Category Archives: Bible

Rebirth Day

On October 17, 1781 Lord Cornwallis, the commanding officer of 8,000 British troops at Yorktown, Virginia asked his opponent George Washington for terms of surrender. On October 19 the Redcoats marched in defeat before the Yankees and the fruits of revolution had bloomed. On October 18 not much happened.
However, October 18 is an important date for me. I was born that day in the city of Baltimore. This particular birthday I am experiencing my own revolution of sorts.IMG_20171018_092837_356 (1)
Yesterday a close friend told me that he thought a weight was being lifted from my shoulders. I wrote back this morning. This is what I told him:

It’s funny you should say those things about weight being lifted from my shouders. I just got a note wishing me a happy birthday from a Christian life coach I did some writing for, a guy now in Australia. He told me at the end of the note that “you are a good man.” Don’t hear that much.

I told him that I was coming out of a dark place spiritually and circumstantially but that it has taken good men to help me do it. You of course are one of them, and probably the prime mover.


As you are well aware when God sends you connecting patterns you had better be alert. So it was yesterday with the “arrows of the Lord” metaphor. (Note: I had told my friend that I felt like Job, who said “for the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me.”
I am reading the memoir of Steven Curtis Chapman, the singer/composer. He was 30 miles from here over the weekend and I really wanted to see him. But I couldn’t make it.
Anyhow, in the book he says he was able to connect with the ministry of Steve Saint, the son of Nate Saint, one of the missionaries killed by Auca Indians in South America in the 1950s, along with Jim Elliot. (Eliot was the husband of Elizabeth Eliot, who wrote their story in “Through Gates of Splendor”.)  Chapman went down to the tribe and met the murderers, all who had become Christian believers.
 
A documentary was being filmed outside the hut they were in. Kimo, one of the converted Indians said, “That’s the sound we heard.” Steve Saint said,”What? You heard music?”

The Indians had indeed heard music when the missionaries approached their area on a nearby beach. The Indians had never heard music. “Yes, it came from the trees and the skies,” Kimo replied.

 

Stephen Curtis Chapman wrote the following in commenting on what the Indian had told Steve Saint:

 

Whether it was the sound of angels we will never know. But I couldn’t help wondering if Kimo’s revelation answered the often-asked question, “Where was God when this horrible thing happened?”. When his messengers were attacked, when the spears were plunged into their flesh, when their bodies were dumped into the river. Was the sound in the trees and the skies an indication that God’s presence had been there even as the spears were run through the missionaries? I felt I knew the answer.”

 

Kind of blew me away that God was in the midst of all that has happened to me in the last few years. But I think I am getting the message. As you said to me recently, God thinks outside of our evangelical box.

 

So, I am optimistic about the future. This is something for me to say that. Last birthday I tried to forget all about it. At Christmas I holed up in my apartment and just waited for it all to be over.

 

Not this year. Today I am celebrating my birthday, i.e “life”. Went to a coffee shop first thing, and will go to see a movie later. I might even buy myself a cake. On the way I met a Gideon who gave me a Bible. I don’t think that was an accidental.
I later wrote my buddy and told him I had read Psalm 118 out of that Gideon Bible. Some verses immediately spoke to me. “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free…the Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation…I shall not die but shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord…This is the Lord’s day, it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Another passage to sum of the meaning of my own little revolution just came to mind. In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy God told the Israelites: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” (30:19)
This birthday I have decided to care, whether others do or not. I have decided to choose life. It’s an important day for me.
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Why Aaron Rodgers’ call to link arms is a good idea

At the moment the United States doesn’t seem so united. In fact, the country seems to be tearing itself apart.

We seem to be at war with each other. The conflict isn’t so much physical yet, although there are signs of it with recent rioting. It’s more of what University of Virginia scholar James Davison Hunter called a “culture war.”

The recent hubbub about professional football players refusing to stand for the national anthems is just a symptom of this struggle.  The kneeling is starting to spread to other venues.

“Taking a knee” is becoming a hashtag and is either praised or vilified. Some think doing so is a protest of injustice in American society. Others think this gesture is unpatriotic.

The nation is not only threatened from within. We also seem to be walking on the edge of a possible armed fight with North Korea, one that could easily go nuclear.

Our president seems to be provoking not only the battle with North Korea,  but also the ones with his own citizens. Some of these Americans are not going quietly into that good night.

Some people seem to enjoy a scrap. Donald Trump apparently is one of them. I could easily name some of his enemies in the media and Congress who are just as happy to get down in the mud with him.

While politicians and competitive athletes seem to enjoy the contents of a chamber pot, most of us try to avoid kakka. Count me as one of them.

Because of my aversion to cultural rot I plan to avoid tonight’s planned “linking of arms” in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has called for fans at Lambeau Field to do this in order to display unity. I would just prefer Aaron and the rest of the guys just play ball. I am sure that his intentions are good but I just think the NFL is the wrong venue for political statements and such displays in stadiums just enflame the culture war in a hugely divided nation.

The Bible tells the story of a young fellow who found that the road to hell was indeed paved with good intentions. He didn’t plan to end up in dung-filled waters, but found himself in a pig pen because of his actions.  He goes by the name of “The Prodigal Son” in modern vernacular.

This youth asked his father for his inheritance early and wandered off into a “far country”. There he squandered all his resources and as a result had to slop pigs and eat their food in order to survive.

Why did this wayward child leave his safe space at home? 20th century preacher J. Vernon McGee said that he bid adieu to his home because he was drawn to the far country, a place of mystery.  It held a certain allure for the boy.

War and fighting holds a similar attraction to some. Young men are fascinated by it. Older ones are as well.

Confederate general Robert E. Lee was 56 years of age at the time of the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. As he watched Union troops advance on his army’s entrenchments, he said to General James Longstreet, “It is well that war is so terrible. Otherwise, we should grow too fond of it.”

Lee’s assessment on the horror of war was correct, especially during this battle. The North’s soldiers would be slaughtered as their own general sent them wave after wave into Lee’s unconquerable defenses.

Yet, the generations after General Lee seemed to shout “hurrah” and march off to battle when their governments called on them to do so. But they too learned of the terrible reality of combat once they were there.

Many cultural commentators are saying that the US is reaching a crossroads in its life as a nation. When they look at the landscape they see a country where the internal strife has put it on the eve of destruction unless something is done.

However, America has been up against it before. The Great Depression in the 1930s was one of those times. It was a period of extreme economic and social upheaval, yet we came out of it and became the leading power on Earth.

One of the reasons is that capable people have been trying to draw lessons from that period ever since. One of these experts is Christopher Burns,  who has authored a book on how supposedly knowledgeable people made wrong decisions that lead to some of America’s greatest disasters, such as the sinking of the Titanic and war.

In a documentary about the Depression called “When the World Breaks”, Burns discusses how societies reach their breaking points. But he also suggests a positive consequence that come from these emergencies.

“I think we progress in lurches. I think we lurch forward. I think we adopt a set of rules and a vocabulary and a standard for truth and that serves us well. This is certainly true in science. It serves us  well right up until the moment where all of a sudden it isn’t working and the whole world comes apart.  We don’t know how to change it gradually. We just have to wait for the iceberg. And then a wonderful thing happens: the world falls apart. And we are able to stand there and say ‘what are we really trying to do here? What is our world really like?’ And one of our most important resources in our country is creativity. 

Like the Titanic, America has hit the iceberg and is at risk of sinking. Instead of working together to plug the leaks, Americans are at war.

We have to stop fighting before we all drown. To get to the point that we put down our weapons, we Americans have to change our thinking.

Traditionalists have to see that the ship has sailed on change in America. Like it or not, the US is not the country it was, even 50 years ago.

Progressives need to comprehend that people who have views different from theirs are by and large decent human beings and not bigots or fascists. In the midst of change, America should not throw the baby out with the bath water.

If we don’t get creative together we will continue to fall apart. Our war will destroy us. On the other side of war is darkness.

NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers has called for fans at to link arms tonight at his team’s game in Green Bay, Wisconsin in order to display unity. The National Football League has become ground zero in the culture war lately.

My first inclination when I heard about this was to become dismissive because I would just prefer that Aaron and the rest of the guys just play ball and avoid politics at a sports event. But now I think that Rodgers is onto something.

I think it’s better that we lay down our rhetorical arms and link them together than keep battling each other. If that’s the purpose of this demonstration, I am all for it.

 

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In a threatening world, who loves ya baby?

As I write this the world is supposed to come to an end. As the story goes, some legendary ninth planet called Nabiru is supposed to appear today and destroy the Earth.

My view is that a  “Christian” conspiracy theorist named David Meade is trying to make dough selling his book.  Guys like him give my faith a bad name.

Even so, if you don’t think people are worried about the state of the world, just check the social media posts you get.

One friend of mine sent me an instant message out of the blue this week expressing his feelings about the ongoing dust up between the Trump administration and North Korea. My pal said to me that it was just a matter of time before the formerly hot war on the Korean peninsula reignites. He’s obviously concerned, as we all should be.

The conflict seems personal, with Kim Jong Un lobbing insults as well as missiles and the Donald responding in kind, at least verbally for now. In the last couple of days, however, the Donald has upped the ante by threatening to physically “destroy” North Korea should America or its allies have to defend themselves.

My friend’s worries could be justified. From what I read in the news, there are some questions about the mental stability and motivations of the North Korean leader. For that matter, the mostly anti-Trump media wonders about our own president’s mental health and competence.

I read a fascinating article about Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler yesterday morning in “Foreign Affairs.” It noted that despite repeated warnings that Germany was about to attack Russia, Stalin could not believe that Hitler would invade.

Germany and Russia had a non-aggression pact. The Russian dictator figured that Hitler would not risk a two-front war. He guessed wrong, and Stalin almost had to flee as Nazi troops approached Moscow.

There’s no doubt that there’s  a lot to fear these days. None of us are guaranteed the next hour, much less the next day, because of the dangers out there.

I had this morbid thought yesterday morning before I left my home that someone could just blow me away with a gunshot outside my door. We’re that violent now. In fact, there was a fatal shooting of a woman outside my window in the last couple of weeks, so perhaps I am not a conspiracy theorist like the Planet 9 guy.

It’s not easy to ascertain the true perils we face on a national or individual level. Stalin had to depend on his advisers, intelligence services, and news reports to make his decision to not mobilize Russia’s military.  He didn’t trust them.

Sometimes it’s not until after disaster hits that we learn how to avoid future problems. Even then the lessons may not be clear. Hindsight is not always 20-20.

Experts interviewed for  “When the World Breaks”, a documentary about the Great Depression in the 1930s, revealed that researchers still don’t agree about what caused the worst economic catastrophe of the 20th century. They can only offer possibilities.

However, author Christopher Burns offered some sage advice for handling any kind of potential menace to our basic well being before we end up in a world of hurt. He said,

“If you’re going to function, you have to be certain about some things. You have to be pretty certain about who you trust; who loves you; where the next meal is coming from; and what you’re going to do it if rains. You have to have that stuff figured out so that you can take risks and grow and all the other things that are so much fun to do.”

The Bible provides an example of a person who seems to have figured out Burns’ advice. He’s the key figure in Jesus’s parable about a “prodigal son.”

The young man asked his father for his inheritance early and ran off to the “far country” to live in debauchery. When he ran out of money, the boy ended up slopping pigs.

His meals consisted of swine food. The fellow had no money left, having thrown it away on wine, women and song.

However, he knew who loved him.  Therefore, he decided to humble himself and return to his father.

His Dad welcomed him back with open arms. He even threw his son a party.

Students of the Bible know that the father in this parable is God. Jesus’s point was that God receives sinners who are in danger of losing their lives for eternity.

Ultimately, God is who we need to turn to when we are faced with threats. He’s trustworthy and He loves us.

I am not saying that we should be the embodiment of the expression “some people are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good.”  Surely we should take actions to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

There are some who operate out of false beliefs that do themselves and others harm. For example, American Civil War general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was a strong Christian man who took risks because of a fatalism rooted in Calvinism. He would subject himself to enemy fire, believing that God had a time for him to depart this earth.

One night during the Battle of Chancellorsville he was reconnoitering in the no-man’s land between his own Confederate lines and those of the Union. His staff advised him that this was no place for the most valuable general of the Confederacy.

Jackson ignored the pleas of his advisers. That night he was mistakenly gunned down by his own men in the dark.

What we know and what we believe matters. When it comes to worrying about my life span, I listen to and believe Jesus Christ. He told his followers:

What’s the use of worrying? What good does it do? Will it add a single day to your life? Of course not! And if worry can’t even do such little things as that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

He has a lot of other things to say that I listen to as well. For example, in the Scriptures he talked about the truth about the end of the world.

However, I also believe that if we can influence our circumstances, we should by all means do so. We shouldn’t take unnecessary risks like Jackson nor should we throw up our hands or shrug and say “what will be will be.”

If I am concerned about losing my health care, for example, then I ought to write my Congressional representative. I’m not sure I can influence Kim Jong Un, but former basketball star Dennis Rodman thinks he can. I’m all for giving him a shot at it if it keeps us from annihilation.

But Kim Jong Un isn’t trustworthy. Neither was Hitler. Our politicians in America may not be either.  Burns counsel is sound.

In this crazy world find out the answer to the question that Telly Savalas in the old “Kojak” TV series used to ask:”Who loves ya baby?”

Trust them.

 

 

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Americans should quit dreaming and change the way they think

I was raised in the South. When I was a kid there were still remnants of the War Between the States around. (We southerners preferred that moniker for the American Civil War.)

I recall for example a couple of bumper stickers I saw as a youth. One said “Hell no, I ain’t forgettin’.” Another exhorted, “Save your Confederate money. The South rise again.”

The Confederate battle flag, known as the “Stars and Bars” was prevalent in my area. Vestiges of Jim Crow still lingered.

As an adult I became a Civil War buff. Living in Virginia I could tour numerous battlefields where Union and Rebel soldiers laid down their lives.

I enjoyed going to reenactments, where people dressed up in the blue and grey. There were even “civilians” who took part in the living histories. They came costumed as sutlers, camp followers and even ministers of the Gospel.

In the 90s I worked for a small college in South Carolina. In their main parlor the most prominent painting was of Confederate general Robert. E. Lee.

Fast forward about 20  years. General Lee is now a controversial figure. A statue of him in Charlottesville was this summer the catalyst for a confrontation in the streets between white supremacists and so-called anti-fascists.

This week the general’s descendant, Rev. Robert Wright Lee, denounced his own great uncle.  He told the press that he felt shame at General Lee’s role in the Confederacy.

There is now an outcry from some to do away with any and all memorials to American heroes who owned slaves. The most prominent Founders now being maligned include George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both slaveholders.

In his will Washington freed his slaves. Jefferson did not.

Yet, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He even included in one of the early drafts a condemnation of slavery.

Yet, 15 years ago historian Stephen E.  Ambrose published a piece for the Smithsonian that was highly critical of Jefferson. He wrote:

Jefferson knew slavery was wrong and that he was wrong in profiting from the institution, but apparently could see no way to relinquish it in his lifetime.

Ambrose didn’t stop at these unflattering comments. He was even more condemning:

Jefferson owned slaves. He did not believe that all were created equal. He was a racist, incapable of rising above the thought of his time and place, and willing to profit from slave labor.

When I have thought of the Founding Fathers who owned slaves, and of the southerners who fought in the Civil War, I have tended to excuse them. “They were men of their time,” I think. “Everybody thought like they did.”

Ambrose did not excuse Jefferson . He saw him as a hypocrite who espoused equality for all, but did not express it in his own behavior. Ambrose said:

Few of us entirely escape our times and places. Thomas Jefferson did not achieve greatness in his personal life. He had a slave as mistress. He lied about it.

As a man with southern roots, and someone who considers Virginia his native soil, I find Ambrose’s comments deeply troubling. I also recoil at attacks on men like Robert E. Lee,  a revered son of Virginia. It is as if he is attacking my own personal world view.

However, I have now come to the conclusion that Ambrose is correct.  While I still consider Jefferson and Lee great public figures, I cannot excuse their racism.

How could these bigger-than-life figures have been so wrong? I think it might have something to do with our human natures.

The Bible portrays us all as sinners, i.e. people who are in rebellion against God. It describes us as people with corrupt natures who do corruption.

Yet, the Scriptures also call on us to master our sin. For whatever reason, men like Jefferson and Lee did not master theirs when it came to racism and bigotry.

Ambrose wrote that Jefferson had a “great mind and a limited character.” I think this was probably true of a lot of mythological characters in American history.

It is also true of many of us in modern life. I am not an intellectual by any means, but I do like to think and analyze. Unfortunately I tend to “overthink.”  This leads me to indecisiveness.

Like Jefferson I muse and write on subjects, but take little action in my own personal life.  I have recently thought that this is due to a lack of faith in God and His Word, the Bible.

I have for  most of my life agreed with the truth that Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sins and rose again from the dead to reign over me. I have also espoused intellectual assent to the truths of Scripture.

The reality though is that my life does not reflect these beliefs.  I have not done what the Bible has told me to do.

I have a myriad of excuses for this neglect, but the crux of the issue is that I have preferred doing things my way, perhaps out of convenience, or perhaps out of lust of the eyes, lust of the  flesh or pride of life.

I have determined of late though that God means  what He says. The Scriptures say “do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows that He will also reap.” In many ways I have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote, “Why is it no man confesses his vices? It is because he has not yet laid them aside. It is a waking man only who can tell his dreams.”

J. Vernon McGee, a popular pastor and radio personality from the last half of the 20th century said of Seneca’s quote, “A man in sin is like a person still dreaming.

He alone (Jesus) can give comfort and understanding to the afflicted as well as extend mercy and grace.”

I have now after a lifetime awoke from my dream and seen my sins. The dream is to me more of a nightmare.

I should have obeyed God and His Word and listened to the men and women over my lifetime who taught me the way to live.

There’s still time for me, though. Thankfully, I have taken a first step.

The Bible says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

I have begun to change the way I think. I am trying these days to think about how I can please God.

That in itself pleases Him. McGee said, “God in interested in what we think when we lie upon our pillows.”

Changing the way we think would be a good start for a lot of Americans today. But first, we have to wake up from our dreaming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Social Justice Warriors are hampered by intellectual dishonesty

“Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling would open his show with the following:

You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead. Your next stop: the Twilight Zone.

As I recently wrote, all the signs currently point to the world entering the Twilight Zone. What I  mean is that it is really difficult to determine whether a lot of people are living in reality or fiction.

For example, when I turn on my computer and choose to watch the news instead of entertain myself with science fiction, I see protesters explaining to a reporter why they are out in the street. What comes out of their mouths are best termed conspiracy theories, devoid of logic and truth.

The media aids and abets this warped thinking with its twisted reports. Their reports are seductive, for they pose as news.

Further, news organizations are in charge of what we see and hear on our devices. We may not be getting the most important news.

To be fair to the mob, we are full of false beliefs and memories. As I was writing this an article popped up in my Twitter feed from the Wall Street Journal which discusses research about individual self awareness.

“Most of us are not as self aware as we think we are,” writes author Elizabeth Bernstein.

Reporting on the research of psychologist Tasha Eurich, Bernstein notes:

When it comes to self-knowledge, she says there are three types of people: those who have it, those who underestimate how much they have (she calls them “underraters”) and those who overestimate how much they have (“overraters”). Underraters beat themselves up unnecessarily. Overraters believe they do everything well.

Some of us think that we have wonderful memories, also. I personally think mine is flawed, but I do have a close childhood friend who I believe has an exquisite ability to fill in the blanks for me on my lost memories. However, he may not be as astute as I think he is.

In a 2013 piece, The Atlantic asked “How Many of Your Memories are Fake?” Erica Hayasaki reported that even people with something called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory sometimes have their remembrances wrong.

One of the reasons for these mistakes in memory is that that our minds are subject to manipulation.

Simone Weil, one of the great philosophers of the first half of the 20th century, wrote that imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life. Unfortunately, she herself was evidence of this.

During World War II Weil contracted tuberculosis while in England.  She was there hoping to be sent to France to work for the Resistance. As a show of support for the French, she only ate what she “believed” the French person under German occupation would feed on. She died.

The coroner’s report said:  “the deceased did kill and slay herself by refusing to eat whilst the balance of her mind was disturbed”.

Despite this sad end,  Simone Weil is credited with seeking for truth during her short life.

 

A great student and thinker, she had a higher degree in philosophy. Weil also studied several religions.  In 1935 she was drawn to the Christian faith.  She wrote in her “Spiritual Autobiography” that her concept of life was Christian.

In the same work, Weil described Jesus as the truth. She also had a high regard for the Bible. Weil wrote:

Christ made promises to the Church, but none of these promises has the force of the expression “Thy Father who seeth in secret.” The word of God is the secret word. He who has not heard this word, even if he adheres to all the dogmas taught by the Church, has no contact with truth.

Weil chose to live out her faith outside of the traditional church. She believed that Christianity was “catholic (i.e., universal) by right but not in fact.”

“So  many things are outside it, so many things that I love and do not want to give up, so many things that God loves, otherwise they would not be in existence,” she wrote.

Weil was not only an intellectual and devoted person of faith, but she was also politically active. Like a lot of young people, she was a political leftist. At the age of 10 she decided she was a Bolshevik.

Weil supported Communist movements in Europe. She wrote articles debating both capitalism and socialism. Although she was a terrible soldier, Weil tried to fight for the republicans during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

 

If she were alive today, Weil would grasp the attraction of modern groups such as Antifa and Black Lives Matter to today’s youth. She chose to try to reach the revolutionaries of her day and with truth outside of the Church.

Social enthusiasms have such power today, they raise people so effectively to the supreme degree of heroism in suffering and death, that I think it is as well that a few sheep should remain outside the fold in order to bear witness that the love of Christ is essentially something different.

Would that our latter day young social justice warriors, so full of a desire to change the world, add the zeal for truth possessed by Simone Weil to their repertoire. They could do it if they wished.

Weil wrote:

After months of inward darkness, I suddenly had the everlasting conviction that any human being, even though practically devoid of natural faculties, can penetrate to the kingdom of truth reserved for genius, if only he longs for truth and perpetually concentrates all his attention upon its attainment.

I can only hope and pray for this kind of effort toward intellectual honesty today. It is severely lacking.

 

 

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Charlottesville: love needs to be combined with universal truth

When I was a teenager there was a book floating around in Christian circles about situational ethics with the title “It All Depends.”

I still remember the title because I think even in my youthful state I could not understand a philosophy that  seemed to have no hard and fast rules.  In my memory I have falsely added the intensifier “really to “all depends”, probably because my mind mocks the philosophy of situational ethics.

In short, this system of thought states that what is moral is decided not by law, but through a consideration of  the entire circumstances at hand. The ultimate goal is to respond in love.

In principle this idea of doing the “loving” thing sounds good to me. I have grown a lot since my teen years and know that not everything is cut and dried or is as it seems.

In the recent days of political upheaval in the US. there have been calls for loving each other by our president and even sports stars like Lebron James.  I see nothing wrong with that idea. As a believer in Jesus I see it as totally biblical. I even thought of it myself in trying to determine how we should respond to each other in the midst of all the chaos in our country.

But love is such an abstract idea. To have any foundation, it also needs to be combined with truth.  Pastor John Piper says that truth and love support each other. “Truth aims at love” and “love aims at truth,” he writes.

As I noted in my last post, truth in American society seems to have been thrown out the window. We live in a nation in which emotion and personal beliefs rule the day.

Piper writes,”Truth shapes how we show love.” If we attempt to show love based only on how we feel and believe, the consequences  may not truly be loving.

Because truth has been dispensed with, we are being governed in our decision making by a gutted situational ethics.  People just do what they seem to think is right.

We’ve seen the extremes of this with white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia. Identity politics has reached even the majority. What had been deemed abominable in the last part of the 20th century, i.e., the putting down of people based on their color, is rising again.

On some college campuses the previously put upon African-American minority is also calling for a return to the bad old days of segregation, albeit for different reasons then those which motivated Jim Crow laws. These students just want to feel safe.

Both of these extremes are motivated by personal beliefs and emotion. A dose of truth serum is needed in the mix if we are to show true love.

I am informed about the nature of truth by one of the foundations of Western civilization: The Ten Commandments. They are pretty straightforward. It’s difficult to quibble with “honor your father and mother” and “you shall not murder.”

I think I am on the right track here in my pursuit of genuine love. Piper tells me that John, a disciple of Jesus, wrote that we show God’s love when we keep His commands.

“So John tells us some truth will help us know if our acts are loving,” writes Piper. “One truth test of love is if we are keeping the commandments of God towards people.”

Even so, it is hard to apply such commands in our own relationships in today’s times. It helps to get some insight from people who have thought deeply about the meaning of these truths.

Currently a place I am finding such wisdom is in a book called “To Be a Christian.” It’s a catechism produced by the Anglican Church.

In one section is provides some practical advice on how to keep the Ten Commandments and some ways we can violate them.

For example, it expands on the command to honor your father and mother by stating a principle that we should honor the aged and submit to our teachers, pastors and directors. The catechism also calls for respecting tradition and civil authorities.

I haven’t seen much respect given towards civil authorities in the news this week. In fact, what I have seen in the media is rioting, destruction of property and the killing of police officers.

Jesus expanded on the truth of what it means to murder. He said we break this commandment when we are angry with others. The catechism does say that there is a place for proper anger, but that for the most part that our anger is motivated by things that are not right.

If there is one adjective that can be used to describe a lot of Americans today, it is the term “angry.”

I would maintain that the only way we are ever going to love one another and thus heal our nation is by returning to God and His universal truth.  Relying solely on situation ethics, sentiment, feelings, personal opinions and some undefined concept of love is not cutting it.

 

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Writing as therapy and spiritual healing

I’ve always loved writing. It is probably what I do best and I enjoy it.

Talking about it, teaching it, and doing it has always been fun for me. This summer It has become something more. Writing has become therapy and a source of guidance for me.

I owe a lot of that to the work of Julia Cameron, whose book “The Right to Write” has been accompanying me to Starbucks for weeks.  It contains over 40 small chapters of teaching and exercises.

Cameron begins each chapter with an “invitation”, in which she describes her own personal experiences related to writing and life. Then she provides what she calls an “initiation tool” to use to apply her thoughts.

Three of Cameron’s ideas have been of particular help to me. One has been her effort to convince her readers that writing is not some great task reserved for only the elite and talented.  This teaching literally has given me the right to write.  Because of this I have felt unchained in terms of getting thoughts on paper.

Once she freed me from my intellectual prison, Cameron gave me a couple of practical devices to unleash my own ruminations. Her Morning Pages (sometimes “mourning pages) are three pages of handwritten writing first thing before the day starts. This is “stream of consciousness” writing. Night Notes are the posing of questions right before bed for up to ten minutes.

The beauty of any teaching is that you can make it your own. I have tried to stick to Julia’s dictums despite my weaknesses. I am not a morning person and find it difficult to get going. I have found others struggle with this exercise for the same reason.

As a result, I find I don’t get these pages done every day, or that I do them later on in the morning. This would probably be fine with Cameron.  She says that Morning Pages are “not high art” and that “there is no wrong way to do Morning Pages.”

This morning I struggled to get through three pages. I found myself drawing regular and irregular shapes on the lines in my composition books just to get through. Even this strategy was helpful because it reminded me that one of the best ways to get something done well is to think outside of the box.

With Night Notes the writer is supposed to sleep on the questions and allow the subconscious to provide answers. Because I actually forgot this feature I have been answering the questions as I pose them before sleeping. Again, I have come upon some beneficial ideas although I “broke the rules.”

What I have found is that these tools have helped me to clear the deck in my mind. A lot of the baggage is done away with. One effect of this is my thinking becomes more focused. Another is that my emotions are stabilized because I have vented them on the page.

Cameron has offered to me in organized form the wisdom of the greats. For example, Bob Dylan uses similar thinking and methods as hers to get his ideas down. He was asked by interviewer Paul Zollo how he got thoughts out of his mind. He replied,

Well, first of all, there’s two kinds of thoughts in your mind: there’s good thoughts and evil thoughts. Both come through your mind. Some people are more loaded down with one than another. Nevertheless, they come through. And you have to be able to sort them out, if you want to be a songwriter, if you want to be a good song singer. You must get rid of all that baggage. You ought to be able to sort out those thoughts, because they don’t mean anything, they’re just pulling you around, too. It’s important to get rid of all them thoughts.”

When the mind is clean of garbage and issues come into clearer focus by getting them onto the page, movement can be made. Dylan says once the baggage is gotten rid of, “then you can do something from some kind of surveillance of the situation. You have some kind of place where you can see but it can’t affect you. Where you can bring something to the matter, besides just take, take, take, take, take.”

Getting rid of the mud of the mind allows God to enter into our thinking. In my post about Dylan’s divine inspiration, I noted how his lyrics were influenced by the divine. I also explained that Cameron makes no bones about the benefits of listening to spiritual sources as we write.

While her writings about this are more eclectic in terms of who or what to access than I personally would prefer, I have gained by not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Applying her axioms in the context of my own beliefs about God and truth have been quite profitable.

As a Christian I seek to learn what God wants of me through reading the Bible and through prayer. Thus, I try to ask questions of Him, tell Him my own desires, and listen for His answer.

Further, I use my own God-given brain combined with what seems to be God’s leading to make decisions.  Before you claim that this is all “pie in the sky bye and bye”, I must explain how I believe the process works.

I see God’s leading as working more like a GPS device than a road map.  20th century pastor J. Vernon McGee said that God does not hand out road maps. In fact, he decried false piety in which people claimed to have a direct pipeline to the Almighty.

I recently listened  to a sermon by McGee about the story Ruth, the great grandmother of King David, from whose line Jesus would come, and how she decided to support herself and her mother-in-law Naomi when they were poor. Ruth decided to glean grain from local fields. Gleaning was a practice allowed in Israel in ancient times as a means to support the needy.

One day she came to two fields from which to glean grain. One was owned by Boaz, who was a distant relative of Naomi. Ruth had come to Israel with her when her husband, Naomi’s son, died. She did this as a step of faith and out of a willingness to follow the God of Naomi’s people.

McGee said that Ruth did not have a vision or a dream from God. He explained that she reasoned on the spot to go into the field of Boaz based on the situation before her. One thing led to another and she married Boaz, and thus became a distant grandmother of Jesus.

“God’s leading-yes,” said McGee. “But He’s leading a heart that’s willing to be led, and going step by step by faith.” Ruth was such a person.

Thus, the writing tools taught by Cameron and used by expert artists such as Bob Dylan have helped me to seek God and His leading as Ruth did.  As I write I believe He leads me step-by-step to great truths and informs decisions that have to be made.

What I have learned has given me great peace. It has also produced spiritual healing. I can live one day at a time, trusting God to communicate with me, not necessarily in spectacular ways, but through normal means of grace like the Bible and prayer, and though practical tasks such as writing, a practice I love anyway.

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