Category Archives: Temper of the Times

The only true source of empathy in a toxic world

The other day I walked into my local Starbucks and began talking to this young Latino barista. She’s maybe the friendliest of the ones that work there. (I might add that I am an older white guy.)

I asked her how she was doing.  She replied, “I am recuperating.”

I asked, “From what?”.

She explained that she had been off work for a while.

“I’ve been taking care of my father who has Alzheimer’s for two years. The stress got to me. Then, I was hospitalized from my pedestrian-vehicle accident.”

She told me she was walking and got hit by a car. Everybody has a story I guess but a lot don’t have this sad combination.

When a friend of mine posted on Instagram the old adage, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about-be kind”, I replied with her story. My friend responded by saying, “Empathy in action. Great story brother. Thank you for sharing it. You may have been like an angel to her that day just in how you showed that you care.”

My interaction with the barista was not an accident. I learned from the teachings of author and coach Brendon Burchard about using “triggers” to influence my surroundings. One he calls a “door” trigger. As you walk in the door of a place you ask yourself how you can be of benefit there.

In the current toxic environment in the US, such empathy is needed. Thankfully, there are folks out there trying to promote it.

For instance, one local group called Walk the Ridge is seeking to encourage civility and respect among people with different opinions. Another example, is author and researcher Brene’ Brown, who has written book about belonging.

One of the problems she outlines is that we’re so broken up into camps in the US that we aren’t willing to break out and be who we really are among folks on the other side. Brown encourages people to “brave the wilderness” (which is the title of her work) and first and foremost belong to ourselves.

If you pay attention to the media it seems we Americans are more into putting people down than showing respect. Even though I believe  that like a lot of other hype from that source, the problem is overblown, the issue needs to be addressed.

In a chapter called “Holding Hands with Strangers”, Brown makes the case that one reason we should be civil and respect one another is because we all have a spiritual connection due to all being part of the human family.

As much of the world is tuned into the World Cup, at least outside MY country, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of her examples of overcoming division is the respect garnered for Liverpool fans in Australia when a whole stadium full of them sang the club’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” These thousands of people showed what Brown calls “collective joy”.

While I get her drift, I notice when watching the YouTube video that  no one is holding hands among the 95,000 people in that stadium. Most of them seem to be using their hands to stretch out banners.

Of course, one of the most famous songs of all time about that subject is the Beatles song “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Here’s an excerpt:

Oh please say to me
You’ll let me be your man
And please say to me
You’ll let me hold your hand

Those lyrics are pretty shallow. In fact, one theory is that such songs  of that era, ones in which there was whining about not being loved, spawned the 60s hit “Somebody to Love” in reaction, most notably covered by Jefferson Airplane, featuring Grace Slick. Her husband Darby wrote these lyrics excerpted from the song:

When the truth is found to be lies
And all the joy within you dies
Don’t you want somebody to love
Don’t you need somebody to love
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love
You better find somebody to love

In her autiobiography Grace Slick said the song  is not sexual in nature but has more to do with practically serving others with a heart of concern for their welfare. She wrote:

“Rather than the loving you’re whining about getting or not getting, a more satisfying state of heart might be the loving you’re ‘giving’. Suggesting that adhering to the old Puritan cliche, ‘It’s better to give than to receive’, might actually make you a happier person. The idea of service and selflessness may sound like a tedious task reserved for bald monks, but the way Darby wrote the lyrics, altruism didn’t seem like such a lofty and unattainable state. He gave the impression that giving could even be an enjoyable adventure.”

I thought today that having an inner focus on someone else is a healing potion. It takes the mind off of my own emotional pain. I would imagine that a lot of  heartache  comes not so much from not being loved, but in not having someone to love.

I have concluded that I can’t love everyone, but I can love some. I also have determined that I can at least respect all people because they are created in the image of God.

While in some ways I can generate this love and respect, I can’t really manufacture it completely on my own. I need a power I don’t have to do it fully.

Any capacity I have to care for others effectively really comes from God. In fact, the God-Man Jesus is truly the only Person who perfectly loved and respected others.

Although He is God, He also is fully human. He lived 33 years down here, where he experienced all the toxicity of mankind as we have, but without sin.

As one who has received Him and trusted in  Him to deliver me from my selfish sinfulness, I believe what the Bible says about Jesus dwelling in my heart.

He can empathize with people’s weaknesses and struggles through me. Living in my heart, Jesus can use me to show the same concern He has to those in my sphere.

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Filed under Bible, Christianity, culture, culture war, Faith, Jesus Christ, Original Sin, redemption, religion, Service, Songs, spirituality, Temper of the Times, Theology, Uncategorized

Starbucks Empathy

I like to hang at the local Starbucks. When I sent a friend a video clip of its environment, with the hustle and bustle and music, they said, “How can you work with so much noise?”.

I told them that I am one of those people that work better with distractions. Some, for example, like to have the TV one while they work. The Starbucks has my attractions: coffee, music and an occasional conversation.

I meet interesting people at the coffees shop. There’s Vinny from New England, for instance. I discuss the baseball standings with him because he’s an avid Boston Red Sox fan. I am a follower of their down and out rival that shares a division with them: the Baltimore Orioles.

Henry is an older man I have not seen for a while. When I do, we discuss his birth country of Finland. His real name is “Heikki”.  Henry was born during World War 2, and with the chaos of that conflict, lived in several countries in Europe before landing in the United States.  I spent several years in Finland.

I struck up conversations with these men because of the baseball caps they were wearing. Vinny was wearing his Red Sox cap when we met. Henry had on  lid that read “Sisu”. It is a colloquial Finnish term loosely translated into English as “guts. I knew he must be related to Finland somehow because no one would wear such a cap unless they dug it out of a bargain bin somewhere.

In my last post I discussed the internal war we are having in America caused by enemies dehumanizing one another.  Researcher Brene’ Brown advises that one of the antidotes  to  this general-level hate is to move in closer and get to know people on the other side as individuals.  I believe she is on to something.

A close friend and I were discussing yesterday how we have worked with or met with people from other races, sexual orientations, religious beliefs or political stances and gotten along just fine. We both have even made friends with the folks we have encountered. How did this happen?

“People are hard to hate close up,” says Brown.

The other day I was walking to the Starbucks when an African-American man who appeared homeless (he was pushing a cart) saw my tee with a coffee-related theme on it and said, “Like your shirt.” I told him my sister-in-law gets them for me. Although we didn’t know one another and obviously came from different backgrounds, we had an an instant connection.

Right after him a young, burly looking white fellow with curly black hair and an accompanying beard stopped me and gave me some advice. He was half my age and probably thought this old coot needed it. “Get some water up ahead,” he said. Instead of feeling insulted that he must think I am an old  boob, I thanked him. I appreciated his concern. (I did wonder if I should upgrade my wardrobe though. Did he think “I” was homeless due to my raggy attire?)

In any case, the people I run into on the way to and in the Starbucks share things in common and we go out of our way to connect on that basis. Coffee shops are places where I seem to be able to exercise my empathy with folks.

Even today I noticed a couple of minority men in Air Force uniforms come into the store. I knew they were sergeants because they of the stripes on their sleeves. However, one had more of them.

I approached this African American man and asked the difference. He told me that he was a tech sergeant and the other was a master sergeant. It was trivia, but it was nice for this old white guy to connect with this soldier. I respect the military for a lot of  reasons.  One of them is that I have found the people in our armed services themselves are very respectful toward their fellow human beings.

I recall meeting one of my best friends in recent years at a Starbucks in another town. In fact, it’s where we always hooked up.

Tim is a former triathlete who became disabled after developing some physical issues. We had a lot of things in common.  We shared the same first name. (My nickname from him is “Tim 2”.)  We liked sports. We had similar personal issues. We both were followers of Jesus Christ.

The inability to walk a mile in another person’s shoes is at the heart of a lot of woes in our society.  For instance, one of the reasons sexual predators do what they do is because they lack empathy, A recent Time Magazine’s cover story describes how therapists working with sex offenders are trying to teach these men to understand how their victims felt at the time of the crime and the effect on them later.

While it is debatable as to whether or not sexual offenders can be cured, minimally they need to confront how they dehumanized another person in order to keep them from re-offending.  Lisa Anderson, an attorney who represents rape victims, told Time that “it’s hard for me to believe that someone could violently ignore the will of another and then be taught not to cross that line. But if it’s possible to teach them empathy, then that should be mandatory.”

Is it possible to learn empathy in this digital age?  The physical and emotional distance that is part of computerized communication makes it difficult.

One offender told Time of how the nature of computerized communication in chat rooms led to his crime:

“It led to a devaluation of whoever was on the other side,” he says. “They weren’t a person. They were a means to an end.

I never actually hurt anyone physically. But I left an emotional holocaust.”

To empathize with others, we have to find what Jesse Jackson called “common ground.” In a speech to the 1988 Democratic National Convention he said:

“Progress will not come through boundless liberalism nor static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survival. It takes two wings to fly. Whether you’re a hawk or a dove, you’re just a bird living in the same environment, in the same world.”

We can empathize with others because we not only share the same planet, but we also were created by the same God.

I will expand on her idea in my next post.

 

 

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Filed under Civility, Communication, culture, culture war, friendship, Homeless, Jesus Christ, spirituality, Temper of the Times, Uncategorized, United States

America’s internal war

I’ve recently begun watching episodes of the 1960s World War II drama series “Combat!”. I’m a sucker for movies, TV shows and documentaries of that traumatic period in the 20th century.  (Note that my last post centered on a film involving a group of soldiers holed up in a basement.)

In a program entitled  “I Swear by Apollo”, the American GIs who are featured in “Combat” are not in a house but out in the open, escorting a French partisan with important intelligence. As they move through the countryside a shell lands near the man and he is wounded in the back.

The squad of infantrymen, led by Sergeant Saunders, eventually wind up in a convent inhabited by nuns who have taken a vow of silence.  As the Frenchman and other wounded are dying, the nuns go about their business. They pray. They scrub floors. And they ignore the soldiers and their plight.

To be fair, the Mother Superior, the only nun who is allowed to talk, allows the men to stay as long as they keep the war outside. Also to her credit is that one of the nuns with medical expertise is allowed to even be involved with the surgery on the Frenchman.

That procedure is conducted by  Dr. Belzer, a German doctor who the Americans have gone to great pains to capture in order to save the French partisan. Belzer is not only a doctor, but also an officer in the German Wehrmacht.

As matters unfold, Saunders and Dr. Belzer play a game of cat and mouse in the convent. It is clear that the physician does not want to aid the enemy.  Furthermore, it is also transparent that Saunders does not trust Belzer. He threatens to kill him if the Frenchman dies.

After some tense moments, the surgery is a success. Afterwards, Saunders and Belzer confront one another about their ethics.

Belzer asks,” Sergeant. Tell me something. If the Frenchman did not have military information you considered valuable, would you have gone to so much trouble to save his life?”

Saunders answers, “There’s a war going on. I don’t like it but I do what I have to do–like you.”

Now you tell me something. If I hadn’t put a gun up to your head, would you have operated–DOCTOR?”

Dr. Belzer stands erect with a grim expression. He does not answer.

As the episode ends, the GIs leave the convent, walking by the sisters. The nuns ignore the soldiers as they dig a grave for one of the wounded who has died. They are doing their perfunctory duty.

Sergeant Saunders and Dr. Belzer know intuitively that in war, normal moral principles do not necessarily apply.  In war, when participants encounter a situation such as that faced by these two men, all bets are off.

Their tones and expressions during their confrontation about each others’ motivations reveal that theirs is not a friendly discussion. They are enemies. They question each other in an atmosphere of hostility and in an attempt to belittle the other.

Even so, Saunders concedes that Belzer and he are both human beings caught in an unusual and precarious set of circumstances where they perhaps have to act outside the realm of decency.  Thus is the nature of war.

We find ourselves in early 21st century in a similar set of circumstances as these two soldiers in “Combat!”.  While our war may not be a shooting one, the conflict is real.

In America at the moment the political and ideological divide is extreme. People are at odds and violence does sometimes occur.

How can people attack someone physically just because they hold different beliefs about how society should be governed?  The answer is that they justify it in the same way that the Nazis excused their murder of millions of  Jews or 19th century Americans rationalized enslaving black human beings.

University of Houston Professor Brene’ Brown explains that these people could commit their atrocities because they dehumanized their victims.  They demonized them.

For example, Brown notes that the Nazis portrayed Jews as vermin in their propaganda . “They called Jews rats and depicted them as disease-carrying rodents in everything from military pamphlets to children’s books”,  she writes in her book “Braving the Wilderness.”

“Dehumanizing often starts with creating an enemy image,” Brown says. “As we take sides, lose trust, and get angrier and angrier, we not only solidify an idea of our enemy, but also start to lose our ability to listen, communicate, and practice even a modicum of empathy.”

Dr. Belzer’s inference in his question to Sergeant Saunders was that he lacked empathy for the Frenchman’s plight. He was just a tool to be used to gain an advantage for the enemy.

Saunders countered with his own accusation against Belzer. He suggested that the doctor, a man who was bound by oath to heal all his fellow human beings, was a hypocrite. Belzer also saw the Frenchman as a tool–one he would prevent being used against  his side.

Even the nuns, women who claimed to serve God, couldn’t be bothered. They tried to stay aloof from the suffering of the French partisan because he was part of a war they saw as evil.

Lack of empathy characterizes Americans today. This is because we are at war with each other.

I hope to address  the effects of this failure of compassion and possible solutions in later posts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Civility, culture war, Television, Temper of the Times, Uncategorized, War

America lacks the iron will to solve school shootings

Bivouacked in a building’s torn-up basement during a fight with the Germans during World War 2, a squad of American GIs face a dilemma. One of their buddies, a clumsy man named Small,  is stuck in a muddy foxhole in the middle of  a street under the eye of an entrenched enemy gun position.

In the 1952 film “Eight Iron Men”, most of the group finds out about their trapped comrade as they are divvying up a fruitcake received by Muller, a fellow member of their squad. They spot Carter and Ferguson returning from patrol without Small.

The men debate what to do about the stranded man. It’s risky to try and retrieve him from that hot spot. The argument is complicated by the news that their outfit has been ordered to withdraw to the rear that evening. No one is really excited about risking their lives under such circumstances.

Even so, they can’t leave Small behind. He is a brother soldier, a comrade in arms.

One hothead named Coke lobbies squad leader Sgt. Mooney all afternoon to convince him to send out men to retrieve Small from his predicament. Mooney’s problem is that he is under orders to avoid losing any more men on what his captain calls a “wild goose chase. ”

Together on guard duty, Mooney continues his fight with Coke. As Coke lays into him once more, the sergeant tells him to shut up. “I’m thinking,” he says.

Finally, Mooney decides to send out a rescue party. He knows such an action could cause him his stripes, but he decides to do it anyway.

While the soldiers trying to help Small are gone, Trelawny learns of Mooney’s disobedience and shows up at the basement. He berates Carter for not stopping the sergeant.

However, Carter convinces Trelawny of the need the men have for rescuing Small. He tells the captain that if they didn’t try they would live with the guilt for the rest of their lives.

The rescue fails and the men return to the basement. They prepare to leave for the front lines but when they hear machine gun fire they realize that team member Colluci is gone. They also realize that he has gone out to retrieve Small on his own.

Colluci is the last man they would have expected to exhibit such bravery.  Normally, he is a wisecracking GI who gripes about his plight in the war. Colluci presents himself as a nobody, an average citizen who somehow got put in the army and doesn’t want to be there. He is viewed as someone who tries to avoid real work or fighting. Colluci is more interested in dreaming about women and getting seconds on the fruitcake.

In the end, Colluci wipes out the machine gun nest and returns to the basement carrying the injured Small. Always the wiseacre, Colluci complains that now much will be expected of him in the future.

I watched “Eight Iron Men” this weekend, an eventful one in which 10 people were killed at a high school in Texas by another crazed lunatic student. For some reason, this particular shooting broke my heart. It wasn’t that I had become callous to these murders in schools, but this one just took all the air out of me. I realized I was fed up.

When one of my friends commented on the shooting, I told him that it was high time our society quit the political posturing and finally decide to do something about this epidemic of school killings. I also told him that I was not hopeful.

Where are the iron men today? They don’t seem to exist.

Sgt. Mooney was played by the hard-as-nails actor Lee Marvin, who is described by the website Celebrities Galore a born leader. Marvin had drive and determination.

His profile goes on to say of him: “Insisting on his right to make up his own mind, he demands freedom of thought and action, and does not let anything or anyone stand in his way once he is committed to his goal.”

Mooney’s character certainly fit this description.

In America today Lee Marvin seems like a complete anachronism. There is a distinct lack of courage among our leaders in 2018.

Our politicians in particular seem to avoid any action that might cost them.  A good many of them are empty suits.

This type of leadership is nothing new.  J. Vernon McGee observes that Saul, ancient Israel’s first king , was an actor. “He was not a king,” said McGee.

Saul lacked the character and skill to be a leader. He was only tall and handsome.

When someone was indeed heroic, Saul sought to take the credit or even have them killed. Such was the circumstance when his own son Jonathan won a military victory.

McGee notes that Saul was willing to put his own son to death because Jonathan disobeyed an order to fast in order to seek God’s favor during a battle. Jonathan ate some honey. In truth, he had already been victorious when he supposedly disobeyed Saul.

The average American does not appear to be willing to take risks either. Rarely do we see a Colluci type of citizen-soldier who takes the bull by the horns and attempts to solve a problem, even at great risk to themselves. When someone DOES try to solve a real-world issue, they expose themselves to human piranhas with political motivations.

Certainly few have been willing to rise to the occasion when it comes to actually doing something practical to stop these school massacres. Most of us seem to either shrug our shoulders, wondering what we can do, or just ignore the issue entirely and go on about our own lives.

The only folks who have made noise over actually doing something are America’s children, those most affected. However, their protests seem to have been co-opted by adults with an agenda.

Unfortunately, the world seems to have too many distractions to actually give it’s full attention to things like school mass murder.  For instance, this weekend’s media coverage was mostly taken up with a royal wedding in England of a minor prince and an American actress to give the Santa Fe shootings the attention it really needed.

Our priorities are all wrong. Like the pre-heroic Colluci, we are more interested in dessert than opening a can of worms and dealing with real-world troubles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Argument, Bible, Christianity, Classic Films, Films, leadership, Media, politics, Service, Temper of the Times, Thinking, Uncategorized, United States, writing

Good News from a Far Country

My guess is that Alaska is a state most Americans know little about. For example, one Alaskan commented that he has met people from the lower 48 who didn’t even know his home was a state. (I can relate. When I lived in Finland, one American asked me,”Where is that? In the Pacific Northwest?”)

We do know some things, however. For most of us, we know that it is far away.

Politically savvy folks are aware that controversial former governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin comes from Alaska. In addition, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the state is cold. All a person has to do is look at a map.

Some might even know it has oil reserves and lies across the Bering Strait from Russia (only if it is because Governor Palin is alleged to have said she could see the country from her house).

Like a lot of the US landscape, Alaska once belonged to a foreign power. The United States bought Alaska from Russia back in 1867 for two cents an acre. The purchase was called “Seward’s Folly”. William Seward was the American secretary of state at the time who engineered the deal.

Seward was actually an able politician who many thought would become the Republican nominees for president in 1860. Instead, Abraham Lincoln got the nod. As far as I know, Seward’s negotiations under President Andrew Johnson to buy Alaska  from the Russians involved no collusion.

If we know anything about the state, it’s probably from the media or televisions shows such as the Discovery Channel. For some reason this land mass, the largest state in the Union, has been front and center in my own media experience of late. Unfortunately, the digital fare I have viewed has been of the tawdry variety.

My first recent encounter with Alaska involved a viewing of “The Far Country”, a 1954 film starring American hero Jimmy Stewart. (He’s a personal luminary of mine, too.) In this flick , the “everyman” star plays a 19th century Old West cattle drover named Jeff Webster who can’t seem to avoid trouble.

After a  long cattle drive in the lower 48, one in which he shoots two men working for him, Webster boards a ship with his herd and arrives in Skagway, Alaska. He immediately is arrested by a corrupt judge named Gannon for interrupting one of the man’s hangings.

Webster drives his cows through town, right  by Gannon’s gallows. The bovines jostle them while the judge is attempting to execute “justice”.

Stewart avoids jail time, but Judge Gannon fines him a sizable amount. He makes the cowboy turn over his herd to “tbe government”.

Not to be outdone, Webster steals his cows back and drives them across the border into Canada.

He lands in the Canadian gold mining town of Dawson, which compared to Skagway is a place of virtue. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the vile criminals from the American village to show up in Canada. They want to make an ill-gotten fortune off of the hard working  and law-abiding gold miners and shop keepers in Dawson.

The epitome of American “can do”  spirit and individualism, Stewart in the role of Webster tries  to take on the gangsters on his own. He does have allies in the form of his old cow hand (Walter Brennan), a teenage girl with moon eyes for him, and a femme fatale saloon owner who can’t decide whether she wants to stay with the crooks or connect with cow poke.

(SPOILER ALERT)

In the end, after losing his aging partner to murder at the hands of evil thieves, and with the help of the mixed-up female saloon owner Ronda Castle, Webster wins the day. The lady gives her life to save Jeff.

The-Far-Country-images-c86b1f58-07cf-4446-aca5-289d63b2095

Jimmy Stewart plays Jeff Webster, a rugged individualistic cowboy who learns some big lessons about people from saloon owner Ronda Castle.

Jeff not only learns a big lesson from her about about his “leave me alone” stance on life, but he also gains wisdom from the previously cowardly townspeople. They show up en masse with weapons drawn to shoo off the bad guys while Stewart lays wounded in the street.

“The Far Country” kept me riveted to the story in a kind of prurient way. I couldn’t look away from the scurrilous activities of the criminals. I began to detest them so much that I hung around to make sure they got their just desserts.

Only Chuck Norris and his old “Walker, Texas Ranger” TV series could make me hate fictional thugs so much. When that show was on, I was always happy when Walker beat the hell out of them (figuratively speaking) at the conclusion of the story.

My  experience of sleazy behavior coming out of Alaska hasn’t been limited to this old movie.  The news recently brought us a story in which an Alaskan Airline female pilot accused a colleague of drugging and sexually assaulting her on one of their jobs.

The news describes her allegations in much detail. As with the creeps in “The Far Country”, I wanted the alleged perpetrator male pilot punished after I read this story.

Even if I wanted to partially excuse the Alaskans for the scandalous acts revealed in these stories by writing “The Far Country” off as an act of fiction, I can’t. The town of Skagway was indeed a place run by a criminal element in the late 19th century.

However, any Alaskan could rightfully protest that I am singling out their beautiful northern region unfairly.  The could say that not the only ones with an inclination to sin, and they would be right. Human law breaking is universal and goes back a long way, probably thousands upon thousands of years if the scientists are correct on the dating of the origins of man.

As I watched “The Far Country” I was reminded that what the Bible says about mankind is true.  Contrary to modern popular belief, the Scriptures indicate that all of us have hearts which are prone to produce evil.

Our evil practices have had dire consequences and still do. One of the reasons that God brought on the Flood at the time of Noah was because of the slimy aspects of human nature. Genesis tells us that “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” He instructed the only righteous man alive to build a boat because He had had enough.

Things haven’t changed much since the Noah account laid out in the Bible.  As exemplified by the pilot story from Alaska, opening any news site today will attest to that.

The United States  is currently swamped with the degrading actions of human beings who act like animals. We have come a long way from our beginnings.

Purportedly, America was founded by a religious people. I hedge because in our day this civic doctrine has been disputed, but I believe history shows that many of our early leaders were Christians.

What has happened over the last 2.5 centuries to turn the US into a moral quagmire that resembles the state of affairs God encountered at the time of Noah?

According to J. Vernon McGee, a pastor who still has quite a following despite having been deceased for 30 years, a nation’s decline  begins with the collapse of religion. This crash leads to moral awfulness and eventually to political anarchy.

“Where did our trouble begin?” asked McGee. “Our trouble is primarily spiritual. Actually it goes back to the church.

“The church went into apostasy.  Then it entered the home,”said McGee on one of his radio programs.

Many Americans today put their  faith in political leaders. However, McGee called the hope that a political party can solve the issues facing America “perfect nonsense.”

His recommendation? “What we need today is to get back to a spiritual foundation,” said the pastor.

McGee suggested that without this spiritual revival, the resulting political anarchy will lead to America succumbing to the will of  a “strong man”, i.e. a dictator. History attests to this scenario.  The fall of the weak German Weimar Republic resulted in the rise of Adolph Hitler.

The story of Skagway, Alaska portrayed in “The Far Country” shows this process, also. Judge Gannon ran the town as his own personal fiefdom. Not surprisingly, the film says nothing about the presence of religion.

No priest or deacon is shown standing up to the wickedness of the nefarious people in the film. By default, Skagway was a town ripe for the misrule of a wicked ruler like Gannon.

Far Country Gannon

Judge Gannon, the wicked ruler of Skagway. To his right is conflicted saloon owner Ronda Castle, who eventually helped save the people of Dawson from him.

At the end of the second decade of the 20th century, America is far worse morally than it was 30 years ago and appears to be moving toward the political anarchy of which McGee spoke. The idea of the United States having a dictator as a leader was once stuff of fiction. But if McGee is correct, the United States is now in a conditon that the impossible is now possible, if not probable.

America is  moving toward the same kind of culture which was ancient Isralel once possessed present when the nation was ruled by individual judges. During that period, the Scriptures say that people “did what was right in their own eyes.”

God raised up ordinary men to rescue them, but only after they cried out to God. Once Israel was saved, the people reverted back to their wicked ways.  McGee called this pattern “the hoop of history.”

In “The Far Country”, Jeff Webster was similar to one of the biblical judges in “The Far Country”. He was not the best of men himself, but he had enough decency in him to take a stand and provoke the the folk of Dawson to stand up to the invaders from Skagway.

Saloon keeper Ronda Castle was also an unlikely heroine. An ally of Judge Gannon, her love for the inherently good Jeff and her own flicker of goodness led to the rescue of the people of Dawson.

America could use a Jeff Webster now. For that matter, we could even use a Ronda Castle kind of person. Maybe the rescuers of the United States won’t be paragons of virtue, but God has used many to accomplish His purposes. Once, he even used a talking donkey to save Israel.

If heroes or heroines  do not arise in the United States, we could be toast.  However, I haven’t personally lost hope. I realize God can bring them from anywhere, even a far country.

For example, refugees entering Europe,  aren’t all radical religious fanatics. Some are godly believers in Jesus Christ.  Today I read of a family of Iranian Christians in spiritually entombed Sweden who are active in their faith.

Most of Europe is thought to be like Sweden, i.e. dead spiritually and in many ways farther along in the moral awfulness and political anarchy of which McGee spoke.  Perhaps God in His wisdom has directed the hands of the continent’s leaders to open their borders so that His people can bring Europeans to faith.

It is possible that God has allowed similar open border politics in America to do the same thing in the United States.  Could it be that God is implementing His wisdom in this way?

Solomon wrote of this kind enlightenment . He penned this verse in the biblical book of Proverbs:

“Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”

May God bring His good news to our own spiritually parched land. It’s up to Him how He does it.

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Things aren’t as they seem

J.J. Sefton is suspect.

He is an American prisoner of war among others portrayed in the hit World War II film “Stalag 17”. However, the other men in his barracks don’t trust him.

For one, Sefton is too cozy with their German captors. He runs a bartering business with the guards so as to make his own stay in the camp more comfortable.

Furthermore, when the Allied soldiers plan escapes, Sefton tells his comrades how foolish they are.  Why not just wait out the war, which seems to be coming to a close, and stay alive? Never mind that a soldier’s duty is to escape if possible.

Sefton doesn’t have the best personality either. He is a cynic and has little love for his fellow internees.

One night, when two prisoners emerge from a tunnel dug by the men, they are cut down by waiting German machine gunners. It is clear the stalag commanders had advanced knowledge of the escape plan.

To the POWs it’s a cinch where they got the information. They figure Sefton informed on the escapees.

A couple of other events confirm the suspicions in their minds. When a hidden radio is discovered in the barracks, and Sefton is allowed into the woman’s area of the camp, the inmates are certain that the man has been rewarded by the Germans. He’s definitely a stoolie in their estimation.

Then Dunbar, a newly arrived officer, is taken away from the barracks and tortured. The Germans believe he is guilty of blowing up an ammunition train before he arrived at the camp.When this happens, Sefton’s bunkmates pummel him and beat him because they believe he has told the enemy of the officer’s guilt.

Stalag 17 Sefton

Sefton bears the marks of his beating by fellow POWs in Stalag 17.

But then the worm turns for the forlorn Sefton. He discovers who the real informant is by hiding in the barracks while everyone else is  gone.

While standing in the shadows, Sefton sees Allied security officer Price speaking German with Schulz, the camp sergeant. He exposes Price, a German spy,  to his comrades.

Stalag 17

American POW JJ Sefton confronts Price, a German spy planted in his barracks.

Sefton further restores his reputation by volunteering to lead Dunbar out of the camp after the other prisoners free him through an elaborate deception plan.

A proverb from the Roman fabulist Phaedrus is worth noting at this point. He wrote: “Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many.”

This principle surely was borne out in the story of Sefton and the men of Stalag 17. It is worthy of consideration in our own lives as well.

How many times have we been angered or saddened or confused by the behavior of others without knowing all the facts.?

For example, we get upset when a friend doesn’t Email or text us for a time. Instead of trying to ascertain the truth, we surmise that they are ignoring us. We then are hurt because we begin think that perhaps we aren’t as important to them as we thought.

Then we find out that they have been sick, or a loved one has died. As a result, we feel embarrassed.

We’re also easy prey to the scams of this modern world. I became aware today of a phony enterprise in which callers inform poor saps on the other end of the line that they are being given a chance to pay off their debt to the Internal Revenue Service.

The caller tells them that if they don’t pay that the authorities are nearby and will come to arrest them. They are directed to buy gift cards from an online company to use to pay off what they owe.

Surprisingly, a number are falling for this swindle.

Probably the greatest fraud ever perpetrated was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The authorities of the day suspected him of being a man who intended to usurp their earthly thrones.

Yet, Jesus had no such plan. He said to his enemies, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

However, the rulers of  the day did not believe Jesus. Sefton’s punishment was minor compared to the one Jesus endured. His fellow man tortured him and forced him to endure an excruciating execution because they were threatened by Him.

Little did they know that Jesus was God and that He humbled Himself, became a man, and voluntarily died to take the rap for the punishment they deserved.  Further, Jesus rose from the dead and His followers were charged with telling the world of the offer of a new life in Christ.

The Bible says this was the consequence of Jesus’s heroism :

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus has an enemy who doesn’t like this state of affairs. The fallen being known as Satan, who orchestrated Jesus’s death to begin with seeks to continue to deceive the world of the truth in our day.

Even believers in Jesus doubt His love and care when things don’t appear to be going their way in life.  Yet the wise among us would do well to heed the words of the rest of the quote from the ancient Roman Phaedrus.  He wrote:

“The intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.”

Despite circumstances, those who love Jesus can be assured that He is working all things together for their good. For those who don’t, He is calling them to trust Him.

The doubter ought to follow one group of folks who lived in the days following Jesus’s death and resurrection. According to the Bible, when the Apostle Paul told them of them of Jesus’s work and His offer of salvation, the Bereans of Greece “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

The intelligent among us would do well to shake off the deceptions of our time and do what the Bereans did.

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Jesus Men

The film “Monuments Men” opens with Frank Stokes seeking to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the works of  the great European masters are worth salvaging from the destruction and chaos of World War 2.

As part of his rhetoric, he refers to the magnificent sculptures, paintings and artistic displays of the continent as “the greatest historical achievements known to man”. Further, Stokes tells the president, “While we must and we will wind this war, we should also remember the high price that will be paid if the very foundation of modern society is destroyed.”

Stokes argument wins over Roosevelt. He authorizes the formation of a team charged with finding and saving priceless works of art stolen by the Nazis.

Even though Stokes suggests finding young artists and sculptors to make up the unit, Roosevelt notes that all of them are already serving in the battles of the war. Thus, the president calls on Stokes to head up the search for qualified men.

As a result, he contacts aging architects, curators, designers, artists and sculptors to form his group. After he finds them, he holds a meeting.

“You’ve been selected because we need your knowledge and skills,” he tells the men. “We’ve been tasked to find and protect buildings, monuments and art.”

Stokes needed experts who could identify such great pieces as Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges and The Ghent Altarpiece. Further, he desired men with trained eyes capable of differentiating between the genuine and the phony.

Monuments Men

Monuments Men had to be experts in the works of the Great Masters of Europe

Throughout the film, the necessity of saving these works is questioned. Roosevelt proffers the idea that their loss is just the price of fighting a war. Commanders refuse to risk their men to help the unit save art. President Truman asks at the end of the war if the loss of two of his men was worth the effort to rescue the five million works his group DID save.

The questioning is legitimate. It’s important to ask what is worth giving your life to and for.

Author and life coach Brendon Burchard says that not every mountain is worth climbing. We need to walk around some.

While Frank Stokes argument for saving great works of art at the cost of lost lives can be questioned, he was able to convince the person who mattered most that they were.  He persuaded the president of the United States that they were monuments to civilization which were worth fighting for.

Most of us don’t take on great tasks of the kind that Frank Stokes tackled. He felt a personal responsibility for giving himself to the work because he thought these monuments were important.

Each of us has to determine for ourselves what we deem worth giving our lives to or fighting for. Some, for example, believe that TEARING DOWN monuments is what is important.

Stuart Briscoe writes that there are some charismatic men who start movements to accomplish a task they believe is of great significance or value. Briscoe notes that these movements die out when their founders pass on, and their work become monuments to the glory which once was. Unlike artistic memorials, these monuments are devoid of their original power.

Briscoe describes one founder and his movement which do live on.

There is no denying that Christianity has in some instances degenerated into a monument, and its places of worship into museums. But it is equally true that, where ordinary men and women in the power of the Spirit have proclaimed the Good News of Christ’s saving grace, the church has continued to grow and thrive. When this happens, there is no man-movement-monument syndrome. The Man, Christ Jesus, is still at work through the Holy Spirit, doing what only he can do–and doing it well!

I personally believe that the work of Jesus is worth giving my life to and worth fighting for. In order to be a part of His work, I need to know Him. Like the Monuments Men, I ought to be an expert in Jesus if I want to be one of his people.

This means I should also be around folks that can also recognize Jesus. Not all of His alleged followers can.

Vernon McGee says that when Judas took a mob to the Garden of Gethsemane in order to arrest Jesus, he could not identify the man he spent three years with as one of his disciples. McGee believes this was because Jesus was displaying his divine glory at this time.

Judas did not have the acumen to distinguish characteristics of his Master which at that point could only be spiritually discerned.  He was a fraudulent expert.

Judas was a phony Jesus Man. He could not identify the Real McCoy.

This year I want to become a Jesus Man, i.e. an  expert in Jesus. I want to be able to identify the genuine article for myself and others.

This won’t be easy. The Apostle Paul wrote that gaining true spiritual knowledge in this life is similar to looking in a dim mirror. We can only make out some aspects of the real image.

Further, as in Jesus’s day there are religious and political leaders who attempt to either reject Him or coopt Him for their own purposes. Behind them lurks the enemy of Christ, Satan the Devil.

He isn’t going to be happy about my desire to get involved in the deserving work of searching for and elevating Jesus in my own life and in the lives of others. Just as the Monuments Men had to fight with Nazis and Russians to save great masterpieces, I will have to battle the minions of the Evil One.

But to me searching for and making known the true Jesus is worth the effort. The job is worth giving my life to and worth fighting for.

Like Frank Stokes, I need to be around some other men who are qualified  and willing to get into the war. Finding these Jesus Men will also be my goal.

Finding Jesus is a dangerous job. I’ll need the other Jesus Men to help me, perhaps even save me, in order to get it done.

Coming to their aid should also be part of my expectation as a Jesus Man.

Monuments men 2

Monuments Men found they needed each other. For instance, one stepped on a land mine. The others worked to keep him from setting it off. They refused to leave their buddy in peril.

Being one of the Jesus Men is a noble goal.

 

 

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