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


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


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.”


“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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The NBA’s Finest, Circa 2015?

How can Cleveland and Golden State be the two best teams in the NBA? Both teams basically have one incredible player surrounded by role players. The normal consensus is that you need three good players to win the title. The Cavs, who lead the series, have Lebron and NO OTHER SCORING THREAT. Whenever they have the ball, it’s in Lebron’s hands. Yet they could win the NBA championship.

Think of past champs, and the multiple players who, on any given night, could light it up. Boston (Bird, Parrish, McHale, Johnson). The Lakers (Kareen, Magic, Worthy, Wilkes, Cooper, Scott). Chicago (Jordan, Pippen, Kukoc). The Spurs (Duncan, Parker, Ginobli). Houston (Olajuwon, Drexler, Smith, Cassell, Horry).

How in the world did the Cavs and Warriors reach the top? What has happened to the NBA?

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My Meager Loaves

I continue pecking away at James Martin’s wonderful book, “Jesus: a Pilgrimage.” I just finished reading the chapter about how Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.

Every pastor can relate to these words, which are a matter of God multiplying what we have to offer:

“One of the most common experiences of those who work in spiritual ministries is hearing a grateful person tell you how something you barely remember doing changed his or her life. How something you believed to be small became something big for someone else.”

Over the years, I’ve published millions of words. It’s always gratifying when somebody tells me that something I wrote made a deep impression on them, perhaps shaped something in their behavior or thinking. Sometimes I remember having written it. Sometimes I have no idea what they’re talking about.

Martin continues, “Jesus accepts what we give, blesses it, breaks it open, and magnifies it. Often in ways that we don’t see or cannot see. Or will not be able to see in this lifetime. Who knows what a kind word does? Who knows what a single act of charity will do? Sometimes the smallest word or gesture can change a life.”

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Trojan Horse at the Belmont Stakes


American “Pharoah”? Yikes! Pharoahs, like the horse’s owner, Ahmet Zayat, are from Egypt, an Islamic country. We have two other Muslim horses in the Belmont, both owned by sheiks from the United Arab Emirates. Should not somebody–Ted Cruz? Mike Huckabee? Scarlet O’Graham?–be sounding the alarm? Why the silence, Hillary?

First, Americans cheer for a Muslim horse. Next thing you know, Americans will be okay with sharia law. It’s a short, slippery slope.

If American Pharoah wins the Triple Crown, it’ll be a propaganda coup for ISIS. Might as well call it the Triple Crescent. Where is Joe McCarthy when we need him?

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Disturbing What Lies Deep, Deep Down

In recent years, nearly ever building at our Laurel Mission in Kentucky was severely damaged by coal-mining underneath the mission property.

Lately, I’ve been reading about the numerous small earthquakes occurring in Texas and Oklahoma as a result of fracking. The huge amounts of waste water being pumped back into the ground are upsetting the geological balance. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of magnitude 3+ earthquakes in Oklahoma increased from 109 to 585. The state even put up a website about it.

Nothing terrible has happened yet, though I’m sure owning property with regular tremors doesn’t help property values. And no corporation will locate a new factory there. It’s only going to get worse, until the oil companies figure out (and they eventually will) a different way to handle waste water. Until then..well, hey.

Last week I read about much worse developments in the Netherlands, which is pumping enormous amounts of natural gas out of the earth. It has caused hundreds of minor earthquakes, with considerable damage. Walls are cracking, fireplaces crumbling, buildings tipping, pipes bursting, doorways snapping, roofs buckling. Over 200,000 homes have been damaged, with 90,000 homes now considered uninhabitable.

The Dutch government offered an apology. Like that’ll help.

That, Texas and Oklahoma, is probably your future. Mess with God’s earth, and God’s earth messes with you.

Of course, oil companies just argue, “The science isn’t conclusive. We can’t say for CERTAIN that fracking is causing this.” The same argument tobacco companies used against charges that smoking causes cancer. And that oil companies use against evidence that carbon emissions are causing climate change. And that food processors used against claims that sugary foods cause obesity and diabetes. “It hasn’t been proven conclusively.

Both Texas and, most recently–on June 1–Oklahoma have passed laws which prohibit localities (cities, counties, etc.) from banning fracking. So if you want to protect your property values by keeping oil companies away…tough luck. They can come and frack all they want. We The People have no recourse.

If I were you, I wouldn’t buy property in Texas or Oklahoma.

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Times Changes People


Toward the end of the Shawshank Redemption, Red (played by Morgan Freeman), who has spent most of his life in prison for murder, is asked by the parole board if he has been rehabilitated. Red replies, “I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left.”

After all those years in prison, Red had become a different person.

Which is why I’m intrigued by Norway’s practice of not sentencing anyone to more than 21 years. Nobody. If somebody is still deemed a risk to society, they can keep adding 5 years of what they call “preventive detention.” A person like Charles Manson is never getting released. But they recognize that time changes people. What you did at age 20, you wouldn’t necessarily do at age 40. They are more interested in rehabilitation than in punishment, which tends to be our emphasis.

In America, 49,000 persons are serving life-without-parole, up 22% since 2008. For 3200 of them, their crime was non-violent–80% for drug-related crimes, but others for such crimes as shoplifting or cashing a stolen check. It’s the residue of “get tough on crime” mandatory sentencing laws which tie the hands of judges, and which are terribly unjust.

In Europe, only two countries allow sentences of life-without-parole, and then only for murder.

Do we really need to incarcerate 2.3 million Americans?

Timothy Jackson got caught stealing a $159 jacket, and Louisiana’s four-strikes law forced the judge to give him life-without-parole. He has now been in prison for 16 years. For $159 retail. “I am much older and I have learned a lot about myself,” Jackson wrote from prison, sounding a lot like Red.

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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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