I am afraid.
I’m not, pardon the pun, afraid to admit it.
There is a lot of hatred out there.
News. Internet. Blogs. Facebook. Instagram.
A lot of hate and anger.
Most of that hate and anger is directed at Christians. We are the new pariah; the new villain. Christianity is intolerant, hateful, judgmental, phobic. Think of a vile adjective and it has been hurled at Christians.
What is our response? Hunker down. Bunker down. Retreat into our communities of like minded people.
Take a look at one of those inwardly focused communities. There was a class of very religious men. Devout. Faithful to the rules. Pure and clean and undefiled. These men had very little love, mercy, or compassion. In their eyes, if you were suffering it was a punishment. Maybe you were at fault. Maybe your parents. Someone, somewhere was to blame for your misery.
This class of religious leaders were feared by the people over which they presided. They called anyone who deviated from their teachings as hypocrites. When they saw someone suffering, they passed on by. After all, the sufferer deserve what they got!
Into this morass of religious perversion a lone man appeared. He taught something very radical.Read the rest of this entry
More Flowers for Algernon
My thanks to Micah, my Hutchmoot Secret Santa for an awesome book. “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame” really took me back to my teenage years. Many of the stories I recall reading way back then in other anthologies as “classic science fiction”. It was a real treasure to read some of them again. My favorite so far, “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes. This story of a mentally challenged man who is given an operation that triples his I.Q. only to lose it again was one of the most moving and touching stories I ever read. I just read it again and it is as moving and timeless today as when it was published in 1959.
Charlie’s struggle with growing awareness of the world around him as his intelligence grew reminded me of my own growing awareness of the brokenness of the world around me as I aged. It is a story of the loss of innocence. Like Charlie, I cherished the laughter from other kids over my lack of co-ordination growing up. I even played to that clumsiness, capitalizing on it to gain recognition. When I was a junior in high school, I transformed this slapstick schtick into a dramatic role in a play. Because of the popularity of that role, I won the election for student council president for my senior year.
After I felt a call to be a doctor, I was alarmed when my own mother began telling others that she didn’t think I could be a doctor because I might “drop somebody’s brain during surgery. He trips over his own feet.” I realized, I had become what others saw in me. I had fulfilled my own worst nightmare. We become what people see in us. How many times have we said “I will never be like that!” when seeing traits in our parents that are undesirable only to find ourselves shaking an angry finger at our own children and wondering “How did I get my father’s finger?”
Charlie, in “Flowers of Algernon” has a moment when he sees a mentally challenged boy break dishes at a cafe. He watches in horror as people laugh and make fun of the boy and the boy smiles right back, unaware he is being ridiculed. For Charlie, the horror of that moment comes when he realizes he laughed, too!
In this time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth we see both good and bad discussions of the Nativity. The “war on Christmas” always arises and the arguments are strident and shrill. The inevitable atheist attacks on Christianity reach their highest point such as the billboard in Times Square that says “Dump the Myth” with a picture of the crucified Jesus. And yet, they say there is “no agenda”.
Every human being is born with an innate knowledge of God. Even science has discovered that the human brain is “hard wired” to believe in God. We have to teach our children to be atheists. Richard Dawkins has written an book in the last year aimed at children to tell them that belief in God is wrong and that believing in science and evolution is the elegant and beautiful thing to do. If there is no God, then why hasn’t He disappeared from our collective consciousness over the past two thousand years? We have tried and tried to remove God from our thinking; from our culture; from our world. And yet, God keeps resurfacing; showing up over and over in spite of our efforts to move to a more civilized, non superstitious, evolved level.
Could it be that like the mentally challenged Charlie, we are unaware of the effect God has on our lives until we see Him clearly? Like the boy breaking the dishes, we keep having these moments of clarity and paradigm shifting when we see through our human veil the divine. In that moment, instead of laughing, some of us are horrified; alarmed; afraid of the existence of God. What does that mean for our lives? What will we become if we accept that there is a God? We will no longer be free to be our own god; to form our own morality; to answer only to our own needs. Science answers the “how” but cannot answer the “why”. Science gave Charlie a huge increase in his intelligence but at the price of his innocence. Science might have made Charlie smart, but it was his experience with others that made Charlie wise. Ah, there is the rub. Science makes us smart. God makes us wise.
Charlie was not bitter when his mind returned once again to the state of shattered innocence. The one thing he recalled was true meaning of friendship and the significance of love. In order to spare his friends the pain of seeing him in his fallen state, his love for them drove him to leave his work and his friends and find a new life.
In my final installment of the teachings of Jesus it is fitting that his most memorable sermon should be mentioned:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We are not blessed if we are simple minded like Charlie before his operation. We are blessed because we have seen God; we have come to know our fallen state. God’s presence in our lives has shown us the emptiness of selfishness; of arrogance; of pride. I have been God and I did not like it at all. My mother’s words about my incoordination were a cold wash of shame, but they served to remind me I am not perfect. And, only God can be perfect. I must look outside myself for God’s standard and His love to find meaning for my life. As long as I go along within my own strength, being my own god, I will stumble and fall and fail and laugh and be laughed at. But humility, meekness, mercy, peace are the gifts of living against the standard of God and not in its place.
This holiday season, see those around you. Do not laugh; do not ridicule; do not be arrogant and prideful and godlike. Rather, see your own weaknesses and revel in them; rely on God to supplant those weaknesses with new strengths that will give you an eternal perspective on the world around you.
And, then, put away the things of the past and place some flowers on the grave of Algernon. Move on in God’s strength and make the coming years and all the years after that truly Blessed!
Just Another Plankeye!
I was interviewed on Nightwatch Radio Tuesday evening. Todd and Hugh and Johnny and I had a great time talking about monsters and movies and comic books. Eventually, the subject of religion came up. After all, I am a Christian and my Christian fiction book, “The 12th Demon” was the subject of the interview. I found it interesting to hear the usual attitudes towards average “Christians” from Todd. And, I can’t blame him! That reputation is well earned. Todd was very gracious in his comments and I had to agree with him. As a Southern Baptist, I can talk about Southern Baptists. But, my comments on today’s blog go beyond my denomination to all denominations of the Christian church.
You see, the accusations that are always aimed at us are universally recognized. They are represented by such words as judgmental, arrogant, holy roller, Bible thumper, and so on and so on until the “H” word is finally uttered. HYPOCRITE! As an apologist, one who defends the truthfulness of the Christian faith, I can’t possibly count all of the times I have heard the number one objection to someone becoming a Christian: “All of you Christians are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites!”
I’m in the middle of examining the teachings of a simple carpenter; focusing on his words of wisdom and trying not to focus on his “religious” claims. As I stated in earlier posts, no matter what our station in life I think we can all agree that these teachings of Jesus of Nazareth can be applied to every human being. And, the world would be a much better place if we did. So, just what is a hypocrite? Here is a definition of hypocrisy:
“the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform. ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French ypocrisie, via ecclesiastical Latin, from Greek hupokrisis ‘acting of a theatrical part,’ from hupokrinesthai ‘play a part, pretend,’”
Anyone who claims to have certain moral standards OR to adhere to certain beliefs and then acts in the opposite manner is a hypocrite. Interesting. Nowhere in that definition does it say: “A person professing Christianity who acts in a manner contrary to the teachings of Christ.”
Although I would certainly say that the above statement would be consistent with a hypocrite, hypocrisy is NOT CONFINED to religion. In fact, I would claim that every single human being on the face of the planet is a hypocrite. We all espouse a high system of behavior or beliefs but we routinely violate those principles with our actions. A simple example would be the claim that I do not lie. Yet, when my wife asks me “Does this dress make me look fat?” I wisely choose to be a hypocrite rather than to become a fool!
What did Jesus have to say about this? Or did he even address it? After all, he was a religious person. And, in the minds of most people if you are religious then by default you are a hypocrite. Was Jesus a hypocrite? Let’s see what Jesus had to say as recorded by his disciple Matthew.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”
On and on, Jesus used the word, hypocrite. And, here is what is interesting. Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders of the day! He was calling them hypocrites because their behavior and their religious claims were totally at odds. In fact, it was because of these kind of statements that angered the religious leaders that contributed to his death.
It would be very easy to apply these teachings to those of us who practice religion in the 21st century. But, I believe the lessons of Jesus of Nazareth cut both ways. In fact, I would say that his accusations of religious hypocrisy also could apply to our behavior towards one another in general. Look at the specific truth in each of the above statements:
First, we crave recognition for actions that should best be kept to ourselves. When we pray, it should not be for recognition but a private affair between us and God. When we give to those in need, it should not be for recognition but because it is the right thing to do.
Second, we want to tell someone what they “should” do but we fail to stop and look at our own behavior first. What set of circumstances gives us the right to tell others what they should be doing? Frankly, we should practice what we preach!
Third, we set up rules and regulations, just as the Pharisees did, and then follow them to the letter disregarding the necessity for us to ALSO show mercy and forgiveness. Rules are important but never more important than the needs of the one person they are going to hurt or destroy.
Fourth, on the outside, we often appear perfect, polished, poised, collected, in control but more often than not inside we are dying. We are often the walking dead; filled with regret, shame, doubt, fear, suppressed anger, and the like. This one category alone describes almost all of us and we are all hypocrites in this respect. What if we lived in a world where we were honest about our faults and our doubts and our shortcomings? What if we lived in a world where we truly had to rely on each other to get through the day? What if we lived in the kind of world that Jesus longed for us to have — a world of mutual respect, kindness, mercy, openness, giving, and compassion?
Fifth, you don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate these realities. In fact, when we call other people hypocrites, we are ourselves becoming a hypocrite, setting ourselves up as morally superior when in fact, through our judgmental, arrogant attitudes we have just become a hypocrite!
This Christmas season, let’s listen to the teachings of Christ. Let’s look at each other through his eyes and see the person within that may be hurting or in need of just a little love and compassion. That could be the greatest gift we could give to someone this holiday season!
Is Santa Dead?
The little boy could not have been over 4, maybe 5 years old. He was wearing a sweatshirt meant for a kid around 7 and it swallowed him. He sat on the examining table playing with a straw, bending and flexing the jointed part of the straw. His mother sat in a chair, silent, sullen and withdrawn. I had already decided I was not going to become a pediatrician, but that didn’t keep me from seeing children in the Comprehensive Care Clinic. I was halfway through my senior year in medical school and proudly called myself “Student Doctor Hennigan”. As student doctors, we began to see our own patients in the CCC beginning our junior year. The care of these patients was overseen by family practice physicians with years of training. Any decision we made as students was directed by our “attending” physicians.
I had on my short white coat longing for the day I could move into the long, white coat — the “uniform” of a real doctor. On my breast pocket, I had pinned a flashing Santa Claus face that winked and blinked. I pointed to the pin. “What is Santa bringing you this year?”
The little boy flipped the straw and shrugged. “Santa Claus is dead.”
My mouth fell open and I glanced at the mother. A fiery defiance filled her eyes and she raised an eyebrow. “That’s right. Santa’s dead. In fact, you pronounced him dead, didn’t you Doctor?”
I stuttered. I opened and closed my mouth and she stood up and stepped very close. Her gazed bored into mine. “Now, you listen here. You brought up Santa to my son and I done told him Santa ain’t coming. I had to tell him Santa died cause I ain’t got no money this year for Christmas. You understand? And, unless you gonna cough up some dough, I suggest you tell my son that Santa is dead as a door knob and you personally pushed his body down to the morgue.”
I turned quickly and left the room, slamming the door behind me and stood there in the hall gasping for breath. This is not what I was prepared for in medical school. Santa was dead and I had pronounced him? Tears stung my eyes and I leaned against the wall with the sudden realization that as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t help everyone anymore than I could heal everyone. I had no money myself. I lived off of borrowed student loans or I would march back in and press a wad of twenties into that mother’s hands so that kid could have Christmas that year. But, instead, I limped away to my attending and begged for direction. He just laughed and told me to go back in and take care of the child’s physical needs.
“It’s not our place to promote magical thinking.” He sneered at me. “Go back and examine that child and don’t you say another word about Santa. And, take that stupid pin off your coat.”
I avoided the mother’s gaze while I took care of the child. I never mentioned Santa or Christmas again. I gave her a prescription for antibiotics and stiffly walked out of the room. I had no prescription for her bitterness.
Two thoughts come to mind when I recall this incident.
1 — Our culture wants to kill Santa and any and all “magical” thinking. Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist, has published a book telling children they should appreciate the universe for what it is and to encourage parents to avoid discussions of God as “magical” thinking. No matter where you stand on the issue of the existence of God, such thinking robs our children of the most important tool their minds possess — imagination. It is imagination that led to the discovery of every great scientific development through the history of mankind. It is imagination that has given us music, art, the spoken word, film, the written word, and, yes, Santa Claus. If we discourage our children to think outside the box, we condemn the future of mankind to a cold, sterile death. We indeed kill Santa Claus and every positive thought; every positive development that is to come. We become automatons; biological robots slave to our DNA. This is the ultimate end results of naturalism, the philosophy based on evolution. Just take a look at the one society in the last century that perfected a culture based on naturalism — survival of the fittest — Nazi Germany. I personally don’t want to go there as a society. So, we need to endure the results of magical, imaginative thinking — in fact, encourage it. For, there is truth here. Santa Claus came from the story of a real man; a real human being who saw the suffering of children and reached out to them in secret and that man’s legacy lives on in Santa Claus. If we kill Santa Clause, we kill kindness and mercy and generosity. As a society we can ill afford that right now!
2 — This is the season of light; the season of giving; the season of sacrifice. No matter where you stand on the issue of Christ’s birth, there is no denial that Jesus was born in extreme poverty. His birth was quiet and unnoticed save for the angels’ announcement to the lowest of workers — shepherds. And yet, the proclamation of joy and hope by the angels was undeniable. And, in time, the Christ child would be visited by the highest of the high, three kings; three magi — wise men bearing gifts of great worth. This season as you travel about in the hustle and bustle of buying gifts and going to parties and cooking and enjoying the closeness of friends and family, pause to remember a tiny boy seated on a cold examining table playing with a straw under the impression that the spirit of giving has died. Reach out and give to those who do not have. Spread joy and happiness to those who are living in perpetual sadness. Be a Santa to those who are in need and you will prove that Santa is not dead and neither is the spirit of giving so fittingly exemplified by God’s Gift to mankind — His only Son.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25-29
In the coming days, I will share with you how one day, not long after the events in this story, I actually KILLED Santa Claus!
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