A Merry Starbucks Christmas

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Starbucks is drawing criticism from Christians for putting coffee in plain red cups bearing the Starbucks logo. Although the color indirectly calls attention to Christmas, please DO NOT commend the company, because it doesn’t go far enough–the cups do not include the word “Christmas.” This, obviously, constitutes a total rejection of our Lord.

Therefore, as Christians, we MUST CONDEMN STARBUCKS. This will cause Starbucks employees and customers across the world to want to become Christians. If Starbucks will no longer carry the banner of Christianity, then America is doomed to the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. So rise up in holy protest against Starbucks in order to fulfill the Great Commission in our lifetime!

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The Line Outside the Oval Office

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You have the president, then the vice president, then the Speaker of the House. There seems to be some confusion as to whether Paul Ryan, as Speaker, is second in line to the President, or third in line. So let’s clear this up.

There is a line at the Porta-Potty. The President is INSIDE the Porta-Potty. Outside are the Vice President, who will enter when the President leaves, and behind him is the Speaker, who is having doubts about how long he can hold it.

The LINE has only two persons. The Vice President is FIRST in line, and the Speaker is SECOND in line. The President is NOT IN THE LINE at all. He is inside, which is where the others want to go, literally.

So the Speaker is not THIRD in line, he’s SECOND in line. Consider yourself informed.

But please don’t ask me to explain how the British royalty system works.

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A Commandment Kids Can Love

<Alert: amateur theological musings ahead.>

As far as I can tell, the Israelites didn’t observe the Sabbath until Moses descended Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments. I imagine, as Moses read through the commandments, people accepted the first three as no brainers–no other gods, no idols, no using God’s name in vain. Duh.

Then Moses read the fourth commandment, which was new information.

“What? We can’t do any work on the Sabbath? One day out of seven, we just sit around doing nothing? Are you serious?”

That’s what the adults said. I’m guessing that teens throughout the tribes went, “Awesome! We’ve got the coolest god EVER!”

Every sabbath–no chores. It said so very plainly–you can’t make your sons and daughters do any work. Play time!

That’s what I would have thought, anyway.

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The Untold Danger of Time Travel

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I hate to spoil every time travel movie you’ve ever seen, but your misconceptions must be corrected. For the sake of science.

When Michael J. Fox goes back in time in “Back to the Future,” he goes back to the exact same location. Just like what happens in every other time-travel movie. But the thing is, it’s NOT the exact same location. The earth, in its journey around the sun, was not in the same location in 1955 that it was in 1985. It fact, it was millions of miles away the earth’s orbit covers nearly 600 million miles).

So rather than find himself outside the Hill Valley courthouse in 1955 (or 1885 or 2015, depending on the movie), Marty McFly would actually find himself in outer space gasping for air.

This, of course, applies to the Terminator movies, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, miscellaneous Star Trek movies and TV episodes, and the entire “Time Tunnel” TV show from my childhood.

Whether you go back or forward in time, you’ll end up somewhere in the dead of space. So when somebody invites you to take a ride in their time machine, I advise caution. Just my opinion.

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The Pope, Face to Screen

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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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The Pope Goes to Congress

 

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I read the transcript of Pope Francis’s speech to Congress. I tend to do that, rather than let pundits slice and dice a speech and tell me what the person said. In this case, the Pope didn’t say anything earth-shaking. And yet, it was great hearing words like these in the public sphere.

Here are some of my take-aways.

  • Overall, he was very affirming of America, the American people, and the values on which America is built.
  • He was not preachy. He made his points without being (too) pointed.
  • It was a positive, hopeful speech–not berating humanity for falling short, but encouraging humanity to do well.
  • There were statements conservatives will dislike, and statements liberals will dislike.
  • Although the Pope has every right to be prophetic, he didn’t go that route. He avoided correction and condemnation. Instead, he stated his case with gentleness, softly prodding us in the direction he wanted us to go.

Here are a few quotes I drew from the speech (but I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself):

“We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject. Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice.”

Discussing American Indians to make a point about immigrants: “Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past.”

“We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Mt 7:12).”

“Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

“In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream. God bless America!”

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Divine Ambiguity

Watching coverage of the Pope’s visit, I’m torn over a few issues.

I love watching the rituals Catholics have built around the faith. I find something very beautiful about them, an attempt to attach meaning to even mundane elements of worship. And yet, I’m glad we United Brethren don’t do them.

I like the robes, hats, and other garments. I remember watching a UB man be ordained while wearing shorts–the guy clearly didn’t think it was all that big a deal. That would never happen among Catholics. But I’m glad we don’t place importance on how people dress, and I don’t mind seeing my pastor preach in bluejeans.

I am awed by Catholic cathedrals; we visited St. Peter’s in the Vatican back in 2000, and it blew me away. So much beauty, majesty, and symbolism. But I’m glad we don’t invest that kind of money in our church buildings.

Ambiguity is okay. It’s not necessary to decide definitively that one way is good and the other is bad.

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Thinking for Ourselves

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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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Good Discretion from a Gun Dealer

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I attended the huge Indy1500 Gun & Knife show over the weekend. I witnessed an interesting exchange at the ZX Guns booth (a vendor I like to deal with).

A customer was asking questions about a wicked-looking semi-auto shotgun. The young sales guy answered his questions. Then a young woman–the guy’s girlfriend, I assumed–came over. They talked for a few seconds, and then the woman said, “I’d like to buy this gun.”

The sales guy pointed to the male customer and said, “I’ll only sell it to him.”

“Why?”

“He’s the only one who was asking questiona about the gun. It’s obvious that the gun is for him.”

“But I’m paying for it,” the gal objected. “Won’t you take my money?”

“You can’t buy a gun for somebody else. He’s the only one who was asking questions about the gun, so my conclusion is that the gun is for him.”

“Are you serious?”

“I’ll only sell to HIM,” he said, pointing emphatically to the male customer (who was remaining quiet).

The couple moved along.

When you fill out the paperwork to buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer, prior to them running a background check, one of the first questions specifically asks if you are buying the gun for yourself. It’s illegal to buy for somebody else–to be a “straw purchaser” for a person who doesn’t want to submit to a background check.

“Good job,” I told the salesman. “You read the situation right, and you held firm.”

“I’m not putting my butt on the line,” he replied.

There’s a reason that customer didn’t want to go through a background check.

I aplaude ZX Guns for showing some responsibility, and for training their employees well.

However, I’m guessing the NRA would like to do away with that requirement.

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Remembering Burt Lange

Rev. Burton Lange passed away on Monday morning, June 22. He was an amazing pianist, and funny as all get out. For 40 years, he pastored United Brethren churches in Pennsylvania and Virginia. He was a Huntington University alum, as was his youngest son, Jerry Lange.

In 1967, Burt Lange was the evangelist at Junior Camp at Rhodes Grove Camp and Conference Center in Chambersburg, Pa. He spoke each night and gave an altar call. One night some friends were going to the altar, and they nudged me to go with them. I did. I don’t remember anything else about that night. It wasn’t my night.

My night was the next night. That’s when the Holly Spirit grabbed my heart. I got up to go forward. “You went last night,” a friend said. “I know.” And I kept going. That night, at age 9, I gave my life to Christ and haven’t ever doubted what happened.

Several years ago, I reminded Burt Lange of this and thanked him for the role he played in my Christian life. “With your upbringing,” he humbly told me, “if it wasn’t me, it would have been somebody else.” He’s right. It would have been somebody else. But it wasn’t. It was Burt Lange.

And so tonight I’m remembering that summer night, that walk to the altar, that old tabernacle which was torn down about ten years ago. And I’m remembering the counselor who awaited me on the other side of that altar, the man I knelt across from. The man I called last Sunday night to thank for being my Dad. I remember he was weeping. “Do you know what you’re doing, Son?” he finally asked. “I think so,” I replied. He explained some things to me, and then led me in a salvation prayer.

THAT was my night.

Burt Lange, and my Dad, classmates at Huntington College. Forever intertwined in my spiritual journey.

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