Friday, October 12, 2018

THE GREAT JUDGE AND THE FINAL JUDGEMENT

"Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.  Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire."
Revelation 20:11-15 (New International Version)

The grisly spectacle is finally over. After what seemed to be an eternity of interrogation and accusations, Brett Kavanaugh has finally been sworn in as the ninth associate Justice to our current Supreme Court. It came after a lot of bloodletting that was reminiscent of the cruel manner the Senate Judiciary Committee treated Clarence Thomas in October of 1991. 

Despite having had multiple FBI investigations, a spotless judicial record and with hundreds of rulings for the Judiciary Committee to see and numerous character witnesses vouching for his character, the Democrats on the committee produced an eleventh hour accuser who claimed Kavanaugh had tried to rape her sometime in 1982 or 1983 or sometime during the 1980's. She also didn't exactly know where it happened. The only thing she knew thirty five years after the attack was that it was him. How could she know it was him when she didn't know anything else about the attack? Her therapist somehow managed to get her to see the light, with the help of an attorney once Kavanaugh was submitted as a candidate for the High Court.

From there, the madness quickly descended from the gutter to the sewer. Another accuser came forward claiming that he had groped her and exposed himself to her, with no evidence whatsoever to back up her allegation, followed by a woman represented by a singularly nasty "porn lawyer." According to the woman, Kavanaugh was once a member of a team of gang rapists who preyed on young women in Maryland sometime during the early 1980's. As it was with his other accusers, there was no one who could corroborate the stories. When all of that became too far fetched to believe, the committee began attacking his high school and college drinking habits, notes made on his  personal calendar and high school yearbook, then his temperament. He was even accused of not having a proper judicial temperament when he had the unmitigated gall to forcefully defend himself before the committee.

As the nasty process ground on, I tried comforting myself with the notion that the Salem witch trials were much worse, but that didn't help. Next, I tried the comedy of Monty Python and the convoluted logic of determining whether or not a woman was a witch.

While Monty Python was hilarious, as they almost always were, it didn't seem very funny this time. The sight  of a man defending his unjustly shredded honor while his wife, two daughters, and the judge's faithful supporters sat helplessly behind him, wasn't hilarious at all. It was an injustice of immense proportions.

Not to be outdone by the antics of the committee, the  news media piled on for good measure. If the Democrats on the committee saw fit to find Kavanaugh guilty of the crimes and misdemeanors  he was accused of without without a shred of evidence to support the accusations, he obviously had to be guilty. The media agreed and began to paint a portrait of a drunken pervert for the whole country to see.
Somehow, thanks to the tenacity of Kavanaugh and his supporters, he survived the ordeal and now sits on the High Court.

In the light of these sad events, I've been giving thought to our notions of what constitutes a Supreme Court and the meaning of justice in America. I've concluded that our only hope for justice will one day be realized, sooner, I hope, rather than later.

More than ever these days I find myself hoping and praying for that justice to be fulfilled, as it has been promised to us in Holy Writ.

On this side of eternity, those who would be deemed qualified to sit in judgement over us and our man-made law, must be made to run the gauntlet. Investigative agencies pore over their past deeds. Legal scholars look in every jot or tittle of  their legal briefs for any hint of error. Politicians scrutinize their histories, hoping to find something they've said that  runs counter to their intertogators' political agendas, Roe versus Wade, for example.The brutal process begins with a select Senate committee and winds its way tortuously to a full Senate for a final vote. That, and the media circus that surrounds it, is about as insane as it could possibly get.

On the eternal side of eternity, there are a few things that are  somewhat similar to our way of doing things here on Terra Firma and quite a few that are different. Here on earth, for example, a government body, the Senate, examines every candidate who has been selected for the Supreme Court. It's not that way in the eternal court. There is no candidate to grill for days on end. The position in heaven was filled a long, long time ago and that judge was selected by the Almighty himself.   Also, while our system calls for nine judges to  decide whether or not a law is Constitutional or a plaintiff's arguments have enough legal weight for the High Court to rule in the plaintiff's favor, there is only one judge in heaven. In both cases, the High Court's ruling is final. After that final ruling, there is no other avenue of appeal available. In terms of integrity and character, both courts have high standards. A judge must be honest, unimpeachable, and fair in his or her rulings. A good judge must never show preference for the rich over the poor. A good judge must not kowtow to special interests or  political partisanship. A good judge's reasoning ability must be sound and the decisions he or she renders  should carry considerable moral weight. That's not always the case in our earthly system. In 1857, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Dred Scott, a slave who moved to a free state, had to be returned to his slave owner in the south. The Court's reasoned that, since Scott was not a U.S.citizen by virtue of his slavery, he had to be nothing more than property to be disposed of at the whim of his "owner." One would think that a decision that important would be close. It wasn't. The Court ruled against Dred Scott seven to two. In 1927, Carrie Buck, a citizen of Virginia with limited mental ability (at 18 years of age, she had only gone through the sixth grade in school), was committed to a state facility as a "feeble minded" person. One thing led to another and the board of directors of the institution ordered her to be involuntarily sterilized. Her guardian appealed the ruling and Carrie's case made it all the way to the Supreme Court (Buck v. Bell). Her attorneys argued that her Fourteenth Amendment rights  to procreate had been violated.  The Court' s final ruling was 8-1 and the sterilization order proceeded. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was one of the eight justices who ruled against Carrie Buck. His words in defense of the decision still have the same sting today that they must have had almost a hundred years ago - "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." In a 2005 case, the Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, against Susette Kelo in an eminent domain case in which she sued the City of New London, Connecticut for what she believed was its misapplication of the eminent domain doctrine when the city condemned her property to make room for a business venture that the city thought would provide economic benefit to the entire city. I believe it was a terrible decision. I'm not a legal expert, but the idea that a municipality can take my property and give it to someone who wants to build a pizza parlor is ludicrous.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Human justice is imperfect. It's sometimes as fallen as the rest of humanity. Even a good judge can render a bad decision (Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Kelo ruling, for example).  This, however, is not the case in the High Court of heavenly justice. The chief justice of that court will rule the world and the people with justice and integrity (Psalm 9:8, Isaiah 11:5, Jeremiah 23:5). When that great day comes, he will not need the approval of a Senate committee or the entire Senate to approve of him. He won the heavenly confirmation battle here on earth and he has the scars inflicted on him in his hands and side during that process to prove it. They won't be rooting around in his high school yearbooks or calendars. In fact, he just might be rooting around in theirs. You've got to know he'll find more dirt in theirs then they ever did in Brett Kavanaugh's. The heavenly judge is well acquainted with the sting of false accusations. He was accused of being a drunkard and a friend of deplorables and dregs (Matthew 11:19). He was accused of blasphemy more than once by the religious leaders of his day (Mark 14). At his trial he was accused of sedition (Luke 23) and saying he would destroy the temple of God (Matthew 26). His accusers twisted his words in order to render a guilty verdict on their charge of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65). From that point on, his accusers had no further need for witnesses against him (Matthew 26:65).  That portion of his trial ended with one final indignity. His accusers spit on and beat him. "Prophesy to us, Messiah," they howled. "Who hit you?"

The entire sham dragged on, with Jesus being dragged from pillar to post, from Pilate to Herod and back again. The climax came when Jesus' accusers demanded that Pilate pronounce the death penalty. They didn't even have the courage of their supposed convictions and had to use a Roman procurator as their hit man. Not long after that, Jesus was nailed to a cross at Golgatha. He was an innocent man. He really was who he said he was, but he died a criminal's death.

When I was young, I used to recite the Apostle's Creed in the Episcopal church I attended. Whenever we got to the place where we were to recite, "He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead," I would either mumble the words or go silent. I didn't believe them back then. I do now!

There is a Supreme Court in heaven and there is a Chief Justice who will one day make the final rulings. As it is with our Supreme Court here on earth, there will be no avenue of appeal available. The Judge's ruling will be final. The parameters of that judgement outlined in Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 20:11-15. (see introduction to this post)

Knowing this, a prudent person would retain the services of a skilled advocate/attorney when that inevitable day of judgement comes. Thankfully, the heavenly Court has provided an advocate for all those who admit their guilt and lean on the mercy of the court. That arrangement is available to all, including United States Senators, deplorables, dregs, false accusers, and assorted sinners of all stripes.

That's the plea I intend to make when my moment in the dock comes. And, I've been assured by my advocate that the penalty for every sin I ever committed has been paid for in full because he has told me he was the one who paid the debt that justice demanded.  I know that now by faith, but there is a day coming when I will know it by sight: when I see my advocate's nail pierced hands and wounded side.

Will everyone accept this merciful arrangement? Apparently not. We are all free moral agents. We can choose to either embrace or reject the mercy offered. That choice will be the one that determines our eternal destiny.



Thursday, October 04, 2018

"The Third Compromise"

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.”

  • Exodus 8:1 (New International Version)
A few weeks ago, I went over to Haag Pharmacy to pick up a prescription for my wife. As I walked toward the entrance, I found myself caught up in the sights and sounds of children playing and laughing in the adjacent playground of Emporia Christian School. If I could have, I’d have lingered a while longer. It just felt so good, for an all too fleeting moment, to be transported away from the insanity of modern life.
When I got inside the pharmacy, I was re-transported back into the realities of adult life in America. That’s the world where about 40 million of us are taking prescribed anti-depressants and psychotropics. It’s a world dominated by Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Xanax, Ativan, Ritalin, or some newly concocted chill pill. There are millions more of us taking Demerol, Oxycodone, and Percocet for our pain. Too often, the reward for using these painkillers is addiction. I’ve heard that using them for only five days can turrn a corporate executive, an undertaker, a truck driver, or a college professor into a mumbing, toothless junkie. And, wonder of wonders, it’s all approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Now, mind you, I don’t fault  Amber and her crew. They’ve absolutely delightful people. They’re not the ones responsible for society’s ills. They’re only doing what the doctor ordered and the doctor is only trying to fix problems that he or she didn’t create.  But, I digress. I need to move on.
I was greeted by a smiling face as soon as I got to the counter. “How are you, Phil? It’s good to see you.  How can I help you?” “I’m good. I’m here for Nancy’s regulars,” I responded.
With my mind still trying to wrap itself around the joy those kids were experiencing in the playground next door, I paid for the prescriptions and made a bit of small talk before I left. “The kids next door are absolutely wonderful. They’re infectious, don’t you think?” The clerk smiled and nodded in agreement. I closed the conversation on a somber note. “The sad thing is, some of these happy kids are going to grow up and become United States Senators some day. I can’t figure it out. How does something like that happen? How does it all go off the rails?”
Realizing it wouldn’t be fair for me to expect an answer to the question, I made my way to the exit.
The questions have been nagging at me ever since. How? How? How? One day these kids are happy and content. Then, gradually, they get pumped full of Ritalin, Prozac, or painkillers and their heads are turned inside-out. The process repeats itself over time and they’re ruined. The only thing they’re good for in the end is the United States Senate.
I’ve been giving this thought since that brief encounter, racking my brain for solutions to the problem. I’ve concluded the only thing that makes much sense to me is for those of us who are Christian to never send our kids to  public school at all. Let them learn about life on their own. They seem to do a far better job of learning how life is supposed to work without a lot of adult interference and instruction.
“Why, Phil,” you say. “That’s a bit too radical; it’s insane. Our children need to get an education. After all, how are they ever going to succeed in this world without an education?
That argument might have worked well on me a few years ago, but not these days. If  what the world considers success and God considers success could be put side by side into writing, one thing would become abundantly clear. God’s ideas about success are radically different than the “world’s.”
It’s been that way for millennia.
When I was in graduate school, I became acquainted with the work of Peter Marshall, a Presbyterian minister who emigrated from Scotland in the 1920’s and by the 1940’s had become Chaplain of the United States Senate. He died when he was in his forties. While his life was short, his legacy was rich and full. Whatever he was given in life, he used for the glory of God and the good of mankind. That was especially evident in the way he used worldly wealth. He died nearly penniless, with just a few dollars in his accounts to pass on to posterity.  Some people thought that this was a terrible thing for him to do to his family, but his wife, Catherine, thought otherwise. She once observed that she was quite proud of the example he'd set in life. She let the critics know that he had used every resource he had been given in life to the best possible end.
I think of a man like Peter Marshall and ask myself what he might have to say about our children and the educational system we plunge them into these days. I believe I know the answer. In fact, I’m sure I know.
Some time during the 1940’s, Peter Marshall preached a sermon that is now best known as “The Third Compromise.”
What, you might ask, was or is “The Third Compromise?” It was Marshall’s commentary on the contest of wills between God and Pharaoh recorded in the book of Exodus. “The Third Compromise” can be found in chapter 10 of that book.
Prior to chapter 10, Moses outlines God’s requirements for his people, under the broad umbrella of the now famous words, “Let my people go that they may worship me.” In response, Pharaoh offers a series of compromises -  (1) the people may go, but they must worship in the land of Egypt, (2) the people may go, but they cannot go too far, (3) the men can go, but the children must stay in Egypt, and (4) All can go, but their possessions cannot go with them.
In the end, every compromise is rejected. The first is rejected when Moses tells Pharaoh that the children of Israel are to leave Egypt and go three days into the wilderness to worship God. Pharaoh responds by telling Moses the people can go, but not too far, which was another way of saying, “Don’t get too carried away with your religion business." It was a very twenty-first century response, but it was also rejected.
This brings me to “The Third Compromise.” Pharaoh’s offer and Moses’ and God’s response are outlined in the 10th chapter of Exodus, which follows
“Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. “Go, worship the Lord your God,” he  said. “But tell me who will be going.” Moses answered, “We will go with our young and our old, witth our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the Lord.” Pharaoh said, “The Lord be with you—if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil. No! Have only the men go and worship the Lord, since that’s what you have been asking for.” Then Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.” (Exodus 10:8-10, New International Version)

It is this “Third Compromise” that far too many Christians have been willing to embrace and they have done it to the detriment of the faith they profess in.
In his sermon on the subject, Reverend Marshall puts the peril of the compromise succinctly:
“This was perhaps the most subtle and the most successful of all the compromises, because even the most godly parents today desire worldly prosperity and position for their children. They want their children to stay in Egypt, they want their children to find success and approval in Egypt. One of the greatest problems facing the church today is the fact that so many children and young people are still in Egypt with the approval and the consent of their parents.”
While some Christians opt for Christian schools or homeschooling, most send their children to public schools, which are supposedly neutral on the subject of religious faith, to learn the skills they’ll need in life to become “successful.”
In this regard, Reverend Marshall’s words from the 1940’s are prescient and powerful:  “If you give to your children an account of the world from which God is left out, you will teach them to understand the world without reference to God.”
I see 21st America and see the results of the “Third Compromise.” I see it in the ever increasing cohort of young people who want nothing to do with Christianity and even when they do, their belief systems are based on what the “world” believes it  should be, not God’s. The current moniker for this cohort is “Nones.” How’s that for a belief system? It might just as well be Bette Midler’s famous “Whatever!”
Does this mean that the parents who have made this compromise don’t care about their children? No, of course not. As Reverend Marshall also observed, these parents give their children the best medical and dental care. They make sure their children's posture is perfect and their grasp of social graces are outstanding. They pay fortunes for college tuition. But while “their bodies and their minds are carefully nurtured and trained while their souls are starved and neglected.”
I think of young children today and conclude, sadly, that this is how our children become United States Senators or anything else we deem to be important in life. Far too many of them enter the fray without much of an internal rudder to guide them other than ambition and self-interest. They are thrown into a world where that ethic prevails. It’s every man for himself. It’s do whatever ambition and self-interest tell you to do, even if it means destroying your fellow travelers.
Peter Marshall hasn’t been the only one who has seen the peril before the Christian world. About a year ago, I read Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option - A Strategy for Christians in a Post Christian Nation.” Dreher has observed what Peter Marshall observed more than a half a century before him. He has seen that “Christians often talk about “reaching the culture” without realizing that, having no distinct Christian culture of their own, they have been co-opted by the secular culture they wish to evangelize.” In other words, they have fallen prey to Pharaoh’s “Third Compromise.”
Dreher sees all to well that “American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears.”
But how can we come to our senses? Dreher’s prescription is simple, right to the point:
“If we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world, in deep prayer and substantial spiritual training—just as Jesus retreated to the desert to pray before ministering to the people. We cannot give the world what we do not have.”  
As it was in the time of Moses, I believe it’s time for Christians who truly want to live the Christian life to go into the wilderness, as it were, to worship God without the influence of the “world" to corrupt us. I don’t have a clear idea of what that life looks like. Like most people, I’ve been too caught up in the affairs of this world to see the objective clearly. But, I am convinced that it is time for us to tell the Pharaohs of our time, “Let my people go, that they may worship me.”
Peter Marshall closed that famous sermon with a critical question. It was critical back in the 1940’s. It’s even more critical today.
I’ll close with that question and leave it with you, the reader:
“What is the good of your son's phi-beta-kappa key, or your girl's successful career in music or art or journalism, if they don't know God, if they are not saved, if they have not entered into a saving relationship with God through Christ, if they are spiritually illiterate or spiritually dead? That’s the question you will have to answer if your children are left in Egypt.”

Saturday, September 22, 2018

HOMEWARD BOUND

 “Bind me not to the pasture 
Chain me not to the plow 
Set me free to find my calling 
And I'll return to you somehow
If you find it's me you're missing 
If you're hoping I'll return, 
To your thoughts I'll soon be listening, 
And in the road I'll stop and turn 
Then the wind will set me racing 
 As my journey nears its end 
And the path I'll be retracing 
When I'm homeward bound again.” 
“Homeward Bound” by Marta Keen Thompson 

We just got back from an extended weekend, part of which we spent in Eureka Springs, Arkansas celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary and part of it with a small group of fellow Christians at a retreat center on the shores of Table Rock Lake.

We didn’t do anything earth shattering. We celebrated our anniversary at the Bavarian Inn in Eurkea Springs. We had shared a wonderful evening there on our first anniversary in 1987. We loved it so much we’ve gone back three more times over the years, including this year. These brief interludes have given us the opportunity to look back at where we’ve been together and to spend time thinking of where we’re heading. The sights, sounds, atmosphere, and tastes have become familiar friends to us. There’s something very wonderful in seeing that, as the rest of the world spins madly around, there are places like the Bavarian Inn Inn that resist the temptation to join what has become the madness of modern life. In is own way, it’s actually quite radical in its approach to business. As soon as we came though the door, for example, we were greeted by a sign that read “cell phone free zone, thank you for your consideration.” The message conveyed is clear. “You’re entering an entirely different world than the one outside this door.” I’m sure a lot of American moderns would find that disconcerting or provactive. Nancy and I found it quite comforting.

The two days we spent at Table Rock Lake didn’t seem earth shattering either, but they were for me. When we first decided to go on the retreat, I just thought it would be nice to get together with the people we’d first met a bit over a year ago at their small church in Kansas City’s River Market. In the year we’ve known them, we’ve found them to be not only down to earth, but deeply committed to living their Christian faith in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. Our weekend conversations and prayers about faith and life and our respective “homeward bound” journeys were far more powerful and transformative than I could have ever imagined.

My introduction to them came about the same time I read what has become a very influntial book to me - Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option.” I’ve written about it before, so I won’t go into a great deal of detail about it in this column. Suffice it to say that Dreher sees that a Benedict type of model of Christianity is needed to revive a Church that has, according to him that has become stale, ingrown, motivated far too often by worldy ideas of power. The Church is becoming more wordly than the world outside the church doors.

I’ve given a lot of thought to what Dreher has written and I believe he’s right. Something’s got to give. 

Dreher recently spoke at a meeting in Lombardy, Italy about the Benedict Option. One of the most important things he said was that Benedict did not do what he did in the sixth century to “save the Church according to some kind of strategic-political project for evangelization. No, he did it to save himself, his relationship with God.”

 Dreher sees this as the crux of the matter for Christians today. “They need to be concerned with the faith itself before they become concerned with changing the world. How can we offer to the world something which we no longer possess ourselves? In short, Christian judgment and identity, a communal life rooted in the sacraments, prayer, and the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church are so challenged by the world in which believers find themselves today that they no longer know them or live them.”

I learned something very valuable during those few days away. It’s not my job to cure the Church’s or the world’s institutional ills. In fact, trying to fix them is a real diversion from the calling I originally embraced back in 1967. It wasn’t a call to be a trail blazer or a power broker. It was a call to follow Jesus, nothing more, nothing less. Therefore, I can’t get so mired in the trappings and politics of this world that I lose my soul, calling, and true Home in the process.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

THE MADNESS MUST END

Image result for school shootings


Not long after Nancy and I watched the initial news reports about awful events at Parkland High School, I took our dogs, Ranger and Katt, for their evening walk. I went a bit earlier than I normally do, hoping to inject a bit of sunshine into what had become another day of senseless American mayhem. It worked for a while, until we passed by Walnut School. The building was empty. As I made my way past the dumpster in the parking lot, a surge of grief and rage swept over me. I turned and leaned over the dumpster, sobbing in despair as I did. It was my silent plea for the madness to end.

Before I took Ranger and Katt for their walk the next morning, I read that the death toll seems to be capped at 17. Seventeen! That’s the same number of combat deaths our military suffered in Afghanistan during all of 2017. Now, one should reasonably expect  casualties in a war, but it’s absolutely insane to think that an American school would become, in essence, a war zone where the body count is worse than a “real” war. Yet, since the 1990’s it’s happened over and over and over.  It’s almost impossible to grasp.

We took the same route we did the night before  By the time we got to Walnut School, children were beginning to arrive.  Ranger, our Sheltie, was, as he always is, in his element. He absolutely adores children. He’ll sit in front of them and whimper a bit, a signal that he wants to shower them with affection. Sometimes he fidgets, then holds up one of his front paws. It’s his way of asking, “Can we be friends; I’d really like that.? Let’s shake on it.” The kids love it. Katt just stands quietly, allowing Ranger to take center stage. It’s not that she doesn’t like kids. She’s a bit shy and it takes time for her to warm up to them.

As Ranger and Katt went through their paces, I just observed. One thing I always find amusing is the backpacks the kids tote. They’re bigger than the kids, so big in fact that it sometimes appears to me that the backpacks are toting the kids, not the other way around. The more I think about, the more I sense that those backpacks aren’t so amusing. They just may be symbols for the enormous burdens being placed on kids these days. Not only do they have to worry about their school work, they’ve now got to worry about their safety and whether or not one of their classmates is hatching another diabolical scheme. I’m sure their parents are also worrying as they send them off to school with a hug or kiss.

There’s so much that’s frightening about these senseless acts of terror. The perpetrators always seem able to marshal powerful weapons. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who were about 18 when they went on their rampage in Columbine in 1999, used a 9MM carbine, a 12 gauge pump shotgun, and a 9MM pistol with high capacity magazines. Adam Lanza used a high powered Bushmaster when he killed 26 people at Sandy Hook in 2012. In 1997, Luke Woodham was only 16 when he bludgeoned and stabbed his mother to death in the morning, then took a rifle and 45 caliber pistol to his high school in Pearl, Mississippi where he killed 2 of his fellow students and wounded 7 others. Yesterday, 19 year old Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15 to kill 17 at Parkland High School. While the weapons used in the attacks were frightening, it was far more blood curdling to realize that, in each of these cases,  it was kids, not deranged adults,  who were killing classmates, teachers, administrators, and even their parents

I thought about that as I was leaving Walnut School that morning. I saw a couple of older boys walking toward the school. They looked like normal kids, but in the light of all that’s happened in America since the 1990’s, I found myself wondering, “Is one of these boys the coiled spring of anger and despair, ready to snap over some perceived grievance?” I offered a silent prayer for them as I made my way back home.

As I said, I have no solutions to offer. More vigorous background checks and restrictions on high powered weapons, consistent with the Second Amendment, seem reasonable to me. I don’t find that difficult because I don’t own a weapon, unless you consider my “flame tempered” Louisville Slugger (Kirby Puckett model) a weapon.  I have friends who I’m sure would strongly disagree with me.

So, I’m left with the same old solutions, which aren’t being accepted. All I’m left with in the end is my plea for the madness to end!

Thursday, February 08, 2018

THE LAST ENEMY

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There’s a once in a lifetime event that has many euphemisms attached to it. It’s been described as popping your clogs, pushing up daisies, being promoted to glory, biting the dust, buying the farm, kicking the bucket, or riding the pale horse. We even have euphemisms for our furry friends. We put them to sleep or put them down.

I’m sure you’ve figured it out. I’m writing about death, that once in a lifetime event that the Bible calls, also euphemistically, the last enemy.

I read a recent obituary in the Gazette about a 103 old person whose friends reported that the deceased’s passing was “unexpected.” Unexpected? The deceased must have been a wonderful person and will undoubtedly be missed, but the idea that death at 103 would be unexpected is hard for me to fathom.

It’s been like this for ages. In the Old Testament, subjects of some kings had to address them with the phrase, “Oh king, live forever.” (Daniel 3:9) I’ll bet the satraps and seers must have rolled their eyes when they said it.

I remember attending a meeting years ago in a corporate setting. The young turks were  puffing out their chests, desperately scrambling up the ladder of success, It was pathetic. I sat silently for a while until someone  asked me, “What do you think, Dillon?” I couldn’t help myself. “Do you realize that every person in this room is going to die?” Granted, it was a career limiting move, but it did end a pointless meeting.

Of course, we don’t want to die, but most of us accept death’s reality. That, however, is not always the case. I recently read that a few Silicon Valley bigwigs are spending a lot of money trying to solve the death problem. Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, is  pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into “life-extension therapies.” PayPal’s Peter Thiel, who has described death as “a terrible, terrible thing,” is spending millions in his effort to put death out to pasture.

My youngest son and I have talked about Ellison, Thiel, and others involved in this search. He seems to like their ideas. Me? The idea of a cure for death begs a couple of very important questions. First, how much would it cost  the rest of us if they ever did manage to figure it out? I don’t think they’d give it to us out of the goodness of their hearts. It would probably cost a pretty penny, which would make the haunting lyrics of the old Bahamian lullaby a sad reality: “If life was a thing that money could buy, then the rich would live and the poor would die.”

The second question is also very important. Would we want to live in this fallen world with an eternally alive Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Not me! No way! I’d be looking for the exit, screaming “Stop the world, I want to get off.”

The dream of staving of death isn’t new. One of my all-time favorite movies is “On Borrowed Time,” a 1939 film about a grandfather who has an appointment with death in the person of a man named Mr. Brink. Gramps is worried about his orphaned grandson, Pud, and wants to protect him at all costs. One event leads to another until he discovers that by sending Mr. Brink up into an apple tree outside his house, Mr. Brink cannot come down to ply his deadly trade. No one can die. Next, Pud is tricked into trying to climb the tree and falls. He’s paralyzed, doomed to spend an earthly eternity in a wheelchair. Gramps then realizes his error and comes to the conclusion that death is the only humane avenue of escape for Pud. He relents and allows Mr. Brink to come down. The movie ends with Pud shedding the wheelchair and walking into a far better  eternity with Gramps.

I once had the opportunity to speak to a group of workers who had a contractual right to “stay on the clock” on any given payday if their checks weren’t being made available to them. I asked them if they would make that same demand for another wage they’d earned. “How many of you guys are prepared to storm the gates of heaven to demand the wages of the sins you worked so hard in life to earn?”

I got no takers.

I’m seventy-five. I have no illusions. Mr. Brink is waiting in the wings for me. That’s alright. There’s also an eternity beyond and I’m told that the rewards that await me are wonderful and they’re free.  So,  when that day comes, I’m going the old fashioned way. I’m just going to listen to the advice of my Counsel and lean on the mercy of the High Court.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

ONE THING




In a recent First Things essay, Darren Guerra observed, as have other Christian writers, that fault lines are springing up within the Evangelical movement. The cause of the fissures? Donald Trump.

For example, Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Conservative think tank, has decided to shed the Evangelical and Republican labels, citing his concerns about Donald Trump’s impact on both groups.

Ross Douthat, a Conservative Roman Catholic, recently observed in his New York Times column that  Donald Trump “has forced a crisis in evangelicalism.”

Guerra believes that Douthat is right and goes further. He subdivides the current Evangelical “movement into three distinct groups: Jacksonian, Tocquevillian, and elites.

Jacksonians are, for the most part, from rural America’s working classes. They found their “champion” in Donald Trump when Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party abandoned them for the wealthy. According to Guerra, Jacksonians are Trump loyalists who “will not abandon Trump unless he abandons them first.”   

Tocquevillian Evangelicals  “possess more social capital than Jacksonians. They attend church regularly, have strong family ties, and wide circles of friends, are active in churches and voluntary organizations and work steadily.”
Elite Evangelicals are “the institutional and intellectual leaders of the Evangelical world.” I can’t describe it any further than that. I don’t know any elites.
I’ve given it some thought and I’ve decided that Peter Wehner is right. The label “Evangelical” doesn’t paint a full picture of his faith, or mine for that matter. There’s much more to the Christian faith than labels, political affiliation, or political power.
I’ve never been a Donald Trump supporter, nor will I ever be, despite the claims some of my critics make. That doesn’t mean I don’t have great affinity for some Trump supporters. I know many of them. We share a common faith. I consider them friends. I would never willingly abandon those relationships.
I’m only one part of the world-wide Christian movement. My thinking and affinities are neo-Pentecostal/Charismatic/Emergent. My identity is Christian, nothing more, nothing less.
I can best illustrate what I’m trying to communicate by describing an experience I had over the New Years’ weekend in Kansas City.
Saturday morning my wife needed some things from the grocery store, so off I went to Cosentino’s in the Power and Light district. I got quite a surprise when I got there. The place was mobbed; there were young people everywhere. Some were in long lines at the cash registers. Some were sitting in the aisles, eating breakfast meals they’d purchased at the buffet. They were engaged in animated conversations. I didn’t know what to make of it. I thought perhaps there had been a power failure in the city and the crowds were trying to make the most of a bad situation. I got the few things I needed and made my way into one of the long lines. A cop motioned to me and said, “This way, Bud. I’ll take you over to customer service where the line is short.” As soon as I got there I felt quite privileged. There was only a young woman, a millenial, in the line ahead of me. As I positioned myself, she turned, smiled and asked, “Do you love Jesus?” I have to admit I was taken by surprise by her question. How often does a person get asked a question like that at a grocery store? I gathered myself and responded, “I do indeed.” We struck up a brief conversation and I found out that the aisles were filled with young people who were attending a Christian Conference in Kansas City called “One Thing.” She explained that the thousands of young people  gathered were in Kansas City to express their love and devotion to Jesus Christ. “We just love Jesus and we want to worship him and serve our communities.”
There’s  further proof in the pudding. I’ve seen some of the video from the conference. Young millenials were caught up in praise and worship for hours on end.  They were expressing their adoration for Jesus. It was as compelling to watch as it was winsome.  It was clear they loved Jesus more than anything else in this world, more than Donald Trump or political power.
The conference was aptly named “One Thing.” Read Psalm 27:4 and you’ll see what I mean.
I have to admit that I often have a hard time understanding millennials, but the young woman I met at Cosentino’s and the thousands gathered at the conference  have shown me and their Christian elders a better way, We, like they, need to come to the place where we too love Jesus more than Donald Trump or political power.
It’s time to shed the labels!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

WISDOM AND POWER, EXPRESSED QUIETLY

Image result for simeon

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (I Corinthians 1:27)

While I was in Boston last month, I went to a Boston Bruins game at the Boston Garden. It was fun, except for a trip to the concession stand to get Nancy and me two cups of gelato. By the time I started back to my seat, I missed about 8 minutes of the second period, including a goal. That would have been bad enough, but on my way back up the stairs with the treat, a young man, trying to be kind, offered me some assistance. “Can I help you?” he asked. The only thing missing was “old timer.” It was a kind gesture, but it found it’s way under my skin. I thought to myself, “Do I look that old and feeble?” I should have said, “Thanks, but I’m okay,” but I didn’t. My retort was sharp, to the point. “Of course I don’t need any help...I’m fine!”

I’ve wondered since what that young man might have said to his wife or significant other after the game. “Man, an old timer practically bit my head off when I offered to help him. See if I ever offer kindness to the elderly again.”

Christmas is almost here. For the past three or four years, I’ve spent good parts of this time of year reading the Christmas narrative from the Book of Luke, with most of my time spent in the second chapter. I’ve always loved reading from Luke. He was a writer with immense skills. I think if he were around today, he might be winning Pulitzers. He was that good.

Most scholars believe Luke was a physician, which may be why in some Christian circles he’s known as the patron saint of physicians and surgeons, in addition to being the patron saint of bachelors and butchers.

About halfway through the second chapter, we’re introduced to a man named Simeon. There’s nothing earlier in the narrative that says anything about him, nor does Biblical history have much to offer. He comes upon the scene at a time when Israel has been conquered over and over again. The Babylonians have gone, as have the Assyrians. The Seleucids/Greeks have come and gone. The Romans are now in charge. Religiously, Israel is a shell of what it had once been. There are religious groups like the Pharisees, the up tight, legalistic band, and the Sadducees, who don’t believe in an afterlife.

Religious hope, if there is any, seems hidden from the view of most. This is where we see Simeon. Luke describes him as a man who, mysteriously, has come to believe that he won’t die until he sees Israel’s messiah face to face. His friends, if he had any, must have thought he was quite amusing. When they talked about him in polite company, the conversations must have been sprinkled with skepticism and rhetorical jabs. “That’s just Simeon being Simeon. Don’t pay him any mind, he’s really harmless.” “Simeon? He’s just a half a bubble off plumb. Just nod your head and pretend  you believe him.”

If there was any chatter in the background about him, Simeon didn’t seem to mind. He persisted. Every time I read the account, I’m amazed. He must have been a baby inspector, questioning God about every child who passed through his hands. “Is this him, Lord?” “No, you say.” “I’m still holding you to your promise. I believe you.”

How long did the pattern repeat itself? I don’t know, but I do know something special happened when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to him in accordance with tradition. Simeon cradled Jesus in his arms and made a startling declaration: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations.”

Simeon knew what the so called wise and strong of his time couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see.

As the years pass, I sometimes wonder how old Simeon was. Was he 75, the mile marker I just passed? Was he 35? We’re not told, and I suppose that’s the point. The story of Jesus is a story for people at any age, young or old.

That means a lot to me. Jesus promised a second advent, which tells me I can go on looking ahead to an even more profound “consolation.” It doesn’t have anything to do with my age. It has everything to do with the amazing way God often does his work outside any culture’s approved streams of wisdom and power.

Simeon saw this and it would be good for us to consider it also.