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.



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.

The Reality of Prejudice

A young woman called one day to take me up on an offer. I knew that the company where she worked had given her and several other employees notice of impending layoffs. The company had been courteous and had tried to give their employees at least two weeks to line up other jobs. On a previous occasion, I had told the young woman that if she wanted help with her resume, or if she wanted moral support in looking for another job, that I would ride along or drive her to various companies to pick up applications and/or to hand out her resume.

She did not have a college degree, but she was professional and preferred working as an office aid or assistant at places such as lawyer’s offices, dentists, medical clinics, banks, insurance offices, etc. We made the rounds to places such as these. After one stop, she returned to the car with a scowl. I asked her what had happened. She said, “That’s the first time I’ve ever been discriminated against. I guess they don’t like _________.” (She named her particular ethnicity.)

My eyebrows raised. Whether or not the discrimination was real or perceived, it ruined her day. I could see the hurt and anger in her build. The rest of the afternoon had clouds over it, emotionally speaking. By midafternoon, she had handed out all of the resumes that she had prepared, and we decided to call it a day. I encouraged her to let go of the anger and resentment she had toward the individual who had treated her with aloofness and disrespect. She looked at me and said, “That’s easy for you to say. You’ve probably never been treated like that.” I carefully looked at her and said very seriously. “Yes, I have been, but it’s not who I am, and it’s not who you are.” I was concerned that this episode could sour her young life, and I didn’t want that for her. Prejudice is a long road to take, and it leads to a hellish end.

Later that day, my husband and I discussed the episode, and he said, “Well, some of what we call prejudice is just life. It happens.” I had to agree. But, his comment made me ponder on this particular problem in life.

I was fifteen years older than my young friend and had experienced either prejudice or forms of snobbery and unjust treatment on many occasions. I knew she had, too, but it had been closer to home, and she didn’t recognize it for what it was: I remembered my young friend’s difficulty in her relationship with her mother. Her mother treated my friend who was the oldest child with much less affection than she treated the two younger children who were boys. This had been a point of pain for my young friend.

I realized that favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice are all fruits of the same, rotten tree.

In the family, if you are treated with less fairness than your siblings, then we call this treatment by parents toward their children “favoritism”. In some families, one child is the “golden child” and the rest are ignored or treated with less favor. Or, in some families, one child is ignored, abused or neglected, while the others are treated with favor. In a society where most of the people share the same ethnicity and culture, if you are treated with less fairness by your own people, then we call it “snobbery”. The word “prejudice” typically comes in when it is applied to a person who is of different gender, ethnicity, or culture. Prejudice is typically a stranger-on-stranger action. For some reason, we, as a culture, find this more appalling than we do parental favoritism or societal snobbery; however, favoritism and snobbery typically cause much more long term psychological difficulties for a person than does prejudice by strangers.

I believe that favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice come from four possible sources: 1) negative experience with a particular person; 2) information about a particular person from someone whom we consider credible; 3) a sense of superiority that produces a dislike of a particular person based on appearances or social factors; 4) a dislike for a certain people group that has no basis in either personal experience or first-hand knowledge, but is more ingrained, like a belief system, i.e. dislike for women in general, dislike for men in general; therefore, even if you don’t know the individual standing before you, because he/she belongs to a particular people group, you have a dislike of him or her personally.

Additionally, I concluded that favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice produce dislike of individuals based on three basic categories: 1) What they are (genetically—how God made them and what family and nation they were born into); 2) How they are (culturally—how their culture has shaped their mannerisms, appearance, and speech); 3) What they do (personally–what they themselves, as individuals, act out in their lives regarding their belief system/religion/world view/life style/habits/actions).

I began to ponder on some of the ways I had experienced favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice by my fellow human beings. Looking back, I had to be honest and admit that some of the dislike that others had demonstrated toward me may have been caused by my attitude and demeanor. Other acts of favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice had, indeed, been inflicted upon me unjustly. I remember one day being treated frightfully badly by a man who was intoxicated at his place of work. As a representative of another company, I had shown up to discuss some matters with him. He yelled and cursed, and ordered me out of his place of business, stating that he wasn’t going to talk to “No God-________ woman.” I thanked God that I wasn’t damned, after-all, and just kept right on going. I don’t think we ever did business with him or his company again.

The truth is, some people are simply not going to like you. They can and do come up with all kinds of reasons. On the flip side, you may be treated better than someone else, simply because of race, gender, national origin, etc. One story that comes to mind was when I was traveling overseas. The people in whose country where I was a guest could not tell by looking at me what nationality I was. They had to see my papers or hear me speak to pinpoint my national origin. Because of my nationality, they often favored me over some people who looked like me but who came from different countries or different parts of the world. With my passport, I could pass easily between checkpoints. Other people who looked just like me but who sounded different or who had different national origin were often detained and harassed. There was a bias in that region for/against various nationalities, and I happened to be on the “favored” list. It could easily have been the opposite for me.

Bias can come for/against someone for many other reasons, such as, choice of church attendance, chosen profession, economic level, political views, and education level. The list can go on and on. The reasons others choose not to get to know someone or to X someone out of their lives can be infinite. But, guess what? It happens. The best response is to move on, courteously.

My personal opinion is that if a person has displayed no cause for alarm (his or her behavior does not indicate that you need to keep your distance), then treating him or her with less dignity than you would anyone else simply because of his or her gender, ethnicity, economic level, etc. seems trite and petty. In some cases, it can cause more prejudice to occur, and the ball just keeps rolling.

Having said that, I can completely understand the preference to mingle with certain groups and the preference not to mingle with certain other groups. Living in the rural countryside, I look at nature a lot and learn many life lessons from it. Where I live, one may often see multiple types of livestock in the same pasture. Most of the time, the cows will hang with the cows; the horses will hang with the horses; and the goats will hang with the goats. That’s okay. That’s natural. However, when the goats start denying the horses pasture rights, and the cows start denying the goats drinking rights, then we have a problem. It’s perfectly okay not to want to mingle with someone or a group of someones. But, to treat them with disdain or to deny them human dignity is another matter. One would hope that such things are relegated to grade school, but alas, they are not. They occur at family reunions, class reunions, community meetings, church gatherings, political gatherings, and many other venues where otherwise rational adults meet.

If you are on the receiving end of a mild prejudiced act or attitude, remembering who you are and Who your Maker is should bring things back into focus after an unjust hurt has been inflicted upon your psyche or person in the form of prejudice. However, if the prejudiced attitude is justified because of an action or attitude on your part, then it is best to do some soul searching and try to remove the stumbling block that perhaps others are falling over.

Obviously, forms of favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice can run the gamut from mild to severe. In some cases, a mild dislike of a person or people group is all that surfaces; in other cases, assault, terrorization, or murder can result. This can be true of a domestic situation in which a spouse or child is the targeted victim. This can be true of societal bullying or snobbery, in which a member of “one’s own people group” is the victim. This can be true of racial or cultural episodes where strangers or people outside of one’s own people group are targeted.

Can prejudice be eradicated? I wish it could be, but realistically, let me ask you, “Can you force your daddy to treat you as well as he treats your brother or your sister? Can you force your mamma to think of you and do little things for you like she does your sister or your brother? Can you force your classmates and community members to include you in their cliques and clubs? Can you force a stranger to acknowledge that you are a child of God, just like he is? This problem runs to the core of who we are as sinners. It is the mentality of, “Me and Mine, and Down with Everyone Else.” Prejudice against a member of the family first occurs in the home; prejudice against a community member occurs in schools, churches, and shopping centers right in the heart of where you live, against “your own people.” As grievous as stranger on stranger prejudice is, it causes far less damage than what we do to each other at family reunions, class reunions, church gatherings, social events, and political venues.

My young friend who had experienced the emotional pain of prejudice that day when we were handing out resumes was able to move on. The next day, a company who valued her skill level and her professionalism, and who recognized that she could be an asset to their business called, and she gained employment virtually right away. She is now a dental hygienist and very happy in her career. She doesn’t seem to have a chip on her shoulder, and I have never seen her treat others with less dignity because of their natural born (God given) place of birth, gender, or ethnicity, or their economic status in this world. She remembers that there is a world to come, and she must answer to God for how she treats others in the here and now.