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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Here I Am; Send Me!

Yesterday we talked about Cassie Bernall, one of the martyrs of Columbine High School.

What if God were to ask you, directly, "Please accept a horrible and frightening death, for Me. Please?"

Would you do it? I'll bet you would. (I, on the other hand, would probably say, "Uh, could I finish something first? I need about, oh, thirty years and I'll be ready for You!")

But what if he asked something even harder than that?

What if He said, "I've come so that you can have joy, and that your joy will be full!"

Yep. That's what He said. Being fed to the lions is a whole lot easier.

What He wants is that you're happy in your life, with the gifts He gave you, and all He wants beyond that is that you're living in the world for Him.

Maybe you have a gift for...oh, say, bowling. "Big whoop," you say. "Bowling?" Not exactly being a missionary among headhunters, eh? (Well, some leagues I've been in, maybe not so different...)

But as long as you're clear in your loyalty, bowling's the gift He gave you. He wants you to enjoy that gift, and He'll make your enjoyment serve His purpose.

You do your part - have fun - and He'll do His. It's as simple as that.

All you have to do is play the game, literally. You don't need to yell Hosanna! after every strike, or sit with an open Bible between throws, pestering all and sundry to repent. Just be a good sport, be thankful when you win, be thankful when you lose.

In other words, live your gift as a Christian.

And what good will that do? How many souls will you save?

You'll never know. But God will, and your trust in Him, your faith that your joy is a part of His work in this world...that's your gift to Him.

And it's your work for Him.

You can't count the fallen sparrows. He can. And when some beer-soaked bruiser who terrifies the pins into meekly falling, merely by showing up...when she looks at you quizzically, wondering how you can smile after your team got thumped, and then one day goes home and picks up the Bible out of curiosity (after learning to read, of course)...God sees that.

And He shouts for joy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


On April 20, 1999, I was at the airport in Sacramento, waiting for a flight to take me home after a meeting at the Caltrans research office.

On April 20, 1999, seventeen-year-old Cassie Bernall was asked if she believed in God. When she said yes, Eric Harris shot her to death. She was in Colorado, at the Coumbine High School.

It's easy to talk about martyrdom. All but one of Jesus' Apostles were killed for their faith, as have been uncounted thousands in the centuries to follow. Most Christians secretly harbor the wish that they might have the chance to put their life on the line for Jesus, to truly demonstrate that they'll follow Him to the end. (And most, like me, would prefer to survive that kind of encounter, to be able to blog about it later.)

Facing the real thing is something else, and when you come up against a real-time example of that kind of steadfastness, it's sobering, because all the brave talk melts away into an uneasy question: Would I have done the same?

The shotguns of our imagination are harmless, and shoot daydream shells. What Cassie faced was a black hole leading to Eternity, already smelling of spent powder.

The atmosphere of our dream-life places us on a pedestal, with background music by Vangelis (remember Chariots Of Fire?).

Cassie was hiding under a table, probably clammy with the sweat of fear. The sounds she heard were scrams and shout, doors slamming, and the methodical footfall of her executioner.

She could have said no.

She said, "Yes."

(Subsequent information contradicted the story that she said anything, much less the strong affirmation of God's grace in her short life. A friend who was with her said that she merely prayed quietly.

Sounds like a "Yes" to me.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On Dying

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - roughly, "it is right and sweet to die for your country".

This is the sort of rubbish that middle-aged politicians and writers love. Wrap yourselves in the flag, boys, and go down humming "God Save The Queen". It makes for good funerary eulogies, and great movie endings, with swelling violins and crimson sunsets.

The reality of death in combat is quite different. It's not sweet. It's painful, frightening, and it never seems "right".  The pretty Latin words are a self-serving sop to the politicians, and an enamelled comfort to the bereaved, but they serve no purpose to the folks who do the dying.

Save, perhaps, salt in the wound.

The real reason death is worth risking, and worth embracing, is proximate loyalty. It's the desire, and the need, which is almost sacred, not to let down those who fight by your side.

When everything narrows down to a compressed vortex of terror, girded about by steel and flame, all of the abstract concepts of country, Mom, apple pie, and even freedom go by the boards.

From "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic" comes the line, "...let us die to make men free". Hogwash.

The only thing worth dying for is the hand stretched out to you, in mute appeal, from a comrade whose foibles you know better than you do your own, and whose loss would make the world unimaginable.

The only thing worth dying for is LOVE.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Catharsis (Is) For Dummies

The doctor said that nothing could be done. "All we can do is make you comfortable for as long as possible."

The couple clung to one another, is sorrow and fear, weeping softly...

SCREEEECHHHH! (Sound of needle being dragged across phonograph record.)

Time to end that scene.

I've heard the "can't do any more" line. It sucks, but it's no reason to descend into a mud wallow of bathos. All that does is leach out energy, and God knows I need every bit of energy I can muster.

As U2 say in their song Stuck In A Moment, "these tears are going nowhere, baby". Weeping is cathartic, I know, but catharsis can be, and often is, self-reinforcing. It sets up a cycle of self-pity that can be hard to stop. (After the Viet Nam war, veterans suffering from PTSD were encouraged to "let it all out" in group therapy session. These men, dutifully opening themselves up to catharsis, were more likely to kill themselves later.)

Fighting a serious illness, self-pity is the last thing you need. It's not a "grand tragedy". It's just what you have to deal with, and the best weapon you have for fighting a killing prognosis is a ferociously confident attitude.

Is it unrealistic to say, "I'm not going to allow this to kill me!"?  Not until you're dead, it's not. Far better to be hard, and concede as little as possible. Does it hurt to move? Move anyway. Pain won't kill you.

Vomiting blood? Carry a bag while you're doing yardwork, or puke on the plants. Blood meal's good for them.

And use humor, directed at yourself. Why not? Will you live longer if you dignify a condition that wants you dead with hushed tones and a somber voice? Or are you just paying homage to a stupid "Hallmark Sympathy Card" tradition?

In truth, we are all dying.

Enjoy the trip.

(Please don't think for a moment that I'm belittling a spouse's fear and grief. Honor demands that you have to be there for your husband or wife, and if they need to shed tears, if they need to be held, that's your job. But it's also your job to remain in control of your own emotions, and to make a decision for the positive.)

(Upcoming Book - I'm currently working on a new book, KeepThe Vow, about, basically, How To Stay Married Even If It Kills You. I intend to publish it on Kindle, with a price of 99 cents. If you'd like an advance look, please let me know in your comments, with a non-spammable email: name at provider dot com. I'll send you the work in progress, and if you care to write back with suggestions you'll get a heartfelt acknowedgement in the introduction.)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Movie Review - Dr. Zhivago, Bottom Of His Med School Class

In the 1960s, a generation of young men wanted to be Yuri Zhivago, as played by Omar Sharif in the achingly long film Dr. Zhivago.

Or maybe they just wanted to be Omar Sharif.

One of Hollywood's true epics, Zhivago lurches through the end of the Romanov dynasty in Russia, through Russia's incompetent participation in World War One, and on into the Russian Revolution. The story centers on Yuri Zhivago, a young doctor who is engaged to a irl (I can't remember the character's name, she's so incidental to the story) and then meets the beautiful Lara (played by Julie Christie), the mistress of a rich businessman.

It gets convoluted, but the heart of the story is that Zhivago loses contact with Lara, marries the Girl With No Name, and then meets up with Lara again in Siberia, as they are trying to get out of Russia, seeing as how Communism won't be much fun for anyone.

He ditches his wife, and has an idyllic affair with Lara during the Siberian winter (remember, these are Russians, so for them neck deep snow is balmy).

There is a competitor for Lara's heart - her old boyfriend, now a revolutionary commander. He abandons the revolution to try to find Lara, is caught by his comrades, and executed.

Zhivago and Lara are then forced by circumstance to part ways - and twenty years on he thinks he sees her from the window of a streetcar. He leaps from the moving tram, chases after her, and then drops dead from a heart attack.

Ah, the power and glory of love, unfettered by rigid conventions like marriage! How wonderful, to die in the pursuit of true happiness!

Love is the sweep and flash of the affair, flying free above the mundane prairie of the commonplace, a trysting-ground for the semi-divine who have the audacity to reach out their hands and...

Forgive me. What a load of horseshit.

Zhivago is really a sleazy, tawdry story of two amoral people who can't see any further than their own gonads, and who are dreadfully upset that the world doesn't order itself to suit their romantic desires. It takes its inspiration from Nietzsche's "superman", whose superiority frees him from the bonds of conventional morality, and most particularly religiously-inspired values.

Love isn't everything. While it may be exciting to watch two attractive people prance around in the snow, giving their hearts fully to the chase, the reality is that their mindset can only lead to heartbreak, because, in the end, the chase is everything.

It's like eating without swallowing.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

For Better Or For Laughs

One of the things I've seen, often, among married couples is the willingness of one spouse to embarrass the other in public.

It can be a "humorous" anecdote at the husband or wife's expense, or a veiled or blatant jab, that leaves the target - there's no other word for it - standing there, with nothing to say, and hoping the moment will quickly pass.

And usually that's the best thing to do, because the jibe will have been planned ahead of time, a verbal; ambush, and is initiated with no warning and when the chance of an effective comeback is minimal.

So, just take it. And wish the earth will swallow you up.

But, why?

What is the drive to publicly hurt the person you're supposed to love most in all the world? What pleasure is there in planning an attack - again, no other word will really do - on someone to whom you made promises, before God Almighty?

The usual response is, "Come on, can't you take a joke? Lighten up!" I have a pretty broad sense of humor, but I always find that it's a lot easier to take a joke when you're not the planned and crafted target.

Laughing spontaneously at a moment of clumsiness is one thing - everyone has "dog brain" moments, and when you laugh at your husband's putting salt into his tea by mistake, you can be sure that in the near future you'll drive away with a coffee cup riding along on the roof of your car. That's life.

But I've heard a detailed description of a spouse's investment blunders, recounted at a length that made even an uninvolved listener cringe. I can't imagine what it must have been like for the target.

And we were expected to laugh, that someone thought he could actually make money raising alpacas!

Maybe it's a way to blow off steam, to air a grievance that's eating away at the teller of the tale. Therapy? Maybe, but isn't that why we have therapists?

Maybe these are the reasons, or maybe it's something else entirely. Whatever, but when I hear someone making their life partner squirm like a butterfly, freshly pinned alive to a display board, there's one overwhelming thought in my head:

"I'm glad I'm not married to you."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Evangelical Deal-Killers

The Great Commission says to go out and bring Jesus' message to all the creatures in the world, right?

The problem is that a lot of Christians fall in love with certain concepts that are sudden and certain deal-breakers for the secular world. And like moths to the flame, Christians home in on these things, as if they are making sure that the potential convert will still approach, holding his or her proverbial nose.

Here are a few, in no particular order -
  • Falling in love with Jesus - I believe in God, and that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead, et cetera, but even for me, the concept of falling in love with Jesus just sounds wrong. At best, it's an intellectual construct based on the church being the bride of Christ, and other wedding imagery; at worst, it sounds like an imaginary friend taken way too far.
  • There's little time left, these are the last days - all due respect, but people have been saying these were the last days since the first Pentecost, and most folks know this. If you can't give compelling evidence, leave this one alone.
  • You have to develop a personal relationship with Christ - a bit milder than falling in love, but still hard for many people to understand, much less feel. Give them the feeling that it's an early requirement for admission and they'll walk.
  • Numerology - the number three means this, seven means this, twelve means...well, it means that we're starting to move into New Age magic. Yes, I realize that there are theologians who put some stock into numerology, but this isn't the time to trot them out, because your potential convert will expect some crystals next, and perhaps a Vision Quest.
  • "Are you living a holy life?" - Before you ask someone this, are you living a holy life? If not, don't go here. And if you are, don't go here. Especially if your definition of holy involves "no smoking, no drinking, et cetera", none of which was mentioned by Jesus
Five's enough.

For now.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What Every Chrstian Should Know About Buddhism

Buddhism. The word calls to mind serene-faced statues, chanting shaven-headed monks half-hidden in clouds of incense-smoke, and vegetarians who would, literally, shrink from hurting a fly. But what's it really about...this least-understood major religion?

First, Buddhism really isn't a religion at all. It's a way of approaching life, a way that is intended to bring the practitioner closer to God.

Second, Buddha (commonly identified with Gautama Buddha, the Indian prince Siddhartha) was not, and never claimed to be divine. He was a man who lived, and a man who died. He's not worshipped; he's revered, in much the way a Christian might have great respect for Paul, or the Virgin Mary.

The heart of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths:
  1. There is suffering
  2. There is a cause for suffering
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. There is a way to end suffering
The path, from the existence of suffering to the end of suffering is achieved through following the Noble Eightfold Path:
  1. Right view
  2. Right intentions
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right concentration
  8. Right mindfulness
Pretty simple, eh? if you live with the "right" values, you put aside suffering.

Well, that's part of it. But the Eightfold Path is a mechanism, a practice, rather like the Golden Rule applied to everything you do. It's commonly thought of as the spokes of a wheel, those hub consists of the Four Noble Truths. Turn the wheel.

The "rim" of the wheel, to continue the analogy, is the elimination of attachment and desire. This is where misunderstanding kicks in.

The problem, as Buddha saw it, was that people wanted power, above all else. Not power over others, but the power to hold onto people, things, and feelings, without which they could not be happy...and which they can never keep forever to ensure happiness.

Everything we have in this life, we're going to lose. We will lose our parents, our friends. We will come to the end of our career. We will lose our health, and eventually the body in which our soul resides.

Let it go. This doesn't mean, don't care. On the contrary, it means love what you love with all your heart, but with the knowledge that you'll be separated from all of it. Treasure it all the more, but recognize this:

Your blessings were given to you by God, and one day they will return to Him. As will you. They'll still exist in God, and with God, once they pass from your life.

You don't need to worry about them, and you don't need to grasp them tightly to your chest, because they're in good hands.

Let go, and let God.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

No Greater Love

Yamato is an ancient name for Japan. It was also the name of the biggest battleship ever built, which entered service in 1941 and which was sunk by American airplanes in April 1945, while on a hopeless mission to try to disrupt the landings on the island of Okinawa.

Most of Yamato's 3,000-strong crew died with her, but we are fortunate that one man did not. Yosida Mitsuru, a very young ensign, survived, and wrote the short book Requiem For Battleship Yamato. For a couple of dollars you can get a used copy from Amazon. I'm not sure if you can still get a new one.

What Yoshida has left us is not a military history, nor a technical treatise on capital ship design. He has accomplished something far more valuable, and almost unique - a moving and poetic journey into the hearts of men who know that they are fated to die, and who can track the hours of their fading life by the clock.

You see, Yamato's final mission was never thought of as anything but a one-way trip. The Japanese Navy was shattered at this point in the war, and the skies were ruled by America. It would have been a miracle for Yamato to have even reached Okinawa. If she survived the trip, she was to be beached, to act as a steel fortress. There were no plans for her return. Neither was there fuel.

This was to be a sacrifice for Japan, a defense of their homes and families against the feared and hated Americans, who, so the propaganda went, would slaughter the very old and the very young, and take the attractive women as slaves. It was a sacrifice born of patriotism, but at its base born of love.

What goes through the mind of a young man who knows he will be dead soon? In Yoshida's case, simple things - the taste of his final meals, the characteristics of his shipmates, the smell of the sea and the sight of stars. And the sight of his homeland, vanishing astern.

And excitement - would he be up to the task ahead? Would he carry out his duties with honor? And what would come after?

Most Japanese are followers of the Shinto religion. It's a mystery for the Western mind - a mixture of Buddhism and ancestor worship, headed by an Emperor who is divine. However...and this is very significant - most Japanese of Yoshida's generation prayed to God. The afterlife for a soldier or sailor, meant the travel of the soul to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, a place of eternal fellowship with the souls of those who had gone before, and those who would follow. (It's not like the Norse concept of Valhalla. Attempts to match up Shinto and the Yasukini Shrine with western concepts usually fail, sometimes ludicrously.)

(It's worth noting that Japan did have a small but significant Christian population, the result of French Jesuits who worked bravely in a land in which they were barely tolerated. Ironically, the center of Japanese Christianity was the post city of Hiroshima.)

Yoshida survived, vomited back from the sea by the roiling water attendant to the giant ship's sinking. Most of his shipmates did not. Some by choice - the Admiral commanding the mission locked himself in his cabin, and the navigator lashed himself to the binnacle. Most died in the hell of bomb and torpedo explosions, or fell from gunfire on the decks, or drowned in the steel belly of the beast.

Did God hear their prayers? Did they find release, and peace, and did their souls fly home, like gulls returning from the sea?

Christianity would say, No. Dying unsaved, they were cast away into Hell, there to spend eternity pondering their mistaken faith, and perhaps the accident of fate that saw their birth in a land in which religious choice was virtually nonexistent.

But I wonder. Visitors to the Yasukuni shrine speak of peace, and the feeling that they are never alone, watched by someone from the trees and gardens.

Did their souls get home, to their beloved Japan? I hope so. I hope that in their death, God saw these men walk the walk: "Greater love hath no man, than he who would willingly lay down his life for his friends.) (John 15:13)

After all, "For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26)


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Faith Of Idiots

A certain preacher was in the news of late - I was about to say, "former preacher", but he merely switched camps, rather than quitting, as he claimed.

At the age of forty, he realized that he'd lost his faith. Starting as a fire-eating Pentecostal, he realized that he had "a problem" believing that a good and loving God would summarily consign the majority of His children to eternal damnation.

Accordingly, our preacher embraced Universalism, which holds that everyone is saved, at least in the long run. Certainly, it's a huge step away from the Pentecostal banner, but it's pretty much what most people in the world believe - including most Christians.

But Universalism didn't satisfy him, and he went one step further - seeing Universalism as being internal to our brains. In other words, God is our own internal dialogue. This is apparently a position held by some prominent neuroscientists, so our preacher claimed.

Now he's appearing at rallies organized by atheist organizations, under the "freedom From Religion" marquee. He's even shared billing with Richard Dawkins...yes, he of the "human life was planted by space aliens" hypothesis.

If you think I sound a bit mocking, and more than a little condescending, you're right (well the title may have given a hint).

For me the red flag was the prominent mention of neuroscientists. It's "oh, WOW" term that's supposed to generate unquestioning awe and acceptance. I mean, a neuroscientist...let me get my autograph book.

I'm a former academic, and my brother was a neuroscientist. They don't walk on water, people. Sometimes they can't walk across a room without bumping into things, and they have their share of stupid ideas, even within their own profession. In the 80s, my brother spent years trying to do his very prominent sponsor's bidding by placing electrodes into rat brains to study the effect of morphine on the limbic system (the primitive, "reptilian" part of the brain). Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars, and thousands of rat lives later, they decided that the technology wouldn't allow for accurate enough placement of the tip of the electrode. Something any lab tech could have told them, but these were two professors who didn't listen to lab techs.

Our preacher's real problem is one of pride, rather than faith. Everyone - including Mother Teresa - goes through a faith crisis. Jesus did at Calvary. But most of us are smart enough to slog on, and wait out the night.

This guy wanted quick action, and he wanted immunity from doubt. Thereby the jump from Pentecostal doctrine to Universalism, and then further to something that had the air of "scientific authority".  Which he could then use to take his place of a stage, to the applause of literally dozens of adoring fans.

Oh, and the kicker? He bemoaned the fact that he lost his job and his family was alienated. Sorry, bud, but if you don't believe in your employer's business, what cause do you have to take his shilling?

And if you decide to make your family feel stupid by not joining you in your "freedom from religion", you can't really expect support. It was your choice to take the stage, dude.

Monday, February 18, 2013

When A Spouse Loses Faith

"I'm not sure I believe this stuff any more."

Chilling words, from anyone. All the more so when you hear them from your husband or wife.

You may hear them across the dinner table, or in an ER waiting room. They may come out in a choked sob, or be delivered with a grim frankness. And you will feel that your world has just changed, because it has.

A spouse's loss of faith is deadly serious. Recall Jesus' words...wherever two or more are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them.

For most people, faith is a struggle at times. We face things in life that we don't understand, that we can't square with a God that loves us, and we're battered through the media by a secular world that would like nothing more than to undercut any hope we have in the Eternal.

But sitting on the sofa with the person you love more than anyone in the world, and hearing that their faith has eroded, that faith that was the centerpiece of your wedding vows...it's a body blow.

Why does it happen? Inexplicable tragedy is the "popular" answer - how could God allow it, either on a personal level, or in the world at large. But more common is disillusionment - Christians who hide behind their "not perfect, just forgiven" bumper stickers to justify sin in their lives, PBS documentaries trumpeting evolution and discounting the existence of a soul, and very often that cold, 3 AM feeling that there's really nobody out there.

What to do?
  • Be supportive - loss of faith isn't a choice, and it's not a decision which has been reached through rational analysis. It's more like a traumatic amputation in an accident, and your spouse doesn't want to be there.
  • Ask, but don't pry - some people will be only too happy to talk about what went wrong. Others - mainly but not always husbands - prefer to keep their own counsel.
  • Be consistent - continue to exercise your own faith, now more than ever. If your mate is willing to continue going to church to keep you company, by all means, go. If he or she refuses to attend, you have to judge the situation carefully. If you continue to go, you risk alienation which can add personal resentment to the mix - your spouse can feel terribly alone. (Refusal to go to church may actually be a good sign, as it can indicate anger with God...which means continued involvement with the Almighty.)
  • Live your witness - you probably do this anyway, but more than ever, your life has to be carefully considered in all of its aspects. If your mate's faith has been shaken you have to be very, very sure that you're living right. One of the major reasons for loss of faith is seeing self-proclaimed Christians who don't live by what they pretend. That means making sure you forgive, in word and deed, those who wrong you...that you don't talk badly about someone behind their back, ever...that you don't sneak a look at pornography, or glance down the front of a woman's blouse. Practice what you preach.
  • Pray without fail - the bulk of your prayers have to be directed at your spouse, for him or her to find faith and trust in God again. Don't nag them to pray with you - but pray while they sleep, while you're watching television together, while she's at work or he's doing the dishes. Norman Vincent Peale once described "shooting prayer arrows" at people - and described in several of his books how well it worked.
  •  DON'T PUSH! - this is very, very important. Most people, when pushed, push back.
  • Don't make impossible suggestions - telling someone whose faith is gone to ask Jesus for help is like asking someone who juts lost a hand to clap. They can't do it. They just can't!
  • Be open to religious exploration - many who quit Christianity will turn to Eastern religion, usually Buddhism. Don't knock it - it means that there's still a connection to the divine, still a yearning for something beyond this life. Someone who follows this path will probably do a lot of reading, which is a very good thing - much popular Buddhist literature is very focused on the transcendent, and can help make the perception that God's existence is far-fetched fade away. True, it's not Christian. But it is a search for meaning, and this is the time to trust God to work as He will, with whatever tools He chooses.
  • Fan the flame, but don't blow it out - when you see movement back to Jesus, celebrate in your heart, but don't jump in and make a big deal of it. You're dealing with a fragile flower here...or maybe better, a broken bone, just healing.
In a perfect world, this is something you'll never deal with - even a "quiet" life offers enough challenges! But if it does, know that there are things you can do to help.

And remember, you promised to be there for better, or for worse.

Walk the walk. Even if you have to carry your mate's heart in your arms.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Church Hopping

When I was younger, there was only one church. It was called The Catholic Church. Period.

From time to time I drove past other churches, with rich exotic names like "Presbyterian", "Baptist", "Episcopalian", and "Lutheran".

I often wondered what went on inside them. The Baptists, I figured, had rather a large swimming pool which served as a centerpiece of their worship services...attended by a lifeguard dressed in animal skins, who was constantly munching on trail mix, and who had a problem buckling some People's sandal straps.

But Presbyterian sounded ominous. I mean, it had a "y" in the middle of the name. Doesn't that sound vaguely threatening to you?

One day, greatly daring, I ventured inside the local church of the Presbyterians. I parked at the edge of the lot, and tried to inconspicuously blend in with the Presbyters moving toward the entrance. Not easy, as I was wearing shorts and sandals (but with no buckle; I wasn't taking chances). Everyone else worse suits and ties (the men, I mean...the women wore modest dark dresses).

They looked at me. I looked back. A large male Presbyter moved to block my path.

"Hi," he said.

"Uh, hi." I was ready to slip out of my sandals and make a dash for it.

"Haven't seen you here before."

Did I look like I was up to no good? A spy for the papists? What would be my fate? I suddenly wished I'd chosen a Baptist church for my adventure. At least I knew how to swim.

I swallowed, and felt my Adam's Apple try to bury itself under my tongue. "I thought I'd stop by, and, you know, go to church."

He nodded. A large young man came up behind him. "You'll sit with us." It was an order. A steely-looking woman slipped behind me, and took my arm.

"We're glad to have you here," she said. She was wearing a modest dark dress. And no hat.

The inside of the church looked like an auditorium, with folding theater seats. I was placed between the man Billy, and the woman Sarah. The boy Todd sat on Sarah's other side, on the aisle. In case I decided to try to escape.

The service began with unfamiliar songs, and an unfamiliar prayer. And then the priest...no, the preacher, stepped up to speak. And he spoke. And he spoke. And he spoke some more. I dared not fidget, dared not fall doze, but he spoke for a powerful long time. He spoke about the Samaritan who found the injured man along the road, the man whom the religious had passed by.

At the end of the service there was more singing. The words were still unfamiliar, but the enthusiasm of the singing made the unfamiliar welcoming, in the way a Chinese family living on a junk might welcome an American sailor.

Back to the parking lot, still under escort. "You'll come to lunch with us?"

Not an order. There was shy wistfulness in what Billy said.

"Sure. I'll follow you?"

The woman Sarah hung back while her husband and son entered their dark and formal Chevrolet. "Thanks," she said.

"I enjoyed it." I was still trying to figure it out.

She looked me in the eye. "It was getting hard for me to get Billy and Todd to come to church, you know? And i said, this morning, Please, just go today. If you don't want to go after today, I won't nag. I won't beg. But give God one more chance?"

And they looked so...churchy.

She pressed my hand. "You'll be here next week?"

I looked at the church, with its long fearful name carrying a "y" in its belly, the tall windows leading into the auditorium where many words lived, and where God lived, too.

"Of course."

I was a stranger, and you made me welcome.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Logically Illogical Love

Paul said that it's better to marry than to burn. While there are some people who, at this juncture, would request a can of gasoline and a match, I think most of us would agree with him.

Of course, what Paul meant was that it's better to be married than to "burn" with both the physical and emotional burdens of unwanted celibacy. His whole point was that our lives should be arranged so as to improve the efficiency of our approach to the Almighty. Generally, a celibate has fewer distractions and can worship more directly; but Paul realized that not everyone is called to that sort of life.

He gave us a choice.

Assuming that you don't live in a culture where you were aimed from birth at an arranged marriage, it's still a choice. But like most choices, it's driven by a lot of internal and external pressures that are miles away from logic and considered motivation

But the question is - is a carefully considered choice the best way to approach marriage, or should we be closer to the model of a trip down a wild river - white water boiling on all sides, the path ahead obscured by standing waves and spray, and the only safe decision being the decision taken quickly and without a look back.

There are some who'd consider the logical approach the way to go. Charles Lindbergh, for instance, looked at Anne Morrow's potential for being a mother. Including, as far as we know, how the width of her hips would allow her to carry and deliver children, Reading his own words, it's a bit like he was considering a brood mare.


But is the opposite better? Is the almost Mediterranean surrender to emotion, the celebration of giddy butterfly-gusts of love and despair, anything like the right way to choose a life-mate? Is it appropriate for anything beyond choosing a weird-sounding sandwich at a Greek gyro street vendor?

Let's call on the archetype of logic, Mr. Spock. Pausing between careful sips of hot plomeek soup, he carefully considers our question.

"Logic would dictate that you follow the example of the Creator in whose image you have been, after all, created. He clearly loves you with a degree of passion and intensity that cannot be explained, nor predicted by logic alone. He has enjoined you to love your spouse using His love for you as a model. The logical conclusion, therefore, embraces the inconsistency of selecting emotional intensity and its resulting illogic in selecting a spouse."

There we are. We have to follow God's plan for us to its logical conclusion, and that is to love with our hearts first, and to never, ever turn away from someone we love in God's model, because of practical considerations (which include, let's say this right away, family disapproval).

Does this make you feel better, or worse?

Oh, one more thing. We are to follow God's love for us, in selecting a lifetime love.

But we also have to follow through with that love, for better for for worse.


Friday, February 15, 2013

No Surrender! (Especially Not To Your Spouse!)

A few days ago, Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku stopped by to offer some marriage advice. Today some of his sailors have volunteered to take up the pen.

I'm just finished an interesting book - "The Battle Of Surigao Strait", by Anthony Tully. It's about the last major ship vs. ship battle in World War Two, off the island of Leyte in the Philippines...and, really, the last big naval battle the world is ever likely to see. What makes it unique is that Tully writes largely from the perspective of the Japanese, using all of the available survivor accounts.

Which number...well, not many. The Japanese lost twp battleships, Fuso and Yamashiro. Each ship carried about 1700 men. Survivors from each numbered ten.

Many hundreds actually survived the sinking, and the American commander, Jesse Oldendorf, sent ships to pick them up. But the Sailors in the water swam away from their rescuers. A few - very few - eventually decided to take the hands that were extended to them. Some were unceremoniously hauled in with boathooks. But most either drowned, or swam ashore to die in the Philippine jungles at the hands of guerrillas.

To the Western mind, this used to be incomprehensible; but it was perfectly natural for the Japanese, steeped in the samurai tradition in which there are no prisoners of war. (I say it used to be incomprehensible, because the recent wars against insurgencies like the Taliban and various groups in Iraq have shown that surrender isn't an option for Americans. It leads to unpleasantries like being skinned alive, and most of the guys - and gals - save the last bullet for themselves.)

But you may be asking, how does this relate to marriage?

Sharing a life with someone leads to countless frictions, on a daily basis, which sometimes flare up into major conflicts (and in retrospect are often caused by the silliest or most trivial things).

Usually we work through them, with harsh words, raised voices, and hurt feelings. Things return to normal within a few hours, or a few days. We often have to eat a bit of humble pie. So does our spouse, but we'll usually tune that out.

But there are some people, and some arguments, which follow a different path. The hot war ends, and one spouse offers the hand of reconciliation, only to have it ignored or slapped away.

Rejected, because some internal standard, usually pride, is seen to have been violated. And the injury festers, with the infection nursed and nurtured into an evil flower.

Because sometimes it feels good to feel bad. We can paint ourselves into a heroic mold, victimized by the uncaring person who should appreciate us more. We can see ourselves as possessed of more sensitivity than Shakespeare's psychiatrist, putting up with hurts that would drive a Baptist to a saloon.

Taken to the extreme, we end up leaving our spouses, perhaps not physically, but in the spirit. We fall in love, and have an affair with...ourselves.

Is anything worth this? Is any hurt to our pride, and real or imagined slight worth taking an axe to the tree in which we're building our life-house?

As yourself, next time you are asked to stoop a little bit, going back through the door into the room where love lives.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Taking Valentine's Day For Granted

Big heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Red roses, with baby's breath. Songs by Michael Buble and Simply Red (well, if you remember the 80s). Big Hallmark cards with syrupy sentiments.

There you go. A short course in romance. Guaranteed to make women feel wanted, and to get men...well, to get men the feeling that they may get what most men want most.

It's fun, I suppose, for both sexes, as long as the attention comes from the right person.

But why not celebrate Valentine's Day all year long?

No, not with the chocolates and cards. Acne, weight gain, and a longing for AC/DC will be the likely result/ But how about things that really demonstrate love?

How about keeping your spouse's car washed, and the oil tank fresh and full, and the tires checked?

How about watching the kids during this week's NASCAR race, without complaint, or even mentioning it?

How about having coffee ready to go in the morning, so all you have to do is plug in the machine to fill the house with that delicious "morning" smell?

How about making sure that when your spouse goes to take out the trash, it's already been done, and she never knew when?

"But I do a lot of that already! And he takes it for granted! He never even mentions it!"

Didn't Jesus say that we're supposed to do our good deeds in secret, that if we publicize them they don't count?

And don't we take, say, the air we breathe for granted? Isn't it a blessing, to have something that God supplied for us to breathe, without having to think about it?

"Granted" means "given". And is it such a bad thing to give a gift, and to have to received? Do you really have to have a "gift" of recognition in return?

Jesus gave us the gift of eternal life, and all He wanted was that we receive it.

Not that we make coffee for Him in return.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Unequally Yoked? (Or, The Intimate Challenge)

Many preachers today thunder against the concept of an unequally yoked couple, to the point of saying that if you're dating an "unbeliever", you should break the relationship off forthwith. (John and Matthew Hagee are particularly...forceful, on this subject.)

Certainly, there are both Scriptural and practical justifications for this. Paul, after all, did speak of this (2 Cor. 6:14)...and there is a lot to be said of a couple moving in the same direction, and looking forward together.

But I wonder. The unfettered heart can often see more clearly than the Word-bound head, and Jesus did offer an intriguing possibility. When he advised the rich young man to sell his belongings, give the proceeds to the poor, and become a disciple, the chap went away sad (mind you, we don't know if he did this or not). When asked who could get into Heaven, Jesus said that no man could make it alone, but that with God, all things are possible.

This opens a door. Marriage is the closest temporal relationship we have, and it provides the best avenue for witnessing that I can think of. Not proselytizing - I doubt that any marriage (or friendship, for that matter) could stand the strain of year-in year-out preaching. But for the Christian partner to simply live the Gospel...that's an incredibly powerful force.

Not only a force, but a calling. If you truly love someone who isn't overly impressed by Christ, it's not too much of a stretch to think that the Savior's power will work through you, giving strength to your faith for the specific purpose of living your life as an example.

And what greater victory than to one day see your mate pick up a Bible one day, and start idly riffling through it. And to hear, "Maybe I'll go to church with you this Sunday...if we can maybe get back before the NASCAR pre-race show?"

I'm fully aware of the obstacles...okay, land mines...that are arrayed on this road. The irritations and squabbles and sheer bloody-mindedness that are a part of every marriage and that can set things back a century or two, with an ill-considered "smart" remark. I'm married, after all (and married twice...to the same very long-suffering woman).

Nevertheless! I think that Jesus threw down a gauntlet to challenge us. To say that all things are possible, and that even if we retain a bare fingertip hold on the hem of Jesus' robe, He'll stoop, not to conquer, but to help us win through.

For our mate, for ourselves, and for Him.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How To Kill A Marriage

Recently a fellow I know was bemoaning the fact that while his wife worked normal office hours, he worked rotating shifts - first and second - and that part of the time neither of them got a very good night's sleep. Either he was coming in late when his wife was already in bed, and usually asleep - or she was getting up in the middle of his "night".

The well-meaning advice he'd been given was simple - separate bedroom. They had the space, and by taking that step they could both enjoy good nights' sleeping, and not have the haze and irritation of fatigue hanging over their lives.

"Sounds like a good idea," he said. "But my wife hates it."

She's right to hate it, because it's a terrible idea, and one of the worst things you can do to a marriage. The custom of a husband and wife sleeping together does more than save space - it's both a symbolic and practical mutual support. You're literally there for your spouse. If you're feeling ill, you can shake him awake, just so you won't feel alone. You've got that right. If you have a nightmare, there's someone there to hold you until the shaking stops. Even if you're fifty.

And you have the shared small intimacies that play a disproportionate role in a relationship - warmth and smell and touch, the sound of breathing, the feeling of having someone in your "space".

Usually these arrangements don't work out - people miss each other enough to ask, "Why are we doing this?", and move back together.

But sometimes this doesn't happen. They stick it out, thinking it's better, reluctant to say, "I miss you, this is stupid!" And the relationship begins to lose the bits and pieces that are a large part of what made it worthwhile in the beginning.

"You can always call me if you need me there!" Cell phones are nice, but calling your spouse to say, "I'm lonely!"? Not very realistic. The lack of proximity carries a subliminal message, and the feeling that you don't want to be a bother looms large.

Sex? In marriage, sex is usually hard to schedule anyway, and virtually depends on familiarity and physical intimacy that's built over time. It's another victim.

And, finally, the pillow talk that's the object of comedians' humor is one of the prime ways we get to know what's going on in our spouses' hearts.  You can bare your soul in the quiet of a bedroom. You can't do the same thing while "The Voice" is on, and he's chatting with someone on Facebook. And you can't make an appointment for it.

Yes, I know that in centuries past, nobility had separate bedrooms as a matter of course. They also had a distinct problem with fidelity.

There's the old saying, "Don't go to bed mad."

I'll add this one. "Don't go to bed apart."

Monday, February 11, 2013

Marriage Advice From Admiral Yamamoto

How can a disastrous decision made by a Japanese admiral in 1942 help your marriage? Read on.

In the spring of 1942, Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku formulated a plan to invade and capture Midway, the atoll that forms the extreme northwest point of the Hawaiian Island chain. Capture of the atoll was not the only aim; Yamamoto felt that the Americans would consider the island important enough to send the remainder of the Pacific Fleet (that which had survived Pearl Harbor) out to do battle, where the Japanese forces would destroy them.

It didn't work out quite that way. Through codebreaking and some good guessing, the US Navy knew the Japanese were coming, and lay in wait. On the morning of June 4, 1942, the Japanese launched an air attack on Midway from their four aircraft carriers...and shortly thereafter, the three carriers the US brought to the fight attacked the Japanese fleet. By the end of the day, the Japanese had lost all four carriers, and their naval strength was damaged beyond any hope of repair.

Yamamoto's error was in his assumption that the Americans would be forced to fight for Midway. They didn't; Midway was actually strategically irrelevant. They came out to ambush the Japanese fleet, and in this, they succeeded. Yamamoto chose to do battle based on the Americans' perceived intentions rather than their capabilities, and this is what lost them the battle, and the bulk of their power-projection capital by which they waged war.

What's more, Yamamoto's read on the Americans' perceived intentions was what he would have done. In other words, when he formulated his plans, the crystal ball he used was really a mirror.

This is something that happens in most marriages as a matter of course. We look at our spouses, and what we see, encourage, and react to is what we think they want, and what we think they will do...based on what we want them to do. (Sometimes, it's based on what we don't want them to do...which is what often happens when we pick a fight.)

And we ignore what they're capable of - their God-given potential.

Do you expect your husband to go to go out for couples' dinners, almost every weekend? He dresses up, and goes, and he's sociable, but does he really enjoy it? Or are you superimposing your fun onto his face?

Did your wife decide not to go back into the workforce, or to graduate school, after your kids were grown because she enjoys keeping the house and yard Better Homes and Gardens neat, or because by word and deed you expect that, and gently (and subconsciously) coerce her cooperation?

Is there something you're not seeing, about what she's capable of? I knew a woman who devoured books on healing psychologically scarred children. She dreamt of making a difference, of going back to school to become a counselor. But her husband didn't see it, and he exerted smiling pressure, telling her how much he appreciated the showpiece house they had. He didn't want to see, and never asked her about her choice of reading.

And then she died in an accident, and he found her diary. He thought to burn it unread, but he couldn't bear to sever that last link with the woman he loved. He began to read, and on reading, was devastated that he'd missed the messages she was trying to send.

She hadn't wanted to disappoint him. But she'd hoped he'd notice that a part of her heart felt wasted. She felt loved for what she was...but ignored for what she could be.

Don't you owe it to your spouse, and yourself, to look him or her fully in the face, and not merely look at the mirror with which you block the hesitant and wistful part of their soul?

(Yes, Admiral Yamamoto's name is given correctly...family name first, per proper Japanese usage. And his given names, Isoroku, means..."fifty-six". His father had many children, and named the future leader of the Japanese fleet for the age he was when his son was born. I guess he just ran out of ideas...)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Christian Cargo Cultists

Remember "cargo cults"? They flourished for awhile after World War 2 among some South pacific island natives. Dazzled by the flow of ships and airplanes, trucks and guns and cokes and toilet paper to the war zone, they were horrified when the war ended and it all went away. So they built fake airstrips populated with bamboo airplanes on mountains, hoping to lure back the airplanes that brought their miracles. (Cargo cults still exist.)

Something similar seems to be happening among Christians today. Rather than working to bring Christ to the modern world, they want to bring the world back to Christ's time, seemingly in the hope that he'll come back to it.

Recently I was listening to the radio, and heard a prominent Christian counselor and personality decry the lack of observance of the Lord's Day. He thought that everything should be closed up on Sundays (essential services excepted, of course), and went on to say that the same should be true of Christmas and Easter.

He invited callers, and got a lot of auditory head-nodding. Not surprising. So I decided to call, and add my two cents worth.

"Hi, my name's Andrew, and Doc, you know, I kind of disagree."

"Well, Andrew, you know, the Lord ordained that we have a day devoted to Him, as a day of rest and worship."

"Sure. We all should. Bit in some cases, at least, doesn't that have to be an individual decision?"

"I don't see that. God is quite clear, that it must be Sunday."

"Well, sure, that worked in a day when everyone kept the same calendar. But you want the cops to be out there, protecting you, right?" Setting him up was almost too easy to be fun. But it was still fun.

"We have to make an exception for public safety, sure." He didn't see it coming.

"So you want they men and women who give up their Sundays to brown-bag it? Starbucks is closed, so let them carry a thermos?"

Silence. Then "And our next caller is Jerome from..."

Jesus walked the dusty roads of the Transjordan two thousand years ago, as part of a society whose norms were far more rigid and uniform than are ours.

And even then, He said that the Sabbath was made for us, and to prove His point, He healed a man with a withered hand, because it would have been unkind to make the poor chap wait even a few more hours.

Jesus live His Father's word dynamically.

We don't need a bamboo airplane to reach or living Savior. All we need is a living heart.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Oh, Come ON!

The "card" on the right has been making the rounds in Facebook, in one form or another. It's one of those sayings that looks very true from the outside, but when you read it carefully...it's hokey. And many variation feature a kitten.


Well, no, I'm not.

Hardship and pain are things that happen to everyone, and simply going through them doesn't confer wisdom, dignity, or magically improved personalities.

In 1990 Almost An Angel came out, starring Paul "Crocodile Dundee" Hogan. He played an apprentice angel who'd been sent to help a crippled young man.

In one scene, the boy says, angrily, "When people look at me all they see is a guy in a wheelchair."

To which Paul Hogan replies, "Nah...they see a jerk in a wheelchair."

The truth is that there is no particular virtue in deep, sorrowful secrets. The amount of tears you shed is no measure of your compassion, merely an indication of an emotional set-point.

And pain can harden hearts as easily as it can make them kind.

It's what you do, not what you experience, that makes the difference.

Friday, February 8, 2013

PTSD - The Soul's Sacrifice

When I started this blog I had intended not to write much about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Not because it's not necessary to talk about, but because it's too close to home.

I've changed my mind, thanks to Ron Paul. On February 2, 2013, Chris Kyle, a SEAL and the author of "American Sniper", was killed, along with a friend, when an attempt to help a Marine veteran of Iraq went horribly wrong. What happened still isn't clear, but they were at a shooting range when the man apparently turned on Chris and his friend.

Mr. Paul offered condolences, but then went on to say that the attempt to help was misguided, and that in any event, "those who live by the sword should expect to die by the sword".

Ron Paul is an idiot.

Combat is something that sears the soul. It exposes a person to events that are so far outside the expected course of life that any coherent frame of reference is shattered, and a new paradigm for life must be built, and built quickly.

The circle of trust is one of the first things affected. Normally, we place a level of trust into the people around us, that they'll behave in ways that are expected, rational, and congruent with the values that bind our society together. Combat - especially asymmetrical combat against "insurgents", changes that.

Suddenly, a pile of trash, or a dead animal by the side of the road, may hide a bomb big enough to kill a vehicle, packed with nails and bolts to shred the body. A group of people may be having an afternoon chat, or they may be hiding an insurgent with a rocket-propelled grenade.

An oncoming vehicle may suddenly swerve into your lane, and self-detonate.

A pretty girl may be willing to flirt, and she may also be wearing a suicide vest, packed with explosives.

In combat things happen quickly. Reaction time is the key to survival. Not just ducking, but also assessing the situation and fighting back, hard.

And what is seen there, what is smelled there, what is heard there...has to be blanked off, so that duties can be carried out. The dead child, the charnel-house of a suicide bomb in a market, have to be walled off with a wall of numbness, because the only viable human reactions are tears, and despair.

At the end of all of this, the Marine or soldier is expected to return to an America that has little understanding of, or interest in the war, and which also maintains a degree of disapproval for the whole thing, fueled by political and economic considerations, and bolstered by a whiff of self-righteousness. "Our men and women went to war, while America went to the mall" is not a cliche. It's all around us.

PTSD is a psychic dislocation. War changes us, and the changes are permanent. What's seen can't be forgotten, and in the best case, the reactions go into a box that can be readily pulled out.

In the worst case, the box is never closed. In the worst case, part of the soul has been amputated.

We live in a society in which the quick fix is prized above all. Whether it's through medicine or therapy, PTSD should be curable.

Or you can withdraw, because the effort isn't worthwhile. You can shield your heart and soul from injury and from the blind contempt of the unknowing, choosing to let yourself remain, like Mohammed's tomb, suspended halfway between heaven and hell.

This isn't a plea for pity. If you've been there, you know that PTSD is an honorable scar. If you haven't, you have no right to offer pity.

The best way you can help is to understand that these men and women have sacrificed their future in defence of the life you enjoy. The gasoline you use to go to the mall, or the golf course, or the mall, has been purchased with their blood, and with the essence of souls.

(For those who might be interested - I'm going to be offering a manuscript evaluation service for fellow authors. Details will follow in a future post, but to summarize - it'll include reading for language, continuity, character consistency, and technical accuracy in my areas of expertise, with free query letter evaluation - the introiductory price will be $1.75/1000 words. Please contact me at tempusfugit02 (at) gmail (dot) com for more details.)

Thursday, February 7, 2013


(For those who might be interested - I'm going to be offering a manuscript evaluation service for fellow authors. Details will follow in a future post, but to summarize - it'll include reading for language, continuity, character consistency, and technical accuracy in my areas of expertise, with free query letter evaluation - the introductory price will be $1.75/1000 words. Please contact me at tempusfugit02 (at) gmail (dot) com for more details. Now, on to today's subject)

One of the most difficult parts of marriage is dealing with a spouse's serious or terminal illness. It changes the present, and changes the future. Plans are put on hold or set aside, hopes fade, dreams die. The demon in the body corporeal comes to dominate the home.

The Hallmark view is that shared crisis brings us closer together, in an outpouring of sympathy and warm love, gentle hands easing pain, kind words bolstering courage, steady smiles reinforcing faith. It's true - much of the time.

But such is the thoroughness of the demon's attack that the healthy spouse will pull open a door, just a crack...the door marked "But what about ME?"

Living in a shadow is tough. "How's he doing?" is a question that gets awfully tiring. The thoughtful follow-on is "And how are you holding up?" As if you're an overloaded bridge.

Which, of course, is exactly what you are, with a sagging deck and groaning columns.

The demon will often be kind enough to send help. A co-worker, or perhaps someone from church, will focus on you, and it feels so good! Humanity recognized, you feel like a dying plant moved into the sunlight, and given water and framework on which to lean, and gather strength.

And what is more healing than a hug? And a kiss on the cheek...and hands held a little longer each time.

"I deserve this. I need this." A hug that can be held without fear of causing pain, conversation that doesn't feel like borrowed time. A new normal.

After all, you've got to be ready to move on.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

One of the recurrent yearnings among some Christians is the desire to get to Heaven and meet the famous people from the Bible. While this is a laudable goal, showing a very direct faith and a very literal acceptance of the Good Book, it does make me wonder...

What were these people really like?

As card-carrying members of a Mediterranean Bronze-Age society, they would have had some characteristics that would be startlingly different from our 21st century norms.

For instance, on meeting, their overall fitness level would have been far greater, for the obvious reason that the only labor-saving devices were the horse and the wheel. Many of us will drive if faced with a trip of more than a couple of blocks - these folks most certainly did not. Not that they didn't want to, but their horses were kept at some remove from their living quarters, and getting a horse ready to go is more than a turn-key operation.

They dressed differently. Robes are just easier to make, and they have the advantage of being warmer in winter and cooler in summer than our form-fitting clothes.

To put it delicately, standards of hygiene were...uh, different. The rich bathed frequently; the poor, rarely. It simply wasn't part of the cultural norm for two reasons. First, water had to be carried from wells to cisterns in their houses, or kept in skin bags in their tents. Second, in a labor-intensive society, there wasn't time.

Assuming we're equipped with a Star Trek Universal Translator, we would have found conversation a surprise...mainly because their unrefined appearance and aroma would not be borne out by their intellectual sophistication. A character in the movie Black Hawk Down says "Do not make the mistake of thinking that because I grew up without running water I am simple". Many, if not most of the Bible-folk would have spoken more than one language, and would have had some familiarity with the literature of their day, mainly through oral sources. They may have been literate, but books were rare.

The most striking difference would be their faith. God would have been as real to them as the rocks, the donkeys, and the tribe in the next valley. They would see His hand in everything, thank Him for his blessings and bounty, and accept His judgement when things went wrong.

And how would they see us? Probably as effete posers, with a hard veneer and a pathetically soft interior, smelling weirdly of soap and aftershave, rather lazy...and irreligious.

Because the big difference is that our faith could never match theirs.

We would have a lot to learn from the meeting.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Role Reversal

Do they still have Sadie Hawkins dances, where the women ask the men to dance?

They were fun, and different...somehow less predatory, more charming.

That innocence and charm translates well, when a woman asks a man for a date. It doesn't happen nearly often enough - and never happened to me - but it seems to be a way to fundamentally shift some of the characteristics that define relationships.

It's probably an open secret that men get tired of being in control, of always having to be the 'active party' in the early stages of a relationship. I know I did, and there were years where I just refused to date at all.

For those women who are single, or who have single friends, here are some thoughts on how to approach a man to ask for a date.
  • Put aside shyness - a bashful manner is a plea for someone else to take control. Popular culture says it's cute, but all it really shows is a lack of confidence and purpose. If you tend to feign shyness, don't. If you're naturally shy, keep in mind that the man you're approaching probably has a touch of that, as well
  • Smile - most people have nice smiles. Ask a friend to evaluate yours...I'll bet the smile that makes you feel self-conscious (too many teeth showing! it's crooked!) is really winning.
  • Speak up - start by saying "Hi!" in a clear, friendly voice. It's the best pickup line imaginable, and most men will be bowled over by a woman coming up and just saying hello. I would have been.
  • Be direct and specific - if you're interested, say so, and bring up a plan - immediately. If you're at a party, try this..."Hi! I noticed you when I came in. I'd like to get to know you...would you like to go out for coffee on Saturday?"
  • Touch - gently touch his forearm, or shoulder. Don't hug, don't do anything that implies physical intimacy, because that'll spoil the magic you're creating.
  • Don't linger - once you've made the date, go. The next step has been arranged, and avoid the temptation to take an advance on that event. Let it bloom in its own fullness.
  • Don't debrief with your friends - this is your moment, for one thing. For another, if you talk to a friend who knows someone who knows someone who knows your upcoming date, there's a good chance he'll hear about what you said. Even if what you say is complimentary, and passed on as such, he'll feel a little bit less special, less exclusive. Wouldn't you?
(If you get a "no, thanks", well...that happens, and it likely has nothing to do with you. He's committed, or gay, or about to deploy to Afghanistan. If he were free to accept, he would have. And if that happens, smile, say goodbye, and move on. And don't, whatever you do, approach someone else. Would you want to be someone's second choice? The common myth is that men aren't very observant. That's not always true.)

Being happily married, I'm pretty sure this is something I'll never experience. But if it's something you can and would like to try, rest assured...you'll enjoy the process more than you expect, and you'll make some lucky fellow's day.

And maybe his whole life.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Place Not Worth Visiting

I recently discovered another use for the Internet...I looked up some of the names of places that were familiar to me in childhood, in the city in which I grew up.

Bowling alleys, pool halls, stores, restaurants...it was surprising how many of them were no longer extant, but were mentioned in several websites devoted to preserving the flavor of the place as it was.

For a little while, the past came alive, in a haunted, melancholy way. The bowling alley where my team won the city championship is a fading memory. You can buy one of the matchbooks they gave out...on eBay, as a curiousity.

Another of the alleys closed, but quickly reopened under new management, with all sorts of special effects...carbon-dioxide fog while bowling. Who would have thought? And the telephone number was the same...it tickled a memory of dialup phones, and reserving a pair of lanes.

A miniature golf course is now the site of a large house, but it was gratifying to learn that others remembered it with fondness. The delight of the eight-year-old I used to be.

A local fast-food place that made the best French Fries I ever had...which employed the most beautiful woman I never asked out.

The city is changed beyond recognition. I last visited in 1995, and I had no intention of ever going back, but thanks to this medium, unimagined when I came of age, I was able to walk the vanished streets again, and to hear the voices of friends now scattered, now dead.

And what does it all mean?

Nothing. Not a blessed thing. All of the memories are just so much smoke, all the visions in my mind's eye, reflections in so many thrift-store mirrors.

Henry Ford once said that history is bunk. I wouldn't say that.

But I would say that personal reminiscing is a waste of time. Those days are finished. I have faith that what was good, will somehow be preserved, and I hope that what was bad will be forgotten.

Today is what counts. Today, beholden to dreams of tomorrow, not manacled to a dead past.

Maybe I am what my past has shaped. But tomorrow is formed by me, today.

I'm greedy. I will not share it with my yesterdays.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Why Does Our Church Look Like That?

What's your church like? Is it a traditional brick building, with a nave, a crossing, and an apse, and stained-glass windows casting lovely colored shadows in the changing light?

Or is it a modern, auditorium church, with individual, comfortable seats, an altar area that looks like a stage, and a sophisticated sound and video system?

Perhaps it's a church-in-the-round, in which you may be treated to a view of the pastor's back, if you arrive late? Or a storefront, with folding chairs and a hand-me-down lectern perched uneasily on a banquet table?

What's the right form for a church, anyway? (This isn't a trick question - I'm not going to pull a fast one, and say, "Oh, but the people are really the church. I'm talking about buildings.)

Jesus, of course, made occasional appearances in synagogues, but never had a church to call His own. He left Peter with that job. Most of His preaching was done under the open sky, using some kind of prominent position - if available - from which to speak. Like a hillside - witness the Sermon on the Mount.

Peter and Paul took over the organization of a formal religious body, and the establishment of doctrine (which means, basically, "how things are done"). Places of worship needed to have the form that fit the intended doctrinaire function - the members would be told Jesus' story and teachings, and they needed a place in which that could be done. Early churches were, of course, rooms in the houses of members.

The development of the traditional cruciform church was also a case of form following function, but with a twist. Early church members were probably, as a rule, literate. They could well read the Scriptures, and many could do a passable job of theological interpretation.

As Christianity spread across the Mediterranean and into Europe, the situation changed. Illiterate Christians began to outnumber the literate, and the church building had to become a teaching tool. This began with the basic fabric of the building - its first job was to give a sense of open and high space, that would draw the thoughts, emotions, and prayers of the members upward. Most buildings were small, dank, dirty, and mean, and the church building had, as much as possible, to be the antithesis of this very "earthy" daily life.

The spire had the practical function of carrying bells which announced the time for worship, but also spoke a visual language, reaching as high as possible to the sky.

Call it advertising for Heaven!

The long naves were needed to accommodate as many people as necessary (naves were typically narrow until the last hundred years or so, because spanning a wide, heavy roof was a difficult structural problem). The separation of the nave from the altar area - the business end - was achieved by a crossing, which housed side altars for directed worship, but also underscored the difference between the congregation and the clerics...indeed, the laity were generally not allowed past the crossing.

Decoration, in the form of carvings, statuary, and stained glass, was also intended to invoke the eternal, but it had a more direct role - education. They told Bible stories, in the way the Sunday-school primers used to teach children, and computer-based primers do today. Decoration had the added benefit of creating a common vision of the transcendent - people were very likely to have the same mental image summoned for the same people and events, because of the way they were taught.

(Church authorities took on a very paternalistic attitude toward their members...the Catholic expression, "the poor, simple faithful" was in common usage until quite recently.)

Now, we've returned (in most parts of the world) to a literate Body of Christ. Churches are still built to evoke soaring spiritual feelings (when the money's available, anyway), but stained-glass is now mainly decoration, and statues are few and far between.

We've traveled a long way, in the living and evolving design of our places of worship.

I think Jesus would feel at home.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Choosing a College - Faith on Campus

Going to college can be enriching, or it can be, literally, soul-searing. As in, if you so believe, training a child to "stand in the way of sinners, sit in the seat of the scornful" and so choose Hell over Heaven.

Public colleges can be particularly hostile to faith. They begin with a "First Amendment" mission that proscribes a state religion - which is as it should be. The United States was founded to allow freedom for all to practice what they believe.

But these people pervert the Establishment Clause to make atheism the official belief of the institution. When I went through the interview process for a teaching job, I learned - very quickly - that I should not mention religion, and that if I wanted a job I should laugh at the interviewer's jibes againt "Bible Thumpers". I was able to do the former, but as a devout Buddhist at the time I could not allow myself to disrespect my Christian brethren. Those jobs, I did not get, and I did not want.

This means that the people who are taching your child are either very private in their faith, or, ideally (from the administration's point of view), militant atheists.

If a believer mentions Christ in the classroom, he or she will be censured, and can be summarily fired. For the believing teacher, the working environment is generally very unpleasant, and one must learn to accept ridicule of one's Lord and Savior...or, if one chooses to speak out, personal ridicule and threats to one's livlihood. That's just the way it is.

On the other hand, an atheist who makes fun of faith in the classroom has no such concerns. These people take it upon themselves - and I have heard and seen this - to break the faith of young people, and make them face reality. Their version of reality.

It's not limited to the sciences, where Evolutionists hold sway. English teachers, whose courses are required for incoming freshmen, will gleefully choose reading that advances their agenda.

Secular private schools are often no better. Under a banner of "intellectualism" they often take pride in the same sort of activities and attitudes. "A true intellectual can't be a Christian."

Faith-based colleges are, to my mind, the best place to go. Not only do they provide a soul-friendly environment, they tend to be accepting and welcoming to all faiths. A Buddhist as Southern Methodist will be treated with respect and diginity, while a Christian at UCLA will be made to feel like an idiot.

If the choice has to be a public or secular school, it's important for the religiously active freshman to make contacts with a local church ahead of time. The local congregations know the score, and they provide a haven that's vitally necessary.

It's important for the agnostic freshman, as well. Think about this, as you decide...because your chiuld will be proseletyzed. Do you want her, or him, to be in the hands of someone who will do their best to destroy the potential for the faith which may see them through some of life's dark hours?

"Raise a child in the right way, so he or she stays with it through life." As a parent, this is your responsibility.

Because they are still children. YOUR CHILDREN.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Choosing a College - Part One

For those of you whose children are getting ready to choose which college they'd like to attend, congratulations! If this is your first, you'll be setting off on a journey with them that will in turns inspire you, exasperate you, break your heart, and give you the ultimate satisfaction of seeing this person you've brought into the world go forth to live and love.

Choosing the right college can be tough, though. By now the application process is probably done, and you're waiting for the letters...and the choice.

College is a singular experience - it's the transition between childhood and adulthood. It carries many adult rights and responsibilities, but placed in a context that blends vital challenges, opportunities for unique experiences, and freedoms that won't be there later. It's not just another four years.
  • College will set the tone for life - the classes taken, the activities in which your child participates, will shape their tomorrows. Be sure that the school selected offers the best range - and that means the best range which allows the potential for a radical shift in focus, like the budding engineer deciding to be a playwright.
  • There will be freedom that will not come again - this is generally spelled T-R-A-V-E-L. College kids seem to go everywhere on very little money, and with very little luggage. Some of these trips can change a perspective, and change a life. Try to be sure that these opportunities are preserved, say, by ensuring that the school chosen is not so expensive that it's noit wall-to-wall wpork just to stay there.
  • College is where your cild will find lifetimes friends, and probably a spouse - the shared experiences of these years bring young people together in a way that few other things do, and their unarmored hearts allow them to develop relationships that will be simply impossible in later life. Choose a place where your child will feel challenged, but not out of place.
  • Name can be everything, but how much is everything? - In some professions, the school chosen for the undergraduate degree is what makes the difference between success and mediocrity later. It has nothing to do with the quality of education, or necessarily "who you know". It's just the name. Journalism is like this. Engineering, typically not. (However - be aware that there the Old Boy Network still exists...the opportunities that will be available to a Main Line Philadelphian who attends Vanderbilt on family legacy will not be conferred on the rural Kansan who gets in by merit.)
  • Beware the "Party School" - a school with a public reputation for hard partying will generally expose your child to underage drinking, drug use, and other things you'd rather not see.
  • Beware the "Weeder School" - at the other end of the spectrum is the school that presents itself as being so academically stern that only the best will prevail. This is presumptuous hogwash. Some majors require more savvy than others, but a high percentage of failing students only means that the teachers aren't really interested in teaching, so they hide behind a voodoo mask of academic rigor. Don't for a minute be taken in by these posers. They delight in ruining students' self-confidence, and in stunting lives.
  • Try to avoid coed dorms - if the only dorms available are coed, I'd go so far as to say, look elsewhere. Coed living is more than most 18-22 year olds can handle. It';s a kind of forced, artificial intimacy that deans like to parrott as a "growing experience". It's just 60s hippie-dippy Free Love licentuousness...what the 60-year-old administrators wish they had. In the years I taught at the college level, NOTHING caused more heartbreak than the "coed dorm experience".
  • Sports are good! - it's great if a school has a winning football or basketball team...attending games provides a lot of school spirit taht will be remembered in later years.
Enough generalities. Tomorrow we'll look at the most important question of all - faith. It's the most important question for two reasons. The first is that higher education can deliberately strip a young person of their faith, based on pressure and ridicule...and it's also a basic question of freedom.