Category Archives: This or That

The Pope, Face to Screen


If the Pope is standing right in front of me, I’m going to look AT him–not at a little picture of him on my iPhone screen. Like so many people did last week.

The world does not need another wobbly, grainy video clip of the Pope meeting people in a crowd. But if that’s what you want to do with your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…well, it won’t be the last stupid decision you make. You’ll get your piece of amateur video. But you won’t be able to tell people this:

“I looked into the Pope’s face, and he looked into mine, and our eyes met.”

Consider the encounter from the Pope’s perspective. You weren’t someone who cared about meeting him, but a person who cared primarily about recording a moment in time to replay for people later.

If I were approached by Chuck Swindoll, or Bon Jovi, or Toni Morrison, I would want to focus on them–and trust the experience to be recorded in my memory. I would cherish the personal encounter and whatever personal connection we made. My first instinct wouldn’t be to grab my cellphone and launch the video app.

On my wedding day, when I watched my beautiful bride come down that aisle, I’m glad I was looking into her eyes and fully taking in the moment…not glued to a tiny computer screen. Live in the moment. It’s a concept being lost by people with smartphones.

Of course, if the person is Donald Trump, then you need to keep your eyes diverted to your cellphone. Because even Moses was not allowed to actually see the face of God, “for no one may see me and live.”

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Thinking for Ourselves


I participate in a private Facebook forum which includes a fellow who really really dislikes Christians. He regularly posts stuff he finds on the internet which he thinks makes Christians look bad.

The other day, he posted the internet graphic above, which consists of supposed quotes by Founding Fathers. It includes this quote from John Adams:

“This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion at all.”

John Adams did, indeed, write those very words. It was in a letter to Thomas Jefferson. But here’s the quote in its context:

“Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, ‘This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion at all!!!’ But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company.”

I’ve seen some of my Facebook friends–white evangelical Christians, primarily–likewise post stuff they find on the internet without checking its veracity. Sometimes what they pass along is merely untrue. Other times it is racist or hateful idiocy, far from the spirit of Christ.

I’ve come to detest these internet graphics (especially the ones which tell us to “share if you agree”). I much prefer that people take the time to write out their own thoughts, and let people react to them. It seems that people have lost the ability to put together their own ideas in intelligible sentences. Instead, they scour the internet for junk that affirms their views, and then “share” it with no more personal comment than “This is good.”

Come on, people, think for yourself. Put some words together out of your own brain. If you’re my friend, Facebook or otherwise, I want to know YOUR thoughts, not the thoughts of some anonymous person who knows how to use Photoshop.

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God Didn’t Design Animals for Cages


Pam’s Dad helps support a large elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. That has helped educate me about the plight of zoo and circus animals. Especially elephants, who were designed by God to roam free over vast areas–not to be confined in a small enclosure.

Fortunately, zoos are taking action. In North America, 21 zoos have shut down their elephant exhibits since 1991. Most recently, the Seattle zoo sent its two elephants to a larger zoo in Oklahoma, where they can be part of a larger herd of elephants. Good for them. The Detroit zoo sent its elephants to an elephant sanctuary.

Zoos tend to be more enlightened in this way. Circuses…that’s an entirely different story. Circus animals–not only large elephants, but noble lions and tigers and other animals–endure terrible conditions, living their lives in traveling cages. It’s wrong.

Here’s an article about it.

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People who Criticize, People who Congratulate

Interesting piece by UConn coach Geno Auriemma in the current Sports Illustrated. It’s obviously constructed from an interview, sort of a stream-of-consciousness feel, so his words must be taken in the context of being somewhat off-the-cuff. But he made this interesting statement:

“People who have achieved great things and understand how hard it it to be really good at something are the first people to congratulate you. People who have not accomplished much in their lives are the first to criticize you.”

I’ve been trying to figure out if I agree or not. Obviously, he intends it as a generality, so I think it’s accurate in that regard. But sometimes people who have accomplished a lot have very high standards, or have a particular way of doing things, and may not be as congratulatory of people who take different routes to success.

Then there are people, successful or not, who just have a critical spirit. Being successful doesn’t remove that character trait.

And then there are equally successful people who view each other as rivals, and think that recognizing the other person somehow diminishes their own standing. It’s a pride thing.

But on this I’m sure: complimenting people is generally a good thing, and criticizing people is generally a bad thing.

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A Bone to Pick with Hoda Kotb


I am troubled by Hoda Kotb. Specifically, by her last name, with that inexplicable “b” at the end. The name is pronounced “cot-bee,” yet there is no vowel to go with the “b.” Either the “t” should be strangely silent, or the “b.” It’s not Kid Roc-kay, after all. You don’t clim-be a hill or sing a hym-nee.

We simply cannot allow people to stick random consonants on the end of words without an accompanying vowel. We are not barbarians.

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Christians, Muslims, and Mongols


“The Next Christendom,” by Christian historian Philip Jenkins, provides an interesting take on Christianity in the Middle East. In the Middle Ages, he writes, Christianity was much stronger in the Middle East than in Europe. In fact, Christianity came to dominate Europe much later than we normally think. So in 1200, the world’s “average” Christian was not a French artisan, he says, but a Syrian peasant; an Asian, not a European.

Christianity in the Middle East largely survived the Muslim conquest, and the two religions co-existed pretty well for centuries. Yes, the Muslims were definitely in charge, and not always nice about it. Yet, large Christian communities flourished throughout what are today predominantly Muslim countries.

So what happened to all of those Christians?

Jenkins points to a force we don’t normally think about: the Mongols, from central Asia. Several times over a 200-year period, they invaded the Middle East, slaughtering Muslims and Christians alike. The Mongols threatened to wipe out Islam, and were allied in ways with Crusaders coming from the west.

Interestingly, some prominent Mongols identified as Christians as a result of the ancient Nestorian movement in the East (the Mongols practiced freedom of religion). Some Middle Eastern Christians came to see the Mongols as potentially liberating them from Muslim domination, and so allied themselves with the Mongols. The Mongol king who captured Baghdad in 1258 had a Christian queen who influenced the Mongols to destroy Muslim mosques (the Mongols took a high view of women, as compared to the Muslims).

In 1260, a Mongol Christian led the Mongol invasion of Palestine. However, Muslim Turks stopped them cold at the battle of Ayn Jalut, near Nazareth. This ended the Mongol advance, and Islam once against took the lead…and began exacting revenge on Christians for siding with the Mongols. Since then, it’s been downhill for Christians in Muslims lands. In addition, Jenkins says, while Europeans blamed the plague on Jews, Muslims blamed it on Christians and intensified their persecution.

Jenkins estimates that between the Nestorians and Catholics, there were several hundred thousand Christians in China, and they were associated with the Mongols. When the Ming dynasty took power from the Mongols, they began wiping out Christians. By 1500, says Jenkins, “There is no evidence of any organized Christian activity in China.”

And thus did the mainstream of Christianity shift to Europe.

It’s a bit of history I find quite fascinating.

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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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The Mind of Chris Rock


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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Let the World Know

BusinessWeek has a fascinating article about the organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctos Without Borders). It says the organization was begun by doctors who served with the Red Cross in Nigeria during the Biafran war. Those doctors wanted to speak out about what they considered to be genocide, but the Red Cross wouldn’t let them. So they started their own organization which would make it a core value to speak out in such situation.

The article says, “If MSF members encountered violations of human rights, they were not, as the [Red Cross] encouraged in Nigeria in 1970, to exercise ‘discretion.’ They were to raise hell and make sure the world knew about it.”

I love that!

Kaci Hickox, the nurse who was quarantined after returning from Sierra Leone, where she treated Ebola patients, worked with Doctors Without Borders. Considering the ruckus she raised, sounds like she was a perfect fit.

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