Field of Spiritual Battles Won

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You’re looking at sacred ground. I know, it looks like just a vacant field, which it is. Now. But a large white tabernacle once filled that space, and oh, the memories.

For 90 years, starting in 1917, the tabernacle was the centerpiece of Rhodes Grove Camp, the United Brethren camp in Chambersburg, Pa. The tabernacle eventually became unusable, structurally unsound, beyond repair, and was torn down in 2006. But in its day, thousands and THOUSANDS of children, and adults, walked the long aisles to the front of the tabernacle, knelt at the altar, and committed their lives to Christ. Probably hundreds of them—it’s impossible to know—became pastors and missionaries.

I was one of those children. It was June 1967, during Junior Camp, just after my 4th grade year. I walked probably eight rows to the front, and knelt across from a counselor, who happened to be my dad.

“Do you know what you’re doing, Steve?” he asked.

“I think so,” I told him.

Dad explained a few things, and then prayed with me, his firstborn.

Rev. Burton Lange was the evangelist. A few years ago, when I reminded him that he was preaching the night I was saved, he told me, quite correctly, “With your background, if it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else.” To be quite honest, I’m not sure anything Burt Lange said did the trick. I think it was just my time. I was ready.

Dozens of other kids made commitments to Christ that week—just that one week. Several more camps followed that summer. Multiply by 90 years. Imagine.

Forty-five minutes away is Gettysburg, a battlefield dotted with monuments to what happened there—fierce firefights, acts of heroism, turning points, valiant stands. Gettysburg is one of my favorite places. Been there many times. It’s pretty, but nothing particularly unusual—regular rolling countryside. But something epic occurred there.

Perhaps a monument should be erected in that field, where the tabernacle once stood. On this ground, children, men, and women wrestled mightily with God’s pull on their lives. On this ground, decisions were made which totally changed the trajectory of lives, families, careers, churches. On this ground, epic battles occurred between Good and Evil, and the Good Guys usually won. On this ground, God touched hearts—over and over and over—and people responded, “Yes, Lord.”

Kids still find Christ at Rhodes Grove, of course. Salvation doesn’t require a tabernacle. When God speaks, when He reaches out and touches your heart, you remember it, whether you’re in a historic tabernacle or sitting in a car. Hallowed grounds are being created elsewhere at Rhodes Grove, and those places will one day deserve monuments of their own.

But my heart is in that vacant field. I’m at Rhodes Grove now, attending a Pastors Summit. My room overlooks that field. And I am remembering.

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My Annual Meniere’s Disease Update

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It’s now been four years since my endolymphatic shunt surgery. I give an update every year for my fellow Meniere’s Disease sufferers, to let them know how things are (still) going.

In 2009 I hooked up with a new doctor in Indianapolis, Jerry House, who has since retired. He was great (after my bad experience with supposedly the best guy in Fort Wayne, who kept giving me prescription after prescription). Dr. House walked me through four surgical options, and said the endolymphatic shunt was the place to start—the least invasive, yet a high success rate. I pocketed the idea, since I was going through one of those unexpected good periods Meniere’s sometimes grants.

But at the beginning of 2010, I went to Honduras, and as soon as the plane got up to altitude out of Chicago, a nystagmus kicked in—eyes scrolling forward. It went away, and full-blown vertigo didn’t overcome me, thank goodness. But the next morning in Honduras, nystagmus hit again, and by the end of the day I was vomiting. It really sucked having this happen in a foreign country. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad, and I was still able to do what I needed to do.

But the experience convinced me to follow through on the surgery. Upon getting home, Pam and I made another trip to see Dr. House, and we set up a surgery for April 16 (Pam’s an accountant, so we had to wait until the end of tax season).

The surgery and recovery went well. I had a set-back that summer with acute pancreatitis, which threw my whole system off and made me wonder if the shunt surgery was a bust. But Dr. House said my body would adjust, and by October everything had settled down.

Skip ahead to April 2011. I had a vomiting episode…and haven’t had one since. Three years now, and I haven’t vomited. That’s how we Meniere’s people tend to measure time—how long since our last vomiting episode.

Let me give a few updates from the past year about specific aspects of Meniere’s.

  • I’ve had a few minor episodes of nystagmus—one which went on for several minutes, it seemed, but the others very very minor. But though I’m left with a bad headache, I’ve never descended into vertigo.
  • I think the hearing in my left ear (the one affected) continues to deteriorate.
  • There is always some static in my left ear. I don’t much notice it anymore.
  • I still need to watch my sodium and caffeine intake. If I’m “bad,” the noise in my ear increases (it’s reached howling pitch a couple times), and I can tell that a potential vertigo attack is down the road. However, I’ve been using much more salt than I did in my presurgery days (I now salt my fries freely, though I had totally stopped doing that before). I haven’t resumed drinking coffee, but I’ll have a half-cup now and then (don’t want to push it), and most mornings I stop for a chai or a McDonald’s mocha. Moderation is the key. (I’ve never been an alcohol drinker, so that trigger isn’t an issue with me.)
  • I’m no longer worried about flying. Next week I’ll drive to Pennsylvania and back (500 miles each way), a work-related trip, and I have no qualms about that. Before the surgery, I would have been very concerned about a vertigo attack happening while I was on the road.
  • I tend to be unsteady at times; it’s easy for me to lose my balance momentarily. Ladders and stools aren’t my friends.
  • There is always a feeling that vertigo is lurking in the background, eager to come forward. But the shunt seems to be working great to ward off vertigo attacks.

In summary–my experience has been totally satisfying. My doctor told me the things that would NOT happen–like, I wouldn’t get my hearing back, and I couldn’t start pouring on the salt and consuming caffeine again. But in everything else, the best-case scenario has prevailed…for me. As I’ve said before, I feel like I’ve got my life back. Meniere’s is always with me, and the hearing loss is highly annoying, but I pretty much do whatever I want to do.

So yes, I highly recommend the shunt surgery. Experiences differ, as the comments in some of my previous posts show. But it’s a good place to start.


My various posts about the surgery:

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Colbert Can Talk Intelligently about Faith

I’ve always been intrigued by Stephen Colbert’s knowledge of Christianity. He gives glimpses of this between the punch lines, and he clearly knows how to defend biblical Christianity.

Yesterday the online Christian magazine, Relevant, published a piece called “Six Times Stephen Colbert Got Serious about Faith.” It’s quite revealing.

Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly have been criticizing CBS’s decision to replace David Letterman with Colbert. “An “ideological fanatic,” says O’Reilly. “CBS has just declared are on the heartland of America,” declared Rush Limbaugh, describing Colbert’s hiring as an open “assault on traditional American values” (Rush and Bill, of course, are both known for their deep commitment to marriage).

Meanwhile, Colbert remains married to one woman, is a devout Catholic, teaches Sunday school, and can clearly defend his faith (as he showed this past week with liberal theologian Bart Ehrman). And have either O’Reilly or Limbaugh been to Iraq or Afghanistan to spend time with the troops? Colbert has.

But just because Colbert (like me) holds some views that fall in the “Democratic” camp–views on justice, the poor, immigrants, etc.–he gets lambasted as somehow morally corrupt by hypocrites like Limbaugh and O’Reilly.

I’m not aware of any other TV personality who can talk about my faith as well as Stephen Colbert can, even when cloaked in satire. So yeah, this guy in the heartland of America will watch him.

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This Piano and Me

steve-pianoThis piano, my favorite piano in the world, has really been around. My parents got it in 1965 when I was in third grade, living in Huntington, Ind. I began taking piano lessons on this piano from Mabel Meadows, wife of former bishop Clyde W. Meadows.

The piano moved with us to Pennsylvania in 1966, then was packed at the front of our little U-Haul when we moved to Arizona’s Mojave Desert in 1969. It sat in the back of a pickup truck on the beach there in Lake Havasu City for youth outings, and went with us to church retreats high in the mountains by Kingman.

This piano then moved with us to Pixley, Calif., and mostly left my life in 1975 when I went back to Indiana for college. Meanwhile, the piano returned to the arid desert when my parents accepted a pastorate in Fountain Hills, Ariz. Then, when they took a church in the South Bend area in 1989, the piano was with them…and very close to me, again. It spent some time with my brother Stu’s family. Then, finally, maybe 10 years ago, it arrived at our house.

This piano, at which I learned to play, has survived thousands of miles and extremes of weather. It has given me numerous hours of both frustration and joy. I still love the touch, such a familiar key action. And today, we got it tuned by Larry Merriman. It sounds great.

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Let the Crimeans Decide

I’m certainly no fan of Russia nor of Vlad the Beefcake Clown Putin. But as an American, part of a country which went to war over self-determination, I don’t see why we oppose the Crimeans choosing to leave the Ukraine and become part of Russia. If that’s what they want.

Why don’t we just say, “The people have spoken”? Do we require a war to make it official, because that’s the way we did it?

We tend to be highly selective with foreign policy issues of this nature. We applauded when all the Eastern block countries disconnected from the USSR. We support Taiwan. We were okay with dividing Yugoslavia into several countries. We supported all the countries of the British Empire becoming independent after World War 2. We supported East Germany merging into West Germany. We supported created two countries out of the Sudan. So, why not let Crimea decide their future?

On the other hand…we supported Texas when they didn’t want to be part of Mexico, but went to war to keep them from seceding from the USA. Like I said, we’re kinda selective.

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Book: A Climate for Change

climate-for-changeI’m encouraged by the number of evangelicals who have become engaged with climate change (though mostly off the media radar). A growing number of Christian books focus on the issues surrounding climate change. I just finished one of them.

“A Climate for Change” is a superb book by scientist Katharine Hayhoe and pastor/author/professor Andrew Farley. This short book gives a non-alarmist, non-partisan explanation of what is happening climate-wise, responds to the common objections, and provides ways Christians can respond. It’s a quick and easy read. For Christians sincerely interested in learning about this subject, I highly recommend “A Climate for Change.” (Buy on Amazon)

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Those Were the Days

Google has eliminated underlined links from its search pages. Years from now, I’ll be sitting around with other old codgers saying, “Remember when all links on the internet had blue underlines?” Then we’ll all thoughtfully chew our gums.

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Cracking Walnuts, Pakistan Style

In Pakistan, a man set a world record by smashing 155 walnuts with his head in one minute. Smashing walnuts with your head–that’s among the saner things that happen in Pakistan.

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The Making of a Folk Hero

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A mix of the disturbing and of the encouraging. George Zimmerman was to appear at the New Orlando Gun Show, but it was cancelled because of community backlash. (Cheer.) Instead, he appeared at what’s described as a “scaled down” version of the gun show at a local store. There, he signed autographs.

Seriously? People came to get George Zimmerman’s autograph? Some kind of folk hero?

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What We Did

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The deadliest air raid of World War 2 occurred on March 10, 1945, when 300 American B-29s fire-bombed Tokyo–three streams of bombers over a three-hour period, dropping bombs packed with phosphorous and napalm. Bomber crews toward the end said they could smell burnt flesh as they flew over Tokyo. The conflagration killed over 100,000 people, and destroyed nearly 270,000 buildings (most Japanese buildings were made of wood).

By the end of the war, over 60 Japanese cities received similar treatment.

The goal was to break the enemy’s morale, but as in Germany with the firebombing of such cities as Hamburg and Dresden, that didn’t happen. All it did was kill hundreds of thousands of non-combatants–men, women, and children.

A Japanese photographer named Ishikawa Koyo captured the carnage in some stunning photographs which are just now coming to light. Three of them are above. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

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