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Mary

I have a series going that’s probably way too academic and have one more post on that theme but ran into a more down to earth situation, so I’m going to interrupt it, and finish next time. That series starts with “Does God Want You To Be Happy?”

My initial reason for this post is to update and share this with some of you who responded to a call for need and have been inquiring about about a homeless woman named Mary.

Note – there is a lot of generalization in this post.

I live on a major homeless trade route in the Dallas area. The homeless regularly take the mass transit rail from the shelters downtown, northward to the more affluent areas where a lot of them panhandle. So I have a lot of opportunity to interact with them.

Of course this takes plaphoto[14]ce at many Seven-11’s, mall parking lots, and gas stations.

Sometimes I help them out, sometimes not. I’ve noticed that sometimes my reaction is somewhat arbitrary — sometimes I’m in a hurry, sometimes I feel intruded on, and sometimes I just don’t feel like it ­—like sometimes I feel like honking at a rude driver, and other times don’t bother.

About a week ago, my daughter Kelsey ran into a homeless lady named Mary. Her photo is at the beginning of this post, and she gave me her permission to share our experience together.

I was at my studio when she called about Mary, who she had met unsolicited (so it seems,) at a Grandys on the trade route in Plano. Mary described living homeless in a makeshift tent close to I75, the east side which is poorer, and the west side affluent  — the two sides of the tracks. My daughter and the boy she was with went to the tent and took photos. Then she called me crying for suggestions on how we could help Mary (having left the home, my daughter is somewhat poor herself.)

I drove up to Grandys and we all had a conversation with Mary, getting a feel for her history (in the tent 3 months after losing a house,) and drug status (she had been jailed in the 90s, but said she was clean.) So we put her up in a hotel for two nights, afterwards extending to three while we looked for a solution. I also looked at this as an opportunity for my daughter to experience more exposure to the homeless problem.

Kelsey’s been with me when I’ve encountered different types of homeless people, for example the man who hides just around the corner at the Seven-11, the couple who’ve just arrived from out of town to see “family” who aren’t there; short of gas and just need to be put up for the night till their family get’s back. And their “family” they were visiting is very close to an upscale mall. And it’s cold and snowing. And it’s Christmas Eve.

As well, the man who drives up in a creaky car asking for gas money, then when I ask to see the fuel gauge, says never mind and makes a quick getaway.

As an aside, during the creaky car incident, the Seven-11 manager came up to me while I was standing there in the parking lot holding my Big Gulp, and asked me to leave. I stood confused until another customer came up and told the manager that I wasn’t the one he had complained about, but the man who had made his getaway, at which point the manager apologized. I decided I that maybe I needed to start dressing a little better.

Many of these people have some common characteristics— they catch you at a time you’re occupied like filling up with gas, or trying to get somewhere. The tactic is to make the approach when people are busy, want to get on with their day, and throw a bone to make the problem go away.

I’ve been sharing with my daughter a few ways to evaluate an appropriate person to help. Signs to be suspicious — the approach that catches you off guard, the need for gas, and the story that has too many thought out answers to any probing questions.

On the other hand, signs of sincerity include when they don’t actually ask for anything, or display emotion like tears (or even anger,) or the man who sits on the Vegas strip shouting, “Help for alcohol research.” Seriously, he does that. At least he’s being honest and entertaining.

So Mary was a great opportunity for Kelsey to experience an encounter with a homeless person up close and in-depth.

As we sat in Grandys, Mary told of the plight of losing the house she shared with a boyfriend — he had gone to jail (as we found later because of abuse to her,) and forced to live on the street. She had tried various shelters, all of which were full, as well as churches that had minimal resources.

We put her up for the night at a local hotel for as it ends up, three nights starting on Saturday night. When we opened the door to the room, she went to the bed, curled up and cried because of the simple luxury. It was truly heart wrenching. She said she had been in contact with some leaders at a local Baptist church, giving some names, and was going to tomorrow’s Sunday morning service to meet with them. I thought it was a great start.

Sunday afternoon, Mary reported that the men at the Baptist service she knew hadn’t been there that morning, but that she did get a call at the room from a man who told her that he could get funds to cover three more nights of her stay there if she were only able to stay Sunday night. Since we had already decided to put her up Sunday night, it seemed a great start. She hadn’t gotten the man’s name, but I assumed it was someone from the church.

I thought I would contact local churches on Monday, and put her up for Monday night also.

On Monday, I contacted a local, fairly affluent church, told the story, and did have a great discussion with the person in charge of local benevolence. I was told of limited resources for this type of thing, and of the priority of help to members (when Mary later protested this attitude as being un-Christianly self-serving, I did present the first century church approach in the midst of a hostile culture as a Biblical model.) We did have an hour-long conversation, all of which is too much to cover, but I did sense a somewhat disconnect between the average corporate “Church,” and the “church body of individuals.” I had no doubt that the “Church,” had limited funding, while also noting that the “church body,” had so much more.

There seems to be something of a separation between the “Church,” and the “church,” which can allow us to distance ourselves from immediate problems. It sometimes leads us into the mindset of, “I gave at the church,” and “I gave to the Church, and the Church will deal with the problem.”

I proposed the outrageous but halfway serious idea of having Mary bring her little shelter up and set up on the Church property on a Sunday morning, to bring the problem directly to the people who were on their way to a nice lunch.

I had the same conversation at the Baptist church. The “Churches” want to help but can’t. The “church” can help and often doesn’t.

Like most of us, I wish I had an answer to the homeless issue. I realize that the dynamic between giving and enabling as well as determining the most effective way of enriching all in a society is a complicated  . . . e.g. “Teach a man to fish.” I realize that there are all levels of spiritual maturity. But I also wonder if we’re all drinking too much milk.

Someone pointed out that tension challenges complacency. The level of tension might inversely relate to the degree of complacency. The level of tension is at least an opportunity for action.

In a previous post, I referred to the end of Schindler’s List, where a departing Schindler who had saved so many Jews, broke down at his regret of keeping the ring on his finger, when the ring could have been sold and saved one or maybe two  more Jewish lives. How many of us will have a similar reaction when looking back over how we spent our lives? Will we have a ring we wish we had sold?

I’ll get back to Mary tomorrow.

Mary Part Two

Sunday afternoon, Mary reported that she had gone to the Baptist Sunday school service that morning, and was unable to talk to the pastor who was gone, as well as a man named John who she knew who was connected with benevolence.

Monday, I got a call from John (Mary had mentioned a man named John who she had tried to contact during Sunday school at the church, but he hadn’t been there.)

He told me that he was at the morning Sunday school Mary had said she attended, that he would have noticed her, and that she had not been there. A red flag went to half-mast with my hand on the rope waiting to bring it back down.

John was very familiar with Mary, and told of her presence in the community for over 30 years. Mary had grown up in the area, and people in various local churches knew her. John and I talked at length about Mary and the homeless problem in general. Apparently, Mary was very resourceful at surviving, but had not become desperate enough to come to any change, that she had not actually “hit bottom.”

Tuesday the hotel stay was at an end, and enlightened by John’s information, I arrived at the hotel to inform her that we needed to be out by 11:00. To our surprise, she had put up her young niece who had just gotten out of jail in the room, and also had one man who knocked on the door for help in filling out some type of paperwork. Although I’d not thought to establish any rules for being in the hotel (aside from not allowing “her kittens,” that she had befriended at her shelter,) I was a bit perturbed at this. I had previously mentioned to Kelsey the risk of putting someone up, particularly when there was drug history. Because of her apparent sincerity, had not been a concern, but then what did I really know for certain?

Mary protested, saying she couldn’t go back to the tent, didn’t know what to do, and made several mentions of “just ending it all.”  I told her that while I didn’t think that was the best thing to do, that it was her choice.

I won’t get into her niece’s part in the discussion except to say that she expressed frustration with the “system.” Both she and Mary were very defensive.

Our conversation went right up till checkout time at11:00 with Mary in apparent despair, not wanting to take up my offers involvement with the local churches, or offering any solutions of her own. But at about two minutes until 11:00, she thought to call a friend who gave her permission to temporarily stay at his apartment in a fairly small house of four units. She seemed greatly relieved at this answer to her desperation. We drove her there (it was immediately across the street from the Baptist church,) and we said goodbye. I did leave her my phone number as well as show her a few of the text messages from the friends who had offered suggestions and resources to encourage her that she was not without options and that she could contact me in the future. Later I found that she had stayed there for several nights and then gone back to her tent.

Over the next several days, she told conflicting versions of the willingness of the landlord to accept her presence in the apartment. The landlord’s toleration curiously seemed to vary each day.

Christ told us to be both innocent and shrewd. He told the disciples to both go, and be prepared to leave. To me, conundrums. But as I think about it, He was all about conundrums

Wednesday and Thursday, I was out of town, coming back Friday. Mary called me several times while out of town, delighted that God had finally answered her prayers and that the brother she had not spoken with in a long time and his wife had agreed to let her stay with them. She said that she only needed the gas money to give to a friend who was going to drive her the 45 minutes to the brother’s house. Without any naivety on my part, we decided to meet when I got back.

I drove back from Austin and met her at the parking lot outside Grandys and gave her the gas money. The photo at the beginning of the first post was taken then.

I was tired from my Austin drive and left her to meet her transportation that was to arrive shortly.

The next day, she called again reporting that her friend had not shown up, and that she was again in need.  She had used the money to stay at a hotel.

When the man who earlier and promised to put her up for additional nights at the hotel had failed to call back, a red flag had gone to half-mast. Now the flag had not only gone to the top, but was removed from the pole.

I haven’t heard from Mary since then.

It’s a real shame, as all of us know that there will always be persons who take advantage of any system. Hedge fund managers hide fraudulent transfers. Televangelists project sincerity.

It does raise perhaps an unanswerable question of how to truly winnow sincerity and deceit.

And if sincere, the best approach. How do we tell the difference between providing and enabling?  How to assess our own ability to give.  Should I risk safety? Can I establish a balance of time between my own needs and the needs of others? Will my carpet be ruined if I adopt one of those puppies from the “In the Eye’s of the Angel” commercial?

I have no doubt of Mary’s need. I saw it. I have pictures of it. There will always be Mary’s that cross our path. There will always be the poor. And there are those who will always be of need in ways that in fact make them poor.

_______________________________________________________________________

John (the Baptist) who I had met through all this, had established a ministry on Sunday mornings the in the local mass transit parking lot that reaches out to the poor by way of a short Bible reading followed by discussion. After the discussion, they offer food and clothing.

He had invited Kelsey and I up on a Sunday morning and we went. Afterwards, we both thought we would go back. There were about fifteen or so poor people there. The sun had just risen and it really impressed on me the feeling of an Easter sunrise service.

Addendum

Yesterday, Mary did call me and inform me that her boyfriend was at a local hospital with an aneurysm. She didn’t ask for anything, but did pause from time to time. I expressed my concern for his health and left it there.

That night I got a call from a follower of the blog, recognizing Mary who frequented the local food pantry she volunteered at. She voiced concern about involvement with Mary who had at times in the past, clearly worked the system and at times, displayed violence. The caller and I had a great discussion about a problem that we certainly haven’t been the first to wrestle with.

The theme of this blog is how we as Christians act, or rather, don’t act out our faith. Sometimes that’s clear, and sometimes not. Sometimes Christ was clear, and sometimes not.

But that lack of clarity shouldn’t be a reason to not act at all. In the most puzzling circumstances, there should be at the very least, a tension of some kind. A desire to solve a problem even while understanding that there is no apparent solution. But a tension that at the very least, defeats complacency.

Too many of us use the admonition that “the poor will always be with us,” to relieve us of our obligation to “give to the poor,” “remember the poor,” even “sell our possessions and give them to the poor.”

And an experience like the one with Mary can make it too easy to harden our attitude toward the poor, perhaps categorize and ignore them, to use a bad experience to discourage us from experiencing their experience and atrophy.

To figure out just what that means for each one of us is not a very easy trick. But at the very least, shouldn’t we try to be like the children who came to Him, for don’t children love to figure out the mesmerizing trick of the magician, even while the magician hides his hand?

2. Seriously, Does God Want You To Be Happy?

No. God wants under the umbrella of His will.  His will may or may not bring us happiness and our happiness has no bearing on being in His will.

OK,  it’s a bit of an imprecise question because it all hinges on what you mean by “happiness.”

I’m going to use happiness to mean whatever satisfies imagesus in this earthly life such as a fulfilling job, satisfying marriage, pastimes, relationships, possessions, pleasure, etc. Earthly happiness as opposed to upwardly focused joy, because that seems to be the American, and more ashamedly, the American Christian mindset.

Might point is quite narrow – it’s not Camus’ Sisyphus who was satisfied while eternally pushing a rock up a hill, or Boenhoffer who for awhile accepted his fate under Nazi oppression, or Paul who was content under the Roman persecution. Those attitudes could all be considered responsible, or noble, or Godly. The terms “satisfied,” and “accepted,” and “content or joy,” are not in this post, the same as “happy,” which it a kind of individual pursuit of the things of this world such as possessions, esteem, security, and comfort that fulfill our desires for earthly fulfillment.

And the whole point here is not whether God wants us to be happy (or unhappy.) It’s that happiness comes second, or third, or fourth to following God’s Will.

We spend a good part of our efforts chasing happiness, when we should be chasing God’s Will. When faced with a choice between happiness at the expense of God’s Will, and unhappiness inside God’s Will, then happiness be damned, so to speak.

This certainly doesn’t suggest we pursue unhappiness. But perhaps it would have been better that Jefferson had penned …the pursuit of God’s Will (even though the current Time Magazine points out that many Americans’ misunderstand what Jefferson meant.)

I think that God indeed wanted us to be happy in the beginning, the whole picture of the Garden of Eden. But you might have noticed we’re not there anymore. We’re in a trash dump. Picture yourself looking down on a friend standing neck high in the middle of that trash dump. The assumption is that he would want to get out of the trash dump because it’s not what makes him happy. But he is so consumed and focused on his existence in the trash dump that he tries to improve his lot there. He tries everything he can to become happy there. Maybe move some cardboard under his feet so it isn’t so squishy. Or reach for some beat up Kleenex boxes with the floral print on the side because they’re more pleasant to look at.

In the mean time, you’re yelling down to him to get out of the trash. But he’s so busy trying to become happy there, that he’s forgotten he’s in a dump.

Have you ever wondered if Jesus was happy? I don’t see a lot there to say he was especially happy. The closest I can come is at the last supper when he talked of the disciples as his friends.

I can also imagine him pleased with a particularly tasty fish, or warm fire, or new pair of sandals. And would he not have given thanks for these? I can also imagine the Father wanting Christ to have that great fish, fire, and sandals. But they came second. It’s tempting to suggest that they were not the object of God’s Will, as much as it’s byproduct.

Was Christ unhappy? Did he want to be unhappy? Does God want us to be unhappy?  Not as an end. In the same way that it wasn’t important to Christ to be happy, it wasn’t important to him that whether he was unhappy. It was important for him to be in God’s Will. A desire for happiness or unhappiness was probably not even in his concern.

Likewise, we shouldn’t make happiness our priority – we should make God’s Will our priority. If happiness in the form of pleasing food, music, and possessions come along with it, then so be it. We should treasure anytime we are surrounded by His Will and earthly pleasantry at the same time.

A serious danger though, is rationalizing that our desire for happiness does fit into God’s Will. “God loves me, and His love means He wants me to be happy, and I would be happy if I had a bigger house, therefore, God’s Will is that I have a bigger house.”

And a serious question to ask, is if we should ever seek out unneeded earthly happiness at any time, or in any form.

We can of course take away “happiness,” from satisfying our need for food, rest, relaxation, etc., but then happiness is a secondary result, not a primary pursuit.

God wants bring us under the umbrella of his will. And that may or may not bring us to happiness

Does a parent want his child to be happy?  Ultimately yes, but he knows that it’s more important that the child learn and grow.

Look at these verses regarding happiness:

Ecclesiastes 7:14

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about his or her future.

2 Corinthians 7:8-10

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while — yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.

James 5:13

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.

None of these speak to our pursuing or gaining happiness.  In each, happiness is counterpointed with bad times, sorrow, and trouble. Happiness is a reaction, not a pursuit.

We are extraordinarily self-centered when it comes to happiness. In the pursuit of happiness, we:

  • Take unwise risks
  • Pursue possessions
  • Chase dubious endeavors
  • Abandon significant relationships

So what do we do with either happiness or unhappiness?

I would suggest subject it. Make it unimportant. Replace it with obligation or duty to God, an upward focus, an expectant fulfillment, and the joy of His purpose working in our world and life.  Joy is distinct from happiness. Happiness is short lived and temporal. Joy is eternal and spiritual.

We need to stop chasing after happiness. I am starting to picture Happiness as a cute little well-intending creature; and while we think we chase after it,  it actually chases after us, not realizing that it might distract us or weight us down, or worst, take us off our course. But that’s what we naturally want. We want to be wrapped up in Happiness, to let its cute and and fuzzy arms hug us. But sometimes God steps between us and Happiness in order to bring us into His will. Sometimes He reaches down with His hand pushing the little creature off in another direction like we do to a spider that we take outside and let go, and other times He squashes the spider flat.

Likewise Unhappiness chases us. Unhappiness is a wart and sharp quill-covered creature with yellowed and snarling teeth. And it smells bad. And we want to be as far from it as possible, so we run. We want to get as far from Unhappiness as possible. But sometimes God allows Unhappiness to catch up with us, also in order to bring us into His will.

Naturally, He can also allow Happiness to catch us, as well as keep Unhappiness from us. The point is that it’s His will we should focus on and not happiness or unhappiness. Both come and go but His will is constant.

So how do we get from a pursuit of happiness to the Will of God? I’m working on that. Look back in a couple weeks. I want to move from happiness as a feeling, then go from feelings in general to how can act instead, according to the Will of God.

3. No, Seriously Does God Want You To Be Happy?

I was going to move on to Feelings, which Christians mostly use to determine Happiness.

But Herself brought up a comment to the last post, Seriously, Does God Want You To Be Happy? Here are is part of the comment:

…happiness is doing God’s Will.  We are happy only if we are united with God.  We are unhappy when we are separated from God. How do we become separated from God?  By ignoring God’s Will.

I would bring down her great observation from the ideal, to the real like this:

…happiness should be doing God’s Will.  We should be happy only if we are united with God.  We should be unhappy when we are separated from God. How do we become separated from God?  By ignoring God’s Will.

I need to be clear what I mean by Happiness. To help, I’m going to capitalize the word from here on. Unfortunately for us, the English language can be a hindrance to communication. My use of Happiness is inherently self-centered:

  • “I feel good”
  • “Things are going my way”
  • “My needs are fulfilled”
  • “I got what I wanted”

So in that sense, you can achieve Happiness while being out of God’s Will.

I think that Herself might apply her use of happiness like this:

  • “Doing God’s Will is what really makes me feel good”
  • “I am happy with any way things go, if it’s God’s Will”
  • “I trust that God fulfills my needs whether I see it or not ­— and that makes me happy”
  • “What I want is God’s will”

I would substitute the word “Happy,” in those uses with the word “joy.” I don’t really think it’s really picking nits.

Think about these examples, in context of the word we usually think of as Happiness:

  • Were the early Christians happy while being persecuted?
  • Was Dietrich Bonheoffer happy while standing before the firing line of the Nazis?
  • Was Abraham happy standing knife in hand, held over his son Isaac?
  • Was Jesus happy as the nails were pounded?

The answer to all of those would be “No, they were not Happy.” They were in God’s Will and their unHappiness even came because of God’s Will.

Further, I think we could be hard pressed to even think of them as joyful in those moments — that’s a concept that’s a bit hard to catch up with. I have a hard time seeing Abraham being joyful with the knife pointed downward.

I also think I’m straying from the point, because those are very brief and precise points in time; unique moments involving terrible experience, which we can’t by nature, combine with any human attitude. Church legends aside, can we feel even joyful as the nail goes through the bone, or the fire through the flesh?

But those moments depart, and it’s then that our attitude toward them enters.

My point in my discussion about Happiness is that typically our attitude is driven toward a self centered Happiness that often is out God’s Will. Sometimes the “pursuit of Happiness,” blinds us so that we don’t even see it. That’s not what God wants.

We really need to STOP striving to be Happy.

Strive for God’s Will whether or not that brings you Happiness. If it means for you, sacrifice, then sacrifice. If it means blessings, then blessings whatever that might mean.

4. Woo-o-o Feelings

Worst 9  Feelings, Morris AlbertAmong my generation’s songs that I find myself apologizing for was a tear-fest called “Feelings,” by Morris Albert. (Another 70’s embarrassment was anything by the Bee Gees.) “Feelings” was one of those songs that immediately dampened the high you drove forward with after hearing BTO or Foreigner and made you jump for the tuner as fast as you could. The lyrics started out like this:

Feelings, nothing more than feelings
Trying to forget my feelings of love
Teardrops rolling down on my face
Trying to forget my feelings of love

Feelings, for all my life I’ll feel it
I wish I’ve never met you, girl
You’ll never come again
Feeling, woo-o-o feeling
Woo-o-o, feel you again in my arms

I’m so sorry if it’s stuck in your head the rest of the day.

I’m not saying that sorrow over lost love is bad in and of itself, but as I try to imagine an animal singing ”Feelings,” the best thing I come up with is Jabba the Hut from Return of the Jedi, if he missed out on capturing Han Solo, and later had just a little too much to drink while feeling sorry for himself at a lounge bar.

Feelings are often counterproductive. They can, and regularly do, compromise our faith. They come between us and a relationship with God and propel us to act in ways contrary to His will.

Here’s how we often react to feelings:

  • We feel lonely – we seek out selfish relationship
  • We feel angry – we display selfish aggression
  • We feel sad – we wallow in selfish isolation
  • We feel happy – we clench onto a temporary fulfillment
  • We feel fear – we seek out an earthly safety

Notice the commonality – all these feelings are self-serving. And very often our approach is to deal with them on our own in a way that doesn’t work, or maybe works for a little while but then fails. That failing can take various forms. We can immediately suffer the consequences. We may salve a problem only to have it boil later. Our emotional fix may satisfy us, but hurt others.

Any time we emphasize, dwell on, or surrender to our feelings, we are compromising our attention to the Will of God.

So are feelings to be avoided? Well that’s a bit of a non-starter, because we can’t avoid them. I would say that we can’t control emotions as part of our nature, but we can control the nature of our emotions.

What the heck does that mean?

We all know that Jesus had feelings. He displayed anger. He wept. He was afraid. But he was in command of his emotions. More than that, his emotions worked toward a different end than ours – God’s Will as opposed to our wants. Hopefully we can get a better understanding of that as we go.

I’m finding myself trying to over-comprehensively flesh out my posts, so instead of trying to do it all in this post which is starting to fry my brain, I think I’ll develop more as I go. A mindset on emotions (is that an oxymoron?) for me gets a bit convoluted:

  • There are different types of anger and of fear, etc.
  • How come we get into trouble with emotions but Jesus didn’t?
  • How can we bring our emotions in line with the Will of God?
  • Feelings happen when there’s something wrong and we want it to be right, or it’s right after having been wrong. So we get trapped in the kind of up and down roller coaster that Buddha said keeps us in bondage. How do we get out of that bondage?
  • Is desire tied to emotion?

I just realized that I’m starting to sound like one of those self-help books on the Christian bookstore shelves. So I’ll wrap by saying this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our typical approach to Feelings is Selfish, Selfish, and more Selfish. So stop being Selfish. Woo-o-o.JabbaPromo

 

 

 

 

5. Reason

Among our basic attributes, the polar opposite of feelings or emotions, is Reason. I don’t want to go out of my way to define reason (that would take too much reason,) other than that it is the thinking out of things. My use of Reason is not so much in the sense of any analytical process that is precise such as calculus or the scientific method. The Reason that I mean is the reasoning that plays into our behavior, and accompanies values. The kind of reasoning I employ to do what I do. The Reason that philosophy uses to try and clarify the difference between good and bad, or what drives me to seek out what will help me or hurt me, or hurt others. The kind of reason that tries to establish what is best or worst.

Reason sometimes evolves to Understanding, but it is never total understanding. That’s why philosophical reasoning constantly moves in a haphazard evolution that will never totally satisfy. All well-reasoned philosophies result in distinct values and behaviors that typically don’t agree. Philosophies tend to move in and out of fashion. Philosophy usually has the understanding of truth, values, and reality as and end game, but it has never arrived at that end game with any force.

Reason in some ways can thought of as 4748260330_2a6a0a5482an exercise, like the scales you practice on the piano, but is never a complete piece. Not to say exercises in Reason aren’t useful.

Reason as a means to establish values will always limited – we never arrive at perfect values, because there is always more to be reasoned out. Our reasoning is imperfect at best and deceptive at worst. I try to figure something out, but then get frustrated, or distracted, and give up and move on to something else. I try to understand why I acted a certain way, but then smell brownies and go into the kitchen after them.

You’ll probably find fault with this post because it employs Reason, and will ultimately fall short and not satisfy.

Reason is boring. Emotions are exciting and entertaining. That’s why hardly anyone likes philosophy, especially women. It’s dry and complicated.

Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Sartre all tried a reasoned approach in the pursuit of a value system that serves as a foundation for how we behave. But despite comprehensive attempts, our values have never reached a consistency because any system falls short of its goals because of inherent flaws, exclusion of certain segments of society, or societal culture change.

We usually incorporate Reason into our actions, whether good or bad. When our reasoning is sound, we often act toward a constructive end. But when we have a choice between good and bad and our reasoning is unsound usually our feelings creep in and take over the process. More often than not, it ends badly and outside of the Will of God.

Next, I’ll take a shot at moving away from Feelings and Reason toward the Will of God.

6. Moving from Reason and Emotions Toward the Will of God

WILL OF GOD

The diagram above is specific to the question of how we as Christians channel our basic and imperfect attributes toward a position within the Will of God.

And if you see holes in it, well I’ve just been thinking about it for a few weeks and after all, this is a blog. If anybody wants to offer me a book deal, I can refine it (and there are likely whole books that already treat this better than me.) Let me know what you think. I mean about the ideas, not about the book. But the book would be OK too.

So from Emotion and Reason, both of which are unsatisfying and of limited use, how do we come face to face with the Will of God?

On the one hand, the answer should be easy – read and follow the Scriptures, because they lay out the Will of God. Seems direct and simple. But we have a hard time understanding it, let alone doing it. I think one reason for that is because we read a part at a time and try to do it. Then by the time we’ve gotten to the next thing, we’ve forgotten the first thing. Also, the concepts tend to elude us because we’re so far from home. It’s like a child struggling to do what his parents want. Some of it doesn’t resonate because he’s in his own world. Or a lifeguard who reaches down with a pole to save a drowning man. The man knows the lifeguard is trying to save him, but he’s too busy thrashing around to reach for the pole, or worse, thinks his thrashing around will better solve the problem.

Above is a diagram that’s helped me work all this out. At the top is the concept of the Will of God, the place we are trying to get to. Just below is a horizontal line that’s a barrier between it, and our attributes. None of these attributes can help get us above the line. We’re stopped at the line. An important note to make is that all of these attributes aren’t productive or non-productive on their own. They’re simply born-in traits we all have.

The idea of a gulf between God and us is a of course, basic. It’s often pictured as two cliffs separated by a vast canyon with us on one side, and God on the other. There’s no way for us to get to the other side, without Christ who is able to span the gulf, enabling us to get to God (or rather for God to get to us.)

My purpose is not so much to depict a relationship between God and us that needs to be reconciled, but rather the barrier that after being reconciled to God, keeps us from acting within the Will of God.

The reconciliation has already happened, and is a given. I’m talking about action, not relationship.

Emotions and Reason (the previous two posts,) are the two main cornerstones, or basic drivers for what we do. They are primitive. Emotions are unreliable and Reason is limited. Both can be random and unchanneled. We can’t get close to the Will of God from either one. Between the two is the somewhat vague concept of Sense.

Sense – At the lowest line, Between Emotions and Reason is a somewhat vague notion of Sense. It’s an awareness of something that Feelings or Reason can’t put a finger on. Think of a Sense of God. That He’s there. Throughout history, men have had a Sense of God, an awareness that there’s something outside our own reality. Discounting revelation, Emotions or Reason themselves don’t account for this Sense we have, or more to the point, what to do about it.

Often we can combine Sense with other attributes to arrive at a vague rationalization. For example we can desire something that begins with feelings and justify it because it seems to make sense to us.

Desire – Related to Emotions are Desires. Desires are Emotions that have moved toward a purpose. Instead of being aimless and raw, they express a longing that is emotional, but emotional toward an end.

The moment we move from emotion toward desire, we’ve taken the first step toward action. Desire is a seed planted that motivates us to do something.

I haven’t included the idea of Action into this diagram, because Action is really the overall theme. All of these attributes are what we use to base our actions on.

Desires can be productive or non-productive. We can desire food or security. We can desire another’s possessions. Desires are a subtle move from a basic need to a basic want. Desires are feelings brought to bear, feelings that want to act. I’m afraid so I desire security. I’m sad so I desire consolation. I’m happy so I desire expression.

Why does Desire fail? Because we can desire both things of God, and things not of God. We can desire the best for someone else, or desire the best for our self at the expense of someone else.

Understanding – Opposite Desire is Understanding which is Reason that has moved to reach a point or conclusion, perhaps approached a truth. But Understanding can never be complete because we aren’t complete.

I chose the word Understanding instead of Knowledge because for me, it incorporates Wisdom, Knowledge, and Reason.

Why does Understanding fall short? Because it’s limited at best, and can become arrogant and deceptive at worst.

What if we combine some of our attributes? Does that help us get closer to the Will of God?

Desire and Reason

What do we risk if we combine Desire and Reason? We risk Excuse or Rationalization. If my desire for something is strong enough, I can often come up with a reason why I should act on it.

What about Emotion and Understanding?  We risk self-deception. Understanding our feelings is healthy, but more often than not, we warp or overwhelm our Understanding by the strength of our feelings. Our feelings can influence our Understanding; they can cloud any judgments that are ideally based on our Understandings.

Again, note that when all these attributes are healthy, they’re productive, even though they don’t move us into the Will of God. Non-productive attributes can arise also. While I placed Sense (Awareness) between Emotion and Reason, a risk here is Futility. Emotions and Reason are often in conflict with each other, and if we only enlist these two base attributes, we can be stuck with nowhere go.

None of these attributes no matter how they’re combined, (even if they’re all combined,) will move us into the Will of God  because they’re inherently flawed both in themselves, and more importantly, in us.

The only way, I think to move toward the Will of God is through the idea of Faith.

Stepping out on (or even understanding,) Faith is a bit of a tricky thing to get a hold of and I’m going to take a shot at it next.

7. Faith and the Will of God

This post is the last of a series. The previous post is titled Moving from Reason and Emotions Toward the Will of God several weeks ago. I interrupted the series for breaking homeless news September 23rd and 24th. Later, I’ll reorder them so they’re together.

I’m not going to try and define or expound on the whole nature of Faith – that gets really theological. My purpose is to orient our actions in relation to Faith.

We all have these attributes:

  • Emotion – I hurt for something more
  • Desire – I want there to be something more
  • Sense – I sense there’s something more
  • Reason – I think that there’s something more
  • Understanding – It’s clear that there’s something more

These are their weaknesses (they also have strengths)

  • Emotion – Unstable
  • Desire – Often misguided
  • Sense – Illusory
  • Reason – Limited, Inconsistent
  • Understanding – Can be deceived

Perhaps when all these are combined in their strongest forms, what follows can at best be some kind of  stability. I question though, whether that can ever perfectly come about.  They would need to be armor with no chink.

Reliance on any of our attributes alone for solutions to the instability of our lives will not succeed. Attempts to combine them just bring more complication and instability. And when our desire for answers to life’s questions bring all of them to bear, the result can be an ultimate confusion and even despair.

When we are confronted at one time by the weaknesses in ourselves, when all of our attributes are brought together at one time and come up short, (often at a moment of crisis when they all collapse at once,) what then comes, is either despair, or hopefully Faith.

Authentic Faith is more than a vague notion, mere belief or simple assent. Faith is a total surrender. But it’s not an unfounded surrender. It’s more like a drowning man thrashing about in the water finally realizing that his thrashing  about is useless, isn’t going to save him, and he’d better grab the pole offered to him before he goes to the bottom.

English: Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard. Based on...

English: Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard.

The philosopher Kierkegaard struggled with the concept of faith while wrestling with the problem of how God could ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac which was for Kierkegaard, an impenetrable ethical problem. God’s command was outside of Abraham’s rationality. When Abraham faithfully makes the move to sacrifice Isaac, Kierkegaard calls him “…a knight of infinite resignation.”

We come to Faith through a collapse of our attributes of Emotion, Reason, Understanding, Sense and Desire. The acceptance of Faith moves us toward the Will of God.

But Faith doesn’t leave these behind – we’re still human.

Their collapse will bring us to Faith, but their surrendered balance will enable us to live in Faith. Only when all are in balance is ideal faith possible. None of these by themselves will get us to a faith that brings us to a Will of God or even a combination of some of them.

  • Faith is not without Reason
  • Faith is not without Emotion
  • Faith is not without Sense
  • Faith is not without Desire
  • Faith is not without Understanding

When act in Faith, we act according to the Will of God.

We’ll never have a perfect Faith, because not only do we not have perfection of our limited attributes, but we will never have a perfect surrender of them.

When we look at Christ, he did. Amazingly not only did he have perfect Reason, Emotion, Sense, Desire, and Understanding, but he willingly surrendered those into a perfect Faith which brought him perfectly under the Will of God.

That’s where Grace and the Holy Spirit enters the picture. Even when our Faith falls short, God reaches to us and through Grace and the Holy Spirit, reconciles us to Him. Our Faith won’t be totally understandable to us, because God is not completely understandable to us.

However the theme of this post is not the belief or trust in God, but how we can come to a Faith that forms the basis for how we act. So to bring all this down to the practical, if we truly desire to act according to the Will of God we have to always ask ourselves whether in any circumstance, we’re acting on our own Reasoning, Emotion, Sense, Desire, or Understanding alone (or any combination,) or are we acting on a Faith that brings us in line with the Will of God?

  • If you’re acting with your own Reason alone, you’re not acting in the Will of God
  • If you’re acting from your own Understanding alone, you’re not acting in the Will of God
  • If your acting out of a vague Sense alone, you’re not acting in the Will of God
  • If you’re acting with your Feelings alone, you’re not acting in the Will of God
  • If you’re acting from your Desires alone, you’re not acting in the Will of God
  • If you’re acting with any of these in combination alone, you’re not acting in the Will of God
  • If you’re acting with all of them in combination alone, you’re not acting in the Will of God

It’s only when we act with all of them surrendered into Faith that we act in the Will of God

So to back to reference previous post about the movie The Untouchables, if you want to act within the Will of God, “what are you prepared to do?”

Are you prepared to give up the possessions you desire, the course you’ve set, the assumptions you’ve made, the conclusions you’ve come to, the judgments you’ve made?

Pope Update

Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines

About a month ago, Pope Francis took account of the expensive cars that Vatican staff and leaders were driving and said “No more.” The leaders were directed to get rid of them and start driving the type of cars driven by the mainstream.

News reports noted that while a Cardinal in Argentina, he took buses and trains, sitting with the general population.

Taken alone, I don’t think that the Mercedes were a bad idea. It’s easy to assume that the main reason to drive a luxury car is for the luxury.

A case in point is when the wealthy City of Highland Park, Texas considered buying Mercedes Benz cars for their police force. They had done research that said that Mercedes had a longer lifespan with fewer maintenance costs, so would in the long run actually be more economical. But they also realized that having their police drive around in luxury cruisers would send a disastrous public relations message.

Likewise, the scriptures tell us to be wise with our money, but that can be a challenging concept to put in a box. Maybe the Cardinal’s Mercedes were frugal and best suited their needs (some of which we may not know,) in the long run. Maybe Mercedes made them a whole lot better deal than Kia.small-cars-011

But the image radiated from getting rid of them moves toward a humble Christ-like position.

So keep it up, Pope Francis. Maybe some of the paintings next?

An Eye On The New Guy

The new Roman Catholic Pope has really given me some consternation. For a while, I’ve wanted to have a discussion about the incongruity between the treasures of the Vatican and the message of Christ.

The Vatican, Vatican City, and the Catholic Church (which are kind of distinct things – I’m going to combine them for simplicity,) sits on a pile of wealth in the form of art, architecture, sculpture, metals, and historical treasures. It keeps billions of dollars in its holdings.

Now yes, most of the treasures were gotten long 84301656_d8638b4193before our time, when it’s pretty clear that the Church was certainly not the representative of Christ on earth.

I mean inquisitions, indulgences, crusades, and simony? Or in other words, torture, greed, war, and corruption?

And it’s true that these activities were not the policy of the Church, but rather the practice. But are we defined by what we say, apart from what we do? See James.

How about selling some of those paintings? Or all of them? Those sculptures? Christ called us to sell our possessions and give them to the poor. So did Paul. The members of the very first church sold possessions so that none of them would go for want.

But that’s one of the problems with amassing treasure. Once you do, it’s tough to get rid of. You reason and rationalize why you shouldn’t or can’t.

The Vatican will say that they give to the poor. And they do. The Catholic Church is the biggest provider to the poor in the world. Think how much more they could provide if they sold some of the paintings! I think of a little poverty stricken girl who looks at me from the TV and asks “Won’t you help me?” standing in the marble halls looking up at the golden columns.

And c’mon – most of that artwork might ought to have been considered pornography in it’s day, and what parent doesn’t have some embarrassment walking by them with their young kids? How about we get rid of some of the pornography?

From Wikipedia regarding Michelangelo:  Once completed, the depiction of Christ and the Virgin Mary naked was considered sacrilegious, and Cardinal Carafa and Monsignor Sernini (Mantua’s ambassador) campaigned to have the fresco removed or censored, but the Pope resisted.

1 Tim. 2:9? Hello? Anybody there? Julius? Leo? Clement?

Now there are lots of reasons for justifying keeping things the way they are:

  • The Vatican meets its operating budget from tourism
  • The treasures are meant to point to the glory of God
  • The Church needs to care for these cultural treasures (by the way, there is a Church sanctioned National Geographic photo book called Inside the Vatican, the promo for which uses the word “treasure” no less than a billion times. Hello? In the face of Christ’s commands regarding treasure, are you too dense to at least call it something other than treasure? Anybody there?

062808bI wonder how Christ would react if he walked Inside the Vatican. I wonder if those reasons would pass muster. I kind of really don’t think so.

What do you picture when you think of the Pope? A man with ornate flowing robes holding a jewel encrusted golden staff, walking down a lush red carpet, or standing on a marble balcony, or sitting on a golden throne? Hello?

Now along comes this new Pope and throws a monkey wrench into my whole diatribe. Who does he think he is, this new Pope who has a long record of concern for the poor, is humble, chooses to live what amounts to a hotel room rather than the Apostolic Palace, chooses simple dress rather than ornate robes, takes the name of the man most known as a servant to the poor, challenges the Canon law of the church (the ritual of foot washing being only for men,) and urges leaders to help the poor and abandon the “excessive respect for money.”

Hmmm.  Not sure what to make of this new guy. Maybe he’ll sell some of the paintings?4577728-3x2-700x467

Kick More Butt, Churches

Due to our popular concept of grace, repentance is often overlooked. Heck, most of the time, we don’t even get to repentance. We tolerate all the sins that Christ condemn:

…a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 1 Cor. 5:11

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. Galatians 5:19

When is the last time you saw a church member dis-fellowshipped for selfish ambition? How about envy?

And we’ve so far considered only sin after it’s been committed. What about the anticipation of sins (sins you know are about to happen,) that are commonplace in our society? What of the man about to buy something overly extravagant? The woman wearing something inappropriate? The business about to cheat? Divorce and remarriage based on  feelings?

The purpose for kicking someone out of the church is not a punishment, but rather both a safeguard against the sinner infecting the rest of the church and as well as a stern opportunity for the sinner to repent. It should always come with the encouragement and support for changed behavior. As we tolerate sin, it becomes the norm.

Now, the question of whether the unrepentant sinner’s behavior will infect the church is a consideration. Paul’s letters were directed toward particular problems that the individual churches were having.

Paul’s admonition not to eat with the immoral etc. means eating as a collective group. Again, the concept is the whole church body. He is not talking about individuals not eating, particularly if the intent is redemption – Christ ate with sinners. The point again is to watch out for the potential for the infection of sin.

I ‘m tired of talking about Josh, so I will offer the following conclusions:

Is it any less an indictment on ourselves that we tend to turn our back on the failings of another as long as he serves our purpose?

In the example of an athlete, do we evaluate the star differently from the bench player? Do we give him the benefit of the doubt, and more room for forgiveness? Unfortunately, all too often, that answer is yes. It’s easier to be critical of, and turn away from an investment that isn’t paying off.

We’re almost always more forgiving with those who give us benefits. It’s easier to pass a blind eye. And as a consequence, when the investment stops giving back, we turn on it.

Perhaps the worst forms shows up as a mob that turns on what used to be its benefactor, or an authority that gives allegiance to in times of trouble to whoever is winning instead of what is right.

It’s disingenuous.

  • My thoughts have not been about Joshes relation to the internal church body, but his effect out in the world, what his actions say to those outside of Christianity. The suggestion is that he work on his witness inside the church before he takes it outside.
  • His fellowship with the church should be evaluated at the local level, that is, within any church he is part of. They can best evaluate his heart and actions.
  • We aren’t close enough to know what may lie beneath the surface. We can’t the presence of grace in his life.
  • We need to be careful of the hypocrisy of ignoring the plank in our own eyes.

 

Excommunicate Him!

Portrait of Henry VIII

Portrait of Henry VIII

If you want to avoid the this stuffy discussion on excommunication, feel free to wait for the next post called Kick More Butt, Churches, to see whether we should be…well, kicking more butt rather than tolerating and accommodating bad behavior in our churches.

My first thought to the suggestion (in the comments to the last post) that Josh Hamilton should be excommunicated was one of protest.

Excommunication has always for me, carried the notion of permanent and even eternal damnation, and in no way could my previous post have suggested that for Josh Hamilton.

Where my perception of excommunication came from, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always heard the term in conjunction with historical figures who have committed the most serious of sins such as heresy or apostasy, sins I have associated with a permanent state leading to a removal from the church, and eternal damnation. Such figures would be Henry VIII and Martin Luther (as well as competing anti-Popes during the Western Schism.)

According to Gennadios Scholarios, George Koressios, the Orthodox Confession, and Chrysanthos of Jerusalem, mortal sins are those voluntary sins which either corrupt the love for God alone, or the love for neighbor and for God, and which render again the one committing them an enemy of God and liable to the eternal death of hell. 17.

See Regulae Fusius 2, PG 31, 909A; tr. Saint Basil: Ascetical Works, pp. 233-234.

and

“Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell.” However, the Catechism does not by name say a specific person is in Hell, but it does say that “…our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back.” See “Catechism paragraph 1864”. Vatican.va. Retrieved 2012-03-13.

My understanding is that that Henry VIII who was excommunicated after his marriage to Anne Boleyn, was unrepentant (particularly since he repeated the offence over and over,) and his death resulted in a permanent break from the Catholic Church and eternal damnation.

The term excommunication, more correctly though, in pretty much every faith, carries with it the idea of temporary disfellowship, censure, and shaming, not eternal damnation.

Both Christ and Paul suggest the act of excommunication to be understood as an act of temporary disfellowship, or a “kicking out of the local church.”

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”    Matthew 18:15-17

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.”     1 Corinthians 5:11

 (More on eating with sinners next post)

 The thought of excommunication however, always carries with it, the opportunity of repentance after which the offender is welcomed back into fellowship. Different faiths have different concepts of how that repentance is carried out, including regret, confession, and restitution.

So perhaps the concept of excommunication fits perfectly in our discussion of Josh Hamilton after. Should we excommunicate Josh Hamilton?

One last Josh post next time.

Josh Hamilton 2

I was tempted to let Josh Hamilton off the hook until last week when he came back to Dallas to play. When he stepped up to the plate the first time, he was met by a tremendous cavalcade of boos from fans who felt antipathy for a player they thought had given up on the team, made a list of excuses for his behavior on and off the field, and in the end, “played the God card.”

Too be fair, players are often booed when they revisit an old team, as part of a good-natured spirit of healthy rivalry. Conversely, many times you see a crowd erupt with an outburst of approval to a player who has left the team with a reputation of tremendous contribution as well as good character. (Josh was also booed during his last game as a Ranger, a one-game AL wildcard loss to Baltimore.)

What stuck in my craw though, and I believe also the public, was his response when asked by a reporter to react to the boos:

He said, “Where was Jesus got-after the most? His hometown.”

The public hears him compare himself to Jesus. Really? You’re going to compare yourself to Jesus being rejected in Nazareth in explaining why you’re not well received?

The response attested to his accurate perception of the boos—not the fun type of boos, but the kind that indicate that you’re truly not welcome.

I think that my whole purpose here is not to so much to lambast his previous bad behavior in a way that lacks forgiveness or grace. But he was given grace after grace after grace after grace. At some point, accountability has to come in.

I want public figures who prominently promote themselves as Christian in the public square to act in a Christ-like way, to “walk the walk,” and if not, to shut up, because it reflects badly on the Christian body.

But what about grace you say, what about forgiveness? Shouldn’t the public see how Christians forgive each other?

What then about Paul demanding that an immoral brother be expelled from the local church until he repents? (I’m not suggesting that Josh be expelled from the local church. Paul’s admonition is to preclude sin from infecting the rest of the body.) The point is that in the every day affairs of the church, accountability sometimes takes a more prominent position on the stage than grace.

There are many public figures who have acted badly for everyone to see, then with Christ’s help, changed. Think Chuck Colson. What a testimony he was to the redemptive power of Christ to a world that wants the same.

But if the public figure uses forgiveness as enablement, or an escape from accountability, and does so repeatedly, he does Christ a disservice, brings shame on the church as a whole, and causes those we are trying to reach to ridicule us. (Not that I am embarrassed with being ridiculed.)

So then, to those of you who the spotlight of fame lands on, get your act together so when you do, people can see the beacon of Christ working in you. We are supposed to be a light to the world, not a spotlight pointed into a dirty mirror.

Now if we are honest, when the same spotlight is pointed at us, we quickly see that we ourselves can “talk the talk,” but not “walk the walk.” So we need to be careful calling the kettle black (even as I call the kettle black.).

There does seem to be a difference though between a person not “walking the walk,” privately, and one who doesn’t “walk the walk,” publicly, even as both are firm in their faith.

Christians who are in the public eye and especially those who are outspoken proponents of their faith have much more impact on the perception of that faith to outsiders.

If a bank audit reveals that the small businessman has committed fraud, then he has done a disservice to his faith, but it has little influence outside his circle. The same audit to the company CEO in the news has a wide and public impact. His circle is bigger. We are in his circle. The public is in his circle.

Sharks tend to ignore smaller fish. It’s not that the little fish don’t taste good; it’s that they aren’t as fulfilling.

The public figure has more accountability than the private one. Not fair, but that’s the way it is in our world.

There is however, a conflicting choice to be made that complicates the situation.

On the one hand, a sincere believer should want to share his faith in the manner he feels appropriate. Some of us choose to be outspoken, to use our words as much as our actions. Others prefer to let their actions speak for themselves. There is a place for both.

But if you do have a significant vulnerability to any kind of temptation, then you should either carefully and honestly consider if you can live above that weakness in a ongoing way, and if you don’t think you can perhaps it is best to step back and limit your public exposure to avoid the judgment of hypocrisy at first to the faithful, and second to the worldly. Maybe that’s the best witness you can have.

Now that I’ve spoken to the public figure, I need to turn the attention to the flavor of our judgment.

 

 

 

 

Josh Hamilton

I planned to follow up my post “God Dooms The Fags,” with how we can go wrong in our personal relationships with those we know to be gay.

Rangers primary logo

But a timely event causes me to put that off a few weeks.

Josh Hamilton, who played for the Texas Rangers, now plays for the L.A. Angels and yesterday he played his first game in the Angels uniform against the Rangers.

(0-4 hits with 2 strikeouts – yea!)

He is player is widely known as a Christian, as he professes his faith openly, ala Tim Tebow.

As an aside, here is a great url of prominent Christian athletes:

http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/2008/09/Top-12-Evangelical-Christians-in-Sports-Today.aspx

Josh was one of the most stellar and prominent athletes Dallas has seen in it’s storied past. He was the American League Most Valuable Player in 2010. No one will ever forget his magical performance in the home run derby at Yankee Stadium in 2008, or his four home run performance against Baltimore last May.

Josh has gone through a number of moral issues in the past, mainly a drug and alcohol addiction that severely hampered his early career. He was suspended by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003 for drug and alcohol use and missed the 2003, 2004, and 2005 seasons.

To his (and the many that supported him through those times) credit, he made changes in his life and for years, as far as it appeared, straightened out his life by giving up the drugs and alcohol and welcoming a close relationship with those who could help hold him accountable.

After those changes, he was welcomed to the professional ranks and became one of the top athletes in the league. An example of redemption, and outspoken example of how God can transform any past, he was known for his involvement in local ministries and international charities.

He was a stellar athlete who was a major factor on a great, winning team; the best in fact the city had ever seen. But although his numbers were amazing, there were at times some inconsistent, and even eccentric displays.

The problems that had plagued his past rose up again, and in several incidents, he relapsed, causing embarrassment for his team, and those around him

The most notorious event happened in 2009 when, he drank to excess in a bar in Tempe, Ariz. He apologized for that a few months later when a dozen or so pictures were posted online showing Hamilton taking shots off the bar, and hugging and dancing shirtless with several young women. He said then that he had been sober since October 2005.

He responded to those public displays with references to his relationship with Christ:

“My life in general is based on making the right choices, everything as far as my recovery, as far as my baseball goes, it’s all based around my relationship with the Lord,” Hamilton said. “And I look at it like that, you all know how hard I play on the field and I give it everything I absolutely have. When I don’t do that off the field, I leave myself open for a weak moment.”

Late in the 2012 season, his performance suffered. It was widely perceived that he was not giving his best efforts and that he had given up on the team. His suffering performance might not have had anything to do with the relapses, but there it was all the same.

After became a free agent after the 2012 season and sought a lucrative contract ext

ension, he was let go and went to the LA Angels, not so much for his behavior, but due to the normal, ongoing process in which teams sign and trade .

Now, the reason I bring his story up is not as much to judge his actions, sincerity, and place with God, but to share the reaction that echoed many fans of the team he left.

Here are some of the public comments made about Josh Hamilton:

“Three years ago, a bunch of pictures on Deadspin surfaced about America’s Newest Baseball Sweetheart, redemption boy Josh Hamilton, drunk in some chintzy bar, licking whipped cream off of women.”

“Ohhhh, no.  What followed was as nauseating and sickening of a shifting of blame thatI have ever seen.”

“ Josh wasn’t blaming anyone else, no.  He wasn’t taking the blame, either.  It was the Demons, and his Demons took hold of him, and he was powerless!”

I was listening to a radio host go on about his leaving the Rangers, which was a significant topic, for it would have a big impact on the team. The conversation soon left the arena of sports, and became personal, not only commenting on his faith, but religious hypocrisy at large, especially with those who are outspoken about their faith. As I listened, his broad brush really made me sit back.

“I am suspicious of those who claim to hide behind God, he said. “A lot of them talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.”

More on Josh next time

God Dooms The Fags

I was recently waiting in the checkout line at Michaels holding a spool of bright red ribbon that I was purchasing for a job, surrounded by women and young girls collecting supplies for their craft projects, but I was standing confident because as I tell my daughter, I’m secure in my manhood.

In the line just in front of me stood two men, and for no other reason than the line being slow, I watched them. Then one of the men leaned over and laughingly nibbled the other’s ear.

My immediate reaction was to turn away and repress my need to gag, and if I didn’t need to pay for the ribbon, I would have retreated, because I really was­—well, let’s say uncomfortable. I was also aware of different possible directions the next few minutes could take if my inherent response was too noticeable.

As I later digested my thoughts, I realized that I am going to have to develop a practiced approach to how I react in that kind of situation, because it’s not going away. That horse has left the barn, and is frolicking through the pastures.

I thought about how, if I were confronted by the two men, asserting their right to behave just as straight couples do, (although had I seen a straight couple, save one that looked cute and honeymoon-ish, act that way, I might have gagged too,) I could take two approaches depending on what the opportunity offered.

The first would be an adult variation on the brief back and forth dialogue that we used to have as 6th graders:

“What are you looking at?”

“Nothing—what are you looking at?”

“You better stop looking at me.”

“I’m not looking at you. And I can look at whoever I want.”

And on. The tactic of attrition.

The second would be to take the time and offer a more in-depth dialogue—an opportunity to flesh out, so to speak, the issues in a way that might open up new insights. I might look forward to having a discussion with them.

In preparing for a discussion like that, I decided that I would compartmentalize my views on homosexuality into three areas—personal, social, and religious in any encounter I have with an advocate of gay marriage. I might elaborate how that plays out in my mind another time.

Last week I was listening to TV coverage of the big rallies in front of the Supreme Court building as the deliberations on gay marriage took place. The reporter did his best to present both sides while at the same time highlight supporters of each side as they really got into each other’s grill.

Two men stood feet apart, one shouting “Homosexuality is an abomination before God!”  while the other shouted, “You’re a homophobe and a racist!”

The coverage then showed a wide-angle view of the pretty much behaved and equally-sided but outspoken crowd.

Then, at the front of the pro-Gay supporters, the camera showed a man dressed to the hilt in the kind of outlandish pink chiffon-feather boa-Rio Carnival type of costume that you might see during Mardi Gra, shakin’ it like he’d got, full on for the crowd.

I cringed at him and thought, “I’m not sure he’s a good icon of what the pro-Gay crowd is trying to achieve here, which in their mind is a significant, and righteous change in our culture. I bet they’d love to hide him in embarrassment behind the surrounding trees.

Then the camera showed a woman who screeched out “God dooms the fags! They’re hideous! They’re monsters!”

Really? I wanted to take her over behind the trees too so she could have it out with Elton John guy, and did kind of want to stuff a sock in her mouth. Then I tried to picture Christ stuffing a sock in her mouth, and thought better of it.

In the movie Crash, a drama revolving around racism in Los Angeles, one of the black protagonists says to a black thug who had just high jacked his car, barely escaping a confrontation with the police, “You’re embarrassing me. And you’re embarrassing yourself.”

This woman was embarrassing me. And she was embarrassing Christ.

This morning, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan “what can the Catholic Church say to gays and lesbians, who feel unwelcomed by the Church, which does not support same-sex marriage”:

“Well, the first thing I’d say to them is, ‘I love you, too.  And God loves you.  And you are made in God’s image and likeness.  And – and we – we want your happiness.  But – and you’re entitled to friendship.’  But we also know that God has told us that the way to happiness, that – especially when it comes to sexual love – that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally,” Dolan said.

It was this he then said that really expressed what the church should do in the face of the same-sex marriage issue, as well as homosexuality in general:

“We got to be – we got to do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people.  And I admit we haven’t been too good at that.  We try our darndest to make sure we’re not an anti-anybody.”

I loved his use of the word “reduced.”  We need to always keep in mind that everything Christ brought to the world revolved not around the theme of reducing, but raising up.

There is a place for confrontation, but it has to be at the right opportunity and done with grace, reason, and humility. Otherwise it will lack the love of Christ and be counterproductive to any possible target audience we are trying to reach, which is pretty much everyone.

There will be plenty of opportunity ahead—we need to figure out now how we’re going to respond on a daily basis because the issue is not going to go away. If the ship of what in our minds has been a Christian America is going down, we need to make sure that at least we’re throwing deck chairs overboard so that some can float instead of just rearranging them.

 

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Run! Run!, Cypriots

Central bank of cyprus

Leading the international news the past week has been the financial crisis in Cyprus. Over the last few years, a number of European countries, primarily Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal have been facing debt crisis’ that dwarf our own fiscal cliff and sequestration issues. The problems in those countries raise the specter of insolvency­, a worst case scenario of bankruptcy in which those countries would basically say to their debtors, “Sorry, I can’t pay you back. Nothing I can do.” This could create a domino affect involving the more solvent countries and spread worldwide.

It’s like you going to the bank that gave you a mortgage loan on your house and saying “I don’t have the money to make the payment.” Eventually the bank comes and takes your house and you are out on the street, unless someone comes to the rescue and helps you make the payment.

In a very complicated not to say convoluted way, a number of those large European countries have been having those issues. To this point, they have been getting bailed out (have you been hearing that word a lot lately? If your name is in the same sentence as the word bailout, it’s not a good thing,) by their healthier European brothers like Germany and France. So far it’s been working, although the European financial pot is simmering. Too much debt, and possibly not enough bailout to go around.

Which brings us to Cyprus which to be honest with you, I wasn’t even aware was a country. I thought it was kind of like Monaco, Hong Kong, or Puerto Rico. But it’s a country sure enough and its banks are in big trouble. Bigger trouble than the larger European countries, and probably because Cyprus is much smaller, that trouble flew at least in the public eye, under the radar.

It’s all surfaced now though, because it was forced to, like a hunted submarine whose cook begins clanging all his pots and pans around, and caused a bit of a panic not only with its citizens, but with the world economic community in large.

Bailouts to Cyrus from the larger countries (which are really loans in themselves that come along with strict controls, and at a high price,) were in question.

The approach that Cyprus chose to demonstrate it was doing all it could to remain solvent was to attempt a tax on the money that citizens held in bank savings accounts, to the tune of 10%. Can you imagine your government coming into your savings and seizing 10%? This is what the citizens of Cyprus faced. (Now it’s true that a lot of savings held in the Cyprus banks is laundered Russian money, but that’s another issue.) The concern of a run on the banks and even riots loomed. Fortunately for now, Cyprus decided to tax only the wealthiest account holders  (which may be some of those Russian money launderers. Don’t think I’d want to be a Cyprus bank regulator right now.)

So now the connection to our Christian mindset.

Over the weekend, I listened to a National Pravda Radio (NPR) news story highlighting the mindset and possible plight of Cypriot savings account holders who are only allowed to make small withdrawals each day to avoid bank runs. Here are some observation from the commentator:

  • The Cypriots have a fractured psyche in possibly having 10% of their savings taken
  • They are nervous about the security of their savings
  • They have been forcedto have only enough money to live day by day
  • The crisis has forced a trimming of expenditures to just the necessities
  • There is complete uncertainty about their future

Are you seeing where I’m going with this? While listening to all this, I was thinking what if Jesus was standing close to the around-the-block ATM lines and the good citizens came to Him in protest? I really can see Him responding – “Yea … so?

More next time.

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John 3:16 Guy – Part 3

rainbowmanFrom http://www.straightdope.com

Recently on your America Online site you posted your old column about Rock’n Rollen Stewart, the guy who used to hold up those “John 3:16” signs at sports events. You may be interested to know that Stewart is now serving a life sentence in jail.

Name withheld, via AOL

 Cecil replies:

Yipes. I lost track of Rollen after talking to him in 1987. At the time he struck me, and I’d say most people, as a harmless if obsessed flake. Shows how wrong you can be. A few years later Stewart went completely off his nut, staged a series of bombings, and wound up in prison after a bizarre kidnapping stunt. The whole story is told in The Rainbow Man/John 3:16, a new documentary by San Francisco filmmaker Sam Green. If you doubt that too much TV is bad for you, you won’t after seeing this flick.

Stewart’s problems started during his childhood in Spokane, Washington. His parents were alcoholics. His father died when Rollen was seven. His mother was killed in a house fire when he was 15. That same year his sister was strangled by her boyfriend. A shy kid, Rollen got into drag racing in high school, married his first love, and opened a speed shop. But his wife soon left him. Crushed, he sold the shop and moved to a mountain ranch where he became a marijuana farmer, tried to grow the world’s longest mustache, and watched a lot of TV.

In 1976, looking for a way to make his mark, Rollen conceived the idea of becoming famous by constantly popping up in the background of televised sporting events. Wearing a multicolored Afro wig (hence the nickname “Rainbow Man”), he’d carry a battery-powered TV to keep track of the cameras, wait for his moment, then jump into the frame, grinning and giving the thumbs-up. Rollen figured he’d be able to parlay his underground (OK, background) celebrity into a few lucrative TV gigs and retire rich. But except for one Budweiser commercial, it didn’t happen.

Feeling depressed after the 1980 Super Bowl, he began watching a preacher on the TV in his hotel room and found Jesus. He began showing up at TV events wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “Jesus Saves”-type slogans and various Bible citations, most frequently John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,” etc.). Later accompanied by his wife, a fellow Christian he married in the mid-80s, he spent all his time traveling to sports events around the country, lived in his car, and subsisted on savings and donations. He guesses he was seen at more than a thousand events all told.

This brings us to the late 80s. By now Rollen had gotten his 15 minutes of fame and was the target of increasing harassment by TV and stadium officials. His wife left him, saying he had choked her because she held up a sign in the wrong location. His car was totaled by a drunk driver, his money ran out, and he wound up homeless in LA. Increasingly convinced that the end was near, Rollen decided to create a radically different media character. He set off a string of bombs in a church, a Christian bookstore, a newspaper office, and several other locations. Meanwhile he sent out apocalyptic letters that included a hit list of preachers, signing the letters “the Antichrist.” Rollen says he wanted to call attention to the Christian message, and while this may seem like a sick way to go about it, it wasn’t much weirder than waving signs in the end zone at football games. In any case, no one was hurt in the bombings, which mostly involved stink bombs.

On September 22, 1992, believing the Rapture was only six days away and having prepared himself by watching TV for 18 hours a day, Stewart began his last “presentation.” Posing as a contractor, he picked up two day laborers in downtown LA, then drove to an airport hotel. Taking the men up to a room, he unexpectedly walked in on a chambermaid. In the confusion that followed he drew a gun, the two men escaped, and the maid locked herself in the bathroom. The police surrounded the joint, and Rollen demanded a three-hour press conference, hoping to make his last national splash. He didn’t get it. After a nine-hour siege the cops threw in a concussion grenade, kicked down the door, and dragged him away.

About to be given three life sentences for kidnapping, Rollen threw a tantrum in the courtroom and now blames everything on a society that’s “bigoted toward Jesus Christ.” A cop who negotiated with him by phone during the hotel standoff had a better take on it: “With all due respect, maybe you look at a little bit too much TV.” For info on the Rainbow Man documentary, write Sam Green, 2437 Peralta St., suite C, Oakland, CA 94607.

Cecil Adams.

These words come straight from his website at http://www.straightdope.com

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John 3:16 Guy – Part 2

2-2013 316 GuyFrom http://www.straightdope.com  The business with the signs started in 1980, when Rollen accepted Jesus as his personal savior. Prior to that time his interest was in just generally being famous (or, as he puts it, being “the most famous person in the world no one knows about”). For years he was the guy you used to see on telecasts of golf tournaments with the wild multicolored Afro wig, which earned him the nickname “Rainbow Man.” (He has since put the wig aside.) Having scouted the camera angles beforehand, he’d pop out of the crowd at an appropriate moment, waving his arms, making “OK” or “thumbs-up” gestures, and grinning like an idiot.

Rollen’s original idea was that he would parlay this shtick into a job as a media pitchman, but his only big score was a role in a Budweiser commercial. Then he got religion. (Fittingly, he saw the light while watching a TV preacher.) He commenced to wearing and/or carrying “Jesus Saves” and “Repent” T-shirts, signs, and whatnot, hitting an average of two major televised events a week. Eventually he graduated to signs with scriptural references, such as John 3:16. (“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”) The theory is that you’ll start looking things up in the Bible to figure out what’s going on, and before you know it, you’ll have stumbled into a life of everlasting righteousness.

Traveling around to various events is Rollen’s only occupation. He lives in his car with his wife, a fellow sign flasher, subsisting entirely on donations. In addition to golf tourneys and football games, he’s appeared at numerous World Series, the summer and winter Olympics, the Republican and Democratic national conventions, the Indy 500, the Kentucky Derby, the NBA and NCAA basketball finals, the Stanley Cup, and the wedding of Princess Di and Prince Charles. One summer, he proudly notes, he was down in Mexico hogging the limelight at the World Cup soccer championships, which were viewed by 2.8 billion people worldwide. He estimates that he and his confederates, who help maintain the illusion that he’s everywhere, have appeared at more than 1,000 events to date.

Rollen’s relations with officialdom are touchy at best. He’s been bounced out of numerous joints, and he and another guy sued the managers of RFK stadium in D.C. over the right to display signs. Yet he refuses to become discouraged. Indeed, he envisions the day when he’ll be at the controls of Sign Flasher Central, directing the efforts of evangelical exhibitionists across the U.S. by means of TV monitors and cordless telephones. If ever there was a guy who was a hero for our time, Rock’n Rollen Stewart is it.

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John 3:16 Guy – Part 1

imagesI thought to write a little bit on the use of the reference John 3:16 as an effective tool in our witness.

I am bit divided over my approach to it because on the one hand, it’s a definitive verse that gives the essence of our faith.

On the other hand, is it overused to the point of being—and please forgive if this seems irreverent—cliché?

Sometimes we use a resource so often that it loses its effectiveness, but is that the case with John 3:16? I don’t know.

But in thinking about it, the first thing that popped into my mind was the man known as  “John 3:16 Guy” who was shown at least once on TV during every Monday Night Football game in the 1970s.

He was a middle aged white guy who wore a bright rainbow colored wig and held up a sign saying  JOHN 3:16. He became a staple, and as part of each game as the teams or cheerleaders. He was the comic relief.

I don’t really think anyone was ever converted because of his signs and he probably hurt the cause more than helped. He became a parody, and along with him, to a lot of people, John 3:16 itself. I mean it couldn’t help when he along with his sign was parodied on The Simpsons.102108

I didn’t know much about who he was—one of those fun mysteries that I grew up with. Ends up that his name was Rollen Stewart

But in looking into just who  “John 3:16 Guy” was, I ran into the following articles written by Cecil Adams I will include in the next two posts. Written from a secular perspective, it gives a telling message of witness gone wrong.

And at the very least, if you are going to use John 3:16, don’t act like an idiot while doing it.

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