Thursday, December 30, 2010

Memory: Curse and Blessing

A few weeks ago, I was watching 60 Minutes. Leslie Stahl offered a report about a fascinating phenomenon: Super Autobiographical Memory or hyperthymesia". An extremely rare condition, perhaps only a handful of people in the U.S. have it, these individuals are capable of recalling their lives in movie-like detail including recall of days of the week and and the dates on which they fell. One man could accurately recall the outcomes of football games, even to the point of being able to recall plays.

I remember one individual interviewed talked about how memory recalls would generate the same intensity of emotion as when the even first occurred, for example a break-up causing as much pain as if it had just happened yesterday.

Although evoking such powerful feelings at the recall of a wonderful event would be nice, having to re-experience the intense sorrow generated by past painful events would be torture. There is, in this light, a blessing to not being able to recall pain. There are some events that cause sorrow upon recall, but I would never want to experience again the same initial agony.

The same lady said that, in light of this ability to vividly recall the past with minute detail, she is more careful in what she says to and how she treats people, wishing to not have to forever relive a hurtful word or action.

How fascinating! I wondered: How would this condition of hyperthymesia influence my interactions with people? With my "normal" memory as it is, I am nevertheless bothered by stupid and hurtful things I have said or done in the past, but those are only fleeting twinges of guilt. However, if, like these individuals of the 60 Minutes story, I would forever be "condemned" to fully re-experiencing such embarrassing moments, would my future actions and words be more carefully and consciously dealt?

If I could replay this past week in vivid detail, what would cause me shame and make me wish for a "do over?" What would I wish to repeat or at least be happy about my action or response?

So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. -- Acts 24:16

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

"Atheists Don't Have No Songs" -- Steve Martin

Must be rough for atheists every Christmas season ... everyone else is diggin' on the holiday tunes!

Steve Martin is a hoot!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Luke" Comes in Native Patois to Jamaicans

How wonderful that God's Word now comes to the Jamaicans in their native Patois!  This from the AP via FoxNews (emphasis added):
Jamaicans Using Patois Version of Bible's Luke
During Sunday church services and private celebrations in Jamaica, Christmas week prayers are being flavored with the first patois version of a familiar biblical account of Jesus' birth.

Based on the conviction that Scripture is best understood in a person's spoken tongue, the Caribbean island's bible society has started a new holiday tradition with audio and written versions of the Gospel of Luke in patois, or Creole — Jamaica's unofficial language.

Proponents of the patois versions of Luke argue that since many Jamaicans have difficulty understanding standard English, it is wrong to have the holy book of this overwhelmingly Christian nation only in a "foreign" tongue. A patois translation of the entire New Testament is expected in August 2012, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Jamaica's independence.

"The Scriptures have the greatest impact when you hear it in your mother tongue. So this translation to Creole is affirming the Jamaican speaker's language, and it is very, very powerful," said the Rev. Courtney Stewart, general secretary of the Bible Society of the West Indies.

Last week, a local radio station broadcast the patois renditions of Luke every morning, and its Nativity story translation is popping up at Christmas parties. Members of a church in Spanish Town, just west of Kingston, have even started to memorize it.

Most of the words in Jamaican patois, like other English Caribbean patois, are English words filtered through a distinct phonetic system with fewer vowels and different consonant sounds. Patois is written phonetically to approximate these differences. Thus, in patois, the English "girl" becomes "gyal."

In the depiction of the Angel Gabriel's visit to the Virgin Mary which foretold the birth of Jesus, the New King James Bible's version of Luke reads, "And having come in, the angel said to her, 'Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women.'"

In the patois version, it becomes, "Di ienjel go tu Mieri an se tu ar se, 'Mieri, mi av nyuuz we a go mek yu wel api. Gad riili riili bles yu an im a waak wid yu aal di taim.'"

Lloyd Millen, pastor of the Cumberland Community Church in Portmore, said his congregants have been "animated and so excited" when they hear him preach from the Gospel of Luke in their spoken language.

"People feel liberated to hear the Bible this way. They say they are able to visualize it better," Millen said.

Nearly all Jamaicans, regardless of class, speak patois — a mixture of English and West African tongues spoken by slaves who were brought to this Caribbean island by European colonizers. It rarely exists in written form.

Some Anglophiles on the island call patois "lazy English" and dismiss it as a vernacular.

On a page of the Jamaica Gleaner's Web site, a critic named Jo Bent said, "Patois is not an official language, it has no dictionary, are we to further confuse our youths when most have not mastered English yet?"

The bible society has launched a public education campaign to win over skeptics in Jamaica.

"Many people are skeptical about the bible translation work until they actually hear it. Then they cease being resistant," said Hubert Devonish, a linguistics professor at the University of the West Indies.
It is, indeed, fortuitous that the translators dismissed the critics and are providing the Jamaican people  the Bible in their own language.  Sniffing haughtily at which are "legitimate" languages and which are not dismisses the intimacy that a good translation can bring to the reader or hearer of the Word.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

YMCA: New York Branch Replaces Santa with Frosty

This was very sad to read today ... (emphasis added)
New York City YMCA Gives Santa The Boot

He's a lost Claus.

A politically correct West Village YMCA has fired Ol' St. Nick in favor of Frosty.

Kids who once thrilled at sitting on Santa's lap at the 14th Street McBurney YMCA's wildly popular annual holiday luncheon will now suffer the icy embrace of a talking snowman and his sidekick, an anonymous penguin, at today's event.

Forget about bringing a list or checking it twice -- Frosty doesn't take gift requests, and doesn't care if you're naughty or nice. YMCA officials, who say they are in the midst of "rebranding" the Young Men's Christian Association to "The Y," defended their decision.

"It wasn't replacing; it was transitioning," said John Rappaport, executive director of the McBurney YMCA. "We realized that change is sometimes good, and that Frosty is a great winter character who would appeal to a broader number of kids."

The decision to ditch Father Christmas came down from McBurney branch administration, not the Y's Chicago headquarters.

A chilly reception greeted the news that the YMCA -- an organization founded to spread Christian values in 1844 -- was replacing the Christmas icon with a secular cartoon character.

"Christmas is not about Jack Frost; it's not about snowmen," fumed Bill Donohue of the Catholic League."We're not talking about some secular organization that has no religious roots. If they can't celebrate Christmas, then they should check out. What a bunch of cowards."
Amen, Brother Bill!  Maybe someone needs to remind the YMCA what their initials stand for: Young Men's CHRISTIAN Association.

I don't know about your local Y, but mine has wonderful banners everywhere with the Y's mission statement, which includes teaching and living out Christian principles.  And the New York City Y then turns around and bans Santa Claus?!?  (I wonder if they've also banned the banners my Y posts boldly and proudly about the place.)  This is a family organization, and Santa is a major family event ... and GUEST in every home!  What brainwashed, politically-correctness-fettered idiots.

Maybe I should complain about "men" being in the name ... I feel alienated as a woman ... waaaaaaaahhhh!!!  (Of course, there is a YWCA ... which I would never bother joining, because I do NOT feel alienated ... only if I choose to so feel ... I love my Y .... let's hope my local branch keeps its wits about them.)

This PC crap has gone too far!!!!!!

Santa's "Naughty or Nice" List - Retailers Who Aren't Afraid of Christmas

Yesterday, I watched a representative on FoxNews present The Liberty Counsel's latest list of retailers who are "naughty and nice."  In its ongoing defense of Christmas, the list helps retailers who love Christmas find the businesses who aren't afraid to say "Merry Christmas" to their customers.  (Remember previous seasons when retailers advertised "holiday trees" instead of  what they actually are -- Christmas trees?)

As you finish up your last-minute shopping, maybe you might want to consider the following info:
American Eagles Outfitters
Banana Republic
CVS Pharmacy
EB Games
The Gap
J. Crew
Old Navy
Plow & Hearth
Polo Ralph Lauren
Tractor Supply Company

Best  Buy (first time on the list!)
Cracker Barrel
Dick's Sporting Goods
Dollar General
Eddie Bauer
Hobby Lobby
Honey Baked Ham
J.C. Penney
Land's End
LL Bean
Mrs. Field's
Target (yeah!  my favorite store!)
Go to this link for more info.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

iTunes Pulls "Manhattan Declaration" for Being "Anti-Gay", "Anti-Woman" and "Anti-Abortion"

We see more political hardball being played by Apple's iTunes ... this report is from The Christian Post:
App Store Pulls Manhattan Declaration

Apparently there's not an app for the 400,000+ signature declaration....

Trevor Persaud
Apple's iTunes App Store has removed a program for the Manhattan Declaration after critics decried the declaration as "anti-gay" and "anti-woman."  The app, which went online in October, enabled users to sign the declaration, visit the website, and take a survey relating to the declaration. posted a petition--which picked up over 7,000 signers in a few days--asking that Apple remove the "anti-gay and anti-choice" application.

Defining itself as "A Call of Christian Conscience," the 4700-word declaration announces its signatories' intention "to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense" of principles that include "sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion." Released in 2009, the declaration has picked up over 400,000 signers, including drafters Charles Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George. (CT's editor-in-chief David Neff also signed the declaration.)

At some point in the last few days, the declaration app unobtrusively vanished from the App Store.  Observers have long puzzled over Apple's criteria for accepting and rejecting apps; in fact many people accused Apple of a double standard when they rejected a number of apps designed specifically for the gay community. The company said they rejected the apps for objectionable content, though many say that the cited content was no worse than that available in apps the company has accepted (like the one promoting the recent movie Bruno).

Apple has yet to explain its reasons for removing the declaration's app, which they originally rated "4+" for "No objectionable material." Supporters of the declaration, however, are definitely making their opinions known about the anti-app campaign.

"I am one of the 150 or so original signers of the Manhattan Declaration—I urge readers here to sign it—and I don’t hate gay people," wrote Tom Gilson on First Things's Evangel blog. "That’s an unjust and intolerant tag that a minority opposition group has fixed upon me for rhetorical effect. It’s wrong and it’s extremely judgmental."

"To a radicalized blog dedicated to promoting abortion, denigrating the dignity of women and the unborn, and supporting unnatural unions, this application is the scourge of human existence," writes Billy Atwell on the Manhattan Declaration's own blog. "What does that tell me? It tells me that we’re doing something right "
More reactions to come.
Interesting how Apple puts The Manhattan Declaration on a parallel with these other apps it pulled or rejected earlier:

- In February it was reported that Apple would pull sexually explicit apps, although curious how I still frequently run across them as I hunt for apps for my iPhone and iPad

- dreadful games such as "Baby Shaker" in which the user can quiet a crying baby by vigorously shaking the iPod or iPhone, or AMP's "Before You Score" game which gave young males tips for scoring and then sharing their exploits on Twitter or Facebook

- the app "I Am Rich" that people spent an outragous sum for ($1,000) simply to show off their wealth

- various political apps, such as Trampoline which uses the iPod's accelerometer to bounch political figures or iSinglePlayer that was rejected for daring to educate the public on the single-payer option of health care

Here's Brian Chen's take on Apple's predicament with his article "A Call for Transparency in Apple's App Store":
The issue is poised to grow as more iPads sell. To understand, you have to consider the logistics of embracing a new publishing medium such as the iPad. Media operations must integrate digital tablet production into their infrastructure, and it’s neither easy nor inexpensive to obtain the software developers, designers and content creators to make such a transition. And if advertisers invest more money in the iPad version of a publication, that pressures publishers to give priority to resources allocated to the iPad.

Given Apple’s lead in mobile, the rate at which Apple and the App Store are growing and the wild enthusiasm among advertisers lining up for the iPad opportunity, it seems inevitable that Apple will to some extent have influence over the content that publishers produce.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Evangelizing A Christian Nation

Being a public school teacher and having done many years as a youth group leader at church, I found the following report by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. at The Christian Post a bit disturbing ...

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism--the New American Religion

When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and "whatever."

As a matter of fact, the researchers, whose report is summarized in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, found that American teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their religious beliefs, and most are virtually unable to offer any serious theological understanding. As Smith reports, "To the extent that the teens we interviewed did manage to articulate what they understood and believed religiously, it became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it. Either way, it is apparent that most religiously affiliated U.S. teens are not particularly interested in espousing and upholding the beliefs of their faith traditions, or that their communities of faith are failing in attempts to educate their youth, or both."

As the researchers explained, "For most teens, nobody has to do anything in life, including anything to do with religion. 'Whatever' is just fine, if that's what a person wants."

The casual "whatever" that marks so much of the American moral and theological landscapes--adolescent and otherwise--is a substitute for serious and responsible thinking. More importantly, it is a verbal cover for an embrace of relativism. Accordingly, "most religious teenager's opinions and views--one can hardly call them worldviews--are vague, limited, and often quite at variance with the actual teachings of their own religion."

The kind of responses found among many teenagers indicates a vast emptiness at the heart of their understanding. When a teenager says, "I believe there is a God and stuff," this hardly represents a profound theological commitment.

Amazingly, teenagers are not inarticulate in general. As the researchers found, "Many teenagers know abundant details about the lives of favorite musicians and television stars or about what it takes to get into a good college, but most are not very clear on who Moses and Jesus were." The obvious conclusion: "This suggests that a strong, visible, salient, or intentional faith is not operating in the foreground of most teenager's lives."

One other aspect of this study deserves attention at this point. The researchers, who conducted thousands of hours of interviews with a carefully identified spectrum of teenagers, discovered that for many of these teens, the interview itself was the first time they had ever discussed a theological question with an adult. What does this say about our churches? What does this say about this generation of parents?

In the end, this study indicates that American teenagers are heavily influenced by the ideology of individualism that has so profoundly shaped the larger culture. This bleeds over into a reflexive non-judgmentalism and a reluctance to suggest that anyone might actually be wrong in matters of faith and belief. Yet, these teenagers are unable to live with a full-blown relativism ...

The "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" that these researchers identify as the most fundamental faith posture and belief system of American teenagers appears, in a larger sense, to reflect the culture as a whole. Clearly, this generalized conception of a belief system is what appears to characterize the beliefs of vast millions of Americans, both young and old.

This is an important missiological observation--a point of analysis that goes far beyond sociology. As Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton explained, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism "is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one's health, and doing one's best to be successful." In a very real sense, that appears to be true of the faith commitment, insofar as this can be described as a faith commitment, held by a large percentage of Americans. These individuals, whatever their age, believe that religion should be centered in being "nice"--a posture that many believe is directly violated by assertions of strong theological conviction.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also "about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents." As the researchers explained, "This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one's prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God's love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people."

In addition, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism presents a unique understanding of God. As Smith explains, this amorphous faith "is about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one's affairs--especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance."

Smith and his colleagues recognize that the deity behind Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very much like the deistic God of the 18th-century philosophers. This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. "In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process."

Obviously, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an organized faith. This belief system has no denominational headquarters and no mailing address. Nevertheless, it has millions and millions of devotees across the United States and other advanced cultures, where subtle cultural shifts have produced a context in which belief in such an undemanding deity makes sense. Furthermore, this deity does not challenge the most basic self-centered assumptions of our postmodern age. Particularly when it comes to so-called "lifestyle" issues, this God is exceedingly tolerant and this religion is radically undemanding.

As sociologists, Smith and his team suggest that this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism may now constitute something like a dominant civil religion that constitutes the belief system for the culture at large. Thus, this basic conception may be analogous to what other researchers have identified as "lived religion" as experienced by the mainstream culture.

Moving to even deeper issues, these researches claim that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is "colonizing" Christianity itself, as this new civil religion seduces converts who never have to leave their congregations and Christian identification as they embrace this new faith and all of its undemanding dimensions.

Consider this remarkable assessment: "Other more accomplished scholars in these areas will have to examine and evaluate these possibilities in greater depth. But we can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually [only] tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but is rather substantially morphed into Christianity's misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." ...

Does this mean that America is becoming more secularized? Not necessarily. These researchers assert that Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.

This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self. In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan. Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.
Sadly, this causes me to recall a conversation I had with a minister about the need for increased biblical literacy.  His response was one of annoyed apathy.  "But, Pastor, you work among Christians all day long.  I work among people who are openly hostile to Christianity, not just questioning.  How do we equip our young people before they go off the college, where they will be greatly tested?"   He failed to see a need to educate our youth beyond the basics of confirmation.

It is sad when our churches are complicit in the spreading of "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Church of the Rhythmically Impaired

I am embarrassed at my occasions of music snobbery ... times when I think I'm "all that and a bag of chips" when it comes to music.  Sometimes my head gets a bit too big for my own good, eventhough I struggle to remain humble.  Yes, there is some musical ability in my genes, but not enough to permit me to quit my day job ... my "square job."  But, the Lord, in His inimitable way, has such subtle and yet powerful ways of humbling me.

Year ago, I first used the term "The Church of the Rhythmically Impaired" during a time when my old church choir was preparing for special music for upcoming Sunday.  Two guests had flown in from Chicago to help us middle-aged to elderly, White, raised-on-snoozer-hymns hymnals learn some Black gospel songs.  We were struggling ... some more than others ... at the right chords, timbre, rhythm and dynamics of the new songs.  When the guests suggested that we clap our hands and shift side to side in beat with the music, my hopes were dashed as I witnessed several individuals with perhaps the WORST sense of rhythm I had ever seen!  One lady in particular really labored at the beat in the row ahead of me, her hands coming together at odd intervals in complete incongruence to the beat.  It took all my strength not to reach around her, grab her hands, and clap them together for her.  I fretted a bit the rest of the day, worrying how we would sound the next day for Sunday worship.  Much to my amazement, on the first note of the song as we opened our mouths and burst forth with our first syllable, the sound was AMAZING!  I immediately got the little "crown of goosebumps" on my scalp, and it was then that I knew we would make it ... make musical history for our meek church.  We were divinely directed to a higher level of performance that day.

Over the course of the past few years, I have dived head long into the world of Black gospel music, richly drinking in the beauty of the melodies and harmonies ... and thrilling at that "crown of goosebumps" when I hear a gospel song swell with the spirits of the singers in divine communion with God.  I've tried to imitate the sound, both alone and with other singers.  Whether traditional, blues, or modern urban, there is a true "soul" (for want of a better word) I sense unmatched in other music genres ... except maybe Handel's "The Messiah."

I've recently left my old church and have been visiting another church.  My music snobbery has reared its ugly head on occasion as I listen to the new congregation's renditions of contemporary Christian music.  But, God gives me a good tug on my bridle as I notice the faces of the choir members.  One day, the children's choir was singing a special number.  Their faces were adorable, and I enjoyed studying their expressions: some were intense, others appeared to be thinking about their coming lunch or soccer game, a few seemed to be dazed and confused and appeared to wonder why they were there.  But, then my eyes lighted upon one particular little cherub's face: the face of a boy with Down syndrome.  He sang with such exuberance and joy that his face outshown the others' ... and his parents were beaming just as much.  He sang with purity of joy and intent.  I sing sometimes with arrogance and showmanship. 

Another time, as an adult choir was singing, I noticed an elderly gentleman whom I had seen earlier in the hallway as he slowly and awkwardly made his way to a classroom.  His spine was very misshapened.   I noticed as he sang, his mouth contorted in odd shapes like that of a person experiencing facial paralysis following a stroke.  He sang with love and gratitude ... gratitude for being able to make it to church and be an active and involved member.  Perhaps he sang not in spite of his disability but because of it. 

Both singers reminded me of a popular song written by Darlene Zschech, "Shout to the Lord" ...
Shout to the Lord all the earth, let us sing
Power and majesty, praise to the King
Mountains bow down the seas will roar
at the sound of Your name

I sing for joy at the work of Your hands
forever I'll love You, forever I'll stand
nothing compares to the promise I have in You
Lord: Teach me to sing purely -- pure in intention, pure in motivation, pure in purpose.  Teach me to sing with gratitude ... not attitude! ... or, should I say "CAT-titude?"  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fallen Soldier: Highest Honor, Immeasurable Grief

A while back I gathered with some fellow Red Cross volunteers to "turn out" for a returning soldier killed in Afghanistan.  Like other civic groups, we are occasionally asked to be present at funeral processions and burials in order to show the grieving family the support of the community. 

This was the first such event I had attended.  I had just returned from a long day of teaching and a rigorous workout at the gym.  As I pulled together some semblance of dinner, I pushed the button on the answering machine and listened to a message from a Red Cross office worker asking if I could attend.  My first thought was:  "I'm too tired."

As I ate dinner and then started grading some tests, I felt a big more invigorated by the food.  My mind wandered back to the invitation ... the request.  It was still relatively early with there being about an hour and half before I had to leave if I were to attend.  My mind started pondering the request ...

"I'm too tired ..." sounded pretty shallow in light of the young man's sacrifice.

"You always say you support the troops ... is it just lip service?" I figured it was a simple enough of a request.  If a whole lot of individuals, who most likely had also just gotten home from work, took a brief moment to truly show support for the young soldier and his grieving family, what a showing that would be!

"Are you really that tired?"  Too tired to care?  The need and reward will be so much greater.

I called two other Red Cross volunteers to see if they happened to be going.  Luckily, both were.  So, we met up at a nearby location to carpool over to the funeral home and cemetery. 

The young man would be transported with special escort directly from the airport.  We wore our Red Cross attire.  We were amazed as we pulled up to the location ...

The fire district had two engines at the entrance to the cemetery, each facing the other with their ladders extended into the air.  A huge American flag was suspended from the engines' ladders.  Police cars encircled the engines with lights going.  The road was lined up and down with all kinds of people and groups: Boy Scouts and "regular folks" holding flags.

We Red Cross volunteers met at the funeral home.  We each received an American flag to hold and were deeply thanked by office managers for being there.  I saw men dressed in Scottish kilts, many VFW members, and Marines in their sharp dress uniforms. 

Our tiny group wound up standing right where all the action would be.  First, the young man was escorted to the funeral home in an old, classic pick-up truck, his flag-draped coffin highly visible from the rear.  It must have been an impressive and moving sight as it travelled along the highway escorted by motorcycle cops and limousines.

Before the family arrived, in the distance we heard an odd rumble.  Then, the cemetery grounds were flooded with at least 100 Patriot Guard Riders!  (Yeah -- I counted.)  We all breathed a sigh of relief, feeling that their presence would ward off any whackos that would dare protest the young man's funeral.

And, then, the family arrived.  Each member slowly climbed out of the limousine looking bewildered and distressed.  The family gathered together at the edge of the carport where the pick-up waited.  They were joined by a Scottish Honour Guard, the VFW, and the Marines.  In the precision only the military can muster, the Marines reverently pulled the casket from the pick-up's bed and marched it into the funeral home.  My eyes filled with tears as I thought: "What an awful thing this must be for a parent to experience!"  My heart ached for the mother and father.  Their young son's life snatched away so cruelly, so quickly, so violently ... far too soon.  "Lord, have mercy!" I prayed.

The respect that was displayed by all that night was heartfelt and, hopefully, healing.  As I looked around, I saw police officers standing at attention.  A young soldier dressed in fatigues stood alone at attention, seemingly to have appeared out of nowhere.  Some individuals dressed in civilian clothes stood at attention and saluted.  The Patriot Guard Riders stood along the road in respectful silence, their bikes' flags waving gently in the cool evening.

The coming days, weeks and months will be unspeakably hard for the family and friends.  "Lord, have mercy!" 

They will vaguely recall faces and pieces of conversations, but much will be a blurry dream ... a blurry nightmare. 

I do pray, however, that they will remember the words that lifted them up the most, the presence of dear friends and relatives who in vain tried to comfort them ... and maybe even the presence of strangers who, in rag-tag fashion, gathered to pay their respects to our community's soldier.

May God pour out His healing and peace, like a salve, upon these dear people.  "Lord, have mercy!"

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Chilean Miners: Their T-Shirts Gave Thanks to God

If you were like me earlier this week, you were glued to the TV watching live coverage of the miraculous rescue of the 33 Chilean miners trapped by a cave in back in early August.  I noticed many of the miners sported interesting t-shirts, the front emblazoned with "Gracias, Señor!" -- 'Thanks, Lord!"  I wondered about the t-shirts, and today found this at The Christian Post (emphasis added):

Miners Clad in Jesus Shirts Give Glory to God

Lillian Kwon
Christian Post Reporter
Fri, Oct. 15, 2010 Posted: 01:13 PM EDT

When the 33 trapped miners in Chile emerged from underground, at least two dozen of them were wearing T-shirts that proclaimed "Gracias Senor," or "Thank you Lord."

Christian Maureira, national director of Campus Crusade for Christ in Chile, who helped provide the shirts, said the miners wanted to recognize and thank God publicly as the world watched the anticipated rescue this week.

The miners were rescued on Tuesday and Wednesday after being trapped in the San Jose mine in Chile since the Aug. 5 cave-in.

During the 10-week stint some 2,000 feet underground, Jose Henriquez, 55, stepped up as a spiritual leader in the group, leading prayer services at noon and 6 p.m. each day.

He wrote a letter to Maureira after MP3s of the "JESUS" film and the New Testament were delivered to the miners through a 4-inch-wide tube.

"Thank you for this tremendous blessing for me and my coworkers. It will be good for our spiritual edification. I am fine because Christ lives in me," Henriquez, who is part of a Pentecostal church, wrote.

He also quoted the Old Testament passage Psalms 95:4 – "In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him."

That passage was printed on the back of the T-shirts that a majority of the miners wore as they were pulled out to safety this week.

Berry Fiess, director of Field Information Services of The JESUS Film Project, made it clear that the miners decided on their own to ask for shirts that essentially give glory to God. The shirts also have the JESUS Film Project logo on the sleeve.

"They requested – after we sent the MP3s – that we get these shirts for them. They told us what they wanted on the front and back sides," Fiess explained. "There appears to be this strong desire to honor God and I think that this situation must have brought them close to their Maker."

Maureira worked with a designer to produce the shirts and they were delivered to the miners on Monday, just a day before they began hopping into the "Phoenix" escape capsule to reach the surface.

According to Maureira, who had initiated delivering audio Scripture to the miners, several of the men gave testimonies about meeting God while trapped.

Responding to those who wonder where God was during other cave-ins where miners died, the CCC Chile director commented, "I believe that God is sovereign and all miners – either those that have survived or those who have died – accomplish the will of God."

Another collapse could have happened during the rescue process in Chile, or the instruments might not have worked, Fiess noted.

"And like the shirt said on the back, 'In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him,'" he said.

Fiess also noted that there have been many Christians who were saved miraculously and those who suffered and died. But he cited three biblical figures, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Old Testament book of Daniel, who were prepared to give glory to God whether they were delivered from a blazing furnace or not.

In the case of the miners in Chile, Fiess said, "I think it's valid to give God the honor and the glory here because God is the one who can provide His grace and mercy at any time that He wants."
I'm sure the radical atheists and the PC-minded audience members weren't happy to see the t-shirts.  But, as they say, 'there are no atheists in a foxhole.'

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Abortion: New Movie to Expose the Business of Abortions

From Stephanie Samuel of The Christian Post (emphasis added):

New Film 'Blood Money' Reveals the Business Behind Abortion

Fri, Oct. 08, 2010 Posted: 06:17 PM EDT

WASHINGTON – In a new documentary that looks to blow the lid off the pro-choice movement, a former independent abortion clinic owner reveals the abortion industry as one of sales, scripts and marketing.

“The abortion clinic is a constant cycle of making money,” says Carol Everett, who managed three different abortion clinics in Dallas County before becoming a pro-life author and speaker.

“Blood Money,” which screened Wednesday night at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, features the testimony of lawyers, scientists, priests, abortion patients and clinic insiders to expose abortion more as a money-maker than a medical service.

Everett is especially crucial to the film’s premise. The former abortion provider gives chilling accounts of how she ran her business. According to Everett, counselors answering the phones were actually trained saleswomen reading from scripts. Doctors performing the abortions packed their schedules to perform 20 to 30 abortions an hour. Newly diagnosed moms were encouraged to make on-the-spot decisions for an abortion for a discounted price.

“Nobody knows what goes on in an abortion clinic,” Everett says in the film. “I realize I have been involved in the deaths of 35,000 babies.”

In “Blood Money," as she’s done in a number of speaking engagements, Everett tells the tales of some of those abortions. In one particular story, Everett tells the story of a woman who came in to have an abortion and ended up with a perforated uterus.

“Her uterus was perforated [and] her bowel was sticking out of her vagina,” she recalls.

In another story, Everett tells of a woman’s procedure going horribly wrong.

“I’ve never seen so much blood,” she recalls thinking upon opening the door to the operating room. The patient was eventually sent home, where she bled to death later that night.

“We killed that woman,” says Everett, who was actively involved in the abortion rights movement for over six years.

For “Blood Money,” filmmakers gathered a number of testimonials from advocates in several pro-life groups, including Priests for Life and Pro-Life Unity.

“We asked a number of people in the pro-life community to make a list of those they thought should be in the film,” says executive producer David Kyle.

As for the post-abortive women, Kyle says, “It was providence that we just happened across them.”
In the movie, abortion patients share their stories of being coerced into abortion, and their unforgettable procedures.

They also talk about experiencing depression and suicidal tendencies afterward.

“I took a bunch of drugs and slit my wrist,” one woman says.

Regarding the testimonies, film narrator Alveda King, daughter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, blames the U.S. Supreme Court for having “opened up the floodgates for abortion clinics to make money off the pain and suffering of women.”

In the infamous Roe v. Wade case, the 1973 Supreme Court held in a 7-2 ruling that the constitutional right to privacy extends to a woman's decision to have an abortion. Abortion, therefore, was deemed a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution.

In addition to testimonies, the film also explores the origins of the landmark Roe v. Wade case, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, and statistics that some pro-lifers say prove that abortion is wiping out the African-American minority.

Kyle says he is currently trying to drum up enough interest to get the film in theaters.

“If we could find a distributor willing to [show the movie nationally], we would. Unfortunately, to date none have shown an interest,” he reports.

The movie was featured in Chicago last month. A DVD of the film has also been made available for purchase on the website

“Friends of the Film” currently include Priests for Life, King for America, Pro-Life Unity, and Living Hope for Life. The movie also has over 9,000 Facebook members.
How brave of Carol Everett to come forward and testify to the tactics of the abortion industry.  May God bless her efforts at curtailing the abortionists' agenda and assuage her guilt.  She truly is a courageous woman!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Stem Cell Research: New Breakthroughs Diminish Controversy

Several states have recently been caught in the crosshairs of the moral / ethical debate surrounding stem cell research, with many opponents fearing the "harvesting" and wide-scale use of embryonic stem cells.  At the time that Missourians, for example, were considering permitting a research facility within its borders (of course, the campaign heavily funded by the research company), my thoughts were if people were even considering the newly emerging stem cell sources that did not involved human embryos.

Fortunately, scientists are brillianty circumventing the controversy, steering stem cell therapies away from the controversial use of embryonic cells to other, non-polemical sources.  Here's the most recent example as reported by Eric Young of The Christian Post Reporter (emphasis added):

Christian Physicians Hail New Breakthrough in Stem Cell Research

Tue, Oct. 05, 2010 Posted: 05:21 PM EDT

Christian medical professionals are hailing the latest breakthrough in stem cell research, claiming that it further proves that the destruction of embryos is unnecessary to find cures for disease.

"This breakthrough validates many other significant proofs of the therapeutic promise of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) and adult stem cells,” declared Dr. David Stevens, CEO of the 16,000-member Christian Medical Association (CMA), on Monday.

"Compared to the speculative, controversial and dangerous embryonic stem cell research that the [Obama] administration insists on funding illegally, iPS cell and adult stem cell research is a cheaper, faster, safer, more efficient and quicker path to the cures we need,” he added.

On Thursday, a team of researchers led by Derrick J. Rossi of the Children's Hospital Boston revealed its development of a new technique that can quickly and more efficiently create safe alternatives to human embryonic stem cells.

The new method, which is featured in the October issue of Cell Stem Cell, uses synthetic RNA to drive the expression of stem cell-inducing proteins without irreversibly altering the cells' genetic material.

The resulting stem cells then are able to recapitulate the functional and molecular properties of human embryonic stem cells, and therefore can be transformed into specialized cells to treat disease.

Furthermore, unlike current methods that use viruses to deliver the genes that “reprogram” a cell into a stem cell, the new method poses little (if any) risk for cancer as RNA doesn’t become part of the cell’s genome. The resulting stem cells are also generated at much higher efficiencies than standard virus-based techniques and in half the time.

If that's not reason enough to celebrate, Rossi - whose team spent more than a year developing the synthetic, chemically-modified RNA - said the new technology also has potential reaching far beyond the stem-cell field.

“In terms of therapeutics, any genetic disease that involves a mutation of a gene that doesn’t make a certain protein, we can now approach that with this technology to reintroduce that protein into those cells and reestablish proper function to those cells,” he reported. “So we think that this is going to be really important for many therapeutic avenues in addition to basic questions of biology.”

After news spread of the latest development, CMA’s Stevens questioned how anyone could continue insisting that the government, “in a time of financial crisis, should continue to shovel hundreds of millions of tax dollars down the black hole of speculative embryo-destroying research.”

"These new iPS cells are safer; there is no evidence of a risk of causing cancer by using viruses to insert genes into cells. The new cells are produced more efficiently, taking just 17 days to create. The new iPS cells are cheaper to develop, can easily tissue match the patient that the therapy are given too and are morally acceptable to all,” Stevens noted. “The fact that these iPS cells strategy can then turn those cells into ones that could be used for transplants is a huge step forward as well."

Notably, despite the highly touted potential of embryonic stem cells, research on embryo-derived cells has yet to treat a single disease. Adult stem cell research, meanwhile, has produced treatments for heart muscle rehabilitation, muscle growth, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, among others. Altogether, more than 80 diseases are already being treated with non-controversial adult stem cells and 1,970 clinical trials with adult stem cells are underway. With embryonic stem cells, there is only one human clinical trial.

“With patients desperately waiting for cures and ethical alternatives showing such great promise, it is increasingly ludicrous to spend and speculate our tax dollars instead on unethical, illegal and cancer-producing embryonic stem cell research,” Stevens remarked.

CMA, which claims a membership of around 16,000 physicians, medical students and allied health professionals, was an original party to a lawsuit that on Aug. 23 won a temporary halting of all federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research.

A federal appeals court in Washington has since made permanent a stay requested by the Obama administration on the district court judge's order to halt federal funding of the controversial research.

The U.S. government’s funding of embryonic stem cell research, therefore, is allowed to continue as the case against it makes way through the court system.

Supporters of the controversial research emphasize that embryonic stem cells can differentiate into almost any tissue and therefore have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases.
Now THAT is innovation!!   Where one technology poses several problems, someone comes up with a solution ... one that is better, cheaper, and faster to boot!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Addiction: It's Not Just About Chemistry

The other morning, I was doing some reading in 2 Peter.  This letter was penned by Peter in response to false teachings that had infiltrated the early Church.  While referring to these false prophets and teachers, one line in particular struck me:
"They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him." (2 Peter 2:19, NIV)
Naturally, the first thought is to think of addiction ... the "typical" type ... alcohol and drugs, sex, gambling, etc.  My immediate thought was of how addiction was the cause of my marriage ending in divorce, as is sadly the case in so many relationships.  When my ex-husband's "harmless" marijuana addiction morphed into one of sex, for the sake of my own mental and physical health, I had to draw the line.

But, I also began to reflect on other, more non-traditional forms of "addiction" that seem so prevalent today, especially found in my profession of education and the interaction with children and their families that is endemic.  Perhaps my mind was quick to consider other types of addiction due to several current sad cases in bad parenting I am dealing with as a teacher.  These parents seem "addicted" to a victimology that excuses their children's behavior and, in their mind, removes them from parental obligations.  I see parents using a flimsy medical "condition" to get their kids out of academic requirements ... one case in particular is so odd that I can't help but wonder if the mother doesn't have some form of Münchausen syndrome by proxy.  She seems to obsessively wrap herself in her son's medical problem, piling upon the district a list of doctors and medical diagnoses, and unreasonably demanding that special concessions be made for her child.  She spins like the Tazmanian Devil during a meeting while her husband sits idly by, occasionally adding to the conversation.  (I hope the district pushes back and insists on a clear, authenticated medical diagnosis that connects all the loose strands.)

I have worked with some persons that seem to be addicted to attention, being very dramatic individuals that pounce on any opportunity to relay their current crisis (or "crises"), whipping themselves into a frenzied performance of pity, martyrdom, and a shout of "Look at me!  Look at me!"  (My friend calls such people "LAMs.")   Work problems, generic health issues, "life is unfair", etc. are the typical ingredients in their Soup O' Sorrow.  These are the people I wish to remind that "How are you?" is usually meant solely as a greeting and does not imply that I am extending an invitation for a complete medical history before the doctor comes in the room for the examination.  I have found over the years that the people who truly suffer from debilitating and serious illnesses rarely complain about their discomfort, pain, or predicament.  These are the ones I extend the special invitation of "No.  I really want to know how you are doing."  Only then do those who truly suffer oblige me with details ... and I am honored that they do.

Other people are addicted to shirking responsibility, whether it be for their health, child rearing, how much they themselves contribute to marital strife, and so on.  This is the cliché "Peter Pan Syndrome."  They seem to always find someone or some circumstance that is responsible for their plight.  Addicts take this to the extreme, but even fairly even-keel folks can get wrapped up in this.  "Gee, maybe your speeding through a construction zone and getting a big ol' ticket was not the cop's fault.  Yes, I know they make those pesky traffic signs and cones are small and hard to see.  They must do that on purpose to bring in more revenue for the county."  This reminds me of years back when I worked in a gym.  A woman was buying a membership and, when filling out the credit application, she explained that she did not have a driver's license -- she only had a receipt for it.  Her license had been taken by the police when she got pulled over for a DUI.  She had the nerve to complain about the inconvenience of not having her license.

I had a colleague who seemed to enjoy being her own worst enemy.  She frequently put herself down, deriding herself for just about everything -- weight, appearance, health habits, various "inabilities", etc.  Her posture was one of shame and "don't look at me," with a dreary wardrobe that reflected what she felt inside.  Addicted to self-loathing, perhaps?  Life is pretty tough as it is.  Why be your own worst enemy?  I remember going through a phase of this .... I believe it's called "adolescence."  But, when I started college I knew that, outside of my family, no one would be in my corner but me.  I had better learn to be good to myself.  I'm all I've got.  Yes, improvements can always be made, but why knock yourself out before even stepping into the ring?

Then, there are those that are so competitive ... something I would call addicted to "One-Upmanship."  These are the folks that brag about themselves, having to always better someone else when the other person is perhaps relaying a success or failure, for that matter. 

None of us can escape addiction.  We all have some behavior that we exhibit for various reasons.  I am hardly innocent.  I have my own, which after I've indulged in them, I am forever embarrassed.  "Ooooh!  Why did I have to make that conversation way too much about me!"  "Why am I shoving all this food in my face?  What's got me so upset?" 

And, of course, I know full well that my impatience with and judging of "addicts" is wrong ... another addiction of mine.  Oooops!

I thirst after .... what?  We all thirst .... after many different pursuits and distractions.
"but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."  (John 4:14)

Lord, quench my thirsts.  May you well from within me, bubbling your Spirit through to the top.  And help me to be a drink of cool water to those I meet in this hot, parched desert of Life.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Grandma's Hands

[Thanks, R!]

Grandma, some ninety plus years, sat feebly on the patio bench. She didn't move, just sat with her head down staring at her hands.

When I sat down beside her she didn't acknowledge my presence and the longer I sat I wondered if she was OK

Finally, not really wanting to disturb her but wanting to check on her at the same time, I asked her if she was OK. She raised her head and looked at me and smiled. "Yes, I'm fine, thank you for asking," she said in a clear voice strong.

"I didn't mean to disturb you, grandma, but you were just sitting here staring at your hands and I wanted to make sure you were OK," I explained to her.

"Have you ever looked at your hands," she asked.. "I mean really looked at your hands?"

I slowly opened my hands and stared down at them. I turned them over, palms up and then palms down. No, I guess I had never really looked at my hands as I tried to figure out the point she was making.

Grandma smiled and related this story:

"Stop and think for a moment about the hands you have, how they have served you well throughout your years. These hands, though wrinkled shriveled and weak have been the tools I have used all my life to reach out and grab and embrace life.

"They braced and caught my fall when as a toddler I crashed upon the floor.

They put food in my mouth and clothes on my back. As a child, my mother taught me to fold them in prayer. They tied my shoes and pulled on my boots. They held my husband and wiped my tears when he went off to war.

"They have been dirty, scraped and raw , swollen and bent. They were uneasy and clumsy when I tried to hold my newborn son. Decorated with my wedding band they showed the world that I was married and loved someone special.

They wrote my letters to him and trembled and shook when I buried my parents and spouse.

"They have held my children and grandchildren, consoled neighbors, and shook in fists of anger when I didn't understand.

They have covered my face, combed my hair, and washed and cleansed the rest of my body. They have been sticky and wet, bent and broken, dried and raw. And to this day when not much of anything else of me works real well these hands hold me up, lay me down, and again continue to fold in prayer.

"These hands are the mark of where I've been and the ruggedness of life.

But more importantly it will be these hands that God will reach out and take when he leads me home. And with my hands He will lift me to His side and there I will use these hands to touch the face of Christ."

I will never look at my hands the same again. But I remember God reached out and took my grandma's hands and led her home.

When my hands are hurt or sore or when I stroke the face of my children and husband I think of grandma. I know she has been stroked and caressed and held by the hands of God.

I, too, want to touch the face of God and feel His hands upon my face. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Daniel's Gloves: God Works In Mysterious Ways

[Thanks, J, for this little gem!  I checked it out ... it is a true story.  See info at end from Snopes.]


It was an unusually cold day for the month of May. Spring had arrived and everything was alive with color. But a cold front from the North had brought winter's chill back to Indiana. I sat, with two friends, in the picture window of a quaint restaurant just off the corner of the towns-square. The food and the company were both especially good that day.

As we talked, my attention was drawn outside, across the street. There, walking into town, was a man who appeared to be carrying all his worldly goods on his back. He was carrying, a well-worn sign that read, "I will work for food." My heart sank. I brought him to the attention of my friends and noticed that others around us had stopped eating to focus on him. Heads moved in a mixture of sadness and disbelief. We continued with our meal, but his image lingered in my mind. We finished our meal and went our separate ways.

I had errands to do and quickly set out to accomplish them. I glanced toward the town square, looking somewhat halfheartedly for the strange visitor.I was fearful, knowing that seeing him again would call some response. I drove through town and saw nothing of him. I made some purchases at a store and got back in my car. Deep within me, the Spirit of God kept speaking to me: "Don't go back to the office until you've at least driven once more around the square." And so, with some hesitancy, I headed back into town.

As I turned the square's third corner, I saw him. He was standing on the steps of the storefront church, going through his sack. I stopped and looked, feeling both compelled to speak to him, yet wanting to drive on. The empty parking space on the corner seemed to be a sign from God: an invitation to park. I pulled in, got out and approached the town's newest visitor.

"Looking for the pastor?" I asked.

"Not really," he replied, "just resting."

"Have you eaten today?"

"Oh, I ate something early this morning."

"Would you like to have lunch with me?"

"Do you have some work I could do for you?"

"No work," I replied. "I commute here to work from the city, but I would like to take you to lunch."

"Sure," he replied with a smile.

As he began to gather his things. I asked some surface questions. "Where you headed?"

"St. Louis."

"Where you from?"

"Oh, all over; mostly Florida."

"How long you been walking?"

"Fourteen years," came the reply. I knew I had met someone unusual. We sat across from each other in the same restaurant I had left earlier. His face was weathered slightly beyond his 38 years. His eyes were dark yet clear, and he spoke with an eloquence and articulation that was startling. He removed his jacket to reveal a bright red T-shirt that said, "Jesus is The Never Ending Story."

Then Daniel's story began to unfold. He had seen rough times early in life. He'd made some wrong choices and reaped the consequences. Fourteen years earlier, while backpacking across the country, he had stopped on the beach in Daytona. He tried to hire on with some men who were putting up a large tent and some equipment. A concert, he thought. He was hired, but the tent would not house a concert but revival services, and in those services he saw life more clearly. He gave his life over to God. "Nothing's been the same since," he said, "I felt the Lord telling me to keep walking, and so I did, some 14 years now."

"Ever think of stopping?" I asked.

"Oh, once in a while, when it seems to get the best of me. But God has given me this calling. I give out Bibles. That's what's in my sack. I work to buy food and Bibles, and I give them out when His Spirit leads."

I sat amazed. My homeless friend was not homeless. He was on a mission and lived this way by choice. The question burned inside for a moment and then I asked: "What's it like?"


"To walk into a town carrying all your things on your back and to show your sign?"

"Oh, it was humiliating at first. People would stare and make comments. Once someone tossed a piece of half-eaten bread and made a gesture that certainly didn't make me feel welcome. But then it became humbling to realize that God was using me to touch lives and change people's concepts of other folks like me."

My concept was changing, too. We finished our dessert and gathered his things. Just outside the door, he paused. He turned to me and said, "Come Ye blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom I've prepared for you. For when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in."

I felt as if we were on holy ground. "Could you use another Bible?" I asked. He said he preferred a certain translation. It traveled well and was not too heavy. It was also his personal favorite. "I've read through it 14 times," he said. "I'm not sure we've got one of those, but let's stop by our church and see." I was able to find my new friend a Bible that would do well, and he seemed very grateful.

"Where you headed from here?"

"Well, I found this little map on the back of this amusement park coupon."

"Are you hoping to hire on there for a while?"

"No, I just figure I should go there. I figure someone under that star right there needs a Bible, so that's where I'm going next." He smiled, and the warmth of his spirit radiated the sincerity of his mission.

I drove him back to the town-square where we'd met two hours earlier, and as we drove, it started raining. We parked and unloaded his things.

"Would you sign my autograph book?" he asked. "I like to keep messages from folks I meet."

I wrote in his little book that his commitment to his calling had touched my life. I encouraged him to stay strong. And I left him with a verse of scripture from Jeremiah, "I know the plans I have for you," declared the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope."

"Thanks, man," he said. "I know we just met and we're really just strangers, but I love you."

"I know," I said, "I love you, too."

"The Lord is good."

"Yes, He is. How long has it been since someone hugged you?" I asked.

"A long time," he replied. And so on the busy street corner in the drizzling rain, my new friend and I embraced, and I felt deep inside that I had been changed.

He put his things on his back, smiled his winning smile and said, "See you in the New Jerusalem."

"I'll be there!" was my reply.

He began his journey again. He headed away with his sign dangling from his bedroll. When you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?"

"You bet," I shouted back, "God bless."

"God bless." And that was the last I saw of him. Late that evening as I left my office, the wind blew strong. The cold front had settled hard upon the town. I bundled up and hurried to my car. As I sat back and reached for the emergency brake, I saw them, a pair of well-worn brown work gloves neatly laid over the length of the handle. I picked them up and thought of my friend and wondered if his hands would stay warm that night without them. I remembered his words: "If you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?"

Today his gloves lie on my desk in my office. They help me to see the world and its people in a new way, and they help me remember those two hours with my unique friend and to pray for his ministry. "See you in the New Jerusalem," he said.

Yes, Daniel, I know I will...

If this story touched you, forward it to a friend!

"I shall pass this way but once. Therefore, any good that I can do or any kindness that I can show, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again."

My instructions were to send this to four people that I wanted God to bless and I picked you. Please pass this to four people you want to be blessed as well as the person who sent it to you. This prayer is powerful and there is nothing attached, please do not break this pattern, prayer is one of the best gifts we receive. There is no cost but a lot of rewards, let's continue to pray for one another.

God bless and have a nice day! "Father, I ask you to bless my friends, relatives and e-mail buddies reading this right now. Show them a new revelation of your love and power. Holy spirit, I ask you to minister to their spirit at this very moment. Where there is pain, give them your peace and mercy. Where there is self-doubt, release a renewed confidence through your grace, In Jesus' precious Name. Amen."

Here's the background on the story from Snopes:
Origins:   We first saw this story circulated on the Internet in 2001. Although many copies omit mention of its author, the essay is the work of Richard Ryan, the assistant pastor of the Old Capitol United Methodist Church in Corydon, Indiana. It first appeared in the July/August 1995 issue The Corydon Democrat magazine and has since been reprinted in a few inspirational collections, including A Third Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Pastor Ryan wrote the account of his meeting with Daniel the day after the event, when the encounter was still fresh in his mind. Indeed, the memory of that day in 1993 has not much faded through the intervening years, as I discovered when I spoke to him. Daniel's gloves are "still sitting in my office today," said the pastor, who is bemused by the number of folks who have dropped by to see the discarded hand coverings, which he describes as "an ordinary pair of work gloves." Daniel was a real person, a weather-beaten traveller the pastor brought back to his church and introduced to others. As for this modern-day Johnny Appleseed who spreads the gospel as he treks through the countryside, though we've yet to locate news stories about a fellow walking from town to town handing out bibles, we can't help but believe Pastor Ryan's claim of having handled the autograph book Daniel carried and having seen the many notations other well-wishers had added to it over the years. The version which has come to be part of the ongoing lore of the Internet is almost word-for-word the first draft the pastor produced. Apart from the end section that begins "If this story touched you, forward it to a friend!" (which was added by some anonymous forwarder during its journey from inbox to inbox), the only difference is the elision of the original ending line: "God bless you, Daniel, wherever your feet take you."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Heaven: Will Pets Be There?

The ongoing debate ... "Do our pets go to heaven?

In my family, that has always been a "for sure thing."  Our logic: How can such a loving creature not have a soul and not be deserving of a place in heaven?"

Maybe you saw the recent "debate" via signs between a Catholic and a Presbyterian Church.  It was a popular item that got passed around the Internet.  Here are two from the series:

The "heated" debate ended with Beulah Presbyterian asserting: "Dogs are animals.  There aren't any rocks in heaven either."  The Catholic church fired back with "All rocks go to heaven."

This question ... well, "settled fact" for me ... comes to mind in the wake of my mother having to put her dog down yesterday.  Sadly, it was just 3 months ago that she had to put another dog down.  She has lost two beloved dogs in such short time.  The first dog was quite old and had been ailing for some time.  It was expected.  But yesterday was a shock.  Toby, a 95-lb "American All-Breed" had blown out a knee about a week ago.  He had torn a ligament in one knee chasing after a squirrel.  Mom had him scheduled for a $2,000 knee operation this coming Friday, both of them facing 16 weeks of recovery and rehab.  But, then on Friday he blew out the other knee.  There would be no way Toby could make a come back from that.  So, sadly my mother had to make the grim decision to put down an otherwise healthy 6 year old dog -- still so full of life and love. So unexpected.  So painful.  Now my mom struggles with a silent home with no cold-nosed, tail-wagging greetings.

Last night, against my better judgment, I did some surfing around on the Internet looking for those tear-jerking, mushy thoughts about dogs.  I'd had a crying-induced headache all day, but still I looked around.  While doing so, I am still able to look down at my chocolate-covered, fur-faced "love bug."  I experienced a few tinges of guilt, wanting to kill her the other day I had gotten so angry.  Now, my heart was melting as I focused on how loving she is and how quick to anger I am.

But, I digress ...

So, I searched around the Internet looking for Scripture as well as sentimental anecdotes.  Most theology-based sites gave a nod towards animals entering heaven.  One heartlessly said "no."  One particularly negative site said basically that, if a pet goes to heaven, its human must be going, too, but that they're aren't that many people going to heaven in the first place.  OUCH!

Naturally, I preferred the "yays" to the "nays."  Here's a nice one I found at Christianity Today.  A parent had written saying: "Our beloved dog died recently.  Should I correct my kids when they say they can't wait to play with Rocky again in heaven?"  Randy Alcorn gave a tender-hearted reply.  Here is an excerpt:
We know animals will be on the New Earth, which is a redeemed and restored old Earth, in which animals had a prominent role. People will be resurrected to inhabit this world. Romans 8:21–23 assumes animals as part of a suffering creation eagerly awaiting deliverance through humanity's resurrection. This seems to require that some animals who lived, suffered, and died on the old Earth must be made whole on the New Earth. Wouldn't some of those likely be our pets?

In her excellent book, Holiness in Hidden Places, Joni Eareckson Tada says, "If God brings our pets back to life, it wouldn't surprise me. It would be just like him. It would be totally in keeping with his generous character … Exorbitant. Excessive. Extravagant in grace after grace. Of all the dazzling discoveries and ecstatic pleasures heaven will hold for us, the potential of seeing Scrappy would be pure whimsy—utterly, joyfully, surprisingly superfluous. … Heaven is going to be a place that will refract and reflect in as many ways as possible the goodness of joy of our great God, who delights in lavishing love on his children."

In a poem about the world to come, theologian John Piper writes:
And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass,
And saw my dog, old Blackie, fast
As she could come. She leaped the stream—
Almost—and what a happy gleam
Was in her eye. I knelt to drink
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy. And everywhere
I turned I saw a wonder there.
We needn't be embararassed either to grieve the loss of our pets or to want to see them again. If we believe God is their creator, that he loves us and them, that he intends to restore his creatures from the bondage they experienced because of our sin, then we have biblical grounds for not only wanting but also expecting that we may be with them again on the New Earth.
Dogs are the one animal, I believe, that are truly velcroed to humans, feeling and sharing their humans' needs.  There have been times when I've experienced a dog detecting my feelings.  When I was separated and going through the agony of deciding whether to continue with the marriage or to divorce, one afternoon I was sitting in the living room and started to silently cry.  My dog, who was asleep in the bedroom, suddenly appeared before me with the saddest expression.  She laid her head in my lap and stayed with me.  It is a true friend who sits with you and grieves.  I always refer to that dog as my "psychologist" dog.  She was so tender-hearted ... my 80-lb. "killer dog" Dobermann was actually a "sheep in wolf's clothing."

A few years ago I had two major operations six months apart.  My current dog was my "physical therapist" during that time.  She is a 70 pound crazy dog.  As I was preparing for surgery, I was worried she might hurt me with her powerful, over-the-top exuberance.  But, with the first surgery, she instantly knew I was "hurt" and became docile and tender.  Six months later when I had hip surgery, I still clearly recall the look on her face as she watched me stand up from my chair with crutches -- it was one of surprise and shock, a kind of Piglet "Oh, dear!  Such a big world for such a small animal!" reaction.

During the first week as I teeter-tottered down the hall on crutches one day, I heard her come scrambling behind me.  I feared she would knock me down, there having been many times pre-surgery when she would knock into me as she bounded past me down the hall.  But this time, as she reached me and I cringed, she instantly stopped and heeled in perfect position at my knee (something she had always defiantly refused to do) -- head submissively down and walking slowly at my pace.  I was absolutely shocked!  I thought: "OK, someone stole my dog and replaced her with a super obedient one."  I still marvel at how adeptly and obediently she learned new routines to accommodate my temporary incapacities -- routines that still have pay-offs today.

I have decided that dogs are "zedek": a Hebrew word meaning "righteous" and "as God intended."   All of nature is "zedek", except for us humans due to out sinful, rebellious nature.  I can get so furious with Wild Dog, but I have to remember she is "zedek" -- she's just being what she's designed to be.  It's my ideals I'm molding her to.  The noble "zedek" dog willingly molds itself to the human's will.  Many times when I head to church, I will tell Wild Dog: "Mommy's gotta go to church.  I'm not 'zedek' like you are."

Dogs are amazing.  Think of them in all their capacities and roles: herding, guarding, police work, bomb sniffing, drug detection, companions for the handicapped, therapy dogs for ailing seniors and wounded soldiers ... We have all heard and marveled at their amazing stories of devotion and heroism.

How can an animal so in tune with and so devoted to humans not have a soul?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Healing in His Wings

If I could only touch Him, I will be healed.  My lifelong prayer has been like that of the father of the spirit-possessed son in Mark 9:24: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"  

It was another Sunday when I started thinking up reasons not to go to church ... too much school work to get done, the yard needed mowing, other chores that needed to be taken care of before the start of another work week.  But, as always, I was so grateful I went.  There was a powerful lesson for me -- that of the woman who suffered for twelve years from bleeding.

Mark 5:24-34 (New International Version)

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed."  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"

 "You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?' "

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."
In those days, a woman with such a bleeding disorder, probably caused by a hormonal imbalance or a common uterine disorder that nowadays is easily cured, would have been unclean -- an "untouchable" who was a cast-off from society.  People would not be allowed to touch her.  Imagine: a life with no human physical contact.  Unclean.

But, let us be clear about the meaning of "unclean" -- translated from the Hebrew "tumAH."   It does not mean evil.  Here's how The Jerusalem Perspective explains it:
The Hebrew expressions tohoRAH (cleanness, purity) and tumAH (uncleanness, impurity) are technical terms that have no positive or negative connotations. Scripturally, one is either in a state of purity, or not in a state of purity. Uncleanness is a human phenomenon, almost commonplace, and one must view the contrast between clean and unclean as a contrast between that which is holy and that which is not (Lev. 11:47), between that which is divine and that which is human. Ritual cleanness and uncleanness should not be thought of as a contrast between good and evil.
So, imagine being this poor woman, unclean for twelve years -- i.e. no physical contact.  No hugs.  No kisses.  No holding of your hand.  No pats on the shoulder.  For fear the person would be made unclean by the woman's disorder.

"If I touch his clothes, I will be healed", thought the woman.  Undoubtedly, the common verse from the Hebrew scriptures must have propelled her forward: "But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall." (Malachi 4:2)  Here's where the Old Testament interweaves so beautifully with the New when one looks at the original Hebrew in the text.  From
As a Jewish rabbi, Jesus probably wore tassels on the corners of his garment. The Jewish practice of wearing these tassels developed from God's command in Numbers 15: "You are to make tassels on the corners of your garments?so you will remember all the commands of the LORD" (v. 38-39).

Later in Jewish history, the tassels were incorporated into the Jewish prayer shawl, called the tallit, which is worn by many Jews today. On each corner of the prayer shawl are long tassels, or tzitzit, knotted five times to remind Jews of the five books of Moses. The four spaces between these knots represent the letters of God's name, YHWH. And the knots along the prayer shawl edges use exactly 613 knotted strings, representing the 613 laws of the Torah.

Ezekiel prophesied that the Messiah would come with healing in his "wings." But the Hebrew word for "wings" could also be used to identify the tassels that Jewish men wore on the corners of their robe. Based on this prophecy, the Jews expected the Messiah to have healing in his tassels.

During his ministry, one woman demonstrated her faith in Jesus by seeking healing in his tassels. Matthew 9 tells us that a sick woman, whose disease had probably left her untouched for twelve years, thought to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed" (v. 21).
When she touched the Messiah's tassels, the woman was healed. And Jesus commended her for her faith.
Healing in His tzitzit ... Healing in His wings ...  Healing in His tassels.  The Messiah would have healing in His wings ... tassels.  The ill woman knew in her very soul that she needed to reach out and grasp the tassels of Jesus' prayer shawl.  "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed."

Imagine being the woman ... an outcast, yet daring enough to push through the crowd to grasp the tassels that dangled from his prayer shawl ... to instantly feel healing within your body ... the old, familiar flow of blood stopping ... maybe, too, any accompanying pains and anemic exhaustion dissipating into nothingness.  You are restored -- physically, spiritually, and communally.  

Then, to hear Jesus question His companions and the crowds: "Who touched me?"  

"Yikes!  He knows!  How does He know?  Will He know it's me?  Of course He will!  Yikes!  What do I do?!?  Do I run?  Will I be punished for being unclean and daring to touch the robe of a rabbi?  What will they do to me for my brashness?"

Jesus looks at the faces of those in the crowd ... surely reading the very hearts, souls and minds of each person.  Your eyes lock.  There is an instantaneous connection ... "You're the one" He speaks to your being.  

But, rather than derision, you receive love ... praise ... acceptance ... inclusion ... such foreign and forgotten things in your lonely twelve years of isolation.  His words permeate your entire existence: "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

What is your suffering?  What do you need to be healed from?  What isolation are you existing in?   Will you be so bold, as that woman was, to push through the crowd ... through the derision ... through the emotional and spiritual blockade ... will you push through and grasp the tassels of the Rabbi's prayer shawl?  

"Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."