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Monday, April 30, 2012

The Crackpot Calls the Kettle

     Political fundraising calls are coming thick and fast, so I thought it might be time for a blast from the past. Ten years ago, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel proposing the death penalty for telemarketers. Most people who read it shouted a hearty “amen,” but the paper printed a response by someone who missed the point completely and called me “ignorant,” the all-purpose insult of the day. And notably of liberals, though I don’t know the writer’s political persuasion. I do know the person had no sense of humor. Anyway, I could never figure out how I was supposed to be ignorant of my own experience. I swear, I was not under anesthesia when I got the offending calls. See what you think.

 March 19, 2002|
By Diana Heman Morrison
     Floridians must pay to ward off telephone solicitations by listing their names with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Lawmakers just voted to keep charging for privacy. This is completely backward. People who like having their dinners interrupted should be on the list. An uninvited call to anyone else should be treated as trespassing, and the penalty should be severe. Sometimes death seems too mild.
Years ago, I passed a sleepless night with two sick children. At about 10 the next morning, I slumped over my kitchen table. The kids were finally asleep, the last load of barfed-in sheets was in the washing machine, and, having had no breakfast, I was ready for a cup of tea. I sat down with it. The phone rang. A chipper young woman tried to sell me something. Now, usually, I try to be polite; some of my best friends have been reduced to working as telephone solicitors. This time, I had no energy for it and simply hung up. The girl called back, blew a raspberry into the phone and hung up on me. Charming.
Then one day, my son answered the phone and came to tell me it was for me. I picked up the bedroom phone while he went to hang up the one in the kitchen. A young man started his spiel about some sort of meat-delivery program. The kitchen phone clicked off. Without checking whether I was still there, he intoned, "Thanks a lot, bitch," and hung up. Yes, death sounds about right.
We removed our listing from the telephone directory. (You have to pay for that, too.) It did help. We don't hear from the air-conditioner servicers, the water purifiers, the purveyors of alternative fire alarms ("Smoke detectors cause cancer!" the saleswoman shrilled at me.) or the sellers of charity light bulbs too much any more, but one group we cannot shake is the Republican Party.
We used to give enthusiastically to the party. Then the calls started. They came from local, state and national operatives, not just every month or even every week, but sometimes twice in one day. I told them we have a household policy against responding to telephone solicitations. They kept calling. I told them to remove our names from the call list. They kept calling. I even yelled at them. They kept calling. Another couple of calls came a week or so ago. I told the last supplicant that we are sick of telephone solicitations, that we have told every caller from every level of the party to stop calling us, and that we've stopped sending money because of the incessant calls. This one sympathized and said she had heard the same from others. Do I detect a pattern here? Now I make all political donations through groups that support specific conservative candidates. They never call.

In response to the March 19 "My Word" column by Diana Heman Morrison, "Consider death as punishment for phone solicitors": I was amused by her ignorance. Morrison made sure to stereotype telemarketers as rude, unprofessional people. Yes, I am one of those people she was talking about. I have been "reduced" to being a phone solicitor.
What she doesn't realize is that most telemarketers choose to sell over the phone because the pay is great. And it is a great job for retirees and college students because of the flexible hours. Morrison should ask herself why there are so many telemarketers. Maybe it's because sales over the phone are a billion-dollar-a-year business. Or maybe it is because almost 100 million Americans bought something over the phone last year alone.
Of course, it is annoying to have someone call as soon as you sit down for dinner. She forgets that the person on the other end is someone's daughter, sister or brother. If you want the calls to stop, the first step is to be kind to the person on the other end and ask to be taken off the calling list. I have been a telemarketer for more than two years, and I can assure people that demanding or being rude will not help their cause.
To be educated on this subject, I highly recommend people read "The Florida Telemarketing Act." This spells out who is exempt, as well as guidelines for telemarketing. Instead of saying death to phone solicitors, I say death to ignorance.

A few points for Teleknowledge to consider: I said I usually was polite. It didn’t help much. 

“Amused,” my foot. You were peeved. 

I “made sure to stereotype.” Uh, no. I reported exactly what happened. 

OK, people are fool enough to buy stuff over the phone. That has nothing to do with my objection. As I said at first, people who want sales calls can say so. For the rest of us, the calls are like trespassing. Do you hear me, Republican party?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What Good Is a Woman? Lessons 9 and 10

Lesson 9

Read Esther Chapters 9 and 10.

In 9:1, "the opposite occurred." Comment on this theme in Esther, in Scripture generally and in relation to our salvation through Christ. See, for example, Psalm 37:12-15, Micah 5:2 and 1 Cor. 1:26-31.

The Jews wipe out their enemies, including, finally, the Amalekites. (Vss.6-10) They leave the plunder (Vss.10, 15 and 16). Describe how this is a more precise form of obedience than the Jews carried out in the past. See 1 Samuel 15:17-19 and 22-23. Note which monarch is in office during the two efforts.

Consider Christ's perfect obedience (Philippians 2:8,9), the credit we get for it (Romans 4:5-8) and how we are to obey now (John 6:29 and Matthew 5:16).

What about "plunder"? See Matthew 6:19-21.

Haman's sons, already dead, are hanged in v.13. Why? See Malachi 4:1 and 2 Peter 2:6. Compare Esther's request with David's display of Goliath's head in 1 Samuel 17:54, 57. See Colossians 2:15.

What do vss. 20 and 29 suggest about the relative authority of Mordecai and Esther?

Chapter 10 reads like a postscript and doesn't even mention Esther. Why do you suppose it is there?
On the very precisely chosen and designated day that the enemies of the Jews expected to destroy them, "the opposite occurred." From a human vantage point, this theme can be applied throughout the ages of God's dealing with His people. Looking at the very beginning, one might think that Adam would surely obey the good and bounteous God Who placed him in paradise. He didn't. God might well have blasted ungrateful humans from the now-besmirched earth. Instead, He began to work out their salvation.
          In this world, the wicked often seem to prosper. ("How long...?" Psalm 94:3) Governments think they can ignore God's rule and keep their power (Psalm 2). "The wicked plots against the just... The wicked have drawn their sword... to cast down the poor and needy" (Psalm 37:12-14). But the Lord laughs at them and promises, "Their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken" (v.15). The opposite occurs.
          Human beings might expect God to send His Deliverer in splendor out of a great city, or perhaps directly from heaven with trumpets and angels. Yet Micah 5:2 promises, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel." Ultimately, "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). Christ exercised His power to save by humbling Himself. Death on a cross looked like defeat, but "the foolishness of God is wiser than men" (v.25). In the end, "many who are first will be last, and the last first" (Matthew 19:30).
          A striking oddity appears in the account of the slaughter the Jews execute on their enemies. They destroy their enemies by the hundreds, including the ten sons of Haman (vss. 6-10), but they leave the potential plunder (vss. 10,15,16). Here again is the historical connection with Saul, Agag and the Amalekites. Saul disobeyed God by sparing Agag (1 Samuel 15:1-3 and 8) and allowed his people to disobey as well by plundering the best livestock and  "all that was good" (v.9). Finally, under Esther, the last of the Agagite line is destroyed. She obeys more perfectly than Saul. Her people also follow the original mandate by leaving the spoil.
          Like Adam, Saul disobeyed God's instruction and lost his position as king. "Someone better" had to come along much later and perform the work in which he failed. Saul's replacement in eliminating the Amalekites is Esther. Adam's replacement is Christ, whose obedience led Him to the cross (Philippians 2:8,9). Gloriously, we get credit for that obedience, as God imputes righteousness to those who count on Christ (Romans 4:5-8). Our first act of obedience then is to believe. "This is the work of God," said Jesus, "that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:29). As we follow Him, we "let [our] light so shine before men, that they may see [our] good works and glorify [our] Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
          As followers of the One Who has "overcome the world" (John 16:33), we may, as much as Esther's people, face the temptation to go after the plunder, that is, to grab at all the material wealth we can get. But our King has told us, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth... but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). Matthew Henry proposes that the Jews hoped to demonstrate that they "used their interest at court for the saving of their lives, not for the raising of their estates." Their perspective seems to be the heavenly one Christ put forth in Matthew 6:33. "But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." As redeemed people, we ought to place the working out of our salvation before the enhancement of our bank balance.
          Earthly actions with spiritual significance continue with the hanging of Haman's sons (v. 13) even though they are already dead. This grim display certifies the end of a tribe that has long set itself against the people of God. This happens on a day of deliverance that prefigures the Great Day of Malachi 4:1. "'And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,' says the LORD of hosts, 'That will leave them neither root nor branch.'" The corpses of the sons may, like the ashes of Sodom and Gomorrah, be "an example to those who afterward would live ungodly" (2 Peter 2:6).
          Such gruesome display is not unique. Another representative of Christ, the young David, not only cut off the head of Goliath, he carried it to Jerusalem and presented it to Saul (1 Samuel 17:51-57). Both events may foreshadow the results of Christ's work on the cross. "Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it" (Colossians 2:15).
          Esther's people celebrate their victory over Haman with "a day of feasting and gladness." Mordecai writes to the Jews in all the provinces to establish the dates for future commemoration (v.20), but apparently his is not the last word on the subject. Esther later writes "with full authority" (v.29), demonstrating that her position as queen is above Mordecai. He can speak for her in the manner of an ambassador, as we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), but he is not himself the source of authority.
          After this, Chapter 10 seems oddly tacked on, a sort of postscript that fails to mention Esther. It even calls Mordecai "second to King Ahasuerus" (v.3). Taken out of context, this might suggest that Mordecai is actually the powerful redeemer figure, but it must be remembered that Mordecai would never have attained his honored position without the bravery and sacrifice of Esther.
          The fine attributes of Mordecai, "great among the Jews and well received by the multitude of his brethren, seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his countrymen," sound like the ideals that members of the church should attain to. Paul told the Thessalonians to "esteem [your leaders] very highly in love for their work's sake" and to "be at peace among yourselves." He urged them to "comfort each other and edify one another" (1 Thessalonians 5:11-13). Mordecai seems to have led the way in building godly relationships.
          Tiny Chapter 10 also serves the vital function of anchoring the events of the book in history. "Now all the acts... are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?" (v.2). Such references, like the mention of emperor and governor in Luke 2:1-2, reassure us that we are not reading fantasy, but accounts of God's actual working in the world of men. As more scholars and scoffers claim that the Old Testament is only a series of stories invented to make a point and even that Jesus is no more than a myth, these touchpoints encourage the believer. 


Lesson 10

Read Judges 4:1-24 and Judges 5:24-31.

Evaluate this situation, and especially the actions of Jael, in the light of all the principles we have applied to Esther. Is this story really about Christ? Is Jael a "type" of Christ?

A few hints:


belief (or not)

failure in duty


unexpected actions

unlikely agent

surprising results

changes for Israel

          Jael's story in Judges 4 is so odd and horrifying, it falls into the same category as the sacrifice of Isaac. Taken alone, it sounds barbaric. Taken as a precursor of God's work of salvation, it shows again how God controls all of human history and makes it reflect Christ. The same comparisons that illuminate Esther illuminate Jael.
          Judges 4 begins with the children of Israel in peril because of their disobedience. This time, they fall "into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan." Sisera commands his army. Though the Jews have brought on their own predicament by doing "evil in the sight of the LORD," the sight of "nine hundred chariots of iron" causes them to cry out to their God for deliverance.
          Because of her position of authority, Deborah might seem at first a likely candidate as type of Christ. However, she only predicts deliverance. She does not perform it herself. She gives the Jewish commander Barak his assignment and God's promise of victory (vss.6,7). All he must do is obey. Like Adam, though, he shirks his responsibility and even tries to foist it onto a woman, saying in verse 8 to Deborah, "If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!" Adam blamed "the woman whom You gave to be with me" for his own disobedience (Genesis 3:12).
          The pattern repeats. Once again, "one who is better" must carry out the neglected task, and Deborah predicts that it will be a woman. Though Barak is already hiding behind a woman's skirts, this must have been even more humiliating. He has ten thousand men under his command and not a single woman. The final defeat of the Canaanite army will come from the most unexpected source.
          In verse 14, Deborah identifies "the day" on which the seemingly invincible Canaanites will be destroyed, just as "the day" was fixed for the Persian enemies of the Jews to meet with the opposite of their expectations. Here the events take place in a different order from those in Esther. Haman died, and then the Jews routed the Persians. Here, the Jews rout the Canaanites, and their living commander flees, but the end is the same.
          Haman flings himself into Esther's lap like the demons begging Jesus for mercy. Barak stumbles into Jael's tent, thinking he has found a protector. Jael shows remarkable cunning and forethought. She seems to know that the military man will never suspect a little "tentwife" of being his nemesis. The wicked ignored and scorned the Christ, but He became the chief cornerstone and destroyed them (Matthew 21:42-44). Isaiah 8:14 indicates that the Messiah will be like a sanctuary to some, but to unbelievers, "a stone of stumbling... a trap and a snare."
          Jael's tent, sitting in a sort of demilitarized zone, where there is "peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite" (4:17), looks like a sanctuary, but for an enemy of God's people, it is a snare. Sisera has been knocked down like Goliath, and only the coup de grace remains. The final blow comes after another opposite, the milk offered instead of water (4:19). He expected refreshment, but received something that made him sleepy.
          Pounding a tent peg through Sisera's head is so gruesome and so unexpected at the hand of a woman, we must look to its symbolism to justify it. The first hint lies in the fatal injury to the head. Sisera's demise is similar to that predicted for the seed of the serpent in Genesis 3:15. A wooden stake being driven all the way into the ground to destroy the power of the enemy may also suggest the cross of Christ. Bearing His weight, it pierced the earth, defeated sin and death, and guaranteed victory for the people of God.
          Jael lived among a tribe that was, at least for the time being, at peace with the king whose general she killed. She may seem at first to have been treacherous and to have violated all rules of hospitality. Matthew Henry explains that Jael "preferred her peace with the God of Israel before her peace with the king of Canaan." Instead of criticism, she earns praise in the triumphal Song of Deborah in chapter 5. Verses 24-30 repeat in detail Jael's scheme and even gloat over Sisera's failure to return home. Verse 31 justifies it all. "Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD! But let those who love Him be like the sun when it comes out in full strength." Such celebration resembles that in Malachi 4:1-3.
          As the wife of Heber the Kenite, Jael inhabits the opposite end of the spectrum from Esther. She seems to have no power, no political influence, no wealth. She lives in a tent, not a palace. Nevertheless, she bears the image of Christ and serves His people in a similar way. Matthew Henry comments: "Those whose lot is cast in the tent, in a very low and narrow sphere of activity, if they serve God in that according to their capacity, shall in no wise lose their reward."
          I would not call the sphere of the housewife “low and narrow,” especially in our era of easy communication and transportation. A woman can manage a household and have quite a lot of effect on her community through the church, children’s activities, volunteering, political awareness and public forums like letters to newspaper editors. There is no real reason to sneer at the traditional roles of women, even though much of our culture does just that.
Nevertheless, the same Scriptures that require us to see the image of God in women also say plainly that a woman shall not have authority over a man (1 Timothy 2:12.) If we accept that all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), we don't have the post-modernist luxury of believing only the bits we like. 
          A friend who calls herself a feminist cited with approval a professor who said that the authority a woman ought to have on her head, as stated in 1 Corinthians 11:10, may actually mean the sort of authority that pastors and elders have. She thought this supported the argument that women ought to hold the same offices as men. I came away perplexed and dismayed at this classic example of taking a verse out of context and applying imaginative interpretation. This chapter says a woman must keep her head covered. A few verses earlier, it says that men must not cover their heads. If this feminist interpretation is correct, then, to be consistent, they must say that the men cannot be pastors or elders. Whatever that word "authority" means, men and women still have different assignments, but in feminist thought, desire trumps clarity.
          When I studied journalism and English literature at Boston University, I learned how tempting it is to take words out of context when you want to make a point. But if you do it when looking for guidance, it's foolish. If you do it when pushing a political position, it's dishonest. If you do it when teaching in the church, it's evil and will incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1).
          My pastor has said from the pulpit, "Men, you don't hold the offices because you're superior. I know you, and I know your wives. The women are better." However, some men do seem to think that if women are not supposed to hold church offices, they must be inferior in intellect or value. When women insist that they must be given the offices to show their equality, they fall into the same fallacy. "If I can't have the office, that says I'm inferior. Therefore, the only way to show I'm not inferior is to give me the office."
Both sides might take another look at 1Cor. 12:15-25. Women who insist that their talents are being wasted unless they are made pastors or elders may be making the mistake of the foot that says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” or the ear that says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body.” Verse 18 reminds us, “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.” Every assignment has its own importance, and the differences are vital. “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing?”
Esther did not have to become king to save her people. Jael remained a “tentwife” when she vanquished the enemy commander. We can be equal and effective in different offices. As we follow Christ, we will be.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When It's Time

     During a long wait at a doctor’s office, I decided to write my funeral. No, I don’t have anything serious, but I did have time on my hands and memory of our pastor saying it was a good idea to write down the hymns and scriptures you’d like to have at your funeral. I mean, what if someone decided to slip in a Bill Gaither song at mine; I’d have to rise from the grave and snatch ‘em baldheaded. Give me Isaac Watts any day. And start with “Come, We that Love the Lord.”
     It has to be the version with the “marching to Zion” chorus. It’s vigorous and enthusiastic and shows we have a real goal, the same home Abraham looked for, “the city which has foundations,  whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11)  Watts wrote umpteen verses for his hymns, but Hymns for the Family of God has my favorites on page 550. The first verse tells us to go ahead and tell who we are and Whom we follow. Verse 2 says not to be daunted by those who “refuse to sing.” Refusing the Gospel makes about as much sense as a Londoner on VE Day saying, “Oh, that doesn’t mean anything to me. I’ll just go have tea.” The third verse reminds us that all the world belongs to God anyway, and He’s going to make it perfect one day. The “fairer worlds on high” will come down from heaven as the New Jerusalem. (Revelation 21) If there’s a funeral going on for me, that’s where I am.
     I may already be chatting with Mr. Watts about “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun,” another triumphant song, this one specifically about Jesus the King and the planet He walked on for a while and will walk again with us. (Acts 7:49) We have a taste of His Kingdom now and have the opportunity to “bring … grateful honors to our King” until everyone and everything recognizes Him and keeps on doing it forever. Yeah.
     “Fairest Lord Jesus” will cap things off nicely. It’s called the “Crusaders’ Hymn,” though no one knows for sure whether any German knights actually sang it on the way to the Holy Land. I do rather like the image of guys in armor singing this gorgeous love song to Jesus. (We’ll try not to think too much about slaughter and stupidity.) “Beautiful Savior! Lord of the nations! Son of God and Son of Man! Glory and honor, praise, adoration, now and forevermore be Thine.” I suppose there may be some tears at my service. This song should make a few of them happy ones.
     God had Jeremiah write to Jewish exiles in Babylon (and does life ever feel like that sometimes!) to encourage them: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29: 11-13) Believing that has sustained me through some bad times. Still does. Some things are still bad. But perspective is everything.
     The other half of the pair of hiking poles that keeps me upright is Ephesians 1: 7-14. That passage lays out the mysterious basics of salvation, including the idea that made the lights come on in my head, that the only sacrifice good enough to wipe out our sinfulness is the one made by Jesus.  One phrase in verse 10 was a life-changer too.  It says that God carries out His plans “when the times will have reached their fulfillment,” or “in the fullness of time.” He is never surprised by anything, and nothing He does, or allows, is an accident. Knowing that has kept me from going to pieces over such changes as kids leaving for college, or even deaths of family members.     
     Everything that happened happened because it was time. When I step into the next world, it will be because it is time. Then, one day, it will be time for the worn-out world to be swept clean and made new. See you there?                         

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Serpents in Mouse Clothing

    Even at the “happiest place on earth,” there are people whose reason for living seems to be to harm others. My two-year-old grandson and I ran into two examples at EPCOT’s Flower and Garden Festival. One was young; one was old. One tried physical harm; one went for emotional harm. We’d never seen either of them before, and I’ll be content never to see them again.
     We walked into the park with my youngest son, “Unkie Ikie” in toddler-speak, and five of his friends from college, charming young people all, exactly what you’d want your son to find in his college friends. I saw them into Mission: Space and headed toward the butterfly garden with little Edward pushing the stroller himself. After “The Sea,” we settled in the spectacular playground set up on thick artificial grass for the festival. There were stairs and slides and musical toys, a balancing platform on springs, large rings for climbing through, and high on one of the play sets, a wobbly bridge to run across. There we found our first bully.
     A boy of ten years or so stood at one end of the bridge. When Edward began to walk toward him, the boy gave him a cold look and began to jump and shake the bridge. The little guy made it all the way across, but had to put his hands down at the end. He got up to spin a noise-making wheel a few times and then moved to the tube slide. The bigger boy stepped up behind him. Edward was about half-way down the slide when the bully said something like “Come on, kid,” and started down himself. Edward cleared the end of the slide without being crushed, and I did not say out loud what I thought of this boy and his parents. Mainly his parents. Most people, including other children, fall instantly in love with Blondie Sweetface. How warped is a boy whose first instinct is to knock him down?
     When we left the playground, I was the next target. Edward headed for the tote bag that contained his snacks and inquired, “Cookie?” I told him that first he must sit in the stroller, and then he would get the cookie. An elderly woman, more elderly than I, was leaning against the rail where we had parked the stroller. “That’s what you think,” she sneered. I looked up at her to see whether this might conceivably be a sympathetic joke about toddler-wrangling. No. The expression on her face was as hateful as her tone.
     Edward, meanwhile, trotted to the front of the stroller and climbed in. I located the belt, and he buckled it himself. As I handed over the cookie, I praised him just a tad louder than strictly necessary for being so obedient and cooperative. It really is possible to teach little children to behave well, but even if (when) they don’t, what is the point of snarling thus at a stranger, you cranky, vile, old harpy? OK, now that’s out of my system. I try to encourage young mothers, especially when they’re having a hard time. “Hang in there, Mom,” or “Well played, dear” seems to raise their fallen shoulders a little. I think now I’ll have to do it more than ever.