Each to his own?

June 29, 2015
If I could ask those of you reading this a personal favor… would you mind inviting whoever of your friends that are appropriate, to begin to “follow” this blog? You will need to send them an email instructing them to go to https://ruminations392.wordpress.com/ and hit the “follow” tab in the bottom right corner… THANK YOU!!!!

Last weekend I got to do one of the most amazing, surreal, and meaningful things I have ever done in my life. It might not sound so great to you but “each to his own” right? And to some degree that’s the theme of this rumination… “each to his own” but not in the sense you might think. I drove to Lexington, Kentucky and spent 3 days at a ship’s reunion for my father’s Destroyer Escort from WW 2. I’ll write about this some other time in greater detail. Mostly I want to tell you about an incident that occurred on the trip down to Kentucky.

It’s about a 6 hour drive to Lexington from Elizabeth, PA, all interstate. I hit several violent thunder storms on the way. On one occasion the water was coming down so hard I turned on my flashers, headlights, and slowed down to 45 mph or so. Even then I could feel my car hydroplaning across the top of the pavement. It was dangerous. At one point a car passed me on my left going in excess of 80 mph, I’m guessing. I literally felt like I was standing still! I wondered to myself, “What is that person thinking! Are they not aware of the danger?” Sometimes I guess we speed through the circumstances of life with little concern or cognizance of the potential peril that awaits us down the road.

It was only 2 miles before I had to slow down further because something was afoot and cars were decelerating. I passed my 80+ mph “friend’s” car sitting on its roof in the middle of the road… I don’t know how many times it flipped. There were already too many people lending aid so I didn’t stop. I have no idea if the passengers survived or were injured. I just know they did not assess the danger of their speed, or didn’t care… I don’t know which.

I sense the direction in which our nation is moving is very much like this accident. We are speeding down a dangerous road taking no opportunity to assess the consequences of our decisions. The most recent pronouncement by our Supreme Court to approve gay marriage across the Nation is one more nail in the coffin of Western Civilization, albeit a big nail. Our decline into further immorality, debauchery, selfishness, and blindness will not allow us to avoid “flipping the car onto its roof.” And our rejection of God causes further peril as we no longer have a rudder to enact moral or ethical judgments.

No doubt some will read this and say “Chicken Little is at it again.” Pun aside, I’m good with that moniker. However in this case I think the story ends differently. It’s interesting to note that England was THE leading nation in the world only 100 years ago. They were also the country that exported more missionaries than any other nation, i.e., the focal point of Christianity in the world. With all due respect to my British friends, England is now a footnote. Seriously, who really cares about what England says or thinks any longer? They declined dramatically in their faith and they declined in their direction as a nation. They’re not on the roof yet but…

No one can predict with any certainty what the years ahead hold for us as a nation… no matter what side of this issue on which you find yourself. I am fully aware that what I have written here is simply my opinion. That being said, decline into immorality has not served cultures well over the centuries. Turning from God or gods has done little if anything to strengthen civilizations. I have no idea how far off in the distance our accident will be, but we are driving way too fast down a dangerous road.

So what about this “each to his own” thing? Well, without going into a long diatribe about what that might mean, the truth is we cannot have a functioning society if everyone does whatever they want, right? There have to be “rules, laws, morals, ethics…” that are agreed upon to some extent. We are in serious disagreement!

The Bible uses the phrase “gird up your loins” on numerous occasions. It was intended to warn men in particular to tuck their robes in because something dangerous and life threatening was about to confront them and they didn’t want to be encumbered by clothing hanging about. Well Christian people, gird up your loins. The Faith in our nation is clearly in decline and danger is afoot. “Gird up your loins and click the seat belt.” The car is flipping.

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Symbols

June 26, 2015

Years ago I had Plantars warts on the bottom of my right foot. They literally covered the entire surface. If you don’t know about these sorts of warts, they grow inward not outward and can be painful. I went to the doctor and he gave me a prescription for an acidic liquid that I would “paint” on my foot each day that killed the top layer of skin. Each night the dead skin had to be sanded off. Ellen literally used a power disk sander on the bottom of my foot every night for months! I would lay on the floor with my foot propped up on her lap as she sanded away without trying to go too deep and draw blood. The short of this story is… it didn’t work. I still had them after months and months of “painting and sanding.” I finally went to a different doctor. He said that he would burn the roots of the warts and they would go away. So, using some sort of “hot poker-like” instrument he burned 5 little holes into the bottom of my foot. Within weeks the warts were all gone and have never returned. The moral of the story? Dealing with symptoms doesn’t make the illness go away. One has to kill the root. Keep that in mind as you read on.

If you have been paying attention at all you are familiar with the controversy over the display of the Confederate Flag that is taking place across our land. The last time I looked several states had taken it down from their government offices and it’s no longer sold in some large retail stores. Allow me to jump into the fray for a moment.

First and foremost, we need to – MUST – combat racism in our country in every way we can. There is no way we can claim to be a civilized people as long as we separate ourselves based on our skin color or our heritage… Period! I know there are cultural issues and divides. I know there are things done by others that frighten and appall some of us. I know that values are not shared across the board. I know that there are too many young black men in prison. I know that there are way too many illegal immigrants. I know that economic divides exacerbate our issues. All of these things and many more cause untold problems, but they are not a reason to hate other people. Period! Especially, I might add, if you claim to be a Christian. Period!

Now, about the flag situation. Some have claimed that the origins of the Confederate Flag are not founded in racism. It was and is representative of the desire for an “independent Southern State.” That may be true. And it may continue to be true for some or even many. But here’s the crux of the problem. Symbols evolve. What they may have meant a hundred years ago may not be what they mean now. Can anyone with any sense really claim that there are not groups and individuals who rally around this flag for the cause of racism? Seriously? Whether folks like it or not, the symbol has evolved into something divisive and in some circles… evil.

Allow me to mention a couple of other examples. Maybe the most prominent one: The Nazi Swastika. Take some time to do a little research and you’ll find this symbol has its roots in ancient history. And even up until the early part of the 20th Century it was intended to represent “good luck” and “well being” for those who flew it. Would anyone like to see its return? Well, some would, but I think that most right thinking people understand that its meaning has evolved and it no longer is suitable to be flown. Do not misunderstand me. I am not commenting on whether people have a “right” to fly this flag – just whether they should, and what it actually means now.

Other examples from the Christian faith might be the use of Christmas trees or the word “Easter.” Both of these have their roots in pagan traditions, but they don’t mean that anymore. Obviously their meanings have evolved over the years. Those who say, “Well, Christians use pagan symbols” are just silly and naive. Who identifies these things with paganism any longer? Few, if any. It has been many centuries since these “symbols” have been associated with pagan religions. Again, the symbolism has evolved.

I hope you see the association with “plantars warts?” Surely we should no longer encourage racist symbols, but that’s not really the issue is it? Nor will eliminating racist symbols from our buildings and flag poles exterminate hatred for other human beings. The truth is this. We are broken human beings and our hearts are blackened. No government or social movement will alter that. Oh sure, we can make some changes. But they will not last! The wickedness in our humanity will always come to the surface. Dealing with symptoms without dealing with the root is a lesson in futility.

I have no expectation that non-Christians will adopt the Christian value of love. Not that they can’t. I just don’t expect it. But for Believers??? Racism is sinful and needs to be eradicated from our hearts and our souls. Period! We begin in the place we should always begin with these things… REPENTANCE. The “act” of saying, “God, I’m sorry for my sin. Please CHANGE my heart.” If we are not willing to do that in the Name of Jesus Christ then we choose to be in rebellion against God. Good luck with that.

Take some time to consider these verses today and how they apply to your life.

Matthew 22:36-40
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 5:43-48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

“Self Identify”

June 16, 2015

Ellen edits all of my “ruminations” before I send them. On occasion she tells me not to send them or to change some things so as not to offend or miscommunicate. I suspect this will be one of those. But I’m going to stand firm… well… sort of. I’m not good at resisting her.

For some of you this will come across as preaching to the choir. And for others I may very well upset you or make you angry. Oh well.

Allow me to ruminate a bit on the furor surrounding Rachel Dolezal the young woman from Spokane, Washington who, even though she was born of VERY Caucasian parents has chosen to “self-identify” as an African American. This whole story is complicated by the fact that her “lies” about her heritage have allowed her to excel in her position with the NAACP.

Let me say up front that she seems to be a very bright, charming and troubled woman, who has done a nice job on her hair and has spent considerable time in the sun or in a tanning booth. The short version of the story is this. She was “outed” this past week regarding her heritage. She is no more African American than I am. Maybe less so. But her rationale for years of lying and deception is this, “I self-identify as African American.”

Uh…. Huh?

Now I don’t want to put words into her mouth. That being said, it’s tempting, since the words coming out of her mouth make no sense. So what does “self identify” mean? Since the explanation, according to her, is “very complex” (I read that as, “You’re not smart enough to get it,” or “I don’t really have an answer.”), and she never gives the explanation, I guess I have to figure it out for myself. Remember, I’m not so smart so I might get this wrong.

I suspect it means something like this, “I am biologically Caucasian (although she never says that), but since I want to be African American, and since I identify with African American causes, I can call myself African American. Some would say that is called lying about your heritage, but it’s not lying if everyone can legitimately “self identify.” Get it? In other words… words don’t matter anymore. You can say and call yourself whatever you want and if it’s okay with you, then it’s okay.

I remember when I was a kid, I lied to my mother about something I had done. I got caught and the punishment was severe and humiliating. I made one big mistake. I should have told my mother that I “self identified” as someone who would not lie, thus by definition I could not have lied no matter what the facts or realities were. WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?!?! I’m pretty sure my mom would have bought it.

Let’s be very clear here… she is not the first person to get “caught” lying publically. We hear these sorts of things from political types all the time. “It depends on what ‘is, is.’” “I misremembered.” “I did not have ‘sex’ with that woman.” “Blah, blah, blah…” Seriously, I suspect most of us have “bologna buzzers” in our heads that go off when phrases like “self identify” are heard. When the explanation to a very simple question like, “Were you born Caucasian?” is “too complex to answer,” my buzzer sounds.

Is it any wonder that Jesus says this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

I have written about this passage previously but the short of it is this… be honest/don’t lie. If you have to take all sorts of “oaths”, or pledge to “cross your heart and hope to die” to prove your trustworthiness then you likely are not very honorable. If we are known for our “yes being yes and our no being no,” then the need for “swearing” is negligible.

Truthfully? I feel sad for this young woman. Along with her competence in the work place, she somehow picked up the notion that “the end justifies the means.” If you are a Christian, you need to be known for your honesty and forthrightness. Not for your ability to spin words into such a meaningless mess that no one can figure out what you’re talking about.

Sentimentality

June 11, 2015

I’m sentimental. I don’t really know how to quantify that, but I think I am a little more than most. So I have a question: What do we do with sentimental “stuff” that has no practical value any longer. You know, stuff you can’t even put on a shelf and show off. I mean how do we get rid of it? Or should we get rid of it? I don’t think I’m a pack rat or “hoarder” like we see on those weird reality TV shows. But I have my share of junk/sentimental stuff that has accumulated over the years that I just don’t know what to do with. I guess on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being a sterilized somewhat empty house and 10 being… well… one of the aforementioned TV shows, I’m probably a 5 or 6.

For example I was looking for something this morning in a closet and I came across my letter jacket from High School. I’m 60 years old. I doubt I’ll be in need of that jacket any time soon. And truth be told, it hasn’t fit me since… oh I don’t know… 4 months after I graduated. So what do I do with these sorts of things? Seriously! Somehow throwing it in the garbage is just… I don’t know… beyond me, or disrespectful, or something. Giving it to my kids makes no sense. They have their own letter jackets and other paraphernalia with which to deal. What should I do with these things? Frankly… it’s really hard.

Some people seem to have the ability to deal with this “stuff” better than others. I know folks who seemly don’t have a sentimental bone in their bodies. Consequently, there are no “letter jackets” accumulating in their closets. And they have little if any concern for that. Throwing things in the trash is a simple reality for them. I’m not being the least bit critical but I confess I don’t get it. And likely they don’t get me either.

Ellen and I saw a play some time ago entitled something like “Grandmothers”. It was all about the reality of being a grandmother and growing older. One scene depicted the adult daughter working with her mother (the grandmother) to clear out her house. The daughter was rapidly stuffing her mother’s belongings into a garbage bag to be disposed of. The older woman finally screamed, “This is my life you are throwing away!” It was a painful and uncomfortable moment.

So, let me make a difficult transition here. What do we do with “sentimental” things in the church? I don’t mean material things (although that can be an issue). I mean the things that we generally refer to as “traditions.” Ewwww… that is uncomfortable isn’t it?

Allow me to tell one brief revealing story about material things however… when I started at my first church over 30 years ago one of the members of the church came to me the first week and said, “So, what do you need? Do you need anything changed? Anything moved? Whatever you need….” There was a giant Bible on the pulpit that was no longer used since they had updated the versions in the pews. It was lying open and my notes would slide off the sides. So I asked (since it had not been used in years), “Can we move the pulpit bible?” He responded, “No problem. Anything else?” That was all I asked. I will never forget him coming back to me a few days later with his tail between his legs and saying, “Um… I didn’t know that the Bible was a memorial gift and some folks (read that “important folks in the church”) would be upset (read that “would go ballistic”) if it was moved.” I said, “No problem”. Frankly it wasn’t an issue worth making a scene over. Keep in mind however that no one knew any longer who had given the Bible! For 12 years I used round rubber Tupperware mats (used to take the lids off of jars) to keep my notes from sliding off the “sentimental” Scriptures.

But what about “traditions”? They are just as hard to know how to deal with aren’t they? Sometimes we try to make our traditions sound Biblical. That way we are justified in keeping them. “You know, organs are the only Godly instrument that should be used in church! Anything else is blasphemy.” Seriously? Might it be more accurate to say “I grew up with the organ in church and it’s what I’m used to and what makes me feel comfortable”? That is, “It’s my tradition.” I think that better describes the reality. But that doesn’t make it any easier to know how to deal with it, does it? How do we cross generations from people who have a strong tradition with those who could care less about that “sentiment”? Some contemporary churches look and sound entirely different from the “church” in which many of us grew up. Does that make them wrong, or less Godly? Of course not! One day they will have their own “traditions” to deal with.

So how do we deal with this dilemma in the church? Honestly, if I had a good answer I probably wouldn’t have a letter jacket in my closet. But I would suggest this: We need to be honest with ourselves about what is indeed required in scripture vs. what might be our “traditions, or sentiment.” If it’s Biblical then we need to heed it. If not, well… that’s likely a different answer for each church.

That being said, it is still painful to get rid of or adjust our traditions and sentiment. Thus I still have a jacket in my closet.

Let me conclude with one question: Should church and worship be designed for the people we have, i.e., please them by keeping tradition, or for the people we want to have, i.e., be less concerned with tradition? Saying “both” isn’t very possible. What do you think?

Regrets

June 4, 2015

I have heard people say over the years that they have “no regrets” about their lives. REALLY?! I mean “NO REGRETS”?! Nothing they have done that they wish they had done differently? Um… I guess those people are… something… but “honest”? I don’t think so. I understand that someone might say, “I have learned from everything I have experienced and I am who I am because of those things,” but that doesn’t really address the issue of regrets. At least in my mind it doesn’t. The only way to not have regrets from my way of thinking is to make the world about yourself and care little for how your behavior and actions might harm or hurt others. But that’s just me.

Personally, I have tons of them… regrets I mean. Times when I have said things that hurt others. Times when I have gossiped about others. Occasions when I was misunderstood and caused embarrassment or pain for someone. Or times when I was clearly understood and caused embarrassment or pain. Opportunities that I have missed. Things that I put off for too long. Times when I did things as a dad that my kids will remember forever in a less than positive light. Things I have done to hurt Ellen. Occasions when I dishonored God. Times when I have just been plain old SELFISH. Like I said…, there are many regrets.

I try not to dwell on them. I attempt to work through them and not allow them to affect my present. Sometimes I’m better at that than other times.

I recall an occasion a few years ago where I hurt someone. It was unintentional and frankly a simple misunderstanding that should have been easily corrected. I spoke to that person and explained my intention and said, “In any way that I might have offended or hurt you, I ask that you would forgive me.” Honestly those words can be hard to say. This person chose not to forgive. To this day they hold the offense against me. I hurt over that when I think of it and I for sure regret what happened.

There have been times in the church over the years where decisions were made and folks didn’t agree with them or like them, thus I became the “bad pastor” in their eyes. I feel bad about those things. I also know that I am not infallible, so sometimes (not always) decisions are made that I look back on later and wish I could change. Regrets. And I have had many of those people also choose not to forgive me. I do know that their decision to withhold forgiveness actually hurts them and those they claim to love. It has little to do with me.

Yeah, there is surely yucky stuff in my life that I would change if I could go back. Regrets. That’s the bad news. But allow me to share some good news. I worship a God who does forgive me! He does not hold things against me. He doesn’t whip me with guilt. He doesn’t cause me to hang my head in shame. He doesn’t talk about me behind my back in a less than kind way. He doesn’t cause me to go through life in disgrace or with feelings of humiliation… at least not from His perspective. Thankfully I am responsible to Him and Him alone. (Psalm 51: Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.) To those who would withhold forgiveness from another person, you are broken. Come to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness. He will show you how.

We sing a song in church occasionally that’s based on Psalm 3. The song and the Psalm are below.

A Shield About Me

Thou Oh Lord are a shield about me, You’re my glory, You’re the lifter of my head. (repeat)

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, You’re the lifter of my head. (repeat)

Psalm 3
A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.
1 LORD, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.” 3 But you, LORD, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
4 I call out to the LORD,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.
6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.
7 Arise, LORD!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
8 From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.

You see, we worship a Lord who lifts our head high, not one who beats us down. If you are beaten down, overcome by regret, and immersed in guilt…, come and bring your sin before my God… He will love you and lift your head.

From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.