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The Irrationality of Hatred… and the Need to Let It Speak (Statues, pt 2)

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No, this blog post is not another one about the Boll Weevil Monument, but it does effectively tie this post to my previous one.

Turns out, that one post has generated more comments than I have ever had subscribed readers! Granted, most of those comments were negative, but in a round about way, they do prove a point I was making in that post, and serve as the basis for this one.

As an aside, I’d like to point out that this blog is not intended to be some bastion of wisdom. Quite honestly, it’s something that languished for a long time, but I started back doing for my kids’ sake, to save my “thoughts of the day” (or week, or whatever) for them, should anything ever happen to me, a possibility that became very real to me when I had my open heart surgery last year. I spend so much time at work, or writing, or gaming, or lost in my own “grown up” world that my kids don’t get a chance to see the totality of who I am. Right now, I’m just Daddy — a fat curmudgeon that should probably refuse that overtime day and take them kayaking instead.

ANYWAY… regarding that blog post, I got a lot of grief for trying to build a “false equivalency” between the hardships Enterprise suffered under the boll weevil blight and the hardships that many people (not just blacks) suffered under the institution of slavery. The fact is, that was intentional. I wasn’t trying to downplay the suffering of blacks. Rather, I was trying to make a point about a contentious issue by illustrating it with a NON-contentious issue. Jesus used this tactic all the time in His parables. Every time He would speak on a topic that His disciples presumably were not equipped to grasp, He first addressed the topic using illustrations that they could grasp — not to say that His Saviorhood actually made Him a Door or a Vine, but to show the characteristics that were the same even though the metaphor was simply a metaphor.

In any case, the majority of the commenters on that post either failed to grasp my meaning regardless of my efforts, or they were dissatisfied with my approach. But rather than engage me and ask for clarification, or discuss the topic at hand, they made assumptions about my meaning — many of which were inaccurate — and proceeded to personally attack me, as have many who were dissatisfied with Trump’s response to Charlottesville (not a huge Trump fan myself, but that’s neither here nor there).

As this happens to be my blog, my personal corner of the internet, I could just as easily have turned off their comments — still could, in fact. But I chose not to, and will likely leave the comments open on this one as well, because however much I might disagree with some of the comments, and however hurtful I might find them, I think it actually serves the conversation to allow them to remain. In allowing them to continue to have a voice, they are ultimately proving my point about integrity and hypocrisy. They are demonstrating, better than I myself ever could, that although people in America cry out to “stop the hatred”, many have no problem with hatred itself, so long as they feel it’s justified.

I don’t share that view. As much as I might hate a thought or an ideal, and as much as I’m moved to fight certain thoughts or ideals, I still feel compelled to respect the person who holds that thought or ideal — maybe not their use of it, but certainly their right to have it.

If you’ll permit me to use another non-contentious yet applicable illustration (at the risk of being accused of false equivalency hehe), take Westboro Baptist for example. I absolutely despise the rhetoric that they spew. I think it is a total insult to both Christ Himself and me as a Christian. And yet, until one of them takes their picket sign and pops someone over the head with it, I believe that they deserve the right to make themselves look as repulsive as they want to. I find their rhetoric hateful and hurtful, but they have as much right to say it as I have to refuse to listen to it.

But here’s the thing. When Westboro spews their hatred, and run Christ’s name in the dirt, what they are also doing is setting an indelible, immutable example — like an unchanging landmark that, when compared to actual Christianity, shows the stark contrast between Christian love and anti-Christian hatred. To some people, Westboro’s hatred illustrates BEAUTIFULLY what’s so genuinely attractive about people who shrug off hypocrisy and genuinely follow Christ.

Do I want Westboro to shut their pie holes? Every second of every protest. But I would never “make” them shut up, never censor them until they become a physical danger to somebody, because what they intend for evil, God can turn around and use for good.

Ya know… kinda like what I was telling my daughter about something “bad” not having to BE “bad”.

Now, I have no doubt that there will be precious few negative commenters from that post reading this one — I kinda doubt that they cared enough about my blog to subscribe to it — but if any of them are, let me just say that everybody has a point of view. Some treat their views as subject to revision (I do my best to treat mine that way). Some treat their views as unassailable. But one there is one truth that transcends every one of these views — if you already know everything, you can’t learn anything new.

This is why you can talk to someone who talks with you but you can’t talk to someone who talks at you. Even if you don’t agree on a single thing — before the conversation or after — when you are willing to engage, and the other party is willing to engage, you are both better for having had the conversation. Whether or not an opinion was changed, it was exposed to something that could potentially change it, if not today, maybe tomorrow. And that’s true on both sides of the conversation, not just one.

But that’s a miracle that’s only possible when hatred is set aside, and the conversants allow humility — not “rightness” — to do its work. This is what it means to be rational in conversation, and sadly the single most conspicuous element lacking in today’s culture, whether we’re talking about race relations or politics or what have you. Don’t believe me? Have a single Facebook conversation with somebody you think is “wrong”, and watch how hard it is to keep that puppy from devolving into personal attacks.

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The Importance Of Monuments That Hurt

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Last week, my wife and I went to Enterprise, Alabama to pick up a chicken coop that someone was giving away. As we were driving back home, my daughter (who chose to ride in Daddy’s truck rather than the air conditioned Sequoia hehe) and I were talking about history, and about how just because something “bad” happens doesn’t necessarily mean that it HAS to be bad. It’s all in how you take it. Since we were in Enterprise, I referenced the local monument to the Boll Weevil.

Yes, the Boll Weevil. A monument to a bug.

Story goes, Enterprise — like the rest of the Wiregrass area, and the South at large — depended upon cotton crops for its economy. But in 1915, Alabama suffered an influx of boll weevils, which are native to Mexico, and the beetle devastated the local cotton crops. The next year, one enterprising man (LOL see what I did there?) had the idea to change his crops from cotton to peanut. As the boll weevil plague went on, local farmers watched their cotton crops suffer while this farmer’s peanuts flourished. This taught the local farmers the value of diversifying their crops, a lesson that was so valuable to the farmers of Coffee County that in 1919 they erected a monument to the boll weevil in appreciation.

Did they appreciate the bug itself? Not hardly. It proved to be the near ruin of many a farm. But had it not been for the boll weevil and the hard times it brought with it, the farmers of Enterprise would never have learned the value of diversification. They would never have prospered without the hardship that they had suffered.

I thought it was a good lesson for my daughter to learn, but about halfway through it, her eyes started to glaze over and her attention wandered. Such is the life of a thirteen-year-old — this one in particular, anyway. I finished the lesson though, if only to remind myself of its value.

As I watched the news over the past couple days, as more and more Confederate monuments are torn down, the value of monuments like the Boll Weevil is made even clearer to me. See, the local museums have all this same information… and I never cared enough to track it down. Had it not been for the monument, out in plain sight where I couldn’t help but encounter it, I would never have known what the monument meant. Had it not been for the sheer oddity of a monument to an insect, I would never have understood the adversity that these farmers had overcome, and how such a “bad” thing could have made them better.

That’s what I find so sad — and so infuriating — about the current crop of Social Justice Warriors tearing down Civil War monuments. They think they’re fighting injustice when, in fact, they’re creating it. Their desire to wipe our evils from our history — or to pack them away in museums where we can conveniently forget about them — only hurts us because, as George Santayana is famous for saying, “Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In their righteous indignation, these SJWs don’t realize that they are becoming the very things that they claim to loathe. They decry chattel slavery, but have no problem enslaving the taxpayer. They denounce racism against blacks, while at the same time encourage it against whites by their denouncement of “privilege”. They lambast gender inequality, while feeling no shame in accusing someone of “mansplaining”.

The tearing down of these monuments is but one example of a cultural cancer that, I fear, will eventually kill this country. Civilization is not something that you can inherit. You have to learn it and relearn it with each successive generation, else you revert to your inner beasts, as we see happening today. Without the monument, out there in the open — obnoxiously so, sometimes — we’re tempted to let the past stay in the past. It can’t hurt us there, sure, but neither can it prompt us to take care that we don’t repeat it.

Categories: Blogroll, Government, Life In General, Religious, Uncategorized | 35 Comments

This Libertarian’s Take on Independence Day

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Let me preface this with a clarification — I’m not “just” a libertarian. I am a devotely Christian, staunchly pro-life, uber-patriotic libertarian.

I can just imagine the heads exploding at that. Conservatives see “libertarian” and presume that I must be a progressive. Liberals, and a good many of my fellow libertarians, see all the stuff that comes BEFORE “libertarian” and presume that I must be a Republican just lying to myself. I mean, to reconcile all the above would make a good number of “liberty loving” people bleed from the eyes at the presumed inconsistency, but to be honest, I can’t imagine it getting MORE consistent than that. After all, the first part of that description deals with what I think the world should look like. The latter — the “libertarian” — only describes what I think government’s role in that worldview should be!

So how does Independence Day mean to a guy like me? Really, it’s affirmation of everything that I believe, all at once.

For the devote Christian in me, it holds true to the notion that the relationship I have with Christ is a relationship that He VOLUNTARILY entered into with me, and that I voluntarily received. I submit to Christ’s authority NOT because I “have” to (while that may be the case in eternity, while I’m in the flesh, He still gives me the ability to refuse Him) but because I WANT to. I’m in relationship with Christ because I love Him, and He has proven time and again — not just in scripture but in my own life — that He is WORTHY of all that love and more. That’s a notion that perfectly encapsulates the American dream, whether someone is a believer or not.

For the pro-lifer in me, Independence Day affirms to me that all of us, regardless of merit or status or race or gender or belief, are of equal value. This means that I am no better than someone else, and they are no better than me. My rights are not superior to theirs, and theirs are not superior to mine. This is entirely consistent with the pro-life stance, as this same argument for equality necessarily means that the rights of the unborn are neither greater nor less than that of the mother. Rather, their rights are equal, and independent one from the other.

Which brings me to the libertarian part of my worldview — and a big part it is! For me, Independence Day spells out everything that it means to be libertarian. It is a recognition that we are all created equal, and that the rights we have been endowed with by our Creator are equally inalienable. Independence Day declares that those rights do not originate from the government (as the US government was not formed until well AFTER the signing of this Declaration of Independence) but that government was formed for the express purpose of ensuring that those rights are not violated by ANYBODY, be they neighbor or stranger… or our own government.

When fifty-six of our forefathers affixed their signatures to the Declaration of Independence, they affixed their NAME to it — their reputations, their wealth, their ideals, their lives, and potentially the lives of their children. EVERYTHING THEY WERE AND EVER WOULD BE, they affixed to the truth that all men are created equal, from the lowest pauper to the highest king. They said with one voice, “You are not the boss of me”, and meant that “you” for anybody that might consider themselves the exception.

In the stroke of a pen, they told the king of England that there would be no more kings in America — which, incidentally, was a notion entirely HOSTILE to the ideas of slavery and gender inequality, and led to their end in the following years.

Mostly, though, Independence Day reminds me that when we declared there would be no more kings in America, that declaration did not have an expiration date. It is still just as true today as it ever was — truer, perhaps. In this, we are reminded that every man and woman in power — the President, the Congress, our respective Governors, all of them — are the EQUALS of those they represent, and the power they wield is BORROWED from their constituency. Independence Day reminds us that even in this day where people feel justified in “ruling” over one another, our government was formed for the express purpose of guaranteeing that this would never happen, that there would never be another king in America, whether they feel justified in declaring their kingship or not.

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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 🙂

****

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 😉

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

nativity

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.”

ralphie-sleeping-with-gun

 

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 😉

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? 😉

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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