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Unforgiveness: A Loose Cannon Below Decks Redux

The first sermon I ever preached was based on the passage in this entry. Over the years, as I’ve grown in my understanding of this scripture, this core issue of the faith, this key to living a life of peace and hope, I’ve added to it. This is the most recent iteration.

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Colossians 3:12-13:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

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Quatrevingt_treizeFrench author Victor Hugo, best known for Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was also the author of the novel, 93, (Quatrevingt-Treize). The book is centered on the year 1793, Year Two of the French Republic, which saw the execution of Louis XVI.

In a chapter entitled, “Tormentum Belli,” which Hugo translates in the text as “war machine,” is the story of the corvette Claymore. The author tells us that the three-masted, square-rigged warship was in rough seas when suddenly an awful noise arose from below decks. Hugo tells us: “a frightful thing had happened.”

The vessel was equipped with thirty carronades, short smoothbore cast iron cannons able to fire large shot at short range. These had been fastened below deck by triple chains and the hatches above had been shut. Now, one of these cannons had broken loose and had become something akin to what Hugo calls an “indescribable supernatural beast,” rolling, pitching, rushing, and crashing into the ship’s sides. “Nothing more terrible can happen to a vessel in open sea and under full sail,” Hugo reports, for a loose cannon is “a battering-ram . . . [that] has the bounds of a panther, the weight of an elephant, the agility of a mouse, the obstinacy of an axe, the unexpectedness of the surge, the rapidity of lightning, the deafness of the tomb. It weighs ten thousand pounds and, it rebounds like a child’s ball.”

“How to control this enormous brute of bronze?” Hugo asks. “How to fetter this monstrous mechanism for wrecking a ship? . . . The horrible cannon flings itself about, advances, recoils, strikes to the right, strikes to the left. . . crushes men like flies.”

The whole ship was now in awful tumult as the cannon, which is said to have appeared to the crew as owning “a soul filled with rage and hatred,” tears apart the insides of the ship. Hugo tells us that often it is true that more dangerous to a ship is a loose cannon inside than a storm outside. And what is true of ships is also true of human beings. A loose cannon inside is more dangerous than a storm outside.

God’s Word invites us to go “below decks” for a look at the turmoil that can result when the cannon that is unforgiveness gets loose. And it is in the Word that we will find the help needed for taming this “beast,” this “battering ram” that—left uncontrolled—can wreak devastating havoc.

51FT3YfKAhL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgPerhaps we might begin our consideration of unforgiveness by looking at what acts can set the cannon loose. Author Lewis Smedes suggests these may be summarized as acts of disloyalty and acts of betrayal. Now, I’ve wrestled with whether that summary is sufficient. Disloyalty may sometimes be confused with honest dissent, and the saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from our enemies. So what about our enemies? Well, they fit under this summary as well for enemies are only revealed as enemies when they behave like enemies and their revelation as such may come at us like a betrayal.

Words like treachery, abandonment, double-dealing, forsaking, infidelity, letting down and back-stabbing are attached to acts of disloyalty and betrayal and these also capture the nature of the hurting involved:

When your spouse has an affair with your best friend.

When your mother or father fails to show up at your wedding or at a banquet at which you’re honored with a hard-earned award.

When you fully dedicate yourself for years to doing your very best work at your place of employment and a new manager moves into play and tosses you out on your ear.

When a tornado or a hurricane or other natural disaster sweeps through leaving your house in runs. When you return only to discover that looters have taken everything that was left that wasn’t nailed down.

When you’re diagnosed with cancer.

When you commit a colossal blunder or fail to follow through on a promise to a dear and trusting friend or when you speak a word you believe needs to be spoken and it’s received as an attack.

When your loved one contracts a debilitating illness that lingers on for years or when that loved one is unexpectedly taken in death in the blink of an eye.

When a gunman walks in and shoots a roomful of folks gathered for a Bible Study.

When faced with these challenges of life, we may feel betrayed by the spouse, the parent, the friend, the authority figure, the neighbor, our bodies, ourselves, God.

Bitterness. Bitterness is what you get when you leave anger out to rot. It’s what results when injury is added to injury. It begins to root when you go to bed angry, when somebody rubs you the wrong way and the rubbing turns to chafing. It grows in the fertile fields of jealousy, abuse, and vengeance. It hangs in the air. It’s heard in the “us and them,” in the “you did this to me,” in the “he said, she said,” in the “I can’t forgive myself for . . . ” You fill in the blanks.

Anger is a natural reaction to injury real or imagined. Bitterness, resentment, revengeful actions, and unforgiveness are the sins that grow out of unresolved, unhealthy anger. The antidote for these sins is forgiveness.

But who should we forgive? What should we forgive? When should we forgive? Why should we forgive? How do we forgive? Must we forgive the one who keeps sinning against us in the same way over and over? Must we forgive the unrepentant? And really—before we touch on those questions and we can only touch on them as I’m trying to keep this message to under five hours—what is forgiveness anyway? We throw that word around, but we may have radically different ideas on how to define it. And what does it mean to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us?

We’re helped toward a deeper understanding of unforgiveness through a story told by Jesus about a king who one day decides to settle accounts with his servants.

In Matthew 18, verses 21 to 35, we find our Lord sharing a parable about an unmerciful servant, an unforgiving individual. The passage begins with a question from the apostle Peter. “Master,” he asks, “how many times must I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.”

Jesus then relates the kingdom of God to a king squaring accounts with his servants. One man is brought before him. His debt? 10,000 talents which is the contemporary equivalent of about a hundred thousand dollars. This man was hopelessly enslaved to debt! Since he was unable to pay, the king ordered the man, his wife, children and everything be owned, be sold to repay the debt.

Ever been in debt? In debt now? Can you remember—or do you now know—the fear, the worry? Things can look pretty bleak, can’t they? Our passage is telling us that unforgiven sin is like those unpaid debts. They weigh heavily upon us whether we’re talking about a little sin, a great big sin, or a great many sins. Each of us, like the debtors in the text, must settle accounts with the king, God Almighty Himself for all sins are sins against God.

Well, the king, in our parable, calls his subjects before him and the one who owes the thousands pleads for the king to have patience and promises that he will repay the debt in full.  The king is moved to mercy and erases the debt!

One point of the parable is that God is like that merciful king and He is willing and able to cancel impossible debts. He is willing and able to forgive. As Stephen M. Crotts notes in his exposition on this passage, the Greek word for forgiveness may also be translated “let loose.”

“It’s like a terrible knot that suddenly gives and is completely untied. It’s like a horrible bondage from which there is sudden release.”

And what does this free man now do? He goes out and happens upon a man who owes him the equivalent of a measly few bucks. He grabs him by the throat and demands he “pay up!” And when the debtor says he can’t and asks for patience, the man throws him into debtors’ prison and folks who witness this go and tell the king.

What does the king do? He brings the man back, chastises him for his unforgiveness and says, “Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?”  Then he has the man tossed in jail where he will sit until the debt is paid. The point of the parable is clear. If God forgives us, we must forgive others. We must forgive as—because—the Lord forgave us.

But those of us who frequent church services know this—at least on some level—don’t we? So why do we see so little forgiveness in Christian circles when repentance and forgiveness are the very foundations of our faith? Amazing grace is what saves wretches such as we all. We, who have turned to Christ for salvation, have been the beneficiaries of amazing grace, amazing love. We’ve been set free. And yet too often we hold one another hostage with our own unforgiveness.

In an older issue of Leadership Journal, I found an article on grace and redemption entitled, “Going to Hell with Ted Haggard.”

The writer, Michael Cheshire, recalls sitting in a sports bar in Denver with a close atheist friend. During lunch, the latter pointed at a TV screen on the wall that was set to a channel recapping Haggard’s fall in a sex and drugs scandal. As he did, he said, “That is the reason I will not become a Christian. Many of the things you say make sense, Mike, but that’s what keeps me away.”

Cheshire assumed his friend was referring to Haggard’s hypocrisy but he was wrong. His friend laughed and said, “Michael, you just proved my point. See, that guy said sorry a long time ago. Even his wife and kids stayed and forgave him, but all you Christians still seem to hate him. You guys can’t forgive him and let him back into your good graces. Every time you talk to me about God, you explain that he wants to forgive me. But that guy failed while he was one of you, and most of you are still vicious to him.”

Then Cheshire says his friend uttered words that left him reeling: “You Christians eat your own. Always have. Always will.”

That prompted Cheshire to investigate what was being said about Haggard in Christian circles. Most folks with whom he spoke shut down and demanded he drop the subject while others dismissed as foolish or silly his question, “Why can’t God still use Ted?”

As he lived within close proximity of Haggard, Cheshire contacted him to see if he would be willing to meet with him and a couple of the people from his staff.  Cheshire found Haggard to be brutally honest about his failures, filled with a wealth of wisdom, deeply caring and pastoral. He learned that Haggard now had a growing church in the very city that knew him and knew about his failures. And God was causing that church to grow.

When some other Christians learned that Cheshire had reached out to Ted, they said they would distance themselves from him if he continued to do so. Several people in his church said they would leave. He was told that his “voice as a pastor and author would be tarnished” if he continued to spend time with him.

Cheshire concluded: “It would do some Christians good to stay home one weekend and watch the entire DVD collection of HBO’s Band of Brothers. Marinate in it. Take notes. Write down words like loyalty, friendship and sacrifice. Understand the phrase: never leave a fallen man behind.”

Where was the love? Where was the forgiveness?

In his wrap up, Cheshire wrote: “The Ted Haggard issue reminds me of a scene in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Huck is told that if he doesn’t turn in his friend, a runaway slave named Jim, he will surely burn in hell. So, one day Huck, not wanting to lose his soul to Satan, writes a letter to Jim’s owner telling her of Jim’s whereabouts. After folding the letter, he starts to think about what his friend has meant to him, how Jim took the night watch so he could sleep, how they laughed and survived together . . . Huck realizes that it’s either Jim’s friendship or hell. Then the great Mark Twain writes such wonderful words of resolve. Huck rips the paper and says, ‘Alright then, I guess I’ll go to hell.’”

And Cheshire decides that “if being Ted’s friend causes some to hate and reject me—alright then, I guess I’ll go to hell.”

You might recall here the chastisement Jesus received from the teachers of the law, the Pharisees, who disapproved of Him having a meal with sinners and tax collectors. How could He do such a thing, they asked His disciples.

In our passage from Colossians, we read: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

51zoZJQZV4L._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_In my library is a book entitled, The Sunflower. It’s a story, written by Simon Wiesenthal, a man with whom you may be familiar. He was well known and well regarded for his activities in bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.

In the book, Wiesenthal tells us that he was a prisoner in the Maut-haus-en concentration camp in Poland. One day he was assigned to clean out rubbish from a barn that the Nazis had improvised into a hospital for wounded soldiers. Toward evening a nurse took Wiesenthal by the hand and led him to a young SS trooper. The soldier’s face was bandaged with rags yellow-stained with ointment or pus; his eyes tucked behind the gauze. He was perhaps 21 years of age. He groped for Wiesenthal’s hand and held it tight. He said he had to talk to a Jew; he could not die before he had confessed the sins he had committed against helpless Jews, and he had to be forgiven by a Jew before he died. So, he told Wiesenthal a horrible story of how his battalion had gunned down Jewish parents and children who were trying to escape from a house set afire by the SS troopers.

Wiesenthal listened to the dying man’s story, first the story of what he referenced as his blameless youth, and then the story of his participation in evil. As the man spoke, Wiesenthal’s thoughts drifted to the graves of the Nazi soldiers that he had seen nearby. Each one was decorated with a sunflower and so each one was visited by butterflies. Wiesenthal believed his place of interment would be different: a mass grave, where corpses would be piled on top of him. No sunflower for him. No butterflies for him.

In the end, Wiesenthal jerked his hand away from the soldier and walked out of the barn: No word was spoken. No forgiveness was given. Wiesenthal would not, could not, forgive. But he was not sure he did the right thing.

And some 30 years later he related the story in the book, The Sunflower, and he ended his tale with a question: “What would you have done?” Ten eminent persons contributed their answers in the original release, and when the book was reprinted ten years later, the responses of another 36 were included. Among these were Christian and Jewish theologians, writers, philosophers, and survivors of genocide; a dissident who spent 20 years in a Chinese prison; a son of Holocaust survivors; a former Nazi; the 14th Dalai Lama; and Dith Pran, a war correspondent for The New York Times who was starved and tortured by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Most said Wiesenthal was right; he should not have forgiven the man; it would not have been fair. Why should a man who gave his will to the doing of monumental evil expect a quick word of forgiveness on his death-bed? What right had Wiesenthal to forgive the man for the sins he had committed against others? “Let the SS trooper go to hell,” said one respondent.

Now, there is a great deal more to the story and I would commend the book to you for its powerful wrestling with the themes of justice and forgiveness. But, for our purposes this morning, I want to acknowledge simply that many of us, truth be told, feel the same way when we or our loved ones are sinned against in far less horrible ways.

As Lewis Smedes rightly notes: “To the guilty, forgiveness comes as amazing grace. To the offended, forgiving may sound like outrageous injustice. A straight-line moral sense tells most people that the guilty ought to pay their dues: Forgiving is for suckers.”

So . . . What is the answer to the unfairness of forgiving? It can only be that forgiving is, after all, a better way to fairness. First, forgiveness creates a new possibility of fairness by releasing us from the unfair past. If we do not forgive, our only recourse is revenge . . . and revenge never evens the score, for alienated people never keep score of wrongs by the same mathematics. Forgiveness takes us off the escalator of revenge so that we can stop the chain of incremented wrongs.

Forgiveness brings fairness to the forgiver. It is the hurting person who most feels the burden of unfairness, but he only condemns himself if he refuses to forgive. Forgiving is the only way to stop the cycle of unfair pain turning in your memory and in your gut.

Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving is not excusing. Forgiving is not smoothing things over. Forgiving is, what Smedes calls, “spiritual surgery.” When you forgive someone, you slice away the wrong from the person who did it. You recreate that person in your thoughts. God does it this way too: He releases us from sin as a parent washes dirt from a child’s face, or as a person takes a burden off your back, lays it on a goat and sends it into the wilderness never to be seen again. (There you have the origin of the word, scapegoat.)

Mining the scriptures we discover more than 100 references to the concept of forgiveness and the first thing to remember from all of these is that forgiveness is God-initiated.

In Colossians 2:13 and 14, Paul writes: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code . . . He took it away, nailing it to the cross.”

Forgiveness is offered graciously and readily by God.

In the gospel of Luke, we find the story of the Prodigal Son who, having squandered his inheritance, returns home seeking forgiveness and finds there the open and loving arms of his father who welcomes him with great celebration.” So it is with our heavenly Father.

To receive forgiveness, we must desire forgiveness and honestly, wholeheartedly repent. This done, there is to be no limit to forgiveness. In the 17th chapter of Luke, verse 4, Jesus tells His disciples that, “if your brother sins, rebuke him and, if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” And, as we’ve noted, in Matthew 18:22, Christ carries this further by saying that even seven times is not enough, but seventy times seven.” But what if there is no repentance?

One of Jesus’ central teachings is that we love our enemies, pray for them, and do good to those who have hurt us. Interesting isn’t it, how many of us can read the Gospels over and over and miss that point. We might get the theology but not the graciousness that Jesus taught and exemplified. And you know, it’s astonishing how our view of a person can change when we begin to muster up some love for them, when we begin to pray for them, when we consider how we might do them good.

And you know something else? How much repentance do you suppose there was in the hearts of those who stood by the Cross while Jesus hung there? There was a complete absence of repentance in the hearts of the sinners who put our Savior on that Cross. But what did Jesus pray: “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Often, those who have hurt us don’t even think they’ve done anything wrong. Probably, nine out of ten of the people I’ve have had to forgive don’t think they did anything wrong to me (which suggests that I, too, have probably hurt people without knowing).

Now, please don’t mistake what I’m saying here. I’m not a Universalist. I don’t believe Jesus’s forgiveness extends to those who remain unrepentant, those who refuse to come to Jesus for salvation.

In praying “Father, forgive them,” Jesus revealed His infinite mercy; He still loved them and would forgive them if only they would humble themselves and repent. Now Here’s a crucial point:

When it comes to our relationship with God, repenting and asking for forgiveness are aspects of believing. We know that the forgiveness of Christ can’t help us unless we lay hold of it by faith. The same thing cannot be said about our human forgiveness. We offer our forgiveness to others purely in response to the grace we have already received from the Lord. If we are not willing to forgive, it is an indication that we have not fully understood or experienced the grace of being forgiven. This is true regardless of the “offender’s” attitude towards his or her actions. [Source: Focus on the Family: Forgiving the Unrepentant]

We should note as well that Jesus’ prayer “Father, forgive them” was answered in the lives of many people. The Roman centurion at the foot of the cross, upon seeing how Jesus died, exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” One of the two thieves crucified with Jesus exercised faith in Christ, who promised him paradise. A member of the Sanhedrin publicly aligned himself with Jesus. And, a little over a month later, three thousand people in Jerusalem were saved in one day as the church began. On the cross Jesus provided forgiveness for all those who would ever believe in Him. Jesus paid the penalty for the sins that we commit in our ignorance, and even the ones we’ve committed deliberately. When we are born again we, too, become an answer to Jesus’ prayer “Father, forgive them.” [Source: Got Questions]

In our passage for today, we find the commandment to forgive: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Be clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Be willing to forgive. Create the climate for forgiveness.

71ZRN2XHMZL._SX295_BO1,204,203,200_So why, when forgiveness is at the very heart of the Gospel, do we see so little forgiveness even, and perhaps most sadly, within the church community? David Augsburger, in his book The Freedom of Forgiveness, offers us some clues. He says forgiveness is rare because it is hard. It is the hardest thing in the universe. It is hard because it is costly. The one who forgives, he says, pays a tremendous price—the price of the evil he or she forgives.

Forgiveness is costly because it is substitutional and this substitution was perfectly expressed in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ substituted himself for us, bearing His own wrath, His own indignation at our sin. That’s what forgiveness costs. The sinner either bears his own guilt—that’s cold justice—or the one sinned against may absorb what the second party did—that’s forgiveness. And that’s what God did in Christ on Calvary.

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Forgiveness is hard. Forgiveness is costly because it demands that kind of substitution, not the literal substitution of our physical lives on a cross but the willingness to relieve others of the burden of their sins against us as we reach out to them with loving and forgiving spirits.

God paid the immeasurable cost of our forgiveness. How can we hesitate to pay the infinitely smaller cost of forgiving our brother or sister—or our enemy?”

You will know you are moving in forgiveness when you no longer need to rerun over and over again the hurt you suffered, when you no longer need to punish those who hurt you by rehashing the details over and over again with whomever will listen.

You will know you are moving in forgiveness when you no longer have daily conversations, battles in your head, with those who hurt you.

You will know you are moving in forgiveness when you find yourself praying that those who hurt you will be blessed and will no longer have to suffer for the evil they did to you or to others.

Forgiveness can be a very slow process and, while we may come a long way in forgiveness, we may well find vestiges of bitterness many years post injury. C.S. Lewis learned how long the process of forgiving can take. He tells the story of a teacher he had as a boy. He hated what he described as “that sadistic person” most of his life but, a few months before his death, he wrote to a friend: “Do you know, only a few weeks ago, I realized that I had at last forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my childhood. I had been trying to do it for years.”

With attention to prayer and with the help of God, eventually we can forgive. The Lord works the miracle in us as we yield to His transforming power.

And though this will make the sermon a tad longer, it needs to be said, that it is most often true that the ones we have the hardest time forgiving are ourselves.

Everett Worthington, in his Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free From the Past, notes that when you attempt to forgive someone else for an offense, you are adopting the viewpoint of the forgiver. The wrongdoer, of course, is someone other than yourself. However, when you try to forgive yourself, you have to operate from two points of view— both forgiver and wrongdoer, and it’s hard to bounce back and forth from one perspective to the other. We’re with our own selves and our own thoughts all the time. We can’t get away from ourselves and we have insider information about who we really are. We know we’re capable of repeating the same wrongs. We also know that, as much as we profess love for God, we are like Paul who wrote: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

But we must extend that forgiveness to ourselves and seek it from others. There is a marvelous example of the desire for forgiveness in Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “The Capitol of the World.”

In this, a father traveled to Madrid to find his son Paco who had left the family farm after a misunderstanding. Keep in mind here that the name Paco is a very popular name in Spain. Well, the father, in hopes of reconnecting with his son, placed an ad in the newspaper which read, “Paco, meet me at noon Tuesday in the newspaper office. All is forgiven. Signed, your father.”

Hemingway reports there were 800 young men named Paco who arrived that Tuesday and stood in line, each one waiting to see if the man might be his father who had granted him forgiveness. 800 Pacos! How many of us, if such an ad had been placed at certain times in our lives, an ad that carried our name, wouldn’t have leapt at the opportunity for reconciliation with our own fathers.

Well, our heavenly Father offers that opportunity today. It is as though He has placed that same ad—the newspaper is the Bible—and when we answer and stand before Him, He is there like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, ready to offer unmerited forgiveness—the gift of forgiveness. He delights in enfolding each of His repentant children in His loving arms.

Have you called on God to forgive you? Your debt is impossible to pay, you know. Have you faced God and told him you’re helplessly a debtor to sin and have you prayed for mercy? You can be let loose from your sins in Jesus!

And God’s ready forgiveness stands also as an example for us in our relationships with others: forgive as the Lord forgave you.

If you’re harboring unforgiveness, harboring grudges and hatred, you’re playing with dynamite. You’re playing with fire. Just like the loose cannon in Victor Hugo’s story, unforgiveness can crash around inside tearing your guts out, terrorizing your mind, tormenting you!

In Victor Hugo’s story, the loose cannon had to be brought under control and chained so that it couldn’t do any more damage.

Right now, why not ask Jesus to take you below decks? Tell him that you are willing to forgive, willing to go with Him to take care of all the troubling things within. Tell Jesus you’re willing. Ask Him to give you power, power to repent, power to turn from your sins, power to say you’re sorry, power to forgive.

PRAYER OF RESPONSE

Gracious and Loving God, I want to serve you and honor you with my very life, and so I do pray that you might reveal to me those corners and cabinets, those closets of sin, that require cleansing and renewal. I confess my unworthiness before you and give thanks for your mercy which calls me from death to life, from lostness to salvation. I thank you for your love that knows no bounds, for your love that never lets me go. As I sit here quietly before you, I ask that you might hear me and might speak to me in the deepest recesses of my heart as I pray for the power to do that which is pleasing in your sight. Clothe me, Lord, with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience and grow in me, please, a forgiving spirit grateful for the forgiveness extended to me. Open my eyes that I may see more. Open my heart that what I see may bring me to humility before you and to deeper worship of you, my great Savior, my giving Savior, my loving Savior, my forgiving Savior through whom I live and move and have my being, the One through whom I pray. Amen

ONE MORE STORY TO SHARE:

A week ago last Tuesday, I was rudely awakened—from a very sound sleep —at 4:45 in the morning—by a ruckus being raised just outside our windows. A Walker Coonhound had begun signalling that he’d treed some creature a few yards from our cottage. I could barely see the dog in the pre-dawn light, but I could make out that he was attempting to burrow his way under a barbed wire fence that serves as a line of demarcation between the RV park at which we’ve been staying and the property that adjoins.

After a good bit of digging, the hound shimmied his way through and began circling the tree and vocalizing (think of an insistent and deep carrying voice like a clear ringing bugle, punctuated by sharp chopping sounds). He kept circling and vocalizing for nine hours, driving me nearly out of my mind, making it quite the challenge for me to focus on my writing assignments. Animal Control had been called and two officers finally arrived just after 2 in the afternoon; the canine then escaped into the brush. The hound returned just before 10 that night and started vocalizing again.

By this time, however, Larry, a neighbor vacationing from West Virginia had returned to his RV after a day of sailing. Larry is a man one who has run hunting dogs and now, at 10 in the evening, he heard the hound, went to his truck, started it up, slammed the tailgate down, and yelled, “Load up, boy!” The dog immediately came running and leapt up onto the bed of the truck. Larry gave the malnourished animal a bowl of food, found the owner’s contact information on the dog’s collar and placed a call. A man came by to collect the animal and told Larry the dog had been missing for three weeks. The owner was relieved to have his dog back in his possession; Larry told us the man had probably paid between $10,000 and $20,000 for the dog. Evidenced by the insistently wagging tail, it was clear the hound was equally relieved and delighted to see his human.

Ok. So why am I telling you this story? I was astonished at the tenacity of this animal, and my husband and I learned from Larry that a well-trained hound will keep signaling and signalling, persisting until its master responds. This little guy was hoarse and exhausted after a day of calling out, but he never lost heart. He persisted. And his master responded.

I was astonished at the tenacity of this animal, and Larry said, a well-trained hound will keep signaling and signalling, persisting until its master responds. This little guy was hoarse and exhausted after a day of calling out, but he never lost heart. He persisted. And his master responded.

I learned SO much through my hours of listening to the tenacious dog. A friend observed, “that’s why they call it ‘dogged perseverance.'” She also recalled the words of Martin Luther: “Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat!”

If you’re having trouble forgiving, if you’re having trouble of any kind, if you have no troubles at all, persist in prayer, pray the way the dog watches the meat.

 

 

The Lord Can Change the Trajectory of Your Life: Billy Graham and the Supernatural Activity of God

Billy-Graham1Over the course of my days, my life has intersected again and again with the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham and ministries to which he was connected and/or had founded.

In 1982, my marriage was falling apart and I was falling apart. Friends, who’d been praying for me for some time, invited me to attend the Graham crusade at Nickerson Field in Boston and, on Pentecost Sunday, I went forward with thousands of others to accept Jesus as my Savior. I invited my husband, Gene, to attend the next night and he went forward as well, welcoming Christ into his life. Jesus saved our marriage and turned our lives completely around. In the days that followed, when I sensed a call to the professional ministry, I never considered studying anywhere but Gordon-Conwell: Billy Graham was one of the founders of what would become my alma mater and he was chairman of the school’s board during my years there. His signature is on my Master of Divinity diploma from that school.

ham-mainnew
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

As a student, I was given the opportunity to train in and engage in evangelism through one of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) phone centers that was activated each time a crusade aired. Some years later, when I was serving as a visiting professor in evangelism and practical ministry at Gordon-Conwell, I made participation in the BGEA phone ministry a requirement in my courses.

While at GCTS, I was also one of the first students invited to participate in the Arrow Leadership Program which was founded by Billy Graham’s brother-in-law, Leighton Ford. The latter had a desire to help those who were emerging as new communicators of the Gospel. Dr. Ford had created Arrow as a means through which strategic investments might be made in the character, calling, and competency of young leaders. The organization continues to make those investments today.

Around the same time, I was invited to serve as a delegate to Lausanne II (in Manila, the Philippines). This international congress was one in a series of events called by the Lausanne Movement to foster cooperation among evangelical leaders. That movement was founded by Billy Graham, and it was in Manila that I developed a greater understanding of the realities of the global Church.

Two years later, the Graham Association created a profile of my life and ministry for airing during one of its crusade telecasts. As this came in the early years of my work for the Lord, I was stunned to learn that my profile would be the second in a series that began with Major League Baseball player Dave Dravecky. Rev. Graham’s message for the program in which my profile appeared, was entitled, “Who Is Jesus?” I can still hear the voice of Cliff Barrows introducing my segment. And, of course, George Beverly Shea’s comforting bass-baritone filled and lifted the hearts of those in the stadium seats at the Meadowlands in New Jersey along with the hearts of those listening from their seats at home.

The list of life intersections with Billy Graham and the organizations he founded continued on in the years that followed. I was asked to contribute chapters to the Billy Graham Christian Workers’ Handbook and worked with the BGEA to create a film for use in the telephone training centers. I was invited to serve on the Ministerial Advisory Council to the President at Gordon-Conwell and was interviewed for the school’s Contact Magazine. I was one of about a half dozen graduates, serving in churches, who were selected to speak to the GCTS Board of Directors about what additional training I would suggest the seminary should offer. I also collaborated with three GCTS professors on a book that was honored as a Christianity Today Book of the Year. Billy Graham founded the magazine CT in 1956 and its panel continues to select the top books each year in about a dozen categories, ranging from apologetics to Biblical studies, fiction to history and biography.

Decision-Covers-11-2016-1As I have often said elsewhere, I am deeply indebted to Billy Graham. He and the organizations he founded set the trajectory for my life in ministry. This man of integrity, humility, generosity and faithfulness was used of the Lord in the transformations of millions of individuals around the world, including my own. And now, even following his passing, I continue to be blessed by “America’s Pastor” and the BGEA. I have just received a request from Decision Magazine, a publication founded by the Rev. Graham, that I tell the story of how I came to faith in Christ at the Graham Crusade in Boston and how that decision has impacted my life to this day. What I find particularly astonishing is that no single human being has orchestrated these connections over the years. Everything points to the supernatural activity of God.

I pray that anyone reading this might be led to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior by offering a prayer that follows that was often shared by Pastor Graham. Those who know Jesus, might also take this opportunity to rededicate themselves–through this prayer–to the Lord’s service.

In Reverend Graham’s last message in the 2013 video-recorded My Hope America, he shared his heart for our nation today:

“Our country’s in great need of a spiritual awakening. There have been times that I’ve wept as I’ve gone from city to city and I’ve seen how far people have wandered from God. I want to tell people about the meaning of the cross. Not the cross that hangs on the wall or around someone’s neck, but the real cross of Christ…With all my heart I want to leave you with the truth, that He loves you, and is willing to forgive you of all your sins. Sin is a disease of the human heart…There is no other way of salvation except through the cross of Christ.”

He then offered a simple, yet powerful prayer, along with a final reminder that if we are willing to come to Christ, Jesus has the power to change our lives and future forever. “Today,” he said, “I’m asking you to put your trust in Jesus.” Then he lifted these words:

“Dear Heavenly Father, I know that I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins, and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins, I repent of my sins, I invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

If you lifted this prayer, from your heart and with all sincerity, know that your life will be different from this day forward for you will now walk with Jesus. He can change your life as He changed mine, as He changed Gene’s.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Hearts of Stone Out of Touch on the Question of Human Life

topcrop
This is the image that was shared in 2013 when the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act was before the Senate.

I cannot begin to fathom how the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Bill once again failed to pass in the Senate! No one can look at a sonogram image and deny the presence of a life, a human life, a unique and separate being. Only an individual with a seared conscience and a heart of stone could have voted to continue legally and lethally injecting and dismembering highly developed, viable or near-viable fetuses.

In 2013, when the bill was first raised, I posted an article in which one commentator for Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams, shared her belief that “life starts at conception” but she added, “that hasn’t stopped me one iota from being pro-choice… Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always…the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.” I was reminded of Orwell’s Animal Farm here: All are equal, but some are more equal than others. A seared conscience. A heart of stone. Only a culture of death and deeply imbedded selfishness could support such cruelty, such an abomination! God help us!

Here is the article from 2013: https://donnafghailson.com/?s=seared+conscience

A dear and much respected friend Charmaine Yoest, who once headed Americans United for Life, had the words of Thomas Jefferson, scripted in large letters on her wall: “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.” Charmaine’s conclusion: “You lose true north if you can’t defend innocent human life.”

sonogram-20-Week-Anatomy-Scan-example-best-detail-ideas-cool-free-close-USG

Following is a video of Sen. Ben Sasse’s (R. Neb.) motion to proceed with S. 2311, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Bill. Please take the time to listen to his words. I cannot understand how 46 human beings could have failed to be moved by his impassioned plea that 20-week old unborn babies–having been carried by their mothers for five months–might receive legal protection against abortion.

Sasse said, in part: “We all oooh and aaah over sonogram pictures of children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews — even sonogram pictures from a stranger on a bus or plane. We all look at those pictures and we love. We don’t have to be taught or conditioned to love. We don’t love because of economics. We don’t love because of politics. We love because they’re babies. You don’t need me to explain something that we’ve all experienced. But we should note that this love is backed with facts. The science is clear. No one seriously disputes that that little girl in that image is alive. We all know and understand that that little baby in that sonogram image is a unique and separate being.”

Sasse asked of his colleagues as they prepared to take the vote on the Senate floor: “Where will we draw the line? Have our hearts grown cold to truth? Beauty and compassion can stir our hearts. Science and facts still confirm the truth. These beautiful lives deserve our protection.” Forty-six Democrats and two Republicans would fail to draw the line.

 

“Two-thirds of Americans support a 20-week abortion ban, including more than half of Democrats and more than half of self-described pro-choice Americans. Though the Pain-Capable bill didn’t pass, the vote forced pro-abortion Democrats [and two Republicans] to show Americans how out of touch they continue to be on the question of human life — even as science and technology prove them wrong.” [Source: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/455883/abortion-ban-senate-vote-fails-pass-pain-capable-unborn-child-protection-act%5D

Compilation of 4D ultrasound videos at 20 weeks:

 

The Stranger in the Woods…So Much to Ponder

30687200I’ve just finished reading The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit. It’s the compelling true story of a twenty-year-old who drove his white 1985 Subaru Brat into central Maine, dropped his keys on the center console, exited the vehicle, started walking without knowing where he was going, and disappeared into the forest. He had a tent and a backpack, but no compass, no map. Christopher Knight, who came to be known as the North Pond Hermit, would remain in the woods for the next 27 years, until he was finally captured by authorities and brought to account for stealing food and other provisions from neighbors who lived not all that far from his well-concealed camp. Never lighting a fire and making sure to obscure every shiny pot, pan, propane tank, and clothespin from the prying eyes of hikers or over-flying aircraft, he managed to survive and his camp remained undetected through the challenges of brutal winters, muddy taiga, and northern mosquitos and blackflies.

Interspersed throughout the tale are reflections on silence and solitude; noisiness and busyness; the restorative power of nature; and the need for or aversion to community. The experiences, shared by author Michael Finkel, of ascetics, solitaries, anchorites, recluses and introverts were illuminating companions to Knight’s story as were the observations from psychologists and biologists who have made a study of the alone ones among us.

In the coming days, I’ll be re-reading and reflecting upon the book, but for now, I’d like to share one passage (of a great many) that I found intriguing:

“In an attempt to gain some empirical understanding of solitude, a cognitive neuroscientist at New York University placed more than twenty Buddhist monks and nuns inside magnetic resonance imaging machines, tracking blood flow to their brains while they meditated. Other neuroscientists conducted similar studies. The results remain preliminary, but it appears that when the human brain experiences a self-consciously chosen silence, as opposed to sleep, the brain does not slow down. It remains as active as ever. What changes is where the brain is functioning.

“Language and hearing are seated in the cerebral cortex, the folded gray matter that covers the first couple of millimeters of the outer brain like wrapping paper. When one experiences silence, absent even reading, the cerebral cortex typically rests. Meanwhile, deeper and more ancient brain structures seem to be activated–the subcortical zones. People who live busy, noisy lives are rarely granted access to these areas. Silence, it appears, is not the opposite of sound. It is another world altogether, literally offering a deeper level of thought, a journey to the bedrock of the self.”

Shifting Focus to the Gentlemen

downloadA couple of days ago, I was so incensed over the barbaric conduct of some Eagles’ fans that I posted an article I have since taken down. I regret having shared it. The team shouldn’t be smeared by the brutish and boorish behavior of the few. Far better to focus on the gentlemen who are on the team who are worthy of respect.

The article, to which I link here, highlights the faith of quarterback, Nick Foles who has described himself as a “Believer in Jesus Christ, husband, father, son, brother.” After the play-off victory against the Minnesota Vikings, Foles said: “First and foremost, all glory belongs to God. I wouldn’t be here without Him and this is just very humbling and unbelievable…I’m blessed to have amazing teammates, amazing coaches.”

Foles took over the starting job in December when star quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a knee injury. Wentz has said, “I think the biggest thing that we’re always challenging each other with is just to not lose sight of the bigger picture. I think wins, losses, highs, lows, everything that comes with this game, it’s so easy to take your mind and your eyes off of the ultimate prize, and that’s living for the Lord.”

See more here:

https://stream.org/headed-super-bowl-eagles-qb/

 

Go Play By Yourself: Friendships, Shutdowns and Quark

26903935_441118922969808_3940601116744742916_nType “mean-spirited memes” into your search line and nearly a million “results” will appear. I reached a point yesterday when I had just had enough of all of the gotchas, gibes and jabs being thrown across the political spectrum. So I added my comment to a string under a friend’s post of Trump’s misstatement that “…in a number of states the laws allow for a baby to be born from his or her mother’s womb in the ninth month.” The remarks were made during an address for the March for Life’s 45th rally. The President clearly meant to say “torn,” not “born,” intending for his statement to decry late-term abortions, as he did elsewhere in his address when he voiced support for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

Now granted, I could have chosen a more mean-spirited meme to address, but I’d just had my fill and wanted to engage in a meaningful conversation. I could easily have chosen a “safer space” than the Facebook page of a hard-left leaning friend, but then I would have missed the robust back and forth that followed.

I was a professor for much of my career and I am a believer that we learn best when we come up against that which challenges us; we learn when we have to wrestle with an issue. I have friends across the entire political spectrum and my feed is filled to the brim most days with nasty memes. My friend’s “calling someone out on a misstatement” may have been one of the least offensive of the bunch, but it provided a starting point for asking a series of questions starting with this: what value is there in mean-spirited memes? Now I appreciate satire and satire has certainly been employed, throughout history, to bring change. But when does satire (the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues) cross a line? Do mean-spirited memes move give and take conversations forward or are they shutdowners? Are they just easy grenade-like toss-ats or can they be effective in bringing change? And…can folks–on opposite ends of the spectrum–engage in debate without resorting to name calling (which is how, as you’ll see, the following conversation devolved and then evolved)?

I launched in to the conversation on my friend’s Facebook page by noting that mean-spirited memes do nothing but make those who create them and those who share them look petty and mean. And I asked in relation to the meme at hand, “would you want such memes to be created recounting every misstatement of yours?”

Here’s where the conversation went from there. I’ve done some condensing, but have remained true to the gist.

“Petty and Mean are Donald’s middle names,”one woman opined. “If he would actually think before he speaks, there would be far fewer opportunities for such memes.”

My response: “So incivility should be the response to perceived incivility? I’m reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’”

“No,”she answered. “Reminding people of what he truly is like is not incivility. He should not be allowed to just gloss over his disorganized and at times nonsensical sentences. His lack of presidential qualities is embarrassing.”

A man chimed in with this: “He flubbed up some words and was made fun of, but the words he meant to speak are even more asinine than his mistaken quote…#1 it is a huge lie, there are NO states that allow abortions that late in a pregnancy unless there is a severe threat of death for the mother giving birth and that is an extremely rare and understandable condition. #2. The problem isn’t that he flubbed some words, the problem is that this idiot just spews out whatever he wants to say whether it is true or not….. So he got teased for making a silly mistake, but the truth is he should be vilified and reviled for trying to spread false and dangerous propaganda about a subject he knows absolutely nothing about…. Please Donna, stop defending this turd, it only makes you look bad.”

My response: “Memes like this and your response do nothing but shut down conversations with those who hold opposing opinions. You’re using the same tactics you say you revile in Trump. I wasn’t defending Trump; I was commenting on the faulty approach of the meme. Could you see MLK posting this? I think I commented on this meme and others today because I’m tired of these mean-spirited slams being posted across the political spectrum. These Molotov cocktails do nothing but inflame. I appreciate satire. I just wish folks would talk to each other instead of ranting at each other.”

My friend then popped in: “Well I’m certainly not MLK, and never pretended to be. Lol I’m with [the previous male responder] on this. Personally, I am a Roe vs Wade supporter and believe it’s no ones [sic] business but a woman and her physician as to how her medical decisions are made.”

The woman, who had initially responded wrote, “Pro-life means supporting health care, early childhood interventions, education, etc. Pro-birth or pro-fetus is something else entirely.”

To which I responded, “You know nothing about me. I’m pro-life in every way that can be understood, and my entire history would bear that out.” My friend, who was a student of mine many years ago, said she knew that to be true.

I then wrote: “I was not defending Trump in posting my comment. Yes, Trump made a horrendous blunder. He often says ridiculous things. Again, I’m just tired of people today talking at each other rather than talking to each other. People–again, from across the political spectrum–throw up memes like this and refuse to listen to one another. The responses that have followed my initial post [ha-ha emojis among them] prove my point. Many of them are hate-filled and derisive and those responding have no idea who I am or what I think. They’ve leapt to conclusions because I didn’t fall in lock step to celebrate this meme. I don’t celebrate ANY mean-spirited memes no matter who posts them.”

A newcomer, who I’d estimate to be a twenty-something, put ha-ha emojis on all my comments and then wrote [I’m sharing her comments unedited]: “we don’t care what you celebrate or don’t ‘My initial posts prove my point…’ No one really cares about your points either This is Facebook and you’re wasting your time I sorta half read through what you said, but after the grammatical errors I stopped You’re the world Police of Facebook, right ? Here to condemn us all for being mean when really you’re probably the biggest bully here Know what I do to a bully? I tell them to fuck off I barely know [my friend who’d shared the meme] and she has nothing to do with how I think Go play by yourself”

Quite coincidentally, my friend noted that “our FB pages are our private playgrounds, where we can vent, share, educate or just laugh at what tickles us.” Private playgrounds, it seems, where people recreate and re-create publicly, and new arrivals are often bullied and kicked to the curb as just so much refuse needing disposal.

Well, I then said: “Thank you to those who engaged respectfully with me on here. I wish we could have had a conversation around my initial comment on whether mean-spirited memes have any value. I wasn’t looking to discuss Trump’s words or pro-life/pro-choice issues and, if you look back at my comments, I hope you’ll see I did my best to respond to each person with respect, honesty and caring concern.”

My friend concluded this portion of the conversation with these words [shared unedited]: “this is a very emotionally charged issue, I do get what you’re saying about memes, but I disagree that this meme falls into that spectrum and if it does so what, this really is FB and that’s all. I have no problem with how you feel about this, that is your right. But it is also Elizabeth’s right to feel the way she does, she has her experiences as you have yours. She is one of the loveliest woman I’ve eveh had the pleasure to know. Donna you knew exactly how my friends would respond, we’ve been thru this before. I lean pretty far left and I’m not a Christian so our friends are and will be very different. I must say you win this one as it appears Lizzie has left my page. Thanks. SMH”

And I said, “As I’m not welcome here, I will bow out as well.” Matthew 10:14 had come to mind, wherein we’re told that, if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, you can leave and shake the dust off your feet. So, I unfriended my friend and shook the dust. But, as my friend’s page is set to “public,” the twenty-something replied, “I haven’t left your page  I barely respond to people like Donna but I felt like putting someone in their place today People are so afraid to look within and search for meaning and the in between I saw a great shirt on a hiker yesterday and it said, ‘Make America Deep Again.’ Think about it”

Yes, indeed, let’s think about it.

After I posted this entry, a friend wrote to tell me that he’d attended a lecture last week by a visiting scholar, Armin Shimerman, from USC, noting that “he [Shimerman] teaches on Shakespeare and that was what his lecture was centered on. But more specifically, he spoke on why we don’t understand Shakespeare today. He posits that we, as a culture, have trouble understanding any literature predating the 1800s. The reason for that: we no longer teach Rhetoric., the basis of all the writings before that time. If we understood the rhetoric behind all the things Shakespeare wrote, we could understand the story better. He pointed to Aristotle’s three pillars of rhetoric: Logos, Pathos, and Ethos. The logic behind statements, the believability of the person making the statements, and the passion, or emotion being played on. I walked away from the lecture with my eyes a little glazed over, but I gained much insight. To understand the use of rhetoric, you can become much more persuasive in your life, and to not understand what is being done, you can become much more vulnerable. This comes to my mind as I view many rants and tirades on FB. There is little logos in any meme, but the image used can evoke some sense of pathos. The heavy emphasis is generally on the pathos, the trigger points and the words used. I too wish for more thoughtful discussions and always appreciate your essays. BTW don’t let the fact that Armin was also the actor that played Quark on DS9 detract from his pathos.”

My response: “I recognized the name, Armin Shimerman; I’m a Trekkie after all, though perhaps not on your exalted level! Thank you for sharing his and your wise words. I appreciate your wisdom and your caring concern. I have been reflecting on this whole experience, taking it as a case study in how I might better engage with those who are so quick to take offense and so unwilling to listen. I think my initial post must have been seen as an attack, but that was certainly not my intention. It seems often that, if you don’t fall lockstep into agreeing with whatever camp is onto whatever meme, folks will move to shut you down, refusing to enter into any kind of constructive debate. Not one person engaged with me on the topic of my initial post, the whole point for my posting. They went all over the map, down all kinds of rabbit holes and insulted me. Then they united to force me to shut down. Sound familiar? Perhaps I should have given more thought to how I would be heard and whether it was worth entering into this particular fray.

The shutting down of others, clearly seen in this exchange, provides a picture–in microcosm–of what’s happening across our society.

My friend, in a conversation that reopened a bit later on Facebook, told me she didn’t mean to make me feel unwelcome. But, I reminded her that she had sided with the one who had treated me reprehensibly. I was not made to feel welcome. I was castigated for speaking, and that–I said–should frighten her because the shutting down of free speech, the inability to engage in civil discourse in the public square (or on a friend’s Facebook page) should be opposed with everything we’ve got.

But, then…

The entire tone of the conversation on my friend’s Facebook page shifted when another individual stepped in to tell me that she respected my thoughts and considered them valid. She went on to say: “I respect your statement and your question. I think sometimes what appears to be mean-spirited is an expression of legitimate frustration. I have to say that I don’t like name-calling and have had problems hearing this on both sides. I really can’t appreciate the terms “Libtard” and ” Rethuglicans” and so on…I don’t like the Trump referred to as “Cheeto” nor Hillary as “Killary” and when I reflect on this… – I think it just seems so juvenile. Like kids in the playground spewing names at each other. As an educator, I find myself encouraging little children to be more constructive and they are quite receptive when the ideas are presented in ways that make sense to them. Name-calling gets us nowhere I believe. But, legit expressions of frustration are in a different category and come closer to what you’ve suggested about parody. We can learn from each other when engaging in discussions about recent events such as this blunder. I AM frustrated that a leader could be so inept as to not catch such a gross error – it is curious if nothing else. I stick to my former observations regarding why he did not catch himself. I think the discussion is good and the original post is not without merit.”

My friend then added, “I do agree with what you are saying Donna; there are so many memes I do not share for this very reason. In saying that, there are some I share because of the creativity of the creator, some because they are actually funny, some because they trigger my pathos, and some because I’m simply in a mood. Like I said, my fb is my playground, and much of what I post is not there for any serious debate. Fb, for me, is a tool to keep up with people who are far away or a toy to find unusual things and share with my like-minded peeps. It is open for the public so anyone can comment and speak their mind. If I find something truly offensive I delete it. And no I do not believe people who have completely opposing beliefs can debate without becoming emotionally involved, which is why I do not debate the things I post.”

I said, “I would never suggest we not become emotionally involved…it’s how those emotions are shared. It can be an enormous challenge to debate, to address the other with respect, and to come away as friends, even when we continue to have opposing beliefs.”

My friend added, “I do agree with that. For me it’s just about letting people be who they are. Sometimes that frustrates me, or angers me, but in the end, I get over it as I realize I probably trigger stuff in others. But for me at this age, I’ve experienced enough to know my beliefs will not be swayed by debate. As I know others are shaped by their experiences and I will not try to change their minds. There will always be, and must be opposing forces in all things, the yin yang of it all. So, as we swing on the pendulum from one side to another, I choose to enjoy myself where ever it’s swinging at the moment.”

I should note that, as my friend’s page is set to “public,” she didn’t mind my sharing, on this site, the exchange that had been playing out there. And, odd as it may seem, I’m grateful that I entered into the conversation with words that might have been taken as offensive because I learned I shouldn’t do that in any future go-rounds. And, you know? I must admit that the creator of the born-torn meme was actually quite clever. A clear opening had been provided; it was easy to take direct aim and it would have been hard to miss the target. Mistaking born for torn? At the March for Life?! That was a beaut of a blunder; the President left himself wide open.

In the end, my friend and I came to a greater understanding and greater appreciation of each other, and I actually gained a new Facebook friend: the woman who entered in at the tail end, the one who acknowledged I had some good points, the one who shared her own views respectfully and thoughtfully.

Now, I have one last bit to share…

Coincidental to my entering into this exchange on Facebook, was my viewing of a CBS Sunday Morning segment that centered on the shutting down of free speech on college campuses. The professor in me perked up and zeroed in. I hope you’ll take the time to visit the link here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-war-of-words-on-college-campuses/

In the program, an altercation at Middlebury College in March, 2016 was recalled that was sparked by the appearance of Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist with the American Enterprise Institute. He’d been invited to the Vermont college to discuss his Coming Apart, a book that explores the growing divide between rich and poor white Americans. When he got up to speak, however, chanting and yelling students shouted him down.

The individual who had invited the author expected Murray would be controversial because of another book he had written, The Bell Curve. In that volume, Murray had suggested that race may play a part in determining intelligence, asserting that blacks do less well than white on IQ tests. CBS reporter Rita Braver interviewed one student who was looking forward to pressing him on these ideas, and Allison Stanger, a respected political science professor who had been selected to moderate the event because of her liberal credentials, was also eager to debate. When she and Murray were drowned out and shut down by the protests, Stanger lamented the missed educational opportunity.

Braver noted that Murray’s presence at Middlebury eventually resulted in violence. “When Professor Stanger was escorting Murray out, they were attacked by a mob that included outside activists, and she was left with a concussion and whiplash.”

Stanger was clearly saddened by all of this. She had reviewed The Bell Curve and had prepared tough questions that she never got to ask in front of an audience that was listening. She told Braver: “It was this real group-think mob mentality where people weren’t reading and thinking for themselves, but rather relying on other people to tell them what to think.”

Murray and Stanger were essentially told–or, rather, forced–to “go play by themselves,” and this brought me back to the suggestion that Facebook pages can be seen by some as private playgrounds where new arrivals can be bullied and kicked to the curb when they don’t fall into lockstep line. Shutting down. Shutting down. But…it doesn’t have to be this way. We can shake the dust, put our shoes back on, and start in again with respect for one another and a renewed determination to listen and learn.

 

The Rest is Part of the Making of the Music

Rests-WholeHe withdrew… to a solitary place (Matthew 14:13).

There is no music during a musical rest, but the rest is part of the making of the music. In the melody of our life, the music is separated here and there by rests. During those rests, we foolishly believe we have come to the end of the song. God sends us time of forced leisure by allowing sickness, disappointed plans, and frustrated efforts. He brings a sudden pause in the choral hymns of our lives, and we lament that our voices must be silent. We grieve that our part is missing in the music that continually rises to the ear of our Creator. Yet how does a musician read the rest? He counts the break with unwavering precision and plays his next note with confidence, as if no pause were ever there.

God does not write the music of our lives without a plan. Our part is to learn the tune and not be discouraged during the rests. They are not to be slurred over or omitted, nor used to destroy the melody or to change the key. If we will only look up, God Himself will count the time for us. With our eyes on Him, our next note will be full and clear. If we sorrowfully say to ourselves, “There is no music in a rest,” let us not forget that the rest is part of the making of the music. The process is often slow and painful in this life, yet how patiently God works to teach us! And how long He waits for us to learn the lesson!
–John Ruskin

John_Ruskin_in_his_thirties
John Ruskin, 1850.