forever, the anger that's rotting your soul is what you can do, and it's what you're required to do, as the basic entry fee into the Christian life.

Because it's what Jesus did.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Jesus, The Cool Cat.

"You know, " I said to Barbara, "Jesus was really cool."

"Oh?" said Barbara, cautiously. She's known me for twelve years.

"Yeah. I really dig how much he liked big cats."

"Big cats...okay."

"Sure. Like, his friend, Jude, the guy who wrote that book in the New Testament, he had a pet lion."

"A pet...uh, where did you get that?"

"You know, 'Lion of Jude'! Obviously, he had a pet lion. That's cool. Jesus and his Apostles, wandering around Israel with a lion. Bet the Romans didn't know what they were supposed to think about that!"

"Lion of...don't you mean, 'Lion of Judah'?"

"Well, they had different ways of saying names, right? Jesus was Yeshua, Paul was Saul, Abraham was Avram, right? So Jude had a lion."

"Okay," said Barbara, faintly.

"And there's more. Jesus obviously had a soft spot for leopards."

Barbara's eyes were closed. "He did, did he?"

"Well, he was always healing them, right? Leopards get a bad rap, But Jesus liked them."

"If you say so." My wife likes animals, too. But she's never really had much to do with big cats.

"I wonder why he never got involved with tigers?"

"I'm sure I don';t know, Andrew."

"Probably because Israel's a desert, right? I mean, tigers live in the jungle."

"Yes," said Barbara slowly. "I suppose they do."

"I wonder if any of the Apostles had a pet cheetah?"

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Not Peace, But An M-16

Where do you draw the line?

On the one hand, Jesus says that when you're struck in the cheek, to turn your head to let your attacker whack the other one.

And when Peter removes the ear of the High Priest's servant at his arrest, Jesus scolds him

On the other hand, He was hardly the picture of pacifism when He got pissed off about the Temple being used as a holier-than-thou market..."Here, you go, some five doves to sacrifice, for a love-gift of only five shekels!" (The phraseology might be familiar...)

And then, "Not peace but a sword..."

"Father against son, mother against daughter..."

And when He healed the centurion's servant, He didn't tell the man to resign his commission and take up farming.

What are we to make of Jesus' position on conflict, and what should we do when faced with it? What do you do when you hear your window open at night, and burly men climbing over the sill?

Personally, I think it's pretty simple. Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd.

And the shepherd protects his flock.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Good Old Days

Recently a friend said that he felt he was born too late, that he wished he'd lived in the Old West.

I thought, "Why?"

Most of what I read is either history or memoirs; there's a lot to learn from the way people reacted to situations in the past, which can serve as inspiration for my own life, or at the very least give a better understanding of the good - and bad - that people can do.

But to want to live in those times? No, thanks.

The truth as I see it is that we are really living in the best of times...for who we are. We've been formed, for better or for worse, by the milieu through which we've moved for the decades of our lives, and to wish that away doesn't take into account the adaptations that we've learned, and earned, through our experiences.

Going back to the "American West" would make us face a degree of change that would make the hardiest soul run screaming back to the present. I mean, how would you like...
  • No antibiotics
  • Almost universal acceptance of bigotry
  • Social strictures that allow for far less individuality than we enjoy today
  • Clothing that's poorly made and wildly uncomfortable
  • Provincialism...most people didn't know or care much beyond the limits of their own town, or at best, their own county
  • Lack of basic sanitation we take for granted
  • Attitudes and behavior towards children (and animals) that would land people in jail today
  • Political corruption that make our benighted Congress look like a model of ideal democracy
The list goes on. Would you really accept all that, for the perceived Romance of the Frontier?

Beyond the practical, a wish to be "elsewhen" is almost an affront to God. You've been made to fit the life you have. God crafted your soul, and set you to your task in this world, this time. To say that you feel like you were born too late means...

"Hey, God, you made a bit of a mistake here, eh?"

By all means, learn about the ones who've gone before, make their experiences part of your own heart.

And let your experiences be the same for your children's children, without resentment or reservation.