Monday, December 15, 2014

The Eternal Optimist

Minister Paul Williams once described the Disneyfication of American culture as Disney taking the bite out of children’s literature. He suggested that when Disney finished with a classic story, little of the original remains.By his definition, it might mean J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is no longer a sweet boy and “It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly.” Or as Thomas De Zengotita suggested in Mediated: How The Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It, the key word becomes heartless.

Williams suggested a trip to the playground quickly reveals this lack of heart, children being by nature self-centered and heartless.  We reacted in horror when we saw this play out a few days ago as we watched an adolescent Tulalip Indian lad, who as far as anyone knew, was an angry, confused, mixed up adolescent, and who seemingly lacked adequate moral foundations. The boy invited his friends to join him at his school lunch table so he could take them with him as he killed himself.

One invited guest declined for personal reasons. That pastoral family of one of our ministers still rejoices beause their daughter is still alive. What do we do with a culture that chooses to be gay, innocent, and heartless, while continuing to beckon future generations to join them in their self-absorbed lifestyles?

Numerous studies support findings in which Fortune 500 CEOs make multi-millions annually. And if you are fortunate enough to lead a major oil company, you can multiply that figure several times. One Exxon Executive found himself earning a whopping $144,573 per day. But while the rich get richer, the American church sits on the political sidelines, often as gay and innocent and heartless as children.

Since when is it morally ethical and right for an executive to earn 100-250 times the salary of an average employee, irrespective of the company’s health, while they slash the health and pension benefits of their work force? Is that treating others like we all want to be treated? Or is it that they “deserve” that by right of  their title, status, position, or whatever else they measure life by?

It reminds me of what Stephen Carter said: “If everything we do is protected by ‘my rights’ there is no longer any reason for dialogue or community.” I know; business is business! Nothing personal; it is all about the bottom line! Well, Carter said something else worth noting: “Those who love democracy should love its rules.” He also recognized that “our ability to discipline ourselves to do what is right rather than what we desire is what distinguishes us from animals.”

Nevertheless, this attitude is so culturally ingrained that a neighboring Michigan School Board refused a salary increase to its district teachers for four consecutive years while giving measurable increases to everyone in management. Simultaneously, the Board increased the teachers work load in teaching hours and reduced the benefits on such items as health insurance.

The church too often sanitizes this kind of  injustice by turning blinded eyes to the practiced heartlessness, like a Disney movie that rejoices because “We are so blessed by God.” We believe our American lifestyles is our birthright. Admittedly, the church helps feed the hungry, but it does little if anything about the grossly unequal distribution of wealth in the world that continues to widen to Grand Canyon proportions while economically violating the vulnerable.

If anyone challenges this issue of distribution and calls for more equal distribution, we use very selective words that designate them as political enemies--Communists, socialists, traitors to the American Dream.

All the while, poverty claims 2.7 billion global residents that live on less than $2 per day. Among these are 9.2 million of our neighbor’s children (25,000 each day) under the age of 5 that die annually, mostly from “preventable” diseases. Another 2.5 billion people have no access to safe sanitation, and some 900 million lack access to clean water, resulting in nearly 11,500 additional people dying unnecessarily every day from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Because I still believe “in the beginning God…” I am forced to ask myself is God just wasting his time with us; or is He really our Creator, Redeemer, and Eternal Optimist. If he is Who we bekieve him to be, what does that require from us?

From Warner’s World at

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Redemption is a Reality

From my early adolescence, the name of Louie Zamperini (January 26, 1917 – July 2, 2014) lurked as a memory of an American distance runner. He became a World War II POW survivor and in 2010 Laura Hillenbrand wrote a best-seller about his experiences. It has been adapted into the 2014 movie “Unbroken".
An Italian immigrant family moved to California, where Louie became the target for bullies. Older brother Pete involved Louie in track. Louie quickly gained recognition and started running seriously, He quit drinking and smoking. Following Pete’s advice, he ran, ran, ran. He became a self-obsessed fanatic, going undefeated through high school, gaining a scholarship to USC, and trying out for the Olympics.
The 5000 metres seemed his best opportunity. Running on one of the hottest days ever in New York, he survived the collapse of co-favorite Norm Bright and several others, and fnished with a superb spint. A dead-heat tie with American record-holder Don Lash qualified the 19-yar-old as the youngest American ever in that event. 
He finished eighth in the 5000-meter distance event, but his final lap of 56 seconds caught the attention of Adolph Hitler, who insisted on a personal meeting. As Louie told it, Hitler shook his hand, and said simply "Ah, you're the boy with the fast finish". Bill 'Stern's Sports Newsreel recorded Zamperini climbing a flag pole during the 1936 Olympic games and stealing the personal flag of Hitler.
Zamperini set the 1938 collegiate mile record of 4:08 minutes despite severe shin cuts from competitors attempting to spike him during the race, His record held for fifteen years and earned him the nickname "Torrance Tornado". He enlisted in the United States Army United States Army Air Force in 1941, earned his wings as a second lieutenant and deployed to the Pacific islands as a bombardier on the B-24 Liberator bomber Super Man.
When Super Man became no longer flight-worthy, and with several crewmen injured, the remaining crew were reassigned to Hawai. There, they were assigned to search for a lost aircraft and crew. They were given another B-24, The Green Hornet, recognized among the pilots as a defective "lemon plane". On May 27, 1943, mechanical failures caused the plane to crash, killing eight of the eleven men aboard.
Zamperini and crew-mates, Russell Allen "Phil" Phillips and Francis "Mac" McNamara survived with little food and no water, Subsisting on captured rainwater and small fish eaten raw, they caught and ate two albatrosses, using pieces as bait to catch fish, and fended off shark attacks while nearly capsizing in a storm. They survived multiple strafings and McNamara died after 33 days at sea.
Adrift 47 days, Zamperini and Phillips reached the Marshall Islands and were captured. Held at Kwajalein Atoll for 45 days, they were transferred to the Japanese POW unit at Ofuna, for unregistered prisoners. Zamperini spent his remaining time at Tokyo's ┼îmori POW camp and Naoetsu camp in northern Japan. Throughout captivity, they were severely beaten and horribly mistreated until the end of the war in August 1945.
In 1946, Louie married Cynthia Applewhite. Drinking heavily while trying to forget his POW abuse,  escape his haunting nightmares and dreams of strangling his captors, his life and marriage unravelled, Cynthia became a born-again Christian at a1949 GrahamCrusade in Los Angeles. Louie reluctantly accompanied her in hopes of preventing their pending divorce, with continual prodding by Cynthis and her newfound Christian friends.
 Zamperini described becoming a born again Christian after Graham reminded him of his continual prayers on the life raft and in the prisoner of war camps where he repeatedly promised to seek and serve God. Accepting Christ led to forgiving his captors and escaping his nightmares. Later Graham helped him launch a new career as a Christian inspirational speaker.
A favorite theme became "forgiveness". He visited captured guards from his POW days and shared his forgiveness, particularly with some of those who had committed the worst atrocities held at Sugano Prison. In Tokyo, in October 1950, Zamperini went to Japan, gave his testimony, and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ through an interpreter (missionary Fred Jarvis). The colonel in charge of the prison encouraged prisoners who recognized Zamperini to come forward and meet him again. Zamperini threw his arms around each of them and again explained the Christian Gospel of forgiveness to them. The prisoners were surprised by Zamperini's genuine affection for those who had once ill-treated him, and Zamperini told CBN some gave their lives to Christ.
Zamperini last appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno June 7, 2012, speaking about his life in general, the 1936 Olympics, and his World War II exploits. Until his death, he lived in Hollywood and served at First Presbyterian Church. His death was mistakenly announced previously when he was classified as killed in action, following his B-24 Liberator crash with no survivors reoirted. FDR even sent Louie’s parents a formal condolence note in 1944.
His actual death came 70 years later, via pneumonia on July 2, 2014 in Los Angeles, at home, aged 97.
I am not a fan of war, horror, and violence, but Laura Hillenbrand tells this graphic story with extraordinary skill, great empathy and sensitivity. The paperback version is 406 pages, but Hillenbrand tells a graphic story. Spending seven years in massive research, with an army of assistants, she has given us a low-key testimonial of a profound religious conversion every bit as powerful as the story told by Chuck Colson.

This may not be an easy read for some, but the takeaway of Louie’s survival and resilience—and redemption--will be worth it all. From Warner’s World 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Words ...

For too long I have been in too much of a hurry to look up words I could not define when reading. After using words for a lifetime, I am beginning to enjoy picking up a dictionary and being sure I understand the true meanings of words. 

As we enter into Thanksgiving Week, we follow that with Advent and the celebration of Christmas. Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, we now commonly refer to as BLACK FRIDAY. What is “Black Friday”?

Black Friday begins the Christmas buying frenzy fomented by the marketers and frequented by multitudes of secular participants. Stores depend on this season for a disproportionately huge chunk of their annual sales. On this day customers vie with each other to be first in line, camp out on the streets, and do whatever else is necessary to insure getting into the store and grab the bargain they want, obtain the cheapest price they can get, or acquire whatever else may be their objective.

When my wife and I moved to Portland, OR a few decades back, we discovered “Friday Surprise” at Meier & Franks Department Store. She dragged me kicking and screaming to our first and my last last “Friday Surprise.” The doors opened to a huge stampede of humanity crushing its way through the doors and into the shopping areas. “Customers” screamed and yelled. People fought. Customers literally yanked garments out of the hands of other customers!

This was a shopper’s mayhem that continued weekly as we acquainted ourselves with life in that otherwise rather civil society over the next few years. Later, I worked nearby at Olds & King Department Store, but I never became part of another Meier & Frank “Friday Surprise.”

Black Friday, like Friday Surprise, is another marketing strategy utilized by an industry intent on capturing an entire population. Madison Avenue currently controls the television industry with an iron fist that makes the average citizen an enslaved audience that is increasingly controlled and dominated by the subtle impulses of greed, acquisition, affluence and self-serving rights.
You are prompted to spend, spend, and over-spend. Obtain what you want, what you deserve! Nothing down, enjoy now, pay next year! Or five years from now. As far as the television is concerned, good journalism, wholesome programming, and World News have long ago ben dumped into the Hell of poor ratings, denigrated to the inconsequential.

As you enter this festive holiday season, consider the definition of the word “sacrilege” … “1. The act of appropriating to oneself or to secular use, or of violating, what is consecrated to God, or religion 2. The intentional desecration or disrespectful treatment of a person, place, thing, or idea held sacred. SYN.—sacrilege implies a violation of something sacred, as by appropriating to oneself or to a secular  use something that has been dedicated to a religious purpose; profanation suggests a lack of reverence or a positive contempt for things regarded as sacred; desecration implies a removal of the sacredness of some object or place, a by defiling or polluting it.”

Interesting enough, my Second College Edition WEBSTER’S NEW WORLD DICTIONARY says what most preachers I know, pastors and priests, dare not say today for fear of offending church parishioners, or Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny, or even the Chamber of Commerce!

FWIW, it seems we live in a profoundly profane and sacrilegious culture that profanes the sacred by replacing it with Santa Causes and Easter Bunnies and desecrates the faith for the sake of The Almighty Dollar that is now its Deity.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

From Where God Sits

Herb Shaffer, pastor-church planter alias Life Coach was but a name until recently. I encountered him at the Crowne Plaza in Lansing, MI while conversing with friend Bill Jones as the 94th session of the General Assembly of the Church of God in Michigan got underway. Now retired from pastoring 18 years and working at a slower pace writing, editing, and promoting books, I can no longer undertake the expense of attending the full Assembly but I attend the BIG day (2-day affair) as often as possible.

Concluding my conversation with Bill, I strolled over and this tall, lean-looking stranger shooked my hand. I recognized him from pictures in “Michigan Action”. This peer-stranger became a friend--especially when he picked up a book, wrote in it, and handed it to me – From Where God Sits. I found this to be his quest to see life from where God sits. 

Having met numerous other Shaffers’ in many places across the country through the years, I learned Herb is a product of Maiden Lane Church of God in Springfield, OH. Now, to a Wolverine that suggests just another Buckeye, but everything I learn about Herb spells o-k-a-y . . . As a Life Coach, he administers the ISL Program formed in the minds of Area Administrators of IN, IL, MI, OH, & PA.  Initially envisioned by Don Smith in 1987, then Assistant State Minister of Indiana, the dream was to educate Ministers and Lay leaders in practical applications of church growth principles and teach a methodology for churches to embrace and practice. 

This Five Church System became the first framework around which the ISL Curriculum was designed. Currently, it teaches the Natural Church Development system designed to bring churches to health with the understanding that healthy churches grow naturally—a sensible conclusion. Meetings are planned for two day seminars (Friday-Saturday) each spring-fall for 12 hours of instruction, workshops and small group interaction.

Since books are dear to any Minister’s heart, you can understand my enthusiasm. On reading From Where God Sits, I found Herb’s highly-intriguing insightful analogies and descriptive phrase-turns, one liners, unique thoughts spun into short stories, an utterly wholesome view of life. He wrote them conversationally in easy-to-grasp concepts that frequently pushed the envelope for good devotional reading - forty-eight chapters in 146 pages!

His dry humor first hit my radar antennae. At other times I laughed out loud. A one-liner that captured me announced “behind every don’t is a bigger do.” Try applying that to the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses! He didn’t write all of this in what I consider the most refined grammar and sentence structure, but what he did do was capture my attention! He challenged me--to examine myself more closely than I am accustomed to doing in the much reading that I do.

If you trip when he doesn’t write in the theological language or brand of conservatism--liberalism your theology prefers; rest easy, he will deliver a sound conclusion befitting those lessons taught by Jesus and modeled by Peter, John, Paul and the multitudes within Christian orthodoxy.

I am a better person for having taken this walk with Herb, and let me be quick to add “Thanks Herb, for Chapter Forty ‘Over the Hill or Top of the Ridge’” (Ch. 40, p. 117). I wrote my first piece on “Life Begins at Forty” nearly fifty years ago, but your myth debunking made me cackle. And frankly, it made my adrenaline pick up its pace ... 

You can always reach Herb at, shown at right n a teaching session. From Warner’s World, 
this is

Monday, November 17, 2014

Look to Jesus and Live

A young man stepped out of the cold, stormy night and entered the primitive chapel in Colchester, England. The preacher’s message was warm and inviting: “Look and live.”

Inside, a Methodist lay-preacher named John Egglen faced no more than a dozen or fifteen people. He repeated his text carefully, before hesitantly inviting his hearers to “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.”

He spoke only briefly, in a rather homely fashion. Then, with the freedom of that era; John Egglen looked straight into the eyes of his youthful visitor, riveted his attention, and declared: “Young man, you look very miserable, miserable in life and miserable in death, if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment you will be saved. Young man, look to Jesus Christ, look. You have nothing to do but to look and live.”

Tourists visit that historic chapel today and read on the stone tablet marking the site: “Near this spot C. H. Spurgeon looked and lived.”

Looking to Jesus transformed that teenaged London lad into the fountainhead from which Londoners freely drank living waters for several decades. It transformed the young Spurgeon into a man with a heart for God and launched him onto history’s stage of action, where he initiated one of the most fruitful Christian ministries ever launched. It refocused Spurgeon’s life and created a wellspring to which people came from around the world to drink and find refreshment.

Hymn-writer W. A. Ogden described the experience of looking to Jesus and finding unsparing love that restores life in the superlative:

               I will tell you how I came, Hallelujah!
               To Jesus when He made me whole:
               ‘Twas believing on His name, Hallelujah
               I trusted, and He saved my soul.
               ‘Look and live,’ … my brother, live,
               Look to Jesus now and live;
               ‘Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
               It is only that you ‘look and live.”1
                                                                                The American SERVICE HYMNAL
Nashville/ John T. Benson Company, 1968 
(W. A. Ogden, “Look and Live”, p.239)

While we busy ourselves renovating our political structures and tweaking our therapeutic gospel; could it be that we would find life easier to live with if once more we would just look to Jesus … now …  and live?

From Warner’s World,

Monday, November 10, 2014

Religion and Violence

Catholic theologian Karen Armstrong caught my attention with her publication of Fields of Blood that discusses religion and the history of violence (NY, Knopf, 2014). Elsewhere, I have written about America’s violent history, a violence that long defended slavery, practiced ethnic genocide, and otherwise left an ugly picture. I concur with Armstrong’s defense of religion(s)  that recognizes it as a substantive force of reconciliation and non –violence more than the practice of hostility and competitive force that some suggest.

She references historian John Bossey who reminds us that “before 1700 there was no concept of ‘religion’ as separate from society or politics (cf: Wm. Cavanaugh/The Myth of Religious Violence/159/John Bossy, “Christianity in the West, 1400-1700/Oxford/1985/170-71). As we shall see later in this chapter, she writes, “that distinction would not be made until the formal separation of church and state by modern philosophers and statesmen, and even then the liberal state was slow to arrive. Before that time, ‘there simply was no coherent way yet to divide religious causes from social causes; the divide is a modern invention. ‘People were fighting for different visions of society, but they had as yet no way to separate religious from temporal factors.”

“This was also true of the English Civil War (1642-48),” she concludes, “which resulted in the execution of Charles I as the creation in England of a short-lived Puritan republic under Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658).”

Armstrong counters the notion that religions are intrinsically violent (as per Crusades etc), and that violence comes primarily from secular sources such as the nation-state, and especially when that political power behaves in the manner of the Roman Caesar and views itself as the supreme value. Caesar emphasized this by demanding his subjects worship him as their Deity.

She well documents events like Abu Graib, 911, and other aspects of the current conflict between ISIS and Western Culture. She illustrates how the perpetrators of 911 felt great compassion for Islamic peoples and causes, sufficient to become radicalized, but were also very “lite” in their Islamic faith. They were hardly conversant enough with the Koran to know its teachings forbid the harassment et al of other religions, and especially Judaism and Christianity. Their violence resulted more from their secular/political ideologies than their teachings from the Koran.

Another idea that captured my attention is found in the following quote (Armstrong/274-75). She writes: “James Kelly and Barton Stone railed against the aristocratic clergy who tried to force the erudite faith of Harvard on the people. Enlightenment philosophers had insisted that people must have the courage to throw off their dependence on authority, use their their natural reason to discover the truth, and think for themselves.

“Now the Revivalist insisted that Americans could read the Bible without direction from upper-class scholars. When Stone founded his own denomination, he called it a ‘declaration of independence’: the revivalists were bringing the modern ideals of democracy, equality, freedom of speech, and independence to the folk in an idiom that uneducated people could make their own. This Second Awakening may have seemed retrograde to the elite, but it was actually a Protestant version of the Enlightenment. Demanding a degree of equality that the American ruling class was not yet ready to give them, the revivalists represented a populist discontent that it could not safely ignore.

“At first,” she continues, “this rough democratic Christianity was confined to the poorer Americans, but during the 1840’s Charles Finney (1792-1875) brought it to the middle classes, creating an ‘evangelical’ Christianity based on a literal reading of the gospels … Like the Second Great Awakening, these modernizing movements [social issues] helped ordinary Americans to embrace the ideal of inalienable human rights in a Protestant package ... the Great Awakenings in America show that people can reach these ideals by another, specifically religious route.”

I found Armstrong supporting the notion that we can be true to our faith while also lifting up the downtrodden and the vulnerable. To recognize the social aspects of our faith ministry is not necessarily to delute (liberalize) our faith, as some contend.

Like a good writer, she stretched my mind and expanded my understanding. She cleared my thinking about religion being widely united against violence and added to my understanding of religion as a social uplift as well as a spiritual renewal. From Warner’s World, I am