"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Choose Your Enemies Carefully

Can't get away from conflict and strife; you are gonna to ruffle some feathers. Hassles you’ll find while walking through life; friction's a law of living. Be careful whose feathers you rub the wrong way, know why it is that you rough them. Some birds can bite and devour; you’ll pay a dear price, is your battle worth it?


Let me fly O God Bear my vision on Your Breath’s wings Bear my muse to creation’s end Let it soar through skies floating clouds as great ships of endless armadas Let it rise through cobalt gasses too thin to breathe to jet streams traversing oceans shores mountains desserts plains Let it climb to the edge of nothingness to the end of all things abridged by human ambitions Let it race to spots of light in blackness colored events shaping other worlds to grasp the old with the new Then let it halt Turn about Gaze on that corner of infinity Open wide my soul to embrace all Cleanse my eyes of mean things my mind of small thoughts my heart of irrelevant past Not to understand what is for that is Your privilege But to create what realities could be if only my vision will fly

Monday, December 27, 2004

The State vs. Mister Claus

"That will be all, Mister Bardensmall. Thank you for your most illuminating testimony." The elf, taller than one would expect for an elf, stood and glared at his benefactor. One would have to say he was a pointed person; everything about his appearance was pointed, from his oversize ears, nose and chin, to his fingers and shoes. Even the line of his thin, frowning lips was pointed. After the prosecutor dismissed Bildik Bardensmall from the witness stand, he straightened his shoulders and orated, "The State now calls the defendant, Mister Santa Claus." Ths small, round, red-faced man stood from his defendant's chair and marched to the witness stand. His business suit's style unmistakably said, "Father Christmas." The prosecutor sauntered over to the witness stand and stared knowingly at Santa for a few seconds. "Santa," he said with a swagger, both in his voice and in his body, "Your elf has testified that you 'love' your little helpers. Yes? Would you mind elaborating on that--er--in terms that won't offend the court?" "Your Honor, once again I object!" said Santa, "The question has nothing to do with the charges against me." "And once again, Santa, you are overruled!" said His exceedingly bored Honor, "Now answer the question." The defendant sighed in frustration. "Yes, yes, I love the elves, even Bildik Bardensmall, as I love everyone. Your intimation, Mister Prosecutor, is entirely false." The prosecutor scanned the jury, one eyebrow arched and a bemused frown on his small mouth. "Of course it is ... Santa." His small eyes continued capturing the jury. "But what about Mister Bardensmall's testimony that you not only do not pay your elves minimum wage, but that you do not pay them a single penny for all their months of slavery each year? What say you, Santa? Hmm?" "Mister Prosecutor, Your Honor, elves have never required payment beyond their care, board, and the simple accommodations they prefer. They are never sick, so they need no medical care or insurance. And their greatest joy is in serving the world's children. Their selfless, voluntary service is beyond mere salary. Except for Bildik Bardensmall, that is. For years he has--" "Your Honor, Mister Bardensmall is not on trial here." said the prosecutor. "Answer the questions only, Mister Claus, or I will hold you in contempt." spat His Honor with contempt. "Now, Santa, to address the question of flying reindeer, and the tragic death by trampling of Grandma as she was going home on Christmas eve. You are the only flying reindeer raiser and trainer in Canada. Yes?" "Actually, no. My stable--" "So, there are others, Mister Claus. Yes?" Thick sarcasm clouded the prosecutor's voice. "Your Honor, the prosecutor will not allow me to answer his questions. Is that not badgering?" "Alright Bert. Give the old guy some slack," said His Honor, then he looked at the defendant, "But keep your answers to the point! I'm on to your 'Ho, Ho, Ho,' feel good tricks." "I was simply trying to point out that my stables aren't located in Canada, but yes, I am the sole trainer of flying reindeer." "Thank you for ..." the prosecutor sniggered, "... pointing that out. So, any crimes committed by means of a flying reindeer would point directly back to you. Yes?" "Why, in a way, I suppose, but--" "And Grandma's injuries of hoofmarks on her poor, delicate face and torso are consistent with a reindeer attack from above. Yes?" "That seems to be the medical examiner's conclusion, but--" "So one of your flying reindeer ran over Grandma on Christmas eve! Yes?" "Yes, but ... Your Honor, please allow me to explain." His Honor scowled down his long nose at the red-faced old man. "Motion denied! You will enter testimony when I tell you to." His Honor plastered a conciliatory expression over his scowl. "Now Mister Claus, or Saint ..." His Honor sniggered, "... Nicholas? Or is it Kris Kringle or Father Christmas today--we're not humbugs around here. Just relax and answer the question. Did one of your reindeer run over Grandma on Christmas eve? Yes or no." "Yes, but that particular reindeer was out of my control." The prosecutor jumped on that, figuratively, with hobnail boots. "You said your reindeer was out of control! Yes?" "Well, yes, but--" "Then you, Santa Claus, were impaired!" "No sir! I was--" "Do you deny, Mister Claus, that you enjoy the occasional hot buttered rum on a cold, winter's night?" "Well, no sir--" "So you do not deny drinking demon alcohol ... do you!" "No sir, but--" "What about the Christmas eve in question, Mister Claus? You are under oath, Mister Claus. Yes?" "No ... I mean yes, I did have a slight tipple ... but only a hot toddy that night ... but--" "This court will take that as a yes! You were under the influence of demon alcohol while piloting a heavily laden sled with sharp, steel skis, drawn by a team of eight powerful, flying reindeer over millions of innocent households," the prosecutor's sad, shocked eyes searched out His Honor's sympathetic face, "where innocent children slept in their beds awaiting your arrival. And along the way, one little old lady, a Grandmother, toddling home from her grandson's Christmas eve dinner no less, got in your way! Santa, I am shocked! This court is shocked!" The prosecutor's shocked eyes slowly turned to the jury and he shook his head, just as slowly, adding a deep sigh for effect. "Your witness, Santa." The prosecutor spat the name out as if it were a putrid piece of fish. Santa stood in the witness box, scrunching his red velvet and white fur hat in front of his chest. "Your Honor, all I have for this esteemed court is the truth." His Honor snorted as if choking on the absurdity of Santa's statement. In response, a smile spread across Santa's face and he looked up at him knowingly, his kind eyes wide with ... what, pity? The judge shifted in his chair uncomfortably. "Your Honor, since I have no lawyer to cleverly ask the right questions of me, I will simply recount to this court exactly what happened late on the Christmas eve in question. "At the moment of the tragic incident at Old Two Mile Road and Industrial Road in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, my sled and team of reindeer were swinging low over Lake Taupo, making our approach to Gradwell, New Zealand. There were seven hundred fifty-three children in that small town awaiting Father Christmas. So, Your Honor, I could not possibly have been in both places at once." Santa spread his hands apart to emphasize his point. "The reindeer that left his hoofprints on Grandma was piloted by one of my elves ... a singularly rebellious character named Bildik Bardensmall. After I disciplined him for attempting to start a union among my elves, he stole Rudolph for a joyride. "Is that your entire testimony, Mister Claus?" His Honor's sarcasm was thick. "That, Your Honor, is the simple truth." His Honor looked over to the prosecutor with a knowing smile. "Mister Prosecutor, you may direct more questions toward this ... miracle worker ..." His Honor's emphasis on those two words cued the prosecutor as to what his line of questioning should include. "... during your redirect." The prosecutor stood and cleared his throat. "Mister ... Claus," His lip curled in a sneer. "this court is having difficulty understanding how you could travel ... what, tens of thousands of miles? ... to deliver toys to hundreds of millions of children within the space of but a few short hours. If necessary, I can call dozens of eminent, scientific scholars to refute your claim of divine omnipresence. Would you like me to do that, Mister Claus? Hmm? Or would you rather revise your testimony before my unc--er, His Honor, charges you with perjury?" Santa looked long and hard at the prosecutor. "Before you make a more complete fool of yourself, Mister Prosecutor, and further mock this court and the justice system it represents, I would like the opportunity to prove my allegations with a practical demonstration." "By all means, Santa, please demonstrate to your heart's content." The prosecutor gave, first his uncle the judge, then the jury, his most confident smile. "If it please the court," said Santa, "would you enter the exact time of day into the record, Your Honor?" His Honor smugly looked at the courtroom clock. "It is twenty-four and a half minutes past three in the afternoon ... now!" "Thank you, Your Honor. And when you see the wrapped gift before you on your desk, would you mind telling the court what time it is then?" His Honor could barely contain his amusement as he said, "Certainly, Santa." "And can Your Honor verify the fact that I have no bags, boxes or cases of goods with me in this courtroom?" "Yes, yes, so verified. Now get to your ridiculous ‘demonstration'." Suddenly, as everyone became aware of a gift-wrapped package in their laps, the entire courtroom broke into an uproar. The prosecutor jumped to his feet, flinging the heavy, gaily wrapped package to the floor, and stammered, "U--uncle B--bob, I protest this m--magic trick!" His Honor, Uncle Bob, was so flabbergasted that he couldn't even respond to his stuttering nephew. Santa stood where he had before all the presents appeared. "If it please the court, I will explain how this miracle happened, and how it happens once each year throughout the world." The Court was unable to object. "What you've just witnessed is simply a little help from my Father, the Creator of all things, including time. He, personally, transcends time, and at His sovereign will, He allows its suspension. Many, many years ago, my Father gave me the privilege of spreading joy throughout the world on the day we have come to recognize His only true Son's birth. He allows me to give gifts as a memorial of His infinitely more important Gift to mankind. "Now Your Honor, if you will, please read the current time into the court's record." His Honor sat, blankly gazing at the beautifully wrapped gift on his desk. Then his eyes slowly shifted toward the courtroom clock and he mumbled, "It's three ... twenty-five." Santa laughed heartily. "But no one has opened their gifts. You don't have to wait ‘till Christmas morning, you know. "As you open them, let me tell you what you have in your hands. It is the most wonderful gift in the world; in just a few thousand words, it tells the story of my Father's dealings with mankind. It conveys to us His infinite mind and presents His only True Son to this obstinate generation as the only Way for us to reconcile with Him. "But the court is awfully quiet at the moment. Why might that be, Your Honor?" The judge looked up from his gift with tears pooling in his eyes and quietly said, "Santa, your case is dismissed. I'm the one who should be on trial ... for what I've done with God's Gift." Be Blest This New Year

Friday, December 24, 2004

The Chains of Jacob Marley

Few men suffered the interminable misery that was Jacob Marley’s lot. Golden chains and silver shackles bound him between life and death, his leaden heart cursing him with its heavy stillness. Time slithered past, the shell of others’ realities guarding its slimy, green expanse. If only he could force a boot free of its bond, a glove free of its shackle, silver though they were. But reality belonged to the living; breath, to those truly alive. Though Marley surged against his gold and silver bonds for what seemed uncounted eons, his struggle proved as futile as had his life’s constant striving. The spectre that had been Jacob Marley, existing as he did between life and eternity, felt the chill of London’s approaching winter further crystallize his already frozen countenance; the fog wafting off the Thames further deadening his already insensate heart. Once a year, wasn't it? Or perhaps once each second, minute, hour, day, week, fortnight, month, decade, century, millennium. Only the Living could tell. A stray thought crossed Marley's mind. Winter ... yuletide ... Christmas. A spasm jarred his stiff, hoary countenance. Those warm beings, the Living, would soon begin celebrating the Savior’s Advent. "Savior"... from what? The Living knew nothing of agony, enjoying blissful ignorance of what awaits them on the Other Side. "Savior" indeed. During his life, or what had passed for it, Jacob had ridiculed any who acknowledged man's fallen state and his need for a Savior. "Foolishness! Humbug!" had been his response. A wistful pang thrilled his hollow breast at this Fatal Irony. If only I'd known. He, and his business partner Ebenezer Scrooge, had ignored the Blessed Season, but for the profitable opportunities it presented. Together, they had blasphemed the Holy Savior by selling their wares dearly to those who could afford to celebrate Christmas in high style. A moan began in Marley’s cursed spirit, arose and amplified through his protruding ribs, and gushed from his lifeless lips. His arms shook violently under the effort of raising his infernal golden chains toward the heavens. But even as his dead soul cried out, his mind knew the entreaty was too late. Eternally too late. Scrooge’s image came into Marley’s mind and he realized they had been friends of sorts, as much as two lustful men could be. He regarded Scrooge, not with jealousy over his partner’s lingering life, and not with contempt for his surviving to spend their fortune, for either of them would sooner endure torture than waste a penny. Yes, they had been two-of-a-kind in life, but now he wondered if they were both doomed to share the same torment in death. And for the first time, Marley considered Scrooge’s impending anguish with compassion. With all that remained of his being, Marley longed to warn him. A spot of light broke into Marley’s darkness. It brightened and neared, as if a steam locomotive bore down upon him through a tunnel’s blackness. And not only the train’s light, but its hissing, clattering, and constant roaring. Marley winced, at once hoping his torment was over, and dreading what might follow, but the light halted, fully engulfing his face. After a moment’s visual confusion, he beheld a human face staring back at him. Was he daft as well as dead? The face appeared to belong to Ebenezer Scrooge. And before Marley’s stunned mind could recover, the face was gone. ~~~ “Jacob Marley.” Voices were not uncommon in Marley’s nether world, but they seldom spoke coherently. So at the first call, he assumed his imagination--what little he possessed--had tricked him. “Jacob Marley.” With his attention already peaked, Marley realized this was not a voice to be ignored. “Speak, good sir. I hear you.” The voice emanated from everywhere, or was it from nowhere? “You will enter the world of the living for a short time, and warn Ebenezer Scrooge where his path will surely take him.” Marley searched the blackness for some visual hint of the speaker. There was nothing. “Who are you, sir? What is your name?” “I AM THAT I AM.” The Voice saturated Marley’s phantom being, vibrated his chains with Truth, and made him cower though he had no life to lose. “Fear not, Jacob Marley, for your compassion has gained you a task, the successful completion of which will break your bonds.” “Will I finally live, or die? For I long to do either.” “Your obedience to your mission will tell.” “Good sir, only tell me what I shall do.” “The man whose face you saw must turn into a path now dark to him. Three spirits shall I summon to rend the scales and break the chains so willful wrought. He must expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls one; the second on the next night at the same hour; the third will appear the following night, after the twelfth stroke.” “Lord, when may I embark on this mission?” “Pull the bell-cord and go to him.” “But, Sir, what if I fail?” ~~~ A dim light – bright to one whose existence was darkness – became visible, and a stench invaded Marley’s phantom-body, a stench as of putrefying flesh. Shocked to see a natural-appearing light, he shook off his revulsion to the odor and began moving toward the light’s source, a gable windowpane, shedding foggy light from a street far below. Though he pulled his yards of golden chain across the bare, wooden floor, he heard no noise, felt no drag. And upon looking down, he wheezed what, in life, would have been a gasp. The gold chain had become black iron, the silver shackles, bronze, and Marley found himself shaking uncontrollably; not a bit of grief moved his emotions, but only joy unspeakable, and full of glory. Gold was incorruptible, but iron would one day rust and fall apart. Marley recovered his composure, then turned, and amid boxes draped with dusty cloths, he spied a plaited cord of the kind that might summon servants. He recalled the Master’s command as if it were yet resonating within his ears, and forgetting the stench, moved toward the bell-cord. Both shackled hands reached out and closed upon it, but felt only the mildest sensation as it passed clean through his flesh, or his flesh passed through it. At first, curiosity waved his hands back and forth through the cord, causing it to move as if from a slight breeze. But alarm seized the phantom Marley when he realized his inability to pull the cord; then ... desperation. Again, and again he grasped at the cord, and would have wept if his tears hadn’t dried up long before his death. But at long last his pulling began to move the cord downward, and the quietest bell sounded in the distance. Encouraged, he kept up his pulling until bells began sounding from throughout the house, and he laughed until he could no longer move or see. Silence replaced the bells’ pealing, a different window appeared to him high up in a wall, and he began moving toward it. Though he seemed to float above an invisible floor, his chains clattered over what lay below. He stopped, stared downward, and began to recognize wooden casks of the type that hold wine. Marley puzzled for only a moment, before a memory from his living past began taking shape. As he floated to the cellar floor and his chains rattled into a heap, he recognized the wine-merchant’s stock in the cellar of his own house – or the house he had owned in life. But again he smelled that familiar stench. Had something died in his old cellar? But no, the malodour was about himself, in the very atmosphere that clung to his ghastly body. Marley realized it was the smell to which he had become accustomed during his interminable confinement. Hatred for himself consumed him, for neglecting the eternal values his parents had taught him as a boy. The spectre of his life’s accumulations appeared before him, as if moldering in this dank place, accumulations for which he had traded his soul. And then he remembered Ebenezer Scrooge, the man whose salvation might bear upon his own. The apparition that was once Jacob Marley willed itself to move toward the cellar door, but the willing was not enough to move him. He took a step, and he began to feel a sensation from his distant life: weight, as if his body possessed mass. Another step, heavy on the wooden floor, and the chains scraped along behind him. A few more steps and he reached the stairway. More heavy steps carried him up the stairway to the landing at the top, his chains clattering along behind. His hand reached out, shackle, chain and all, and he started as, at his touch, the door flew open to crash against its stop. He kept walking over the anteroom rug to the broad staircase that led to his -- no, Scrooge’s -- rooms. Feet thudding and chains clanking on the steps announced his progress toward his goal. When at last he stood before what had been his chambers’ door, he stopped. Could his mission succeed? It must! Marley stepped toward the door, extended his shackled arms and pushed against the heavy, old wood, expecting it to swing away as had the cellar door. But it didn’t move. He pushed harder, the door felt as if it had yielded to his pressure, yet it had not moved. With the sharp sensation that might accompany immersing one’s tender hands in pure alcohol, first his hands disappeared into the wood, then his shackled wrists. After what had seemed an eternity of sensory deprivation, he relished even this pain, so he stepped into the wood as if its substance were real, but mattered little to his body. ~~~ Once Marley passed through the thick wood, a great light startled him witless. Within a brief moment, the light subsided and he saw his old business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge, seated in his hearth chair staring his way, incredulous. The old man summoned the nerve to challenge Marley, coldly, as though he belonged elsewhere, and asked him what he wanted. Jacob Marley stared back, unused to being addressed by mortal flesh. He tried to say, “Much,” but the word caught in his inert throat. Yet Scrooge seemed to hear as though he had audibly spoken. Scrooge jutted his chin as if challenging an intruder who had no rightful business there. “Who are you?” Once Marley realized trying to speak was as good as speaking, he said, “Ask me who I was.” So Scrooge did, raising his voice and reproaching him for being so particular. When Marley answered, “In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley,” the old man took a skeptical look upon his face. As if testing his visitor’s reality, Scrooge offered him the second chair, and he accepted. “You don’t believe in me.” “I don’t,” said Scrooge, dismissing Marley’s apparition to the delusional effects of poor digestion. The ghost only stared at him, aware once more of the stench of putrefying flesh. Though the hearth flame was small and the room closed, he felt a draft disturbing his hair and clothing. “You see this toothpick?” Scrooge demanded. “I do.” Marley’s frozen gaze never left the old man. “You are not looking at it.” “But I see it, notwithstanding.” When Scrooge suggested swallowing it would produce a more real haunting than he, Marley became distraught, and cried out in a most distressing discord of moans and unuttered words, shaking his chains in a clattering cacophony. To prove he was no product of undigested food, Marley unwrapped the bandage from round his head, and his jaw dropped loosely to his chest. Scrooge’s manner changed as he fell upon his knees, clasping his hands before his face as if in prayer. “Mercy!” Scrooge finally allowed his eyes and voice to show the terror in his heart. “Dreadful Apparition, why do you trouble me?” Without so much as a twitch of his dangling jaw, Marley said, “Man of the worldly mind, do you believe in me or not?” “I do.” Scrooge trembled through his words. “I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?” Marley confessed to failing his destiny, warned Scrooge that he was doing the same, and explained the broad consequences for that sin. “At this time of the rolling year,” Marley cried, “I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never rise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?” This speech dismayed Scrooge, and he began quaking, yearning to know how he might escape the ghost’s miserable fate. “I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer. “You will be haunted by Three Spirits.” Scrooge’s head dropped, all hope gone from his face. “I ... think I’d rather not.” “Without their visits you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls one. “Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. “The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to sound. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!” Marley’s gaze shifted to the bandage he had removed from his head. Resignation cloaked his face, but he reached down to take his bandage from the table and bound up his jaw as before, his teeth clacking when they closed. He gathered up his iron chain, rusting so rapidly it must not last long. With it wound over and about his arm, he moved backward, away from Scrooge and toward the window, which raised with his every step. Then he beckoned to Scrooge, who reluctantly moved forward. When the ghost motioned for him to stop, two paces from him, Scrooge acknowledged hearing a commotion of confused, incoherent lamentation and self-pitying, sorrowful wailing. Marley’s voice said, “Do not fail to listen to the Spirits, Ebenezer. Do not fail me,” and he cried out, his voice blending with the hopeless noise as he floated through the window, into the outer darkness. Scrooge’s image came to the window, but it, and he, receded into the foggy darkness. Marley was returned to the infernal company of disembodied voices crying pitifully. But he could have no pity, for they, as he, had earned the full measure of their torment. He knew there would be no more chance to obey the Savior his life had spurned, and though he had done his best to minister his experience to Scrooge, only God knew if the chains of Jacob Marley would one day drop free.

Thursday, December 23, 2004


I hate a negative report! I wish all negative people would adopt self-fladulation instead of plaguing me with their negativity. Luckily, I never have a negative thought like everybody else does. My question is, what literary device did I just employ? From my perspective, it was nothing more than my dim attempt at humor(yock, yock). Yes, I am, in fact, depressed today. It is a condition I've been battling intermittently since mid-November when my mother died. That fact, and having to endure a Target Christmas shopping season makes me want to stay in bed each day. Every year that I have to smile and take people's money--money they feel obligated to spend because of the "season"--makes me hate the secularized Yuletide even more. I'd better quit before I'm tempted to become slightly negative. Fortunately, my sunny disposition won't allow that.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Christmas in July?

I have a great idea: Let's change Christmas to July, so we won't be so bummed from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Okay, it's a bit radical, but Jesus wasn't born in December anyway. That's just a holdover from some pagan holiday that the Catholic church Cristianized to help make converts out of them. Since the Way of Jesus is revolutionary, why not celebrate His birth in a revolutionary way?

Monday, December 13, 2004

Reason Is Cool Too, or, Put Your Mind In Gear

Mind-in-gear Christianity has suffered a bum rap. The church seems polarized between the traditional, doctrine-oriented brethren and their modern, experience-oriented counterparts. Today's Totally Cool church often ignores, even ridicules, theological teaching as boring or prideful, and instead, stresses exercising the subjective, "gifts of the Holy Ghost." A pastor of mine used to say, "You'll find a ditch on both sides of the road," meaning the truth usually lies somewhere between the extremes. While theologians endlessly debate minor points of doctrine, charismatic Christians often embrace extra-Biblical practices and teachings based on personal experience. Both extremes reflect the carnal pride Jesus died to eradicate. Social/cultural programming pushes much of that polarization, and our carnal tendency to follow fads and flashy leaders pushes it over the edge into apostasy. Paul the apostle touched on that dichotomy in Romans 12:1, I encourage you therefore, brothers, through the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, well pleasing to God, your reasoning process service. (Literal Translation) The New American Standard renders the last clause as, "which is your spiritual service of worship." While scholars differ on that translation, perhaps their respective inferences aren't that much apart. Who said you have to leave your brain in the narthex when entering the corporate worship? Sure, it is a spiritual process, but without contemplating God's attributes; without thinking about the beauty of His holiness, what are we worshipping? Praising God isn't repeating "hallelujah" ad infinitum, though doing so can produce an ecstatic experience. If we read the praise Psalms from the Bible, we don't find such thoughtless repetition. King David, the man after God's own heart, praised God's attributes and works, the logical extension of who He is. That takes thought, and reason. Next time you go to church, try thinking about who God is, what He's like, and what He's done for his people and in your own life. If you don't get really happy, your mind just isn't in gear.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Importance of Being Earnest--In Prayer

Oscar Wilde’s title applied more to practical life than even he imagined. Pop culture ridicules earnestness as unduly grave and austere, a view that Wilde seemed to share. The Bible, however, has something entirely different to say about it: Of Jesus’ ordeal in the Garden of Olives, Matthew said, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Most would agree Jesus is a sound role model. Of course, earnestness doesn’t always get you what you want. In his letter to the Roman church, Paul said, “What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did.” But aligned with God’s will, it is powerful indeed, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) Today’s society, inundated as it is with pop-culture, hardly knows the meaning of earnestness. Here’s Noah Webster’s authoritative definition of the word: EARNESTNESS, n. ern'estness. Ardor or zeal in the pursuit of any thing; eagerness; animated desire; as, to seek or ask with earnestness; to engage in a work with earnestness. 1. Anxious care; solicitude; intenseness of desire. 2. Fixed desire or attention; seriousness; as,the charge was maintained with a show of gravity and earnestness. If We, The People, earnestly pursued our convictions, this nation would still be held in high esteem world-wide. But we are a nation of hypocrites, and no one, including other hypocrites, respect that.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I Dreampt My Building Collapsed

My dream-building collapsed last night. I have no idea how long I’ve been dreaming about this place, but it appears in various forms. One common element is the scary old elevator that lifts me to the roof. Another is the seemingly endless maze of hallways and rooms on each floor. Last night’s building was a skyscraper, old and full of character. And danger. Like a disembodied spirit, I enjoy complete freedom of perspective, able to view it from the sidewalk, the top, within its hallways or from a far distance in subsequent moments. Though the elevator scares me, somehow I always wind up in its wall-less car as it trudges slowly up the stark, concrete shaft, floor after dreary floor passing downward. Eventually, I arrive at the top floor or roof, walk to the edge and look over, despite my fear of heights and vast spaces. My dream-building collapsed for no apparent reason, and in unique style. Unlike the World Trade Center towers, disintegrating from the top downward, or old buildings, demolished from the bottom by explosives carefully placed to destroy their structural integrity and provide space for progress, my dream-building suffered uniform trauma. I was part of the rescue effort. An unspecified “we” climbed into the hapless tangle of concrete, steel and human wreckage, searching for survivors and those not so fortunate. We found them individually and in populous pockets, existing on whatever they happened to scrounge from their surroundings. One rich woman refused to submit to her less-than dignified state, controlling everyone and everything within her pathetic sphere of influence. Women hugging babies in their protective arms cried for help. Some men heroically ran around trying to save people while others exploited their neighbors in tribulation. I found some strange ammunition left by a group, whether terrorists or militia, I don’t know, but their unseen presence threw an additional pall over the devastation. One young man scavenged what gospel tracts he could find among his scattered belongings and set out to preach to the dying. The wreckage remained stable for some time, then began to shift and compact. Gradually it seemed to fall into its basement, like a vast elevator descending into a hole. I helped some to jump to safety as their space passed the sidewalk’s raw edge, but a few other guys tried just as hard to inhibit the jump to safety. Once I was on the sidewalk, I watched the roof pass downward into the hole, then looked up to find all the other buildings, near and far, were suffering the same sort of destruction mine had. What good is a dream if has no application to reality? The building in all its manifestations might be my immediate world, since I don’t see it as representing me personally. The old elevator struggling to ascend past individual floors to the roof might represent my struggle to ascend past meaningless occupations to my highest aspiration. Currently, I dream of supporting my family and ministering to my world by writing professionally. When I reach the roof and look over the edge at the dizzying vista, I display my ambivalence about reaching the top at all. At once, I covet success and fear it. I see my world crumbling, and I hope to rescue its occupants by climbing in with God and working to save them. But the dream shows me more as God’s passive “sidekick” than a useful member of the rescue team, caring on the emotional level if not actively. Why are my dreams so critical of myself? They present questions, but no answers. They disquiet me, but provide no resolution. Father, I trust Your faithfulness in directing my steps and my circumstances, and I know you love me enough to make everything in my life work to my ultimate good. Yet, I fear the future rather than anticipating it as I would if I truly trusted you. As the concerned father said to Jesus, I do believe [or, I do have faith]! Lord, be helping my unbelief [or, my weak faith]!(Mar 9:24 Analytical-Literal Translation)

Sunday, December 05, 2004

I'm no intellectual, but ...

Alright, I can't help myself. I hafta vent another pet peeve: Conservatives are, by popular definition, anti-intellectual. Or worse! Some express the belief that we are throwbacks to the dark ages. Or worse! I have it on the best of academic authority that we aren't fully evolved. Or worse! The most enlightened scholars say we conservatives exist only as foils for their terribly enlightened philosophies. I guess we should be proud. But I can't help asking such enlightened intellectuals, "By what standard, and by what authority, are you better than we? Your philosophy of relativism assumes(there's that word again) there is no objective, absolute authority by which to determine value. Yet, you demean and discriminate against us, our belief systems and our institutions. I'm no intellectual, but doesn't that judgmentalism contradict everything you stand for? Obeying your rules of engagement, I won't insist my personal mores are in any way inherently superior to yours. Will you respond with the same concession? Okay, then answer this question: Why are you afraid of mitigating your arguments with honest balance from those who differ from your basic world-view? Oh. I see. You're not afraid. The conservative/Biblical world-view is simply more exclusive and prejudiced , and less valid than the progressive/secular world-view. That's okay. I can live with that. I have no choice, since you own academia, much of government and the popular media .

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Oh, The Presumption

On studying Psalm 119, I discovered verse 101: I have restrained my feet from every evil way, That I may keep Your word. (NASB) Such a statement is huge indeed! In fact, within the balance of Scriptural context, it is impossible. ... as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; (Rom 3:10 NASB) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Rom 3:23 NASB) So some other information must lie beneath the words. Looking at other Bible translations, Young’s Literal says: From every evil path I restrained my feet... The Amplified Translation says: I have restrained my feet from every evil way... The Holman Christian Standard says: I have kept my feet from every evil path... Since most of the translations use the past perfect tense–have restrained–that might be the verb’s best rendering. Based on that assumption, the next question might be, “I have restrained my feet from every evil way ... in relation to what?” One interpretation might say the Psalmist avoided every evil way in the past. Okay, what about the moment he wrote it? Some Christian schools of thought use verses like that to teach a "second blessing" that makes us able to completely avoid sinning. The opposite view teaches an imputed holiness that makes anything we do something other than sin. Obviously, they can't both be true, so what is The Truth? My point is, we must take the Bible as a whole, instead of elevating one verse, or even a select set of verses, that prove our particular biased interpretation. When we read the Bible in that way, we miss its whole point: We read and study the Bible to apply it to our lives so we will accurately reflect who God is. When we study the Bible primarily for doctrine, we sacrifice its holiness while building our own prideful knowledge. Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. (1Co 8:1)

Friday, December 03, 2004

He's A Santa Kinda Guy

He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows when you've been bad or good, and the number of stars in the sky, how many grains of sand are on the seashore, the number of hairs on your head, every breath you take, and every thought you make. He lives at the North Pole, the South Pole, and every pole in between. In fact, his presence is everywhere! He gives a gift to every boy and girl, BEFORE they've had a chance to be bad or good: It's the gift of life, and only he can give it, because he created life, and everything that has life. Obviously, he's not your average department store Santa. On Christmas we celebrate his birth, but alas, he's not Santa. On Easter we celebrate his resurrection, but his ears are not long and furry. On Thanksgiving we gather to thank him for our sustenance at a harvest feast, but he's not a turkey. And if we don't accept his gift of salvation, regardless how good we think we've been, we snub him and treat his life, and death, with complete disregard. This Christmas, accept the Gift of God.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Easy now!

While searching for a local church's web site, I happened upon a site claiming to have news and information about the church. Apparently the site, formerly the official church web site, had nothing good to say about the church, which indicated the site administrator had become discontented, disenfranchised and discombobulated. I chose not to delve. I did, however, contact the church office to voice my concern and to find their current web site. Once there, I used the current administrator's e-mail address to reiterate my concern, and suggested they make themselves easier to find than the other site. Okay, moral time: First, NEVER alienate your site administrator. Second, follow the Biblical imperative, "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath." (Eph 4:26) Third, beware! "Righteous indignation" isn't always righteous. Too often, it is self-righteous indignation, and becomes a rationale for vengeance. And that, friend, is sin.

Saturday, November 27, 2004


Maddy was immersed in her own olfactory world, nose to the ground, assimilating information humans can scarcely imagine. I on the other hand, held my head high, in my own visual world, eyes to the night sky. About two hours into its nocturnal journey, the full moon played behind a horizontal, roughly oval cloud, one of a sparse band of low-lying clouds. Behind the moon, and the silver-lined clouds hiding it, a field of stratus clouds picked up the lunar brilliance, streaked as a fine silver platter carelessly polished. Cast far beyond that silvery idyll, almost directly overhead, tapering, transparent shafts of silver light penetrated a star-specked, deep blue sky. How many precise, meteorological elements did God have to arrange in the heavens for me to behold that magnificent, sky-filling display? Yet, it was but a small thing compared to the Gift of His Son's blood, spilled to cleanse my sin, to transform my life, to open my eyes to His nature and His creation so I might praise Him.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Treasure Hunt

Today's Our Daily Bread suggested to me a new interpretation of Matthew 6:22-23 "The lamp of the body is the eye. Then if your eye is sound, all your body is light. But if your eye is evil, all your body is dark. If, then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" Those verses always seemed an opthamologist's creedal statement. But consider the verses preceding it, Matthew 6:19-21 "Do not treasure up for you treasures on the earth, where moth and rust cause to perish, and where thieves dig through and steal. But treasure up for you treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust cause to perish, and where thieves do not dig through and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Now it's obvious the "eye" means priorities, goals, aspirations -- anything you set your sights on. And the "body" means the spirit, the soul, the seat of consciousness -- the very center of your being. Now hold onto your hat: We have a values judgment to make, despite the politically incorrect overtones. It is possible that your "eye" can be evil, darkening your soul with wrong, that's right, wrong priorities. Okay, what in the world would be a wrong priority? I submit that would be anything that might lead you away from God, and bearing the fruit of His Holy Spirit. The Bible is replete with lists of specific acts and attitudes that lead people away from God. One of them says, "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." (1 John 2:16) At first, that seems a pretty broad stoke, but the Bible's most telling verses deal with principles and concepts. For those who need something more specific, try this on for size: "Now the works of the flesh are clearly revealed, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, fightings, jealousies, angers, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and things like these; of which I tell you beforehand, as I also said before, that the ones practicing such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Gal 5:19-21) For contrast: "But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. Against such things there is not a law." (Gal 5:22-23) Need I say more?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Giving Thanks

I can't help it! The government names a day, "Thanksgiving Day," and somehow I have to give thanks. Makes me feel like one of Pavlov's dogs. The truth is, I love giving thanks. How else can I endure the countless blessings God has poured out for me? And how else can I appreciate His many wise and wonderful, albeit painful, lessons in living? Blessings are lessons, and lessons are blessings; its all the same. This mortal life is far too short for casting recriminations about what seems, at first, like crap, but in retrospect always works to our betterment. If my estate has an extra ten bucks or so, I intend to have the words, "Always Give Thanks," engraved on my grave marker. That is the most valuable lesson I've learned during my brief, wisp of life, and if I convey nothing more through it, I will not have lived in vain.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The New Tolerance

I hope Chuck Colson will forgive me for borrowing a brief quote from his Breakpoint column; I know my local newspaper editor won't have a problem with that. Today, I will unload on my blog instead of his Letters column.

Today's progressives like to consider themselves open-minded, diversity-honoring Humanists. Their compassion for the downtrodden is eclipsed only by their thirst for scientific enlightenment. Such is their modest self-adulation.

Historian Garry Wills, writing in the New York Times, called November 2 the "day the Enlightenment went out." His characterization of American society, and Christians in particular, made it sound like you can expect your doctor to prescribe leeches at your next visit. -- Chuck Colson, Breakpoint 11/22/2004

Today's literati consider "censorship" the most obscene word in our language--as long as what's published doesn't offend them too much. They defend primary school libraries that stock their shelves with graphic apologetics for the homosexual lifestyle, natural science books that openly ridicule the Biblical world view, cultic, and occultic, scripture and instruction books, and revisionist history books. But honoring the extra-constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state, they strip their shelves of anything that might shed a favorable light on Christianity. Our cherished right to freely express ourselves depends on what we want to say.

Again, those who most vociferously defend freedom of expression are the very ones who label conservative values as "hate." Didn't Jesus say some pretty harsh things to the hypocrites of his time? Contrary to popular belief, today's hypocrites, as well as those from any other period, are found lots of places besides in evangelical churches.

Monday, November 22, 2004

I think I have the vapors!

If thoughts are but a vapor, why do I put such stock in them? Though conceived without form or substance, thoughts take shape and mass when I apply words to them. But what use are those isolated, abstract products of my neural chemical reactions? Like the round stone, the spontaneous fire or the deep lake of ages past, I fail to recognize their potential at first. Perhaps my words serve as playthings, at once, serious and fun: parts of a construction kit, from which I might build useful or fanciful ideas. I gather my ideas, sort them out, and assemble them into concepts. And concepts are the versatile, sturdy stuff that form my body of opinions, beliefs, attitudes, and prejudices. Will they prove useful, or vain? Will they languish in a journal, on a weblog, or combine to form compelling, lifechanging stories? But take care of your words! Unspoken, they are a reservoir of potential power. Held in check and released as needed, they flow out to irrigate the fertile ground of uncounted souls downstream. If the dam breaks, however, they will gush forth, uncontrollable and irretrievable, to wash away the soil and destroy what was sown.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Where’s Scrooge Today?

Though my mother was eighty-nine years young, to my family, her passing last week seemed premature. Having heard horror stories of older people receiving less than stellar medical treatment, we can’t help asking questions about what steps the medical professionals followed during her decline. But all we get is what those in the business call, “damage control.” Before corporate medical care, the kindly country doctor grabbed his black bag containing all the medical tricks known to science, and traveled to his patients’ homes. Poor folks payed him in chickens and cucumbers, expecting--and getting--his best effort. When he guessed wrong and bad things happened, he mourned with the family. To him, they were family. The Hippocratic Oath once expressed the medical profession’s intent to do only good. But that was before “We, The People” began taking our constitutional guarantees for granted. That was before we began expecting more--always more, unaware that expectations seldom deliver what’s promised, their bitter fruit setting our lives on edge. That was before we discovered insurance companies and lawyers, mistaking them for money-trees. That was when avarice was still a sin, and not the crowning virtue it is today. That was when Dickens caricaturized the greedy capitalist in Ebenezer Scrooge. Today, we’re likely to find Scrooge working on an assembly line, driving his kids to soccer practice in his SUV tank, or lounging on his sofa, mesmerized by his home entertainment system. In fact, we’re likely to find today’s Scrooge looking back at us from a mirror. Of course, we could try to make ourselves feel better by continuing to blame the "thems" of big business and fat-cat politicians for today’s mess. But confession heals the soul. Let’s admit “We, The People” have multiplied Scrooge’s greed millions of times. With, or without the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, let’s repent of our societal avarice, one Scrooge at a time.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

It's Harder Than It Looks

I used to fancy myself a writer. Part of my networking included participating in Writing.com, a supportive online community of aspiring writers. I submitted several of my writings, expecting all the authors and editors who frequented those hallowed pages to praise my obvious talent. And, yes, some reviewers said I was really good. So, after buying all new hats, I decided to share my expertise by reviewing others' work. First I learned that lots of unpublished writers are a whole lot better than I am(What did I do with those old hats?). And second, critiquing the newbies proved an exercise in frustration. It wasn't long before I noted a pattern among them: Too often they write like chimps turned loose with a keyboard. by this, i meant, they ofgen rote like this, ant thuoght it was artsie. We have a generation of progressive education's byproducts whose work closely resembles digestion's byproducts because they believe the system's three-fold lie: 1; Everyone has equal talent. 2; Technique and craft should fall a distant second and third place to "creativity." 3; The real world, like sensitive, compassionate, bleeding-heart teachers, gives "Attaboys" for halfarsed work. That fact, and all those folks who believe their desktop publishing software makes them "publishable," conspire to flood traditional publishers with unsolicited or inferior manuscripts. Of course, that's a boon for vanity "publishers." Thousands of poor--and soon to be poorer--souls suffer the delusion that getting "published" makes one a best-selling author and guarantees they'll soon be rolling in dough. They'll be rolling alright; rolling in debt and the pain of disillusionment. Though I didn't fall for the vane appeal of vanity publishing, the disillusionment I experienced through the normal process of rejection taught me several valuable lessons: 1; People who believe they are good authors, good Christians, or just good people, share a common trait: they aren't. Instead, they are impossible to live with. 2; Being good isn't good enough. 3; Striving for greatness is a wonderful aspiration, though usually not realistic. 4; Perfection is as reachable as the end of any other rainbow. 5; It's not what you know, or even who you know. What makes you successful is both of those, plus knowing yourself--including your weaknesses--and believing in your calling and your craft strongly enough to persist despite unimaginable rejection and discouragement.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

New Definitions

Is any high school graduate of the boomer generation not haunted by memories of struggling over endless word definition lists? Those painful experiences likely scarred us for life, and who knows the extent of psychological dysfunction such oppressive “educational” methods inflicted upon us? Never fear! The era of fixed, precise word definitions is ending. Just think: No more long lists to memorize! No more restrictive concepts to cramp our style! If we feel an idea’'s traditional definition is too insensitive, intolerant or irrelevant, we can just redefine it any way we like. Public figures enjoy this new flexibility when weaselling out of misconduct accusations with statements like, “"Well, that depends on how you define (fill the blank)."” Even benign, soft-spoken, mild-mannered social progressives have joined the movement toward conceptual flexibility. By redefining, or castrating, such biased concepts as truth, good, bad, right, wrong, morality, evil, character, community, culture, home, family and marriage they are reinventing society's archaic, unfashionable wheels and setting them on the road to Utopia. Victims of our oppressive history join such social progressives, screaming from their pauper's graves for more sensitive, tolerant and relevant social definitions. The quest to remedy that intolerable intolerance began over forty years ago, when our government educational establishment, along with the more progressive private schools and many of the old-line religious denominations, began realigning their philosophies and teaching their constituents to be more sensitive and tolerant. And look at our progress! Though right-wing extremists try to argue against the benefits we've reaped from our social revolution, today's more compassionate, sensitive and tolerant culture benefits everyone. Religious fundamentalists enjoy pointing out the few insignificant statistical anomalies such as single-parent, broken and non-traditional families and the paltry number of resulting dysfunctional and violent relationships. But they won't mention how resilient the affected children can be. After all, the state doesn't mind placing them with the child-welfare system or relegating them to the loving hands of our clean, safe, well managed prison system. Our legislators are wrestling with the Federal Marriage amendment. Its passage would do irreversible harm to the progressive social climate we've tried so hard to implement. And that just wouldn't be fair!

Saturday, November 13, 2004

"No Man is an Island"

John Donne sermonized, "No man is an island. No one is self-sufficient; everyone relies on others." Nowadays, you don't often hear that quote. It flies in the face of modern "reason." Maybe our rugged individualism started with the self-reliant spirit that enabled pioneers to populate North America. And maybe that is a fiction.
A little time-travelin' music, maestro.
Let's travel back in the collective history of our minds; how's that for a touchy-feely, new-age term, "collective history," cool, huh? Anyway, imagine yourself as a pioneer, camping for the night. Stand next to your covered wagon, after you've unhitched and grazed your mules, of course. Take a look around, and what do you see? Wagons are parked in a circle, portable walls for the portable community. But you're not interested in others' wagons. You watch the folks, hurrying around near their own wagons, forming hunting parties, preparing meals, repairing their wagons and tack, and trying to rein in their playing children. Do you see isolated people, rugged individuals refusing help? Not likely! The fabled, pioneer spirit of Hollywood westerns and pulp novels didn't exist among the American pioneers who struggled each day for survival. And the real cowboys didn't ride out alone with six-shooters slung low on their hips, but loaded their horses with the tools of their trade and rode in teams. The people of the old west were skilled at plying their trades, but depended upon each other for survival.
We, the neurotics!
No wonder "we the people" are collectively so screwed up! Our collective, revisionist history, or pop-culture base, is pure fiction. We need help, but won't admit it. Why? Because we are a culture of perfect people--or should be, according to the Tube and trendy magazines. Eventually, our--your--personal demons will claw their way through your superficial shell of respectability. Eventually, personal issues will arise that bravado won't cover and psychobabble slogans won't assuage. The imagined, self-sufficient you will become the isolated, vulnerable you, and if you can afford it, you will secretly join the quest of millions to find "professional help." So, what do you look for in "professional help" when you've reached the end of yourself? The best therapists don't tell you what to do about a problem; advice--isolated and without probing--is worth little, no matter the price. Like smoke, it fogs your vision and burns the eyes of your soul. The best therapists help cut you open, revealing inner issues that need attention. The best therapists can help you heal. But, what if you can't afford "professional help," or have already spent a fortune on it, and found no relief? There seems no option but to suffer your demons' pitiless onslaught, acting out where you can, or retreating inside to a fetal position, figuratively sucking your thumb.
Therapy you can't afford to pass up.
The best therapist of all, the chief soul-surgeon, is God's Word, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Heb 4:12 NASB) God's word will cut you open to expose your carefully hidden "issues," the source of your infection, and help you excise the malignant pustule; that is the only cure. If you need more help, spiritual, God-honoring counselors with the pastor's gift will ably assist in the surgery. Such therapy requires--shudder--yielding yourself to God's healing, allowing him to place your self-sufficient pride on Christ's rough, wooden cross, and enduring the agony of its reluctant death. But for writers--those who must write to go on living, who write whether or not they make a cent on it--God has another able assistant. Since he knew we would be the most vulnerable of patients, the least likely to survive his surgery, he blessed us with a passion for self-expression and gave us the process of writing fiction and poetry. The blood produced by our surgery flows onto blank pages as words forming thoughts, thoughts forming ideas, ideas that form healing stories. We are the fortunate ones. God doesn't strap us to an operating table to passively endure the surgery. Rather, he straps us to a tablet, typewriter, or keyboard, and frees our minds and fingers while he cuts deeply but theraputically. So, why do we strive to sell the products of our soul-surgery to a critical and profane public? Is it because of some hidden, masochistic bend within? Perhaps. But if they're sucker enough to buy our stuff it sure helps to pay the bills. And maybe, just maybe, our process of healing will point the way for someone else.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The "Literary Fiction" Question

I think Tricia Goyer, along with Melody Carlson, have hit upon the distinction between literary and genre writing; a distinction I've been chasing for months. To quote Tricia's Writing Quote of the Day: November 12, 2004 "This is the oldest rule, but still true today write what you know. But don’t limit that to what you know in your head. Write about what you know in your heart things you’ve lived and felt and experienced. Sometimes it’s our biggest life challenges that produce our best writing. And, if nothing else, it’s cheap therapy. But, honestly, I believe God can use our toughest trials to communicate from the deep places of our souls to others." –Melody Carlson To read the complete article on Melody’s writing tips, go to: http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/cms_content?page=815162%20&sp=72136 Tricia’s Thoughts: Write what you know . . . in your heart. I like that. Dig into those dark places. Those bright spots too. Remember your emotions and feelings when going through specific situations--the ones that really stand out in your mind, then transfer those feelings onto the page. No two of us will deal with the same circumstances in life. Yet we all understand pain, joy, fear, hope. And it’s at these levels that we connect, and our writing will transform from mere words on the page to experiences that touch hearts. Happy Writing! Tricia Goyer www.thegoyers.com The label, "Literary Fiction," might be a misnomer. From what I've read on "literary" web pages, the term seems to imply the more classic approach to fiction where one might find chapters of pre-history, pages of narration and multiplied paragraphs of detailed description; where plot and associated action supports the characters, rather than the other way around. I dream of writing about people changed by circumstances. For that to happen, the character must be little more than a player, overtaken by a crisis that threatens her personal, status quo. The key there is "personal." I suspect most of us don't even know what that is UNTIL it is threatened. As Tricia said, "Dig into those dark places. Those bright spots too." Though she referred to the author's personal dark and bright places, fictional characters must also possess them. The only way to produce authentic, honest characterizations is to follow Tricia's advice of mining both the coal and the gold from the raw ore deep within. Faith in Fiction, David Long's blog, pursued the issue of stakes vs. theme vs. agenda vs. conflict a few weeks ago. Try this on for size: From that discussion I postulated that for a story to happen, a threat to the characters' needs must arise. The story's theme reflects the nature of those threats, and the world view from which the characters work to deal with them. Those are the story's corporate stakes, and genre fiction deals at least with them. Those stakes produce the characters' agendas, which fuel the action that resolves the conflict. The distinction in literary fiction is when the main characters undergo threats--either internal or external--to their personal, often unconscious, needs. Their individual world views guide their reactions to the threats and weave the story's tapestry of themes. The interaction between those themes and the story's stakes produce the various characters' agendas--usually reflecting the author's ideological agenda. Conflicts appear likely to thwart those agendas--either between characters, or a conflict arising from an external threat and the characters' corporate agendas. The last element is Resolution. Whether the various agendas succeed or fail, the author must resolve the conflict in the end. It's as simple as that. (Yeah, right)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Who says I'm normal?!

Pop culture views superficial imperfections as glaring faults, and markets catalogs full of remedies to correct them. That attitude fuels our dependence on psychoanalysis and psychoactive drugs that level our extremes, mollify our temperaments and weaken our wills. It substitutes "normality" for "character." Is that why much of today's fiction is so weak. Our heroes are largely ideal people with a few carefully inserted quirks to make them seem real. And our villains are evil personified with the occasional redeeming trait ... also to make them seem real. The operative term on both sides is, "seem." I dream of creating imperfect characters whose values and beliefs turn them into either heroes or villains. In other words, what single change in Hitler's character would have made him a savior instead of a savage? Wouldn't THAT make an interesting study?! Okay, confession time: I use Prozac. If that makes me a hypocrite, fine! Count that as a personality glitch that makes me real. If I didn't use it, I'd spend my days curled up in bed, sucking my thumb(slight exaggeration for effect). That fact forces an internal conflict: As a Christian, I believe God's personal promises, the bottom line of which is, for me, "God's doesn't make junk." Yet, when I don't take my meds, I'm virtually dysfunctional. I had to suffer a heart attack to prove that. My rationale to resolve the conflict? God allowed me to suffer disabling issues, then gave me the means to overcome them, so I could possess the rare gift of empathy. The pills I have to take continually remind me of my weakness, preventing my latent pride from rising up like a cobra from a basket For that, I praise him! Pride is one cobra that will, eventually, bite. Jim Thompson -- Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1Pe 1:3)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Thoughts about creative writing

Creative writing is as much craft as art, and as much art as craft. The art consists of imagination and self knowledge. Most writers already have an overactive imagination. Many, to the point that their imaginative writings are about as coherent as a monkey would be, playing with a keyboard. Self knowledge is harder to come by. Without it, we have no framework on which to hang our imagination. It's like a Christmas tree. The tree itself, sitting in the middle of the living room without decorations, is beautiful but plain; not very exciting. The decorations without the tree are flashy, but lying in a box or on the floor, they are entirely without purpose. Combine the two and you have a thing of beauty. The tree, like self knowledge, provides structure and symmetry for the sparkle and flash of imagination. The craft of writing is another thing entirely. Journalists by the tens of thousands around the world do a credible job of reporting using the five "Ws": Who, What, When, Where, and Why. But without a murder or a kidnaping to report, it's all academic. The same goes for technical writers. Give them some information to convey, and they can do a great job of writing. But what do all those words tell us about the person writing them? Simply combining imagination and self knowledge does not guarantee excellent, or marketable, creative writing. The truly great creative writer has to be a world-class liar. She has to be able to spin a convincing whopper with no internal contradictions. That means making a fantastic yarn plausible. That means making it taste the same throughout all its layers, like an onion. And yes, well-written fiction has layers. Imagine a pool of water, smooth as glass. Drop in a pebble, and you have concentric ripples centered on where the pebble went in. Now, throw in two pebbles. The concentric ripples from each pebble will intersect those from the other pebble, forming a complex pattern. Now, throw in three, then four, then six pebbles. The pattern of those intersecting ripples will reach a complexity almost beyond imagination. Each of those pebbles is a character or a plot element. If you had to keep track of each intersection of each ripple of each character and plot element, you'd go bonkers trying and still not catch them all. And even if you could, you'd loose your readers in short order. This is where the art and the craft of creative writing tie together. The story's overall impression, not capturing the intricacy of minute detail, is where its beauty lies. The story needs enough detail to seem real, and that detail must be consistent enough to seem authentic, but the key to its success lies in furnishing enough, but not too much. To achieve that end, one must step back from the work long enough to gain a fresh perspective. Then, read it anew with openness to change. It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules. After he has learned, by their guidance, to write plain English adequate for everyday uses, let him look, for the secrets of style, to the study of the masters of literature. From the Introduction to William Strunk’s The Elements of Style. Remember, your imagination is your servant, not the other way around. Crack the whips of structure and style, to make your imagination express its dark stories in beautiful prose. That doesn't happen automatically.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Judgment of Saint George

The Judgment of Saint George
Confession time: I am conservative. By some definitions, I may even be a conservative. And yes, I proudly confess to voting for President Bush.
Without knowing him personally, my impression is that he is a decent, plain spoken--but passionate--man with above average--but not exceptional--intelligence, and about as honest as we're likely to find in national politics.
Does that qualify him for the Oval Office? Apparently so.
Does that qualify him for Canonization? On listening to several conservative commentators, especially those of the Evangelical Christian establishment, apparently so. And therein lies my concern.
Evangelical Christians formed one of the most cohesive voting blocks for President Bush. But we can be a fickle bunch. For example: remember when Amy Grant went through her divorce? One minute she was the apple of our collective eye. The next minute, we dropped her like an apple eaten by worms. So easily, we forget how vulnerable we--that's each and every one of us--are to stumbling morally. But while conveniently suffering temporary amnesia, we castigate our brethren who seem to have stumbled.
Saint George, Beware!
When President Bush's halo slips and he compromises one of our sanctified cows, how will we Evangelical Christians react? Based on our history, I have no question that reaction will be a knee-jerk condemnation.
Rather than prove to our critics once again how narrow and judgmental we can be, why not learn from the example of the Author and Finisher of our faith. When Yeshua stood before a mock trial, his close friend, Simon-Peter, denied him three times, yet our Savior forgave him at the first opportunity. When the Roman soldiers flayed, and beat him beyond recognition, rammed nails through his wrists and ankles, then jeered when they hoisted his naked body up for display, what were Yeshua's words? "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Little Christs?
We claim to be little Christs, believing and following his teachings, and accepting his blood-sacrifice for our sins, yet we cop the plea of human frailty when we stubbornly refuse to follow his example of forgiveness. How can we wonder why so many refuse to accept our Savior, while laughing at our foolishness? How can we expect to escape judgment for the millions of souls our arrogant, worldly attitudes have alienated?
It's time, dear brethren, to examine ourselves. It's time to bow low to the ground and beg the forgiveness of those we have unrighteously judged. Before telling others to repent, it's time we ourselves repented.

Friday, November 05, 2004

On What Should We Stand?

The following is my entry to the Power of Purpose contest that concluded in August, 2004:
On What Should We Stand?
My name could draw blank stares. My occupation could dazzle no one. My purpose could change the world. Did someone say, “What’s all this hifalutin talk about purpose? It’s all I can do to keep food on the table and shoes on the kids’ feet.” So, there you have it: Survival, personally and for one’s family, drives all of us. Or does it? Science--that is, evolutionary theoreticians--tells us we’re nothing more than highly-evolved animals perched atop the evolutionary ladder. If we are, in fact, over-achieving animals, our driving force should be that of all other animals, albeit highly-evolved: the species, family and individual survival instinct. Such a conclusion leaves an unsettling question: When forced to decide between denying our beliefs or facing torture and death for ourselves and our families, why do we lofty, evolutionary ladder-perching animals, ever choose suffering over security? Doesn’t our tendency to value fidelity over survival seem to deny the presumed, highly-evolved survival instinct? That it does, unless said survival instinct views ideological compromise a greater threat than extinction. But if that were the case, wouldn’t the survival instinct contradict its own definition? Don’t take this too hard, scientists, but you’ve leaned your evolutionary ladder on the thin air of invalid assumptions, with its bottom-half stuck in muddy, Popular Scientific rationale. Part of the blame for that tenuous reasoning falls on two ideas that we generally misunderstand: instinct and purpose. Rather than being near-synonyms, they are outright contradictions. One of the many inferred meanings of purpose is: “A characteristically human motivation that counters instinct.” Whether for good, or for ill, a conscious sense of purpose separates us from the rest of creation.
A Marriage of Convenience
Society has witnessed the unlikely wedding of its academic establishment and its mass-communications industry. The happy couple is currently populating our schools and TV sets with their offspring: Biased Academic Entertainment, Amusing Editorialized Journalism, and Socially Irresponsible Programming. All three precocious children favor their parents’ aversion towards value-judgments. We’ve all heard well-meaning teachers, psychologists, and every other -ologist imaginable, say, “You shouldn’t say should or shouldn’t,” or some other antinomian tripe. An alarming number of our youth’s teachers and counselors refuse to validate any moral standard for fear of appearing moralistic, or worse yet, religious(perish the thought). Their hype calls it, “Values-Neutral Education,” saying it allows children to discover their own, personal values. If they are right--though by their stated beliefs they can be neither right nor wrong--there would be no difference between Mother Teresa’s purpose, and that of terrorists. They’re both purpose-driven. They’re both extreme in their religious or ideological adherence. And they’ve both changed the world in that pursuit. Yes, that claim is ridiculous, but unimpeded by a moral code, that kernel of reasoning grows inexorably to extremes. So we face a quandary: If humanity is indeed purpose-driven, what standard should govern that purpose? As painful as it must seem to you, O amoral academia, this calls, not for societal values-neutrality, but for personal values-judgment. History has validated, despite wars and genocide: Humanity’s highest aspiration is betterment, while that of the animal kingdom is survival. As lofty as that sounds, everyone seems to have different, often conflicting, standards of what constitutes a better condition. While reflecting on that ambiguity, a discerning sage once said, “HELP SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING ” Doing something requires taking a stand, but on what should we stand? All the great religions, ideologies and institutions bear certain similarities, one of which is the preemptive value of human life, and its corollary, quality of life. But these values are not as simple, or obvious, as they might seem. Intellectuals have written volumes to cover their exigencies and ramifications; dry, academic tomes of interest only to other sympathetic intellectuals, the authors’ colleagues, and their mothers. In all the millions of words written to “encapsulate” these values, is there no universal moral filter that all reasonable people might accept? Is there not some kind of “Golden Rule” through which humanity might qualify its manifold contradictory aspirations?
As a matter of fact, there is
While all the world’s great religions teach a version of this “Golden Rule,” Christians harken to Jesus’ words in Luke 6:31 of their New Testament. The New American Standard Bible* translates it: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” What a simple code What a seemingly impossible ideal for the human family to attain But, why not have our governments pass laws dictating the Golden Rule? That’s a great idea, and there’s only one slight wrinkle we’d have to iron out: Passing such laws may give the legislators purposeful feelings and job security, but if the Golden Rule is not written on individual hearts, history has shown legislation will never put it there. “Turn to Religion, O man, and thou shalt find the Bounty of Goodness.” Okay, it’s not a quote from scripture, but it sounds nice, doesn’t it? Religionists have pounded their pulpits with some version of that message since a certain couple failed to walk away from a certain serpent. Yet, religion’s history reveals anything but applying the Golden Rule to its purposes. “Give me one generation of youth, and I will transform the entire world.” Comrade Lenin’s higher purpose has already peaked, but where is the transformation? “Education holds the key to change Give our schools enough money to fulfill their purpose, and the ghettos will turn to gardens; violence will vanish.” In this Values-Neutral academic environment, does school write anything but facts on our kids’ minds? “We have but to push the boundaries of our scientific knowledge ever further, until we know all there is. Then we shall be as gods.” Haven’t you noticed, O serpent, that science’s noble purpose has produced myriad ingenious death-machines, along with sundry other, helpful inventions? “The Truth is out there.” Great sound-bite for an FBI agent regardless what letter he assigns to his files, but since religion, politics, education and science have all failed to implement the Golden Rule, how can humanity survive its apparent purpose of extinction? All of these purposeful institutions and endeavors are products of our highly-evolved, innately destructive human nature. The only purpose contrary to that, is the only purpose outside human nature: That of our non-religious, non-political, non-educational, non-scientific, cognitive, infinite, loving, redemptive and personal Creator. He is the Jews’ Messiah, the Gentiles’ Christ, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, before whom every knee shall one day bow in worship. He is the Solid Rock on which we must stand to reach any purpose worthy of His unique creation. * Scripture quotation taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Re: F*i*F post for 11/03

Dave voiced concern that Faith in Fiction might become nothing more than an echo chamber where like-minded writers can find affirmation. Here's another analogy for in-bred exchanges: When you step between two mirrors, you see yourself reflected over and over again in an apparently infinite corridor. Cool illusion, but what does it do but give you, the viewer, a false sense of depth. Modify that illustration to a ruby cylinder with perfectly parallel ends coated to slightly different degrees of reflection. Introduce light into that cylinder and it bounces between the two ends until it escapes through one end as a coherent beam of light--a lazer beam. Depending upon the beam's characteristics, it can destroy or heal. What one commentator considers an echo-chamber, another might see as a lazer. Personally, I see F*i*F as a ruby cylinder with light bouncing madly between reflective ends. Will the resulting projection illuminate, or burn? Jim

Self-Destruct Mode

In today's F*i*F posting, Dave effectively pointed out the fact that Christian writers lack credibility in the literary world partly because we write from an obvious agenda. That's called following the Great Commission using the gift we possess. How we use it is another story. Missions aren't unique to Christian writers. Everyone, that is, every single writer worthy of publishing holds a worldview based on their beliefs--even if their belief is in the nonexistence of something or someone. Secularistic authors propagate their beliefs through their writing as consistantly as do Christians, though most are loath to admit it. So, what's the diff? The issue of Christian writers being trivialized springs from the secularistic worldview that pervades our society--tragically, even the evangelical minority! We call CBA works "predictable" because the Christian worldview is narrower than the secular worldview. We look to Christ, whereas they chase phantom saviors. We've come to expect better quality, more entertaining stuff from the world because they don't have to try as hard to vary their message. By nature, their message is as varied as their gods, and by their standard, "variety is the spice of life." Christians know that is a lie! We are the salt of the earth, the true spice of life. When we convey our redemptive message as mediocre pablum, in a significant way, we have blasphemed our God. Yet, to be included in the tent of "Christian" publishers, that's what we have to do. It's as if the CBA industry itself believes the lie that people of faith can't handle the toughest social problems, even though the object of their faith offers the only viable solution.

Sunday, October 31, 2004


At first I thought they were cleverly disguised gospel tracts, leaning against the wall on the check stand counter. Christians occasionally leave them around the store, hoping to entice someone to pick them up and read them. But when I picked them up and flipped them over, I discovered there was no gospel message on their opposite side. They were real, crisp, fifty-dollar bills.
Oh, how those new-style notes, with their red and blue imprints, enticed me. Before I could think of anything else, I jerked my gaze upward, to Lisa, the team leader who was closing another register. She hadn’t noticed what I had found, but that made no difference to my reaction.
“Lisa ... I don’t think these are supposed to be here,” I said with involuntary alarm in my voice. Before she could reply, I held them straight out in front of myself and did not pass Go, did not collect one hundred dollars, but marched directly over to her. Those fifty-dollar bills scared me, and I wanted to get them out of my hand as if they were a hot potato.
Why did these two pieces of paper frighten me so? It wasn’t the fact that they were legal tender, completely negotiable to the holder; I handle money all day. Instead, it was the possibility that I might disappoint the one person I love more than all life, the person who turned his back on his divinity to become like me in my temptations and my mortality. I couldn’t bear the thought of possibly bringing reproach on his name, of causing his disgrace, of becoming a stumbling block for anyone who might discover my dishonesty- -regardless how unlikely that might be.
Jesus is indeed my Savior and my Lord. But he is also my Transformer, the Master Craftsman who is rebuilding every part of my being that I am willing to give him. It is not enough to be a sinner saved by grace. I must be a sinner made gracious by his love, his council and his example.

Friday, October 29, 2004


Once a Catholic...
Catholic bashing is not a new sport. Protestants have been doing it since the Renaissance. To some, it seems almost a hobby. Shouldn't they have learned by now that it's useless trying to convert Catholics to Protestantism by attacking their faith? Catholics aren’t stupid. They know their church isn't perfect, because it's made up of imperfect human beings. What they believe, however, is very dear to them. That's why they get their backs up when some pious Protestant tells them they're going to hell because they're Catholics.
Where’s the Love?
Some Protestants seem to viciously hate the Catholic Church, and generalize that hatred to include individual Catholics. I may be wrong, but might that be in direct violation of Jesus' command to love even our enemies? In St. Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5, verses 44&45 Jesus said, But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Since God is love, he can’t be the source their hatred, so that leaves only two other possibilities: Either such hatred festers and oozes from within the individuals, or Satan directly inspires it. And such fundamentalist Protestants say Catholics are controlled by demons. Even if Catholics were the worst of all sinners—which they are not—that would be no excuse for treating them with anything but love. Jesus' words quoted above apply to both Catholics and Protestants. Neither can be children of God without such love.
Why am I an “ex?”
Fact is, Jesus died for Catholics, too. I know. I was one. "So why," you may ask, "are you not still a practicing Catholic?" When I was young, God performed a miracle in my life; He gave me complete confidence in the truth of his word. After awhile I noticed differences between what I had been taught in catechism class, and what the Bible said. When I looked into it, I learned that the church had adopted certain traditions, doctrines, and rules that were not strictly based on the inspired word of God, and had justified it by another tradition; the Holy Sea's infalibility--for the uninitiated, the Holy Sea includes the Pope and the College of Cardinals. That tradition came from the Catholic doctrine of Apostolic Succession, which says Saint Peter was the first Pontiff in a succession that continues unbroken to this day with Pope John Paul II. The doctrine was based on Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 16:18; And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. What most Catholics don’t understand, however, is that the word petros, translated “Peter,” means a small stone, or pebble, while the word petra, translated “rock,” means a bolder. The petra Jesus referred to was the truth Peter spoke two verses earlier: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said that truth was the foundation stone of his church, and Peter, through his acknowledgement, was but a small part of it. Peter's words, as well as the other inspired teachings of the apostles and prophets, are the foundation on which Jesus built his church, with himself as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Disciples, or students, of various teachers abound in the religious world. While the more influential preachers, gurus and rabbis seem to progagate generations of followers, spiritual babies aren't born to human parents, regardless how spiritual they may be. And while a sense of spirituality or spiritual mission may pass directly to successors, each person must come to their Father God individually. John the Baptist stated the idea clearly in Matthew 3:9; And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. What we see in the Vatican is not a spiritual succession, but a religious succession of one of the most powerful institutions in the world.
An easy target.
There’s another popular issue among Catholic bashers. They say Catholics worship statues of the Virgin Mary and the other saints. They get that idea because Catholics kneel before them in prayer. While that observation may be true, praying to saints isn't the same as worshiping them. Catholics venerate the saints because of their good example of holy living, and venerating isn't the same as worshiping . . . at least, not quite. Catholic tradition has a list of Patron Saints to cover nearly every situation. If I were more in touch with my Catholic roots, I could come up with a few examples, but Saint Christopher, the Patron Saint of travelers, will have to do. One thing I can remember, however, is the Catholic junk mail I received that pitched different “ministries” whose sole purpose was to collect money for promoting various Patron Saints. The Bible mentions nothing about God having a limited attention span. In fact, just the opposite is true: He knows every thought in every mind that has ever lived. It is not necessary for certain favored saints to carry our petitions before his throne. He loves us exactly as much as the saints who are already with him in heaven, so he's not bothered in the least when we obey him by praying directly to him through his Son, Jesus. When Jesus told his disciples how to pray in Matthew, chapter six, he said to pray directly to “Our Father.” To believe that God can't or won't hear the prayers of his people, or that he is prejudiced in favor of the patron saints is simply blasphemy. Yes that's a strong statement, but by believing such things of our loving, Heavenly Father, we reduce him to the level of fallen man. If that's not blasphemy, what is it?
Do it again, and again, and again...!
Eventually I began looking at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I understood that it was not a reenactment of the death of Jesus, but an actual reinstatement of his sacrifice. I saw nothing wrong with that until Hebrews, chapter ten, hit me like a lightning bolt! Part of it goes like this: Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest (the Lord Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.(vss. 11 - 14) The author may have not been writing specifically about Catholic Priests, but the parallel is too close to ignore. Jesus came to eliminate the need for periodic sacrifices. By saying that Jesus' sacrifice was not enough by itself, we are saying it was imperfect: Another blasphemy!
The Hunger
As a child I took the Sacraments very seriously. When I qualified for the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist, I realized that my confessions were superficial. No matter how much I confessed my sins, I knew I wasn't clean. I wanted desperately to have Jesus inside me, and Communion seemed the only way available. I believed what I was told about the trans-substantiation of the Communion host into the body and blood of Jesus, so I was painfully aware of my unworthiness to participate in the Eucharist. I felt hopeless; cut off from the Savior I loved, and unable to satisfy his righteousness. I never felt the Peace of Christ so glibly spoken of in the Mass. Perhaps if I had read Galations 3:3, I would have realized the futility of trying to gain salvation through the works of the Church: Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
A Real Workout
The Sacraments are ritual works intended to bestow God's grace. In Ephesians 2:8&9, God puts works into perspective: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. One could argue that God instituted the Sacraments to impart grace to those who participate. They are, however, the sort of works that the Jewish leaders imposed on their own believers when they demanded observation of certain feast days and Sabbaths, and the repetition of various prayers and sacrifices. Some of them were part of the Law of Moses, which was from God. Most if them, however, were traditions imposed by the Talmud and the Elders because God’s demands didn’t seem to be enough. From my current perspective, that sounds a lot like the Catholic Church. While she never actively disputes any portion of Scripture, the Church effectively negates the finality of God’s revelation in Scripture. With each Papal Encyclical and Church Council, the church expands what it considers to be God’s revelation. Second Corinthians 11:4 could apply to the Catholic Church as easily as it does to the Jewish religion: For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. Galations 1:8 repeats the theme in even stronger language: But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! Jesus and his apostles preached a gospel of faith and repentance alone. Holy Mother the Church preaches a gospel of rituals and other works. That sounds like “another gospel” to me! I said that I never felt at peace with God through the sacraments. The rituals and the liturgy were wonderful, and I felt close to God in them, but it never lasted. When I walked out of the church building, I walked back into my sinful life. Since I thought I'd be extremely lucky to make it to heaven at all, I tried to enjoy myself to the max here on Earth.
The Move
I met a strange family when I moved to Montana: To me they were Protestants, but they loved me despite my Catholicism. They didn't preach at me, but simply loved and accepted me as I was. We often discussed spiritual topics late into the night, and I discovered they weren't very different from me, except they were at peace with God. Maybe they were Christians after all. One night I returned home under heavy conviction that I was on the wrong path, and that I needed to go to Jesus personally, rather than depending on the Church as my surrogate savior. I imagined—or envisioned—God's hand reaching down to me. I took it, and began a relationship with God that continues deepening nearly thirty years later. What liberation! I no longer fear an organization who claims to speak for God, because I personally belong to him and know him, and his love for me. Of course I'm not saying there haven't been through rough times. Occasionally I have been enticed by the deceiver into taking an off ramp from the Way of Jesus. Thanks to God's grace and mercy, however, those rocky little trips along my own path have been short, and completely forgiven. In a way I'm still a Catholic, though perhaps I should spell it with a small “c.” According to the definitions of the words, the Holy Catholic Church is not the holy catholic church. Holy means “separated,” or “set aside,” as God is separated from the world's corruption. The Catholic church constantly battles internal corruption, as do all other religious organizations. The word catholic means “universal,” or including all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Church means “assembly” or “association.” By definition then, I am part of God's separated universal association. How's that for a mouthful? Church membership doesn't bind that association together, because it is not a denomination, or any other kind of human organization. We are bound together because we have all been washed of our dreadful sin by the blood of Jesus. We are members, not of an organization, but of Jesus' spiritual body. 1 Corinthians 12:27 states, Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. The only church roll book mentioned in the Bible is the Lamb’s Book of Life. Revelations 12:15 hints about what could ultimately happen to any of us: If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Some hint, eh?
Catholics can be Christians too.
Don’t get me wrong! Unlike the Catholic bashers, I believe Catholics can be Christians too. While Catholics can be Christians in the Church, they can never become Christians through the Church. Catholics, as well as any other sinners, can only have eternal life through the blood of Jesus, not through Church membership, baptism, Extreme Unction, or any other ritual.
How then can we be saved?
God’s plan of salvation can be illustrated by some of the Church sacraments: Confession...1 John 1:9 says it best: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. When we confess our sinfulness to Jesus in prayer, he carries our guilt and takes our punishment to his once for all sacrifice on the cross. There is no need to confess to a priest because: There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men--the testimony given in its proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5&6) Repentance is implied in confession, but how many truly repent as a result of what’s said in the confessional. If they did, there would be no lines outside, and priests would only have to hear confessions by appointment. There is no penance for our sins that Jesus didn’t suffer for us on the cross. Here again, to say we have to do our own penance for our sins is to say that Jesus’ suffering wasn’t enough. Holy Eucharist...When we go to Jesus personally for forgiveness of our sins, and trust only his finished work on the cross for our eternal salvation, his Holy Spirit enters our soul, and fellowships with our own human spirit. After the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus taught of the Bread of Life in John, chapter six: "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I came down from heaven’?” “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: `They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. I included this lengthy passage of Jesus’ words so the reader could see the entire context of one of the main proof verses the Catholic Church uses for their sacrament of Holy Eucharist. By carefully reading the whole passage, however, it’s obvious that Jesus was speaking of a spiritual truth, rather than a literal ritual. The argument of his listeners shows how his figurative language could be, and is, misinterpreted. Note how they ignored most of what he told them, but typical of people of any period, they zoned in only on the part that attracted their attention. Baptism... St. Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter six, demonstrates the lesson of baptism: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. The whole point of baptism is to demonstrate that we died to sin with Jesus, and are now alive to God because of Jesus’ resurrection. Holy Orders... Not only specially ordained priests, but every believer is under holy orders to take the gospel into all the world. That’s our duty, and our privilege. If each Christian lived the gospel of Jesus in our everyday lives, there would be no need for huge organizations to spread the faith. Jesus is not a corpse hanging limply on the cross. He is ALIVE! He is active! And he wants you, personally, to depend on him, personally, for salvation. He loves you and wants to have a vital relationship with you, now and for eternity. That’s why you were created, and it’s the only way you can be truly happy, even in this world. Once your priorities are aligned with God’s, you will be happier and more fulfilled than you ever thought possible.
Just Do It!
If God’s Holy Spirit is speaking to you about your need to personally accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord, this is the time to act on it. If you need a sample prayer to guide you in your conversation with God, try the following. (Hint: Don’t recite it. Pray it from your heart!) My Father God, I am a hopeless sinner! I believe that you allowed Jesus to come to earth and die on the cross for my sins because you love me. Please forgive my sins and save me. Accept my life as I turn it over to you as a living sacrifice, for you to use as you see fit. I am totally yours. Thank you for saving me, and allowing me the privilege of praying to you in the name of Jesus. If you sincerely prayed something like that, you are now his child by faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. John 1:12&13 puts it clearly: Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. If you obeyed God by accepting Jesus, personally, as your savior and Lord, he is now your friend, not your Judge. Jesus said, You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:14) Romans 8:1&2 says you no longer have to worry about condemnation if you are in Jesus. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Are you “in Christ Jesus?” If you really turned your life over to him, you are.
Doubts will come! No matter how determined you are to live for God, you still have a corrupt flesh affecting your moods, your habits, and your attitudes. When you blow it—which you most certainly will from time to time—simply go to God through your friend and older brother Jesus, and confess it with godly sorrow and heartfelt repentance. If you have any idea how much Jesus loves you, your occasional sin will hurt you almost as much as it hurt him. Feel free to tell him of your love, and to praise him freely. There is nothing like it in all the world. Find others who feel as you do, and fellowship with them. That said, here’s another word of caution: No church is perfect, because no Christian is perfect. You will see and hear things that disappoint you. You may even get burned by a new friend. Just remember, they aren’t any more perfect than you. Cut ‘em a little slack, and let God be their judge. Keep your eyes on Jesus and the imperfections of the others won’t bother you. Read God’s word and meditate on it. Pray about it, and everything else in your life. You can’t keep secrets from God anyway, so why not openly communicate all your concerns and thankfulness, your sins and your victories. God loves listening to his children, and they love talking to him.