Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Get a Clue

I have just looked at a published photograph, and I am angry. I'm not 'teed off;' I'm mad, and I take exception to the point of view that has provoked my wrath.

The photo I refer to appears in roughly the middle of the September 10, 2011 edition of WORLD magazine, which arrived in my mailbox today. I have been a faithful WORLD subscriber for more than 15 years and was grateful to discover it after I could no longer stomach the flagrant bias of my previous news source, Newseek. So, one of the the lenses through which I digest news of the day is the editorial perspective of WORLD. Measured against the only truly inviolable plumb line, Scripture, I have never known of WORLD to steer me wrong. It's a trusted source of mine.

The cover story, and much of the internal copy, is devoted to the tenth anniversary of 9/11...a milestone that gives me pause. But my reaction to a two-page photo of one of the unthinkable explosions left me agape.

It's not that I hadn't seen similar images before. But it's been a while. It's too psychologically painful, and probably impossible, to sustain 'top of mind awareness' of such horrors, ten years on.

But my ire is provoked not by the fiery images of the attacks, nor even by the news that more than 1,000 victims still have not been identified by physical remains.

No, what I'm mad about is the still-trumpeted view, held by many--including one of my own sons--that "9/11 was an inside job." Even last night, in a media stupor, I scanned through a dozen or so online comments purporting to prove that the whole catastrophe was orchestrated by the US government and the Bush administration.

I used to scornfully dismiss such blatherers as kindred spirits to those who doubt the veracity of the Holocaust or Neil Armstrong's moonwalk. The United States is held in thrall by demented despots who would dare to dream up and effect profound terror. Right.

But now it's 10 years later and three--almost four--Arab countries in the grip of bona fide tyrants have been turned upside down. If memory serves, Saddam Hussein was not only captured and hanged, but eyewitnesses reported that the force of the drop actually caused him to be decapitated.

Let's not forget Tunisia. Wikipedia.com sums their recent history up as follows: "The country was governed by the authoritarian regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from 1987 to 2011 before he fled during the Tunisian revolution. Tunisia,... had suffered corruption benefiting the former president's family.[7]"

Also figuring prominently in the so-called Arab Spring is the dethroning of long-time Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The last image I saw of him showed him confined to a hospital bed, within a fenced cell inside an Egyptian courtroom. How far they fall.

And, perhaps before the end of this week, Moammar Gadaffi, Libya's chest-pounding megalomaniac, may well be captured.

I enumerate these erstwhile heads of state as examples of those who not only might have, but actually did tyrannise and terrorize their own citizens.

No matter what your politics are, I am confident to say that no such character has ever occupied the White House. Have they all been paragons of statesmanship? Clearly not. Has every president been known for foibles and stood on feet of clay? Without a doubt.

But it is heinous to me that many give credence to the idea that 9/11 was a US government-driven catastrophe. Think about it. The United States, for all its grave ills and declensions, is still the singular nation to which more people flee than any other. The history, presence, and ethos of America do not support the idea of a government bent on self-destruction. Some have asserted that hatred and jealousy of the US was one of the factors prompting the 9/11 attacks. How could such motives be imputed to those who govern this country and already enjoy its undeniable blessings?

I could go on, but allow me to conclude with another observation that should be axiomatic. Were it true that the US government, or even rogue factions within the government, was behind the 9/11 terror, this nation would be a very different one than it is now. Terrorists terrorize, and while the current US domestic scene today is troubled with weather disasters, it is not quailing in the grip of tyranny.

Satan never succeeds so easily in his deception than when mankind willfully denies pervasive truth.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Memorial Teaching Opportunities

I’ve said it before and hope it bears repeating: nothing focuses perspective on what’s important more than a funeral. First, it’s incontrovertible proof of everyone’s mortality. Second, if done well, a memorial service clears away the irrelevant components of life down here and shows us what’s what. Or at least that should be an expected result. The responsibility of having eyes to see and ears to hear, of course, lies with each individual.

The service I’ve just returned from was, indeed, the celebration of a life well lived. The gentleman so honored was not perfect, nor did he pretend to be. But he knew Who was and had rested his case with Christ for more than 65 years. That single decision opened the door for all the precious virtue, honor, duty, dignity, compassion, sacrifice, and love that characterized his life in the intervening decades. His children and extended family, and friends testified to that clearly.

And isn’t that what we all want, when we’ve reached the point of departure? In our secret hearts, don’t we hope that our life will have mattered, that we will have been a positive influence on at least a few others…not only that they will miss us, but that they will be better from having had us in their lives?

Many years ago now, I was given a book of children’s prayers on the occasion of my oldest child’s birth. It was a nicely illustrated, dust-jacketed little volume, but I set it aside rather than read it to my little son. The reason was that certain pages of this sweet little book lied. And I know that lies come from a place that I don’t want to have represented in my home. Adjacent to adorable pictures of wooly sheep and the occasional verse from Psalms were innocuous-sounding epithets like this: “All roads lead to heaven.” Carefully detailed drawings of little children attired in costumes from around the world ascended into a doorway above the copy. So cute, was it, that I questioned whether I was being ridiculous or mean-spirited in my balking.

But, if Truth is true, lies cannot be. Let’s be honest—which means adhering to what is true. Lies are maliciously motivated, deceitful grasps at the heels of eternal beings. All roads don’t lead to heaven. Only one does.

I maintain that had the man celebrated today not followed Christ, this ceremony would have been very different, if it happened at all. Unless they have some vested interest in perjuring themselves before others, most people will not say things about others—particularly at a funeral—that they don’t know to be true. Why would you?

I’ve been to funeral services for both believers and non-believers, and they have little in common other than acknowledging the departure of the deceased.

Funerals for people devoid of commitment to Christ are earth-rooted. They may be ‘beautiful services,’ but that doesn’t last much beyond the exit door. It’s often considered “a shame” that the deceased is gone, but the observations tend to stop there.

What’s the truth? The truth is that the spirit, the essence of that person, is continuing on in the spiritual realm…and this reality, by the way, has only two destinations. All the greeting card-hopes and angry assertions to the contrary can’t change the reality. Either “to die is gain,” as Paul reminds us [Phil. 1:21], and “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” [2 Cor. 5:8] or there awaits the pain of unceasing awareness that grace was rejected and the penalty of agony is deserved.

There are those who have said this is just ‘my religion’ talking. There’s often little value in challenging this viewpoint.

But I find it interesting to note the latent, undeniable testimony of remembrance services. Just as most human hearts retain a vestige of the innate knowledge of good and evil, so do most gatherings of remembrance subtly reveal this. It seems to me that if the life of the deceased did not acknowledge this, there is little evidence of hope in the farewell service.

Hope is forward-looking. And only one path triumphantly passes through the doors of mortality because only one faith has a God that defeated death. I’ve never had occasion to go to a Hindu, Muslim or other non-Judeo Christian memorial service. But I’ve attended many nominally ‘christian’ or faith-less services. There’s a difference. And it doesn’t only have to do with the speakers or order of service. In the absence of a firm hope, there is emptiness.

Several years ago, when the war in Iraq was still in full fury, I read an article in WORLD magazine about Dover Air Force Base. This installation bears a special burden because the bodies of soldiers killed in combat arrive here before being turned over to families. A doctor interviewed recalled the peculiar rigors of his position: his job was to study the broken remains of young people killed in violent circumstance…day in and day out. But he also testified that there was an enormous difference that he could not help but notice in family members who came to claim their dead. Those with a foundation of faith “do much better” than those without. I don’t think that is a random observation.

Those who deny the spiritual dimension of mortal life will not see the evidence no matter how much it surrounds them. Closed eyes don’t see. But when this mortal life ends, it opens into a new reality, and the eyelids must be pried apart.

I recall hearing a radio news report on the passing of renowned astronomist Carl Sagan whose later life seemed dedicated to the assertion that all there is of life is empirically known, and that the earth we inhabit is not a created wonder but, instead, a ‘pale blue dot’ as one of his book titles has it. At his death, his wife reportedly asserted that Sagan had met death remaining true to his convictions. “There was no deathbed conversion or religious experience.”

Similarly, noted speaker and author Christopher Hitchens, battling terminal cancer, is aware that his personal end is imminent. Knowing this, he has been quoted as saying he appreciates the well wishes and even the prayers of others. But he remains steadfastly confident in his refusal to bow his knee. I watched a recent TV interview where he plainly told the interviewer that, should there be reports of him “coming to God” as his life comes to a close, “it will not be true. Do not credit such accounts.” If only his opinion was capable of shaping ultimate reality. But it is not.

If the testimony of the natural world, the impact of Christianity on world history, or the lives of serious Christians are not enough to convince you, maybe you need to become a student of funerals.

I find they provide persuasive teachable moments.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Little Man

My first indication that my youngest son had awakened this morning was feeling his strong young arms around my shoulders as I sat at this keyboard. He has always been affectionate, even before he could stand on his own.

The years have sped by, and he does much more than stand on his own. I am keenly aware that this year, at age 13 and a half, he will be deciding (even if subconsciously) what kind of person he actually will be. Will the many prayers and moments of teaching (as well as the teachable moments I didn't take advantage of) be evident?

But sons and daughters aren't like recipes that pop out of the oven as successes or failures. There are many indications and opportunities for course correction along the journey, if only we pay attention.

What I've noticed, though, is that this parenting enterprise is a collaborative effort: God is always there with His comprehensive love and wisdom; John is there, transforming before my eyes; the third component? That would be me, the very imperfect mom who tries to show up but doesn't always make it. Sometimes I am AWOL; or too tired, too discouraged, or simply not paying attention.

This morning's interchange was a little too obvious to miss, though:

Miss Cee: Mom! Johnny thinks he can go to Eli's house to play just because I'm going there, but I asked you and HE didn't!!!

John: [overheard, sotto voce] *If you can go, so can I!*

But, no, he can't. How quickly he has forgotten the instruction--repeated less than 24 hours ago--that permission must first be asked for and granted. Well, that's OK for little sisters but, hey, he's Officially A Teenager.

But, not quite independent, and clearly still under authority, as is demonstrated by the fact that he is not yet fully independent. Time for Mom to suit up and boldly stride into the fray.

I am met by cold eyes and a jutting, still-beardless chin. Must I really devote ten minutes and more emotional energy to report for duty again? But the truths I'm about to remind John of apply to me as well: we are all under authority; we don't own our own lives; God created us, and our lives are His if we call ourselves His children, and--make no mistake, my son--you also will stand before Him and give account of yourself.

But, right now, submitting to God still involves submitting to your parents. Not cool, just true.

So we talk about privileges and freedoms, choices and character. Do you understand what I'm telling you? Tell me what you understand. At this juncture, as so many times before, I look at his face and try to read his attitude. I remind him the choice is his: finish his chores or sit on his bed for an hour.

Minutes later, I hear the rhythmic hum of the vacuum in his room. Then, I hear the front door open and slam shut. Wait a minute--

But I look out the window and see him, unbidden, take out a bag for recycling pick up. He walks slowly back in the door. Our eyes meet, and I tell him he is free to go to Eli's house now.

I haven't seen him run this fast--in flip flops yet!-- in a while.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Only One Atonement


From time to time, I dip my figurative toe into the maelstrom of mainstream media to "take the temperature" of society. Often this proves to be too dispiriting or distasteful to take note of here. But today's news story about the life prison term--+ 20 years, for good measure--that was handed down to delusional paedophile and fake spiritual prophet Warren Jeffs bears a comment.


Well, perhaps two comments.

First, as one who likes to find a silver lining when I can, I applaud the fact that this manipulated and grossly manipulative man has received swift and, hopefully, lifelong justice. I'm sure his incarceration will be salutary for the many young females he preyed upon.

Second, although we can only expect lies from liars, and deception from the deceived, I must take special exception here. Not to exonerate, but to point out two particularly heinous and twisted falsehoods declaimed by Jeffs.

I will not detail the heartbreaking testimony reportedly heard in court over the past several days, some of which I would characterize as unspeakable. I choose to stand firmly on the words of Christ Himself, Who cautioned that those who lead little ones astray would be better off having millstones provided, [the definitive anti-flotation device] before being cast into the sea.

People who fail to appreciate the veracity of Scripture pass these pronouncements off as nonsensical metaphors, at best. This is not the case. Even Warren Jeffs will not want to be in his own shoes when he must take his turn before the Lord in judgment.

Words are powerful. This is self-evident. None of our words are spoken outside the knowledge of God. Of how much more import are the words of a leader, self-appointed or otherwise? Thus it is, to me, breathtaking that this man would instruct young girls that they would be 'rejected by God' should they fail to participate in 'heavenly sessions' of sexual intimacy with him, often before note-taking onlookers. I couldn't make this stuff up.

Since there is nothing new under the sun, I chalk this up as merely an updated version of the base sexual worship practices of pagan peoples, mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, as well as being evidenced in various anthropological records and artifacts from around the world. Some records of early Canaanite practices, I've heard, are so base that special permission must be secured to even see them.

But to have the temerity to speak for God and threaten young women with His rejection? Apparently, Jeffs was too foolish, deluded, or seared to tremble when he spoke such things. But, he'll understand, ultimately.

However, in my view, his second reported comment is worse. According to today's London Daily Mail, "In a cruel irony, the girls were encouraged [to engage in sexual rites] by Jeffs by being told their compliance would help atone for the sins of their community." [Emphasis mine]

Say what?

Evidently he explained by being sexually victimized, his young "wives", some younger than 16, would help ATONE for communal sins. Again, words matter. Very few words matter as much as the word "atone." This profoundly powerful word refers to the singular and eternity-changing work of Jesus on the cross; that His shed blood has been utterly efficacious to atone for [or make us "at one" with God] for the sin of mankind.

On this side of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, there is no other atoning.

In all seriousness, I would venture to guess that Jeffs was not as familiar with the book of Hebrews as he needs to be if he purports to be a leader in any organization that bears the name of Jesus Christ. This is not a footnote. This is the cornerstone of true Christian doctrine. Even allowing that true doctrine has nothing to do with the goings-on of the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the word "atone" is not one to trifle with.

Perhaps God will be merciful to Warren Jeffs and allow him the opportunity in prison to comprehend and avail himself of the benefits of Christ's atoning sacrifice while his eternal spirit still inhabits his mortal body.

With a sentence of "life plus 20 years" he should have plenty of time to reflect and possibly even cross paths with an authentic prison chaplain who can show him the Truth of Christ and lead him to repentance before his earthly sojourn ends. Perhaps, like David Berkowitz, about whom I wrote in my last post, prison could be the best thing that ever happened to Warren Jeffs.

But first, he'll need to jettison the defiant pride he evidently displayed as recently as yesterday, as he insists he remains a prophet. Atonement is inseparable from truth, and the truth is that we all need atoning for, and the road is narrow. It requires agreeing with God about everything, owning our depravity, repenting and surrendering.

Afterall, that's the only hope any of us has.

[Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2024150/Warren-Jeffs-trial-50-brides-bred-worship-paedophile-prophet.html#ixzz1UYS7zQ00]