When I say “Uncle”

Many and long are the tales we could spin about an old uncle of mine (a great uncle, actually). His life did have certain elements that excited the imagination and made one cringe, like being from Bowlegs, Oklahoma, for one. Second, he was named for his mother’s former lover, not the current husband who fathered him—like I said….

His first wife was actually the one I was kin to. She was my blood great aunt. She was rough, bordering on mean, a chronic cheat (yes, I mean an adulteress), cursed worse than her husband, and was addicted to gambling and prescription drugs. Her dark, soulless eyes would bore right through you, and her wrinkled lips would curl up while she asked, “Sugar, do you want a piece of pie?” in that heavy smoker’s voice. (I can talk about my aunt that way, but you can’t.) She could make an awesome pecan pie though.

For many years, they worked together in Alaska hauling oil field equipment. He drove the truck, and she drove the pilot vehicle. Both were tough and would have rivaled the cast of any modern day reality show. After a half century of marriage (you can imagine the dish throwing sessions), they called it quits by filing for divorce. Broke, but able to retain the family homestead, old Uncle sank into self pity. My aunt admitted herself to a retirement home and lived out her days in the care of her daughter.

Old Uncle wasn’t beat yet. In the back of his mind, he recalled a sweet young thing who had been his eighth grade sweetheart. Not sure what his motives were, but he called her up. She was recently widowed and rather loaded. She was the antithesis of my old aunt. This sweet woman was a former social worker, Sunday School teacher, and of the inner circle of the lady’s clubs of genteel society. He told her all his woes. In bleeding heart fashion, she glided down from Oklahoma with the intent of rescuing him from his penniless fate, and taking him back to Oklahoma to live out his days in relative ease. Only, she didn’t count on crafty old Uncle. He wooed her, showed her the ranch and prevailed upon her heart to ditch suburban life and become a ranch wife (or rather benefactor who would save the ranch, with the grand title of “wife” besides).

After the divorce from my aunt and subsequent remarriage to his Oklahoma sweetheart, it never occurred to me not to retain him as Uncle. After all, I had known him my whole life, and it never dawned on me that we weren’t really kin. So, we happily partook in his remarriage plans. At the celebration, he demanded that his mules, Mabel and Sam, be saddled. He and his bride were going to ride across the pasture. Mabel was an ornery old mare, and Sam was a gentle gelding. At ages seventy-eight and eighty, the newlyweds mounted their steeds.

Mabel was outraged. She stampeded with the new bride astride her bony back, while Sam just stood in bewilderment and refused to go anywhere. Assuredly, he was wondering why he had been re-enlisted after six years of retirement. The new bride suffered a broken hip and a rather battered face. They spent their honeymoon in the hospital. Her grown children looked at us with accusatory faces, as if we could have stopped Uncle from his determined attempt to relive his glory days and to demonstrate his former rodeo skills.

Undeterred, the plucky new bride (after months of recovery) found a solution to the deflated pride of her groom who still wanted to be able to ride in style once again. Instead of riding mules, they would buy a draft horse and wagon. Together, they would ride over the 500 acre ranch, checking on the cattle, goats, geese, ducks, and llamas. Yes, they did.

It worked for a while, then the newness wore off, and they didn’t use the horse for months at a time. After about six months of being left alone in a pasture, the draft horse was roped and hooked up to the wagon. At first, he responded, but then, he seemed to have had enough of the nonsense. He shook his head and seemed to have a bright idea: if he refused to acknowledge the tug on the reigns, what exactly were they going to do about it? He picked up more and more speed. As the giant horse hurtled toward the open gate, all seemed lost. Uncle and bride were holding on for dear life when they were suddenly arrested by a friendly neighbor who had witnessed the debacle. Not long after that, the draft horse and the wagon went up for sale.

The influx of income from Oklahoma got the ranch rolling once again. Soon, Uncle was back in good form. And, in truth, they were very happy, and everyone could see it (he hadn’t just married her for her money). We welcomed them with open arms. They often visited our home and decided that they would start attending the small community church where we were members. Their time in our community rendered to many members their own tales of Uncle. He is rather notorious in these parts.

One day he called us and said that he needed to move his cattle from one pasture to another, but his hired hands were on family emergency leave, and would we come help him? Of course we would. When we arrived, my dad was also there. We hadn’t known he was coming. We were slightly confused because he was in a cast and on crutches. How was he going to help move cattle? “He can drive the truck,” Uncle said. He gave some rather blanket and generic instructions, then we all headed to the vehicles. I espied the tires on his cattle trailer and said, “These won’t hold up. How long since this thing has been moved?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” I was told. “It’ll hold up. That trailer has been around longer than you have.” That’s what I was worried about. It hadn’t been moved in years, and I suspected that the tires had sun rot.

On the way to the pasture where the cattle were, we blew out two tires on the trailer. Uncle said, “Don’t worry. There are six tires. We still have four. We’re good.”

“Where are these cattle?” I asked when I began to realize that we were leaving Uncle’s property and were headed across into a neighbor’s pasture.

“They are over here. I was helping my neighbor with his grazing. He had too much grass.” I swallowed hard. I just hoped that this neighbor was out of town. “And, these ARE your cattle?” I asked, afraid of the answer. I got the look that said, “I should slap you, but I won’t.”

“Of course, they are my cattle, but they are in the neighbor’s pasture.” The story finally came out. Uncle had been “helping” his neighbor graze down the pasture while the neighbor had been gone for nearly a year, blissfully unaware; and, now that the neighbor was returning (he had courteously informed Uncle of his return), it was time to move the cattle.

What ensued was a momentous occasion permanently imprinted in my brain. Uncle dropped off dad by an open gate and told him not to allow the cattle to go through that gate. I hesitated and said, “I thought dad was driving the truck?”

“Naw. I’ll drive. He is better used here.” Dad hobbles to the gate and stands guard. I began to wonder about the second gate that stood open, about fifty yards from the first gate.

“What about that gate?” I asked.

“The cattle know not to go through that gate. They never go through that gate. It’ll be alright. I’ll park the trailer here. You go on up the hill and drive the cattle down here. They’ll load right up.” I had my doubts. How long since he had worked these cattle? Did they even remember what a human being looked like?

I begin my trek on foot up the hill some half mile away. The cattle see me coming and don’t like it. I make it around and behind the cattle and begin my drive, slowly raising my arms and bellowing at the cattle, but not too wildly, so they don’t spook, but just so they are motivated to get up and move down the hill. I think all is going well and continue my walk. I crest the hill and look down toward the trailer. Uncle is waving his arms wildly and screaming at dad, “The other gate! The other gate! Don’t let them go through that other gate!” Dad responds by grabbing his crutches and hobbling as fast as he can over cacti and rocks to close the gap between him and the other gate. Too late. In their haste, the cattle didn’t remember that they weren’t supposed to go through that gate. Four hours later, they were finally loaded onto the trailer and deposited back on Uncle’s property.

By this time, I was so thirsty, I thought I could drink anything. After seeing his water jug, that he so generously offered me, my thirst was quenched without even taking a drop. The tobacco juice all over the spout quenched my thirst better than a cold Gatorade.

The trip back home was agonizingly slow, like 10 mph, because we only had four tires and two rims by now. But, the good news was that dad was no worse for the wear, although, one of his crutches did fall prey to the stampeding hooves of an angry heifer.

It was about ninety-eight degrees outside by that time and we were exhausted and not in very good humor. The lunch hour had long ago come and gone; nonetheless, Uncle invites us in for a very late lunch. Laying out on the bar are hotdogs, mayonnaise and various other lunch items. I look at them in dismay. They were the same items I had seen laying out on the bar early that morning, and I began to suspect that they had been there yesterday, too. Uncle grabs one (without washing his hands) and asks if I am hungry. “Not very,” I manage. I realized that today I was going to fast.

It wasn’t long after this, that one day while at church, Uncle grabs me by the neck and pulls me down so he can whisper in my ear (very loudly, which everyone heard), “I think someone is trying to poison me.” My eyebrows shot up. I pulled away and looked at him questioningly. “I keep getting sick. I think someone is doing something to my food.” I decided it was time to go to Uncle’s house and clean out his refrigerator. After that, there were no more episodes of someone trying to kill him.

One day, his wife called and said that their dog, Jody, a very large Pyrenees sheepherding dog, had puppies in the garage. I smiled and said, “That’s great.” She said yes, it was wonderful, and could I help her find homes for them all. I said I would be happy to. The next weekend, I drove out their way to see the puppies and to do some odds and ends for them around the place. I saw the puppies and was slightly perplexed. I had presumed that the father would also have been a Pyrenees, or something of similar breed/stature. The puppies were quite small and spotted. I asked, “What kind of dog was Jody bred to?”

“Oh, she wasn’t supposed to do that,” I was told. “It was the neighbor’s bird dog/rat terrier cross.” Oh boy, I thought. How was I going to advertise homes for that? I thought of a good line: “Wanted–good homes for sheepherding bird dogs that chase rats.”

Jody was their outside dog. They had five little inside dogs (poodles and Pomeranians). Jody stayed on the place (unless visiting the neighbor), but the little dogs went everywhere that Uncle went—including church and, of course, our house. These little dogs were my nemeses. I hated them. One day while at church, Uncle left the truck running so the dogs could have air conditioning. During the Invitation, we suddenly heard a yowling and gurgling of intense proportions. Some of us rushed outside to see what murder was taking place. One of the little dogs had mashed the window button and rolled himself up and was choking. Unfortunately, he survived. Uncle was so relieved that his favorite poodle hadn’t killed itself, that he swaggered back into the church and sat down in what he thought was his seat…right on top of my brand new cowboy hat. Squished it flatter than flat. The preacher, bless his longsuffering soul, finally finished that Invitation.

It was pretty typical to have an unannounced visit by Uncle about once a week. The little dogs always accompanied these occasions. They would rush out of the truck and toward the house. If we happened to be enjoying the weather and had the doors open, they would not wait for us to open the screen doors. They would simply create little doggy doors. Once inside, they would initiate new turf, including table legs, the corners of the bar, etc. We would chase after them with a spray bottle of Lysol and a rag. We fixed the screen doors many times. One day, we had simply had enough, and we asked Uncle not to allow his little dogs out of the truck when they came to visit. This suggestion hurt his feelings so badly, that he didn’t come see us for months.

On their fourth anniversary of wedded bliss, he called us. They were coming back from Oklahoma where they had been to celebrate, and they wanted to stop in. We said, “Of course.” We had supper waiting and prepared for a visit. When they arrived, they were pulling a small trailer loaded with containers of food—most of which had lost their lids, somewhere between here and Oklahoma. Most notably was a large pot of beans and some kind of green jello, pudding. They eagerly unloaded their goods and brought their offerings into the house, proclaiming that they had brought supper. Seeing as the temperatures were hovering in the high nineties, and the food had been unrefrigerated and uncovered for who knows how long, we were very sincere in asking of the Lord’s blessing over the food as they ladled large portions onto our plates. We graciously declined the more risky dishes, such as the cole slaw, potato salad, deviled eggs and anything containing chicken.

After supper, Uncle excused himself and went out onto the porch. I had a slight red flag raise in my mind, because Uncle didn’t smoke, but I thought that perhaps he just needed to stretch his legs after his long drive and might be enjoying the evening view. After a few minutes, we heard a heart wrenching, “Awwwkkk!” and then an ominous thud. I had a sinking feeling. Outside, we found Uncle on the ground entangled in a yellow rose bush that had been growing beside the porch. His pants were unzipped, and a body part, bleeding profusely, was protruding from his britches. He had been peeing off the porch onto the yellow rose bush when he lost his balance. He was moaning and thrashing about. We grabbed towels and got the bleeding stopped (he was on blood thinners, so it was no easy task). We got him upright and bandaged up. The death of the rose bush ensued, because he had crushed it. But, this event did inspire me to put up rails on the porch, even though the porch was barely six inches off the ground.

As I mentioned, Uncle was on blood thinners. He had already suffered a few heart attacks. We were cognizant of the fact that at any moment, he could “go”, as we like to say. I had been concerned about his eternal reward for some time. He just seemed to live a bit on the edge, in my opinion. One day, while he was visiting our home, I asked him if he “knew our Lord” and/or was “ready” for when that time would come. He was duly offended and shouted, “Of course, I know the Lord. How do you think it would feel if someone questioned YOUR Christianity!?” I shook my head and said, “Well, I think I’d be honored that they cared enough about me to question it.” He blustered, “Well, I’m not honored, you little #$%^@#.” He dusted off his hat and left in a huff. It was some time before we saw him again after that.

When he came back around and forgave us for our audacity, we began to suspect that he was getting unsafe behind the wheel. His brand new, pristine, double cab F-250 looked like it had been in a demolition derby. We asked him what had happened. He said, “Every time I go to Walmart or the grocery store, somebody hits me. I come out and see more dents.” The fact that at church, nobody parked within thirty yards of him (or even his parking spot, if he wasn’t there yet), was somewhat of an indication of what was going on.

His driving would have to be addressed soon. One day he pulled up to the gate at the ranch. His wife got out to open the gate. The truck rolled forward and hit her, knocking her down. Thankfully, it didn’t run over her. He was so upset about it, that he refused to let her open the gate after that. He insisted on doing it himself. One day, he thought he put the truck in park and got out to open the gate himself. The truck rolled forward and did, actually, run right over him. He was once again rescued by the same neighbor who had stopped the runaway wagon ride. But, to add to his wounded pride at running over himself, Uncle suffered a torn off left ear and tire marks across his chest and shoulder. He survived but was hospitalized in a trauma unit about one hundred miles from where he lived.

Everything was about 100 miles from where he lived on his ranch in rural central Texas. On these occasions of medical emergencies, it was not just a hop and a skip to the nearest hospital. It took planning to accommodate such episodes, so we often offered to take his wife to see him at regular intervals. During this time, we realized that her mental capacities had progressed to the point that she needed supervision, so we did not leave her at the hospital when we took her to visit her husband, but stayed for several days with her in hotel rooms, until she was ready to go home again. It came to the point, however, that we needed to notify her children of her condition. They had careers and children and grandchildren of their own and needed some time to arrange their schedules before they could come and take care of her, so, at one point, our constant care of her extended to a two-week interval. During this time, she would have various mental breakdowns (I think because of the stress of her husband’s condition), and she would become impatient with us for not letting her walk-about at will or for not letting her take her car and go shopping by herself. One day, she called her daughter and said that we had kidnapped her and stolen her car and wouldn’t give it back. We were honored, to say the least, to have been implicated in such an outlaw plot. After that, the daughter arrived and kindly took over her mother’s care until Uncle recovered.

Months after that, Uncle resumed his residence at the ranch. But, those heart attacks did continue. After another heart episode that occurred at church, after we picked him up off the floor (he was a rather large individual), he said, “There is no need to call the ambulance this time. Just take me home.” Prior to this, he had been transported twice from the church to the hospital for heart related issues. We said, “No, we’d better get you to the emergency room.” We transported him by private vehicle. He was well acquainted with the medical personnel by this point and couldn’t resist poking at the nurses and female paramedics.

After a few days, he was declared fit enough to leave the hospital. We, along with several family members, were at the hospital to see him and hopefully drive him home. Against the doctor’s advice, Uncle was intent on driving himself home (the doctor had just finished privately instructing us not to let either Uncle or his wife drive home). Uncle suspected that we were plotting against him driving himself and bellowed that he had driven a truck for fifty years, and he was still good behind the wheel. The doctor just shook his head. Uncle was rolled out in his wheelchair, and several folk gathered around to pat him and speak with him. Someone in the family asked how he was. He answered, “I’m fit as a fiddle! Ha! A little old heart attack isn’t going to do me in! You’ll see. I’m going to live a lot longer than this!” He hiccupped and swallowed, then hiccupped again. Then, his face turned a different shade, and we all realized that we were looking at a dead man. He had died right there, in his chair, telling us how long he was going to live.

 

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The Log and the Splinter

When I see on the news or hear people within my circle lamenting incidents of Islamaphobia, I have to scratch my head. There is a principle that Jesus taught, and it does well to keep society balanced. The principle is, “First remove the log from your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from someone else’s eye.” You can see the humor in the statement. Someone running around with a huge log stuck in their head knit-picking about someone else with a tiny splinter in their face has a problem with denial and reality.

I am aware that many Middle Eastern people are not Muslim. Large populations of Arabic peoples are of varied religions or no religion at all. Some are Christian, of varying sects; some are Hindu, Buddhist, or follow regional and tribal religions; some are secularists, espousing no religion; but most are Muslim of varying degrees. Some Muslims are in name only; others are radical fanatics, and so on. It is the same in Christianity. Some sects are Christian in name only. Some are obviously fanatical, such as the KKK, for example, who espouse some elements of Christianity while in truth practicing a rather warped, garbled, and ungodly doctrine, cloaked, ostensibly, in Christianity.

For the most part, the era of the KKK reigning terror on society is gone. Many good and authentic Christian people helped bring about an end to that era. Simply not participating in the actions of the KKK was not enough. True Christianity demanded that we as a people stand against it and help bring it to an end. The same was true of Hitler’s regime. He claimed to be operating out of some form of Christianity; however, regardless of what he claimed, he obviously did not follow the teachings of Christ. Many true Christian young men died on the battlefields to help bring an end to Hitler’s reign of terror.

Now, the terrorism that we face is the radical elements of Islam. So when episodes of terrorism occur in which certain elements of Islam are on display in all of their murderous, horrendous gory, and certain elements of that culture are lamented as being biased against, I have to swallow pretty hard.

In a culture where deception, lying, and propaganda are used as means of presenting a front to the public in the hopes of gaining converts (the truth of that culture and religion would make people run); in a culture where “honor killings” are permitted and endorsed; in a culture where beheadings, mutilations and terror are condoned, used as weapons of war, and are often considered as ‘bonus packages’ in recruiting warriors; in a culture where  unnamed horrors are inflicted upon captives, enemies, and non-combatants, ummm….let’s see….where terror and mayhem get you into “heaven”, hhmmm…Can someone steeped in this culture have a legitimate gripe? I don’t think so. Their complaining of not being liked and accepted is tantamount to someone who kidnaps and dismembers children and then complains about the neighbor who spanks his/her child.

That’s not so say that we as a country do not have areas that need improvement. We certainly do have a few splinters in our face; but Islamaphobia is not one of them.

This brings me to the word “religion”. What is religion? It is a construct made by human minds that has taken bits and pieces of the Truth (the Great I AM, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and the One True God) and built an ideology that appeases the particular culture where that construct has been built. In other words, the Great God Jehovah, who came in the Person of Jesus Christ, is beyond human ability to understand. However, He has revealed Himself to us in various ways, including through His Holy Spirit, the Bible, and through the lives, writings, and words of those who are faithful to Him (the word of their testimony).

Because He is so big, and beyond human comprehension, humans often create what we think we know of Him and construct a framework that says, “Okay, this is the God we serve. He wants us to do this and this, etc. and to act in certain ways.” This framework is what we call religion, and those who agree with that framework follow the same religion. Unfortunately, throughout history, religious zeal and fanaticism has often forced a particular framework of religion (ideology) onto others, using the sword, shame, imprisonment, ostracization, etc. In effect, in trying to please God by following what they think they know of Him, zealots and fanatics go around terrorizing those who don’t follow Him correctly, in their opinion, and end up doing the opposite of what He is…killing, maiming, terrorizing in His name…to force people to follow a benevolent and merciful God…hmmm. I see a problem with this.

Any religion that through “honor killings”, “blood atonement”, or any such practice that purges their society of people who challenge the tenants of that religion cannot be a religion based upon the One True God. An honor killing is the legal or condoned murder of a woman in Islam because the woman shamed or dishonored the family or a member of the family by violating a precept of the family’s religious practices. Honor killings are usually carried out by the woman’s husband, father, brothers, sons, and other male relatives. Honor killings are typically justified because the woman has refused to enter an arranged marriage, she has been accused of being in a relationship that is not condoned or approved of by the family, she is accused of having sex outside of marriage, she has been a victim of rape, she has been accused of dressing inappropriately, or she has renounced her family’s faith (i.e. become a Christian, etc.). Some victims of honor killings are male, but this is a rare occurrence. In most cases, a male who has violated a precept of the religious community is ostracized or perhaps imprisoned, or his wife and children are taken from him and given to someone else who is a faithful follower of the religion.

In early Mormonism, “blood atonement” was a similar practice. It teaches that the blood of Jesus is not enough to remove someone’s guilt, and so that person who has violated a precept of the religious law must be killed, and his/her blood shed in a manner similar to a lamb being slaughtered. Most of the time, these killings were done in a “sacrificial” manner, such as the person being held down, and his/her throat slit. Often, the victims were women who refused to practice “plural marriage” (polygamy) or were men who refused to participate in various tenants of the religion. In modern days, blood atonement killings are rarely carried out and typically occur only in certain sects of fundamental (radical) Mormonism. I personally know a family who was a victim of such. But, in this case, the family members were shot and killed, not having their throats cut. They were guilty of leaving the religion and were required to “pay for their sin.” They had actually not committed any kind of a crime that would require that they receive the death penalty. In Christianity, the reason someone would receive a sentence of death is just the opposite. The “death penalty” is practiced only when the guilty party has committed an actual crime against someone. Usually the death penalty is reserved only for murder. In Christianity, the perpetrators of honor killings and blood atonement killings would be the ones to receive the death penalty—not the victims of such plots.

Culture(s) in which ungodly religious constructs are nurtured can become more and more horrific and off-based, resulting in outright barbarism. The precepts of God are constant, but the human application of such precepts can become horribly bent. In such cases, true Christianity steps in and says, “Hold on. You are no longer allowed to force people to do such and such, neither are you allowed to punish people for not doing such and such.” An example for us in this country could be the issue of homosexuality. For those who espouse it, they are not allowed to force others to participate in it; neither are they allowed to persecute those who choose to abstain from such practices. We, as a culture, are not forced to do it, neither are we punished for not doing it. In cultures whose religious constructs have gone so far, those who do not participate in a certain behavior are punished.

As horrific and off-base as some of these religious systems can get, not all of the precepts of those religions are false. This is a fact that often perplexes people. Why are some tenets of various “other religions” similar to tenets of Christianity? The answer is simple: Because there is only One True God who made heaven and earth, you will find elements of His truth in all religions, and among all peoples in all regions of the earth. Elements of His Truth are even found in humanist and communist teachings (belief systems that espouse varying degrees of atheism). Why is that? Remember that religion is a human construct of what humans think they know about the One True God, but the construct is faulty because of two factors: human ambition and doctrines of demons.

Human factors run the gamut from accidental oversight to gross corruption with obvious and knowing violations of the Truth. Additionally, demonic influence can take the Truths of God and pervert them so shamefully as to accomplish the exact opposite of what God actually intended, thus creating major diversions from the Truth and still cloaking these diversions in religion. One of early Christianity’s main influences, the Apostle Paul, warned followers of Christ about doctrines of demons and the garbled mess they can make of truth (I Timothy 4), blinding people and seducing them to follow the untruths of “religious construct”, rather than the Truth of the Living God, the One and Only Creator God Who came in the Person of Jesus Christ. Only one religion is founded on the Rock—all other religions of the world have bits and pieces of gravel in it (pieces of the rock, but not the whole rock). A solid rock is vastly different than a bed of gravel. One is stable, one is shifty, depending on where the weight is applied.

Sadly, as “Christianity” becomes more of a religion, it also slides further and further from the Truth of its Founder, Jesus Christ. Christianity, wrested from the headship of Christ, and placed into the hands of humans, twisted with doctrines from hell, becomes more and more of a religious construct, with fewer elements of the pure Truth. In the beginning of the Church, believers in Christ were called Followers of the Way, because Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; however, once followers diverge from the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then “Christianity” just becomes another religion (a construct of bits and pieces of the truth).

Because of the corruption of truth, we have seen throughout history, and still see today, warring religious factions, so called “holy wars”, “jihad”, etc. This is because those who follow one construct of truth want to force everyone else to follow that same construct. In order to do so, they must conquer through war, brainwash through ideology, and bring into submission those who do not subscribe to that particular ideology.

But, there is hope. There is such a thing as pure religion. It is found in the Living person of Jesus Christ. It is found in the Great I Am. In this pure religion, there is Truth, there is a Way, and there is a Life where the Holy Spirit reveals, guides, cleanses, and inspires. This is an arena free of “human religious construct”, but few there be that find it. Why is finding this pure religion so difficult, and why do so many people not find it? The answer is again simple—to do so, they must give up the “religious construct” that they so cherish. They must give up man’s religion to follow Christ. Man’s religion promises so much, and it is hard to put down. Man’s religions promise “virgins”, “paradise”, even your own planet where, if you are male, you can become your own god and have as many wives as you desire. Man’s religion promises power, money, and authority, in the here and now. Man’s religion promises knowledge and immortality, etc. Notice how these fantasies often center around sex and power for males. These things are very seductive. But, they are just that…they are not Truth…they are tempting fruit that many swallow, and it is a delusion. But, because these seductions look so real, they are fought over, killed for, etc.

You can see that the promise of “paradise” is close to a Christian promise of a heavenly home. In the various religions that offer paradise outside of Christianity, the person who subjugates others and who works hard enough on this earth will eventually be his own ruler or god in paradise. In the Christian paradise, Jesus is ruler supreme, where, “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.” Additionally, men and women will not be in marital relations in heaven. So, there go the fantasies of sex and power in paradise. You see the difference?

Jesus understood that religious men tend to “strain at gnats and swallow camels”. This means that while they would themselves commit atrocious acts against their own family members, community, and other members of humanity, they would fuss and fume over a minor detail that someone else was not adhering to—this minor detail may or may not even be a real issue in God’s eyes, but it may be an issue in the eyes of a certain religion (human construct).

Another tenet of various religions that is close to Christianity is that “good works” get you into heaven. In Christianity, only a person who has allowed Christ to remove the sin and replace it with Himself gains heaven. After that conversion has occurred, then the person lives out his/her life not serving self, but serving Christ (good works). In religious constructs outside of Christianity, a person does not need a religious conversion in which he lays down his self and allows Christ to enter in and replace the sinful self with Him. In man’s religious constructs, only a self-realization that one should be good is necessary, and therefore, one must work hard to do “good works”. You see the difference? One is because of Christ and is done through Him. The other is because of self and done in your own strength.

Because Jesus is a living person, He is not an abstract construct of theologians or prophets who formulated a theory of a deity. Jesus is God who came in the flesh. Because He showed the falseness of the religious constructs made by man versus the Truth of pure religion, He was murdered by the very religious people whom He revealed as false. After He was killed, He was buried. After three days of being dead and buried, He rose out of His grave. His resurrected body ascended into heaven. Skepticism of such incredible statements in warranted and welcomed. I understand how this seems impossible. However, all of this was recorded by witnesses who saw these actual events. After his ascension (last week was Ascension Week and is celebrated in various countries around the world), He sent his Spirit to guide people here on earth in the absence of his physical body. His comforting Spirit is well known to his followers. The Holy Spirit guides, speaks, directs, and enlightens. Once you encounter the Holy Spirit, you will understand what I mean. It’s one of those things where you have to experience it to understand. Trying to tell someone who hasn’t is a bit impossible. But, the good thing is, it’s not an exclusive club. He is available to anyone who calls on His Name. He and all of the angels in Heaven rejoice when even one person lays down his/her religion and turns to Him in truth.

Selling The Gospel

When I was in my early twenties, I was offered an opportunity in a sales related company.  After going through some of the preliminary steps toward employment, I realized it just wasn’t for me. I told my prospective employers, “Thanks for offering the opportunity, but no thanks on the acceptance.”

My personality is toward realism and honesty–not very conducive traits for a sales career. To flourish in most sales careers, a person needs to put on the persona of being a best friend to the prospective client while simultaneously attempting to remove as much money as possible from that client, legally, of course.

The goal or game plan is to find common ground with the prospective client, get them to relax, persuade the client you are there to help them, influence their thoughts with your choice of vocabulary, etc. It is no longer a real relationship with that person. It becomes a performance orchestrated to obtain results.  It works if you have the personality makeup to play the role. That is why my 85-year-old grandmother bought a $1,500+ vacuum cleaner–a vacuum cleaner that was so heavy she could hardly move the thing. She used it only a couple of times before buying another $100 model just like she previously owned but  had traded to the very nice man who sold her the $1,500+ vacuum cleaner. He had even given her more on trade-in than she had given for it. He was such a nice man. No, he was a vacuum cleaner salesman playing up to an old lady who bought a vacuum cleaner she couldn’t even use. Personally, I don’t see where “nice” fits into this equation.

Often, many people in the sales field lose their realism in every-day life. They play to every person and situation the same as they would a potential client. I’m not saying all of them do this, but I am saying that many do this. There are people like this in my life and family, and I am thinking, “Why don’t you just be real? Quit trying to play me or sell me on something.” Their fakeness and insincerity is nauseating and very obvious, unbeknownst to them. They have played this game for so long, they have no idea how they come across, or even how to be genuine.

Where am I going with this, you may wonder. While talking with a friend recently, the topic turned to the fakeness and performance so sadly present in many of the pulpits and ministry today. We were discussing the fact that it was so obvious and nauseating. Then, it hit me. Somewhere along the way, we quit spreading the Gospel and went to selling the Gospel. In spreading the Gospel, we merely share the news. The power is in the Gospel, itself. In selling the Gospel, just like the vacuum cleaner salesman, it’s in our “smoozing” and presentation. We no longer trust in the power of the Gospel, but rather increasingly have to trust in our own ability to get the person to buy or believe the Gospel. This has its own irony, if you think about it. While saying to others that the Gospel is so powerful, the salesman does not trust its power, but must kick in his own methods to sell it.  And just like those salesmen of worldly goods, who lose touch with reality and are always in “sales mode”, many of those selling the Gospel have fallen into the same trap, which is really sad because many of the lost people aren’t seeking performances or presentations, but are seeking truth, sincerity and honesty, all which are present in the Gospel, unadorned with cheap human trinkets or sales gimmicks.

When we sell this modified Gospel, many of the people whom we get to buy into it, wind up just like my grandmother. They bought a product that is not beneficial to them and they cannot use it. They become disappointed in the product, when they should have been disappointed in the salesman. We need to get back to spreading the Gospel and quit trying to sell it.

Timing is everything. As we were finishing this article, the phone rang. It was a local number, but we didn’t recognize it. When my wife said, “Hello,” the voice on the other end said, “Hi! My name is…” the voice was sunshiny, but it was obviously a rehearsed sales pitch and even sounded computer generated. We hung up without a word. Ugh. Nauseating.

Let’s Pretend to be Real, so we don’t come across as Fake.

We read some dialogue between two theologians recently. I use the word “theologian” with a grain of salt. You will understand in a minute. Dr. X and Dr. Y (seminary professors and pastors in our locale) were discussing the youth of today. In that discussion, they mentioned that regarding religion, youth “just want realism today”. Ironically, the solution that these two “theologians” agreed upon was that religious leaders in churches and colleges should mold themselves into, and present themselves as, what the youth are looking for because, “youth can spot ‘fake’ a mile away.” HHHmmm. Okay, so, let’s pretend to be real and sincere because that is what the youth want. Because, let’s see again…oh yeah, they don’t like fakes. What can you say?

This is on the heels of another conversation yesterday with an individual who has been a religious leader for decades. We have known this person for many, many years and have never really heard them express gratitude for much. In fact, the opposite was often true. Their attitude was obviously, “you owe me that and a lot more.” Imagine our surprise when this person was loudly expressing thankfulness and gratitude for multiple things that we and others had done over the years. I sat in slightly stunned surprise. What had created the change? Even some tears accompanied the platitudes. Later, I spotted a book that this person had been reading and that they recommended to me. The book was, “Be Thankful or Lose Your Mind…Literally”. The book went on to explain that because of the way God made us, expressing gratitude is important to mental health. Okay. I get it. I agree that thankfulness is indeed important, just as forgiveness is. Holding on to bitter or negative emotions is dangerous to one’s health. But, I sadly realized that this person, although well intentioned, was not expressing gratitude because they were truly grateful…they were expressing gratitude out of a mental health exercise. They wanted to be sure they had healthy mental attitudes…Wow. What can you say? Just the fact that they are doing that shows that they are already in a sad state mentally.

This is the kind of “fake” that youth can indeed spot. Christ doesn’t need “fake” representatives. He is the real thing. He expects the real thing from His followers.

This is along the same theme as another article we wrote but wanted to wait for the Memorial Day weekend to pass. The article is about “Selling” the Gospel. We will post that one a little bit later.

Patriot: A Memorial Day Reflection

As we sit drinking our morning coffee this Memorial day, we are thankful for the freedoms we enjoy and reflect on the fact that people gave and still give their lives for those freedoms. We consider to be Patriots the people who fought and who still fight for the freedoms we enjoy.

Although we are too young to have first-hand experience with World War II, we know what it was about and the cost involved. One of the most devastating battles was during the invasion of Normandy, which is in the north of France. Our troops entered from the sea using amphibious watercraft. The area was a Nazi stronghold, and we were attempting to break that stronghold. Wave after wave of our soldiers hit the beaches under unimaginable gunfire from the Germans. The Germans were defeated, and France was liberated, but at a horrific cost. This single event in history is what we commemorate on D-Day in June. One of our grandfathers was part of this invasion where he was injured badly, suffering multiple gunshot wounds. One of our cousin’s grandfathers is buried in Margraten, Holland even though he was killed in action in Germany. He was temporarily interred in Germany, but we did not leave any of our soldiers buried there.

We have several family members who fought in World War II. They never really spoke of their time in service—only on a very rare occasion. Among those who served was a great uncle. I knew of his service as a marine and that he had been shot up pretty badly in the war. I heard him speak of it only once. He was probably around 80 years old at the time. We were sitting in the courtyard of a mall while waiting on his wife who was buying some shoes. He kept rubbing his hand as if it hurt. I asked him if his hand was bothering him. He said he guessed it was the weather. It was hurting a little more than usual. He said, “That one, and the one in my back, too. A little reminder from the Japanese.” I asked him, “Did you get shot in the hand?” He merely replied, “Yes,” holding up his hand. The spotlight from above us in the courtyard seemed to reveal the scars prominently. I had seen them before, but I didn’t know what they were from until that moment. After a while, he said, “It was bad over there.” After a few moments longer, in a shaky voice, he said, “We had to stop that scourge.” He emphasized the word “had”, letting me know that it was a necessity for mankind to defeat the Axis regimes and the ideology and terror that they propagated. Those were the only words that I had ever heard him speak of the war. He was a kindly man, and after the war, became a preacher and worked in the metal trades.

I would describe him and the multitude like him as a Patriot. Not only are/were these soldiers patriots for the United States, they were patriots for humanity. The problem now is how the media and other sources are trying to manipulate the public perception of the word “Patriot”. While we view patriotism as a good quality, worthy of being honored, it is often cast in a negative and derogatory light by those who mock the sacrifices made by so many, while enjoying the freedoms that those sacrifices purchased.

This weekend, a friend shared an article on our timeline. This article featured a deranged Caucasian male in his thirties or forties. He was dressed in T-shirt and shorts. Under the shorts were long leggings. He baseball cap was on backward. An American flag was wrapped around his shoulders like a cape, and he was shouting and giving a “Heil Hitler” salute. The article stated, “America, this is what a terrorist looks like.” This article was released Memorial Day weekend.

The writers of the article wanted the readers to get the idea that this was Patriotism, and that patriotism is tantamount to terrorism. After all, this deranged individual was dressed in a flag while giving the Heil Hitler salute. The writers chose to feature this man because he had recently stabbed and killed two people in a scuffle on a train in which he was harassing two women who were “thought to possibly be” Muslim. He had killed two men who had intervened on the women’s behalf. The writers of the article used a collage of old pictures of this deranged individual to manipulate the readers’ thoughts. Ironically, the writers of the article did not feature the two men who gave their lives to protect the two women from this man; they chose instead to feature the individual who committed the crime. In our minds, he is no Patriot. He is exactly the kind of person that my uncle and grandfather and actual patriots would have fought. From this article, we know nothing of the two men he stabbed. But, they are more patriots (patriots for humanity) than he is. There is nothing patriotic about this individual. I can adorn myself in a bear-skin rug, but that doesn’t make me a bear.

While we have grown to expect this type of biased story lines from media outlets, this type of thinking has infected other arenas of our culture, creating confusion and a slanted view of patriotism. None of these affected arenas are more troubling to us than the religious arena. We have heard multiple members of the clergy over the last several years speak against patriotism, military defense, and even self-defense, driving into parishioners’ brains that it is sinful to do so—creating guilt complexes if they even dare think about it. These comments are not from whacky online preachers but sadly are coming from pastors and pulpits right here in the heart of Texas. As we are writing this, we can’t help but see the irony involved between preachers speaking against patriotism and my great uncle who fought for freedom and who became a preacher. Even after almost sixty years of reflection since his wartime experiences, he still understood the need for what he had done. He never said, “We shouldn’t have been there.”

Today, the tragic misconception of patriotism incubated on college campuses and theological seminaries has hatched and is spreading throughout our country. Our great uncle and grandfather weren’t fighting for oil, land, money or some misguided ideal when they were shot. They were fighting for humanity. And, without men like them, we would not live in the world we live in today. We wouldn’t have the freedoms that we do, in our media, on our college campuses, and in our churches, even if those freedoms are used to mock and to debase the sacrifices of those who fought and died to achieve them.

 

Points from a book on Quaker Spirituality: A letter from Hannah Smith to her Granddaughter

Robert and Hannah Smith, leaders in the Quaker faith, and renown speakers and authors, traveled throughout the United States and England working tirelessly for causes such as suffrage for women and ending alcoholism. They spoke at many revival camp meetings and missions aimed at alleviating the ravages of alcoholism on families. At one revival meeting, Robert met with a female parishioner who later accused Robert of inappropriate contact when he “laid hands on her”. He denied that he touched her in any other way except as that of a “Christian sister in need of prayer,” however, this scandal brought misery and shame on the family, causing Robert to withdraw from public speaking altogether. Throughout the ensuing inquiries and investigation, Robert’s faith faltered and folded. The stress took its toll on his mind and body, and he became confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. Hannah’s life had other tragedies as well. Of the seven children their marriage produced, only three lived to reach adulthood. All three of her adult children rejected the Christian faith, particularly Quakerism; one granddaughter even ventured on a foray into atheism. In a letter to this beloved granddaughter, Rachel, nicknamed “Ray”, Hannah Smith wrote (in part):

“I cannot help feeling that to be without any real faith in God, and without knowing of His love and care, is an irreparable loss to the soul, and to all the higher nature; and opens the door to miseries and unhappiness that could not possibly enter into a heart that hides itself in the keeping of a loving God. Don’t shut thyself out too determinedly against what long years of experience have taught me is by far the purest joy our hearts can hold. At least, darling Ray, keep an open mind, and listen to the still small voice of God that I am sure speaks to thy inner self. To His loving care I commit thee, and, even though thee may not yet thy self know Him, He will always surround thee with His love.”

Points from a book on Quaker Spirituality: The writings of Hannah Smith, touching on Human Loneliness

In the paperback book on Quaker Spirituality that I have recently been reading, a number of letters by Hannah Smith were included. I found them deeply insightful into the human condition. The fact of the Maker and His Creation ultimately being meant only for each other, to the point that nothing else can or will suffice, has been a point I have been discovering and exploring over the last couple of years.

Hannah Smith (1832 – 1911) was a Quaker lay speaker and author. Her husband, Robert, was also a Quaker preacher. Together, they impacted many people inside and outside of the Quaker faith. Later in life, Hannah and her husband moved to England where their children and grandchildren remained, identifying themselves as English, rather than American.

They were greatly active in the Women’s suffrage movement and the Temperance movement on both sides of the “Pond”. Life was not necessarily kind to them. Through all of life’s many, many struggles, Hannah’s faith remained strong. She encouraged and admonished others to do the same.

In a letter to a friend, Hannah touched on the very real issue of human loneliness, even in the midst of worldly activity and companions:

“The loneliness thou speaks of I know. For do not think, darling, that it is confined to unmarried people. It is just as real in lives that have plenty of human ties, husbands, and children and friends. It is the loneliness of this world life, the loneliness of hearts that are made for union with God, but which have not yet fully realized it. I believe God has ordained it in the very nature of things by creating us for Himself alone. And I believe He very rarely allows any human love to be satisfying, just that this loneliness may drive us to Him. I have noticed that when a human love is satisfying something always comes in to spoil it. Either there is death, or there is separation, or there is a change of feeling on one side or the other or something, and the heart is driven out of its human resting place on to God alone.

Sometimes God permits a little taste of a satisfying love to a human being, but I do not believe it ever lasts long. I do not mean that the love may not last, but separation comes in some way, and the perfect satisfaction is taken out of it. Now, darling, thy loneliness is not only because thou art unmarried and hast no very close human ties, it is the loneliness of a heart made for God but which has not yet reached its full satisfaction in Him. Human love might for awhile satisfy thee, but it would not last.

If thou can only see this and settle down to it, it will help thee very much. Thou wilt give up, as I have, any expectation of finding satisfaction in the creature, and will no longer suffer with disappointment at not finding it. And this will deliver thee from the worst part of the suffering of loneliness. Thee will accept it as a God-given blessing meant only to drive thee to Himself.

Thy loneliness is only different in kind but not in fact from the loneliness of every human heart apart from God. Thy circumstances are lonely, but thy loneliness of spirit does not come from these, it is the loneliness of humanity. Therefore, nothing but God can satisfy it. No change of circumstances, no coming in of the dearest earthly ties even, not my continued presence even, could really satisfy for any length of time the hungry depths of thy soul. I am speaking, darling, out of the depths of my own experience when I say this, and thee may believe me.”