June 6 1944. D-Day. The day the world had been waiting for what seemed like an eternity. Hitler and his minions had been stopped at the English Channel, but for how long? Would the war sink into another interminable volley of punch and counter-punch, or would one side finally gain the upper hand? The allies had carefully planned this day for months, and had been practicing for weeks. Literally thousands of army, marine, navy and air force troops would face their destiny on this day. All of the remaining pictures of that day are old and grainy. Nothing can accurately or adequately describe those harrowing hours.
Every day now we lose dozens of those brave men who turned the tide of the war against tyranny. Soon all we will have left are those old grainy pictures and the written words of those who survived. We have not done a good job of carrying the memory of those war years forward. History has a way of washing over the past and distorting the reality of what occurred. World War II was masked by the Korean “conflict” and that was further distorted by the Vietnam “war” which was never really declared a war. Now we have “operations” – not wars. We had Operation Desert Shield which became Operation Desert Storm. Then we had Operation Iraqi Freedom. The current commander-in-chief does not even want to use the word “operation.” He just launches missiles from secret drones in what is referred to as “surgical strikes” to kill suspected terrorists.
Everything has become so neat, so tidy. Notice the progression. We went from “war” to “conflict” to “police action” to “operation” to “surgical strikes.” We are not fighting wars or killing people now, we are becoming world wide surgeons, removing diseased or vestigial organs.
And every year the memory of June 6, 1944 fades a little deeper into the collective amnesia of a nation. That day was not neat. It was not tidy. It was not surgical. It was brutal – hell on earth. When the last army private, the last paratrooper, the last sailor who survived the “day of days” finally passes from this life an entire generation will be gone. A generation that was called upon to make a genuine sacrifice, and a generation that heard and answered the call.
I hate war. I hate the thought of war. I hate what war does to people – both soldier and civilian. But I stand in honor of those men who stepped out of those airplanes and who crawled down those rope ladders into those landing craft on that foggy June 6 morning. For so many it would be the last morning they would see.
And I am alive and breathe the air of freedom because of what they were able to accomplish that day – and for basically the entire next year. I cannot fathom their courage. I cannot comprehend their strength.
But I can honor them.
And the best way I know how to honor them is to teach that we should never again be faced with the need for another June 6. Let’s pray that we can rise above the insane desire to destroy ourselves through another world wide war. Or, another surgical strike, for that matter.
This post ain’t original. Been said so many times it borders on being a cliche.
But these six words are the most powerful words in the English language, and they need to be spoken often and meaningfully in any relationship: marriage, parent/child, employer/employee, friend/friend.
I love you.
Okay, maybe bosses should not run around telling their employees “I love you,” but “I appreciate you” would be a nice replacement.
How much better would all your relationships be if you just said “please” more often. And then “thank you.” And top it off with a big helping of “I love you.”
Wives need to hear these words. Husbands need to hear these words. Children need to hear these words. A lot! All of us need to hear these words – spoken freely, honestly and with meaning.
Please keep reading this blog. Thank you for your attention and your comments. I love those of you whom I have met, and I deeply appreciate all of you for spending just a few moments with a frumpy, grumpy, and sometimes acerbic old coot.
And, feel free to remind me of these six words when I need to be reminded of them.
The old freightdawg
I just wanted to pass along a huge “thank-you” to those of you who stop by and consider my rantings, quirky jokes, and occasional worthwhile theological insight. Today this blog received its 10,000th view, which is a very pleasant milestone for me. I have been posting here for approximately 19 months, so that averages out to be a little over 500 views a month. I realize in the real blogosphere that would be a bad day for many blogs, but for me it lets me know that you are at least noticing, if not actually reading and agreeing with, what I have to say.
Thanks for stopping by, and I hope that something that I have to say ends up being valuable for you – if for no other reason than it forces you to research your own opinion to prove that I am wrong.
Here is hoping that you keep the shiny side up and the oily side down – and that every take-off ends in a smooth and enjoyable landing!
Paul the curmudgeon “Freightdawg” Smith
Before you pull out your Bibles (or iPads) and tell me I’m misquoting Scripture, I know what Paul said in Philippians 4:7. It truly is one of the most beautiful promises in the Bible. Combined with v. 9 the promise is made complete – the God of peace and the peace of God. But I want to offer just a twist on v. 7, and ask if it would not be legitimate to speak of a peace sent by God that transcends all of our false interpretations and erroneous attempts at understanding it.
A recent thorn in the side of theology, particularly American theology, is the thought that “peace” and the other blessings that God bestows upon us are all somehow measured in physical attributes. Even if it is not something that we can touch, measure, smell or spend, God wants us to have something that reassures us that he loves us and that he, in fact, does exist. It’s like a child looking around at all the presents on Christmas morning but still checking to see if the cookies and milk disappeared, just to prove that Santa had truly visited the house.
So, we measure the “immeasurable” peace of God by our attractive spouses, our nice cars, our secure jobs, the diplomas on the wall, the pictures of the grandkids, the RV out in the driveway, the membership at the country club. Yes, we speak of the peace that transcends all understanding, but it can be measured, photographed and spent.
What if Paul had said, “The peace that transcends all misunderstanding?” That is, a peace that exists in spite of our blessings instead of because of them. A peace that exists in the presence of all kinds of hardship, trial and persecution. We look at a nation of people who are suffering and we pray for their peace. Why? Could it be that they have more peace in their trials and persecutions than we have in our safety and constitutionally protected freedom to worship? Why do we always think that others have it worse than we do because they do not have air-conditioned or heated auditoriums in which to “freely assemble?”
I write this today because quite honestly I am one of the worst offenders and one who needs to hear the word of Paul afresh. I have recently gone through a period of time (and I’m not quite sure when it will end, but I know it will at some point) in which I have been anything but at peace. Why? I don’t know. I have all the comforts of a profoundly affluent life. I could not even ask for a more loving, beautiful wife or a more precious, amazing daughter. I live in a nice house, have 4 cats, and more guitars than I can play. (Brief aside: even if I just had one, it would still be one more than I could play.) And yet I feel deep within me a turmoil that just won’t go away. I am working on it, but I think part of the problem is that I am trying to understand peace in a manner that is simply foreign to the concept of peace in the Bible, and particularly as Paul used the term.
So, I pray for the peace that passes all understanding. That is biblical. But I also pray for a peace that transcends all of my misunderstandings, too. I don’t want the cheap stuff. I want the real deal. I know I won’t fully comprehend it when I realize that God has already given it to me. That is one of the beautiful aspects of the Divine paradox. I’m just tired of misunderstanding it.
I just read where Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon, has passed away at the age of 82. Being a lover of all things aviation this news hit me particularly hard. There is just something about a human being flying to the moon and back that captivates me, and I am truly sorry that we have decided that it is not important to push the limits of our own skill anymore.
In addition to being the first man to walk on the moon, Armstrong was a quiet hero. He immediately stepped out of the spotlights. As one article I read reported, many faulted him for remaining so quiet. However, the space program is not about one man, it never was. One of Armstrong’s fellow astronauts said that there were many who were physically capable of performing what Armstrong accomplished, but perhaps he was the only one with the emotional strength to live through the following media attention the way he did.
As I reminisce about the flight that truly changed almost everything about our modern world, I wonder how many people today could accomplish what Neil Armstrong accomplished with as little self-congratulation. He was a remarkable team player. He understood that it was not only his two flight mates, but also the dozens of other astronauts as well as the hundreds of technicians in Florida and Houston that made his flight possible. Also, he knew of the series of flights that would follow his and expand on the accomplishments of Apollo 11.
Armstrong’s overall silence makes his words even more powerful. He was one of many who strongly defended the decision to return to the moon, and he bitterly criticized President Obama’s decision to cancel the next moon landing. When someone who is normally reticent about speaking out on matters of public interest speaks with the clarity and the force that Armstrong did you have to take notice. The difference in leadership quality between Obama and Armstrong is stunning. Armstrong accomplished what many dream about but few have the talent to achieve. His humility in the face of his notoriety is all the more remarkable.
America is losing its heros such as Armstrong in greater and greater numbers these days, and I’m not sure that there is anyone “in the wings” so to speak to replace them. It’s not that we do not have anyone accomplishing notable deeds, but the focus then becomes all about them. Case in point – just months after the super secret mission to rid the world of Osama bin Laden a former SEAL team member writes a book about the mission. What used to be unthought of has now become reality – a special forces member writes a book to bring glory, if not to himself and his team, at least to the mission itself. Will this jeopardize the lives of future special forces team members? Who knows. But I cannot see any good coming from it. And it is in such stark contrast to the history of the special forces and their team members. Maybe it is a sign of things to come. If so, it is a sad comment on the nature of those who seek to serve their country in these elite force teams.
With the passing of Neil Armstrong our astronaut hero corp is certainly diminishing. Let us continue to honor these great Americans who risked so much in a peacetime effort to expand mankind’s knowledge and capability. May we all aspire to live our lives in the same kind of pursuit of peaceful means to make our home on this earth just a little more livable.
(Note: an earlier edition of this post erroneously made mention that John Glenn had also passed away. I don’t know how that came to my mind – but I was certainly wrong and glad to report that Sen. Glenn is still alive and well.)
About a month ago I placed a special request on this blog asking my readers if they knew of any ministry positions available. I did get a couple of responses to that request. I want to thank all of those who read that post and who responded or prayed for me and my family.
I wanted to let everyone know that I have accepted a position with the 3rd and Kilgore congregation in Portales, NM to serve as the Director for their Student Center at the Eastern New Mexico University, and I will also serve as an instructor in the department of religion at the university.
This will be a significant change for me. I am used to preaching, and all of the duties associated with being the pulpit preacher. I am going to have to learn a new set of skills, and dust off some others. It will be an exciting time, no doubt. Of course, I plan on maintaining this site and I hope that my work with these wonderful young people will give me fresh insights into the text of Scripture, and I hope to continue providing thought provoking (or just provoking) articles.
There is, however, one additional request that I would like to share, and some of you out there in the cyber-world might be able to help me further. This transition will be expensive for me and my family. If you or your congregation would like to assist us, please respond with a method we can communicate with you confidentially, and I will provide all of the information you need to make a decision as to whether you can help us or not. Our first year will be especially problematic. One of the many “hats” that I will be required to wear is that of fundraising, and we do have plans in store for that process, but it will take at least a year to bear fruit. During those 12 months my wife and I would appreciate all of the help that we can receive, even if it is a one time donation and what you might consider to be small. Our Lord took 5 loaves and 2 fish and fed a multitude, so do not think that he will not do the same with any gift, regardless of size.
If you can help us, please give me your contact information and I will provide all the information that you would like. You can reach me confidentially at my personal email, abqfr8dawg at msn dot com.
We now return to our regular programming…
I have been reminded by the good folks here at WordPress that this will be my 100th post. As I am sometimes much better at looking back than looking forward, I thought this would be a good time to do a little bit of reminiscing.
To begin with, my blog has kind of taken on a life of its own. Originally I had planned for this space to be a collection of more or less shorter discussions of a theological nature. My companion site was to have the longer, more introspective meditations. As I look back on my postings, my site for meditations contains very few entries and they are all short. This site, however, contains some rather lengthy entries, many of which are quite introspective. Oh well, so much for good intentions.
Another thing I wanted to do was to have an entire website devoted specifically to one particular issue, but the people that I chose to design that site are positively impossible to work with, but they roped me into a contract and absolutely will not let me out of it – so I am wasting an inordinate amount of money and getting nothing in return. Since this is my space and I can offer my opinions freely, I will share that in my experience netministry.com is the last place you will want to go to have a website hosted.
Another thing that I have noticed as I look at my statistics is the type of articles that get the greatest number of “reads.” I suppose it is a common occurrence among any type of writer that the book or article that he or she thinks is the greatest thing since sliced bread gets no response, and something written quickly or with less anticipated response gets all the attention. So, out of the 99 previous posts one that stands out is my article on Forgiveness, Prisons and Capital Punishment. I really did not anticipate that article would get that much attention, and it has not generated any comments (at least as far as I can remember), but it routinely shows up on my summary sheet, getting one or more views per day. I am really curious about this. Are there a couple of people out there who keep returning to the article, or is it kind of a catchy title that makes people wonder, “hmmm, what’s up with this?”
Yet another observation is that I tend to get very few responses. Kind of like my preaching, actually, so no surprise there. I am only wishing that if people have a particular response to what I am saying they would let me know. I would like to thank Tim Archer and Joel Porter for their comments. They let me know I am not speaking into an echo chamber.
And, speaking of Tim Archer – he is the #1 driver of hits to this blog. One comment from Tim on Twitter and my averages go way up. His blog is the Kitchen of Half Baked Thoughts, and he uses WordPress as well, although his site is actually hosted through another server.
I know this site is pretty bland – no bells and whistles. Simple minds can only manage simple projects, but for those who regularly – or even occasionally – stop by to see what has been going on in my mind I thank you very, very much. I have really enjoyed writing the blog, the people here at WordPress are great (it is a simple site to use if you would like to create your own blog), and it has been fun to launch some of my meandering thoughts out into cyberspace. I look forward to many more hundreds of posts, but I will take them all one at at time.
I hope you are flying safe through the fog, and if I have helped you then all glory to God (I don’t know Latin, but there is a pretty cool phrase that says that same thing that makes you look really smart.)
(And, by the way, if anyone knows of a ministry opening where someone like your’s truly might be welcome, please let me know. My little girl sure would like to have a place where she knows she will be for a while so she can get a puppy.)
In my last post I pointed out that in Deut. 15:1-11, Moses said both that there should be no poor among the Israelites, and that there always would be poor among the Israelites. I raised the question as to how both propositions could be true. Eventually I will get to that question, but first some more background stuff.
What causes poverty? In our Sunday night discussion we had several good answers, which I will summarize here. NOTE: this is not an exhaustive list, as I am not a sociologist. But I think we did a pretty good job of at least hitting the major sources of poverty.
(1) Laziness. I hate to say this, because those on the left disregard this as a cause of poverty in any form, and those on the right think it is the only cause of poverty. I will address those on the far right at then end of this post, but for those on the left let me just say that you cannot read the book of Proverbs and deny that God equates a large part of poverty with human laziness. It can be seen in a third grader trying to get someone else to do his homework, and an adult who refuses to take care of his or her work, house, or family. Laziness all too often results in poverty.
(2) Serious illness/death. How many people have been driven into poverty as a result of a family member becoming seriously ill, suffering an accident, or losing their life. Suddenly a home that might have two incomes only has a partial income or none at all. Added to that are increased medical costs.
(3) Natural disasters. Think of how many livelihoods are destroyed when a hurricane, tornado, or fire strikes a populated area. Fishing trawlers and barber shops can not be purchased with one’s pocket change. Well, what about insurance, you say? Not everyone can afford to completely insure their livelihood, and some insurance companies refuse to pay under some circumstances and it can be as expensive to force them to pay as it is to recover the loss. Insurance is not the golden parachute that so many people think it is.
(4) The loss of a job for other reasons. Many thousands have discovered that a comfortable lifestyle on Monday can totally disappear by Friday with one simple little pink slip. With the real unemployment rate being well into double digits it is not realistic to suggest that within 3 or 6 months a person trained to do one highly specific job can find employment somewhere else.
(5) Lack of education. Our economy is becoming more technologically demanding and also more demanding of communication skills. These are fields that demand high levels of education. At the same time education costs are skyrocketing (funny how Democrats never complain about the inflation rate of higher education. Don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them??) While this may not be strictly a cause of poverty, it is a factor that makes it virtually impossible to break the cycle of poverty.
(6) Single parent families. Look at any chart of individuals and families in poverty and the largest percentage will be those in single parent families. Now, as with education, this may not strictly be considered a cause of poverty, but it cannot be ignored in the scheme of analyzing the continuation of cyclical poverty.
So, maybe you can add a reason or two. What should this communicate to the Lord’s church? I think the biggest thing we need to see from this list is that only one can be directly controlled by an individual – laziness. Every other cause listed is outside of the control of many living in poverty. Even with single parent households the one parent may have become single due to death or abandonment. If so many causes of poverty lie outside of an individual’s control, we must be extraordinarily careful about assigning guilt to those who live beneath the poverty line.
This is my main grief with those on the right wing of the church who believe that poverty is always a mark of sin and therefore should be dealt with like a spiritual problem. They have a carefully constructed syllogism in their mind: Laziness leads to poverty. John Doe is poor. Therefore, John is lazy. He might be. Or, he could have lost his wife after an 18 month battle with cancer and he suddenly has to deal with three young children by himself. Or his company could have sent his job to India. Or he could have lost everything in a flood, fire, tornado or hurricane. Or he might have become obsolete to his company because his job is now being performed by a robot. Life, and poverty, cannot be neatly summed up in one three-part syllogism.
In part one I stressed the golden rule for churches in terms of poverty: recognizing that the ability to create wealth (and very often the wealth itself!) is a gift from God. In one word, the church needs to learn humility. Now we see that the causes of poverty are many and multi-faceted. Have I changed any minds? Are we beginning to see poverty in a different light?
We now have a pretty solid foundation to move on to the big question: if we are supposed to do away with poverty, why are so many people still poor?
I recently started a series of lessons on the subject of poverty. Based on what I know about the subject it will be a very short series. I am not poor. I have never been poor. I have been raised in one of the most prosperous countries during one of the most prosperous times that human kind has ever experienced. For me to examine poverty is like a dog to examine the lunar rocks returned from the Apollo space missions.
That having been said, I find it increasingly uncomfortable that as I read the Bible I find God deeply concerned with the situation of the poor. I say uncomfortable not because I think God should be unconcerned with the poor, but because I am so unfamiliar with the terrain. As I mentioned in my class this past Sunday night, one passage I find very interesting is the first 11 verses of Deuteronomy 15. In this brief paragraph we are told (1) that there should not be any poor in the land based on how God has blessed his people, and (2) there will always be poor in the land (a passage that Jesus repeats in Matt. 26:11). Why, right after saying there should never be any poor in a land of plenty and blessing, would God say there will always be poor people?
I am concerned about the attitude many Christians display openly, or sometimes carefully conceal, about those in poverty. A pervasive attitude among Christians today is, “Well, I had to work hard to get what I have, I am certainly not going to give it to someone who will not work, and if they want what I have let them work for it like I did.” The problem with such a statement should be obvious (which is why I think we do not say such things openly). However, God’s point of view is this, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.” (Deut. 8:17, 18) There we go. God may not have given us the wealth we have in a pretty wrapped package, but he gave us everything we needed to produce that wealth. But that is just so difficult for us to accept. We want to think we did it all ourselves. We are good Americans, and good Americans pull themselves up by their bootstraps and we don’t take any charity and we build our fortunes by the sweat of our brows.
Except we don’t. Everything that we have, everything that we use to produce our wealth, everything that we think we have produced ourselves has been given to us: it has been provided to us by our God. That is the plain, simple, unvarnished truth. We are all charity cases. And it is only with the humility that truth demands that we can honestly begin to approach the issue of poverty today.
Now, before anyone quotes 2 Thess. 3:10 to me, yes I know that passage is in the New Testament. But we are not talking about labor here. The Old Testament also makes clear that one is to work for his or her support. But the point I am trying to make is that even the labor that was expected of the poor and alien was made possible by a gift of the landowner. An owner was not to reap to the edges and corners of his field, and was not to go over the vineyard a second time, so as to allow the poor and the alien to “work” for their food (Lev. 19:9). Along with this teaching was the year of the sabbath and the year of the Jubilee, in which the land was to lie fallow and all lands were to return to their original caretaker (see Lev. 25). I was about to say “owner,” but the point of the year of Jubilee was to reestablish that the real “landowner” was God himself. The economic system that God devised would be so radically different from our free market capitalism that we could scarcely survive if we were somehow to implement it today. It is so totally, well, unAmerican.
So, my first observation in this topic of the Lord’s church and her response to poverty is this: we have to realize that we are all recipients of God’s gift of wealth. Even if we think we’ve done everything by ourselves we must stop and reconsider that idea. Who gave us our primary education? Who provided the textbooks and buildings? Who made it possible for us to go to college? Who provided us the capital to start our own business? Who provides the labor for us to earn a profit? Who provides us the food and water we need to survive and thrive? Is it clear yet? No one, and I emphasize NO ONE has created their wealth by themselves. We as Americans are the recipients of the greatest gift, and gifts, of any people alive, and I might suggest, who have ever lived.
If we can understand that one golden principle I believe it makes the rest of what I want to share so much easier to accept. More on this in the days to come.
I am not exactly sure who invented the word “snarky.” Whoever it was, I sure do appreciate it. You can say, “sarcastic,” but it just does not have the same tone and verbal punch that “snarky” has.
Admittedly, my last two posts have leaned toward the snarky side. Some might even say that one or both of them have fallen over the cliff and are certifiably snarky. Occasionally I find myself swimming in an ocean of snark and if I am not too careful everything I do reeks of snarkism.
So, as a counter-weight to the last two posts (which, as far as content goes, I stand behind 100%, I just may have gotten carried away with the snarky comments) I would like to post this reflection on gratitude. I want to share some names, and some anonymous references, that have deeply influenced me and whose discipleship has deepened my faith in Jesus. A couple are just very special people to me who helped me in ways they will probably never know.
First, there was a whole group of people in Santa Fe, NM who met (and the congregation is still there) on the corner of Galisteo and Cordova streets. A great group of Christians who laughed and loved and sang and prayed and communed and sometimes fought with each other. Next, there was the much larger family that met at the Montgomery Blvd. congregation in Albuquerque, NM. Men like Harvey Porter and Bobby Hise (who have both passed away) showed me what Christian ministry was all about. A janitor by the name of George Olsmstead gave me one of my first jobs and showed me so much about what a Christian servant should be. A junior high school teacher by the name of Odies Wright showed me what a real smile and laugh looks like. I met great elders like George Tucker and J.T. Stanphill.
Moving a little further down my winding trail there are all the scholars at ACU that molded and shaped me: Ian Fair, Neil Lightfoot, Bill Humble, Eugene Clevenger, Lemoine Lewis, John Willis, Everett Ferguson. In my doctoral studies I have been deeply touched by John Hull, Kurt Fredrickson, Keith Matthews, Todd Hunter, Richard Peace and the entire staff at the D.Min. program at Fuller Theological Seminary.
After a really rough part of my life two ministers at the Netherwood Park congregation – David Nestor and Walter Lane – really helped me straighten some things out. Their gifts may have seemed to them to be exceedingly small, but the significance far outweighs the original size.
My primary flight instructor was named Troy Horchner – who was followed by a whole host of great guys who taught me to keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down. The greatest owner of a company I ever worked for was Wayne South, and the best boss who ever had to chew me out was Colin Crim.
Sometimes I wish I could say what I feel very deeply without getting quite so snarky. Snark does not necessarily advance one’s arguments. I realize that, and acknowledge my failures in that regard. But to these individuals, both named and unnamed, I want to thank you from the bottom of my most unsnarky heart. Just taking a trip down my memory lane and realizing how much I owe to so many has tempered the feelings that bubbled up in my previous posts.
And I promise to apply my snark-o-meter a little more frequently in future posts. Or, at the very least, give a snarky warning at the beginning…