Saturday, April 27, 2013

For Him

In my quiet time with the Lord this morning I suddenly felt incredibly tired, and unbearably sad. The dispassionate analyst in me looked on and wondered why. I concluded there were many possibilities–sad for my country, sad for the world at large, sad for my people. I knew there were many reasons to grieve in this moment in time. But this sadness was deeper, wider and more profound than anything as fleeting as the  regret over the demise of a nation, the world or a finite people. Eras, countries, cultures rise and fall, come and go. A thousand years is but one day...

In my introspection I paused to consider that perhaps I was just indulging in a bit of personal self pity. There are all sorts of reasons I could go there, if I were made of different stuff. But I am not. Many times I’ve earnestly tried but I simply cannot feel sorry for myself, at least not for long. If I ever dare to try, in very short order I hear the still small practical voice, “Oh puleezzzz! Get over it!” And then, resoundingly ashamed, I move on.

But moving on didn’t explain the source of the grief this morning. So, in a bold move, I asked God, “Will You tell me why I am so so sad?” And the answer came, not like a brilliant revelation but more a resolute sigh. 

It wasn’t my sadness I was feeling–it was His.

Overcome by this realization, all I could think to do was imagine myself in a garden quietly sitting next to God, making a lame human attempt to comfort Him, pledging to stay with Him no matter who else deserts Him. I promised, even though I am nothing and no one, that I would stay with and for Him, for what that offer was worth.

Like a bewildered child, I really didn’t know what to say so instead, I sat with Him in a sorrowful hush where that which is unsaid speaks so much more than words ever could express. 

Then, that pesky analyst in me started counting all the reasons He could be sad. I am not presumptuous enough to claim to know how to read God’s mind but I know He created us in His image, mysterious triune beings comprised of Body, Soul and Spirit and I certainly can relate to how it feels to be rejected, ignored and rebuked. I know how I feel when I encourage and reach out to help someone else and that someone does not see the blessing as an opportunity coming from God, so there is no compulsion to take the blessing [talent] and multiply it. I found myself burdened with empathy for how it must feel to be weighted down by a zillion wasted blessings given over the course of eons. 

I also know how it feels to be invisible and irrelevant. I know how it feels to offer a truth and watch as the message is dismissed or distorted and bent to fit someone else’s agenda. I’ve been used, more than once, to further another’s self-serving purpose. I know what it feels like to speak and not be heard. I have suffered the disappointment of disingenuous words spoken that failed in the doing. The list is never ending and I can say that I understand, at least in small part, why God ought to be sad with one exception–I have never had to sacrifice my child so that the sinful, ungrateful, self-idolizing reprobated world might not perish. I can’t even begin to know what that feels like and I very much doubt that I could even survive it if I could know.

All I can do is say, in as many ways as I am able, to anyone who might have an ear to listen and understand, it seems to me that God is in the final stages of His grief. What does this mean to us? The Scripture asks, if He be for us, who can be against us?

Personally, I think it is well past time to ask, who is for Him? 

For Christ,

(Romans 8:28) And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, [even] to them that are called according to [his] purpose.  (8:29) For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained [to be] conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren:  (8:30) and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.  (8:31) What then shall we say to these things? If God [is] for us, who [is] against us?  (8:32) He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Trouble, Tribulation and Tragedy

While waiting in the school lobby to collect my grandsons I listened as a group of bus drivers discussed a recent tragedy that had occurred several days earlier. A young mother had suddenly, without warning or indication of trouble, killed herself. She left a husband, a sixteen year old daughter and younger son behind forever damaged by her desperate if not selfish act. She also left a note wherein she admitted her cowardice and her great failure. No one, especially not her husband and children, understood that cryptic declaration of self-incrimination.

The women I sat with hashed over the known details and pondered on the unknown. The wife/mother had lived in a lovely home, had no discernible problems, either in her marriage, finances or health. In the weeks before her suicide, she had stocked the refrigerator and pantry, paid bills, spread mulch in the garden, attended functions, prepared meals and lived in exactly the same orderly, unstressful way she had always done. 

The dichotomy between the outward appearances of her life and what must have been unbearable internal conflict was the big question that gave rise to much speculation but no answers. Then one off-handed comment was added that I picked up on, that made me draw my own conclusions.

This lovely family had no faith. It was at the insistence of the grieving son that his father found and called a chaplain to come council them. Did this mean that not only did they have no religious beliefs, God was nothing to them? They were neither agnostic nor atheists, they were non-theists? The concept of God was nowhere in their thoughts or habits, either for or against? 

It is entirely possible because this is common now–nontheism. 

In truth, I don’t know this family so I cannot presume to say they had absolutely no concept of God at all. I simply put two and two together and the sum speaks to the age we live in now more than their personal lives. There was a recent article online about the increasing rate of Americans just snapping and killing themselves or doing other bizarre things. Whatever the official explanation for this phenomenon, I can easily reduce it down to lack of faith, which is the foundation of hope that people are able to cling to in times of trouble. When faith is effectively decreased, suicide naturally increases. Two plus two always equals four.

I finally spoke up and remarked that I had a theory. The women all turned to look at me as if to say, okay, what? I said that we battle with dark principalities now and that there is a sickness spreading like a virus claiming victims, devouring whomsoever is most vulnerable. I stopped just short of warning that it would get worse. I knew that some of the women were Christians and understood what I was saying but I am reluctant to speak as though I am a prophet, which I am not.

But I don’t have to be a prophet to read the signs. And what I see is that trouble is building and soon will be full-fledged Tribulation. Will those who are determined to ignore the warnings understand that the tragedy that befalls them was attributable to their own folly? When the door is shut will the foolish stand and wonder what happened?  Who or what will be blamed? In the age of blame-shift, it’s not likely, in their blindness, that they will know or understand what happened. 

For Christ,

(Isaiah 40:27) Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and the justice [due] to me is passed away from my God?  (40:28) Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? The everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding.  (40:29) He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might he increaseth strength.  (40:30) Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Terminally Myopic

myopia |mīˈōpēə|
• lack of imagination, foresight, hindsight or insight: the modern view is almost always myopic because it never factors into its short-sighted vision what has been proven workable or not workable in history.

Years ago, while volunteering in the grade school my grandchildren attended, I was given the dubious honor of representing the school in meetings of a group called, the Superintendent’s Council on Community Affairs. SCCA for short. This prestigious assemblage of highly educated, influential power-brokers (plus me) met in the Education Administration building at noon five times a year to discuss topics of importance to the county school system. The Superintendent presided over the agenda, which almost always was centered on explaining SPLOST tax fund raising and clever ways to manage millions of dollars so as to get the maximum amount of bang for the buck. The long range plans included the building of dozens of new schools over the course of a decade.

I, being the least qualified to contribute anything of value to these discussions, mostly kept my mouth shut, wisely observing. I did once brazenly speak out about my concern over 45 pound back packs that grade school and middle school age kids were forced to lug around on their as yet not fully developed backs, citing the potential long term damage that could be predicted using the smallest amount of common sense. No one seemed interested. Money, how to make it and spend it, was the focus of this group, not back health for children. Summarily dismissed, I spent the remainder of the boring hour imagining the Superintendent being forced to walk around all day with a backpack that weighed half his body weight, wondering if he would object or just suck it up like the kids had to do.

It was in that same meeting I also discovered, to my great disappointment, that the Superintendent was a proponent of 45/15 which is an informal reference to year round school. His rationale was that it would be the best solution to “help those kids who were lagging behind to catch up.”  I wanted so badly to stand and ask if the esteemed Superintendent thought he had been educated well enough back in the dark ages to be given the letters behind his name, his credentials and the position he held and how that could be possible given that he probably had the summers off to regroup and just be a kid. 

Fortunately, I remained silent and didn’t make a fool of myself. It was clear that if no one could see the probability of kids having back problems down the road from toting heavy back packs, they would not likely have had an epiphany over comparing educational ideology then and now.  The truth is, I believed then as I do now, modern education is no better than it was decades ago; in some ways it is way worse. More of the same piled higher and deeper, teaching to the test, shoving data in to get data out to insure funding is not education. It’s torture. But more importantly this approach to education not only destroys the joy of learning, natural curiosity and critical thinking, it ultimately disables common sense. More often than not it causes flaming burn out so many drop out before graduating high school and just as many that do graduate do poorly in college because all they want to do is party. 

Information is a fluid, ever changing commodity but it is not education. If you asked ten highly educated, respected individuals to make a list of 5000 things a child should learn in twelve years of schooling, you would get ten different lists. But which one would be correct? Which list should be adopted as a curriculum guide? 

The problem with myopia is that it doesn’t know it can’t see beyond a very small circumference. All manner of good sounding arguments can be made for making agenda based choices for the best way to educate our children, but education is not knowledge. The only way to acquire knowledge is to first  learn how to learn, not how to memorize information in the short term. Secondly, you have to want to learn and that is a motivation that comes from inspired teaching, not information shoveling. Unfortunately there is little room or time for inspired teaching nowadays. 

I am officially retired from volunteering in grade schools now. I had already come to this decision for a number of reasons anyway but was pushed over the edge this year because the edict went out that all volunteers were required to take a sensitivity class in order to be permitted to work with the children. Forty years of experience was insufficient qualification. 

The modern view says rules rule, however myopic. 

So this is where we are now. Information on a list, in a rule, a regulation, a curriculum,  takes precedence over teaching our children the life-long love of learning, the fundamental skill sets for acquiring any knowledge and the common sense to successfully, productively use it. 

For Christ,

(Eccelsiastes 9:11) I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.  (9:12) For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare, even so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

To Kill A Nation

I’ve been wrestling with this topic all week, how to present it, how to scrape off the old layers and get down to the clear truth of it. And then I opened Daniel Greenfield’s blog and, as usual, he did the job better than I ever could. So, before continuing on I recommend you go read Sultan Knish’s piercing insight HERE and then come back, if you like, for my perspective on the topic. 

[Meema waiting, possibly eating an apple]

Okay. Assuming you read Daniel’s blog, you’ll understand when I say that we are not only terminally ill as a nation, we are surely nearing the point of our death rattle. How do I come to that dire conclusion? By comparing what happens during the rebuilding  after a disaster phase of a nation to the historically inevitable deconstructing phase. 

My glimpse into this process came in an odd, unexpected way.

I am hooked on the PBS series, Call The Midwife. Based on British nurse Jennifer Worth’s books, recollections of her years serving as a midwife in the post WWII slums of East End London. It’s a gritty representation of life in the fifties in a nation struggling to recover from near annihilation. The setting, in the roughest part of London, makes a stark comparison to the ghettos and projects of modern urban America even more compelling. 

Jennifer Worth’s well-written books, and the subsequent conversion to film has garnered nothing but praise, first from the British public and now from the American public, who are only just being introduced to this talented woman’s work. Much has been said in reviews about the historical significance of the engaging stories referring to conditions of the East End during the reconstructing of London after WWII.

In Jennifer Worth’s obituary, Eva Park of the Guardian said,

By the late 1950s slum clearance and comprehensive redevelopment were starting to transform large parts (including Poplar) of the East End, far more effectively than the Luftwaffe had ever managed; and by the end of the 1960s they were almost wholly unrecognisable from the intimate, squalid, overcrowded, intensely human environment that had sprung up during the 19th century and then stayed largely unchanged.
In particular, quite apart from her shocking evocation of the poverty, Worth gives a wonderfully convincing portrait of the working class that inhabited that environment: infinite, tiny gradations of status within it; "rough indifference" in public between husbands and wives, but in private often domestic violence; frequent pub brawls and street fights, even knifings, yet an underlying decency that meant no old people lived in fear of being mugged; and an almost complete lack of interest in life beyond the East End, even beyond the next street, so that "other people's business was the primary topic of conversation – for most it was the only interest, the only amusement or diversion".
Worth saw it all clearly, level-headedly and without illusion. We are fortunate she was there to capture with such compassion a world that – for good or ill – we have irrevocably lost.

If you understand that, under the worse possible living conditions, in spite of poverty, brutality, limited education and ambition, the concept of killing or eliminating babies simply because of the horrific conditions at hand was not a consideration in post war East End London. Therefore the need for assisted delivery to assure successful live birth was met by midwives, like Jennifer Worth, who stepped up to the task. 

Here’s where one might begin to notice the glaring contrast that hit me between the eyes. 

The difference between a rising nation and a falling one surely must not be entirely attributable to its economic prosperity, its technological progress or its good sounding rhetoric from its leaders, nor even its dedication to tearing down and rebuilding structures and/or whole areas. No, the disparity between growing and stagnating, continuing or disappearing, is within an underlying common decency of the populace and general love and reverence for the miracle of birth. It would seem that the underlying respect for life is the foundation to all other kinds of respect. Respect for elders moving about unmolested, the respect for midwives bicycling through the dark, dingy streets in the middle of the night to answer a call to help bring a new life into the world. 

The decimation of decency is a slow and subtle slide. But the problem with the slow slide is that you hardly notice the loss of altitude until you suddenly hit bottom. When the argument that abortions would happen anyway so why not make it legal became the rationale, we began our dissent and now  the issue is no longer about morality or decency or religious beliefs. Close to impact, the debate is over whether or not a woman and her doctor should have the right to snuff a living breathing human struggling for his or her life on the delivery table, with no advocate. In a democracy two against one wins. It's not even worth mentioning in the mainstream media.

And should anyone dare question this abomination, the original previously successful argument steps in, “Well, she would have aborted it if she could have done so earlier so its not murder, its her right.” And someone else would ask, off the record, “What kind of life would "it" have anyway?” And another would coo, “Better to keep the poor and non-achievers off the welfare roles.” At the point when foundational basic decency that keeps at its core respect for the right to live over the right to kill is completely erased, what is accepted as normal no longer has to be defended.  

Once the rabid argument convinces that circumstances and lack of potential are more important than a human, however small or young, having a right to try life there is nothing left worth defending anyway. It’s over. 

For Christ,

We are only what we are in the dark; all the rest is reputation. What God looks at is what we are in the dark—the imaginations of our minds; the thoughts of our heart; the habits of our bodies; these are the things that mark us in God’s sight.  ~ Oswald Chambers

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Better Or Worse?

There is a strange tension in the air. It’s hard to describe but people are talking about it, even though they aren’t really sure what they are feeling or expecting. They just know that we are on the brink of something life-altering. Christians see it from the spiritual side as the fulfillment of Biblical prophesy of the end of days. Folks who closely monitor earth changes see an alarming rise in numbers of catastrophic events like meteors,  volcanoes, earthquakes and mega storms portending major global upheaval. Political watchers see rapidly advancing power grabbing, society watchers note negative cultural change that has slowly eroded the standards of core family which threatens to destroy humanity on the cellular level.

In an effort to reduce the confusion to a manageable concept, bloggers keep asking the question, “Are you better off today than four years ago?” which is a quote attributed to Ronald Reagan during a presidential campaign. Clearly the question is specific to a political timeframe but I decided to examine this in broader terms, i.e., is the world better or worse today than in any other era?

First of all, it needs to be noted that this is a loaded question and therefore must be broken down to specifics if we hope to come to a meaningful answer. The question must be posed, better or worse than what? Some conditions are historic, perpetual and endemic and must be temporarily set aside for the sake of the ideological side of this discussion. 

For example, what era would you, if you could, choose to live in? How about the Middle Ages? Life expectancy was about 42, religion and politics were largely oppressive to the masses who were mostly enslaved to the ruling elite. How about the revolutionary periods like, the French Revolution or the Bolsheviks’ overthrow of Russia? The American Revolutionary War? The Civil War? World Wars I &II? Any war? What about during the Industrial Revolution when children were strapped to machines in factories for ten hours a day? This still happens in many third world countries you know. Slavery did not begin in America. Human trafficking and the sex slave trade flourishes right under our noses in the most charming of towns across the US. 

Okay, let’s admit that there haven’t been any eras where humans haven’t treated other humans in inhumane ways as long as they can get away with it. It’s part of the human archetype–the fallen state. Therefore, universally similar deplorable human circumstances exist, regardless of the era. What is the litmus test, then, for determining better or worse? Is it material things? Is it fame, fortune, comfort, security, happiness? 

No doubt the answer will be as individual as there are individuals. For me it lies not in what I think we have gained but rather in what I see we have lost. Those who tout modern convenience, commonly perceived elevated life-style, sexual liberty and extended life as the argument for this being the best era ever, do not see what I see.

What I see is mounting fear–fear of nearly everything. Fear of rising violent crime, ever overreaching intrusion of government into the minutia of our daily lives. I see fear of speaking even the most mundane opinions or words lest one might offend another, fear of allowing children to play outside in their own neighborhoods or walk or ride their bikes to school. Fear of doing anything without mandated protective gear. Fear of being molested and humiliated for simply trying to board an airplane. Fear of our every move being watched and videoed, recorded and monitored. Fear of breaking rules or laws that we don’t even know exist. Fear of trusting anyone, especially our neighbors. Fear of being “de-friended”.

I’ve lived long enough to remember that, while life ten, twenty, thirty years ago was not in any way perfect, and provided many things for the average human to worry about, there was once less general fear. Hope and dreams and the freedom to pursue personal interests took precedence. Being “safe” was less important than being free to take risks because risk was something entirely different from simply walking to your car in the dark. 

For all the ongoing problems of living day to day, there was a better, healthier balance between things to worry about and things to be optimistic over. There was an unspoken baseline of acceptable social behavior that allowed for a common trust between humans in all manner of interactions. When the state of being fearful and worried becomes the normal condition of the general population to the point of living in constant angst, second guessing every move or hindering the spirit of standing on a principal, something is very wrong and leads one to conclude that, indeed, something wicked does this way come–and maybe is already here. 

And then there is the decline of intelligence. For all our high tech innovations, speed of communication and instant access to information, humankind seems to be losing ground in terms of general knowledge, common sense, logic, problem-solving, self-sufficiency and overall ability to think critically. The advantage of modern living is modern convenience, but it is a very bad trade-off for the downside which is capitulation of real intelligence to artificial intelligence, all the while believing that this is smart. 

My conclusion: I can say that, if only attributing it strictly to the creature comforts of this modern age, I am better off materially speaking, at least for the moment, until someone decides that what I have ought to be given to someone else. Where I am not better off is in my spirit as I grieve for the substantive things lost and/or replaced with the hollow, intelligence-reversing, soul-killing, shallow substitutions that hold hostage the focus of this contemporary world and that have contributed to giving us longer, comfortable lives even as they simultaneously have generated a new fear-based culture striped of its ability to reason outside of the boundaries of Group Feel.

The upside is knowing that when you belong to Christ, you are in this world but not of this world. It’s in this place where there is no fear and I can live here confident that no matter how bad it might get, better is coming. 

For Christ,

(Romans 12:2) And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

It Seemed Like A Good Idea

(Mark 2:21-22) No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If they do, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And people do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.
When my oldest grandson turned sixteen, I helped him locate and purchase his first car–a 1992 Amigo. I’m trying to think of a word that would best describe it. Rough is pretty close. We’ll go with that for now, I’m sure something else will come to mind.
Regardless the shape it was in, he loved it. To say it was was well broken in is being kind. It had a nice assortment of dents, an interior that had all but forgotten better days. It had a rag top that was more or less rotten, on the immediate need triage list was tires, and a host of small things. Over time, we replaced nearly everything vital, one part at a time. Battery, top, back seat, which we found in a junk yard, lights, hoses, transmission, brakes, alternator. It was a full time ongoing project just to keep it running. I created a personal relationship with an online auto parts warehouse that stocked hard to find parts. We could have done better by getting something newer and paying a monthly payment. Hindsight.

But the Amigo was his first car so he had a fondness for the rattle-trap that was hard to explain and we managed to keep it going for a couple years until he went off to college, four hours away. Many prayers went up when he headed off down the driveway. It made the trek to and from college a couple times and then, one Sunday as he was heading back to school, he called me, an hour away from getting there. Something happened. It lurched and clunked and rolled to a stop. He managed to coast off the highway and into a gas station. I told him I’d call him right back. I got on my knees, “please dear Lord, start that piece of junk and get him back to school.”

I called him and he said he turned the key and it started up. He made it to the dorm parking lot. It never started again. The head was blown. There’s no way it could have started that one last time without Divine intervention. Of this I have no doubt. 

For all the trouble it was, the Amigo will always be a fond memory for my grandson. What comes to mind when I think of that vehicle is something more philosophical and analogous. 

America–I think of America.  

It started out shiny new. All the parts fit together and it worked. It wasn’t perfect, even from that momentous day in 1776 when it rolled off the assembly line neither did it start out as a fine-tuned precision machine, like a Rolls Royce, but it had good solid bones and the potential to be reliable for a good long time for whomsoever owned it. It began as a vehicle for the common driver; nothing fancy, just a hard working sporty little conveyance to get from here to there and the freedom to try.

But as often happens, time took its toll. Things started malfunctioning and over time jackleg mechanics who had no idea what they were doing did patch jobs, like installing the wrong battery. Somewhere along the line, someone decided to remove the back seat, maybe so it could be used more like a truck than for passengers. Little by little as it slowly aged, various owners who were responsible to keep it serviced and running well, just let it go. And you know when something isn’t cared for anymore, decay happens. Dents and scratches don’t matter, because, who cares? No need to wash it because once deconstruction begins it looks the same whether clean or dirty. 

By the time the last owner comes along, the one who sees the damage but also the potential and tries to shore it up with new parts, it’s already too late. Outside of a complete overhauling, starting over and remaking it from the inside out, the only possible outcome is that one day it simply fails. What happens then is the yet unfinished story. Does it end up in the junk heap of history like other once great notions or is it refurbished and restarted? 

The odds are not in favor of the hopeful scenario.

The week before my grandson was to drive his Amigo off to college the first time, I had it serviced. Rotten hoses replaced, tune-up, oil changed, gaskets, broken motor mounts replaced, hoping this stop gap repair would give the car enough new life to keep it running a little while longer. But stop gap repairing of a disintegrating car is like putting a new patch on old fabric or pouring new wine in an old wineskin ... or trying to patch a reprobated nation, that is already too far gone, with too little too late retrofitted parts of morality and values. Sometimes God answers prayer and lets an engine roll over one more time for a short term, a reprieve for the sake of His elect. Historically speaking nations that turn their backs on God find that there has never been a man-made glory  too big to fail. 

There is good news in this grim report. Some of us still cling to prayer and faith and believe that, no matter what, when God be for us, who can be against us? That doesn’t mean we might not be in dire straights sometimes, and have to call on Him for mercy and help but at least we know we can.

For Christ,

(Hebrews 4:16) Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.