Saturday, May 28, 2011

The America We are Building

Memorial Day Weekend is underway. Dropping gas prices raised over Memorial Day as they have for many years, before dropping for the summer. The American people continue to shoot themselves in the foot by paying the oil barons & speculators their exorbitant prices rather than saying “enough is enough.” Yet, for an increasing number of us, “enough” is already well beyond what we can pay and survive.

While citizens continue vascillating in this game of chance, Congress plays its own shell game. For example, the five largest oil companies are Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, British Petroleum, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips. Did you find it interesting when the CEO at ConocoPhillips was heard to tell Congress that it would be “unAmerican” to withdraw the oil & gas subsidy which the industry has received for the past one-hundred years?

That is so typical. Whenever there is a call for a reduction of power or profit, we all jump on the bandwagon when it is for the other guy. Everybody wants a reformed welfare system. Everyone wants to reduce the number of entitlement programs. Everyone wants to stop BIG Government and its enormous spending. We say.

We want it as long as it reduces the number of poor and vulnerable that receive subsidies of some kind. Stop welfare babies. Eliminate the luxuries of prison life. Let all these rich Seniors (whoever they are) pay some taxes, says Michigan‘s Governor Snyder. Eliminate Obamacare! Throw out Medicare! Get rid of socialism. The fact is, we say, we have to face it: we can’t keep on spending ourselves further into debt.

Yet, when Michigan’s Carl Levin sponsored S940 to close Big Oil and Tax Loopholes, the Senate rejected it. The Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan group, reported that the 5 major oil companies profited $76 billion in 2010. Between 2001-2010 they pocketed $1 trillion in profits. Yet, the Senator’s bill failed because they could not muster the required 60 votes to stop a threatened filibuster by the GOP.

That tells me the GOP is more interested in “selective entitlements” rather than national debt reduction. It tells me the GOP is more interested in the profits of Special Interest Groups than in the common good of the country. They will maintain the century-old oil/gas subsidy rather than use those subsidies to reduce the national debt.

They make military spending a patriotic duty rather than allow equitable reduction so as to reduce the national debt. They will say all the right words, but they will leave seniors like me to choose between food and life-saving medications while hoping to survive to the first of the month. They will bow to the dictates of wealthy lobbyists who fund GOP elections, and ignore the increasing gap between the most vulnerable and the most wealthy. They will work feverishly to eliminate subsidies demanded by the most vulnerable while they suck up to the more demanding feudal barons of industry and commerce.

From Warner’s World ...
anyone who knows very much history knows America cannot maintain good national health under our growing conditions of inequality. While we are celebrating patriotism this weekend, and while we honor our military boys and girls, we might want to re-think the kind of America we are trying to build--an America that offers equal opportunity to all creeds, colors, and cultures, or an America that serves as the private playground of those who make the most profit ...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Power of Love

Christos Gatzoyiannis was just another Greek emigrant living in WWII Worcestor, MA until he married sweet Eleni, the lovely girl he left in his third world village of Lia, while he made his way in the new world. Located near the mountainous border against Albania, Eleni was raising their family in a third world village by those old world standards. When Mussolini determined that he wanted Greece for himself, the sturdy Greeks repelled him. That brought the Germans for the remainder of that war.

Eleni gave Christos four daughters but yearned for a son, until Nikola completed their marriage by filling her womb. She loved her son as only a mother could love an only son. She loved her four daughters, but she doted on her son until he was nine and escaped. When the children escaped from the village, they anticipated reuniting with their mother before going to America. But Eleni committed the unpardonable sin of Communism; she maintained her self-determination; when it came to her children, she refused to conform. For that, she was a rebel and she was imprisoned, tortured, and shot!

As young Nikola grew up, the memory of his mother literally shaped his life. Becoming an investigative reporter, and finally a New York Times Foreign Correspondent, he eventually retraced the lives of his family members and others from the village and revealed how they coped with Communism and outside fascist forces. That journey takes the reader away from our internet culture of cell phones and Face Book communications to a setting where outdoor plumbing was the rule and 4-wheeled vehicles were part of the outside world not yet experienced.

Eleni raised her family as the wife of the Americana, surviving WWII, but suspected, preyed upon, and no longer living her own life under occupation of Greek Guerrellas assimilated into Russian Stalinists--Communists. Unable to conform to their warped values and incongruous inhumanity, she was sustained by the only faith she knew (the ritualism of Greek Orthodoxy). She loved her children supremely, refusing to give them up for Communist re-education, she paid the ultimate sacrifice while arranging their escape to America.

Author Gage firmly establishes the setting of his book in the third world culture of Greek village life. The reader learns much about the culture of the period as Gage re-traces the tragedies of the Greek civil war and the events resulting in the imprisonment and death of his mother.He offers excellent insight into the prevailing philosophies of the time, which controlled people’s lives. The machinations of the human mind confront readerd when following the circuitous routes we take as we try to adapt, conform, and find our own way through all the multiplied circumstances over which we have little or no control

Eleni, without formal education, stood firm on learned principles, firmly anchored in her unchanging love for her family. I found the book historically informative, as did Ronald Reagan who praised the author as someone who inspired him in his presidential resistance to Russian Communism during the Berlin Crisis. I found the reading somewhat grueling--difficult because I react to human suffering. Yet I pushed on, compelled to learn if the author discovered who murdered his mother and how he responded to the tragedy that shaped and blessed his life.

Person by person, Gage researched his case with faultless precision, sorting out the characters and determining who was the one person most responsible for his mother’s death. Armed and prepared to avenge her death by his own hand,Gage met with the Prosecutor twice. Circumstances the first time were too risky, but the second time, the circumstances for his revenge were perfect.

But now Nikola Gatzoyiannis truly comprehended the power of his mother’s final words--not an invocation of what she died for, but a “declaration of love: ‘My children!’” He recalled Sophocles’ Antigone telling the man who condemned his mother Hecuba to her death, “It’s not my nature to join in hating but in loving.”

“That was Eleni Gatzoyiannis’ nature as well,” writes Gage, and Prosecutor Katis had not been able to destroy it by killing her. “Like the mulberry tree in our yard, which still stands after the house has fallen into ruins, that love has taken root in us, her children, and spread to her grandchildren as well.”

With that realization came Gage's conclusion:
“If I killed Katis, I would have to uproot that love in myself and become like him, purging myself as he did of all humanity or compassion. Just as he had abandoned his baby daughter and wife to become a killer for the guerillas, I would have to put aside thoughts of what I was doing to my children’s lives. My mother had done everything out of love for her own children.

“Killing Katis would give me relief from the pain that had filled me for so many years. But as much as I want that satisfaction, I’ve learned that I can’t do it. My mother’s love, the primary impulse of her life, still binds us together, often surrounding me like a tangible presence. Summoning the hate necessary to kill Katis would sever that bridge connecting us and destroy the part of me that is most like Eleni” (Eleni/Gage/Ballentine Books/1983/470/emphasis added).

From Warner’s World,
the pay-off came for me in the final paragraph of this book. I hate war, violence, and injustice, and there is but one power that is greater. Although this is not a religious book, its message of love is powerful. Human love, under-girded by divine love, is the only power in the universe capable of conquering the inhumanity of humanity against humanity

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Church of God Overseers

From the days of Daniel S. Warner, the esteemed patriarch of The Church of God Movement (Anderson, IN Convention), we have valued God’s touch upon our lives, especially that personal, God-given sense of divine calling.

Warner first served as a pastor-evangelist among the followers of John Winebrenner. When his peers “decredentialled” him it primarily involved the following: (1) preaching the doctrine of holiness which was unacceptable among them at that time, (2) refusing to dissociate from the Holiness Association, and (3) and refusing to allow others to dictate how--what-where he could preach--under God--his biblical convictions.

God's call comes in the shape of the cross. First comes one’s vertical relationship with God. Next, it intersect with others. I like what Jesus said: love God supremely (vertical relationship); love your neighbor as yourself (horizontal relationship). Without the anointing of God, there is no real call or ministry. There comes a time in every preacher-prophet’s life when s/he must intersect with others who also recognize that call; thus, the Church and its credentialing bodies.

The Church of God has always recognized God's call into a ministry that is uni-level, not multi-tiered. It has no hierarchy leading up to Papal authority, or other human authority. Hierarchical positions of authority of Overseers, Elders, Bishops, and beyond, are all foreign to the spirit and understanding of the Church of God.

One early example that intrigued me was the case of Sebastian Michels, peer of Daniel Warner. Mr. Michels served as a part time itinerant evangelist, but never as a pastor. He served as unofficial Business Manager for the early Gospel Trumpet Company, first Campground Manager at the Grand Junction campsite, the founder of the first Children’s Home at Grand Junction, and as founder of the first Old People’s Home at South Haven, MI.

Elsewhere, I have detailed his struggle, as he wrestled over the leadership of the Children’s Home. He confessed to realizing he had invested his life’s accumulations in the Children’s Home and that with a spoken word, the Board could replace him, leave his family without, and essentially short circuit his walk with God.

Simultaneously, he was discovering a new call, the Old People’s Home. He saw it first in a dream, after which he returned home from that revival and discussed it with his wife. Believing God wanted them to do this, they turned over the Administration of the Children’s Home, purchased property in South Haven, and established the Old People’s Home as a non-profit ministry (which became their livelihood for 25 years).

That was when church leaders pushed Michels aside as a non-conformist, saying-and-believing that to be in ministry he should be “on the field preaching.” Michels never left the church and was later called “one of the best” of the pioneers, but he followed the dictates of his conscience regardless of church authority.

Sebastian may be a bit of an extreme example, for we do have our licensing committees and other denominational paraphernalia today, through which we function legally and socially as a recognized church body, and they serve us well. On the other hand, we must understand the biblical concepts of our hymnology that suggest the church of God is one body and indwelt by but One Spirit. It is divinely built, divinely ruled, and in it we all submit mutually to God.

Led by apostles, prophets, teachers et al “His purpose to fulfill,” we all stand on level ground at the foot of the cross, dwelling “in the bonds of peace.” Another song suggests “…gladly to his blessed will submissive we shall be” but “from the yokes of Babel’s lords from henceforth we are free.” We don’t kiss the toe of any Papal papa and we have no hierarchical stepladder up through the District Superintendent’s Office (or the Bishop) to the top of the pecking order.

We do speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; we sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord, and we give thanks to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus, and submit [mutually to one another in the fear of God (Ephesians 5:19-21, cf NKJV). We recognize neither superiors nor inferiors.

In this context, I quote Lloyd Moritz from his January 17 Chogblog: "Regional Pastors and Overseers" is the new phrase our association came up with to better describe our current roles within the North American Church of God. This will replace the meaningless "Area Administrator" moniker that we have used for several decades and provides a more accurate reflection of the type of work we do within our respective regions. Certainly, individual RPO's will still use their official titles as designated by their state or district, but this new designation is a intended to be a general description that can used to describe us as a group."
Now, without any say-so on our part as pastors, church leaders, executives, and church laity, we find we do have unofficial “overseers” and given enough precedence they will in time become official overseers. Is it too far afield to recall ancient Israel in Egypt? The overseers set the quotas for the workers and established the routine that made the workmen slaves.

Although some defend the term overseer as “more descriptive,” it still oversteps our traditional bounds of authority, being defined in one dictionary as "a person who watches over and directs the work of others." That reeks of controlled authority. I find the dictionary description less descriptive and more offensive than either Coordinator or Administrator.

I think our friends mean well; they have our work at heart, and they are not looking for controls over us but they are setting and unacceptable and dangerous precedent. A century ago the young oil industry needed help getting established. They received tax credits, subsidies, et al. Today, 100 years later, an established oil industry is making record profits. Yet, an oil executive told congress the other day that to take away the oil subsidies was “unAmerican” although some of us argue it has become for them a form of entitlement. Overseer today will be an entitlement of control and authority tomorrow.

We do not need any Lone Rangers, although we are a voluntary Association. We are also a “Body” --Paul’s language--we are a family--interdependent rather than independent. I suggest these church leaders have overstepped their bounds and assumed a historic precedence that is contrary to our mission, our message, and our whole history, not to mention the Spirit of Christ.

From Warner’s World:
Does this mean I have a problem with being submissive? NO! Anyone who really knows me knows that I can play a good “2nd fiddle. Nonetheless, “Overseer” is a name that needs to be changed before some decide to take the same walk that D. S. Warner took at Beaver Dam, when he and five others walked out of denominationalism to work with all of God’s church everywhere

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The "Blessed Virgin" Mary

Sixteen-year-old Labib met a kindly old Cairo printer (Egypt), who challenged him to grow in his religious faith. The youth learned that there was more to his faith than the traditional religious ritual of his Coptic church. Through Salib Farag, he discovered a relational religion that builds on a personal relationship to, and faith in, Jesus Christ.

That friendship launched Labib on a lifetime journey. Eventually,Dr. Labib Mikhail devoted his life to studying and teaching the Bible and living as a Christian missionary, pastor, evangelist, and author. In his youth, Dr. Mikhail practiced the traditional adoration and veneration of the blessed virgin Mary, without question.

After Dr. Mikhail learned what the Bible really teaches about Jesus and “His blessed mother, the Virgin Mary,” he wrote a book entitled The Virgin Mary In the Light of the World of God. The book has been widely distributed in the Middle East, Africa, and South America.

The son of the kindly old printer is Dr. Nasser S. Farag, a Christian missionary-pastor, evangelist-educator, and author in his own right. The two men are longtime friends and have now collaborated, with Dr. Farag translating Dr. Mikhail’s book into both Spanish and English.

Our concern here is Dr. Farag’s translation into English by Nordskog Publishing, Ventura, CA., 2011. It is a small and simple book--128 pages. It includes twelve chapters, an eleven page glossary of terms and ideas, and a short bibliography. In addition, it contains brief but descriptive chapters by each man--Author--Translator--Publisher, which I found personally helpful in better knowing the producers of the book.

Since I was raised a Protestant Christian, and served widely in Ecumenical ministries, I failed to first recognize the significance of the book. I hold traditional Protestant views regarding both Mary and Joseph as highly favored, but do not venerate Mary or pray to her as a unique Saint.

On page 11, the author gave me this insight: “It is true that some so-called Christians who were not familiar with the Scriptures and were deceived by Satan went into a cultic belief that the Trinity consisted of Father God, Mother Mary, and their Son, Jesus. Islam rightly rejected this as their Quran states, ‘He is the Originator of the heavens and the earth. How can He have children when He has no wife?’ (Surah 6:101, The Quran Translation by M. H. Shakir).”

Dr. Mikhail walks us through twelve chapters as he takes us through the primary Bible passages that reveal Mary and her son Jesus. He answers questions like “Can Blessed Mary Be Another Mediator” along with Jesus, and “Was Blessed Mary Assumed Bodily into Heaven?” In the process, he deals with the titles given to Mary by the Catholic and Coptic Churches, and the prayers frequently prayed from the Prayer Books. Not to be overlooked are a couple of chapters that focus on the rumored appearances and the miracles of Mary.

All in all, this non-confrontational little book is simple to read, easy to understand, and solidly based on Scripture (only). Dr. James Earl Massey, recognized as “one of the 25 most influential preachers of the past 50 years” (according to Christianity Today Magazine), offers this pertinent blurb: “This is a relevant study clarifying Mary’s role and significance that should be read alongside F. J. Moloney’s Mary, Woman and Mother and Jaroslav Pelikan’s Mary Through the Centuries. I highly recommend it as a balanced and Biblical portrait.”

With a recommendation like that, you don’t need my encouragement. If you want an enjoyable and informative book that offers Mary the honor and exaltation due her, read this $12.95 book from Nordskog Publishers. Mikhail has authored 80 books in Arabic, English and Spanish. Farag does leadership training through his non-denominational Ministry, “Truth in Love,” He is based in South Texas and serves throughout Latin America, Mexico, Africa, India, and the USA.

With a fuller appreciation for the Virgin Mary, This is Warner’s World,

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Passing Friend

We accept and recognize lady ministers in our fellowship. There are some, I know, that would vociferously argue this point of women preachers with me. However, I readily admit that some of my favorite preachers are “women of the cloth.“

I was nurtured by one such lady as a small child in my home church--“Sister Sweet.” She was a capable interim pastor, but only filled in until a good man came along. Probably my all-time favorite was Wilma Perry, of Oklahoma, later Dr. Wilma Perry longtime Warner Pacific College professor. It still makes me laugh when I think of the carnal-spirited males stomping and snorting around the Convention Grounds when "that woman" preached at our International Convention. I remember one in particular, now long gone, whose name I’ll not mention--came from a rural church in southern Missouri

In recent days, I was touched--challenged--by a lesser-known “woman preacher,” a former acquaintance. In this case, she was a former fellow student some sixty years ago. I remember her as a vibrant young lady, a young single girl, evangelistically minded, full of zest and youthful faith.

I recently received a message from David Coolidge’s Prayer Line and it contained a this note, written to all her old friends:
"Recently I have been diagnosed with a rare disease, Amyloidosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are only three people in a million diagnosed with this disease in a year. It affected my tongue first, then the entire digestive system, and now it has affected the lymph system with the body filling with fluid and seeping. Thanks to everyone who has been my friend and helped me along life's most pleasant journey. I have had a happy life. I hope to see everyone in heaven."
I have Heaven in View, positively.
Thelda Quinn Shaffer/5-5-2011 (italics added).

Years has passed since I even saw Thelda; we had each gone very different tracks in church ministry, but our tracks had crossed in college and she remained a familiar name. The forthrightness and honesty of her message touched me deeply. I responded by writing her a note of appreciation for her candid frankness and the certainty of her note testimony--I like that.

Almost before I could turn around, I received another mailing from David announcing Thelda’s entrance into the eternal portals. Her note had to be one of the last things she did, for I scarcely had time to adjust my thinking before she had moved through her final Commencement.

Across my 45 years of pastoring churches, probably the funerals I conducted were what I remember most and best. I often said I would rather conduct a funeral than a wedding. Weddings were so often filled with facade and unreality, but in funerals I found who people were at their core. Often, they were highlight moments of personal intimacy.

When I remember Thelda, I have little or no recall about her years as a wife, mother, pastor and evangelist. I know we were the same age and that our years of service paralleled. What I remember is a verse I often used in funeral services, titled simply, “Friends”:

The river flowing gently by,
The rolling meadows green,
The mountains towering to the sky,
The valleys in between
Are all a part of God’s great scheme
On which our joy depends,
But greatest of them all, I deem
Our friends.

The sunshine and blue skies are fine,
I’m thankful for the flowers,
For they are truly gifts divine,
To cheer this world of ours,
But flowers droop and skies turn gray
God’s greats blessings, so I say,
Are friends.

When sorrow comes and grief is yours
And hope is lost in gloom,
‘Tis then that friendship comes to shine
Within your darkened room.
“Tis then that consolation sweet,
Your bitter woe attends,
For God hat made this world complete
With friends.

I glory in a summer’s day,
And in the morning sun,
But when my cares are put away,
And all my tasks are done,
When low the shades of evening fall
And night time fast descends,
Most thankful then am I for all
My friends.

I don’t find much satisfaction in the individualistic narcissism of our gadget-generated generation of affluent technics, but I take real pleasure in the interdependence and loving relationships through which God planned for us all of us to grow and thrive and make our world a better place for everyone. I hope my friends will remember me for the appreciation, and the candid forthrightness with which I remember the Reverend Thelda Quinn.

What would any of us be, without our friends?
From Warner’s World, this is

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Emigration Issue

President Obama will speak on Emigration today, an issue I have stayed away from. I don’t know what he thinks about it; not exactly sure what I think...

I hear all kinds of political rhetoric against illegal immigrants … against free borders … against non Caucasians. Some want to fence us in. Keep us huddled behind a high protective barrier. I remember when we were but 6% of the world’s population enjoying the most cars and highways, the cheapest gas, the most telephones and gadgets--biggest and sweetest slice of the Apple Pie. But, that is changing … slowly. It does make one wonder …

There has never been a time in my life when I did not live among emigrants--European, German and Dutch. As a child we had that German family that came to church; they made beer in their basement although we were a teetotaler church--old custom with them. When I visit with those (old) children today at church camp, we are all Americans, but yes, they were emigrants.

While at Anderson College, I attended classes with German emigrants like the future Dr. Ewald Wolfram, and children of Greek emigrants from our Greek-speaking churches. Later, in Oregon, Danny just as well have been an emigrant; he was a Lapwai Indian (native American).

My first year in Portland, my pastor was Dr. Albert Kempin, never thought of that learned man as an emigrant, but he spoke German and emigrated to Philadelphia from Lithuania. As a young pastor in West Texas, one of my older associates in the early and mid-fifties was a man who came out of Hungary with the clothes he wore, a rolled-up Comforter on his back, and perhaps $9.00 (if memory does not fail me); John Kolar was a neighbor pastor and good friend.

While pastor Fort Worth’s Ridglea Church and attending the Baptist Seminary Oscar preached for me; he was a doctoral student from Canada. Sitting next to me in Dr. Churchill’s Journalism class at Southwestern was Molly Wong, who fled mainland China for Hong Kong, after learning to pray with her eyes open and escaping the Communists.

During that same time, Luz, pronounced Loose, became my friend--one of many Hispanic friends. To this day, Luz likes hot peppers like I like ice cream, but that friendship is almost fifty years old now.

For that past fifteen years, one of my most cherished friends has been just plain Bill … Bill K … the rest of it is a mouth full: Konstantopoulos (better known autobiographically as Vasilis). This bright boy came to America speaking Greek (we jestingly accuse him of still speaking Greek--broken English). He learned the language, graduated from college, and has now served the global church with distinction--an emigrant!

And I’m still encountering them! Recently at a recent church conference, I met Nabil (pronounced Nabeel). He and his wife Myrna came from Beirut, Lebanon. They live near Cincinnati, study at Anderson Univ. School of Theology, and partner with Ohio Ministries of the Church of God. Their linquistic skills and their Middle East heritage makes them valuable in working among Muslims. They are the tip of a rather large iceberg that includes others like Nassar and Marilyn Farag--Egyptians.

Dr. Farag translated a book he sent me for review titled THE VIRGIN MARY IN THE LIGHT OF THE WORD OF GOD by Dr. Labib Mikhail. They remind me that in my more than eighty years, I have never lived outside of the influence and benefit of--you guessed it--emigrants.

They are numerous German nationals and Europeans who have always been part of my life. They are Chinese--Suwan owns and operates the Chinese Buffet where we like to eat locally. They are the two Chinese young men I met a few years back who swam several miles out of China, risking their very lives to escape to my country. They are Indonesians, men I met one day while out walking, who constitute much of our downtown First Baptist Church. They are Michelle and her husband, a Vietnamese couple; she is a banker; he is a police dispatcher

Now my German-Norwegian Minnesota grandsons graduate from a Twin City High School where they bused in black African emigrant children--Sudanese et al. Although they were good students, their grades are downscaled because the school is accused of dumbing down to meet the needs of emigrant children and that devalues my graduating grandsons good grades for college.

Whatever one may think of such situations, I find it impossible to talk about “them” without discussing “us”. We have some heart issues with which we must deal:
What is our attitude toward “foreigners”?
Do we fear them? Do we see them as threats to our jobs?
Do we react with prejudice and racism?
Or, do you see “them” as an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with?
Using a couple of examples from the Bible, did you know God expressed concern for foreigners and aliens? Moses instructed ancient Israel to love the aliens in their midst (Deuteronomy 10:19) and to treat them as if they were citizens (Leviticus 19:34).

I was stunned at the bluntness of the instructions when recently re-reading the book of Deuteronomy. The purpose of such treatment was that ”they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God (Deut. 31:12).

The words of Jesus, however, dull my ability to hear the political correctness that prevails around me. Jesus reminds me, “Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me’” (Matthew 25:45)

From Warner’s World, I am