Category Archives: Jesus Christ

America has made a deal with the devil. Perhaps it’s not too late.

There is some thought that we are in the midst of a civil war in America. If we are, it’s not like the first one that occurred over a century and a half ago.

In 1861 there was a clear geographical demarcation in the War Between the States: the northern states were on one side and the southern states were on the other. There were some border states with mixed loyalties that officially stayed in the Union.

The nature of the war is different now. The conflict is between masses of individuals spread throughout the country in blue {“liberal”) states and  red “”conservative”” ones. A few are purple, meaning they could go either way during an election.

I  suppose there COULD be a geographical split, but I doubt any states that secede would join a confederation.  These states most likely would blue ones located on different coasts.

There are some similarities between the 19th century contest and our own. Both wars concerned political, ideological and cultural differences.  But the mixing of those who hold disparate views is so great now that it would be virtually impossible to have organized hostilities involving armies.

What is very different today is the spiritual nature of the struggle. Back in the 1860s Americans generally accepted that Christianity was the prevailing faith. Both folks in the north and their counterparts in the south accepted that our country was “Christian”.

This didn’t mean that everyone was a believer. It just meant that our national values leaned heavily on Biblical teaching and many Americans sought to live their lives by them. It was also generally agreed that violating Christian instruction regarding social mores was anathema.

This way of thinking is obviously not the case in the second decade of the 21st century. The Christian faith is still prevalent, but not as much as in the past. Furthermore, since the 1960s the nation has descended into what can best be termed a post-Christian era. In fact, we are probably way beyond such a period.

The end result is that every man does what is right in his own eyes.  This could very well mean that Americans wittingly or unwittingly are making a deal with the polar opposite of Jesus, i.e. the evil being known as Satan, or the devil.

Oh, the accord with the angel of darkness may not be cut in stone in the human’s mind, but it is still an understanding. This compromise is similar in kind to my sports rooting.

Since none of my team’s win, I generally cheer from the negative. I pull for my teams’ rivals to lose.

Some unbelievers behave in the same fashion. They see Christianity as a losing proposition for them. They may not be that enthused about or even believe in the devil, but they get involved with his dark devices anyway by default. The resulting values and actions are not exactly “Christian” in tone.

Other people who are not followers of Jesus are in a worse fix. They have fallen hook, line and sinker into the abyss with Satan. They are making a clear and conscious choice to ignore and disobey God and walk with the devil.

This predicament can be detected in the America of today by observing the onslaught of lying in the media.Politicians and other leaders lie to our faces on TV, radio and the Internet. In addition, the purveyors of news are not only willing accomplices, but avid participants in the deception.

The source of this systemic falsehood is made known in the Scriptures. Satan has many names, but one of his monikers in the Bible is “The Father of Lies.” He’s the king prevaricator.

Such a decline as we see now  was perhaps possible in the 19th century, but not probable. Americans still had not thrown caution to the wind. Truth still mattered. Evil was at bay.

Soldiers

CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS FROM NORTH AND SOUTH AT A REUNION. A COMMON SET OF SPIRITUAL VALUES MADE RECONCILIATION POSSIBLE.

Because of our current beguiling, I was amazed to see the Christian faith of the time depicted on my television last night. Unfortunately, the show was one made almost 60 years ago, not recently.

One of my favorite Netflix pastimes is to watch old episodes of the science fiction/fantasy series “The Twilight Zone.” The one I saw last night involved a Confederate soldier who stumbles upon a bizarre scene in a Virginia town.

This Rebel scout found Union frozen in place in the streets of the place. They appeared as if they were people in a still photo, some in the middle of an action.

The Confederate, a man named Sergeant Paradine, at first thought the men were asleep. But he soon tossed that idea. He couldn’t wake them up, even though he shouted in their faces.

As he walked Paradine came upon an old man named Teague who claimed to have cast a spell on the Union soldiers. He showed the Confederate his book of witchcraft.

When Paradine didn’t believe him,the warlock froze him in place, too. However, the sorcerer left him with the ability to comprehend what was happening around him.

After releasing Paradine from the effects of the incantation, the old man told the sergeant that he could cast a spell on the entire Union army, but he wouldn’t because he knew he was to die that day. He gave the book to Paradine so the Confederate could do so himself.

Before reporting back to his commanding officer, Paradine froze some Union defenders in place on a ridge in the region. The state of these soldiers was confirmed by the attacking Confederate officer when the rebels were all together that night.

Paradine

PARADINE

What ensued was a debate over whether or not Paradine should go on and paralyze the entire US Army. He hesitated at first because while he was with Teague the sergeant felt the use of the book was unclean. The warlock also confirmed that the person conducting the witchcraft was in league with the devil. All this made Paradine uneasy.

At first Paradine’s commanding officer resisted the casting of spells, also. “It’s of the devil,” he said.

But Paradine regrouped and tried to convince his superior to let him use the book of witchcraft. “I don’t know much about Satan, he said, “but this cause of ours is dying right in front of our eyes.”

The officer then concurred and told Paradine to read from the book. However, when he did so he came across a passage that made him stop dead in his tracks.

“He calls upon us to revoke the name of God,” said Paradine. Despite exhortations from the others the sergeant couldn’t go on.

“What do we call em? Damn Yankees, don’t we, lieutenant?,” said Paradine. “If I read aloud from the book it is the Confederacy that will be damned.

“It’s the book or it’s the end,” he went on. “Then let it be the end. If it must come, let it come.

“If this cause is to be buried let it be put in hallowed ground. Let it be put in hallowed ground.”

The book of witchcraft was immediately burned in the campfire.

Would that men and women in America take the same stance against Satan instead of colaboring with him. The only way that will happen if we see the error of our ways as Paradine did. If we do, then perhaps we will have a spiritual revival in our nation.

Even if a large segment of our populace continues to make a deal with the devil, the people of God can still take a stand. They can actively oppose Satan’s playbook. This courageous activity may not save our country, but such a stance will at least please God and make our burial ground noble in His eyes.

In the long run of eternity, this is more important. Siding with Satan is never right.

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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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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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The muddled mess of truth today: introductory thoughts

Lately, I’ve noticed that news organizations configure their headlines in such a way that only half truths or even falsehoods are told. Here’s an example

Woman to be deported after traffic violation

The story is accompanied by a picture of the lady and her children.

This limited information evokes an emotional reaction of how unfair it is for this poor lady to be thrown out of the country because of such a trivial incident.

Only after you go beyond the headline and read the details of the story do you get a clear picture of the facts.

This woman has been living in the United States illegally for two decades. She was found out when she was stopped by police and ticketed for operating a vehicle without a driver’s license.

Commenters on this story note that the woman brought this situation on herself by entering the country illegally in the first place and then staying for so long.

Illegal immigration is of course a hot button issue in the US.  There are extremists on both sides.

Some believe that all those who have broken the law by coming here should be sent back to where they came from. This would include “dreamers”, the children who came here before the age of 16 and probably had little say in the matter.

Others think that we should just have open borders. Anyone who wants to live and work in our nation should have the right to do so, they say.

Based on my training in journalism school in ancient times, I would have reported this story with the 5 W’s and H. Just the facts, ma’am. Give ’em who, what, when, where, why and how.

Editors don’t function that way in today’s society, however. What used to be suitable  only for the editorial page is passed off as headline news.

The result is that America is inundated with propaganda.

One of the reasons this is happening is that how we perceive truth is changing.

We used to be a culture based on a Judeo-Christian world view. Thus, the generation after World War 2, for example, tended to see things through that lens.

Nowadays,  young Americans talk about presenting “my truth.” I take this to mean that what they are going to tell me is not the “truth” per se, but their own view of reality.

In  modern America, the state of truth is similar to the condition of my favorite major league baseball team. Baseball writer Ken Rosenthal recently called my Baltimore Orioles a “muddled mess.” I would maintain that truth in the US is in the same shape as my beloved Os.

What is occurring in the media today is that reporters are now giving us SOME facts, and then interpreting them with “their” truth. It used to be that the reader was supposed to do the interpreting.

I can’t philosophize about this phenomenon. I’m not a philosopher. I’m trained in journalism, linguistics and to some extent in practical theology. So I can only look at the problem through those grids.

In terms of language, my observation is that people can’t even get their terms straight. For example, slurs with fully charged political electrons are freely being thrown around like darts, especially in social media forums such as Facebook and Twitter.

In the immigration debate, the left likes to accuse the right of being  “fascists”, “bigots”, “racists” and “Nazis”. The right tosses out equally inflammatory terms toward progressives. Insults such as “loon”, “nut job” and “bomb thrower” come to mind.

From my perspective, it would be appropriate in some cases to question who is actually the fascist or the loon.

I know that questions about truth are not new. Neither are discussions over the meaning of certain vocabulary words.

Even popular culture contains the story of  Pontius Pilate asking Jesus, “What is truth?”.

As a student of the Bible, I like to go a little deeper than what a film at Easter might tell me. I want to know the context, i.e. the whole story

In context, Jesus is being examined before Pilate before he was to be delivered up to be executed by Roman soldiers.  The trumped up charge made by the chief priests of Israel at the time was that Jesus was a rebel trying to overthrow the Roman government. The Jewish leaders, who had a stake in trashing Jesus, claimed that he wanted to be a king. Here’s the text from John 18:

“Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”

The last statement by Jesus prompted Pilate’s question about truth. The excerpt reveals that  Pilate not only did not understand truth, but that he also had no idea what Jesus meant about being a king.

The effects of such miscommunication can be devastating, especially when a politician with authority is involved. Pilate ended up bowing to popular demand and having Jesus nailed to a cross.

In future posts, I will discuss the effects of this kind of confused thinking on our society. But first, I will try to ascertain exactly what we mean when we discuss the term “truth” and how it is related to other words we currently like to bandy about.

I also hope to propose some solutions that could help us work through the murk and gain a clearer picture of reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Out and about with the down and out

Comedian Dennis Miller was recently asked by now-disgraced pundit Bill O’Reilly how things were going in his home city of Santa Barbara, California.

Miller said something to the effect,”I tell ya Billy. I only go out when I have to. I leave home, do my business and scamper back to the compound as quickly as possible.”

Hisstatement comes as a surprise considering that he lives in a resort city with a Mediterranean climate. The inference from Miller was that the world has just become too full of nutcakes  who make modern life just completely unpalatable, even in a place like Santa Barbara.

Yesterday, after I had spent some time in downtown Los Angeles and nearby Pasadena, my brother asked me how it went. My response was similar to Miller’s.  I mainly was trying to get a laugh out of my brother because in truth yesterday’s experience was different than the comedian’s, even though I did indeed meet up with what most people would say is a strange dude.

After dropping my brother off at work, I traveled to Pasadena and took the light rail to Union Station with a friend to view a Nordic exhibit featuring food and nature scenes from the region. We were both interested because we had once lived in Finland.

Before I had even looked at one image, a fellow was in my face. My normal response over the course of my life when accosted by strangers in public transportation centers has been to flee the scene as quickly as possible. But for some reason, this time I took a different approach. I carried on a conversation with Jorge.*

We talked and I think at first I didn’t understand that this middle-aged man might be mentally ill or perhaps homeless.  We quickly got into details of our personal lives and I found we had a lot in common.

However, at times my new friend seemed a bit unhinged, at least for my taste. Jorge hugged me twice, which made me a little uncomfortable because I am not a “hugger”, especially with men. Fiat times came close to breaking into tears when I shared something about myself that moved him.

In addition, he tended to drop f-bombs regularly, complained about security at the train station harassing him and made comments to passing females.

Although my pal claimed to have a job, a wife and a home and also said that he had just come from a doctor’s appointment, he seemed to linger at our venue. His backpack was parked over in a seat in the station lounge.

Further, Jorge’s demeanor wasn’t one you would expect from a person you had just met. He followed me around the exhibit and kept talking.

Unusually for me, I took it all in stride. In fact, although I don’t think I did anything untoward, I think he might have wearied of me. He said he had to go to the rest room and left, never to be seen again.

I jokingly told me friend that perhaps I had been more overbearing than Jorge was and he had had enough.

I believe my newly minted view toward talking at length to strangers, even those who seem down and out, has come from my own encounter with setbacks in life. I guess what they say is true, that life tends to keep you humble.

It’s not that I have totally objected to talking with unfamiliar people in public places before I met the train station man. In my travels in the US and abroad I have grown bolder.

Just this week I introduced myself to an old age pensioner in Starbucks. He was wearing a hat with the moniker “Sisu”emblazoned above the lid. The term is Finnish and is loosely translated “guts” (i.e., courage, determination and toughness).

Having lived in Finland and knowing that the language isn’t exactly common in Los Angeles, I was curious. I figured the man must be from there or at least had traveled to this out-of-the way place.

Turns out he was that Los Angeles rarity: a transplanted Finn. Heikki and I had a lengthy conversation about his homeland, California and our lives in general.

I was amazed when he explained that he was born in Rovaniemi, a city on the Arctic Circle pillaged by the Germans in World War II and had to flee to Sweden at the age of one. I have a relative from there who had the same experience.

It was interesting to learn of his travels in Europe after the war and his eventual location to California to become an engineer. He told me he worked for decades in the aeronautical industry and even for the C.I.A.

The reason I was willing to approach Heikki was that we were in a Starbucks frequented by paying customers. Unlike loiters in bus and train stations, I could expect that the inhabitants of the coffee shop were not threatening. (I hope Heikki had the same expectation. He could have had questions when I walked across the room to introduce myself. I don’t always look that approachable.)

I noticed that I was tempted to revert to my unwelcoming attitude toward the debilitated when my friend and I returned to Pasadena. On the train back I held a mildly negative view toward a peculiar fellow who felt free to impose himself on our conversation about the fascinating local natural phenomenon, the Jacaranda tree. But I didn’t hold my disdain for long. I was mostly amused.

I was less amused when a young man came by our table as we dined and asked for food. When another clearly homeless and aging man sat on the sidewalk and directed some unintelligible verbal ire toward us as we exited the restaurant, I also wasn’t pleased. But to be honest, I was more annoyed with the restaurant for allowing these men to harass its customers.

It’s not that I lack compassion. It’s just that I feel a bit put out because I don’t personally have the wherewithal to deal with all of society’s less fortunate.

I know there are government and private institutions out there that will help them.  They don’t need to be harassing the general public as they go about their business. I tend to get unhappy when  I face off with these folks because I feel they are choosing to take this approach to dealing with their lack instead of making use of the resources available to them.

Even so, I hope my attitude from yesterday’s meet and greet with Jorge at the train continues and grows. As a Christian, I walk around with the subliminal question “what would Jesus  do?” floating around in my brain when I face off with the distressed.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the way I handled the situation with Jorge yesterday was more in line with how Jesus would have responded. In fact, while taking the time to talk with him, I was briefly able to share my faith and perhaps move Jorge toward faith.

In the  final analysis, the state of his eternal soul is more important than improving his physical and mental condition.

 

 

 

 

*(name changed to protect the innocent)

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Christianity, Finland, Homeless, Jesus Christ, Media, redemption, religion, Uncategorized