Sunday, October 16, 2016

The HEART of Christianity

"The giving of the white stone with the new name is the communication of what God thinks about the man to the man. It is the divine judgment, the solemn holy doom of the righteous man, the “Come, thou blessed,” spoken to the individual…. The true name is one which expresses the character, the nature, the meaning of the person who bears it. It is the man’s own symbol—his soul’s picture, in a word—the sign which belongs to him and to no one else. Who can give a man this, his own name? God alone. For no one but God sees what the man is..."

"It is only when the man has become his name that God gives him the stone with the name upon it, for then first can he understand what his name signifies. It is the blossom, the perfection, the completeness, that determines the name: and God foresees that from the first because He made it so: but the tree of the soul, before its blossom comes, cannot understand what blossom it is to bear and could not know what the word meant, which, in representing its own unarrived completeness, named itself. Such a name cannot be given until the man is the name. God’s name for a man must be the expression of His own idea of the man, that being whom He had in His thought when he began to make the child, and whom He kept in His thought through the long process of creation that went to realize the idea. To tell the name is to seal the success—to say 'In thee also I am well pleased.' ”

"The name is one 'which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.' Not only then has each man his individual relation to God, but each man has his peculiar relation to God. He is to God a peculiar being, made after his own fashion, and that of no one else. Hence he can worship God as no man else can worship Him."

-- George MacDonald

THIS is the central Theme of the Christian Gospel!  The whole point of all the theology, all the worship and faithful practice, is that we – God’s masterpieces – become what He intends to make of us, all for His own glory.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Prayers Satan LOVES

"It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always very ‘spiritual’, that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism. Two advantages will follow. In the first place, his attention will be kept on what he regards as her sins, by which, with a little guidance from you, he can be induced to mean any of her actions which are inconvenient or irritating to himself. Thus you can keep rubbing the wounds of the day a little sorer even while he is on his knees; the operation is not at all difficult and you will find it very entertaining. In the second place, since his ideas about her soul will be very crude and often erroneous, he will, in some degree, be praying for an imaginary person, and it will be your task to make that imaginary person daily less and less like the real mother—the sharp-tongued old lady at the breakfast table. In time, you may get the cleavage so wide that no thought or feeling from his prayers for the imagined mother will ever flow over into his treatment of the real one. I have had patients of my own so well in hand that they could be turned at a moment’s notice from impassioned prayer for a wife’s or son’s ‘soul’ to beating or insulting the real wife or son without a qualm."    

-- from "The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis

Monday, May 11, 2015

2 kinds of Kindness

We often hear about what are commonly called "random acts of kindness", small things people do, spontaneously, for another person, just to show Kindness. These are terrific, of course, and often very heart-warming; YouTube is full of videos showing these kinds of Kind actions...

Kindness is, probably, most often thought of in "pro-active" terms:  We determine to BE kind, to INITIATE Kindness, through actions or words; but there is another kind of Kindness, too, that may be just as important:  RESPONSIVE Kindness.

How We Respond
The Scriptures tell us that Kindness is a fundamental component of godly LOVE, and that we're to not only demonstrate Kindness but to also respond to others with Kindness: 

Romans 12:14
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Luke 6:27-28
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
Matthew 5:39-42
But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Of course, it's not always about responding in Kindness to BAD things; perhaps we might focus more on responding with Kindness to the needs, wants, wishes, thoughts, feelings and desires of those around us, as a way of showing (and living) true, from-the-heart, biblical LOVE...

Here are some examples of RESPONSIVE Kindness, to spark our imagination:

1.  A homeless person asks for help...
          Respond with money, or food, or at least a kind word
2.  An elderly person boards your train...
          Respond by offering your seat
3.  A child clamors to tell her story to you...
          Respond with your undivided, loving Attention
4.  A friend breaks down as he shares his hurt...
          Respond with gestures of Empathy and Compassion
5.  Your spouse expresses Frustration or Disappointment...
          Respond with Patience and Listening skills... work together toward Resolution
6.  Someone prepares a nice meal for you...
          Respond with sincere expressions of Gratitude and Appreciation
7.  Your child is trying hard to do better...
          Respond by giving him/her words of Encouragement, perhaps
          even a Reward of some sort

Of course, one's Heart and Mind probably have to be ready, at all times, to respond with Kindness when the opportunities come; but of course that's just the kind of Metamorphosis (Romans 12:2) that Sanctification is all about, right?

Friday, April 03, 2015

The Blood of Easter

Easter has been a big part of my life ever since I was a little boy, coming from a Christian family and regularly attending church for most of 5 decades.  Ironically, I don't think I was ever truly a Believer until I converted from Atheism to Christianity when I was 29, but that's another story...

One question that has always perplexed me has to do with a fundamental component of orthodox Christian theology:

Why was a BLOOD sacrifice necessary to assuage God's wrath?  Seems kind of barbaric, crude, and gruesome, doesn't it?  Think about it:  This was God (who is, in every way, FAR far superior to Mankind, as for example, Man is to ants) saying to humans, "I'm mad at you.  So take that lamb over there and slit its throat... Let its warm blood spurt all over the place, especially all over that rugged stone altar I instructed you to build... I want to see blood everywhere... Then fling the animal's slaughtered carcass on top of the altar and burn the entire mess.  Then I'll be satisfied."

There's no escaping the outright Gore that is integral to the Christian Gospel (you've seen "Passion of the Christ", right?), but I would expect that the far less modern, agrarian and desert cultures of the Old Testament (and right up to the 18th century, for much of the West) were much more comfortable with those types of scenarios than we might be...

Indeed, some Christian thinkers see the direct reflection of a deeply organic aspect of Christianity in the very flesh and blood of humans and animals, along with the earth and plants and flowers and trees, and the oceans and streams...   So it should come as no surprise, really, that the heart of the Gospel has, well, BLOOD in it.

Another clue comes right out of Leviticus 17, where God twice tells Moses, "The Life of the Creature is in its Blood."  In order to get the Life out of the lamb, its blood had to be poured out.  So it is the giving up of a Life, by bleeding to death, that God wanted.  But why?  Why does DEATH, in this context, "satisfy" God, or provide atonement for us??

And then today it hit me:  Because we can't do it ourselves.

Here, then, is a better version of the thought experiment, above:
"Look, I made you out of dirt and I put my LIFE into you and made you a Soul.  But you've taken your Being and abused and desecrated it, making it a thing ugly and defiled.  You've essentially ruined it.  Give it back to me.  It's mine."

But giving our (literal) lives back to God would, of course, mean Death.  Extinction.  The formal Obliteration of the original point of Creation at all:  God reflecting Love back to Himself via the Free Will choices of sentient Human Beings.

So God's unfolding Plan was that a sacrificial Life -- lambs and goats, in Moses' time, and the Lamb, once and for all, for the world, forever, in Jesus -- would satisfy God's demand.  He would accept that as a substitute.  That Life, coming out of that Blood, would atone for us.  It would be a Life given up as a substitute for our own.

That's what Good Friday is about.

But there's more:  Down into DEATH, to satisfy God's just demands.  And then UP into LIFE again, so that a NEW KIND of Life could be worked out inside us.  Life out of death, and yes, covered with Blood, but utterly saturated with Love.

That's what Easter is about.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Whose Life is it, anyway?

“If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us.  Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us.   We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God.  We find God an interruption.  As St Augustine says somewhere, ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full – there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’  Or as a friend of mine said, ‘We regard God as an airman regards his parachute;  it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.’  Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him.  Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for.  While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him.  What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness? 

It is just here, where God’s providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down from the Highest, most deserves praise.  We are perplexed to see misfortune falling upon decent, inoffensive, worthy people – on capable, hard-working mothers of families or diligent, thrifty little tradespeople, on those who have worked so hard, and so honestly, for their modest stock of happiness and now seem to be entering on the enjoyment of it with the fullest right.”

“Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for the moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed:  that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched.  And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover.  The life to themselves and their families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them. 

I call this a Divine humility because it is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up ‘our own’ when it is no longer worth keeping.  If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms:  but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.  The same humility is shown by all those Divine appeals to our fears which trouble high-minded readers of Scripture.  It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell:  yet even this He accepts.  The creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered; and by trouble or fear of trouble on earth, by crude fear of the eternal flames, God shatters it ‘unmindful of His glory’s diminution’.”

C.S. Lewis, from "The Problem of Pain", pp. 94-95

Friday, August 16, 2013

Love's Pre-Requisite

I have been thinking for a good while now that a deep and thorough understanding of "True Love" is the starting point for a biblical, Christian approach to the subject of Marriage.

But it dawned on me this morning that Understanding is perhaps not the starting point; I think I'm realizing today that True Love has what might be called a "pre-requisite" condition of the heart, along these lines:

It all begins with BROKEN-NESS: When our spirits are crushed, when our comfort is taken away, when our own Guilt is bearing down on us, and when we reach a point where we feel completely wretched and ruined and desperate, then and only then is the Heart pliable enough to be shaped and the Mind open enough to receive the wisdom and guidance that we have been missing (or have shunned)...

Broken-ness creates a void at the center of the soul which, then, HUMILITY can rush in to fill: Humility is not a "low self-image" or "tearing oneself down"; Humility is a proper, balanced attitude, a view of oneself that includes a profound sense of gratitude, and selflessness, and a deep desire to honor others, always remembering one's own broken-ness.

From this vantage point, now, the next stage is FORGIVENESS: Because one is always and forever painfully aware of one's own desperate Broken-ness -- an on-going condition that will only be remedied when our Sanctification is made complete by God Himself -- and as a result of a heart condition grounded in Humility, it becomes far more easy to Forgive the broken-ness and pride and sinfulness of other people. Who are we to hold others' sins and faults and failures against them when we ourselves continue to struggle with our own vast Broken-ness? A heart that continually wants to side-step Humility to assert itself, and to condemn others for their failures, is the very face of Broken-ness itself.

May God have mercy on us, we so quickly and so easily forget our own wretched state and we refuse others the mercy and grace and healing that other Broken hearts need, and which God has so graciously given to us, and which is ours to give, freely, to others...

Here are some things to read and ponder:

On Broken-ness
The Prodigal Son
(I love verse 17: "When he came to his senses..." Yes!)

The Graveyard Scene
(Scrooge is broken after having been shown a true picture of himself)

On Forgiveness
The Unmerciful Servant
The Elder son: Too Proud to Forgive

So let's get on our knees today and ask God to start fresh with us by Breaking our hearts, so that we can be filled once again with Humility, so that we can truly Forgive, so that we can then, from THAT state, be focused on TRUE LOVE.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thomas: Disciple and Skeptic defines "Skeptic" like this:
"A person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual."

It also lists a bit of etymology on that word:

Origin:  1565–75: 
  Late Latin "scepticus" = thoughtful, inquiring
  Greek "skeptikós",  equivalent to "sképt" ( "esthai" ) = to consider, examine
     -- akin to "skopeîn" =  to look; to see ( "-scope" ) + ( "-ikos" ) or ( "-ic" )

Despite the "doubting Thomas" nickname he is so often known by, Thomas is, I think, the most inspiring figure of the 12 disciples of Jesus.  Consider these thoughts about "Didymus" ("the Twin", probably of Mathew):

-- He doesn't say much in the Gospels, perhaps because he is constantly and deeply pondering what is being said and done around him; perhaps he is waiting to see what develops further...

-- He is not the one impulsively jumping out of boats, or brashly declaring love for and loyalty to Jesus (only to deny Him later), or grabbing swords and swinging them around...

-- He is that "quiet one in the shadows"...  Knowing what he was thinking, I can imagine Jesus many times glancing over at Thomas and smiling to Himself...

-- Immediately after the Resurrection, he wasn't among the others who cowered in a private room "for fear of the Jews", perhaps because, in solitude, he needed to "process" (perhaps in great turmoil of mind and soul) what had just happened...

-- His 3 primary speeches in the Gospels are these:

    -- A quiet exhortation to "go and die" with Jesus in Judea (where they knew the Jews
        were anxious to capture and kill Jesus) -- John 11:16

    -- An honest inquiry into what "way" Jesus was talking about and how, then,
        to go "with" Him on that "way" -- John 14:5

    -- An insistence that the Resurrection claim be supported by thoroughly
        convincing evidence, and his reaction when a loving and compassionate
        risen Christ gives him that evidence -- John 20:25

It's clear that Thomas was someone who questioned things and examined the reasons behind them, but that did not make him a "doubter"; keep in mind, he was purposely and specifically hand-selected by Jesus Himself to be one of the 12!  Jesus, of course, knew Thomas' mind and heart and personality type completely and yet added him as a chosen Disciple. 

It can be assumed, then, that his inclusion in that intimate, inner circle was for some perfectly good reason.  I do not believe it was so that "doubters can see that their doubting is okay", but so that the Church can see and understand that Faith is never "blind".

More specifically, I believe Thomas "stuck to it" throughout the process, following Jesus and being known as one of His disciples, because it was Jesus HIMSELF that Thomas found so profoundly compelling, so irresistable, so Real.

In Jesus, Thomas saw more than a "movement", even more than just a Face and a Name, a Body and a Voice; I think Thomas was wise enough, and perhaps the first, to see GOD in Jesus, and he followed willingly to understand the mystery of what he was witnessing.  Following, but not foolishly.

Thomas was not a "doubter"; he was a thinker, a questioner, a Skeptic.
And, in the end, a Believer.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Justice for Trayvon?

There are thousands -- maybe millions -- of people across the country today (following the verdict of "Not Guilty" for George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin 17 months ago) who are screaming for "justice" in that case...  A civil suit is sure to follow, probably driven, in part, by the current administration (who had a part in turning this case into a media circus)...

For anyone who cares, here is my own take on this entire situation:

Defining the Term

What IS "Justice", anyway?
This Wiki definition serves as a starting point... And this definition of "justice" at is also instructive... What both boil down to is this:  Given the subset of Facts that ALL sides agree on (and that deserves its own entire post), what would have been THE RIGHT DECISION in this case?

Well of course there is a mountain of Data that both sides disagree on; the bottom line is that during what can be described as a "street fight", Zimmerman (by his own admission) produced a gun, and Trayvon was shot and killed...

Should the charge have been "negligent homocide"?  "Manslaughter"?  "Second degree / Third degree Murder"?

These (and other possibly applicable descriptions) are what the Court systems are made to hammer out; what the "man on the street" understands may be accurate or may be wildly askew of the correct definitions...

The point here is that if someone is going to cry for "Justice", they need to have some clear, legally-acceptable definition of what that term means... Otherwise, we're all just spouting our opinions...

For my part, as a very low-grade "man on the street", here's how I see it:

This was a clear case of Justice-being-done, on a Micro scale...

Whatever else anyone may say, the "Justice System" did its work in this case:
A potential "crime" occurred; the defendant was prosecuted, had a defense team, and the case went before a jury, overseen by a judge; the jury rendered its verdict; the defendant was acquitted.

Case closed.

The "Justice System" -- on a Micro scale -- worked.  This is America, and nobody questions the integrity of the jury or the guidance of the judge.  Compared to the "kangaroo courts" of other countries, our legal system did its work fairly and equitably in this case.

This was a clear case of IN-justice-being-done, on a Macro scale...

However, what can be described as "the Facts of the case" seem to indicate that an Injustice may have been done here:  No matter what view one takes as to how it started (or why) -- these are, in the bigger picture, irrelevant -- the drama arose when a "street fight" ensued between the two parties...

Fist-to-fist, man-to-man, it was just a street fight.  And the facts seem to bear out that Zimmerman was on the losing end of that battle, in a fight that he himself provoked by "following" Trayvon and probably -- at least in Trayvon's mind -- posing something of a threat to him.

Then a gun was produced, tipping the scales in favor of whomever was in control of that gun.  Zimmerman is on record as admitting that he fired the fatal shot -- a single shot -- into the chest of Martin, killing him.

One of the definitions of "Manslaughter" that I found HERE includes the idea that a person is guilty of Manslaughter if his actions were induced by "fright" or "terror"... even "desperation will suffice"...

Are these not, clearly, the components of Zimmerman's own testimony on this incident?  The idea of "overwhelming force", rising to the level of "deadly force" (by someone NOT a police officer, federal agent, or commissioned and trained "law enforcer" of any kind)  seems to be the singular Reality that bubbles up to the top of any account of this tragic incident...

Therefore, it seems to me that if the Prosecution had angled for the strictest definition of Manslaughter in this case, instead of "going for broke" in a politically-motivated scenario demanding a "murder" convinction, they would have had enough leverage to win a conviction -- and, probably, a  prison sentence -- for George Zimmerman.

So if we define "Justice" in a very broad sense as "Punishment befitting the Crime", Zimmerman should probably have been convicted of something like Manslaughter, since he (1) essentially provoked this incident, (2) got into a one-on-one fight where he was out-muscled, (3) and produced a gun and shot Trayvon dead  ...  Self-defense, when one is minding one's own business and is attacked (and may have to use a gun to protect oneself) is one thing; I believe this is a case where the line was crossed and the shooter was wrong.

So the "system" worked, but the prosecution failed.

And now America must once again wrestle with questions of Race, and Justice, and Truth.  Are such discussions even possible, given the current, highly-politicized, racially-divided America in which we live?

May cooler (and more thoughtful) heads prevail.

Monday, May 13, 2013

50 Today

Today is my 50th Birthday.

I wish I had some pithy comments, some wise and sage remarks I could make here, about "things I have learned" and so forth, at this half-century mark.

I don't.

I have made a lot of mistakes in my life; I've squandered a lot of opportunities; and whether we're talking about Careers, or Finances, or Marriage, or Parenting, or Personal Health, or even Spiritual Growth, I am near the bottom of the ladder as a "model of success" in any of these categories.

But here are a few things I CAN share, from this point along the trail that winds through the forest of Life, where I am stopping, today, to rest my feet, drink from my canteen, and look around for a bit:

(1)  "To believe with Certainty, one must begin by Doubting."  One's World View absolutely colors everything about Life; the wise person knows, then, to pursue Truth, and maintain and open mind and a willingness to hear all sides, throughout the life-long process of putting together a world view.  A closed mind is the darkest place in the universe.

I cling to the Christian world view with a skeptical hand, more sure than ever that it is the Truth even as I avoid much of what comprises typical "Christian culture".  My wife is a believer in Jesus, too, and my kids are finding their way; I pray for them often, especially in this regard...

I believe in the Truth of the Christian world view, and more so as each year passes.

(2)  Married Love -- deeper and more meaningful with each passing year -- is truly one of Life's greatest joys.  Marriage either makes you better or it makes you worse;  and if you miss its full potential (philosophically, spiritually, sexually, emotionally), well, that is really too bad...  That's not to say that Marriage is always "blissful"... It means Marriage is (or CAN be) growth-bearing.  Sometimes that growth is enjoyable, and sometimes it's not.  But growth is always GOOD.

I love my wife, Sharon, very deeply, and more so as each year passes.

(3) Kids are AWESOME.  Your children will generate a white-hot Love in your Soul that nothing else can do.  It's true, they make their Mom and Dad want to scream sometimes (and they will know that feeling, too, someday!), but Parenting, like Marriage, is a wonderful and growth-bearing experience.  And growth is always GOOD.

I love my daughter, Sarah, and my son, Sam, very deeply, and more so as each year passes.

(4) I enjoy the indulgences of a premium cigar and a quality beer, very much.  I enjoy these simple pleasures  mostly because they bring a certain Peace and a gentle Quietness to my Mind and Soul...

(5) Hockey is Life:  The struggle.  The pain.  The team-based structure.  The skill and grace.  The speed and passion.  And the reality that Life is mostly about the hard work of doing the right things, often the "small" things, over and over and over, all to get to that one comparatively short moment where you pick up the puck in the neutral zone, speed into the O-zone all alone, deke right, come back to your forehand left, and top-shelf it (for the Cup-winner, of course!)...  Life is mostly work.  Sometimes it's fun.

(6) If Hockey is Life, JAZZ is what it sounds like.  To those who understand, no explanation is necessary; to those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.

(7)  Some people understand Reason, other people only understand the Stick.  I try to be the first kind.

I wonder what the NEXT 50 years will be like...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love and Marriage - 3 Lessons

The first 15 years or so of my Marriage were, more often than not, some fairly rocky times; but I think I am more willing than ever, now, to admit that most of it was my own fault.

Dealing with my own "negative" issues (and I should always be vigilant against their re-appearance) in those years certainly helped resolve some of the things plaguing our Marriage, but just getting back to "neutral ground" is not, of course, the same thing as building up positive results in the "plus" column...

I didn't really begin to understand God's vision for Marriage (which is, I think, the very best model of what the Gospel is supposed to look like) until I learned a few things...

Three distinct "Lessons" have come to me as true "epiphanies", thoughts that have struck me like a bolt of lightning at the time and which I had to mull over for some weeks and months before their true impact began to take root.  These are things I wish the Marriage counselors we have gone to would have imparted to me, but perhaps they are more effective when learned on one's own, anyway...

SERVANTHOOD is the secret to a JOY-filled Marriage (and Life)

Some time roughly 3 years ago, stemming from some realization that I have now forgotten, I found myself starting to pro-actively find ways to SERVE my wife:  I would try to do things -- some little, some significant -- that I thought would be a blessing to her (like cleaning the kitchen, or backing up the car to the porch when it was raining so she wouldn't get soaked, or getting between her and a disobedient child, etc.), and I became more intent about listening to her, pretty much all the time, for more "clues" about what would delight her, and then I'd try my best to do those things.

I was washing the dishes one day, thinking of how pleased and delighted she would be with a sparkling kitchen, when all of a sudden it hit me that I was JOYFUL in that moment.  Not "pleased with myself"; not even thinking of myself at all, but instead, imagining HER delight and happiness and pleasure as she discovered a clean kitchen...

That is when I understood that it truly IS "more blessed to Give than to Receive" (Acts 20:35).  This was a significant Step in my understanding of  Marriage - and of the Gospel - and I began to realize, too, that our own "Happiness" is not (or should not be) the primary goal of our lives (THIS Lecture played a significant role in that development).

I thought I had finally discovered the "secret" to marital Joy; but it was only a beginning.

It's all in the APPROACH

I've heard wise folks say that "it's not enough to be Right"; still others have said, "They don't care how much you Know until they know how much you Care."  Both very true statements.  Even though I was trying to exercise this new Servanthood perspective, I was still often approaching my wife -- especially when something bothered me, or when I wanted to talk to her about my own side of things -- in the same old blunt, forceful, insistent, matter-of-fact, and sometimes dictatorial manner.

I was playing cards with my in-laws, out on the porch one afternoon, when I was thunder-struck by the realization that my APPROACH to her was all wrong.  I finally saw that if I had approached her, over the years, with kindness and tenderness and an attitude that communicated to her how precious she is to me, things would likely have gone far better in our relationship.  C.S. Lewis' golden sermon, "The Weight of Glory", also helped me see just how profoundly God Himself values my dear wife (" have never met a mere Mortal..."), and, slowly, my perspective on, and subsequently, my approach to my wife has begun to change.

Then just recently, something else dawned on me.

It takes Time to build EQUITY

I heard a speaker on Marriage say once that "it takes 10 'Goods' to compensate for 1 'Bad' in Marriage".  The Equity that many of us have in our houses is something that often takes years to build up; out of the blue, while I was pondering some things last week, this idea of "Equity" in my Marriage relationship dawned on me:  It's great that I'm serving my wife (and finding deep Joy in doing so); and changing my Approach to her has helped quite a lot, I believe...

But now I must continue on this course long enough, and consistently enough, that I can build up a cache of Love "Equity" in her mind and heart.  She needs to have, deep in her soul, a certain assuredness that my Love for her is deep and real and permanent.  I don't know that she doubts this, even now; but the point of all THREE of these "epiphanies" is that they represent -- in concert with each other -- a FOCUS, a Direction, that I need to continue to press onward toward, throughout the entire length of our Marriage.

I'm not a great husband, and who knows how well (or if) I'll live these 3 lessons out very well, in the future; and of course, there are a number of other things that go into making a Marriage work ( Conflict Resolution skills... Patience when it seems like your spouse will NEVER change... Endurance to survive those long periods of Loneliness... etc...).  But I do know that Love is the central theme of the Gospel, and I cannot think of any better way to live that out than to persist at trying to Love my Wife well.

To be a Christian is to Love, and to be Human is to Fail (sometimes, as in my case, spectacularly).  But we have to keep trying, because this is where Forgiveness, and Humilty, and Compassion, and other virtues are learned and practiced. 

The work is often hard but the rewards are great...

    "A new command I give you: Love one another.
    As I have loved you, so you must love one another."

    "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
    if you love one another."

          -- John 13:34,35


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Note about "Diversity"

One of the primary reasons that Mitt Romney - and, by extension, the Republican Party - lost the 2012 Election is that nearly all the dominant segments, or "People groups", of our modern culture appear to believe that he (and the GOP) does not represent them.  Voters, these days, seem to desire, above all else, that the government LOOK like them, SOUND like them, and VALIDATE their Person-hood (whatever they choose to make that mean).

If you weren't already aware of it, Minority groups throw much of their collective energy behind various "Diversity" campaigns, where "Diversity" usually means merely the PRESENCE of Persons of Color on school boards and Boards of Directors, in Governments (at every level), behind the Tellers desk at the Bank, and in any other place where they see (what they believe to be) a lack of "Diversity"...

But where is the sense in this?  Once the proper Seating arrangements are all made at the table, what then?  Isn't the MEAL, itself, a great deal more important than the Attendees list?  Indeed, if there IS no Meal, isn't the rainbow of Color all around the table a pointless achievement?

If a Black (or Female, or Gay) president ruins the country even as he is celebrated for "looking like" the electorate, is this a good thing?  If the Teller at the Bank often makes errors with my money, does it matter that she's Female?  Where is the value in having a Gay swimmer on the Olympic Swimming Team who rarely wins a meet?  The examples are endless, and the point is clear:  "Diversity" only has meaning if the PURPOSE of the organization, or the movement, or the establishment, or the country, or the business, is fulfilled...  Failure by a "diverse" group of people is still Failure.

Additionally, there have been numerous reports of how White -- and more qualified -- candidates for various things (a promotion at a Fire Department, acceptance into a Law school, and similar stories in recent news) have been spurned in favor of the Black or Female candidate, demonstrating that the quest for "Diversity" can become so spell-binding that it actually produces a new kind of Discrimination...

To all those who clamor for "Diversity", who have some primal Need to "see themselves reflected" in their leadership, I would pose this question:  Just before your beautiful, sweet, beloved Daughter were to be wheeled into a life-saving, critical Surgery, would you stop the hospital staff and insist that the Team of doctors working on her be comprised of a "Diverse" group of folks "just like you"?  I doubt it.  I think you would want, with all your heart and soul, to have the VERY BEST TEAM AVAILABLE for the operation, whether or not they were White or Black, Gay or Straight, Male or Female, Alien or Human.

"I just want my dear Daughter to be HEALTHY and HAPPY", you would say.


The same goes for all of these other concerns.  If Success can be achieved and still include the "Diversity" element, so much the better.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Not Feeling the Love?

     ...Love is not love
     Which alters when it alteration finds
     Or bends with the remover to remove:
     O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
     That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
     It is the star to every wandering bark,
     Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
     Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
     Within his bending sickle's compass come:
     Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
     But bears it out even to the edge of doom. 
           -- Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Someone told me recently, in a conversation we were having about Marriage -- and about Love, in general -- that "when the passion is gone, that's it, it's time to move on."

I was stunned by this comment, coming from an older person whose opinions and thoughts I respect very much; and yet at the same time, the comment struck me as profoundly symptomatic of one of the fundamental problems in our culture, the idea that my own personal "Happiness" comes before everything else, including Virtue, even including the "Happiness" of other people, even (and sometimes especially) my spouse!

In contrast to this idea, the wisest among us recognize that not only is Virtue far more valuable than "Happiness" (HERE is an outstanding Lecture on that very topic), but also that True Love does not come and go depending on the shifting winds of "Happiness" nor on the wild fluctuations of our "Passions".

Specifically, the constancy, the permanency, and the strength of True Love find perhaps their deepest grounding in MARRIAGE.  Consider what a man and a woman commit themselves to when they say their Wedding Vows (and here I will paraphrase a fairly standard script):

    I promise to ACT in a certain way toward you...
    ("To Have", "To Hold", "To Love", "To Cherish")

    Through and despite any and all Circumstances of Life...
    ("Rich or Poor", "Health or Sickness", "Better or Worse")

    For my entire Life, starting this very day until I die...
    ("From this Day forward" "Until Death parts us")

"I promise you EVERYTHING, through ANYTHING, until I (or you) DIE."  Witnessed by a crowd, hallowed by the presence of a minister, and of the Bible (and of God, presumably), and sealed with a kiss, a ring, and a Contract.


But notice something very important:  We never promise to go on FEELING the way we did on our Wedding Day!

In fact, the Vows themselves clearly allude to the reality that there will be many days where we do NOT "feel" the way we did on that day, and that there will be Circumstances throughout all of LIFE that will tempt us to think that the Marriage was "a big mistake"; we will realize, on MANY occasions, that we are not "Happy" anymore, that the "passion" has gone, and it is precisely at those moments that the Vows we took to one another become necessary...

"FEELINGS" come and go; "passions" rise and fall, wax and wane, and absolutely nobody can reasonably and practically promise to FEEL, decades from now, what he is feeling on any given day, including the Wedding Day.

For an excellent treatment of the idea of "Feelings" in Marriage, from the perspective of the Christian World View, read this chapter from "Mere Christianity" entitled, Christian Marriage.

      ...I am convinced that neither death nor life,
      neither angels nor demons, neither the present
      nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth,
      nor anything else in all creation,
      will be able to separate us from the love of God...
      --Romans 8:38, 39

Monday, June 04, 2012

The Heart and Soul of the Gospel

Sometimes a writer, or speaker -- or someone who is both -- gets it SO RIGHT that no additional words are necessary.  If you want to understand the very Heart and Soul of the Christian Gospel, take some time today to watch this video and to contemplate what's being said:

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Eternal Perspective of the Christian

There is a show on CBS called "Undercover Boss" in which the "boss" (often the CEO) of a company leaves the comfortable surroundings of his position and poses as "just another worker" in his company; the goal is to learn more specifically what life on the job is like for his workers... To appreciate their struggles, understand their work habits, gain knowledge with which to improve the company, and even to reward those he (or she) finds is serving the company well...

But it's only temporary: After cleaning port-a-johns, or plucking trash out of a conveyor line, or dealing with irate customers, or working long hours -- after enduring the rigors of his "typical" employees -- the CEO gets to clean up and go back to his corporate office, his golf game, and his sprawling house in the suburbs. The whole experience for him -- while insightful -- is nothing like the normal, comfortable, affluent life he can return to when the episode has been filmed. He can view the entire week with a certain detachment, knowing that this is not his true Reality -- not his normal Perspective -- and that soon he will return to a better life.

You can check out some of the episodes here...

It occurred to me today that the Christian is in a very similar position: Having had SONSHIP bestowed upon us by our adoption into the family of God, and because of God's great LOVE for us as expressed through the death and resurrection of Christ, Christians can live in the here-and-now with a stunning, new Eternal Perspective: We are destined for an eternity of Love and Joy and Gladness, a never-ending, wonderful Life of being completely, perfectly SATURATED with the Truth and Beauty and Goodness that are the very Nature of God Himself.

Christians should spend an enormous amount of time pondering what's ahead for us, because the more we can grasp it, the more we can wrap our minds around it, the more it changes our Perspective on the here-and-now: Everything that happens here on Earth -- whether it is death, or sickness, or misery of all sorts, as well as the good things in our lives -- is strictly temporary, and soon enough, this present world will vanish from sight and we will be taken away to be with God forever, celebrating as a family in a World we can hardly imagine.

Even now, we can begin to see "clues" or "hints" about that World if we're looking for them, and if we're asking God to show them to us. Indeed, God wants to change our hearts (" being transformed...") so that we can see and understand more and more of His Glory even now... But isn't it good to ponder the reality that this will all soon be over, and that we will then enjoy Life, REAL Life, with God, and that it will never end... ?

To the extent that we can practice viewing everything from this Eternal Perspective, we will be increasingly able to see, and understand, and be encouraged by the LOVE that calls us "sons".

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Public Displays of Religion

With all the hullabaloo recently over Tim Tebow and his very public prayers--
complete with his famous one-knee pose and augmented by his faith statements
virtually every time a microphone appears -- the topic of "Public Faith" has
gained renewed steam both in the media and in everyday conversation...

From bus and cab drivers who argue for the "right" to snarl traffic 3 times a day
to get out and kneel in the street to pray, to the name "Jesus" being banned from
City board meetings, to these "new Atheists" who are suing to remove all vestiges
of "faith" from public life... Seems like everyone has an axe to grind these days
on God, Religion, World Views, and nearly anything else that can be described in
terms of "morals" or "values" or "truth". "Heaven", or "Nirvana", or "Utopia",
it seems, all look drastically different from one person to the next...

Over against all this cacophony, and despite the pervasive Pluralism which typifies
modern life, I find that PUBLIC demonstrations of even the faith that I myself subscribe
to -- indeed, that I deeply believe to be the Absolute Truth -- make me... well...

My Skepticism (left over from my atheist years, and still a fundamental part of
how I pursue Truth) already causes me to quietly avoid much of what I see in
modern Christian faith and practice; but beyond that, even as a practicing Christian
myself, public prayers, public (unsolicited) declarations of faith in Jesus, being
confronted by (or watching someone else be confronted by) some "soul-winner"...
These things cause me to experience an odd sense of discomfort, embarrassment,
even uneasiness. It's not because I am "ashamed of the Gospel of Christ", as some
fundamentalist might bark at me; it's just that...

Well, picture this: You walk into a Starbucks and off in the corner are two
teenagers (a guy and a girl!) who are seriously "making out", as if they are
completely alone; they are, unfortunately, completely oblivious to the discomfort
they are causing in everyone else around them, completely absorbed in their selfish
behavior and seemingly unaware of the unspoken, shared sentiment hanging in the air:
"Get a room!"

So it is -- for me -- with regard to public displays of religion: It's one thing
to IDENTIFY oneself with a particular religion (say, a Jewish co-worker wearing a
Yarmulke, or a Muslim neighbor wearing a Hijab, or a Catholic friend displaying
a figurine of the Blessed Virgin on his dashboard); but to create what is essentially
a "worship moment" in a public place -- to publicly PRACTICE a religion -- is, to me,
a different thing, a mis-placed private thing, something that ought to be subordinated to the tastes and comforts of those in the immediate vicinity...
It's hardly "Christian" to completely disregard the feelings and sensibilities and
comforts of those around us so that we can perform some Christian act, eh?
Who are we fooling, here?

Would you pick your nose in public? Scratch yourself, pass gas, tug at your
underwear, or belch loudly, in a public place? Would you break out in song at
a funeral, or play Sousa marches at a wake? Why not? Well, because you want to
be the sort of considerate, humble, kind, thoughtful, and polite person who keeps
the thoughts and feelings and sensibilities of the people around you always at the
forefront of your mind; in a word, you don't want to be RUDE.

It is interesting to note that far more often than not, Jesus Himself prayed in
solitude, away from the crowds (and, today, we could add, cameras and microphones
and cell phones); the kneel-down, public prayer spectacle of Tebow -- sandwiched
between Dorritos commercials and "December to Remember" ads -- only serves to
expand the absolute Media circus we all have to put up with these days, which now,
unfortunately, includes "amazing!", "unbelievable!", YouTube-worthy attractions featuring
"all that religious stuff"...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thoughts on the "Occupy" Rioting


Riding the crest of broad news coverage lately has been this "movement"
known as "Occupy Wall Street", which is supposed to be some kind of
"people's action" against so-called "corporate greed", "wealth-hoarding",
and a number of other populist themes and ideals. But just as
the real aims, goals, and message of this "movement" are ambiguous,
murky, muddled, and fuzzy, I thought I'd post my own jumble of disconnected
thoughts on what this "movement" is... er... *Seems* to be... I guess?
Sort of? Maybe? Not sure...

One thing's for sure: It ain't no Tea Party

From the very start, this "movement" has been a rag-tag band of squatters,
who have taken over a park in New York near Wall Street and who have
decided to LIVE there, for the time being; reports are that sanitary conditions
are geting worse by the day, with participants urinating in the streets and
strewing their garbage in every direction. In addition, there are fights
and scuffles with local police on a daily basis, vandalism, public nudity,
even -- by some reports -- pot smoking and other drug use going on...
There is even a YouTube video showing a sympathetic Democratic congressman
who came down to speak to some of the rabble, but who was used, instead, as
the centerpiece of a mock-theatre skit intended to show how "ineffectual"
the government is; the congressman never got to speak and wandered away...

This weird, filthy, combative, drug-using mob-mixture has been joined by
all types of anarchists, Union thugs, scoff-laws and other crack-pots for
a street-festival style, political "mardis-gras" of sorts, but the MESSAGE,
if there is one, seems to be nearly impossible to pin down...

Contrast this to the Tea Party:
It's public gatherings have been almost universally calm, clean, peaceful,
and orderly, events which you could easily see your elderly loved ones
participating in and enjoying without fearing for their safety... The message
of the Tea Party has been CLEAR and CONCISE from the beginning; a quick Google search shows that from chapter to chapter, state to state, and from one Tea Party organization to another, the fundamental principles and themes of this movement have been, and are consistent; the Lists vary slightly, but they are all in agreement with these Core Values:
    Free Enterprise beats Socialism
    Government must be limited
    Government spending must be frugal
    The Constitution is our supreme guide

I actually agree with SOME of what OWS is supposedly about

To the extent that this quirky OWS "movement" -- and anyone else from the Left --
proclaims that the "Wealthy" ought to "pay their fair share", I completely AGREE
with them; everyone -- rich, poor, and everyone else -- should pay what they
OUGHT to pay (in Taxes), and nobody should have the benefit of Loopholes,
special Tax shelters, or any other mechanism that provides advantages that only
some people get to enjoy...

I also AGREE that the Federal Reserve is a HUGE part of the problem in this
country, and that it ought to be completely dismantled and gotten rid of;
control of the money supply, and the standard on which it is valued (the Gold
Standard), should be the domain of elected Government, not some non-elected,
above-the-law "private club" whose hidden ways-and-means (including heavy
international involvement) affect the financial health and well-being of
virtually all American citizens...

I also AGREE that it's just shameful that a few Executives
at the top levels of most of the world's wealthiest corporations enjoy
ridiculously LAVISH life-styles, funded by corporate profits, while the
"worker bees" of that organization have to struggle to make ends meet, worry
constantly about lay-offs (especially in this dismal economy), and know that
in any case, only a very few will EVER make it to the upper echelons in the organization:
There are only so many keys to the executive restrooms to go around, and
besides, who would want to tee off at the Country Club with
a RECEPTIONIST, anyway?? (Please note the Sarcasm in that last sentence).

The problem is, WHAT TO DO about it... The GUB-ment is absolutely the LAST entity
who should get their incompetent and money-wasting claws into the mix;
and you can't LEGISLATE Morality (as some on the Right have learned over the
years), forcing the Board of Directors at "Corporation X" to push more of the
Profits back down into the company... So what can be done, so that "Susie-Q
Employee" can enjoy more of the rewards that she helped create, by working hard
and doing her job well?? I honestly don't have an answer for that...

But only a Fool believes that if the Wealthy -- and Corporations -- were just
TAXED more, then more Americans could enjoy a higher standard of living via
Government programs. It's axiomatic that the more money the government takes in,
the more it spends, and usually in Deficit mode; so "Tax the Rich" won't have
any noticeable impact whatsoever on the general health, wealth and prosperity
of the OWS mob...

The Bad is drowning out the Good

Unfortunately, any GOOD that might be included in whatever one can make out as
the primary message of this so-called "movement" (which, not surprisingly, has
gone global by now) is being out-shouted by all the BAD associated with it:
The shouting and uproar is from those who've identified themselves as
Anarchists, and Socialists, and Free Loaders; many have been outspoken and
unabashed in their support of the classic Liberal
"Cradle-to-Grave-Government-Dependency" model,
demanding more Big Government spending (without, apparently, a single thought
about the 800-pound gorilla issue, the 14 trillion dollar National Debt);
add to this the disgusting and dangerous public behavior (urination, fights,
drug use, trash everywhere, smashed windows, etc. etc.) and the sum total
is that this so-called "movement" lost any serious consideration before
it was even off the launch pad...

It is, to put it simply, a Riot that will eventually have to be put down with,
probably, military intervention.
    "The public is a ferocious beast; one must either chain it up
    or flee from it." -- Voltaire

    "A mob has many heads but no brains" -- Thomas Fuller

    "Nothing is so contemptible as the sentiments of a mob" -- Seneca
    "It is proof of a bad cause when it is applauded by a mob" -- Seneca