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Monday, September 28, 2015

Love Never Ends

     I've had reason to think about relationships of late, with both family and friends, and it reminded me of a dream I had shortly after my father died. It was a strange but hopeful dream. 
     When he was in the hospital with his final illness, I worried about his destination. We had talked a bit about Christian faith, and I was not sure he accepted the gospel truth that we're saved through faith in Christ. I wrote to the chaplain at the hospital and told him. The chaplain talked to him and wrote back, saying that he "would have no problem admitting him to Communion." Relief. 
     The chaplain was Lutheran. I met him at the hospital later, and he asked what church I went to. PCA, I said, Presbyterian Church in America. He laughed. "I know the PCA," he said. "I thought from the way your father talked that it was one of the way-out Pentecostal groups." Well, the straight-up plan of salvation does sound pretty wild when you're not used to it. 
     Anyway, after my father died, I dreamed of his funeral. He was in his coffin, dressed in ranch clothes-- jeans and new flannel shirt that he never got to wear around his Montana property. (That part is real.) He was dead. Everyone knew he was dead. But he looked up at me and gave me a conspiratorial wink. I knew he was telling me that death is not for real or forever when you trust Christ. 
     This week, I thought about friendship, how it can be precarious because of anger or misunderstanding or argument. Sometimes it can be smoothed or retrieved, sometimes not. But for Christians, this bit of earthly life is not all we get. We look forward to eternity, first in Heaven, then on the new earth that God promises to clean up and restore. Unbroken friendships will continue even better. Broken friendships will pick up where they left off, rifts forgotten. Even the beautiful, beloved son who won't speak to me, who may never in this life, will greet me with a smile, and I will run to embrace him. May it be soon, Lord Jesus, may it be soon. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Urge to Kill

     Back in the days of newspapers-- you know, those big foldy things-- I read faithfully Jimmy Hatlo's "They'll Do It Every Time" cartoon, a commentary on human foibles, which sometimes included an "Urge to Kill" bit. One I remember had a matron demanding that the butcher thoroughly trim a roast for her and remove the bones. Then she says that, of course, she will need some of the fat to cook it with, and surely he will give her some bones for her "little doggie." Hatlo may have exaggerated a bit just how bad the offense was. 
     Today, God help me, I have that urge, and I can't say I'm not serious when I propose a plan based on it. Here's why. We are learning that, for some time now, US soldiers have been aware of  Afghan officers' practice of keeping boys like pets, dressing them up, putting makeup on them. sometimes chaining them to their beds, and raping them in the night. Officers. Openly. Like you might keep a goldfish. And when this Green Beret responded to the laughter of one of the rapists by knocking him down, he was dishonorably discharged. Other Americans report they have heard the children scream, but have been told to leave it alone. It's their culture, don't you know. 
     Well, we have a culture too, don't we? Show me an American jury that would convict a man of assault for knocking down someone who laughed in his face when confronted with the crime of raping a boy and beating up the child's mother when she begged for help. Something is very, very rotten in US military command. How high does the rot go? How can anyone have been told to ignore this practice? How can a decent American bear to stand by and let it go on?
     Here's what I would draw if I were Jimmy Hatlo: a figure in a black mask slips into an Afghan pervert's room, quickly strangles him, unchains the boy and scoots him out of the room. In my imagination, this happens every night until none of those filthy creeps dares to touch a little boy. 
     "Me, sir? In my bunk all night, sir."
     "See anyone moving, sir? No, sir."
     Because when the people in power stop believing in justice, it gives the rest of us the urge to kill.  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Homegrown Slander

     I just watched yet another video talking about how screwy the modern church is. This time it was "dress code," that the church has made what you wear the most important thing, as if Jesus cares about that most of all. Another was about a drunk who came to church smelling of alcohol and was scorned, saying he felt more welcome at the bar. And then there's the tale of the homeless guy who sits in the back unspoken-to and turns out to be the new pastor. (There is no "Jeremiah Steepek." The story is a distortion of a 1970 experiment recording reactions of seminary students to a homeless-looking guy. Snopes found one real pastor who lay down on the church lawn. A good 20 people offered to help him. Check it out. http://www.snopes.com/glurge/homelesspastor.asp )
     I don't believe these stories, and I hope you won't believe them either, unless there is documentation-- names, dates, location. Otherwise it's just slander. Well-meaning slander, I suppose, but slander nevertheless, on the same side as "...the hatred painstakingly indulged in and lovingly cultivated by the movie Kingsman in a way that I have never seen before from Hollywood." http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/414149/god-hatred-hollywood-and-government-discrimination-maggie-gallagher  
     As far as I can tell, these lousy, hateful churches exist mainly in the imaginations of the prejudiced and in the quiverings of church people who fear the scorn of the prejudiced. Maybe they invent and share such stories so as to say, "I'm not like that." Throw it in with all the "I'm a Christian, but I'm not _____." (Fill in the blank: racist, sexist, homophobic, uncool.) 
     A contractor who attended our church picked up a day-laborer, a Hispanic guy from Texas who was in Orlando to make some money in landscaping. The boss invited him to church, and he came in the same clothes he worked in because that was all he had. We gave him an outfit or two. He came to many services and events and finally asked to be baptized. The pastor did the usual interview and baptized him without hesitation. Pretty sure he felt welcome. 
     A transient was living in woods nearby and started walking early to make it to church. He quickly became a fixture in adult Sunday school, Bible study and Sunday services. People shook his hand and joked around with him as we do with just about everyone. We helped him with shelter and food. Pretty sure he felt welcome. 
     Scruffy beards and salon do's, Hawaiian shirts and custom suits, bikes and Beemers, all sit side-by-side at church. My experience for years has been that all sinners are welcome to come to Christ for redemption and to become part of the company. If your church sneers, talk to the pastor and the elders. Ask why. (You know, handle it the way Christians are supposed to.) But if they don't sneer, don't make up stories to post on Facebook. Truth fits much better with the gospel.
     
     
     
        

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Saintly St. Labre

     I am now the proud owner of a genuine buffalo bone letter opener, and, given how sharp that tip is, it could be an opener of other things in case of need. Strapped with sinews onto a long pole, it would make a formidable weapon. I don't think the people who sent it to me expect me to wreak havoc, though, because they are the good folk of St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, Montana. 
     When I send them a donation these days, I check the "no premium" box, so I guess this was just a present. There's a charming Christmas ornament every year, and I have a nifty ceramic candle holder and a couple of beaded crosses. Once they sent a small original oil painting of a tepee at sunset. I gave it to my daughter for her classroom, since she was teaching Last of the Mohicans. (Different region, I know, but the image was pretty generic.) None of these is the reason I donate to St. Labre, though. 
     One of their shopping bags caught the eye of a fellow shopper in Publix here in Orlando, and he asked whether we supported the school. Then he asked whether we were Catholic. We aren't, and neither was he, but we agreed that this Catholic boarding and day school for Crow and Cheyenne children was worth supporting.
     Many of their students come from poorest-of-the-poor families on reservations. Many would not have a warm coat or a decent meal if it were not for the school. They care for the kids and send many of them on to college. That would be enough to keep me donating, but this PCA Presbyterian is also impressed with their expressions of faith. Unlike Indian schools of old, they don't try to stamp out Indian culture. They teach the native languages and crafts. In one newsletter, I learned that they taught students to express thanks for the life of cattle slaughtered for their meat. Their chapel is shaped like a tepee. 
     Best of all, they produce students like the girl who won their contest to name the new library. She explained that, as Indians, they have great respect for the office of chief, and that, as Christians, they revere Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of faith. Students now read and study in the Chief Cornerstone Library. I sent that child a fan letter. Check them out if you like: www.stlabre.org/