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.

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

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.”


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:




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, 1850.

An Apparent Defeat May Result in Victory

The Golden Lampstand Church, pre-demolition.

In today’s entry in Streams in the Desert, I was reminded of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were thrown into an enormous fiery furnace when they refused to abandon their allegiance to the living God. Here was an apparent victory for the enemy. It looked as if God’s people were going to suffer a terrible vanquishment, but God saved them in and through the fire. We can imagine what a complete defeat the destruction of the Golden Lampstand Church in Linfen, China must appear to be to many, but as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego emerged from the fire unsinged, so let us pray this apparent defeat will result in a marvelous victory for Christians.

Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out.

When the great oak is straining in the wind, the boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk sends down a deeper root on the windward side.

Only the soul that knows the mighty grief can know the mighty rapture. Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.



Praying the Church in China will grow ever stronger as Christians are coming under increasing persecution.

Daniel 3



Waging the War of Art

41ET8OFVFCLMy husband just picked up a new book and insisted he needed to read the introduction to me. Therein, the author thanks a specific individual for helping to keep her “focused and sane (more or less) through the war that is writing a book.”

I was reminded through this of the words of Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative BattlesThe War is filled with precise advice from an artist who understands the daily battle and wages the daily battle that is writing “professionally.” I found much with which to resonate in the book and, as the mother-in-law of a career Marine, I especially appreciated Pressfield’s passage on what he learned as a member of the Corps.

Contrary to the popular myth, he writes, “Marine training does not turn baby-faced recruits into bloodthirsty killers. It teaches something far more useful: how to be miserable.” And, this, Pressfield opines, is “invaluable for an artist. Marines love to be miserable. Marines derive a perverse satisfaction from having colder chow, crappier equipment, and higher casualty rates than any outfit of dogfaces, swab jockeys or flyboys, all of whom they despise. Why? Because these candy-asses don’t know how to be miserable.”

Pressfield concludes: “the artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt and humiliation. The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.”

Telamon of Arcadia, a fifth century B.C. mercenary, observed that “It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.” Pressfield finds that: “Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro . . . The amateur plays for fun. The pro plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation. The amateur plays part-time. The pro plays full-time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.”

Aspiring artists are encouraged to take heart from a deep truth reckoned by Somerset Maugham: “by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, he [came to understand that he] set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration.”

When all is said and done, Pressfield (author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire) exposes the enemy Resistance, exposes the evidence of its presence (fear, procrastination, self-dramatization and the like) and offers helps toward living the “unlived life within.”

I am grateful for this reminder of Pressfield’s description of and advice for the professional writer. I’m onto my fifth book. On two, I served as editor. One was a collaborative effort with three other writers, and the last I authored (in collaboration with a photographer) and edited. The book on which I am now at work is mine entirely, and the poor thing has been languishing in Oblivion, awaiting a long-delayed rescue. I know that half the battle is fought, as Somerset Maugham so rightly judged, in “simply” sitting down and starting to work. Well, I’m sitting…


Store Up Comfort

The_Good_Samaritan_MET_EP151Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God (Isaiah 40:1).

God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.
–John Henry Jowett

Store up comfort. This was the prophet’s mission. The world is full of comfortless hearts, and to make you sufficient for this lofty ministry, you must be trained. And your training is costly in the extreme; for, to render it perfect, you too must pass through the same afflictions as are wringing countless hearts of tears and blood. Thus, your own life becomes the hospital ward where you art taught the Divine art of comfort. You are wounded, that in the binding up of your wounds by the Great Physician, you may learn how to render first aid to the wounded everywhere. Do you wonder why you are passing through some special sorrow? Wait till ten years have passed, and you will find many others afflicted as you are. You will tell them how you have suffered and have been comforted; then as the tale is unfolded, and the anodynes applied which once your God wrapped around you, in the eager look and the gleam of hope that shall chase the shadow of despair across the soul, you will know why you were afflicted, and bless God for the discipline that stored your life with such a fund of experience and helpfulness.

Adapted from today’s Streams in the Desert

Accompanying photo: The Good Samaritan, David Teniers the Younger (Flemish, Antwerp 1610–1690 Brussels).


Chastising Myself

IMG_2251 (1)I have been chastising myself since last night.

I had been in conversation on Facebook with a Jehovah’s Witness who had set up the straw man of John Shelby Spong as an “authority” on the subject of hell. He was using a video-taped interview with the heretical, now retired, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark as support for his argument against the concept of eternal punishment. In earlier postings, he had made other pointed attacks against non-JWs. In turn, I had been sharing the manifold errors that I believe are clearly evident in the history and theology of the Witnesses. I had been praying that the man might be released from the deluding influence of the organization. In each encounter, he had responded using copious copied-from-JW sources. When in this most recent exchange, he came back with–what I took as–a compounding personal affront, I impetuously, without consulting the Lord, withdrew from the conversation and unfriended him, shaking the dust off my feet as a testimony against him.

Now I have spent most of my professional life studying world religions and new religious movements; I have engaged with many, many individuals walking innumerable paths. I can’t recall ever being the one to withdraw from a conversation, and I’ve been trying to comprehend why I did this time. I think I’m upset with myself because I fear it may have been the wounding to my person that served as the final straw and not the many affronts to Christ.

I woke this morning to find the following as the day’s devotional entry in Streams in the Desert. The line that leapt out from this was this: “Beloved, whenever you are doubtful as to your course, submit your judgment absolutely to the Spirit of God, and ask Him to shut against you every door but the right one.” It is possible that the Lord might have called me to withdraw from the conversation because other work needed to be done in the man’s life before he would be open to hearing what I had to say. The problem is I didn’t wait to hear from the Lord.

The devotional that follows gives a nod to one of my favorite verses (Isaiah 30:21): “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'” I used to keep a copy of this verse on my desk at the seminary and churches I was serving. As I now sit at a crossroads in my life, I am especially grateful for the call to return to these words today. Sometimes doors are closed. Sometimes God directs our steps to the right. Sometimes we are led to go left. Sometimes, we’re told to stay put. And sometimes…

Here’s the devotional, with its admonition to look to the Lord for clear direction:

Having been kept by the Holy Spirit [at that time] from preaching the Word in Asia (Acts 16:6).

It is interesting to study the methods of His guidance as it was extended towards these early heralds of the Cross. It consisted largely in prohibitions, when they attempted to take another course than the right. When they would turn to the left, to Asia, He stayed them. When they sought to turn to the right, to Bithynia, again He stayed them. In after years Paul would do some of the greatest work of his life in that very region; but just now the door was closed against him by the Holy Spirit. The time was not yet ripe for the attack on these apparently impregnable bastions of the kingdom of Satan. Apollos must come there for pioneer work. Paul and Barnabas are needed yet more urgently elsewhere, and must receive further training before undertaking this responsible task.

Beloved, whenever you are doubtful as to your course, submit your judgment absolutely to the Spirit of God, and ask Him to shut against you every door but the right one. Say, “Blessed Spirit, I cast on Thee the entire responsibility of closing against my steps any and every course which is not of God. Let me hear Thy voice behind me whenever I turn to the right hand or the left.”

In the meanwhile, continue along the path which you have been already treading. Abide in the calling in which you are called, unless you are clearly told to do something else. The Spirit of Jesus waits to be to you, O pilgrim, what He was to Paul. Only be careful to obey His least prohibition; and where, after believing prayer, there are no apparent hindrances, go forward with enlarged heart. Do not be surprised if the answer comes in closed doors. But when doors are shut right and left, an open road is sure to lead to Troas. There Luke awaits, and visions will point the way, where vast opportunities stand open, and faithful friends are waiting.–Paul, by Meyer



A Time for Everything and a Season for Every Purpose

new_year_01[Originally posted in 2013.]

“There is a time for everything and a season for every purpose under heaven.”

Time. From time to time. For the time-being. Time-honored, timeless, timely, time-sharing, time-worn. Time heals all wounds. Time wounds all heels. Time is always a circus packing up and moving away. Living is entirely too time-consuming. Time and tide wait for no man. Time immemorial. Time expired. On time. In time. Time-out. Time, what a concept and how fascinated by it and fixated on it we are!

We try to make time, spend time, and cheat time but time marches on.

My little pocket paperback dictionary has a thirty-line definition under the word “time.” But, in all those words offered in explanation, there is no real definition of time for there is no attempt to define time outside of time — time as a created sphere within which God’s plan of redemption is actualized. Time from an eternal perspective. Time from God’s point of view. Does any human being really know what time is in this sense? And as the song goes, does anybody really know what time it is?

And yet, if you’ve come upon this entry at the start of a new year, much of the world is upon the time when folks reflect upon the time – the year – that is past and look forward to the time – the year – that is to come. A new year of promise and challenge. What will we make of it?

How are you now spending your time? It’s an enlightening exercise to consider what percentage of your days are used up in sleeping, working, watching TV, eating, traveling, lounging about, dressing, being ill, engaging in determinedly spiritual pursuits . . . Each one of us probably has a unique way of looking at time. For someone coping with a debilitating illness, each minute may pass like an hour. And another, nearing the end of his life, may feel as though he has too much time on his hands. He’s had enough of time. For another healthy, often over-committed individual who’s always rarin’ to go, each hour may pass like a minute – there never seems to be enough time.

Life comes to us in seasons, in spans, in stretches, in seconds and in spells. Life comes to us in moments, months and millennia. We may be at a juncture, in an interval and everything can change in an instant. Isaac Watts reminds us in the great hymn, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, that: “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away.” He also reminds us that God has been our help in ages past and is our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.

To live within real reality, to embrace the seasons of our lives, we need to understand time. We must begin to see time from God’s perspective if only on our very elementary level.

The author of our passage from Ecclesiastes offers us, in the verses before us, a majestic ode to time and he concludes with a way of dealing with and in time. He tells us that every human activity has its own appointed time but that time also creates a problem. If human beings were merely creatures within a limited span of time, they would not concern themselves with the further dimensions of eternity. But it is God who has placed “eternity in our hearts,” while keeping us from the full knowledge of what will be in the future.

Made for eternity but limited just now to time, that is our predicament and the suggestions for dealing with this enigma are the focus of this entry.

In Ecclesiastes 3, verses 1 through 15, we read:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him. Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account. (NIV)

In chapter 12, verses 13 and 14, the author concludes:

Now all has been heard;
 here is the conclusion of the matter:
 Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil. (NIV)

So, again, does anybody really know what time it is? Does any human being really have a grasp on the nature of time?

It’s been calculated that if you could put the entire history of humankind in a fifty-year span, this is how it would read:

For the first 45 years, nothing all that significant happened. Five years ago, humans began to have some form of primitive writing and communication. Two years ago, Christianity came into being. Five months ago, the printing press was invented. Twenty days ago, Ben Franklin made the connection between lightning and electricity. Nineteen days ago, the telephone was invented. Eighteen days ago, the airplane appeared. Ten days ago, radio. Five days ago, television. Five minutes ago: jet airplanes.

We hear quite often that time seems to be speeding up. More than 40 years ago, Alvin Toffler wrote a very influential book entitled Future Shock.

Toffler argued that society was undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to a super-industrial society. The accelerated rate of technological and social advances was leaving people disconnected and suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation”: they were “future shocked.” He coined a new phrase for the problem: folks, he said, were on “information overload.”

Today, you can pick up a magazine most any day and you’ll find some article on time management, sleep disorders related to stress, or products you can use to de-stress and relax. A few years ago, I typed into the search line, “no time, stress” and came up with 8,900,000 items. I did that again just now and came up with 63,500,000! Among those entries, I found everything from books to consultants to relaxation sayings to an e-zine article entitled, “How to Get Stress Relief by Constantly Pleasing Other People.”

It seems we’re running, running, running but where to and what from? What are we doing with our time?

The author of Ecclesiastes, who may well have been King Solomon, son of David, writing around 900 B.C., considered the same questions.

His book starts with the words “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” What good is all the work, he wonders. There is nothing new under the sun, no remembrance of men of old.

And this guy had done everything, seen everything. He’d studied. He’d acquired. He’d amassed. He’d taken on great projects, built houses, cultivated vineyards, planted gardens, set out parks and constructed reservoirs. He’d denied himself nothing. But, all of it, all of his activity had left him empty. He saw all of it as meaningless, a chasing after the wind, because he knew he couldn’t take any of it with him and he couldn’t make any more time.

In the 2011 release, In Time, starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, a future is envisioned wherein time is literally money, and aging stops at 25. In this scenario, the only way to stay alive is to earn, steal, or inherit more time. The plot plays on a craving many seem to share. Art Historian Bernard Berenson, who lived 94 years — from 1865 to 1959 — once said, “I wish I could stand on a busy street corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me all of their wasted hours.”

But even if we could earn, steal, borrow or inherit more hours, it would make no difference, the author of Ecclesiastes concludes, because our fates would still be the same. The fate of the fool will overtake the wise as well. Like the fool, the wise man too must die.

And so, he despairs: what is the point of it all? Why bother?

Finally he hits upon it: only those activities undertaken for the sake of God are truly worthwhile. For “to the one who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness but to the sinner, He gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth just to hand it over to the one who pleases God.” Thus writes Solomon.

If there is no purpose, no meaning to existence beyond the limited span of an individual’s years, he decides, all the effort is for naught.

But, when one sees the hand of God at work in ordaining the times and seasons, when one sees an everlastingness and a reason for and value in every season, everything one does takes on a new dimension.

Each one is born. Each one will die. In between, God has ordained that certain things will happen according to His plan. There will be times of planting and harvest, times of destruction and times of healing. There will be times of sorrow, times of joy, times of searching, times of moving ahead, times of yielding. There will be times for keeping and times for throwing away, times for silence, times for speaking up. There will be love and hate, war and peace.

Why? Why go through all of these things? So that we will learn to fear God, to obey Him, so that we will learn through our labors to turn to the Lord, to seek Him, to seek our purpose in serving Him. He has placed eternity in our hearts. Deep within, we know there is more beyond the few years of existence we are given on this plane. We can’t fathom what God has done from beginning to end. We don’t have to fathom what He’s done. We need only to ensure that our eternity is safe, that we have accepted His provision of salvation, and that – while we have time — we are living as we should, keeping in mind that some of the greatest challenges we face are mercies meant to develop our characters.

If we begin to look at our lives from an eternal perspective, we will be able to take greater pleasure in all that comes to us – the times of trial as well as the times of ease. We will be able to have peace in all circumstances because we know the Lord means us well and uses all things to benefit those who love Him. He is working in all time, outside of time and at all times. And He makes all things beautiful in His time.

Consider, for a moment, what endures and what does not endure for it is in the everlasting that we should invest.

The Bible tells us that riches do not endure (Proverbs 27:24). Youth, though so many of us try so desperately to hold onto it, does not endure.

In 1Corinthians 13, we’re told that what does endure is faith, hope and love. John, chapter 6, assures us that spiritual food, which the Son of Man – Jesus Christ – gives us, endures. What else endures? Truthful lips (Pr. 12:19), God’s righteousness (Ps. 112:9 and 2Cor.9:9) and all of our labor done for the sake of the Lord (1Cor. 15). Matthew, chapter 6, assures us that treasures, laid up in heaven, endure. And where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. We too will endure.

We are here – in time – for a reason. Richard Kroner once noted that “history has its beginning in God, it has its center in Christ, and its end in the final consummation of the last judgment.”

God has established time. In that time, we are to live and work and play, to seek some answers, to come to some conclusions. We are born by the grace of God. We are redeemed – our time is redeemed, our eternity is redeemed – by accepting the gift of the new life in Christ. We are then to use our time – leading up to the end times – seeking to please our God. We learn of His will for our lives through scripture, through prayer, through pursuing truth in fellowship with other believers, through service to others, through committing our work – all that we do – to our Lord and Savior, living lives that are pleasing in His sight. Whatever we’re doing, whatever work He has given us to do, we do it all as unto the Lord.

Time is “the arena of humanity’s decision on our way to eternal destiny.” We make choices within the arena of time – every thought, word and deed has repercussions in the eternal moral order.

God has ordained a time and a season for everything. He has set eternity in our hearts so that we will seek Him, use the time well and know peace and satisfaction – a taste of eternity in established time.

When your life comes to an end, what stories will it tell? Will your life reflect God-honoring priorities? Do you need to make adjustments in the way you use your time?

When your life comes to an end, will you have to say, “When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2: 11a)? Or will you be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness” (2Timothy 4-7a)?

In the days ahead, I pray you will devote yourself to those pursuits that honor God and minister to your fellow human beings. May the Lord teach you to number your days aright (Psalm 90:12) and remind you that each day is “the day the Lord has made” (Psalm 118:24a). Our times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15) and we can “trust in Him at all times . . . for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8). God is the God of our days and God is the God of all time whether we are in time or out of time. Remember God is the God of eternity and He has placed that eternity in the hearts of His people.


Great and Eternal God, Your love for us never ends. You remain constant and faithful through all the seasons of our lives – from birth to death, in times of weeping and in times of laughter, in times of mourning and in times of joy, in times of war and in times of peace, in the silence and in the clatter and clutter of busy lives. Lord, you have set eternity in my heart and so I commit my ways to You and pray that Your Holy Spirit will indeed guide me into all truth. May You sanctify me and preserve me.

Lord, as I look toward the days ahead, I pray that you will grant me strength during times of trial and wisdom at all times. Lord, as the cliché goes, today is the first day of the rest of my life so I turn afresh to seeking You, Your wisdom, Your will, Your strength. May I give serious consideration to the ways in which I use the time that you have given to me. Fill me with awe because of the challenges I face but fill me also with confidence because of the power that is mine because I belong to You. May the days ahead find me engaged in those pursuits that honor You and further Your kingdom. Grow me Lord in miraculous ways that I may love You and serve You all my days through Jesus Christ my Lord, I pray. Amen


A Dyed-in-the Wool New Englander Waitin’ Out the Stawm

Wicked Stawm Comin'I am a dyed-in-the-wool New Englander. I’ve often used that expression over the years without ever knowing its origin and I never thought to ask other dyed-in-the-wool New Englanders why we refer to ourselves as such. I’d read, at some point, that the expression means “thorough-going and uncompromising” but it wasn’t until today that I found a history of the phrase on Merriam Webster’s website. There I learned that:

“Early yarn makers would dye wool before spinning it into yarn to make the fibers retain their color longer. In 16th-century England, that make-it-last coloring practice provoked writers to draw a comparison between the dyeing of wool and the way children could, if taught early, be influenced in ways that would adhere throughout their lives. In the 19th-century U.S., the wool-dyeing practice put eloquent Federalist orator Daniel Webster in mind of a certain type of Democrat whose attitudes were as unyielding as the dye in unspun wool. Of course, Democrats were soon using the term against their opponents, too, but over time the partisanship of the expression faded and it is now a general term for anyone or anything that seems unlikely or unwilling to change.”

I am one who has had the privilege of traveling extensively over the years – for work and pleasure – and, as I write this, I am in Southwest Florida, hundreds of miles away from my beloved New England. I give thanks every day for the treasured times I’ve had in dots on the map from Barcelona to Manila; from Hwange to the Arctic Circle; from Capri to San Francisco; from Key West to Half Moon Bay. I could rhapsodize for hours on each and every one of these glorious places and hundreds of others. But, as a storm – and a storm for the books – is bearing down on New England, I find my mind and heart and spirit turning home. I find myself missin’ my New England somethin’ awful.

Our old barn in snow
Our old barn in snow

I miss the culture and intellectual stimulation of Boston and Cambridge and the incomparable beauty of the Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine coastlines. I miss cider donuts and fresh-off-the-tree Macs. I miss my farmers’ markets; I miss my May strawberries. I miss cross-country skiing from pub to pub in North Conway; I miss the apres ski at Sugarbush and Killington. I miss Vermont cheddar, Vermont maple syrup and Vermont maple candy purchased in Vermont. I miss the Green Monster, Boston Garden, the Boston Public Gardens, the icky sticky subway, and the “Make Way for Ducklings” statues. I miss the dome on the Statehouse, Comm. Ave, haddock, fried clams, and the old Filene’s Basement. I miss the MFA and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I miss Irish Pubs especially on St. Pat’s, the Freedom Trail, the sailboats on the Charles, the Hatch Shell, the Symphony and the Boston Pops. I miss the Huntington Theatre and I miss Bunratty’s. I miss Harvard Square, the Flume, the Concord Bridge, Walden Pond and Hampton Beach (where I pastored the most delightful congregation of Baptists). I miss all the folks with whom I made memories in these places. And I miss the comfort in knowing a place and having it know me.

There's a door here somewhere
There’s a door here somewhere

Today as a blizzard, that may rival the one of ’78, is moving in with its threats of 30 plus inches of snow, I think back to the storm of 37 years ago. I was six months pregnant with our daughter, Brooke, living on the North Shore of Boston and making an hour-long trip each day to the South Shore to teach in an alternative high school. The administration dismissed us just a bit early and, though the state was closing the highway – literally – right behind me, I was able to make it home – after several hours – in my Triumph Spitfire (which, as some of you may know, was little more than a go-cart!). Any Triumph devotee will tell you that part of the charm of the car was that you had to have towels at the ready to catch any drops coming in where the convertible top met the body. It was very low to the ground – you could stick your arm out the window and push yourself along – and it was so light, it didn’t stand a chance in Hell of holding the road in inclement weather. Oh, how I miss that car!! I really did love it! Anyway, my husband Gene and I had another vehicle at the time – a Blazer – with four-wheel drive and we decided to volunteer with the Red Cross. Gene helped pull folks out of flooded properties on the Lynn shore and I worked to create a shelter in one of the schools for those displaced by the storm.

Mac-especially-misses the snow!

Well, now the Blizzard of ’15 has arrived. We won’t be stocking up on bread and milk. We won’t be getting out the candles. And, though, we have another four-wheel drive vehicle, we won’t be digging anybody out and we won’t be making snow angels. No throwing snowballs. No building snow forts. No counting how many shovelfuls of snow we’ve tossed. The dogs won’t be leaping over snow piles and we won’t have to avoid eating yellow snow. We won’t be sharing storm stories with the neighbors, the bagger at the grocery, or friends on the phone. Sigh. . .

I pray everyone stays safe and I hope our loved ones up there will think of me missing all the hunkering down in front of the fire waiting to see just how wicked big the “stawm” will be. Make sure you have a way to heat up the Dunks should the power go out. I’ll be thinking of you and please, think of me missing you and all of this. I’m still dyed-in-the-wool but I can only be there with you – in my woolies – in my dreams. I’ll be watching the weather and toasting you with hot chocolate (or, more likely, a glass of wine)!

(Note: this is an updated version of a story I posted as the big 2013 snowstorm was bearing down on the New England. I am reposting it as a bomb cyclone, another wicked winter storm is hitting home.)


Unforgiveness: A Loose Cannon Below Decks

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. Colossians 3:12-13, NIV, 1984.

French author Victor Hugo, best known for Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was also the author of the novel, 93, (Quatre-vingt treize). The book is centered on the year 1793, Year Two of the French Republic, which saw “the establishment of the National Convention, the execution of Louis XVI, the Terror, and the monarchist revolt in the Vendée, which was brutally suppressed by the Republic.” (See Goodreads for a review.)

In a chapter entitled, “Tormentum Belli,” which Hugo translates in the text as “war machine,” is the story of the corvette “Claymore.” 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 the 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. 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.


Perhaps we might begin by considering what acts can set the cannon of unforgiveness loose.

If author Lewis Smedes is right, these are acts of disloyalty and acts of betrayal. Words like abandon, forsake and let down are attached to such acts and 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 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 sweeps through your neighborhood and leaves your house in shambles. When you go into town for supplies and return home only to discover that looters have taken what little was left of your belongings.

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.

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 blank.

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

But why forgive? How do we forgive? If you’re like me, there are moments when I have prayed the Lord’s Prayer and have found myself wincing when I’ve come to that part where we say, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” or “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” or “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” If you’re like me, you may well – like me – have found yourself shooting a prayer up from your spirit: “O Lord, please do not forgive me in the shabby, half-hearted, offer it one day, take it back the next day, ways in which I have ‘forgiven’ those who have trespassed against me.”

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus helps us understand the cost of unforgiveness as he relates the story of a king who decides one day to settle accounts with his servants.

In Matthew 18:21-36, we read:

At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. “The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market. “The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt. “The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’ The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.” The Message

So one man is brought before the king. His debt? 10,000 talents. In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates that amount to the contemporary equivalent of a hundred thousand dollars. Whatever the amount, it was clear this man was hopelessly enslaved to debt! Yet another person in the text is mentioned as owing a hundred denarii, which today would be a few dollars.

The text also makes it clear that the terrible consequence of being in debt was debtor’s prison. When a bill went past due and one couldn’t pay, the creditor had the right to seize you and throw you into jail until you either rotted or paid up. But, of course, if you were in prison you couldn’t earn any money to gain your release. Your only hope might the mercy of the one who had the power to release you.

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.

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!

The 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 of 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 a measly few bucks. He grabs him by the throat and demands he ‘pay up!’ When the debtor says he can’t and asks for patience, the man throws him in 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 he repays the debt. The point of the parable is clear. If God forgives us, we must forgive others. We must forgive as 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 so many of us have difficulty forgiving? Why do so many of us have difficulty saying two simple words: “I’m sorry?” Why do we see so little repentance for sins? 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 the December 2012 issue of Leadership Journal is 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 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 men from his staff.  Cheshire found Haggard to be brutally honest about his failures, filled with a wealth of wisdom, deeply caring and pastoral. And Haggard had a growing church in the very city that knew him and knew about his failures; God was causing that church to grow.

When 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 is the love? Where is 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.”

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.”

the sunflower coverIn my library is a book entitled, The Sunflower. It’s a story, written by Simon Wiesenthal, with whom you may be familiar. He is 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 Mauthausen 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 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 entitled The Sunflower and he ended his tale with a question: “What would you have done?” Thirty-two eminent persons contributed their answers. 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.

Many of us, truth be told, feel the same way when we 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.”

“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.

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 mother 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. (From this, we derive our understanding of the scapegoat.)

Mining the scriptures we discover more than 100 references to the concept of forgiveness and our first lesson in 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 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 in Matthew 18:22, Christ carries this further by saying that even seven times is not enough, but seventy times seven.”

For the one extending forgiveness, forgiveness is to be an attitude. Forgiveness, we are told in the 18th chapter of Matthew, is to come from the heart.

In the passage from Colossians, 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. Forgive.

The Freedom of Forgiveness coverSo why do we see so little forgiveness both inside and outside 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.

As Augsburger notes: “God paid the immeasurable cost of your forgiveness. How can you hesitate to pay the infinitely smaller cost of forgiving your brother or sister – or your 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 that you are moving in forgiveness when you no longer have daily conversations, daily battles in your head, with those who hurt you.

You will know that 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 that 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. We need to keep forgiving.

C.S. Lewis learned how long a process forgiving can be. He tells the story of a perfectly awful 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.”

Essentially we cannot forgive but, with attention to prayer and with the help of God, eventually we can. The Lord works the miracle in us as we yield to His transforming power.

And we all want forgiveness for ourselves.

And we all want forgiveness for ourselves. There is a marvelous example of this 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 order to meet 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, waiting to see if the man might be their father who had granted them 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? Have you faced God and told him you’re helplessly a debtor to sin and 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 you tearing your guts out, messing with 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. Pray…

Featured image: Antoine Morel Fatio.

English: 36-pounder cannon at the ready
Français : Pièce de 36 en batterie