Anthrocide

Anthrocide.net is the official website for D.L. Hamilton, author of several Christian novels and essays.

Love and Risk

Below is an essay written by my son Scott. Although it might sound like I’m just being a proud dad, I really think this is incredibly insightful and written from a unique perspective. Enjoy.

Real love is stupid. It’s illogical. It’s a bad investment. To love someone – really love them, like where you are putting their needs ahead of your own; self-sacrificial, unconditional love – seems like a terrible idea on the surface. Why? There’s just too much risk. If you love someone, you are intentionally exposing your heart to them, in full view of the fact that they now have the power to break it. Risk is an inherent part of love. So why would anyone do it?

The answer is simply that the reward – being loved back – is greater than the risk.

If you have a relationship where neither of you risk anything, how close can it really be? Conversely, the greatest intimacy comes from the abundance of vulnerability, because we are forced to be honest in our vulnerability. We let down our guards, take down our walls, open our arms, and bare our hearts, screaming through gritted teeth, “THIS IS WHO I AM!”

The possibility to be known is never more real!

But at the same time the possibility of being rejected is never more real. Now, all of our carefully crafted defenses are laying around our feet; our weakest spot is exposed, and the other person is allowed time to prepare whatever attack they might want to deploy. We risk so much when we love, when we become vulnerable.

And the worst part is that the person on the other side, the one we are offering to love, will sometimes choose to hurt us. Sometimes they won’t; sometimes they will respond in kind and let down their own guard, and it’s in those sacred moments that something from earth connects with heaven. Or perhaps more accurately, it is when the bit of heaven in us all is most clearly seen. It is the reward we are all seeking, the greatest joy to be found in this life. But that moment of exposure is the antechamber with two doors – one leading to heaven and the other to hell. To be accepted and for love to be returned is the truest happiness, but to offer love and be shown contempt instead is the truest sorrow and heartbreak, that which we all have learned to fear above all other feelings.

These truths are well-known by the poets, the musicians; the feeling of a broken heart has inspired countless songs and works of art. It is a feeling that is frustratingly common, shared amongst the human species.

Yet the one who knows heartbreak the best is One who isn’t human.

Think about this: God created humanity, and had the power and the authority to make them however He wanted. He could have made us with two heads, or made us centaurs, or mer-people, or slime monsters. It was all up to Him. But more to the point, He could have made us unable to choose. He didn’t have to give us free will, to choose to love Him or reject Him.

But He did.

Why would he have done that? That seems like an awfully dumb idea in retrospect. If it were me, it would have been awfully tempting to just prevent the pain.

But remember that real love carries risk inherently. And the most defining characteristic of the God of the Bible is love – you could also say that the most defining example of love is the God of the Bible. And He knew, from the very moment that the idea of humanity was formed in His infinite mind (just roll with me, don’t worry about the metaphysics of that statement), that He was going to love them – and that they were going to break His heart.

We have already discussed that one of the riskiest things a person can do is to choose to love another person, because there is every reason to believe that they will break your heart and few things are more painful than that. But imagine having a choice in the matter – not just the choice of whether to be vulnerable to someone, but actually being able to control their response and avoid having them reject you. This was an available option to God! But incredibly, unfathomably, He chose to take the risk of allowing us to choose; He gave us freedom, all the while, in His infinite knowledge, knowing without doubt that we would to a person fail to reciprocate this love, and every single one of us would break His heart.

Why? What could have motivated Him to choose this way?

Isn’t it obvious? It’s because He loved us that He let us choose to reject Him.

If I don’t love someone, I won’t make myself vulnerable. I won’t give them the power to break my heart. I’ll keep my guard up, fortify my defenses, and make sure that I protect myself from being rejected by just not letting them in. Love, it has been said, is a two-way street; the idea of unrequited love is actually just a representation of the rejection we’ve already discussed (I love someone, make myself vulnerable, and by indifference or ignorance they reject me and my heart is broken).

Look around you. There are so many people whose hearts have been broken and have never found a way to heal that wound. They keep searching for the healing; this is another concept that the poets and musicians have known for ages, although many don’t know what the answer is. They (it should probably be “we” since this is basically common to humanity) look for the healing in money, or power, or sex, or popularity, or approval. What we really need is to find someone that will never reject us, that will always choose to love us – that is what will heal our broken hearts.

God’s offer of love to mankind was baffling; He offered to give unlimited, perfect satisfaction of our soul’s longing for acceptance, fully knowing that His love would not always (or even often) be returned, and that His heart would be the one being broken. But how could He not offer this? It is His very nature to love. It is only through His greatness, the infinite nature of His being, that He could withstand so much heartbreak.

But there is still a greater heartbreak; God had a plan to bring us home, and it would cost Him everything.

By breaking His heart, by turning away, the relationship was cracked. We were offered what our souls longed for, and for one reason or another we decided to pass on it, content to search around for a pale imitation. We, temporal beings as we are, accepted the short-term high, the fleeting pleasure, over the steady, faithful satisfaction of God’s perfect love, and His heart was broken. It was not without consequence, either.

It isn’t because God is unfair or unfeeling that the relationship was damaged, or that He is petty and holds a grudge against us for hurting Him. The problem is that He simply can’t coexist with sin – everything that comes near to Him has to be cleansed, free from stains, or else it is consumed by the glory of His perfect holiness. Holiness simply means that it has a wholly different nature, one without taint or stain. This requirement is evident in the Law, which showed above all that God is holy and must be treated as such.

So, since we have all at one point or another been guilty of breaking the heart of God, we found ourselves separated from that closeness, that communion that we were designed for. God’s heart was broken, our lives were damaged. But as I said, God had a plan.

In order for us to be cleansed of our sin, a price had to be paid – and it was no small price. God is so different, so holy, that anything that didn’t reach the standard had to die. Or at least something had to die, either us or something in our place. The thing that died in our place had to be spotless, without blemish, because it wouldn’t do for us to give something we didn’t want in the first place. But an animal that we owned was not sufficient to truly deal with the problem of our sin, and for ourselves to give our own lives didn’t work either because, well, then we’d be dead and that ruins the whole thing. So what was God’s amazingly brilliant plan to deal with this conundrum?

He decided to send His Son, a part of Himself, to die on our behalf.

And not just to die on our behalf but to live first – even to be born into our world and grow up in poverty, to be potty-trained and go through puberty and deal with parents and siblings and friends and all the other things we all deal with on a daily basis. Jesus spent 33 years or so among us, living a life that was free from wrongdoing and as perfect of an example of God’s love as could ever be. He even demonstrated the risk inherent in love by making Himself vulnerable to heartbreak and pain – nowhere more evident than on the cross.

As if it wasn’t enough for Jesus to be killed as a sacrifice, it ended up being a horrible death, being tortured and beaten and rejected. And it was all on completely bogus charges that the government sentenced him to this awful fate and carried it out the same night. Jesus, who was entirely innocent, hung on a Roman cross, suspended by nails piercing His hands and feet, in our place.

And this, of all things, was how God saved the world.

He opened His heart to us and we rejected Him. He went a step further and brought His heart down to us so that we could get a closer look, understand it better, and we not only turned it away but beat and scourged and nailed it to a cross, calling for the blood to rest on us and our children.

And this was the plan.

How could this have been the plan? How is this a plan at all? He is God, He knows everything! He had to have seen this coming! How could this have possibly been the best that He could come up with?

This is the genius of the story of Jesus – it’s pure foolishness to a human mind. There is no way that people would have come up with such a tale. God didn’t just have it in mind to solve the problem of sin, to address the price that needed to be paid for our wrongdoing and allow us access to His glorious presence – He had a plan to finally defeat the great enemy Death.

This is why the plan didn’t end on the cross – there was also a tomb; one that would wind up gloriously, impossibly, marvelously empty on the third day!

There is a correlation of sorts between risk and hope – they are almost like opposites. Risk is what makes you hold back, not try, because something bad might happen, and hope is what makes you press on and believe because something impossibly good might happen. It has become clear through this discussion that there is a great deal of risk involved with any act of love, but keep in mind when deciding whether to love or not that there is such a beautiful hope wrapped up inside as well. Best of all, the risk does not cancel out the hope!

With that in mind, I posit that we are at our best when we push past the risk and embrace the hope that love holds. All of the best examples of humanity occurred when a person chose hope over risk, vulnerability over defensiveness, love over fear.

Choose hope. Choose vulnerability. Choose love. This is how the world changes.

Scott Hamilton
Psalm 37:3

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Viewer’s Guide to Hallmark Movies

I realize that in writing this I am admitting to participating in one of the least manly exercises of the human species: watching Hallmark romance movies. Yes, instead of movies with car chases and explosions like real men watch, I have sat through a number of Hallmark movies. However, for those with enough common sense not to have done so but who might fall prey to watching one at some point, I offer this Guide to assist your expectations. Indeed, armed with the information below, you probably don’t even need to watch the movie. Anyway, here is a list of truisms that can be applied to ALL Hallmark romances:
1. If, at the beginning of the movie, you are the leading lady’s boyfriend or, heaven forbid, her fiancé, you are doomed. There is zero chance that you and she will end up together. Absolute confirmation of this is established when you kiss her, because you do so on her cheek, not on her lips. There is also a 90% probability that you will prove to be a self-centered jerk before the first commercial.
2. Big cities are evil; rural small towns are good. Big city people (including the leading lady at the beginning of the film) lead harried, miserable, hollow, stress-filled, shallow lives where their main concern is money. Rural small town people lead relaxed, meaningful, contented, joyful lives that focus on The Things That Really Matter.
3. Similar to the above, big city careers are evil; rural small town jobs are good—especially those where one works with one’s hands. Evil “city” occupations include: movie actor, up-and-coming corporate executive, anything related to advertising or public relations, real estate/land development, assistant hospital administrator, and worst of all, lawyer. Honorable rural small town occupations include, for the leading lady: owning/managing a bakery, restaurant, or dress shop; running a family farm/ranch/vineyard; country doctor; or, best of all, small town veterinarian. For the leading man they include: handyman, house construction, some form of arts and crafts; running a family farm/ranch/vineyard; country doctor; or, best of all, small town veterinarian.
4. The next-older generation were, apparently, terrible drivers. Invariably one of the leading characters’ parents died “some years ago” in a car accident.
5. If either lead character is a single parent, the child/children will become deeply attached to the other lead character within a week of first meeting him/her—long before love blossoms between the adults. The same holds true for a pet if there is one.
6. All rural small towns have an annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in the town square (they all have a town square) that the entire town not only attends but “eagerly anticipates all year.” If it happens to not be Christmastime, then they have an annual Harvest Festival.
7. In every Christmas movie there is a scene with the lead characters together in a Christmas tree lot. No one EVER has an artificial tree.
8. In every Christmas movie there is a scene at an ice skating rink in which one of the lead characters is a skilled skater and the other is an inept rookie. If it is not a Christmas movie, substitute dancing for skating.
9. Regardless of how lucrative the “big city” character’s dream job is, he/she will readily abandon it (since it was evil anyway) and downgrade to live a subsistence-level life in the rural small town with his/her new-found love.
10. The one exception to the above is if the leading lady is vacationing in the tiny European kingdom of Contrivia only to discover that the seemingly ordinary guy she has fallen for is actually the crown prince. In that case, marrying him upgrades her to a princess.

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The Non-crisis

In trying to lend justification to the President’s delusional assertion that there were millions of votes cast illegally during the most recent election — and therefore that election reform is needed — his defenders cite the presence on voter rolls of registrants who are dead or are registered in more than one state. I worked for the Missouri Secretary of State’s office for 12 years and was very much involved in the processes used to keep voter rolls as clean as possible. So, are there deceased people on voter rolls? Absolutely. Are there voters on the rolls of more than one state? Certainly. Does this mean that the entire system is flawed, needs an overhaul, and that voter fraud is rampant because of these circumstances? DEFINITELY NOT.

Let us apply a bit of rationality to all this, and take a practical look at each situation, shall we? First, dead voters. Believe it or not, the very first thing that happens when a person passes away is NOT for someone to notify the deceased’s Local Election Authority (LEA) that he or she needs to be removed from the voter rolls. Except where a rural county’s clerk actually knew the deceased, or where the LEA checks the obituaries against the voter rolls, they usually are unaware of a voter’s death. Then how do these voters get removed? Missouri used several methods. First, we did computerized matches against death records from the Dept. of Health & Sr. Svcs. This is not foolproof, however. If the individual died out of state, DHSS would not necessarily be informed. Next, there were matches against the Social Security Administration’s master death database. This helped but, since the decedent’s address may have been different when he/she died than what was on their registration, and we have only the last four digits of SSN, matching could be problematic.

Indeed, automated matching is not as slick as you might hope. A person who registers to vote by filling-out a registration card by hand simply gives or mails it to the election authority and leaves them to enter their data into the registration system. Oops, there’s a few stray marks on this card. Is that birthdate 1/8/1990 or 7/8/1990? Is that Ken Smith or Kim Smith? Our registration software ran SSN and Driver’s License checks against the data when entered, but if the SSN and/or DL was left blank the law requires the assumption to be that the individual does not have one. If the DL was from another state, no matching was done. And, of course, if “Kim Smith” was short for “Kimberly Smith” automated name matching would be less than exact. Furthermore, even SSA’s data can often be many months late in reporting a death. Add to all this that the matching, etc., did NOT remove voters. For safety’s sake, the match created lists that were sent back to the LEAs who then were to verify the matching data and then mark the registrants as deceased in the system — a task that becomes secondary during the crunch of preparing for an election. After a voter misses two federal general elections, they “age off” the voter rolls, so even a record that slips through the cracks will eventually be disabled. Nevertheless, at any given point in time even the most diligent LEAs will have a fair number of deceased voters on their rolls and, statewide, that number could be in the thousands. Does their presence mean voter fraud is occurring? Not at all.

Suppose you read a random obituary before an election and decide that, despite the risk of being convicted of a federal crime, you’re going to vote both as yourself and the dead person. Was he even registered? What polling place would he have voted at? Can you be sure the LEA hasn’t already removed him from the rolls? You have to sign the precinct register (or electronic equivalent), will your signature match? A wrong guess on any of these and you’re in danger of time in Leavenworth. All so you can vote ONE extra vote? And people are claiming this equates to MILLIONS of illegal votes? Give me a break.

But, what of multi-state registrants? When my wife and I left California for Missouri with two cars, a dog, and the few odds and ends that didn’t go on the moving van, we did not stop off at our LEA and notify them that we were moving to another state so they could remove us from the voter rolls. Nobody does. There is a place on the Missouri voter registration form to tell where you used to be registered, but if you leave it blank nothing happens — they just assume you’re a first-time voter. Even if you fill it in, the result is a list that eventually gets sent to the old state’s State Election Authority who then, hopefully, forwards it to the appropriate LEA who, when they get around to it, will mark that registration disabled. Then, there are multi-state automated matches that produce lists of suspected duplicates that the LEAs are given to process, but not all 50 states. Only those nearby. Since Drivers Licenses are subject to the same issue (obtaining one in the new state must cause the old state to be notified and nullify the old license), matching was done against DMV records. Still, all these matching efforts suffer the same uncertainties as described previously. Once again, what is the likelihood that a significant number of people are moronic enough to risk conviction of a felony so they can vote once in their old state and a second time in their current state? If a person tries to vote in the old state and they’ve already removed him, he’s busted.

Could a given state have a few hundred people gutsy and/or dimwitted enough to vote via one of these illegal methods? Perhaps. But even if each state had 1,000 people do so, that would not have changed the election results. If there was any significant voter fraud, it was not because of multi-state registrations or deceased people on the voter rolls. So any hair-on-fire demand for an election process overhaul in response to the existence of deceased or multi-state registrants will be a huge waste of time and money solving a non-problem.

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A Lifetime Commitment

It has been a LONG time since I did a post here, but in honor of my wife and I celebrating our 43rd wedding anniversary, I felt it necessary to address something I ran across recently. I sometimes look at a website called quora.com. It is a forum where people can ask questions and get answers, some of which are from “experts.” As a fiction writer, it gives me a place to ask how to handle a certain situation in writing or, for example if my story needs it, how long a person can be marooned in a small spacecraft before the air becomes unbreathable. That sort of thing. Recently, someone asked the question: “What is the creepiest thing that society accepts as a cultural norm?” There were dozens of answers provided, many of which you would expect: things like female circumcision, India’s caste system, and even child beauty pageants. But I found one answer not only shocking, but quite disturbing. The thing this contributor thought was “the creepiest” was: Marriage for life.

According to this contributor: “…committing to another person for life is not that different than committing to the same job for life… I think it’s odd and creepy that society uses the term ‘failed marriage’ and still questions divorce as a way to pursue individual happiness. There’s no such thing as a failed marriage; just a marriage that ran its course… You can’t be assured that your feelings will always stay the same when you marry…”

Holy moly. There is so much wrong with this perspective/attitude that I scarcely know where to start. I could write a book, but in the interest of time and space, I will try to keep this concise by bullet-pointing a few of the fatal flaws in this viewpoint:

  • Relationship – Emotional love can be a bit of a sine-wave. One time I can be deeply infatuated with my spouse, another time rather blasé. Sometimes I’m ready to move heaven and earth for her, other times I let a little selfishness seep in. Depending on my mood, a quirk of hers can be endearing or irritating. Through all these all-too-human emotional swings, it is our commitment to each other that gets us over the rough patches. We do not have many heated disagreements, but for couples that do, that commitment is even more vital in riding out the storm. I cannot begin to tell you the incredibly destructive force it would have on our marriage if we both believed that we’re only in it as long as our “feelings…stay the same.” If we thought that our marriage vows were no more binding “…than committing to [a] job,” that tentativeness alone would wreak havoc on our relationship. Knowing that we can depend on each others’ love through thick and thin is what makes our marital relationship so magnificent. I love being married, and that is a huge part of the reason why.
  • Children – Arguably, besides food, clothing, and shelter, the greatest need that a child has is a permanent, stable, loving environment. Temporary marriage destroys that. So does the swapping of parental figures. There is an old saying that the best thing a father (or mother) can do for a child is to love the child’s mother (or father). The permanence of the parents’ commitment not only affects a child’s security, self-esteem, and overall sense of well-being, but also his or her physical, mental, and emotional health. How about some hard facts? A 2011 federal study of child abuse found that the riskiest home situation for children was living with one parent and an unmarried partner: 57.2 per 1,000 were maltreated. That’s more than eight times the risk than if they were living with both biological parents (6.8 per 1,000) and more than double the risk of living in a single-parent household (28.4 per 1,000). An article in Psychology Today (01/09/2011) notes: “…that stepchildren, those who live with a stepparent (usually, a stepfather), are anywhere from 40 to 100 times as likely to be murdered or maimed as those who live with two biological parents in the household.”
  • The End – Although we’re both perfectly healthy at the moment, one of these days either my wife or I will come to a point where the end of life is at hand. It is (and will be) of enormous comfort to know that there at our side will be the same person whose love has endured the test of time. The notion that it is perfectly fine to trade-in one’s spouse with the same attitude with which one takes another job–i.e., a better offer has come along–will almost guarantee that the unpleasantness of dealing with a spouse’s final days takes a back seat to “greener pastures” if any are available.
  • And none of this even addresses God’s slant on marriage as eloquently expressed by His Son: what God has joined together, let not man separate. Of course, sometimes, as in the case of spousal abuse or unfaithfulness, separation or even divorce becomes necessary. And, sometimes those subsequent marriages work out well. But I’m willing to bet that those subsequent marriages that succeed nearly always do so because the partners were determined that, though a past marriage did not make it, this one would be “till death us do part.”

    For someone to think that marriage for life represents the creepiest thing that society accepts as a cultural norm is, to me, the creepiest viewpoint I think I’ve ever heard. I can only hope that those who hold such an inane view are the tiniest of minorities within society. If not, I believe that it represents a far greater threat to the continuation of the human species than fanatical terrorism, pollution, or even nuclear weapons.

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    Kindle/Nook ebooks

    For those of you who don’t use Facebook or who may have missed Becki’s posting, I have finally taken the plunge and put a series of my novels out on Kindle and Nook as ebooks. If you have a Kindle or Nook Tablet/Reader you can, of course, download and read them there. Or, if you have an iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone, or probably any other smart phone or tablet device, you can get a free Kindle or Nook app and use those devices to read them. I’ve read entire books on my iPhone and, though you might think it’s too small to read on, it’s really not bad at all.

    The books are in a series called Ever Increasing Glory. The first book is Hidden in a Field, the second is The Way of Escape and the third is Canceled Debts. Although they’re classified as Christian romances they include an attempted murder, a car wreck, a foiled rape attempt, and a guy getting worked over with a rubber hose so they’re not all just romantic fluff.

    You can use the links below or search the Kindle or Nook sites by the series (Ever Increasing Glory), by the titles or by “D. L. Hamilton” (Don Hamilton won’t work).

    Kindle:
    •Book 1: Hidden in a Field
    •Book 2: The Way of Escape
    •Book 3: Canceled Debts

    Or, for the more graphically-oriented, click on the cover image below:

    Hidden in a Field Cover TN The Way of Escape Cover TN Canceled Debts Cover TN

    Nook:
    You can view the whole Ever Increasing Glory series.

    You can read the first few chapters for free and the books themselves are pretty inexpensive. Hope you find the stories enjoyable as well as inspirational.

    God’s blessings,

    Don

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    Goodness!

    What follows are two seemingly unrelated thoughts that actually do tie together, so please bear with me.

    The first relates to a radio commentary I heard recently that made a significant point. It said that the U.S. government should not be as shocked as it is that the “Arab Spring” has not resulted in democracies rife with fundamental freedoms and equality for all citizens in those countries where dictators have been ousted. Our government seems amazed that the rest of the world would not readily embrace the concepts of equality and liberty that we all so cherish. The commentator made the point that our republic succeeded as a form of government because it had Christianity as its underpinnings. Absent those Christian roots of love, kindness, righteousness, and a recognition of the intrinsic worth of each and every individual not only will democracy fail, it doesn’t even make sense. Hence, those non-Christian cultures overthrow a despot simply to trade him for another form of totalitarianism, but one that is more closely allied to the rebels’ views. The despotic governments we see moving in to fill the vacuum in places like Egypt and Libya should serve as a cautionary tale for us as our nation continues to divest itself of its Christian roots.

    The second relates to goodness. It is one of the nine attributes the Apostle Paul lists as the “fruit of the Spirit;” that is, behaviors that result from the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life. They are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There have been any number of Bible studies and curricula that delve into the specifics of each of these and their effect and manifestation in the life of the Christian. However, the one that is often hardest to fashion an hour-long class about is goodness. In fact, one study series I found on the subject was only eight lessons long. They completely skipped over goodness. One can develop myriad class sessions on love, peace, and the nuances of faithfulness. But on the surface “goodness” seems too generic. Okay, we’re supposed to do good, to be good. End of study. However, goodness is a concept that may be more complex than all the others put together. Why? Because it demands that we define “good.” What is good? And how do we know? Is good defined as whatever is best for me, personally? If so, it would be good for me to steal your car since that is to my benefit. And, of course, if you abide by the same definition, it would be “good” for you to slit my throat to get your car back as that would be to your benefit. Etc. So, what then? Is “good” whatever benefits the largest number of people? That just takes the previous examples and expands them. For the majority to steal everything the minority has would be to the majority’s benefit. Hmm… How about goodness is any behavior that does no harm to anyone else? Key question: Why would doing no harm be superior to being cruel and brutal to others? Why would such a philosophy be better than “might makes right?” Or put another way, “Says who?” When there is no Who or where there is only a “who” whose scruples are, well, unscrupulous, the definition of goodness becomes either nonexistent or perverse.

    But, for the Christian, the definition of goodness is so obvious that we cannot even put together a decent hour-long study on it. That is not to say that all Christians’ behavior is characterized by goodness—Lord knows there have been atrocities aplenty among those who claim to be Christian. But evil behavior by fallen, imperfect people does not negate the unsullied Biblical definition of goodness. Which is, if I may wax a tad overly simplistic, goodness = God-ness. In other words, that which is true of our Lord defines that which is good. Hence, we recognize good over evil as: truth over lies, kindness over cruelty, generosity over stinginess, love over selfishness, gentleness over ferocity, mercy over condemnation, sobriety over drunkenness, industriousness over sloth, optimism over pessimism, grace over judgmentalism, and so on. Additionally, not only does this provide a definition of good, it is eternal, unchangeable, and adherence to it has consequences—the approval of the omnipotent God.

    Now to tie these two disparate thoughts together. With a common societal absolute standard of what constitutes good vs. evil it becomes possible to not only establish laws to encourage good and discourage evil, but to trust the citizenry to be a government “of the people.” Good citizenship means to exhibit good behavior—not primarily out of fear of government reprisal but because of the common recognition of what good is and the desire to be good. Those who choose to do evil recognize it as being evil. They understand that they run the risk of suffering the consequences of violating laws that not only exist in some code book but that coincide with Almighty God’s laws. Although there are examples of the church disassociating itself from those involved in flagrant, perpetual, unrepentant sin; by and large Christians are responsible to govern their own behavior and answer to the Lord. Such is not the case in other cultures without Christian influence. Jesus said, “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” In many non-Christian societies this concept of individual freedom is completely foreign, not merely to their political power brokers but to the average citizen as well.

    Equality among all citizens and our system of government go hand-in-hand. The New Testament concept of “…in humility consider others better than yourselves…look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Php. 2:3-4) steers citizens toward good behavior and away from our natural dog-eat-dog proclivity. Governments must exist, but they govern benevolently only to the degree that they accurately distinguish good from evil and recognize the infinite, intrinsic worth of each individual deemed precious by the omnipotent God of all. Attempts to frame our republican democracy around a society whose concept of goodness is “might makes right” will quickly degenerate into a totalitarian monstrosity much as we see happening in the middle east. Karl Marx envisioned a utopian society where everyone happily subjugates his own ends for the good of the society at large. But everywhere communism has been tried the result has been oppression by a tyrannical government. The primary reason is that Marxism’s atheistic roots provide no answer to the inevitable “why” question. Why should I set aside what benefits me for the sake of anyone else, let alone for the sake of faceless “society”? Because some guy named Marx says to do so constitutes “goodness”? Who bestowed him with the power to define goodness? For that matter, who bestows anyone, or any government, with the power to define goodness?

    Ah, and so we are back to the basic point. There is Someone with that power. And, not only does He define goodness, the indwelling of His Spirit produces goodness as a by-product of our surrender to His lordship over our lives. As America moves ever further from the Christian basis for its concept of government and from God’s definition of goodness, one cannot help but ask, as Lincoln did, “…whether that nation…can long endure.”

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    Hey, No Problem!

    A newspaper “advice” column that I read regularly (although I honestly do not know why–I do know that I find the questions/problems far more interesting than the answers) had a reader submit a complaint a while back. The complaint was how that today’s modern society, with all its young whippersnappers, had lost its last vestige of civility by the use of the phrase “no problem” in response to a thank you. The reader was incensed that this generation has ceased to use the proper response of “you’re welcome.” Somewhat surprisingly the columnist and several others all agreed. The implication was that saying “no problem” was akin to the President addressing a press conference with “‘Sup dogs?” instead of “Good morning.”

    Personally I believe it to be a non-issue and the complaint completely bogus. Consider: Person A says “Thank you” to Person B. One must assume that Person B had done something for Person A that evoked the comment. Truthfully the so-called kosher response of “You’re welcome” does not make a great deal of sense. You are welcome… to… What, exactly? Let’s recap: Person B does something for Person A, Person A thanks Person B, so Person B is obligated to tell Person A that he or she is welcome. Sorry, I don’t get it. The best I can come up with is that “you’re welcome” is shortened for “You are welcome to request (or expect) me to do the same for you anytime (or at least again).” I guess that’s sort of okay if Person B opened the door for Person A or something, but what if Person B saved Person A from drowning? Is Person A really welcome to try that again? “You’re welcome” has been the common response to a thank-you for decades if not centuries, but it nonetheless seems borderline nonsensical.

    Much superior, to me anyway, is the less common but still acceptably formal “My pleasure.” At least that makes straightforward sense. It means basically that the person being thanked was happy to do whatever he or she is being thanked for. Once again, it is more applicable in some cases than others. If I changed a baby’s ripe, messy diaper, and the baby’s mom thanked me, to say it was my PLEASURE would be a lie, pure and simple.

    Now, is the phrase “No problem” any better or worse? Actually I see it as slightly superior to the others. In the diaper scenario, it indicates that I was perfectly willing to do it–to say it was NO problem may be an exaggeration but far less of a flagrant lie. In the drowning person scenario, certainly the rescuer went to some–perhaps considerable–trouble, but “no problem” says the result was sufficiently positive to offset the effort. Interestingly, in Spanish the response to “Gracias” is “De nada” which means “It’s nothing.” In other words, “I do not consider it an inconvenience” or put another way, “No problem!”

    Occasionally people have used the alternate phrase, “Don’t mention it” in place of you’re welcome. The intent is to say, again, it was a small thing, it was nothing, or “No problem.” However, it has a slightly negative edge that, if taken literally, means I prefer that you not do the very thing you just did–mention it.

    So, I’m afraid all the pretentious types who consider any phrasing newer than the 1920’s uncouth will have to stifle themselves on this one. To the rest of you, no need to thank me. But if you do, hey, no problem.

    That same advice column once had a reader complain that someone who had offended them said, “I owe you an apology” but then left it at that. The issue was that the offended person felt an apology had not happened until the person stated directly, “I’m sorry” or “I apologize” (or, I suppose, “Please forgive me”). Again, the advice columnist agreed. I, however, do not. In this world of entitlement and victim-mentality it is a rare person who will buck up the courage to volunteer any sort of apologetic expression to someone else, regardless of the offense. To admit, “I owe you an apology” is a pretty big step for most people. To skewer them on a technicality because they didn’t reconstruct the sentence properly is to look for a reason to hold a grudge.

    All of which brings to mind a bit of irony I heard once. A distraught person recounting a difficult encounter with someone: “Maybe what I said sounds harsh but, I’m sorry, I’m just not going to apologize.”

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    Wow, What a (Sports) Weekend!

    Who’d a-thunk it? By the end of the weekend, all my favorite sports teams had come through!

    Saturday:

    NCAAF – MIZZOU 31, Texas Tech 27. MIZZOU WINS a nail-biter and is bowl eligible!
    NHL – Sharks 4, Dallas 1. San Jose WINS!

    Sunday:

    NFL – 49ers 23, Arizona 7. SF WINS (now 9-1)!
    NHL – Sharks 4, Colorado 1. San Jose WINS and moves into 1st place!

    Monday:

    NCAAB – MIZZOU 87, Notre Dame 58. MIZZOU WINS what was supposed to be a close game!

    Wonder which team will be the first to break the streak…

    Other random sports thoughts:

    I hear tell that MIZZOU basketball, which had garnered a pretty solid following during the Mike Anderson era, is having trouble attracting fans. The Frank Haith (a) hiring–since he has no exciting track record–and (b) NCAA investigation made me reluctant to get too excited. Then add that one of their best players–and one of their few big men–Laurence Bowers, is out for the season with an injury, and my interest was tepid. But I watched the game noted above and was mightily impressed! This is a tenacious, quick, scrappy team that, at least against Notre Dame, was fun to watch. How far can a 4-guard team go? Dunno, but they’re interesting and worth a look.

    Q: Why aren’t the 49ers–with the second-best record in the NFL–getting any press?
    A: The obvious answer would be east-coast media bias which, no doubt, plays a part. But the main issue is the lack of a “name” player. The media always wants an individual they can tout as “you should watch this team because of so-and-so if for no other reason.” Hence, it’s always “watch Eli Manning and the NY Giants take on Ray Lewis and the hard-hitting Ravens,” etc. But the 49ers have no marquee player. Certainly “Alex Smith and the 49ers” would not gain many viewers. And, although they have plenty of quality players who, together, are a formidable team, there are no true superstars. Patrick Willis? O-kay. Frank Gore? Yawn. Novarro Bowman? Who? The only “name” they have is the coach, Jim Harbaugh. Not much of a promo to say, “See the 49ers play Baltimore and watch Harbaugh’s post-game handshake!” So, face it, no matter how well they do, even in the playoffs, this blue-collar team of no-names is never going to garner much press.

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    Lyrically Speaking…

    Here’s an oddity that leaves me puzzled: hymn lyrics–or more specifically the use of King James English therein.

    Now, I do realize that from the early 1600’s until the early 1970’s the KJV Bible was used by 99.9% of the English-speaking Protestant world. People somewhat understandably associated the use of King James lingo with all things sacred and often felt compelled to use that same mode of speech in any reference to the Lord, including prayers and hymns. This was especially reasonable where scripture was contained in a hymn since it would necessarily be the KJV that was used. The result is that many hymns are laden with “Thee,” “Thou,” “Thy” and “Thine.” Typically King James verbs were also used surrounding those pronouns–for consistency one would assume–giving us “art” instead of “are,” “loveth” instead of “loves,” “hast” (or “hath”) instead of “has,” etc. So, we end up with song lyrics like: “My Jesus I love Thee I know Thou art mine…”

    Okay, whatever. What gets weird is that the use of King James parlance is so often random and inexplicable.

    As noted, references to the Lord in KJV make sense for the day in which these songs were composed. What I have a harder time understanding is why references to you and me are done that way. For example, the song “Is Thy Heart Right With God,” as the title suggests, refers not to the Lord with KJV but to the listener: “…Dost thou count all things for Jesus but loss?” Why address ME in King James English? Other songs such as “Take Time to be Holy” do the same thing.

    Then there are those hymns that can’t make up their minds. Notice how the hymn “His Way with Thee” switches between modern and King James for no apparent reason as it refers to the listener alternately as “YOU” (modern) and “THEE” (KJV):

    “…His love can fill YOUR soul, and YOU will see / ’twas best for Him to have His way with THEE.”

    Actually the only explanation is a pathetic one. “Thee” was used purely because it rhymed. Now that’s sad.

    Even more random are those songs where only one word is KJV. An example is “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” where it says: “…For I know whate’er befall me Jesus doeth all things well…” Notice that at the beginning of the song it does NOT say “All the way my Savior LEADETH me…” but later He “DOETH” rather than He does. Again the unfortunate evident explanation is that the lyricist resorted to KJV in order to maintain the meter of the song–rather than rewriting the lyric (sorry, Fanny Crosby, but that was the cheap way out).

    But it gets even more random that that. In the hymn “Count Your Blessings” there is a line in one verse that goes, “…Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold…” Notice, “Christ HAS”. But in the chorus the lyric is “…see what God HATH done.” Unlike the others, this helps neither rhyme nor meter. The only possible explanation is that the lyricist developed a lisp between writing the verse and the chorus (maybe he lost a tooth or something).

    Some hymn lyrics are pretty odd regardless of King James usage. This one for example from “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”:

    “Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer…”

    Now, first of all it doesn’t say A friend or SOME friends but strongly implies that it refers to ALL your friends. It is not unheard of for a so-called friend to forsake a person, proving to be no friend at all. But to have ALL your friends forsake you? What situation could cause that? The only thing I can think of is if you did some heinous, repugnant, disgusting thing that sent all your friends scurrying to get away from you–like becoming an Amway representative.

    But even that is not the strangest part of the phrase. It asks if all your friends DESPISE you. How on earth could a group of people who despise you be classified as “friends”? Aren’t those who despise you–by definition–your enemies?

    Or how about this lyric from “I’ll Fly Away”: “…Like a bird from prison bars has flown, I’ll fly away…” Who keeps birds in prison? Unless they’re referring to the Birdman of Alcatraz or something but in that case HE was the one imprisoned in Alcatraz; the birds could come and go as they liked. Of course, it might be referring to a “JAIL-bird” who has flown from prison–but doesn’t that mean an escapee? Is that what we want to be favorably compared with? In a hymn yet?

    Another oddity among hymns is the use of what I call “Yoda-speak.” You may recall that the little green Jedi dude in the “Star Wars” films had a characteristic mode of speech in which he sort of spoke backwards. For example, instead of saying “He is strong with the Force” Yoda phrases it this way: “Strong with the Force is he.” Notice how the following hymns do the same thing.

    From “Power in the Blood”: “Would you o’er evil a victory win?” Shouldn’t that be “Would you win a victory over evil?” Unless, of course, you have pointy ears and use a light-saber.

    From “You Never Mentioned Him to Me”: “…You helped me not the light to see.” I think us non-Jedi’s would say “…You did not help me see the light” wouldn’t we?

    From “Give of Your Best to the Master”: “…You from sin’s ruin to save…” Translation: “…To save you from sin’s ruin…”

    Not that contemporary Christian music is immune from odd lyrics. Consider the song “My Glorious”. The chorus of the song has this first line:

    “God is bigger than the air I breathe”

    That is a truly weird figure of speech. Comparisons of the Lord to “the air I breathe” have been used before but always in reference to absolute necessity, i.e., we need God as desperately as we need air. Referring to air in terms of size is beyond strange. Someone suggested that perhaps the reference was to the whole of earth’s atmosphere–sort of a convoluted way of saying He is “bigger than the sky.” However the addition of the phrase “I breathe” tends to negate that since I don’t inhale the entire atmosphere. I think I read somewhere that a breath is about two quarts of air. Saying that God is bigger than that is faint praise indeed. Truthfully it is either using the wrong attribute of “the air I breathe” or the wrong attribute of God. Whatever, it is pretty much nonsensical. Sort of like saying Superman is “faster than a red, red, rose.” One’s natural reaction is “Eh? How’s that again?”

    But that’s not the only issue with the song’s lyrics. Here is a verse:

    The world’s shaking with the love of God
    Great and glorious, let the whole earth sing
    And all you ever do is change the old for new
    People we believe that

    (Then back to the Chorus: God is bigger than the air I breathe…) The first line of the verse–as does the chorus–refers to God in the third person, that is, talking ABOUT God to the audience. But the third line apparently has abruptly switched to speaking directly to Him (“…all YOU ever do…”). But then the next line is back to addressing the audience, this time in plural (“WE believe”) then immediately back to the singular in the Chorus (“I breathe”). I think the lyricist should have gone to bed earlier and taken a fresh look at this in the morning.

    Perhaps more sleep would also have helped in the writing of the David Crowder Band’s “How He Loves.” The opening line or so about how God “loves like a hurricane” makes me scratch my head a bit, but then it gets really weird: “…all of a sudden, I am unaware…” I’m sorry but, by definition, it is impossible to SUDDENLY be UNaware of something. You could suddenly become AWARE of something, but how can one suddenly be unaware—unless one passes out or has a stroke or something. In another verse there is a reference to how “…heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss…” Eh? I’m not sure how, even poetically, heaven can meet earth like a kiss, but an unforeseen kiss? Does that mean it forgets to pucker or close its eyes? I don’t get it but it could be that I’m biased against the song because Crowder’s rendition of it makes my skin crawl.

    Christmas songs are certainly not immune from lyrical oddities. Among the more bizarre is “The First Noel.” The tune is tolerable but the lyrics are, well, the only word to use for them is: lame. What earns a set of lyrics the designation of “lame”? For one thing, lyrics are lame when what they say is nonsensical or just plain wrong. For another, they are lame when there are superfluous words thrown in just to rescue the tune or poetic rhythm. And, as previously mentioned, “Yoda-isms” in lyrics (used primarily to force the rhyme scheme to work) make me crazy. An example of a Christmas song that uses one is: “God rest ye merry, gentlemen, / Let nothing you dismay.” Non-Yoda-speak would be, “…Let nothing dismay you” but that wouldn’t rhyme with “…born on Christmas Day” so, again, the songwriter took the cheap way out.

    All that said, “The First Noel” is so bad it almost boggles the mind. To set the stage for the discussion, here is the first stanza along with the refrain:

    The first Noel the angel did say
    Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
    In fields where they lay tending their sheep,
    On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

    Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
    Born is the King of Israel.

    Now, granted, poems and songs frequently butcher or completely omit relevant punctuation, but this one defies knowing what punctuation is appropriate. In the first line the phrase, “…the angel did say…” just dangles there out in space. The angel did say… what, exactly? One could presume that the next word or phrase would represent what the angel said, but that would be the word “Was” (ostensibly spoken “to certain poor shepherds”). As far as I know nothing in the Christmas story has an angel just saying, “Was.” This is fortunate, because if it did that would be mind-numbingly inane. As if that isn’t bad enough, even the phrasing of it is dorky. Using “the angel did say…” instead of “the angel said” is a case of a superfluous word thrown-in to try to stay on beat. Unfortunately the lyrics and “beat” really never do mesh in this song. What I think the lyric is trying to communicate is just that the angel spoke to some shepherds.

    This, then, brings us to the next example of dippy-ness: “On a cold winter’s night….” Now, the evidence is marginal at best that Jesus was born in the winter but there is no hint in scripture that it was cold. Israel is a mild climate but admittedly it could have been cold—the odds are about as good that it wasn’t as that it was. Maybe slightly more toward the “wasn’t” side since had the birth taken place in the cold there’s a strong chance that Luke would have mentioned it—but he didn’t. The crowning touch is the final phrase: “…that was so deep.” Okay, what does that mean? It could be that I’m just not poetically-astute enough, but I have no idea what distinguishes a deep night from a shallow one. As near as I can tell, that phrase is there purely because the lyricist needed something that rhymed with sheep. How dumb.

    But as bad as it is, the first, and most commonly known, verse is pure genius compared to some of the other verses. Get a load of this one:

    Between an ox stall and an ass,
    This Child truly there He was;
    For want of clothing they did Him lay
    All in a manger, among the hay.

    There is so much wrong with this verse I won’t even attempt to critique it. I used to think that “The First Noel” was a French song that simply lost a lot in the translation. Turns out it is not French but Olde English—most think from the 16th century—making it contemporary with Shakespeare. Believe me, brother, this is about as far from Shakespeare as one can get!

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    Politics. Ugh!

    Shortly I will have lived 60 years, and in that amount of time I have encountered literally thousands of people’s political views. I can honestly say that not once in all that time have I ever witnessed anyone reversing someone else’s political slant by outwitting, out-arguing, or out-insulting them. Yet, baiting and demeaning those of a differing political viewpoint goes on relentlessly and has now become a favorite pastime in the social media venues, notably Facebook.

    Due to its futility, I generally, with rare exceptions, steer clear of political debates or venting my political views. However, although I have yet to see anyone’s views change dramatically from political discussions, I have seen honest, open-minded people moderate their views a bit. So, with that goal in mind, I now present some of my take on things.
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