Yearly Archives: 2014

Murphy Down Under

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I began the day by stepping, barefooted, into soft cat poo placed strategically just outside our bedroom door. It was no doubt Murphy, though I couldn’t prove it in a court of law, especially now that I have decontaminated the crime scene (and my foot). Our long-haired Murphy seems to have difficulty cleaning his nether regions. Even my low-powered olfactory system goes on alert when he enters the room.

So, I did a relevant Google search, and came up with numerous forums in which people discuss this malady, which appears to be quite common. I learned a great deal, including the usage of technical terms like “crusties” and “dingleberries.” People offered a variety of solutions, which included using such items as baby wipes, rounded scissors, Vaseline (you heard me), high-protein food, and fine-mist spray bottles. One person suggested, “Fire–it’s the only solution.”

Stinky Boy, sensing that evil machinations were afoot regarding his tender parts, decided to jump on me and play Lovable Lap Kitty. After cleaning himself everywhere but “down there,” he went to sleep for 30 minutes, sprawled open-faced. I can’t resist lovable, regardless of the smell. However, this afternoon I plan to run my recliner through the car wash.

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“Unbroken” Doesn’t Deserve Petty Christian Sniping

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This afternoon, Pam and I saw “Unbroken.” We loved it. And we were impressed, and grateful, for the great extent to which faith was woven throughout the movie. In fact, faith plays far more of a role in the movie than it does in the book, at least over the same period of time which the book covers (ending with Zamperini’s return from the war).

Across the internet, Christians have been griping for weeks (even before seeing the movie) about how the movie doesn’t include Zamperini’s conversion at a Billy Graham crusade years after the war. They cite it as further proof of Hollywood’s anti-Christian bent. I had read some of that spiritual grumbling (there’s a good “b” word which would apply, IMHO). The fact is, though God’s sovereignty was undoubtedly involved in getting Zamperini through the war, his survival had nothing to do with his personal faith–because there was NO personal faith. He was not a religious guy. Far from it. It was largely his own grit and toughness that got him through.

To include the Billy Graham conversion, the movie would have had to continue his life after the war–his marriage, his descent into alcoholism, his consuming hatred, the near destruction of his marriage. That would have been a whole different movie…and a very long one. Angelina Jolie, as director, had 2.5 hours to work with, and even then, she left out a lot of great stuff from the war. If you want the whole story, read the book.

The movie tells the heart of Zamperini’s story–what he endured during WW2–and it ended where it needed to end. And it ended on a triumphant note. But Angelina Jolie, as director, chose to include notes about what followed in Zamperini’s life, especially pertaining to his faith. I thought that was the perfect way to do it. Let’s applaud her for that, not criticize her. Zamperini himself, having seen the movie before his death, said he thought the movie did a good job of not forcing religion down people’s throats.

Come on, fellow Christians. We constantly moan and groan about how society is out to get us. We nurse a persecution complex even though we live in a country more dominated by Christianity than any other country on the planet. When Hollywood puts out a movie which does make serious nods to Christian faith, but we still whine, it just makes us look like idiots. Like people who can never be satisfied. And I guess, actually, that’s what we are. We refuse be satisfied, and we’re very reluctant to praise others for making room for our faith…as this movie does.

Nobody, after hearing our petty bellyaching, decides, “You know, I’d like to be a Christian, too.”

I LOVED “Unbroken,” and I thank Angelia Jolie, Universal, Legendary Pictures, and everyone else involved with bringing this story to the big screen.

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Joseph and the Most Incredibly Perfect Kid

That’s my son, Jesus, out there shooting baskets in the driveway. Good, isn’t he? He’s got a sweet jumpshot.

Actually, Jesus isn’t really my son, but–well, it’s hard to explain. Mary’s the mother, but I’m not the father, and neither is anyone else.

Sounds crazy, huh? That’s what most people say. Can’t say I blame them.

Jesus–he’s a fine kid. Always has been. Does his chores without being told a second time, keeps a clean room, never picks on his younger brothers, and gets superb grades in school. He volunteers to wipe dishes and hoe weeds from the garden. Sometimes I catch him out in my shop sweeping up sawdust.

Jesus never complains about going to church. And you may find this hard to believe, but he hates watching TV. Not even cartoons. He’d rather be outside taking a walk, or maybe memorizing Bible verses (he learned to read at age two!).

I know why he’s such a perfect child. God told me in a dream before Jesus was born. You see, Jesus is the Mes–

Oh, forget it. You wouldn’t believe me.

Then again, maybe you will. It’s worth a try.

I had a crush on Mary ever since kindergarten, though she didn’t pay much attention to me at the time. In high school she was Homecoming Queen, a cheerleader, and class president–with lots of guys chasing her. Me–I was just ordinary Joseph.

Normally, a guy like me wouldn’t stand a chance for someone like Mary. But Mary wasn’t like most popular girls. She didn’t party, never went to dances, and turned down tons of dates with guys she wasn’t sure about morally.

And that’s where I shined. We shared a deep commitment to God, and were leaders in our church youth group. We began talking to each other about our spiritual lives, and that developed into a dating relationship. Then we got engaged, and set the wedding for six months away.

That’s when I had this dream. There was this angel in the dream. “Joseph,” he told me, “Mary is going to give birth to a son.”

“Great!” I answered. I don’t normally have conversations in my dreams, but this time I did.

“That’s the good news,” the angel continued. “The bad news is, she’s pregnant right now.”

“W-w-w-what?” We had kept our relationship pure.

“You heard me, but don’t be worried,” the angel said. “Go ahead with the wedding, because the child is conceived of the Holy Spirit.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll find out. Trust me. Everything will be fine. You don’t even have to pick out a name. When your son is born, call him Jesus.”

I woke up in a cold sweat, grateful that it was just a dream. But a couple days later, Mary reluctantly–kind of scared out of her mind, to tell you the truth–broke the news to me:

“Joseph, I’m pregnant.”

It was true after all.

An angel had visited her, too, but in person–no dream. The angel told her the same story, but she didn’t want to mention it to me until she was sure. Well, now she was sure. And within a couple months, the whole town knew it. You can’t hide the obvious.

This, as you can imagine, created quite a scandal. Our parents stood behind us, but hardly anyone else did. Not that I blame them. I sure wouldn’t believe a guy in my situation who said, “We’re clean. God caused the pregnancy.”

I thought about breaking the engagement, but I couldn’t. Mary and I were in this thing together.

Those were difficult months, with people constantly gossiping behind our backs. But we got through it. After the wedding (hardly anyone came), we settled down to married life. Us and Jesus.

I love my son–I really do. He’s not my flesh-and-blood, and things still don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But I love him. We do a lot of things together–ride bikes, go camping, play table games. We’re very close. I’m trying to be a decent Dad.

Not that Jesus doesn’t have problems. Many people consider him an illegitimate child, and being sensitive, Jesus picks up on their negative vibes. He’s got my flair for carpentry, but he sometimes hammers his thumb just like everyone else. Like other kids, he stubs toes, dislikes lima beans (though he doesn’t complain), and contends daily with some neighborhood bullies (he never fights back–just tries to avoid them). So he’s kind of an ordinary kid.

But he’s not really ordinary. Great things await him in the years ahead. I’m not sure just what, but I know I’ll be amazed if I’m still around.

At the same time, I’m a bit worried. I suspect some rough times lie ahead for him. I’ve felt that for years. So has Mary.

But that’s far down the road. Right now, Jesus is a happy kid, and I’m a happy father. He’s still outside, practicing free throws right now, I see. Once, he sunk ten in a row. Looks like he’s worked up a pretty good sweat.

When he gets tired and comes inside, Mary will have some lemonade waiting for him. He’ll take a shower, and then we’ll all settle in for a quiet evening in the living room–one big happy family. Maybe I’ll challenge him to some Nintendo.

He always wins.

(I wrote this sometime in the 1980s for The United Brethren magazine.)

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If God Used Phone Triage Methods

“Dear God….”

Welcome to heaven’s reception desk. Your prayer is important to us. For requests, press 1. For thanksgiving, press 2. For adoration, press 3. For all other prayers, press 4. To hear these options again, press 9.

Press 1.

Your prayer request is important to us. Press 1 if your request relates to physical problems. Press 2 if it relates to money. Press 3 if it relates to family and friends. For all other requests, press 4.

Press 1.

Your physical needs are important to us. If this is a life-threatening situation, press 1. If not life-threatening, press 2. To return to the main menu, press 9.

Press 2.

We are currently experiencing a backlog of requests for physical problems. An angel will be available to help you in approximately [difference voice] 13 [original voice] minutes.

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Homework and Heights Unscaled

A report says American kids average 6 hours of homework per week, one of the highest rates in the developed world. During my last two years of high school in California, I doubt that I had six hours of homework in a semester. Unless you count the tennis balls Coach Kavianai would send home with me so I could practice my serve.

If I had had more homework, how might I have turned out? I can only wonder.

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The View from a Pastor of Pastors

One thing missing from TV news punditry is the voice of genuine Christian leaders. I’m not talking about partisans who claim to be Christians (Palin, Bachman, Sharpton, etc.). I’m talking about people who lead Christian denominations, churches, and organizations. Christians whose life work is NOT in the political sphere, and who do not have a political axe to grind. I’m talking about bishops, superintendents, pastors, pastors of pastors, theologians. These are the people Christians from whom Christians should be taking their cues.

But instead, I’m finding, Christians too often form their opinions around the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews. Often, when they do speak on religious issues, their shallowness is on full display. We shouLd NOT allow such people to shape our views on current issues.

Which is why I commend this statement from George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God. I doubt he’s ever been on a cable news channel, but he’s obviously a man who can speak with wisdom and biblical authority, as he does here regarding the Michael Brown/Eric Garner situations. This was a letter sent to Assemblies of God pastors. Here’s an excerpt, but I encourage you to read the entire statement, because it’s excellent. THIS is the type of person Christians should be paying attention to.

“Whatever your opinion of those controversial decisions, can we stand with our brothers and sisters and affirm the value of black lives generally and of their lives specifically? Scripture teaches that God does not take pleasure in the death of people, not even the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). If so, then whatever the circumstances, we can be certain that God did not take pleasure in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Therefore, neither should we. Can we affirm, then, the grief our black brothers and sisters feel about these men’s deaths?”

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Musings on the Creation Story

Did God create everything from scratch during a six-day period 10,000 years ago, or did God guide the creation process over a long period of time (like, millions of years)? Or did everything develop with no help from God? Typically, about half of Americans take the six-day-creation view.

But a study done through Calvin College (published on Slate) shows that when you drill down, people aren’t as certain about their beliefs. In fact, the number of hard-core Creationists falls as low as 7%. Only 15% of people are confident that the earth was created within the last 10,000 years (a core tenet of Creationism).

Disclaimer: I wasn’t there when God created the earth. But I, along with probably most evangelicals that I know, are in the “God guided over a long period of time” camp. Where are you?

All of this reminds of of an article I wrote 30 years ago, not long after I became associate editor of publications for our denomination. We had a monthly magazine at the time, and I wrote a monthly column called “RandomPokes.” One of my first columns dealt with the Creation issue. I subsequently sold it to probably a half dozen other Christian publications (mostly Sunday school take-home papers). Here it is.


Musings on the Origin of Genesis

Picture yourself as Moses. Off and on for about 40 years, you’ve been sneaking out of the Israelite camp to some vacant piece of wilderness where you won’t be disturbed. It’s just you and God. You pull out your notepad, and the Almighty starts telling you some things, events of the past which 1) you already know, 2) you’ve heard before, but down through the generations the facts got distorted, or 3) you didn’t know happened.

Sometimes you hear tales of courage, of deceit, of mighty faith–even a few love stories. Other times it’s just a bunch of names strung together by endless “begats.” You carefully write everything down. Then, the session finished, you return to the day-to-day problems of leading the Children of Israel.

Could this be the way Genesis came about? Moses wrote Genesis, and he got his information from God. But Moses didn’t bother telling us the details. Did God reveal certain stories through dreams or visions? Did He lead Moses to some engraved tablets buried in the desert? Or did the Almighty just reminisce out loud while Moses scribbled everything on a notepad?

I don’t have the foggiest. But since it was left to the imagination, I prefer the Notepad Theory.

You’ve probably seen the movie “The Ten Commandments,” with its memorable scene where God gives Moses the tablets. Our hero, portrayed by Charleton Heston, Hollywood’s all-purpose Bible character, cringes against the mountain while ten specially-effected lightning bolts strike a rock wall, ultimately forming the two stone tablets. It’s a spectacular scene. But that’s not how I feel it occurred.

I don’t want to limit God’s power; He’s certainly capable of lightning bolts. But on a one-to-one basis, I think God acts in more commonplace ways. He doesn’t need to turn on the theatrics, especially if that person is attentive, like I’m sure Moses was. Granted, the Burning Bush episode was a pretty dramatic way for God to introduce himself to the future Deliverer. But after that, I’ll bet God never had trouble getting Moses’ attention.

So, without a single shred of evidence, I picture a much more peaceful Mt. Sinai than what Hollywood filmed for us. No wind and rain, no thunder and lightning, no angels singing or trumpets blaring. Just God and Moses atop the mountain on a clear, sunshiny day. And when they say good-bye after 40 days, Moses descends with the sacred tablets cradled in his arms.

That’s how I think God revealed the Genesis story to Moses, too. Universal Studios would show us an old man being buffeted by wind and rain, and cringing in fear while lightning strikes all around him. But I see Moses sitting on a rock on a moonlit night with a notepad on his lap, scribbling as fast as he can while God reminisces about In the Beginning.

I suppose some of the stories were familiar to Moses, passed down by Israelites from generation to generation. But a lot of the information had to come directly from God. Some of those stories probably astounded Moses so much that he couldn’t wait to get back to camp so he could tell everyone what he had learned.

I can imagine him exclaiming, “You mean this Methuselah guy lived 969 years!”

Or interrupting the story of Jacob and Esau to say, “I didn’t realize it was Rebekah’sidea to steal Esau’s birthright!”

Or, after hearing about the Tower of Babel, saying, “So that’swhy people speak so many languages!”

Or shaking his head in amazement–“Wow! A boat big enough to hold two of everykind of animal?”

One particular session must have stood out far above the rest.

Picture yourself as Moses again. You’ve seen scores of miracles in your time, some totally mind-boggling, like the parting of the Red Sea, the pillar of fire, the earth opening up to swallow Dathan and his rebellious crew, etc., etc. So the story of your ancestors, though interesting, is pretty believable and maybe not the kind of stuff best-sellers were made of.

But then one day you’re told something completely new, something you’d never really thought about before. You sit down on a rock with your notepad and God says, “Today, Moses, I’m going to tell you how I created the world.”

We’re all familiar with the seven days of Creation, Adam and Eve, and the Garden of Eden. But until Genesis, not a single piece of Scripture existed, so this was all new to Moses. Maybe he and everyone else back then just assumed the heavens and earth had always existed. Now he learns differently.

Imagine being the first person everto hear how the world–the universe–began. That the earth was once “without form and void.” That God spread His creative acts over a tiny week’s time, with the creation of life alone covering two of those days.

I’m not sure that my little mind could have taken it all in. The fact that the first chapter of Genesis contains so few details may mean that it was even a little too much for Moses. I’m sure I couldn’t have handled it if, at the same time, I had to deal with thunder and lightning.

Like I already said, I don’t really know how Genesis came about. I’m just guessing. Maybe God placed the knowledge in Moses’ head so that when he started writing, everything came out like God wanted it to. Maybe the whole Genesis story was already known, and Moses just went around compiling all the available information, with a large dose of divine inspiration to help him know what to use. Maybe there’s another explanation.

But then, maybe Moses did grab a notepad and sneak off into the wilderness to be alone with God and listen to Him speak. I’d like to think so, anyway.

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The CIA Torture Report: We Did It, and We Won’t Do it Again

In 2008, I was delighted to know that, regardless of who won the presidency, my country would no longer be a state sponsor of torture. I’d been writing angrily against torture for years. To me it was a shameful, shameful chapter in our history. My country was better than that. I was glad to see torture end.

Jane Mayer’s excellent book “The Dark Side” told about the FBI’s effectiveness in questioning al-Qaeda detainees after we invaded Afghanistan. The Bad Guys were talking quite freely, and the FBI was following all the legal rules. But then the Bush administration, pushed by Cheney, turned everything over to the CIA. FBI agents stood aside as CIA operatives swooped in, took their prisoners, and sent them off to secret bases, or “rendered” them to countries like Egypt and Syria to be tortured. Suddenly, the prisoners all clammed up.

Even if we did gain valuable information from torture–and it’s highly questionable that we did–we were already getting it without using torture. It was totally gratuitous–even barbaric–on our part. A collapse of our moral authority as a nation.

Mayer pointed out that the FBI was interested in prosecutions, so they followed all the rules to build a case that would stand up in court. But the CIA had no interest in prosecution. All they cared about was gathering intelligence. As a result, we’re in a pickle, with some truly evil prisoners whom we can’t prosecute. Our very own laws, developed with great wisdom over 250 years, tie our hands.

As a Christian, I mourn that so many of my fellow evangelical Christians fully support torture of prisoners. Right now, I’m listening to FoxNews, and I want to vomit at how vigorously they are defending torture. I’m sad knowing that many Christians watching are shaking their heads in unquestioning agreement.

As a country, we are better than that. And as Christians, with the command to be Christ-like, we MUST be better than that.

The information in the CIA Torture Report has been in the public domain for years. I’ve read it all before in the many other reports which have bee done. But this one definitely carries more weight, and I’m glad it has been released.

I agree with John McCain, who said today, “I believe the American people have a right–indeed, a responsibility–to know what was done in their name.”

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The Mind of Chris Rock

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Frank Rich conducted a wonderful interview with Chris Rock for New York Magazine. It’s long, and it’s wide-ranging: Ferguson, comedy, race, Obama, Cosby, TV…a little of everything. Rock is a fascinating person. I loved reading his perspectives. A few excerpts:

“It’s been a weird year for comedy. We lost Robin, we lost Joan, and we kind of lost Cosby.”

“You can be in the most liberal places and there’s no black people.”

About the election of Barack Obama: “That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years….My kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”

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The Blackbird at Cruising Speed

Brian Shul in front of an SR-71.

Brian Shul in front of an SR-71.

A flock of Blackbirds.

A flock of Blackbirds.

US Air Force Major Brian Shul flew the SR-71 spyplane, nicknamed the Blackbird.

The coolest plane ever. Hands down.

The SR-71 flew faster and higher than any other plane. How fast? Shul says in Vice magazine, “​The Blackbird easily flew at over 2,000 miles per hour. You were doing a mile every two seconds, or faster. The jet always wanted to go faster, so you had to hold it back. It was at three times the speed of sound when we were cruising.”

In 26 years, the nice folks in Russia, China, and elsewhere fired over 4,000 missiles at SR-71s. They never scored a hit.

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