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In The Shadow Of The Manor

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“A village living in the shadow of a castle. Once a year one villager receives an invitation to the castle and a spectral carriage pulled by nothing comes to collect them a day later. They are never seen or heard from again. If someone declines the invitation they are found dead in their bed. The protagonist has received their invitation.”

The above is a writing prompt that was offered this past Friday on one of the writer’s boards that I’m a member of. The following is my response to it. Hope you enjoy ūüôā

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Ciaran¬†sat, hunched over his knees as he waited by the curb of Aughnahilla’s cobbled main¬†street. He could feel the gaze of the passersby, looking on in a palpable sympathy but saying nothing. Let them look. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t done the same¬†innumerable times himself,¬†to whatever sorry sack had received that year’s invitation.

This year, it was him. He stared at the¬†card in his hand¬†and sighed. He’d done that a lot over the last twenty four hours — staring, sighing.

There was nothing particularly noteworthy about the card. By itself, anyway. It was simple, little more than a square of rough paper sporting his name, written in red so deep that it approached black. Fitting, that. He read aloud from the card, as if hoping that the words in his ears would be a different name than his own.

But they weren’t. He sighed again. No, the card itself was simple, plain, unassuming. And yet, it meant the end of the world to him.

He lifted his eyes and cast them northward. There a mountain rose, providing something of a windbreak from the autumn cold fronts moving in. At the summit sat the castle, Dunamase.

Ciaran¬†looked away, and his eyes fell upon a familiar face.¬†Old Lady Murphy, the owner of the curio shop. She was out and about, running her errands, doing so on the far side of the street so as to not disturb¬†Ciaran as he awaited Coiste Bodhar. Or perhaps, so she wouldn’t receive a card of her own. In either case, he would’ve welcomed the company — even hers — as it might help him to forget that tonight was his last.

Once a year, every year, since before his grandfather’s grandfather was born, an invitation was sent out from Dunamase, bearing the name of that year’s guest. They had¬†but a¬†day to get their affairs in order. The next evening, as the sun set, the banshee would wail her dreadful song from the parapets of Dunamase, and Coiste Bodhar would begin its trek from the castle walls to the home of the invited.

Ciaran had actually watched the approach of Coiste Bodhar with his brother Donal one year — two stupid lads with nothing better to do than to peek through the hedges at some luckless soul as they went to their fate. No horse¬†pulled the black coach, nor did any driver steer it. Nevertheless, the monstrous conveyance¬†found its guest — Seamus O’Malley, that year¬†—¬†and the coach door¬†swung open of its own accord.

No rider had ever come back from their invitation. None had ever returned from their ride in Coiste Bodhar. None were ever heard from again. So some, like poor Seamus, simply refused to ride.

He, like any who refused, was found dead the next morning.

A low cry echoed down the mountainside from Dunamase, jerking Ciaran from his thoughts. The banshee. He cast his eyes across the street, and for a moment, Old Lady Murphy’s gaze met his. Her lips formed a tight line, and her eyes twinkled as the dying day reflected against her unshed tears. She lifted her right hand,¬†as if to wave. Instead she crossed herself, warding against evil, and turned toward home with nary a word.

As soon as it had started, the wailing stopped, replaced by the distinct rumble of old wood and rusty metal. Coiste Bodhar had begun its run.

Ciaran watched the highroad leading to Dunamase for a long time before the coach came into view, its black mass rolling with no steed to pull it. His stomach churned as the¬†black carriage disappeared behind a copse of trees, only to reappear a moment later. Barn, building, haystack —¬†the approach of Coiste Bodhar was broken in his view, vanishing and reappearing, as if to taunt him.

Finally, it reached the bottom of the hill and entered the long stretch of road that led from the base of the mountain straight into Aughnahilla. Straight to Ciaran.

Swallowing hard, Ciaran stood and brushed the dust from his trousers. The black coach seemed deafening in his ears as it drew near, and yet, it was muted, far away, as if it were coming for somebody else. It wasn’t until Coiste Bodhar stopped in front of him, its door creaking open without the touch of any human hand, that it became real for him. The time had come.

“Ciaran O’Neill,” came a dry whisper from within. “Submit ye to the summons?”

“Aye,” Ciaran rasped, not sure until that very moment that he actually would. Numbly, he shuffled forward, climbing into the velvet lined interior. The smell¬†of mildew filled his nostrils as he settled upon the dusty cushions. There was no sensation of movement as the door swung shut behind him and the coach rumbled forward. Coiste Bodhar could’ve been standing still for all that Ciaran felt.

In fact, Ciaran felt nothing at all — no movement, no cushions, no heat or cold. His shirt and trousers didn’t touch his skin. The wind of their passage didn’t lick his cheek. A soft lethargy stole over Ciaran as his body went totally numb. Was this what death felt like? Was he…?

“Retrieval successful, Captain,” a voice said at the very edge of Ciaran’s awareness. An angel, perhaps? A demon? The world around him faded from view, going as black as the coach itself.

…only to be replaced by a sterile, white light. Ciaran opened his eyes blearily to a cold, metallic¬†room filled with blinking lights and mechanical sounds.

“He’s awake,” came the voice again. “Ciaran? Ciaran, can you hear me?”

Ciaran turned his head — he was laying down — he turned his head toward the voice. He blinked a few times, hard, and his vision sharpened. “Moira?”

The tall brunette —¬†how did he know her name? —¬†beamed at him. “Hey, sleepy head. Welcome back to the land of the living.”

“Living?” he asked, confused. “Sure’n I thought meself a goner, when I saw Coiste Bodhar…”

“Sure’n? Coach de Bauer? What in the… Ahhh,” she said as realization dawned. “The program.”

“Program?”

Moira straightened, adopting a business stance at his bedside. “Your name is Ciaran O’Neill. You’ve been¬†in suspended animation¬†for a hundred and forty three years. You’re on board the Colony Ship Dunamase, named aft–”

“After a ruined castle in Ireland,” Ciaran finished for her. It was all coming back to him — the ship, the mission to colonize the Trappist 1 star system. “I dreamt that I was there, in a village at its base,” he said, noting absently that his Irish accent had already faded.

“That was the sleep program, occupying your mind while we travelled. It was designed to make your mind think it was awake, and the world you were experiencing was real. Unfortunately…” She pursed her lips and nodded across the room. Ciaran followed her eyes, and found cadres of¬†medical staff¬†at various beds in the bay, pumping airbags and doing compressions on their respective patients.

One of them was Seamus O’Malley. Even from this distance, Ciaran could see the skin bluing, against his doctors’ best efforts.

“Unfortunately,” Moira continued, “the program was a little too effective.”

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The Prodigal Son, and Christmas

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In the Bible, there’s an account of a man whose son wanted to go out and see the world, to live life to its fullest, to live according to his own rules rather than the rules that others made for him. So he asked his father for his portion of his inheritance — now, rather than waiting on his father to die.

Of course, the father didn’t “have” to give his son his inheritance early. He was under no such obligation. And I’m sure he didn’t want his son to go. He very likely knew the ends of those pursuits, and that they’d lead to a lot of pain for his son. But he loved his son enough to let him make his own choices — his own mistakes.

Sure enough, when the son’s pursuits bore fruit, he found himself at rock bottom, working as a swineherd — an unclean job by Jewish standards, managing unclean animals that would be made into unclean food. Worse, he (born a rich kid) was so poor that he envied the food that the swine ate.

So he goes home. He didn’t have any presumptions that his father would treat him like a son. After all, he’d squandered his entire inheritance — the money that he would otherwise have gotten only when his father had DIED. In a very real way, the son had treated his father as if he HAD died, and his father similarly had nothing left of his son but memories. Their relationship was utterly broken.

So it was an utter SHOCK when the prodigal son comes home, and the father not only welcomes him onto the property — he welcomes him back into his life! He lavishes his riches on his son — a robe (signifying acceptance), a ring (signifying his authority, granted to his son), good food, a bed, the works. Far from the unclean heathen that he had become, his father treated him like the son that he had always been… even when the son didn’t think he was.

Now, we all know this story, and it does teach a lot about gratitude and love — particularly, the love of God for His rebellious creation — but rarely does this come across as a Christmas story. And yet, that’s exactly what I think this is. I know — when we think Christmas, we think of the virgin birth, the angels, the wise men, and of Linus Van Pelt reciting Luke 2 for Charlie Brown. But when you get right down to it, that’s all about how Christmas HAPPENED. The parable of the prodigal son is about WHY Christmas happened.

Through the parable, we see ourselves, coveting what rightly belongs to our Father, but brutishly rejecting His Will for us. Rather than abide by His rules, we go out and live by our own rules… to our detriment. He didn’t “have” to allow us the opportunity to rebel. He could’ve denied us the freedom to disobey Him, just as the father of the prodigal son could’ve denied him his inheritance. But God chose to allow us the room to mess up, not because He wants us to experience the pain that He KNOWS will result of our decisions, but because He loves us enough to allow us to make them. The result? We willfully squander what He has entrusted to us — as if it were OURS all along rather than His — and break our relationship with Him, becoming unclean before Him.

But though we deserve the ends that we bring upon ourselves, our Father is not content to leave us to them. Far from it, He has left the door open for us — sacrificed of HIMSELF in ways that He did not deserve in order to offer us a redemption that we did not deserve. In the Christmas account, God became flesh. He took the door that we slammed shut with our sin, and opened it again with a virgin birth. Not only is Jesus the answer to about a hundred prophecies in the Old Testament, but He answers a number of them merely by the circumstances of His birth — something that a mere man could never do.

When we say that Jesus is the ultimate Christmas present, it doesn’t do justice to the sheer miracle that is Christmas — where a sinless God took upon Himself the form of sinful man in an act that HE KNEW would end with His physical pain and death and, worse, REJECTION at the hands of the very creation He loved.

He knew the hatred of a king would drive Herod to murder a generation of babies in an attempt to kill the King of Kings. And yet Jesus came anyway, for God so loved the whole world… including Herod.

He knew that the scribes and Pharisees would proclaim Him a heretic — Him, God In The Flesh, a heretic!!! — but He came anyway, for God so loved the world… including those scribes and Pharisees.

He knew that Judas — His disciple, His friend, His bro — would betray Him to those who would have Him killed, but He came anyway, for God so loved the world… including Judas.

See, that really is the miracle of Christmas — not just that God would become a man so that He could save us, but that He would do so for a world that DID NOT WANT SAVING. Just like the father of the prodigal son, He didn’t “force” His love upon us, or make us make the first step. Rather, He did His part WITHOUT waiting on us to do ours, loving us while we still hated Him. And then He stood in the road, watching, waiting to see us come around the bend, so that He could lavish upon us a redemption that He had already paid for in full.

Christmas isn’t just about God loving us. It’s about God loving us while we were still unlovable. Remember that, the next time you sing about “God and sinners reconciled”, and about “peace on Earth, good will to men”.

Merry Christmas, and may God bless!

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Reevaluation

I’m still here. How remarkable is that?

Oh, make no mistake. I never doubted God’s ability to see me through the most trying experience of my life, but I’ll be quite honest about it — I did doubt His willingness. I know how loving He is, and how much attention to detail He gives, and He’s CERTAINLY blessed me far greater than anything I could ever hope to earn, but I really thought my witness for Him would’ve been served better with my passing. I mean, I was strong and confident and at peace in the face of possible death specifically because I knew that nothing would happen to me that God had not allowed — for my kids’ benefit, for my wife and extended family’s benefit, for my friends and those who consider me an influence, and of course for the Kingdom. I’d prepared my kids for my passing as best I could, reiterating over and over NOT to be mad at God if He chose to take me home, because He knows the courses of our lives better than we ever could, and knows how to turn even our greatest tragedy into a triumph. So thought as I entered the operating room that I’d run my race as faithfully as I could, and that I was ready for whatever awaited me on the other side of it.

But I wasn’t ready for¬†this!!! Sure, I hoped, and I begged, and I pleaded, but God will have His way, no matter what His way may be.¬†And apparently, His way was to see me come through it miraculously. Not only was the operation a success, but when the doctor detailed just what he had to do to¬†ensure its success — the incredible calcification of the valve that he had to fight, the expansion of the aorta, both of which could’ve killed me long ago — I realize that God did not just mean for me to survive this thing, but to show just HOW great His mercy is for me!

And I honestly don’t know where to start on this new path that I find myself on. My entire life has been fundamentally changed. I’m no longer that kid that was born with a heart condition — I’m now the man who¬†had a heart condition, but now has a mechanical valve. I have the potential to be stronger, physically, than I ever was before. Even with my options limited, I have so many¬†more options available to me than ever before. My book series that I had, quite honestly, given up on because I’d never finish it in time — I can now finish it. My daughters that I was sure I’d never walk down the aisle, I can now dance at their weddings. My son who I was sure would still turn to anger (as is his natural tendency), I can now model to him the full value of peace. My wife who I was sure would follow in her mother’s footsteps as a grieving widow, I can now comfort and keep company and love on until we’re both old and grey (or until the Lord changes His mind, of course — I’m not that bold).

But these are all things that I¬†wanted to happen — not really things that I¬†expected to happen. See, since I was a kid, I’ve known that I’d die on an operating table. I was sure of it when I was 10 and doing my first heart cath. I was sure of it when I had to have my tonsils taken out. I sweated through the whole of my LASIK procedure, trying desperately to block out images of that movie, Final Destination. But this time,¬†this time, I was sure my time was up, that God had finally gotten what He wanted from me — someone so completely sold out to Him that even the fear of death couldn’t shake my faith.

But He¬†got that from me… and I’m still here. And I can’t help but wonder if that wasn’t the point all along?

So, yeah, I’ve got some reevaluating to do, some goals to finally accomplish, and a testimony that I need to start spreading, but before I do any of that…

1 Chronicles 16:34 — O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever.

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Happy New Year…?

I’m not big on holidays — anybody who knows me knows that — but of all the holidays on our calendar, of all the days we set aside as “special”, perhaps the most POINTLESS one in my opinion is New Year.

Yeah, I know. I’m a humbug. Sue me ūüėČ

LtDan

(For those of yall who don’t recognize Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump, you have my most profound pity…)

But seriously, why January 1st? What is so spectacular about it, other than seeing a lighted ball drop in Times Square? Admittedly, that’s¬†something you don’t see everyday — hundreds of thousands of people gathered in one place at one time without rioting. But still, there’s nothing to separate this particular day from the other 365 days (Leap Year)¬†of 2016.

What? It’s the beginning of the year? Sure… by the¬†Gregorian standard. The Gregorian calendar is a¬†solar-based calendar, courtesy of Pope Gregory XIII, that we’ve only had since 1582. It was instituted here in the United States in 1752, where it replaced the Julian calendar — virtually identical to the Gregorian, but with January 1st offset by eleven days. Using that calendar, I wouldn’t celebrate New Years until January 14th on the Gregorian. Further, the year wouldn’t be 2016 — it’d be 2015, if you go strictly by the original Julian rather than what it was adjusted to. And of course, the Julian calendar was simply a revision and simplification of the lunar-based Roman calendar.

But what if I hadn’t been born to Western culture? There’s the Chinese New Year, which is on February 8th this year (which my friend Dave and his family will be semi-celebrating hehe). It begins the Year of the Monkey, according to their zodiac which is on a twelve year cycle.

There’s also Israel, where I’d have TWO calendars to choose from — both of which recognize us as currently being in the year 5776, by the way. I could go with the civil calendar, which celebrates its New Year on Tishri 1st, in which case I should’ve celebrated New Year on September 14th (after sunset). I could also go with the religious calendar, which celebrates its year on Nisan 1st, in which case I won’t celebrate New Year until April 9th. And to make matters worse, since the calendar is based on the cycles of the moon rather than the sun, there are only 354 days in the Hebrew year, so each year those dates would be different in the Gregorian! They have to add a whole¬†separate MONTH to their calendar (called Adar II or Ve’Adar, which gets shoved in¬†between Adar I and Nisan) every¬†three years¬†or so to keep things on track!!!

The Islamic calendar, called the Hijri,¬†is just as confusing.¬†It’s also a¬†lunar based calendar,¬†beginning with Muharram 1st, which in 2016 Gregorian (or starting the year 1437 according to the Hijri) won’t be until October 2nd.

Personally, I think the calendar I created for my Facets of Reality series is far more wieldy than any of the previously mentioned calendars. I have five months, each ten weeks long for seventy days total, with a three day festival dividing each month, with the final festival being four days long every fourth year. More precisely, the month of Goldenleaf (Summer to Fall) is seventy days long, with the three (or four) day Festival of Harvest falling five weeks into the month. If I were to celebrate New Year by that calendar, it would be in the middle of the month of Whitesong during the three-day Festival of New Year.

What I’m getting at is that people put far too much emphasis on New Year, in my opinion. People¬†look¬†at the new year with the promise of a fresh start, renewed hope, and all that. They form resolutions as if THIS year they’re gonna get right what they got wrong the previous year. My question is… why New Year? Why do we think that this day, out of 365 (or 366, or 354, or what have you) is so special? What power does THIS day have to give us a fresh start that you cannot find every single morning when you open your eyes?

I wish everybody a Happy New Year — truly I do — because that’s what people want, what they expect. Myself, though? Every day I live is another year that I have lived.¬†This morning I¬†reached another December 31st. Happy New Year to me! Tomorrow I’ll reach another January 1st, if the Lord wills it. Yall can wish me a Happy New Year that day, and I’ll gladly take it.¬†Maybe the day after that, I’ll reach another January 2nd, closing out another year since the last January 2nd I celebrated¬†— the 43rd time I’ve done so! Not a bad streak there.

I’m not saying that I don’t recognize special days. Far from it. Rather, I’m saying that EACH day is special, unique, set apart from all the rest. Maybe in that uniqueness they find commonality, I dunno, but to me, each today is a today that I didn’t have yesterday.

I’ve used the following verse many times regarding our days of worship, or end time prophecies, or various holidays that hold various meanings for us, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I use this verse again. As you celebrate your New Year — whenever you celebrate it — think back on this verse and meditate on what this new year might mean to you…

Psalm 118:24 — This is the day¬†which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

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Too Weird To Make Up

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He was born out of wedlock. His adoptive father was of the line of Solomon, but married outside his station. He was born among animals and commoners. He and His family were refugees in a foreign country for most of His childhood. He was raised as the son of a carpenter.

In every way, Jesus DID NOT FIT THE BILL of what the Jews were looking in a messiah. He was NOT born in a palace among wealth. He was NOT raised to be a military leader. He was NOT one to parade His worth around, preferring exactly the OPPOSITE — that those who met Him DID NOT TELL OTHERS who healed them, but to give that glory to God. Good grief, He wasn’t even LEGITIMATE by Jewish standards!!!

Enter the story anywhere you wish, Jesus’ story IS NOT one that would appeal to the Jews to whom He was first sent. It is NOT one that they would accept at face value, because it’s not one that they would EXPECT. Even today, the Jews by and large REJECT Jesus… and yet it’s to THEM that Jesus first revealed Himself.

One might argue that the story of Jesus is a made-up one, but considering who this “made-up” story was marketed to, one needs only consider that this absolute FAILURE to connect with its target audience, coupled by its survival past the first DECADE of its existence (to say nothing of the 2000 years that followed), is evidence enough that the story was true. Nobody would make up a story like this, because nobody would BELIEVE a story like this!

…if there wasn’t something about the story that transcends the illegitimate child born in humility and laid in a feed trough.

The story of Christmas is the story of the unexpected, where a sinless God took upon Himself the redemption of a sinful world, paid the price Himself, and asked only that His redeemed love Him above themselves, and love all others AS themselves. Nobody would make up a story like that, because nobody would BELIEVE a story like that. It’s too far fetched that an Almighty, Glorious God would humble Himself so. It’s too SIMPLE a formula for salvation from sins — simply to accept Christ as Savior and submit to Him as Lord. No coded messages, no secret handshakes, no “favorite sons”. Just love — sacrificial, infinite, unconditional. Who would believe a story like that?!?!?!?

Well… I do.

May the peace of the Lord be with you as you celebrate God’s love this Christmas season.

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The Silent Message of “A Christmas Story”

Lemme preface this by saying that A Christmas Story is, quite possibly, my favorite Christmas movie of all time. Not only is it hilarious, but it’s fun for the whole family AND it’s¬†infinitely quotable, even through the more¬†non-Christmasy times of the year. My loving — and patient — wife can attest to that.

That said, there’s a certain sad truth that the movie illustrates all too perfectly. We all know the story — with Christmas just around the corner, our hero Ralphie plots and plans and schemes his way toward a “Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with the compass in the stock and¬†this thing which tells time”, only to be shut down with myriad warnings that he’ll shoot his eye out. Nevertheless, he presses forward, and eventually wins the day. The movie closes with him clutching the BB gun tightly as he drifts off to dream, “pranging ducks on the wing and getting off spectacular hip shots.”

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What is missed in all this is the entire reason that he even has that gun — not his plots or his schemes, but the graciousness of The Old Man.

Year after year, I find myself on Facebook, referencing the oft-forgotten meaning of Christmas via Linus Van Pelt and¬†his recitation of Luke 2. It remains the longest portion of the Bible that I can quote by heart — again, courtesy of Linus. On its face, it would seem that the¬†miracle of Christmas is the gift that we were given:¬†our Savior. It makes sense, and even the majority of Christians see it this way. But they would be wrong. Rather, the miracle of Christmas is the GIVER of that gift — a God that loved us enough, in spite of everything that we are and do,¬†that He gave His only begotten Son to be our redemption.

Now, this may seem like splitting hairs to you — especially since the Giver and the gift are one and the same God —¬†but to me, there is a distinct difference between the two. See, if the meaning of Christmas is bound up in the gift of Christ, then Christmas is all about those of us who receive that gift. But if the meaning of Christmas is bound up in the GIVER of Christ, then Christmas is all about the God that gave that gift.

To offer a similar illustration… remember the ten lepers that came to Jesus looking for healing?¬†Jesus¬†never¬†touched them, but even so, sent them away to show themselves to the priest as if they had already been healed. Without having received their healing, they still turned to obey.¬†At that first step of obedience, they¬†received their healing. The they rushed off to the priest to do what they had started to do in the first place, shouting for joy.

All except one. This leper stopped in his tracks, turned to face Jesus, and praised¬†God¬†for the healing. Note the difference. All ten lepers received the gift, but only ONE of the lepers praised the Giver. Scripture tells us that Jesus singled that man out, in that while the others had been made “clean”, this one had been made “whole”.

This is what A Christmas Story demonstrates to me — what Christmas has REALLY lost. True, Christmas has been bound up in commercialism for a long time, and there’ve been attempts to “put the Christ back into Christmas”, but even that ultimately makes Christmas about the gift — and by extension, the one who receives the gift —¬†rather than the Giver.

Acts 20:35¬†tells us that¬†it is¬†more blessed¬†to give than to receive… why?¬†Because receiving makes it about you. Giving makes it about them. When God gave Christ, He made it about us. Our knee-jerk reaction is to focus on our having received Christ, but in doing so, we¬†CONTINUE making¬†it about us rather than¬†RETURNING honor again to God and making it once more about Him. However, when we praise God for the gift of God the Son, we’re not merely receiving the gift¬†— we’re GIVING, as God gave to us. Just as God made it about us,¬†we¬†are likewise making it about Him.

That is, more than the focus on Christ Himself, what Christmas has lost over the years —¬†the¬†giving. While Ralphie getting his Red Ryder¬†makes for a¬†fitting ending to the story, Ralphie nevertheless gives all honor to his gift, and none (or far less) to the giver. In receiving his gift, he has made Christmas all about him… and¬†missed the point of Christmas entirely.

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Consistently Inconsistent

Lemme warn you at the outset, this is gonna be long and rambling. I’m on night shift, and at a post where there’s nothing to do but write, so yeah — be forewarned ūüėČ

Anyway…

Follow my posts long enough, and you’ll get a sense for my worldview. I’m first and foremost a disciple of Christ, and something of an amateur Christian apologist. I’m also a devoted husband and father, a passable author of speculative fiction (aka “the weird stuff”), and a bullheaded small government conservative.

Personally, I find all of these things vital parts of what I consider an internally consistent worldview. I mean, I don’t compartmentalize this spiritual view away from that political stance, or this role away from that aspiration. Each portion of my worldview informs all other parts, and all parts are interconnected and, for the most part, interchangeable.

Of course, I’m used to liberals accusing me of being inconsistent, a la “How can you call yourself pro-life when you’re a supporter of gun rights and capital punishment?” I try my best to explain it to them, but they’re generally more interested in leveling accusations of hypocrisy than trying to understand how I logically reconcile one view with the other. So I’m generally left with shrugging it off and going my way, letting them think of me what they will.

It’s a little harder to do, though, when I get the same accusations from my conservative friends. I sometimes get accused of being a closet liberal, or someone who’s play-acting at being a Christian, all because my views don’t jibe with theirs. Ultimately, it comes down to the same problem that I have with the typical liberal — they’re not interested in the logic; they just know that the end result of that logic doesn’t align with theirs, and so they let fly the slings and arrows.

Never is this more true than when I’m discussing my views on vices — gambling, prostitution, recreational drug use and the like. For context, let me say this at the outset — I’m completely AGAINST the illegalization of vices, regardless of what that vice might be.

See there? Closet liberal. Play-acting at being a Christian. It would seem so, wouldn’t it? ūüėČ

Thing is, nothing could be further from the truth. As a Christian, and as a small government conservative, I find it an absolutely APPALLING MISUSE of government to try and dictate somebody’s life to them — particularly, the stupidity that the individual might want to partake in.

As a Christian, I understand how stupid sin really is. Sin is a momentary indulgence that carries with it long lasting consequences — strife with our neighbors and strangers, pain and suffering for our loved ones, a broken relationship with our Creator, death, eternal separation from everything we hold dear. Pick your poison, and sin will deliver. But for as stupid as sin is, God loves us enough to call us to REJECT sin… and then allow us the choice to obey to our benefit, or disobey to our detriment. As much as God loves us, He could MANDATE that we obey, program us so that disobedience would not be possible, and yet He DOESN’T.

So as a Christian, I am tee-totally against sin… and yet, my politics do not and WILL not reflect a mandate against it. Many of my Christian friends can’t wrap their heads around this. Why wouldn’t I support Godly laws, making it a crime to sell sex or to consume hurtful drugs? I mean, it’s for their own GOOD, for Pete’s sake! How can I be against that?!?

But how can I presume to mandate something that God Himself allows? Yes, absolutely, He will PUNISH those who reject His commandments and partake in sin… but He allows them that option. How can I then DISallow that option?

The same goes for prostitution. Selling is legal. Screwing around is legal. So why isn’t selling screwing around legal? Quite simply, it’s because moral people in government have good intentions, but manifest those intentions in totalitarian ways. Rather than exemplifying good sexual character, fidelity, respect for marriage, and respect for one’s self and others — and ENCOURAGING these values in their constituency — these well-meaning politicians seek to MAKE their constituency comply with these values, citing the families that prostitution destroys, and other moral tragedies.

I have JUST as much compassion for these broken families, but if I can’t stop a man from cheating on his wife for free, how can I justify outlawing that man cheating on his wife for a fee?

Recently, I was asked about outlawing Muslim practices — the burka, the institution of Sharia courts, and so on. While I am categorically AGAINST Islam, I don’t feel it’s my place to outlaw the manifestations of that religion, except in places where it might cause harm to an UNWILLING participant. The wearing of a burka, in my opinion, is no more inherently dangerous than the wearing of a ski mask or a scarf around your neck… until you consider¬†security, like in a store or a bank, or when being questioned by law enforcement, same as with a ski mask or a scarf. And Sharia courts? As long as it can be proven that both participants WANT the rule of Sharia over a court case, and as long as the right to OPT OUT of the Sharia ruling is protected (i.e. as long as the Constitution remains predominant¬†to Sharia), this again becomes a case of consent between two individuals of equal rights. For me — also an individual of rights equal to theirs — to misuse government to outlaw the practice of their religion would be to negate equal representation under the law, making them and their religious views inferior to my own.

On and on it goes. Pick your politics, and you’ll find my reasoning to be along similar lines. God commands righteousness of us, absolutely, but He allows us the option to NOT be righteous — to indulge ourselves, to destroy our relationships with others, to cause hurt and hatred and even death. He allows these things NOT because He doesn’t love our victims, but because He loves us as much as He does our victims — enough to give us the opportunity to CHOOSE¬†to renounce our victimization, rather than force that renunciation upon us.

If God allows us this leeway, I find it entirely inconsistent to try and use politics to do what He Himself will not. So I encourage fidelity to God and to our neighbor, and exemplify it as consistently as I can… and then log my vote, my legal mandates, in a way that I think is reflective of God’s mandates.

Make no mistake about it. I believe there is a place in the law for ALL of these things — Sharia versus Constitutional law, recreational drug use, gambling, prostitution, what have you — but that place, in my opinion, IS NOT in the outlawing of what I might consider stupidity. Rather, it’s in how someone’s stupidity might affect somebody who did not choose to be part of it. Just like you can be an idiot drunk¬†on your own property but get arrested when you’re an idiot drunk on PUBLIC property, so the line is with these things.

But… what about God’s law? What about punishing those who sin against Him?

Short answer — it’s not our job. Interestingly enough, the violation of God’s law never resulted in earthly punishment, unless that violation was also a violation of Mosaic law. God’s law is all about our relationship with God, and as God is the one who is offended, God is the one who sits in judgment. Mosaic law, on the other hand, is about our relationship with others. As such, Mosaic law DOES detail earthly punishments.

But note: Mosaic law only applied to the children of Israel, people who claimed to be God’s people. Mosaic law never applied to Gentiles who didn’t care to follow God’s laws, and they were never punished by men for not following God’s laws. You never saw God giving the Israelites the go-ahead to hunt down pagans for worshiping other gods, unless God specifically called them to hunt them down. You never saw God giving the Israelites the go-ahead to pass judgment on the prostitutes of a neighboring country. Mosaic law was all about those who claimed to be God’s people — those who were ultimately the REPRESENTATIVES of God, who had the responsibility of not dragging God’s name through the mud. Violate Mosaic law, and you were making God look bad. That’s why Gentiles in general COULDN’T violate Mosaic law, because they didn’t honor God in the first place, so they weren’t bearing His name while they were tramping around in the mud!

*SIGH* All that to say this. As a Christian, and as a conservative, I find government to be a buffer zone established between myself and my neighbor, equally representing BOTH of us and equally PROTECTING both of us. That means, my neighbor cannot mandate that I abstain from what he considers stupid (a good thing, as most atheists consider the Christian faith itself to be stupid). Similarly, and somewhat inconveniently, I cannot mandate that my neighbor abstain from that which I consider stupid. All that EITHER of us can legitimately do is make sure that our stupidity does not violate the rights of the other.

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Christmas — Who gives a rip HOW we came up with the date we use?!?

Every year about this time, anti-Christian individuals and groups make their jabs about Christmas being pagan, celebrated on December 25 by Catholics and Protestants, and January 7 by the Orthodox. They typically bring up this evidence or that regarding Saturnalia, the winter solstice, or what have you, appealing to guilt by association rather than actually trying to understand the Christian mindset — then or now.

The thing is, REGARDLESS of whether or not the day chosen was originally pagan, what is important is that the day is set aside, and for the purposes it is set aside.

For just one example, George Washington’s birthday. According to the Julian calendar, which was in use at the time, Washington was born on February 11, 1731. Following the switch to the Gregorian calendar which we use today, his birthday “became” February 22.

Thing is, we don’t observe his birthday on EITHER of those dates. Rather, we observe it — as well as Lincoln’s birthday (February 12, 1809) — on the third Monday in February. What’s important is NOT that we pick the right day, or what ELSE is on the day that we pick, but the fact that we DO pick a day and set it aside for observation.

People throughout church history have been trying to peg down Jesus’ actual birthdate. Through my own research, I’ve come to the conclusion that Christ was most likely born on September 25, 6 BC — Tishri 15 by the Hebrew calendar, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles. May be right, could be wrong, ultimately it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that when Christmas was “established”, Christians lived among pagans who had bookoodles of dates to celebrate this or that, whereas Christians had none — not even the Jewish holy days (because of the ignorant “the Jews killed Jesus” hatred that many had), and certainly NONE of those Jewish holy days recognized the birth of Someone they rejected as Messiah. So while pagans would celebrate their pagan beliefs on their given days, Christians could either choose to celebrate GODLY things instead or celebrate nothing at all. The church leaders, and through them, the church proper, chose the former.

That’s how Christians got the holidays that we have. Just like Washington’s birthday not being observed on his ACTUAL birthday, Christmas is a day CHOSEN to celebrate Christ’s birth, and chosen to give Christians something to celebrate IN STEAD of what ELSE was being celebrated on that day — the winter solstice. Easter was established similarly as an alternative to the spring equinox, as well as the Jewish Passover. Halloween is the same thing — All Saints Eve (leading into All Saints Day) as an alternative to Samhain.

For non-Christians or anti-Christians¬†to say that Christian holidays are essentially pagan is to completely disregard WHY people of ANY faith individually set aside days as holy in the first place. I completely agree that these holidays have been co-opted and commercialized to the point of them no longer being “holy” to many, but they still are to me — not because of the day they may fall on, but because of what they individually mean to ME if no one else.

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“Talk Doesn’t Change Anything.” Seriously?

Double whammy! See there? You didn’t expect to see a blog out of me today, and instead I give you TWO of them, back to back! ūüėČ

Anyway…

I see this complaint all the time on Facebook. When tragedy strikes (Paris and San Bernardino come most readily to mind), people get emotional and show solidarity for the grieving by changing their profile picture or issuing pithy statements. Invariably, there will be those who say that talk doesn’t change anything, that ACTION is what’s called for.

…only, how does action come about?

By… talking. Right?

See, that’s how ideas spread. Somebody considers XYZ truth, finds a way to put that truth into words, shares that truth with someone who finds it agreeable, who in turn shares it with people in THEIR sphere of influence, ad infinitum.

That’s how this nation was born, after all. Any nation can be born in base revolution, but ours was born in ENLIGHTENED revolution, where ideas regarding the future were as vital to the movement as emotions regarding the past were. We didn’t just consider what we were fighting against — we considered what we were fighting toward.

We had Patrick Henry’s famous one-liner to the Virginia Convention — “Give me liberty or give me death!” — which swung the balance of opinion, and served to kickstart Virginia’s participation in the Revolutionary War. We had Thomas Paine’s pamphlet,¬†Common Sense —¬†a mainstay of the rebel colonists, and an inspiration to the authors of American freedom.¬†We had the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers, arguments from both sides of the federalism argument that gave a much-needed tension to the framers of the Constitution, admonishing¬†them to not lean too much in one direction or the other.

We had wisdom. And that wisdom came from ideas. From talk.

But this axiom is not only true for the Revolutionary War. After all, where would slavery in England be without the likes of William Wilberforce? Where would women’s suffrage in America be, but for Susan B Anthony? And where would the Civil Rights movement be if Martin Luther King didn’t “have a dream” and share it with us?

It’s true that Facebook doesn’t have very many luminaries, but to be quite honest, our founding fathers — and mothers — weren’t particularly luminous themselves. But they were informed. They didn’t simply know what they hated. They also knew what they wanted. They had a goal that was BEYOND revolution, BEYOND griping and complaining and “civil disobedience” and what have you. They had an end game, a solution, a conclusion to their struggle that SATISFIED the reasoning for¬†it. And they shared this reasoning with others, who shared it with others, ad infinitum.

“Talk doesn’t change anything”? Bah. Talk can’t help BUT change things. What we need, though, is the right talker. We need people who can put their thoughts¬†into compelling words, with a logic that proves the validity of their argument and with a conviction¬†that will set hearts ablaze. We need a Thomas Paine for this age, a Ben Franklin, a Thomas Jefferson, a¬†Samuel Bryan, a¬†Frederick Douglass, a William Wilberforce, a Martin Luther King. We need people who don’t simply feel or think, but who know WHY they feel or think that way, and can explain that why to others.

Far too many people believe that America will never see another Revolution, another Civil War. While I could hope that this is the case, I expect that it’s not. Tempers are rising, swords are being rattled, and all it will take is the right trigger at the right time, and life as we know it in these “idyllic” United States will come to an end. I’m afraid that it’s inevitable, because no matter how tolerant you are, no matter how pacifistic you try to be, everybody has a limit, a line in the sand that they absolutely WILL NOT CROSS, and when they are PUSHED over that line, they will respond. They will ACT, just as¬†the “talk doesn’t change anything” crowd expects to see.

But not all change is for the better, and THAT is where the power of talk comes into play. When change does¬†come — and it will come, make no mistake — what we change to is at least¬†as important as what we’re changing from. It behooves us all to know NOT just what we want to be rid of, but where we ought to be heading.¬†People complain about economics, but show very little understanding of its principles. That needs to change. And the government itself? It’s almost impossible to find people,¬†not just on the street but in Washington DC itself, that actually understand what our government is SUPPOSED to be — its nature, its limitations. THAT needs to change.

Revolt if you must, and however you must, but if you do, you owe it to yourself and to your posterity to know as much about where you want to go as what you want to leave behind.

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As if today were your last…

Most who follow me know that I have an open heart surgery coming up sometime in the near future. Could be January, could be this summer, but who knows, really? Well, I’ve had some pains recently — pains that I couldn’t tell whether they were heart related or stress related. These pains concerned me enough to move up my January cardiologist appointment to this morning. Mary, being the devoted wife that she is, decided to join me.¬†My¬†two older kids, being homeschooled, tagged along as well.

So¬†the four of us crammed into nearly every small room they had at Southeast Cardiology. The kids got to see what the inside of my heart looked and sounded like via ultrasound (…and all God’s people said “ewww”). The doctor and his nurse practitioner took great pains to explain why my pains were NOT heart related, pointing out that if they were radiant heart pain, they would manifest “here” and “here”. They also reminded me that TRUE symptoms of my condition would be passing out, shortness of breath, and swelling on my ankles. Being as I’ve got cycle training coming up (running a tactical course in full gear, shooting targets while wearing a gas mask, etc), my doctor thought it prudent to do a walking stress test on me, to see EXACTLY where my heart was and what it was doing, and to give me a good estimate on how well I would tolerate the tac course.

Still no restrictions on my activity, though. All to the good ūüėČ

While this is going on, I’m getting feed updates regarding the shooting in California, where three people are suspected of shooting up a Christmas party and killed fourteen people. It didn’t escape my notice that the shooters were of Arab descent, or that they were Muslim. Not that that is necessarily a determining factor, mind you, but it is rather telling when the news goes out of their way to AVOID drawing that distinction, preferring instead to call this an act of “workplace violence”.

Just so we’re clear, any time you talk your girlfriend/wife into shooting up your workplace with you, dressed in what the news calls “assault gear”, armed to the teeth, and with multiple bombs in various stages of assembly in your house and vehicle… well, that’s not “workplace violence”. That’s terrorism.

Now, these two situations — my heart and San Bernardino — may seem to have nothing to do with each other, but there is a single common thread to both of them. Life can end in an instant. Whether you see the risk to your life coming, or whether it sneaks up on you during a verse of “Silent Night”, the end result is the same. Dead is dead, and you won’t see it until it’s looking you square in the eye.

This time, more than any other, we are reminded just how fragile life is. Some of us¬†gather with loved ones to celebrate the holidays — yes, I’ve got a “Merry Christmas” cued up and ready for all of yall ūüėČ — and some of us¬†pine for those who are not with us for one reason or another. This season can be uplifting, depressing, peaceful, chaotic, all at once and more! But like the situations I mentioned above, there’s a single thread that runs through them — that these times are fleeting. There’s not a single moment that will last LONGER than a single moment, so it behooves us to treat each moment as if it is our last.

In keeping with that, I want to take a moment (after what has already become a thesis paper hahaha) to say some things that I currently have a moment to say, just on the off chance that this moment is my last.

First and foremost, I thank God for giving me life, and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for saving it. Each second, I realize, is borrowed. Each second is one that I do not deserve, and yet I’m gifted with by a Giver who has no obligation to continue to do so. As the psalmist says, “This is the day that the Lord hath made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” No matter what this day may bring, be it pleasure or pain, it’s infinitely better than not having this day at all. I praise You and thank You.

To my wife, Mary, I say thank you as well for the gift of… well, you. You may downplay the value of that gift, and you certainly inflate my worthiness of receiving it, but the fact is that you took someone who had already had one failed marriage and gave him a fresh start at life and love. We can dicker on the details of that, but the fact remains — I was used, and you treated me as if I were new, and I love you for that and a whole lot more. Thank you for pushing me, for believing in me when I don’t believe in myself, for hoping when I feel like I am without hope, for pointing out my stupidity — and doing so gently hehe — when I’m not seeing the world and myself in the right light.

To my kids, I say thank you for the opportunity to be your Daddy, for loving me unconditionally, even when I mess up, or scream my head off like a banshee, or spank the everlovin’ mess out of you. Being a Daddy is hard. Like anything else in life, you have to consider what you’re doing and when (and why) you’re doing it, but there’s a greater risk here. When you mess up in life, you often only mess yourself up. But when you mess up as a Daddy, you might mess up your kids as well. I always worry if something I say or do might break your spirit, or discourage you, or make it hard for you to believe in yourself or others. But at the same time, I always worry about going TOO SOFT on you, about not demanding enough respect out of you — for me, for others, for yourself. I worry about not pushing you hard enough to exceed the limits that you set for yourself, to be GREATER than you ever dreamed of being. I worry about being too much… and about being not enough… because you guys are the greatest work that I could ever hope to do in this life, the greatest way that I could honor my God and Savior, and this above ALL things I want to get right.

To my readers, my fellow writers, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and those who follow my blog just because I’m a pretty cool cat, I want to say thank you for being a part of my life, and allowing me to be a part of yours. Our debates and discussions, our shared dreams and aspirations, they help to color a world that would be much more drab without them. Scripture says that iron sharpens iron (LOL Dave, you see what I did there?), and it’s inevitable that the sharpening casts off sparks. but those sparks needn’t start a fire. It behooves us to USE those times of sharpening, to recognize the rough areas in our arguments, our views, and our lives, in order that we might grow from them. We shouldn’t cut ourselves off from people who disagree, and we should NEVER discount their arguments — however asinine we might consider it to be. We never know when WE might be the idiot in the conversation, so it’s always prudent that we consider the possibility.

Make no mistake about it — I have ZERO intention of today being my last day. I have every intention of intimidating my daughters’ boyfriends, of tossing the football with my son as he enters college on a full ride scholarship (“Roll Tide”, even if you want to cry “War Eagle” hehe), of singing at my daughters’ weddings, and embarrassing (or officiating) my son at his, of bouncing grandkiddos on my knee, of living to see my loving wife ACCEPT her grey hairs. But I have no control over when I’ll die. My cardiologist is evidence of that, and San Bernardino is proof.

So if today WERE my last, this is what I’d want everybody to know…

  1. God is in control. All the time, in every situation. He is sovereign and just. He sees the big picture, even more clearly than we can see our own little corner of it. He knows what will truly bless us, and what prayers for blessing, if answered, would WITHHOLD blessings from others. He knows what good my healing would do, and what good my healing would prevent. He knows who I touch with my life, and who might be touched with my death. I’d be a fool to think I have a better plan than Him, and I’m no fool ūüėČ
  2. Mandates are a poor substitute for true charity. As a Daddy, you sometimes tell your kids to be nice to one another, to play nice, to share their things, and you see VIVIDLY how little they actually want to obey. When they do things because they “have” to, they do them half-heartedly, and those who receive that half-hearted obedience can tell. What blesses their hearts is when you give cheerfully, eagerly, with the other person’s blessing being first and foremost. I saw this played out in stark relief today in a YouTube video, featuring a pizza delivery guy who received a $700 tip from a church. Government assistance could’ve “entitled” him to more than that, and every month, but him getting what the law says he “deserved” wouldn’t have done what this tip did. His heart was touched — and maybe, his life, changed — by the EAGER giving of a few church folk. You might make fewer enemies if you’re forced to be nice, but genuinely WANTING to be nice is where you make your friends.
  3. You are free — already, wherever you live, with or without the government’s help. You always have been free. And you always will be free. The only way for you to NOT be free is to consider yourself so. Even the poorest slave, bound in chains and treated like an animal, can be as free as he wants to be, because freedom is NOT the lack of chains but the recognition that, aside from God Himself, only YOU can own you. Your mind, your life, the fruits of your labors… YOU determine who you are, what you think, what you do. You cannot be forced to be something that you fundamentally are not. You may choose to ALLOW yourself to be that person or to give of yourself — to your benefit or detriment — but it is unjust for anyone to try and “make” you do so. This goes for ALL areas of life, from religion (i.e. true conversion versus swordpoint conversions) to politics (libertarian versus authoritarian) to economics (charitable giving and taxation versus government mandated redistribution). It behooves us to always strive for freedom — to maintain our own, and to give honor to that of others.

I pray that today is not my last day, but if it were, I’d want my life to matter to those who matter to me, to not grieve for my passing, but to praise God that I was here for as long as I was, and that I touched their lives in whatever way that I did. The truest mark of a Godly man — or of ANY man, for that matter — is not what he says or does, but the visible love that he has for his family, his friends, and even his enemies. To love those who are lovable is easy. To love those you don’t know — to truly love them, not merely throw money in their direction — is harder. But to love those who hate you… that’s something that God has to do in your life, and its something that has the power to change the world. Christ Himself shows us that.

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