Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Feeling Nothing

Sometimes prayer is like going to the dentist. When serious work is required, the dentist injects Novocain into our gums so we feel nothing during the procedure.
When we feel nothing during prayer, it could be that the deep healing has begun. This is the point where the act of prayer becomes a work of faith. We come to our chosen time, place, and rule of prayer. We are reluctant, procrastinating, distracted, and restless. We feel nothing, if not a little foolish. Nonetheless, we pray. The Latin word for “faith” is credo, the source of our word “credit.” At heart, it means “trust.” To pray during the dry times is to trust that the emptiness within and the absence without constitute, in fact, a presence. To pray a few words while frantically running from task to task is to trust that God hears us even if we can’t hear Him. To have faith also means to act as if—as if God is real, as if God is there.
 -- from When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer, L. Joseph Letendre

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What You Can

She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. -- Mark 14:8

The story, there in the first few verses of Mark 14, is that a woman with a sordid past came and broke an alabaster container of rare and expensive perfume and used it to anoint the Lord.  Those who witnessed the event criticized her, thinking the costly ointment had been wasted.  If she desired to do good, she could have sold the flask and given the proceeds to those in need.  

Jesus put a stop to their analysis of the woman’s actions and motives by saying she had done a beautiful thing for Him.  The poor, He reminded them, would always be around.  “[W]henever you want, “ He said, “you can do good for them” (v. 7). 

The woman could not make up for all the sins of her life.  She could not put all the things right that had gone wrong.  She could not change the world or save the world.  Perhaps she was wise enough to know that.  Instead of fretting about what she could not do, she did what she could.  I don’t know if she realized that Jesus was about to undergo His Passion, be beaten, humiliated, and murdered by my sins and iniquities upon the Cross.  In fact, I rather doubt that she was such a prophet.   I think she saw that she could express her love for this extraordinary Man, respond to the forgiveness and reconciliation she sensed she was offered in Him, and she did what she could.  

That is all God asks of any of us.  There are so many things I can’t do, but there are a few things I can do.  I ought to do those things without worrying about the rest.  Even when it comes to something like prayer, I’m never going to be one of those people who can spend an hour or two on my knees before daylight every day.  But I can pray -- when and as I can.  I should not neglect prayer or Bible study or acts of kindness just because I can’t do it the way I want, or the way a saint, a monk, or someone of great spiritual power might.  I am not a preacher, but I can tell others what I know, what I have seen, what I believe, when the occasion arises.  I am an introvert and not pushy, but I can respond when questioned.

I don’t have the gift of healing, but I can offer to intercede just the same.  I can’t lay hands on the sick and see them recover, but I can put an arm around a suffering person and share perhaps a little of their burden.  

Whatever it is today, all you have to is what you can.    

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Walk It Out

People like me never know
How the world works
Or who is in control
-- most of time,
Until it no longer matters.

We do the best we can
With assumptions,
Learn to keep moving
on the strength of gumption
-- whatever that is.

You wonder why the trail's
so hard
And such a struggle for
every yard.
Then one morning
You rise in the cold, thin light,
Look back and realize that
In the night
You reached the crest
Of a mountain pass
You never knew
You were climbing.

We tell those coming behind,
But they never believe us
In their time,
That it is a long, slow climb.
So some quit and stop,
Curse the ground,
Reinvent broken wheels,
Failed alchemy deals
To make the compass leave true,
Make the plumb line skew,
Much ado.

People like me never knew.

We are fools, to trust,
Believe any good or just
or true.
Yet here we stand
On the height
Dawn breaking from
The greivous, greedy night.
It's not that we were right.
We kept going.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Immigration, Population, and Government Jobs

When I was in college, back in the dark ages of the early 1970s, the big concern was the population bomb and a Malthusian fear of famine from trying to feed too many people.  We are still, nearly fifty years and three or four billion people later, running a food surplus in most of the world, most of time.  We owe that surplus to fossil fuels, petrochemicals, GMOs, and the dominance of agribusiness.  I'm not altogether sure that's a good thing, taken as a whole, but famine is, perhaps, the grimmest of reapers.

Now when I read about the dangers of declining populations, I have to wonder just a little.  Why would a more "sustainable" population be bad?  I tend to think it is for the same reason that immigration is heralded as a good, even when those immigrants are possessed of a vastly disparate cultural and religious background.  Most of the new immigrants and "refugees" pouring into the West are not assimilating or being altered by the culture.  The numbers are too large, the influx too rapid.

These immigrants are committing violent crimes.  They are putting a burden on the taxpayer who foots the bill for housing, welfare, health care, and education.  Governments are straining to handle and pay for the increasing numbers of unemployed and, often, unemployable foreigners.  Yet it is the government that allows immigration.  Are the people in power simply unaware of the problems and moved by compassion?

I think we all know the answer to that.  Could it be instead that more immigrants mean more votes for those who wish to expand the role of government?  Government, as I have said before, does not produce anything except more government.  Like the Blob, it exists to get bigger, more powerful, and more invasive.  Sure, there are some good people working in government jobs.  We don't deny that.  You can argue that some government jobs are necessary.  Firemen and police officers at the local level sometimes do essential and heroic work.  The guys down at the water treatment plant are saving lives every day. 

So long as they are local and their jobs clearly defined, I have little problem with those who work for the city or the county.  Except for the teachers, but they aren't really local anymore.  And at the state and federal level, I'm obviously in favor of the Border Patrol and some degree of national defense. 

The thing is that the political leaders in the West have no problem with an increase in crime or terrorism because it allows them to expand their control of the average citizen.  The NSA monitors all communications under the guise of the Patriot Act and the "War on Terror".  Despite the fact that drug prohibition feeds into gang violence just as alcohol prohibition did in the 1920s, the "War on Drugs" continues to enable police departments to expand, to militarize, and to excuse the routine seizure of property and assets without due process. 

Government feeds on chaos.  More strain on the education system excuses and enables the employment of teachers and administrators on the government payroll.  The strain on health care justifies the government's push for more control of the health care system just as the increase in crime justifies the expansion of police departments and the prison system.  And the vast majority of those employed are now beholden to the great white father in Washington or London or Brussels for their paychecks, pensions, and lucrative benefits. 

Eventually, who is left in the mobocracy to vote against such expansion?  The productive are now merely serfs in a vast fiefdom controlled by the political aristocrisy and their minions who now, more or less, vote for a living.

I can see where an end to uncontrolled immigration and a population decline would be seen as a threat.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Fathers and Sons

Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children – Ephesians 5:1

This, it seems to me, is a dangerous verse.  

I pity those who did not have my father to set an example and to emulate, not that Dad was in any way perfect.  He had a quick temper.  He was often violent toward inanimate objects.  He laughed at his own stories – I’m not sure how much of a flaw that is.  I suspect our Father in Heaven delights in His stories as well.  He was a banty badass.  If I could choose anyone who ever lived to back me in a fight, I would, without hesitation, pick him.  He would appreciate it, because he taught me value of loyalty, and I know that, regardless of the odds or the circumstances, he would not give in or give up. Loyalty may be the single virtue to which I can legitimately lay claim. 

As a son who loved his father and was loved by him, I admired him and sought to incorporate his traits in my own life.  I picked up the flaws along with the diamond, but sometimes those flaws were quite amusing.  I had a good time learning the hard way.  

That’s the way it is when you are a child.  You grow into an amalgam of your parents, if, like me, you are fortunate enough to have two parents who are complementary.  The combinations vary, which is why siblings are not uniform, plus each additional child is influenced by the ones that came before and those that come after.  Parents grow and change, and we learn that from them as well.  Jesus, the writer of Hebrews tells us, is the same yesterday, today and forever.  One cannot improve on perfection.  

As we study the Bible and pray, we bring our lives in line with our Father’s nature and character.  I don’t think it is a mistake to try and be good, to live by godly rules, and operate on a “what would Jesus do” basis, but I do think it ultimately fails.  Do not be conformed (Romans 12:2) – we have to be transformed from the inside out.  I did not become like my earthly father by consciously and religiously imitating his behavior, certainly not entirely.  In fact, for a long time, I thought I was nothing like him. It was only as I grew older that I realized my actions and attitude, my words and the way that I addressed the world grew out of the genetics as well as the mindset he had passed on to me.

All humans are made in the image and likeness of God.  We have, so to speak, the right spiritual genetics.  What we are typically lacking is extensive conversation and communion with our Father.  This comes in hearing His stories, in both speaking and listening in prayer.  It is no small thing that those disciples the resurrected Christ met on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus at last in the breaking of bread (Luke 24:31).  I become like my earthly father over beans and cornbread.  We become like our heavenly Father through communion.  We are also influenced by and learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ.  And the Lord Jesus is Himself our loving and ever-present Elder Brother. 

We can consciously follow this path, but we will be, generally, a good way down the road before we recognize how much we have truly become like the Lord and the extent to which our lives have been transformed.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Jesus Did Not Condone Evil

Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do the same for them – this is the Law and the Prophets – Matthew 7:12

Christianity is a lot easier to grasp than some would have us think, especially those who profit from keeping us confused and warring with and among ourselves.  The kingdom of God is within you, Jesus said.  Treat others as you would have them treat you.  Don’t start trouble you can’t finish. 

OK, that last one is my interpretation of “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile”.  I cannot bring myself to accept pacifism.  I have no desire to be an aggressor or to bully and intimidate other people.  My natural man’s non-aggression view is summarized well by a quote from The Shootist – “I won’t be wronged.  I won’t be insulted.  I won’t be laid a-hand on.  I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”  

Yet, I believe Jesus does expect and even require me to accept wrongs and insults.  He certainly accepted and endured undeserved abuse and suffering for my sake.  We have all treated someone unfairly at some point so it behooves us to endure, overlook, and forgive wrongs done to us when it is a matter of personal loss or humiliation. 

Conversely, I am certain the virtue of longsuffering does not mean refusing to resist those who would harm your family or deprive others of the right to life or liberty.  I come back to Romans 12, where Paul tells us to detest evil but not to repay evil for evil or seek our own vengeance.  He says, though, we are not to be overcome or conquered by evil.  Instead we are to conquer evil with good.  To me, that means protecting those for whom I am responsible, stopping those who would do wrong, and resisting those who would intimidate, manipulate, and dominate.  

**I know it has been a couple of months since I have been here.  There is a lot going on.  Maybe it will get better.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Siege Engines Approach

Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the King of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. -- 2 Chronicles 32:7 (NASB)

Wars have often been seen as a conflict between the gods of the adversaries.  There is some truth to that because all violence and evil is a reflection of the fact that there is the god of this world who remains at war with God who is Good.

We are caught up in the ongoing rebellion, and it often seems from our temporal, material perspective that our side is not doing all that well.  As I look around at the world today, Christianity is under attack from every side.  We tend to hole up in our church buildings, besieged, hardly able to raise our heads above the parapets, as we might say.

Secularism is supreme in the West -- for now, though it is threatened by the invading forces of Islam.  Muslims succeed by playing the victim and demanding tolerance even as they demand submission to their intolerance.  The secularist grasps neither the threat nor the appeal of Islamic fanaticism, having been trained to see Christianity as the great religious evil.

Give the devil his due, he has done a good job blinding and confusing the modern world to bring it under his control.  The enemy has the upper hand over Christendom for the moment.  I look back now, over fifteen years, to the brief revival that took place after the horrors of September 11, 2001.  I wonder why it did not galvanize the Church, why it did not last.

The Crusades have been depicted as acts of Christian aggression.  They were not, but the modern western mind is invested with the image of Crusaders as evil oppressors rather than righteous defenders of Christianity and western culture.  We didn't want to be crusaders.  We didn't want to make our retaliation against Al-Qaeda a religious war with all of Islam.  A Christian resurgence in America would have, according to the secular world, sent the wrong message.

Besides, Protestant Evangelicals have been embracing secularism for at least the last thirty years.  When I became involved with fundamentalist Christians in the mid-80s, many still clung to their origins.  I saw that attitude slip away as they became enamored of the mega-church, of having community influence, of attracting young families by means of musical styles, changes in format, and technology.

Now we have Pope Francis heading the Catholic Church while vangelicals are led by those who do not understand the threat of one-worlders and their antichrist, Tower of Babel religion.

Yet Hezekiah's declaration remains true.  The enemy advances relentlessly against us.  We are outnumbered and poorly prepared in a physical sense; nevertheless, God reigns.  He will be victorious, and all we need to do is get on His side.  The preparation we need is to pray and seek Him, asking not that He align Himself with us and our causes but that we be allowed to align with Him under the banner of Christ.