Tag Archives: J. Vernon McGee

The Test of Friendship

In the silent-film era flick “The Flying Fleet”,  aspiring naval aviators Tommy and Steve are comrades.  They are part of a tight group of six cadets at the US Naval Academy.

The night before graduation Tommy is stuck with duty as “officer of the day” while his friends are out celebrating. When they return to the barracks inebriated, Tommy risks his own career by knocking Steve out so his noisy talk doesn’t get the attention of the commanding officer.

One midshipman colleague Tommy can’t save. His friend “Dizzy” is dismissed from the service when his drunken state is discovered.

The Flying Fleet

Midshipman Steve removes the tight pants of his friend Tommy at the US Naval Academy in the film “The Flying Fleet.” They’re pals, but their friendship will soon be tested.

As the five remaining men enter the Naval service, some see their hopes of becoming pilots end in training. One actually loses his life when his plane crashes.

Two of the other four, “Ensign Specs” and Ensign “Kewpie”,  wash out of flight training.  The former becomes a navigator while the latter accepts a post as radio officer on the aircraft carrier Langley.

This leaves Tommy and Steve to pursue their dreams of becoming naval aviators. As they do, the relationship between the two men becomes complicated.

Even thought they are clearly still friends, Tommy and Steve become professional rivals.In a harbinger of what is to come 50 years later in the film “Top Gun”, the pals compete for the honor of being the fleet’s  best pilot.

Tommy is probably the more talented airman, but Steve is a confident leader. Indeed, he is probably too cocky.

At first Tommy appears to get  the upper hand. He is chosen by the admiral to pilot a large plane from San Diego to Hawaii, a distance of 2,500 miles. The assignment is quite an honor for a Navy pilot of that era.

Even so, Steve is still the leader of their squadron so they are somewhat “even” in their competition. Their friendship, while competitive, appears to remain intact.

But in the repeat of an age-old story, Tommy and Steve have a falling out due to their affections for the same young woman.  In a scene containing youthful hijinks, Steve hides Tommy’s uniform pants as the three are preparing to leave a beach together.

Tommy has to take the time to frantically search his locker area for his pants. Steve has thrown them in a trash bin, so he never finds them.

This leaves Steve alone with the girl, a young lady named Anita. The two leave the beach by car without Tommy.

In the meantime, Tommy has to return to base in his boxer shorts. He is spotted by the admiral and is directed to the commander’s office to be called on the carpet. By this time Steve is present to see this takedown, but Tommy doesn’t turn Steve in to their boss.

Tommy does rebukes Steve, however, telling him that there are some things that put a strain on a friendship. This incident also causes doubt about Tommy in the admiral’s mind.

Then the two pilots have a dogfight in the skies. A common training technique, Tommy wins the competition by forcing his friend to the ground. He then buzzes Steve from the air after his friend lands in a bit of a victory ‘dance’.

Had Tommy left  his celebration at that, all would have been well. However, he returns a second time and flies so close to Steve that the squadron leader is  forced to fall on the tarmac.

This overkill does not set well with Anita.  Furthermore, their commander does not like it either. He relieves Tommy of the  duty of flying the big plane to Hawaii. Steve is assigned in his place.

Soon thereafter Steve flies the big ship towards Hawaii as the fleet follows. However, he and his crew run into a storm and are forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean.

The men are stranded on an unsubmerged wing of the plane for days. Among the airmen floating on the Pacific is Steve and Tommy’s old pal “Specs”, who is badly injured.Knowing that his fellows are giving him all of the water and have to suffer in the Pacific heat, Specs slips into the ocean and sacrifices himself.

Meanwhile, the fleet searches for their lost comrades. Tommy leads the hunt for the men. When the admiral is ordered to end the seemingly hopeless search, Tommy asks for one more attempt to save his friends and the rest of the crew.  Admiring Tommy’s commitment, the otherwise curmudgeonly commander bends the rules and gives his permission.

Tommy finds the downed men but he himself becomes a prisoner of the waves. He is forced to ditch his own plane in the ocean because he runs out of fuel. Tommy swims to the other men consigned to the big plane’s wing.

However, before he hit the water Tommy was able to signal the fleet with a flare. As a result the survivors  are found and taken to a hospital ship.

Anita comes to see Steve and especially Tommy, who is her preferred beau. The movie ends with the two as revealed as friends again and the announcement that Tommy would receive a medal for his heroism.

I realized after watching the failures of Tommy and Steve in “The Flying Fleet” that I need to cut some of my own friends some slack. Sometimes I have been tested in my relationships, and failed mightily.

What I haven’t seemed to absorb is that on this side of heaven, none of us is perfect (except me of course. We all tend to overlook our own faults!) We all lose our tempers, act selfishly, and pursue our own interests over those of our friends.

This should not be a surprise to me or anyone else. The only perfect human that walked the Earth was  Jesus. It also needs to be said that He was the Incarnate Christ, God become flesh.

J. Vernon McGee spoke of the nothingness of what he called “little man”.  Loosely quoting and then commenting on a Bible passage, McGee said, “Beloved, it does not appear what we shall be but we know when He (Jesus) shall appear we shall be like Him. Now don’t you be discouraged with me. God is not finished with me yet. He’s not through with me. And I won’t be discouraged with you because God is not through with you.”

In fact, I now see that the conflicts I have had with friends were tests from God, some  that I did not pass.  I never thought of these fights as coming from the Lord but McGee’s teaching has shown me they may very well have been.

McGee notes that God tests us to show us how proud we are and  to humble us. He said that he sometimes does this in the area of friendship.

The true test of friendship is that we love our friends to the end. “Specs” did that in “The Flying Fleet.” Jesus did that, too. He like “Specs” died to save us.

At the heart of Tommy and Steve’s reconciliation and that offered by Jesus is the concept of forgiveness.  God has forgiven us, so why not forgive our brothers and sisters.

Jesus dies so he could offer that forgiveness, but He did not stay in the grave. He rose from the dead and wants to have a friendship with His people based on love.

Like Tommy did in “The Flying Fleet”,  Jesus is coming back to finish His work of salvation.  He one day will appear in the air and take us to be with Him.

In the interim, we should love our friends down here.

James Dobson says that this is what is really important in our journey on this globe.

“When you come to the end of your life what will matter most? Have you thought about that? The buildings that have your name on them?  The books that you wrote? Will it be the money that you made? Will it be great accomplishments professionally? Will it be  a business that you built?  What is going to matter? When you look back and think “THAT’S on the top of the list, what’s it going to be? 

Those things I mentioned don’t matter to me at all. They’re not significant. What matters to me is who I loved and who loved me and what we did together in the service of the Lord. Nothing else makes much sense.

If we do develop this kind of mindset, we should pass the test of friendship.

 

 

 

 

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Love is the key to service

In the classic film “Hold Back the Dawn”, Georges Iscovescu (Charles Boyer) is a Romanian man who is trying to get into the United States from Mexico. In order to get a visa, he marries Emmy Brown (Olivia de Havilland), a school teacher who knows nothing of his plot.

Iscovescu’s plan begins to unravel, however, when Inspector Hammock, a US immigration agent looking for cons like him, suspects that the Romanian is not on the up and up. To escape the agent,  Iscovescu takes his new wife on an excursion to a small Mexican village, where he unexpectedly begins to fall for her.

hold-back-the-dawn-2

In “Hold Back the Dawn”, Georges Iscovescu wrestles with his love for Emmy Brown because it will interfere with his own selfish agenda.

The strategy to cross the border into the US with Emmy falls apart completely when it is exposed by another woman who is in love with Iscovescu.  Even though Emmy does not turn her husband over to Hammock, she returns to America without him.

On the way to California, the upset Emmy wrecks her car and is seriously injured. When Georges learns of this, he crashes a car through the border crossing and heads to Los Angeles, where Emmy lays dying in a hospital.

Georges enters her hospital room and in a moving scene, tells Emmy he is there. His presence and words of encouragement draw Emmy out of her coma.

Iscovescu  can’t stay, however. He has to flee the police.   He heads back to Mexico.

Eventually Georges is allowed back into the United States legally. Hammock has understood what the former con man has done for Emmy and arranged a visa.

Hammock meets Georges at the border and tells him of his good fortune. Not only that, but Emmy is also standing on the other side, healthy and waiting to welcome him.

While insincere when he said it, Georges was right when he told Emmy at the time of her meeting that they were like two trains at a station. He said, “We can’t change our course anymore than we can hold back the dawn.”

The Bible tells a similar story of men staging a dangerous border crossing to aid a person risk.

In this narrative, David has to flee Israel’s King Saul. He dwells in the wilderness as an outlaw.

However, he has warriors, whom the Bible calls “mighty men”, who come to join him in the fight against Saul. They swim across the Jordan River at flood stage in order to be with David.

David is suspicious. Like David, they were once loyal servants to King Saul.  They could just as easily be spies than supporters.

J. Vernon McGee in his account of the incident suggests the men are wet and out of breath as David confronts them.

David tells them:

“If you have come to me in peace to help me, I am ready for you to join me. But if you have come to betray me to my enemies when my hands are free from violence, may the God of our ancestors see it and judge you.”

The mighty men respond to their reluctant general:

“We are yours, David!
We are with you, son of Jesse!
Success, success to you,
and success to those who help you,
for your God will help you.”

Mighty Men

These men have good reason to commit themselves to David. They know that David is God’s choice to be the king of Israel in place of Saul. He was anointed by the prophet Samuel as a boy when God decided that he had had enough of the rebellious Saul.

The warriors risked it all to cross a risky boundary to fight with an even riskier leader. If Saul defeated them, they would probably be killed.

Sometimes we have to leap over legal and natural obstacles to do what God wants us to do. The Mighty Men knew this. The once wicked but now repentant Georges Iscovescu knew this.

Despite opposition, possible arrest and even death, they were willing to cross over the Jordan River to follow their king.

What motivated Georges Iscovescu and David’s Mighty Men was love. They were willing to endure much to serve the people they cared for.

In some recent reflections on areas of my life, I determined that I have been weak in serving both God and man. I ascertained that I have gained a clear view of self and an understanding of what my skills are. However, my usefulness to God and my benefit to others have not been what they could be.

There are reasons for this. For instance, I have been juggling quite a few changes in my life and just trying to keep my own head above water. When this is happening, it is easy to become depleted and not be too focused on the needs and agendas of others.

I have seen through the above stories that the most important ingredient has been lacking in my ability to serve God and other people. I am talking about love for them.

McGee  says, “The secret to service is love.”  If I don’t love God, I won’t serve Him. If I don’t love other people, I won’t serve them.

However, I have seen recently that if I love someone I will do plenty. I have been more willing to travel over hill and dale to be with certain people because I love them.

I have also learned that the reason I am willing to do things that I would otherwise find boring, mundane and even distasteful for people is because I love them.

McGee poses a good question when he asks, “Do you really love Jesus?” I have pondered the answer to that question for years.

I think I do love Him, but sometimes I’m not so sure. I fear that past service to God has been motivated by selfish ambition, and my lack of active work for Him these days makes me unclear as to how much I DO love Jesus.

The answer to that question is the key to unlocking my service for Him. If I love Jesus, I will cross my own Jordan and offer my services to Him.

One question I have answered is whether or not I belong to Jesus. This I can answer in the affirmative. This is what makes me believe that I DO love Him.

Like Georges and Emmy, our courses are tightly bound to each other. I am His and He is mine.

This, says McGee, is more important than service to Him. If I can assure myself of this on a daily basis, the service to Jesus will come.

 

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My Guts; His glory: living an authentic life that is pleasing to God

In “Guts and Glory: Profiles in Courage from TV and Film”, I highlighted the motivations of two fictional characters which propelled them to take risks and pursue their passions, goals and dreams.

My foundation for such a quest seems out of place in this modern world. The chasing of personal goals is subsumed in a greater ambition: pleasing God. This means in practice I must listen to Him. The first thing I learned as a kid was that the Jesus portrayed in the Bible was not a fictional character, but the one true God.

In this day and age, when even prayer is mocked in the public domain, I fear that listening to God’s voice and making decisions on this basis might require courage of the kind these TV and film personalities displayed.  Like them,  I may have to risk being humiliated to actually seek answers from Him and do what He says.

Perhaps my trepidation is an exercise in overthinking. Ours is a time when people do what is right in their own eyes anyhow, so I may be worrying in vain about how people see me when I go against their grain. On the other hand, everything seems to be permissible today EXCEPT being a follower of Jesus, so I may indeed have a cause for concern.

What I have come to partially understand is the nature of how God  works in His dealings with humans. When He speaks, He is not a dictator. From what I grasp of Him, He is rarely loud nor does he yell. God’s voice is one that is of a kind that mainly whispers.

Furthermore, when he desires to accomplish His work through me, He does so through a man he created in His image, one He made with a certain distinctiveness.  God has no intention of violating my uniqueness. Indeed, he wants to form me from within and honor and set apart my motives, thoughts, plans and ideas in such a way that I am a real and authentic person

Despite the buzz I hear from others, I realize in my mind that opposition to the pursuit of this genuine “me” should not even be an issue with secular folks ? Historically, going after our human originality has been totally valid. For instance, the 16th century William Shakespeare called it being true to yourself.

The rub in modern society may be that I am chasing the honest “me” on the basis of what may seem like an  ethereal relationship with and obedience to a Supreme Being it knows little about. Our modern world doesn’t seem to have much use for the God portrayed in the Bible. Of the the billions of people inhabiting this planet, it is my perception that a relatively small percentage search out the truths found in this book.

The words from His Scriptures have been my foundation for living for a long time. They speak to my purpose in this world and how that is to play out for me as an individual personality. In fact, I began following Jesus in high school BECAUSE I discovered that my true purpose was found in Him.

American pastor and teacher J. Vernon McGee cites the following text from the Bible to support his teaching that God desires to work through His people so that they are normal and natural and not some automatons:
Stop assuming an outward expression that does not come from within you and is not representative of what you are in your inner being but is patterned after this age; but change your outward expression to one that comes from within and is representative of your inner being, by the renewing of your mind, resulting in your putting to the test what is the will of God, the good and well- pleasing and complete will, and having found that it meets specifications, place your approval upon it. (Romans 12:2 Wuest Expanded Translation).

In some fashion, I believe this passage says that God’s will must suit ME! The Bible actually tells me to approve His specs for me. Working with God to shape my life is not life having an autocrat for a boss.

Shakespeare likened humans to actors playing a part on the stage of this world. The director gives the players the script and they’re to recite it. McGee disagrees with the learned bard.

“This is not true of the believer,” he said. “He must be genuine because (God the) Holy Spirit is working from within.”

McGee indicates that I would actually be working at cross purposes with God and my own personhood if I do not remain true to myself.

“The minute you and I assume a pose, to be something we are not, it will be impossible to determine the will of God for our lives,” he said. “The will of God becomes good and fits the will of the believer exactly.”

Knowing how to ascertain and implement the plan of God for my life has not been easy over the course of my life. I have been confused at times and in retrospect, made mistakes.

This could be because I have acted like a participant in a game who tries to win without knowing much about the rules or how to play. As an avid board gamer in my youth, I know it’s important to understand the instructions.

Pleasing centers around two words that sound strange in this culture of independence..

One of these terms is ‘worship’. I was created for a relationship with Jesus, one that involves devoting myself wholly to Him. The term ‘worship’ should not astound us. After all ,we “worship” girlfriends, boyfriends and rock stars. Why not “worship”Jesus.

Another word that is bizarre for us but is crucial in following Jesus is the term ‘surrender’. Pastor Rick Warren in his best selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” reveals that surrendering to Jesus is at the heart of the worship of Him.

He explains that when a believer in Jesus comprehends the true meaning of “surrender”, they can be in a place to relinquish the fear, pride and confusion that can sometimes accompany following Him. In defining “surrender, Warren writes  that the term does not mean “passive resignation, fatalism, or an excuse for laziness.”

Warren notes:

“It may mean the exact opposite: sacrificing your life or suffering in order to change what needs to be changed. Surrendering is not for cowards or doormats.”

The people who I wrote about last time were definitely not cowards or doormats. But stories I watched said nothing about the roots of the courage they revealed in pursuing their hopes  and dreams. They only spoke of what those passions were. But they at least exemplified a brave pursuit of their fulfillment.

What I have learned from these fictional folks is that I need to determine what my current passions and hopes are. What should follow is to take what I learn to God with open arms and let Him help me live them out in a way that pleases Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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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Civility Involves a Change of Heart

One night recently I went to the top floor of the local university library. The sign below is next to the elevators. Beside this sign there is a huge placard as you come off the elevator that repeats the rules for using the area.

 

 

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I go here when I really need quiet and to think. However, as you can well guess, some people think the rules do not apply to them. While I was there I called people out twice.

Alas, before I get too high and mighty (that’s coming), I realize I have my own blind areas. But, basic civility would be nice in our society. We seem to have lost it, if we ever had it.

This experience in a library was annoying, but not that big a deal when compared to widespread rudeness in more important venues. The reason this little skirmish has become more pronounced in my mind is that the I think my senses are heightened to rudeness after the recent American election season and its aftermath. As a news and poltics junkie, I have seen our public discourse filled with out-of-the-ordinary base statements from political leaders, protesters and would-be amateur pundits on social media.

.I really don’t have high expectations from politicians and protesters when they open their mouths, but the things emanating from them have reached a new low. Rock bottom does indeed have a basement.

If you follow the news at all you are aware of the profanity, ad hominem attacks and even physical violence of political opponents and of youthful protesters and celebrities upset about the outcome of the vote in November.

Discourtesy and ill behavior in our society has not been limited to politics. My little library excursion example is indicative of a certain lack of courtesy on the American university campus. The squelching of dissent has led to  a Stalinistic atmosphere. Most recently I wrote about a confrontation I had with a student over her discomfort with my viewing choices in a public location at my local school. The girl took issue with a scene from a classic movie which I saw as history and she observed to be insulting. She got heated right away without any degree of politeness and shrilly demanded that I turn off what I was watching.

In addition, during warmer months on campus I have been subjected to more nonverbal effrontery. I have come close to being pummeled by passing skateboarders who speed by out of control, with little thought for the mass of pedestrians on the sidewalk. Once one of these sidewalk NASCAR wannabes silently came up from behind me and without any regard for personal space engineered a wild hop on their board in a noisy fashion. It scared the daylights out of me.

The causes of this lowering of respectful behavior towards our fellow humans are too numerous to expound on here. However, I think Rev.  J. Vernon McGee hit on something decades ago when he was discussing a passage from the Bible. In the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is having a debate with the religious leaders of his day over the importance of a rite involving the washing of hands.

Jesus said to these leaders and His followers:

“Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

Jesus’s disciples asked him to explain what He meant by this statement.

“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.  But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you.  For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

McGee said of Jesus’s words,”We are seeing that working out in our contemporary society today. We’ve come to a period of what is known a ‘New Morality’. We’ve reached the day that (the prophet) Isaiah talked about. He said the day is coming when they’ll call evil good and good evil. And they’re doing that today.”

Decades ago McGee decried the dropping of biblical standards for “freedom”.

“The lid has been taken off and man today can express what’s in his heart. What comes out? New morality? No, same old thing. Evil thoughts. Murders. Adulteries. We hear a good amount about sex today. That’s what you would expect. Fornications. Theft. False witness. Blasphemies. Great day of freedom. But my friends, if you don’t put the lid on the bucket you have opened really a Pandora’s Box  and we’re in trouble.”

McGee even in his time called for some controls on mankind’s behavior.

“Man has to be controlled,” he said. “Man is the most vicious animal on this earth and yet we put other animals in cages. And yet we’re talking today ‘man must be free to do his thing’. And here’s what he’ll do. It’s not new morality at all. Our Lord said this sort of thing was evil and these things defile a man.”

The Internet did not even exist as a public tool in McGee’s day, but he still blasted the media and schools for pushing immorality on to youth.

“These are the things that are defiling young people and yet it is all being done in the high, lofty-sounding terminology of ‘freedom of speech’ and that today ‘we must express ourselves. And this is the way we are doing it.The thing that is in the heart is now coming out.”

Solutions to the problem of incivility are not easy. As McGee noted, man does not want to be controlled. This was easy to see in the 60s, one of the most revolutionary decades in American history.

Stephen Sills wrote “For What It’s Worth” after a protest in 1966 in Hollywood. Residents were upset at the late night congestion caused by the numerous young folks who flooded the Sunset Strip area to hit the clubs and bars. So when the government put their foot down and enacted ordinances to curtail their outlandish behavior, the youth protest. This protest became civil unrest.The song opens this way:

“There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down (?)”

What Sills complained about in his lyrics is that the authorities were able to tell him and his fellow “children” (how apropos) what to do for the sake of others who were affected by their actions. But I don’t see his complaint as valid. If we are going to live in a civil society, we must have some common standards of decency for the sake of all. With freedom comes responsibility to others.

When human beings don’t voluntarily submit to some sort of standards of good behavior, then I am afraid they must be provided with incentives, even negative ones. I once heard of a new prison warden who asked an aide,”How much power do I have in this prison?” He was told that he had what amounted to dictatorial powers. When he heard this, the warden issued a fiat that there would be no profanity allowed in his prison. I imagine any rule breaking was punished. Over time the enforced manners resulted in a sea change of positive behavior in this jail.

Despite a huge swing toward incivility, I’m not asking for a fascist state to control all words and actions in America. I am not in favor of, for example, extreme self restraint of the media as new White House adviser Steve Bannon suggested when he said that it should “keep its mouth shut.” The Founding Fathers allowed for a free press as a watchdog on corrupt government. In our current society, however, the more recognized media companies have tended to be selective about which party’s corruption to expose.

This tendency of the press to shut down points of view it does not agree with has resulted in a media civil war. The battle has flooded over to the Internet and its social media sites, where every Tom, Dick and Harriet can have a say. Unfortunately, as I noted at the beginning of this essay, these interactions on Facebook, Twitter and other sites are filled with meanspirited, cowardly and selfish behavior.

The consequence of all this online heat has been the fracturing of relationships. During a concise and balanced discussion on media bias on CNN this week Christiane Amanpour said,”We should be able to have a huge variety of views without calling each other and treating each other as enemies.” What Amanpour says should apply not only to media types, but to we rubes on social media and individual friends, individuals and even strangers as well.

All I am asking for is some heart change that leads to obeying the laws, rules and principles developed by those who went before us to create a civil society. In order for that to happen we are going to have to quit being so self absorbed and start thinking about the welfare of others.

In addition to looking within for refinement, there are some things we can do. We can learn to listen. We can learn to listen ro understand. We can learn how to debate logically and ethically.  We can begin each interaction with goodwill. We can be kind. We can stop assuming that those with whom we disagree are inherently evil, bigoted, and criminal.

There are those who think that there are more important things than civility. Vann R. Newkirk II in a post in The Atlantic on December 5, 2016 notes that in matters such as racism that shaming can be an effective tool toward pushing whites in America toward confronting their bias. He writes:

Civility is not the highest moral imperative—especially in response to perceived injustices—nor is hand-holding and guiding reluctant people to confront their bigotry gently. American history is full of fights, including the ongoing struggle for civil rights, that have been as fierce as they are ultimately . Civility is overrated.

With the extremely marginalized, I can see Mann’s point. I don’t imagine a Jewish politician from 1930s Germany getting anywhere in persuading a Nazi counterpart to drop their racially stained views. Sometimes there is no other resort than war.

But as General Sherman said,”War is hell.” Those “ongoing fights” Newkirk speaks of were quite costly to America and Americans at times. Real change in these United States has only come it seems from either such conflicts or from persuasion.  It would seem to me that persuasion should be attempted at all times until there is no other recourse because of the insanely damaging effects of war.

Was war necessary to free the slaves in the United States? Perhaps. But there were some who believed that America would eventually be persuaded to ditch slavery. Instead, the opponents opted for civil war. After the war, the winners eventually made a political bargain to give control back to the losers. These people instituted Jim Crow, which carried racism over for almost another century. Thus, before we go to war it would seem to me that a long-term strategy for dealing with its effects be developed.

What is telling is that Mann believes there are other goals in argument besides persuasion. He writes:

Sometimes the goal of argument is to vent. Sometimes it is to simply tell the truth. Sometimes it’s just to loudly proclaim one’s own humanity.

Mr. Mann and I could have a civil debate on such a statement. I would take the position that shouting is not an appropriate method of argument, at least from an Aristotlian perspective. Furthermore, those “telling the truth” may think they are, but like us all these folks are subject to their own limitations. What they believe to be the truth may indeed not be.

What Mann’s discussion of the goals of argument has done for me, though, and why his comments above are telling is  that it explains why there was such profanity and base statements coming from speakers at the recent Women’s March. Those speakers represent a point of view which says that their opponents will not listen to reasoned argument. Only stigmatizing the opposition will do. My one complaint of this approach is that I am doubtful that Madonna or Ashley Judd had attempted accepted modes of persuasion prior to their profane rants.

Even though I don’t agree with many of the points in Mann’s article, it is well supported with academic research and nods to the arguments of opponents. That kind of argumentation I can respect. Thus, it makes his piece well worth the read.

Abhorrent perspectives like racism are a matter of the heart. I am afraid there will always be people with evil views. Where it gets dicey for all of us is when these folks begin to act on their beliefs. So there must be some control of evil.

If we don’t transform ourselves, I am fearful that the outcry will be so great that we could lose our hard-won freedoms. If we don’t do this as individuals on a voluntary basis, then I am afraid others with powerful institutions behind them will MAKE us behave.

When they do they won’t be bringing lollipops to persuade us; they’l be sporting hammers.

 

 

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Filed under Argument, Civility, Jesus Christ, Media, politics