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The Gospel according to the “Nones”

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 Elizabeth Drescher May 28, 2015
The data just keeps piling up. Since the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life first noted a substantial increase in the number of Americans reporting no religious affiliation, report after report has confirmed what religious leaders outside the evangelical resurgence of the 1980s had known for some time: checking “no religion” is increasingly normal in the United States.

Following the report in 2008 of a doubling in the percentage of so-called nones, from a mere 7 percent in 1990 to more than 15 percent in 2008, Pew’s 2012 “‘Nones’ on the Rise” survey tracked further and more rapid growth in the number of unaffiliated. One in five Americans told researchers they had no religious affiliation, an increase of 30 percent in only four years. In April of this year, a new Pew report projected that nones would make up more than a quarter of the U.S. population by 2050. Count those as the good old days of growing unaffiliation. The latest Pew research, published in May, shows that nones are closing in faster than anticipated. The new numbers show that between 2007 and 2014, nones grew to nearly 23 percent of the U.S. population. Among Americans under age 30, the percentage of nones has jumped to nearly 40 percent. At the same time, Roman Catholic affiliation has dropped from 24 percent in 2007 to 21 percent in 2014, and mainline Protestant affiliation has ticked downward from 18 percent to below 15 percent of the U.S. population.

What is the bottom line? It would seem to be that the United States will remain at least nominally a “Christian nation” for some time into the future. But the role and influence of Christianity in U.S. culture will certainly change as more people set aside spiritual and religious pursuits entirely or undertake them primarily outside of institutional religious settings.

Some of the effects of the decentering of religion in general and Christianity in particular are easily recognizable. In the political arena, for instance, religious background is less and less important. Indeed, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City has highlighted his spiritual-but-not-religious self-identification as a credential for working effectively with diverse religious groups as well as those not affiliated with institutional religions. Where being unreligious was once a political liability, in some political races being too religious can now be problematic. Similar shifts in the role of religion in culture have been playing out for decades in education, health care and popular media. But more subtle transitions are also under way, those associated with how religious idioms—symbols, rituals, artifacts, doctrines, holy figures, turns of phrase and, by no means least, sacred stories—circulate in the wider culture. It is here that what might be called the none-ing of the United States will likely have its most pervasive and enduring effects on ways of perceiving, interpreting and expressing our experiences of reality, which have for centuries been shaped extensively by Christian ideas and practices. The wellspring of Christian idioms is, of course, Scripture; and we can fairly wonder if and how the growing population of nones might continue to engage Scripture and how this might change Scripture itself.

Over the past three years, as I have interviewed different kinds of nones across the United States—atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, spiritual-but-not-religious, spiritual and sundry other sorts who identify religiously as “nothing-in-particular” or “all of the above”—about their spiritual lives, I have been surprised again and again by the degree to which many of the unaffiliated continue to find Scripture—especially the parables of Jesus—spiritually meaningful and morally relevant. My conversations with nones have likewise revealed a somewhat different emphasis in their engagement with Scripture than is often seen among the churchgoing set. I will turn to that shortly. But first, it is worth considering how nones find their way to Scripture in the first place. After all, aren’t nones unrepentant unbelievers with Bill Maher-like hostility toward the church and all its practices? Not so fast.

Liminal Christianity

For all the (digital) ink spilled in the coverage of nones over the past couple of years, there are some complexities in the data on nones that are often missed in both public reporting and religious handwringing about the “decline of religion in America.” First, we should bear in mind that the majority of nones—nearly 70 percent in the 2012 Pew data—report that they believe in God, a higher power or a transcendent life force of one sort or another. A scant 3 percent of the population identify as atheists, the proportion of the unaffiliated that has grown the least since 2007.

Furthermore, given the longstanding Christianized culture of the United States, it should be no surprise that the majority of nones come from an at least nominally Christian background. Christianity is very much the framework for American “civil religion,” and its more or less subtle influences are found everywhere from sporting events to the “Real Housewives of New Jersey” to Lady Gaga videos. One would have to be more resolutely unplugged than unreligious to escape the circulation of Christian idioms in the culture. Given the Christian background (however slight) of many nones and Christianity’s continuing influence (however much it might be waning) in the wider culture, we find what might be described as “feral” Christians of a sort—undomesticated religiously by regular church experience but more than happy to lap from time to time from a saucer of spiritual sustenance set out in the churchyard. The “‘Nones’ on the Rise” survey stirred the anxieties of religious leaders when it reported that among the religiously unaffiliated only one in 10 is “looking for a religion that would be right for you.” But here the humble “a” in Pew’s survey question hits far above its typographic weight. No, most of the unaffiliated are not looking for a single religious group to call their spiritual home till kingdom come. But some, earlier research from Pew revealed, are engaging multiple religious traditions, often quite actively and with sustained congregational participation, without necessarily becoming members or identifying with that tradition.

I think of these nones as the “free-range faithful,” ambling all about the religious landscape to partake of its diverse offerings without seeking a single set of answers (or questions) or intending to settle in one spiritual place. The journey, as the saying goes, is the destination. Or, as a 33-year-old none from Waimea, Hawaii, told me, “There’s something about selecting one religion, one path, in the narrow way that I was brought up that seems so wrong, so unhelpful. The world is filled with wisdom. Human history is filled with wisdom. Why would I close myself off to that?”

Finally, religiously unaffiliated nones continue to interact with “somes,” as I have come to call the religiously affiliated, in everyday life as family members, friends, colleagues, customers, neighbors and so on. They gather over holiday dinners and at weddings, baptisms and funerals regardless of their differences in beliefs and practice. However muted by social norms that restrict the discussion of religious perspectives, nones and somes share many religious and spiritual experiences, many of them shaped by expressly Christian traditions.

The religious engagement of nones and somes unfolds, then, in the rich in-between of everyday life, in their shared spiritual experiences—however differently they might interpret them. This mutually influencing interaction creates a liminal religiosity that I consider the defining character of religion in the United States today. It is widely distributed rather than congregationally confined. It is relational and experiential, oriented toward being present to the spiritual based in the self, the other and the world instead of in structures of belief, belonging and behaving associated with traditional religions.

All this makes clear that the unaffiliated should hardly be considered wholly unreligious, even if their religiosity plays out largely beyond the doors of the neighborhood church. Further, we cannot assume that nones are any less steeped in Christian traditions than are Catholic or Protestant somes. Indeed, many of the more than 100 nones across the country I have interviewed over the past three years were deeply conversant with Christian traditions, especially Scripture. What is more, regardless of where they fell on an atheist-to-spiritual continuum, the nones who talked with me often retained considerable regard for the Christian Scriptures, especially the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.

Good Samaritan or Golden Rule?

Nones’ regard for the Jesus of the Gospels has nothing to do with doctrinal beliefs about the divinity of Jesus, his status as the Son of God or the promised Messiah or his resurrection from the dead. For the nones for whom Jesus remains a meaningful spiritual figure, stories of his healings, his embrace of social outcasts and his critiques of religious hypocrisy and government-sponsored violence and injustice mark Jesus as a moral and spiritual exemplar.

A 30-year-old none who was raised in a conservative Presbyterian family in San Antonio, Tex., insisted: “Being an atheist doesn’t mean I hate Jesus. You have to love the whole good Samaritan story, or the way he stood up for the adultery woman. You don’t want to throw that away, because we need those stories.”

“When you let go of the idea that all of the so-called facts of the Bible have to be quote-unquote true with a capital T—when you just treat them like important ancient teachings like, I don’t know, The Odyssey,” a 55-year-old secular humanist from Boston told me, “then you can really get to understand why Jesus has been such an enduring spiritual figure. I mean, there is real truth in a lot of these stories—as there is in other ancient myths. I don’t have to either dismiss all of that because I’m a humanist or believe in Catholic doctrine on the virgin birth to have it make sense.”

A 28-year-old agnostic from Oakland, Calif., also shared with me her appreciation for the parable of the good Samaritan:

I just was always inspired by that story ever since I was little. You know, that we could be that way toward each other. It’s really the ideal for me of how people should behave. Not “do unto others,” but more like “do what they need when you find them on the road.” That still really matters to me even though I don’t think of myself as a “Christian” in a religious sense anymore. Spiritually, though, I guess I still have that in my personal beliefs—that this was what Jesus stood for and expected us to emulate.

Among the nones who talked with me, the person of Jesus and the Bible came up regularly when I asked about spiritual influences. These nones tended to highlight the humanity of Jesus and his social action over his divinity or his miracles. A 19-year-old none from Marietta, Ga., who was actively involved in efforts to develop clean water sources in drought-affected regions of Africa, put it this way: “I don’t need ‘magic trick Jesus.’ I’m not interested in that, and I’m not interested in ‘saving my soul.’ I’m not about saving myself. I want to save the world.”

In this regard, the nones I spoke with differed from the “Golden Rule Christians”—practicing believers across Christian denominations and ideological spectrums who take as the core Christian value the scriptural teaching that one should “do unto others as you would have them do to you” (Mt 7:12). The sociologist Nancy Ammerman, in Lived Religion in America, describes these mostly suburban, middle-class Christians in her research this way: Most important to Golden Rule Christians is care for relationships, doing good deeds, and looking for opportunities to provide care and comfort for people in need. Their goal is neither changing another’s beliefs nor changing the whole political system. They would like the world to be a bit better for their having inhabited it, but they harbor no dreams of grand revolutions…. The emphasis on relationships among Golden Rule Christians begins with care for friends, family, neighborhood, and congregation.

Professor Ammerman points out that Golden Rule Christians, not unlike good Samaritan nones, are largely uninterested in theological doctrines and debates, focusing instead on the practices of congregational communities. She suggests, however, that Golden Rule ethics practiced by congregationally affiliated Christians invite “a certain narrowing of the circle of care” that can prevent serious or sustained engagement with larger, more distant or distributed problems in the world. At the same time, this parochialism can also ensure a deeper level of care for the most vulnerable in a local community, like the elderly, the sick or children. Such practices, on the one hand, help to sustain existing congregational communities. On the other hand, Golden Rule Christians may hesitate to reach out much beyond their narrow circles of care.

The difference here is subtle but significant: Nones who engage Scripture tend to do so by way of inspiring cosmopolitan rather than communitarian action. The starting point for engagement is a recognition of otherness rather than a reinforcement of commonalities. It is about receptivity to difference rather than reinforcing community on the basis of similarity.

Now, this Good Samaritan ethic hardly requires a radical re-reading of Scripture in light of some new assessment of Christian values. But it does insist, as Pope Francis seems to be doing to great spiritual if not affiliational effect, that the realm of religion, faith, spirituality, moral action—all those things that used to be seen as the exclusive purview of institutional religions—begins outside the doors of the church rather than inside. Open the doors, nones seem to be saying in their reading of Scripture, and see all the people.

Ben Ghazi? Who is He?

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It’s been a long slide down to this standoff between the two political parties. Time was when they actually worked together, but no more. It is not because people actively wish conflict; they really need to have common ground but the extremes of position are intractable.

On the Left is humanism, a widely held Worldview which starts and ends with the natural or materialistic world. Man is primarily an animal; he is born, lives and dies within the confines of this world, dominated by his physical needs and desires. God, if there is one at all, is far, far away and disinterested or un-involved.

Mankind is perceived to start out as a blank sheet on which culture writes and creates the citizen. Mankind is not good or bad, just perfectible by a healthy culture. Laws and the government must be constructed to manage the culture so that no one is hurt or corrupted. There is no real moral law which defines right and wrong but there is the concept of ethics, which requires individuals to live together in as much harmony as possible so that others are not damaged by the choices others make.

Since there is no afterlife (or possibly the idea that everyone goes to an undefined heaven, whatever that is) there is no God to whom we are accountable. We are under this system accountable only to each other. In order to manage and maintain such as society almost everything is done by a strong government and a group of bureaucrats or elites who control people, projects, the media and finances.

This rigidity results in determinism, because it is a closed system. There are many nations today who practice this; some are quite successful at it, but it does not allow for much movement forward; it promotes a status quo.  One such nation is Norway which is socialist, requiring one language (which is a good idea), and high taxes.  Norway is able to adhere to this political philosophy because it is largely a homogeneous society. Nations with diverse populations, the United States being the most diverse of all, cannot maintain a one size for all administration.

On the opposite side are the conservatives who believe, as did the authors of the US Constitution, that man is flawed, that He has passions and issues that must be controlled by accountability to not just God but also to one’s fellow man. Conservatives do not accept either the perfectibility of man or his complete depravity; mankind can move forward, both as individuals and as nations if it adheres to an agreed-upon moral law and a governing document, in our case the US Constitution.

Religious life is free largely because Man is perceived as a spiritual being; when the body dies there is another world; we are permanent members of eternity. Out of control passions cannot be allowed to flourish because that will eventually lead to the deterioration of the individual and the society or family around him.  Individuals must assume responsibility for their own actions, and groups assume responsibility for the actions of their government as well.

You cannot find more opposite positions and they can’t come together.  For example, a Liberal believes that he or she can, because it is legal, kill a child in the womb and have someone else pay for it through taxes; the Conservative believes that an individual’s actions are handled by that individual and no person should be required to pay for the murder of another person’s child.

We use to call these two groups Democrats and Republicans, terms we can’t use anymore because definitions are fluid and people can change sides so quickly. In addition, large groups of voters are uninformed about a host of issues relying instead on simple sentences to define their position while forgetting that all  important issues are complex.

In all this we find the voter does not have a clue what he/she is ding.  Like the girl who was asked her opinion on Benghazi? Who is he, she wanted to know? When a great body of voters are ignorant the entire process is damaged.

Today we have stalemate at the federal level. The conservatives have not conserved anything they value for 50 years other than their on sinecure while progressives have changed large swathes of social law and practice without zero progress in any area.

The tension between Right and Left is supposed to work, but only on the condition that the country is more important than party. It reminds me of the first World War when opposing armies hid behind trenches to spare themselves and lobbed armaments at the opposing trenches. They called it the Great War but in the end it was not great at all. And neither is this one.

2018 In the Valley of Decision

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There are not two valleys of decision, but one and we are in it now in 2018. Everywhere there is conflict and people taking positions for and against. The decision is about standards, moral, political, social, and cultural. So we have standards of behavior or not, and what will happen if we continue to see decline in public and private morals and behavior?

A TV pundit says the Vice President is nuts for thinking he hears from God. Moses heard from God, Mary, Jesus’ mother, heard from God and Paul and many others we read about.  Why can’t our Vice President?

Millions watch this program (millions refuse to watch as well) but God does not step in; millions are also being asked to take sides. Will you go with your faith and claim to be a Christian who speaks to God or will you lose your nerve and agree with the TV personality who says that it’s nuts?  That is one valley of decision.  Where you go from here depends on your response. Your future is in your mouth.

Billy Graham dies and some of the vituperative remarks about him rocked me back on my heels.  No one talks about the dead like that no matter how much they dislike him.  It is not good manners, but they called him evil names.  I was slightly amused – as several said he was a money grubber but of all the evangelists on  TV his personal finances were more wisely managed by others.  He lived well, but he also spent corporate money on the ministry itself in great detail. Newspapers tried to string him up – and lost.

The same fate has dogged critics of President Donald Trump. Of all men he is most despised by news organizations. But we notice that his critics also seem to disappear like a mist into some backwater never to be heard from again. They talk about the “Trump curse” whereby friends and supporters of Trump are ostracized by their friends, including one outspoken Jewish lawyer, Alan Dershowitz.  In the midst of all this suddenly some of the very loudest voices find themselves fired from major posts as sexual harassers.  Clearly there was no connection between Trump and the harassment charges but you could virtually line up the critics like ten pins and watch them go down.

Fake news, fake accounts, fake advertising from Russians forever after our election to produce fake polls asking for rebellion against the new president.  It goes on and on.  We learn that young people have no clue about true American history; they cannot name parts of the US Constitution which is the governing document by which we agree to live together.

The valley of decision requires us to be cautious about every single word we hear. The moment we start to mature as adults is the very moment we realize we have been lied to. For the rest of us this is a valley of decision.  The common man is being asked to take sides.  For God it is always, will you be on God’s side. That is on the side of personal morals and accountability.

The arrogant and contemptuous way they often speak about celebrities who out shine them in every way are also the people who themselves who have few credentials.  I should keep a list and see how long they last.

Cable subscribers are leaving by the thousands; I believe the figure today is 1.5 million.  So the companies raise their prices? Does this make sense? And another thousand or two decide why be harangued at so they cut the cord.  Perhaps if news organization would start reporting the news instead of trying to make the news they’d have more viewers.  Meanwhile subscribers to private TV, such as CRTV and numerous evangelists, are on the rise. If you are not paying for cable you do have some money for someone else’s broadcast.

Some Christians believe that war is optional.  It is not.  Wars are started by people who think they can win them, and of course, they can if the opposition does not fight back. Americans have a fight on their hands to get their country back to the point where a 25 year old man at the grocery store does not f-bomb everyone in line for being slow. The war is at our very door.

Religion is Already Taught in Schools – by Default

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It is increasingly foolish to believe that politics and religion do not mix.

Politics involves morals and the decision on what is right or wrong is involved with many if not all governmental business. The ability to tax is the ability to destroy. The ability to fund is the ability to increase, which explains why welfare programs always need more money – the process of giving out money has a way of increasing the need for more.  The same effect can be found in drug programs where programs themselves seem to increase the number of addicts. So how money is spent is a spiritual problem too.

Muslims think it is morally acceptable to kill a woman for wearing lipstick or dating a white American Christian. Muslims also supported incest for the past 1500 years. The fact that this is hidden from the public does not change reality.

ShariaLaw is antithetical to American individualism and basic justice. If they allow the teaching of Islam and not Christianity, they are by default teaching that murdering women and children for frivolous causes is acceptable.  No wonder kids don’t know what to believe! They are also teaching that it is acceptable to have one religion taught and not another. Kids pick up inconsistency very quickly.

Abortion is morally wrong; making it legal does not change the morals of any behavior. It is difficult to teach that murder is a sin or a crime if it is being done regularly by the state. That is a moral issue being taught by default. So moral issues are already in the curriculum as a result of political behavior.

Many states covet large profits gained from legalizing marijuana, but forget that there are many more criminal problems caused by the sale as well as social ills which require infusions of even more money. Colorado is now disgusted with its legalization program and in a quandary of how to get rid of it.  Once you start down these roads things get dicey. How can you preach or teach about addictions when  they are being publicly funded.  Another moral issue by default

Churches and ministers have been taught to leave politics alone but Jesus said go into all the world – not just our little church world.  They fear loss of members and income. But why not fear instead the loss of the Father’s approval? Doing God’s will has a price – and not doing God’s will has yet another price.

Part of the gospel is accountability for the culture.  If schools are bad – and most parents are not all that happy with their children’s education – then the church has a responsibility ti pray for a change in the schools, both of textbooks, which are often wrong, and the teachers who bring their own morals into the classroom.  Paying the teachers more does not affect the quality of the education.  If there are no restraints on what teachers actually teach, higher salaries simply mean you have more people applying for these jobs.

Children know that adults are frauds – how can you say choosing to have an abortion without a parent’s approval is acceptable, but choosing a public school is not allowed?

Parents say “Don’t join a gang” but when a group of marchers loots and vandalizes some businesses, no one charges them with crimes. Does that mean children believe committing crime is voluntary – you just need to be sure you are not going to get caught. Another moral message.

Society can’t survive without a base of morals on which to rest.  Anything else is lawlessness and evertually anarchy. The Church must step in.

A Nation of Murderers & the Felony Murder Rule for Abortion Funders

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The Felony Murder Rule

Most citizens know nothing about the felony Murder Rule so here it is:

The rule of felony murder is a legal doctrine in some common law jurisdictions that broadens the crime of murder: when an offender kills (regardless of intent to kill) in the commission of a dangerous or enumerated crime (called a felony in some jurisdictions), he/she is guilty of murder.

Here is an example: If you go with a friend to steal cookies from the 7/11 and a murder occurs as you commit the crime, there you are, a co-respondent to the charge of murder.

To pay for an abortion makes you a co-respondent to murder

This describes our position before God is regards to abortion. Yes, abortion was made legal by our highest court, a court which is now disgusted with the rampant abuse of the option. But the Congress likes to fund abortions with tax money, so you, if you pay taxes, become guilty under the Laws of God for a murder. God’s public anger over the killing of babies goes back 4,000 years.

There is nothing that says abortion is any worse than any other sin; Jesus paid it all, but he only paid it for the people who recognize his sacrifice and accept its conditions. All sin is to be publicly is personally acknowledged. You do not get to blame anyone else for your sin.

Americans do not recognize their guilt

America needs to examine what our citizens have done from the viewpoint of God’s concerns.  We need a call for national repentance by allowing wholesale murder like this, and then thinking, wrongly, that we are not also guilty of financing this behavior. The laws of man and the laws of God continue whether we know them or not.

Abortion Funding is the Key

Pro-choice activists fear the the Supreme Court will eliminate abortion entirely.  That is a distant idea The real issue is the removal of all public funding for abortion which absolves the public from being “murders.”  To remove abortion funding from the national budget is a first step.  If individuals want an abortion, now determined to be legal, they should be required to pay for it themselves and not saddle other people with the results of their own behavior.

This is not a complete answer to the abortion problem, but it is a start.

Ad Hominum Ad Nauseum

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Hatred is exhausting.  I don’t have any hatred heaped upon me personally, but if I read the mainstream media that is about all I get. Hatred, failure, revenge, hopelessness.  I thought my life was great, until I saw the news.  If it drains the life out of me and I avoid the news, what is happening to the people who bathe in these putrid waters every day, 24/7 online, on the TV, wherever you go?
God doesn’t have a one sided view of humankind, or our problems, or even our solutions. Jesus makes it clear that we are sinners needing help, but then he also gives us a solution and says, “Atta boy, you can do it.” There is no continuing heaping of guilt and shame on us for our failings, as though we would never get our heads up, fearing we’ll be shot down once again.
Negative emotions take a terrible toll on one’s health.  Jealousy, says the Bible is the rage of a man.  Can you imagine spending all your days being jealous, and enraged? Who would want to live in your house? The children would scatter if they saw you coming; your wife would join a canasta club and stay away. Your boss would dread your showing up at work to have you spread gloom and doom.
“The heart if man is evil above all things and desperately wicked,” said God in Jeremiah.  But it also says in Ezekiel, “A new heart and a new spirit will I put in you.” God wants us to recognize our frailties but also the cure through His provision.
The Media has placed itself under a curse by encouraging violence which keeps their 24/7 news cycle greased with pictures of evil doers, angry mobs, protests, vandalism, looting and well-financed marches. Rational leaders and citizens have little chance of being heard. Being good is not news to the news people who are competing for bloody video and advertising dollars.

 

God has a long list of the things He hates which modern Media feast upon, Such as  “Hate stirs up fights. But love erases all sins by forgiving them.”
Proverbs 10:12. Here is a short list of the things God calls an abomination: verse 17  haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18  a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19  a false witness who breathes out lies.
You always have the option to not watch.
Recently Bill O’Reilly, a famous political observer, said simply – Journalism is dead.  But good writing is not, and if the negativity of the press puts you off, there are many online sources which calmly seek to inform.

 

To Move Forward, Leave the Past Behind

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Sometimes we forget that the Bible is a book for all aspects of life, not just those associated with spiritual living. 90 percent of our life is lived outside church. But the rules of success in God are identical to those for success in life, all 70 to 80 years of it.

Philippians 3:14 says this in the Phillips edition. The J. B. Phillips’ version is always very practical about daily living.

Quoting Paul. “…I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal…”

Note first there is a goal.  We all have them, but before we can realize a future goal we must release the past.  In fact the Past isn’t the Past until it is dealt with; and not someone else’s past, but ours. Constant focus on the past causes a person to atrophy, to become bitter and isolated.  Misery finds comfort with other miserable people.

There is no sadder example of this than the 18 month barrage against President Donald Trump by the media and people who are not happy with him as president. If they want real change there is always the next election but instead millions of tax dollars are spent dredging up his past; nothing seems to make any difference to the public, so the public vitriol goes no where.  One group wants me to pay “reparations” for some evils of previous generations.  I can’t pay them; I have to pay my light bill.  I am living in today not yesterday.

Living in the past of hatred, blame, accusation,  ascribing guilt, all laced with 4 letter cursing (cover the children’s ears) has an exhausted American TV viewer cutting the cable and turning on the radio.

One of the first rules of life is that you can’t make anyone do anything.  We have laws which require lawbreakers to be charged in court with crimes based on past behavior, but we have no way to make other people do right in the future –  no drug, no food, no law can force another person to act in any particular better way. All the charges, allegations, denunciations and invective have not changed the President one bit.  And it won’t affect change on your spouse, your children, or the co-workers on the job.

Expecting others to change simply won’t work.  If you want change, you start by changing yourself. And if we do not change, our lives become increasingly ineffective. How we spend our money, how we spend our time will determine whether we are living in the past or “pressing on to that high calling in Christ” that Paul refers to, a goal that is beyond ourselves and beyond the touch of others’ and their malaise.

Porgy and Bess and the American Prophecy

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Reprinted from American Thinker (online) June 11, 2017

No one who has heard the hypnotic strains of “Summertime” will ever forget – a soulful trumpet, and then, like an angel from heaven, a high soprano sings, “Summertime, and the living is easy.  This is a prophecy of hope over a new baby – nothing can harm you, your daddy is rich and your ma is good looking. You will someday take your wings and fly, the child of promise.”

Forget for a moment that the composer is a New York Jew in his 30s, and the scene is a 1920s Charleston barrio for the children and grandchildren of Southern slaves.  Summertime is not easy – there are corn, beans, and tomatoes to can, fish to catch and preserve, and the evils of life to battle.  But this is America, where it is always summertime, and hope makes life seem easy.

Porgy is Everyman – disabled, lonely, living hand to mouth, but with a pure heart.  Bess is involved with Crown, a hard-drinking, womanizing cad suspected of murder.  She is addicted to “happy dust” and unable to handle the world, the flesh and the devil arrayed against her.  Sportin’ Life is a demonic prototype singing in a high falsetto about the glories of evil and the errors of God: “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

The Catfish Row family tries to help Bess, while Porgy elects to be her savior and protector.  Bad weather kills the new father in his fishing boat, and Crown tries to take over the encampment.  Porgy defends Bess and murders Crown.  After Porgy is jailed, Sportin’ Life lures Bess into a trip to New York.  The local bureaucracy, like governments everywhere, is either overly involved or indifferent, and it lets Porgy off.  Finding Bess gone, Porgy plans to leave for New York.  Our hearts in the audience drop like a stone.

I was 13 when I heard this drama.  I remember that even at that age, I gasped, knowing that poor crippled Porgy was no match for New Yawk City.  He will be shredded and left for dead in a Harlem sewer somewhere.  But he is hopeful.  His love for Bess and his dream set him forth.  He takes up his wings and flies.

There is a reason this drama is called the American opera.  In no other country do you ever hear of a national dream – a Russian dream, a Brazilian dream, even a British dream.  Only in America do we have an identifiable prophecy in the words of this song: your daddy is America, he’s rich, and also good looking; America will watch over you and protect you, no matter how poor or ignominious your birth.  And someday you will take up your wings and fly.  That is America.

We’ve hardly noticed this, but Jews in the arts have defined us.  Irving Berlin wrote the rousing “God Bless America,” which prefaced World War II and became an anthem to a generation.  A group of Jews produced The Wizard of Oz, the persistent search for a sense of self, our weaknesses and our strengths in a nation with a permanent rainbow, Somewhere.  The American dream is the Jewish dream, a place where all people will be treated equally, and no one jailed or ruined because of his religion, or looks, or cultural patrimony.  And until the formation of the nation of Israel in 1948, there was no other place on earth the Jew could feel safe and join in the promises.

But Porgy and Bess is more than just the story of the American Prophecy.  It is also George Gershwin’s story.  He is Porgy, crippled by drink and self-neglect; he is Bess, lured by addictions.  The accolades of the New York glitterati could not save him.  His doctors too were careless, according to later reports.  But he defined America for us.

Schadenfreude for Conservatives – The Big Lie Theory

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If you have the patience, sit back and watch Natural Law demonstrate its ability to predict outcomes.  The Big Lie theory is on display. 

“A lie told once remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.” –Joseph Goebbels

The audience knows it is all fiction because the audience is in the real world, where President Trump made more progress in changing the declining face of America in six months than any previous president, including Ronald Reagan.  Still the drama masquerading as real life continues.

This would be acceptable, except now the marionettes have moved from deception, which is deliberate, into delusion, which is not.  Delusion, and I quote the dictionary, is “an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder.”  In a word, they are nuts.

So how will this play out?  Recent polls have reported that Trump is wildly unpopular, barely hanging threadlike onto his chaotic presidency.  The numbers are all under 30%.  The marionettes believe this and head like lemmings into a sea of trouble.

Fact is, Democrats are polled dis-proportionally – 16% or more – and like fake news, supporting fake facts and therefore fake conclusions.  If you realize that you are lying, you know the conclusions are fake; if you don’t and believe your own lies, you sink into delusion.

Senators have taken sides against Trump while their voters back home rejoice in the president’s successes.  A handful have figured this out – such as the governor of West Virginia and Senator Joe Manchin.  If those fake polls are believed, and it seems that many have subscribed to the very Big Lie they thought they were controlling, it is now controlling them.

If you deliberately lie to others and then believe the lie you told, you will be trapped by your delusions and go down in defeat.  Sit back the next two or three Novembers while the voters enjoy some well earned schadenfreude.

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What erasing history might just lead to…

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I got to thinking – if tearing down statues will end racism and erase history, I should put the theory to the test.  The scientific method consists of applying a basic principle to a variety of similar issues to determine consistent results. And I could think of a number of unpleasant things in my life that needed to end.

For one, there’s my credit card bill.  So I took a match and burned it up in an ashtray.  That should do it. No more debt.  Next week I will check my bank online to see if my balance is zero. I have a car loan that needs the same treatment.

Next there is the owner of my office building.  Not only does he charge too much for my lease, his ugly picture is on my building. Monday I will paint over his face.  I’ll be interested to see who the new owner is when I pay my next installment.

Then there is my weight.  This should be easy.  I dumped the scales into the trash.  No point in leading some other poor fat guy into deception by sending it to Goodwill. With those 40 pounds gone I can rest easier about my blood sugar levels.

And while I’m at it, I took a black marking pen and totally wiped out the calorie count on all the candy bars I have in the house.  I will really enjoy those three Snickers for lunch knowing they are sugar-free.

Then my daughter came to the office. “Dad,” she said, bending her genders a little, calling me ‘dad.’ “I’ve decided to be a man.”

I couldn’t have been happier with this new method on what to do. “Honey, if you disagree with the words on your birth certificate I have the ashtray right here – we will burn it up too.”

“Dad, they have my certificate in the hall of records!”

Well, I thought, that is a problem.  “That means we need to burn the building down,” I assured her, “and everyone will be happier to see it gone. We can do that next week.”

“But Dad, they have all that stuff in the cloud somewhere?”

Huumm, this method of changing reality may be harder than I thought.

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Self-publishing is booming…but not for authors

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The rule in business is — “It’s not what you expect, but what you inspect.” The self-publishing business is a model of high expectations and ho-hum inspection. Tales of woe from deceived authors fill the internet complaint departments. Some people are victims because they didn’t read the paperwork, but I did, and still the fog of confusion hangs heavy over the industry.

No author comes to this melee thinking s/he will be another John Grisham. We know we must start somewhere, but the blinders are on the whole way. My e-book’s International Book Number has not yet been sent to the Library of Congress. If that’s the case — why don’t I just buy my numbers from Bowker? A publisher should at least have a checklist of what is not done by them. I was never told this.

Amazon has an arcane way of reporting book sales designed by some green-shaded computer whiz in the basement of a New York skyscraper. I know his name. It’s Al Gorithm, and he has not produced any information I can use. There is nothing to inspect.

I have 14 books in process. Book #1 was a short bellwether-book to make a path through the system from doc file to the bookstore, to the e-book store, to the royalties. Two years have gone by and I still have no clue. Amazon says I have sold books, and yes, it sells 47% of the books published in the English language, and yes, I know those guys are wildly busy, but a check for even $10.20 would let me know someone there was alive and interested in their business and mine as well. There is no way to inspect.

The Internet has literally dozens of companies whose ads promise everything, but what do they deliver? There are a few testimonials which might be doctored panegyrics penned by effusive Victorians, but no data — no Google analytics or anyone’s analysis outlining before-ad-placement and after-ad-placement sales figures. We don’t need or want proprietary information from vendors, just proof that their hype is substantiated. There is nothing to inspect.

Furthermore, we need to know their limitations as well. I learned that Smashwords does not have a way to market my e–book to the Baltic States. I downloaded and printed every document describing their system without learning this. Estonia is the most e-wired nation in Europe; they even vote by Internet, so there will be no print book. I’ve struggled to find a company to handle this.

My Book #2 is unique material start to finish; I’ve checked against published books, so I require — no, demand — a Non-Disclosure Agreement. I have one with my book cover artist. It is protection for both of us. If I had this option I could at least start the business on a basis of trust.

Book Baby outlined with care the price of each process; that was helpful. But nothing about stuff I needed to do on my own.

The Internet has opened up the gates for good writers — and bad ones too — so they don’t need to be cut down by lack of transparency, a problem for fiction writers as well. There is plenty of Cloud out there.

Every artistic system has its barricades. It used to be the Guild System in Europe, so creative people moved to the USA. Hollywood has the casting couch, possibly after so much scandal a thing of the past. Publishing needs to open its doors as well. The notion that starving writers can shiver in their hovels writing the Great American Whatever is no longer an option. Well, maybe for a Russian dissident, but it won’t fly in the USA.

 

Judgment Delayed

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The local news reported that a man who had committed several rapes 30 years ago was discovered as a result of DNA tests.  His sentence – 240 years behind bars.  I’ll bet he was surprised.

Numbers 32:23 says “Be sure your sins will find you out.”  Our national forefathers called this “natural law” a term we don’t hear much today in a society bent on ignoring every form  of the law. They meant in that term that no matter what man did, either as individuals or as a group, certain behaviors and events would generate forgone conclusions,  that the murderer would suffer for his crime either at the hands of man, or nature or an angry God. Even the heathen understood this to be true although they were more likely to give spirits and demons in trees the authority to carry out justice.

These days the general public does not recognize consequences.  Life is supposed to be utopia, and they become enraged when they have even the slightest inconvenience.  For those of us who lived through wars and want it seems a rather Pollyanna-ish view of the world.  And we wonder when they’ll catch wise.

If the Millennials were in church they’d have a better chance of learning how there is a payday, and not just a negative one.  People who play by the rules anywhere on this planet will enjoy the fruit of their wise decisions, no matter their cultures.  Yes, it is hard to live under socialism/communism or oligarchies and dictators.  But confined moral and focused living always pays off in individual peace and personal joy. Some of the best movies recently have demonstrated this.  I think of The Book Thief and Life is Beautiful, both stories from World War II, terror and want and death.

You would expect me, a teacher to say this.  But to me the chief sin is unteachableness.  The Bible, Real Life, and the witness of people we know should be teaching us the message – that we should deal with sin in all its forms ASAP.

That man thought after 30 years he’d had completely escaped the consequences of his crime, his sin.  Not so. Be sure your sins will find you out.

 

The Man who made a Cake Mix using both Eggs and Shells

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eggs-mixerIn China I found some locals would eat quail eggs, shells and all, but I never saw that in the USA.  Housewives will chuckle over a young bachelor making his cake with the shells and eggs, but we applaud him for following the directions.  The box did say to add two eggs to the mix, didn’t it?

We could certainly use the same attention to details for Christians.  Built into the Bible in addition to promises, history, poetry and prophecy is Process.  There are in most cases a right way to do something.  The Bible has been called the Manufacturer’s Handbook which we pull out only after we have a crack up of some sort.  Then we learn we did things backwards or ignored the correct process entirely.

Speaking to a group of Bible study women a few years ago I told them of a young man who was surprised to learn that now that he was saved he could not have sex with anyone except a legal wife.  The ladies were in shock – but so was I, that they didn’t know this.  It’s in the Bible and it is quite clear.

The moral law is in effect no matter who you are, or your age or background.  If you are ignorant of the law, you are not spared its results.  And wishy-washy ministers who say the Law is no more are quite wrong. In Romans 3 we read “The straight edge of the Law shows us how crooked we are.” (Phillips translation)  God keeps the law around to remind us of how much we need Him to change our hearts.

Laws continue no matter.  When the policeman stops you for running a stop sign and you say “I didn’t see it” do you get out of the ticket?  Probably not.  The law is applied regardless of your knowledge or ignorance.  The $200 fine should impress on your mind the value of knowing the rules.

No one is saved by being baptized, and no one is not saved if they failed to be baptized. But more often than not, the process is ignored.  This scripture says,

Acts 2:38 Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
I was dressed in my swimsuit and preparing to be baptized with 50 other people in a giant swimming pool in Georgia.  My friend said she had already been baptized.  Then I quoted this scripture. It says to repent first.  Did you repent as a baby?
Without a word she turned around and went to put on her bathing suit. That was fast.  She saw immediately that process is important. How many people have joined a church and never repented, or been baptized and say they are saved.  Baptism comes after salvation not before. Baptism is a verification of what God has already done in your heart.
The most famous person to not be baptized is the thief on the cross.  Jesus said “today you will be in the Kingdom with me.”  Of course the thief could not leave his cross to find water?
God looks on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
People ask, how does God save people who never hear about Him? do they all go to hell?  That scripture is your answer.  God looks at the heart, and He alone is the judge of the whole earth.
You however are responsible for what you know. When you learn to follow the process you will be drawn into a greater level of holiness. and with that comes understanding.  You may need to eat a few nasty egg shells before you learn your lessons, but you can still learn.

 

Friday the 13th in France

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WOW.  Nearly 100 people hit my blog after the attack on Paris in 2015.  I have an old prophecy about this nation here.  But more importantly you want to know about what God is planning right now.

Kim Clement prophesied that the resistance to ISIS would start in France and spread all over Europe.  Thank you France.  The rest of the world applauds you.  We Christians in America will stand behind you no matter what our President does and we expect President Trump will stand behind France in this matter.  And you can count on our prayers to back you all the way.

Go to KimClement.com and click on the prophecy link.  Type in France (or French) and find all his references.  You can print the results and start praying as God has promised. God has not abandoned you!!

The Tangled Underbrush of Life

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When I taught in China in the early years of the 21st century, a fellow English teacher of considerable skill asked me about this poem by American Poet Laureate Robert Frost.
winter-forest

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
BY ROBERT FROST

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed 1951, by Robert Frost.

I was not surprised when this Chinese man asked me what the poem meant. The Chinese are materialists. This life is all they have and they are told to live it not as an individual for themselves, but for the State, in this case, for China and for the communist government. That is why they have no compunctions about stealing intellectual property – it is for China and not one’s individual profit. Their worldview is exactly opposite from ours. Secular humanism is not about individuals; it has no afterlife; if you want to live, you do it all now.

This poem is evidence that Christianity, with the imprimatur of the Judeo-Christian God, informed America. Here we are uniquely individual, all with a plan from God for our lives. That is the woods. It is dark and deep. It must be personally searched out, appreciated and followed. You don’t find God’s plan for your life in or through a group.  It is not about an idea, or an ideal – it is only about you and God.  What does He want?  Where does He want you to go?  Or not.

It has been a long hard winter and many of us contemplated in the cold and dark the change in our lives and where we are going now.  The frenetic lifestyle of summer, the business of fall and the growth of spring do not fit in with a blanket of white snow on which to write one’s plan.  That clean sheet tells us the past is not to intrude into today or tomorrow.  As the song from Frozen says, we must let it go. God wants us to keep our eyes forward, in hope and anticipation.

2018 will be a revolutionary year for us all. There are forces of evil around us. We are looking into a tangled underbrush of good and bad, covered with snow so we have few clues as to our future.  The anarchy in our streets tells us we have a country to save. We also have the next generation to lead back to stability and hope. We have promises to keep, forgiveness to share, and also a chance to rest and watch God move to invigorate our lives and our nation.

Many miles stretch on ahead. There is no better future resolution than that – to keep those promises we made to ourselves, to God and to our country.

The Meaning of the Word “Perfect” – in the Bible

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Without a little explanation the command Matthew 5:48 “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” seems an impossible idea.

Let’s explain what perfect means when God is using the term.  It does not mean that everything you do is flawless, unquestioned, or unimpeachable.  People like that get translated to heaven.  Poof – they have no reason to be here, and Enoch and Elisha  qualify, and possibly others that  we’ve never heard of.

Perfect means, in the Greek original, mature.  If you have ever eaten a green apple you know what immature is.  You will probably get a stomachache. Mature in this sense means growth is complete.  Use before that time is a mistake.apple-1181850__180

The perfect person is one who is trained by God and suited to his or her purpose in life.  It does not mean you, if you get to this state, are in agreement with everyone as life continues to go on around you with all the imperfections of government and culture.  It does not mean that you make no mistakes.  We’d all like that. It means that the call originally on your life can be fulfilled.

We believers have a problem with timing.  We can get married too soon, to the wrong person, or end up in the wrong place, doing something either too little or too late.  I have often told people that the time I was failure and I was fired I learned a whole lot more than when I was successful.

A perfect thing cannot be replaced.   I am no musician but I am told Sir James Galway  is the perfect musician on the flute, and that silver, gold and platinum are perfect materials for a flute. Galway owns all three kinds. Check this website for the complications and varieties of flutes.

http://ws.conn-elmer.com/archives/keynotesmagazine/article/?uid=260.  This master musician gained international fame and fortune when the two are put together. God wants to use us this way; He is the musician and you are the instrument of His plan.

Romans 6:13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

It may take some time to get you to that place; people give up, get tired, listen to the wrong voices, and become  lazy and distracted.  But for the mature believer there is a life goal of a perfection especially designed to fit you. Look for it.

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