Merry Christmas! Here are 5 free Christmas Classics for Kindle. Just click on the book cover and it will take you to Amazon and your free book:
Merry Christmas! Here are 5 free Christmas Classics for Kindle. Just click on the book cover and it will take you to Amazon and your free book:
His dog would do the most peculiar thing
He would cuddle his master
While using his paw to pet and stroke
The master’s head.
Everyone thought this to be beautiful
Except for Richard the math teacher
Who used to be an engineer.
He thought it to be wholly out of order –
against the nature of things.
Miracles do not happen
All that occurs can be explained.
So the beauty is lost and love is unseen.
Except between the man and his dog.
Ferguson, Injustice, Truth & Peace
Frustrated and sad. But frustrated above all things. That is how I would describe my thoughts about Ferguson. It should come as no surprise that my opinion of Ferguson falls somewhere in the middle and therefore likely satisfies no one. That is the story of my life whether it be theology, politics, people. I tend to not see things dualistically. Instead of “either or” my mind has always been drawn to “both and”. Its incredibly frustrating going through life like this because sometime in my early teens I realized that the vast majority of people do not see things the way that I do. I’m not sure why I am this way; I just am. Ferguson is the latest best example of my mind’s refusal to toe the dualistic line.
In my quest to come to a solid opinion on the matter, to choose a side so to speak, I decided to ignore the sensationalistic news reports, stop reading blogs and Face-Book post on Ferguson. Instead, I read much of the official evidence and testimony. Here is a link to all the evidence submitted to the grand jury. FERGUSON EVIDENCE It offers both sides of the story and gives every relevant party’s side of what occurred. I encourage you to read it.
Unfortunately, after looking at the evidence, I ended up where I began. Ferguson is a tragedy of epic proportions for everyone involved. The evidence gives us a young man who has lost his way and has just robbed a store, that is undisputed. He, like almost everyone who has grown up in his environment, is distrustful and hostile to police. Not because he is a thug but because he has seen innocent blacks harassed, abused and arrested. He has seen the proportion of force used excessive toward black males when compared to while males. Finally, more than anything, he has seen a justice system that is unjust toward black males. Our justice system is terribly broken, and black Americans have the right to be angry and demand the injustice end. Too many sons, brothers and husbands have died or disappeared into prisons.
There is also a young cop who has a good record. There is no reason to assume this particular cop acted with malice unless you assume all cops do so. The worst possible thing he did is that he panicked while considering himself under attack. A large criminal, who had just robbed a convince store and accosted its clerk, came through the cop’s window and attempted to take his gun from him. He then refused to obey a police officer and dared the officer to shoot him. He then turned and charged toward the officer “like a bull” according to a black eye witness. He was shot. It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. It is devastating for the family and friends of Michael Brown, but it was not a crime.
The crime here is not Darren Wilson’s, and it is not even Michael Brown’s. The crime that MUST be addressed is our broken criminal justice system when it comes to black men. Dr. King’s dream of racial harmony and equality will never occur until blacks are treated equally when it comes to crime and justice. However, Ferguson is NOT the case to make the point, and I fear the cause may be set back and actually harmed if the case continues to be used in this way.
Who among us would not use force against a male attacker who is several inches taller and pounds heavier than us? Who would not use deadly force against this male when he has entered our car through the window and fought us for a firearm? Who would not shoot when the same male turns towards us and charges? If you go to the evidence through the link above these facts are indisputable as given by a number of black eyewitnesses.
I understand the anger. I really do, and I share it as much as a white man who has not lived it can. But let’s use this as a teaching moment to bring justice not inflict another injustice. Let us not act or speak for revenge but redemption, renewal, and restoration. Darren Wilson is not responsible for the criminal injustice many blacks have faced in our judicial system, and he should not be the scapegoat for it. No good will come from that. America is responsible for the injustice of our judicial system toward blacks, and it will take America coming together to fix the problem. Nothing will be achieved by our further alienating one another and stoking the flames of fear and hate.
Ferguson is a national tragedy, but it can be a tragedy redeemed if we listen, learn, and act. Let the change begin today.
Billy Cosby has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. In a sense, my generation are his children. In our childhood, we rushed to our television sets every Saturday morning to watch “Fat Albert” and his gang. We have seen countless jello and pudding commercials, and we ate the stuff by the case, because Bill told us to. Then, as we entered High School and headed for college Bill became our national dad. The lessons the Huxtable clan learned from their jazz loving father became our life lessons as well.
Earlier this month former actress, now mother, Barbara Bowman wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post titled “Bill Cosby raped me: Why did it take 30 years for people to believe my story?” There is a simple, yet tragic, answer to the question. We didn’t want to believe her. He was our funny, kind, loving and incredibly wise father who would never harm an innocent girl.
I remember the paternity suit and claims of an affair by Autumn Jackson. I ignored it, as much of the country did, and if it was true we released it as an adult child would after learning that their father strayed years before in his youth. I remember a charge of rape sometime in the 1990’s but immediately filed it under someone trying to get money from a kind old man. Soon the charge disappeared. We now know that the lawsuit was quickly settled after Mrs. Bowman agreed to testify for the victim and establish a pattern of Cosby preying upon young girls. There are hints that more former victims were willing to do the same. Millions were paid, and the charge went away.
For my generation, there was perhaps noone who was held in higher esteem than Bill Cosby, certainly no entertainer. It is unthinkable that there is a line of female victims which reaches all the way back to 1969. However, the anecdotal evidence is piling up, and it is beginning to appear that at least some of the charges are true. Within a week, the Huxtable’s have vanished from television. Cosby’s much-ballyhooed new sitcom has been cancelled before it even began, and television specials of his revived stand up act have been canceled.
We don’t want to believe that “good guys” can do bad things but they can and they do. The paradox of our human nature is that we can be selfish and selfless, kind and cruel, arrogant yet insecure all at the same time. Christian theology calls it our sin nature and apart from God, it is capable of unfathomable evil.
Bill Cosby gave millions to charity. He taught us to work hard, respect our parents, get a good education and to pull up our pants. The values we learned from him can stand apart from the man.
A string of women has come forward spanning decades, including most recently, model Janice Dickinson, claiming sexual assault, drugging and rape. We can’t ignore it any longer. In our country’s legal system, the accused are innocent until proven guilty. However, in the court of public opinion it is time to give the benefit of the doubt to the victims rather than to Cosby.
Mrs. Bowman, we are so sorry we didn’t believe you. We pray that you find justice for the evil you endured. Please try to understand that he was our friend. He was the teacher everyone wanted. He was the coach for whom everyone wanted to play. He was our dad, and our hearts are broken.
*If you are interested in more on the Cosby charges, my friend Karen Zacharias has an interesting post you can read by clicking here: Truth Stands Alone
Turn Down the Volume! Turn Down the Noise!
Have you noticed how loud it has gotten? Am I the only person who feels as if I am being shouted at during commercials? Does anyone else get distracted in movies by the noise seeping through from the adjoining cinema? I have a friend in his 30’s who has to wear hearing aids because of the damage done to his hearing over decades of attending concerts. What is with all the noise?
I have a theory. Things are getting louder because we are becoming inept as a culture to hearing. We do not know how to listen. Slowly, we have raised individualism to such a cult status that we no longer see the need to hear what anyone else is saying.
Have you noticed how much more vulgar our language has become and how that which was completely unacceptable in polite language not long ago is now common place? I was in 7th grade before I heard the “F” word and was an adult before I heard it used by someone in public. Fat chance that being the case today.
Vulgar language has traditionally been used in interpersonal communication as a volume blasts so to speak. In the past it was a way of breaking through, shocking, getting another’s attention in order to be heard when one otherwise would not be heard. Could it be that one of the reasons we are cursing more is that we are listening less? Is it possible that cursing has become a way of turning up the volume so that we feel heard? Where do we go when there are no other words to use because the worst of our vocabulary has been expended?
We watch television or get on the computer to zone out whatever is occurring or being said. We have spent millions on ear buds in order to not have to engage one another. A culture that has lost the art of listening becomes increasingly polarized, defensive, estranged. And one of the biggest sicknesses that arise out of our cultural deafness is we begin to lose grasp of that which is beautiful.
We do not just lose our ability to recognize beauty in music and nature, but we loose all that is born creatively when we are attuned to our culture, nature and environment. The ability to listen is the ability to engage and interact. When that is lost, creativity is severely stunted.
Beauty is born out of the same obscure passion that animates every artist – no matter what type of art they are producing. For writers, like myself, the thing that animates us is a love of the language. We see words, phrases and all language as intimate, mysterious and powerful medians capable of producing something beyond ourselves.
For readers to enjoy what has been written, for them to dive into the full depths of its potential beauty, they must know how to listen attentively; hearing tones and overtones, changes of pitch. To fully engage a novel, short story or poem the readar must be as alert as he would be if he and the author were in a dinner conversation together.
How can one achieve such a state of engagement with art in today’s culture of noise? Live an increasingly simplified life. Develop a spirit that values silence. Revel in the joy of doing nothing other than sitting and taking in the beauty that is all around. Read with an intention to see and hear the beauty rather than a for a quick escape or immediate thrill.
Listen so you can hear. Listen so you can see. Listen so you can feel.
“I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow;
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me.”
*This is the sixth part in an ongoing series dealing with the topic of beauty. You can find the discussion following these links: Beauty Part 1, Beauty Part 2, Beauty Part 3, Beauty Part 4, Beauty Part 5.
Rome, Georgia is my hometown. I think it is one of the most beautiful towns in the country. Unfortunately, like so many of our towns and cities it used to be much more beautiful than it is today. In the past, when Rome was originally built, people instinctively thought about beauty as an essential element of creating buildings, towns, cities and communities. Today, we think of growth and profit as essential and beauty, at best takes a back seat.
Historian Johan Huizinga explains that, in the past, we insisted on having artistic beauty in all aspects of life. From book covers to building designs, the souls of people, in whatever area of life they worked and lived, demanded they do things in a manner that created beauty. Int he past art and beauty were, “in the midst of life,” he writes. Unfortunately, he says that today we have set art and beauty “apart from life.” Beauty, at best, is something you pay to go see somewhere else, instead of within your home or outside your own window.
In the past people built their entire cultures, society and environment around, through and into what was beautiful. Today, we relegate it to museums, galleries, and universities.
In our communities, we have somehow bought the lie that in order to have growth economically, we must sacrifice our innate spiritual need to encounter that which is beautiful in our daily lives. Instead of building original, creative and beautiful homes, we now tour the beautiful homes of the past. Instead of filling our home with that which is beautiful, we visit museums and galleries occasionally. Meanwhile, our souls cry out for something beyond the mundane and practical.
Gentle fields of meadow gold with the sun setting beyond the horizon, as a single tree stands watching guard, whispers to us the love of a creator God. A hundred houses that all look the same built in that pasture tells us nothing except perhaps conformity.
A bustling market filled with a full display of human creativity; character and ingenuity, awakens something within our human condition and gives life. A square box filled with lots of stuff that looks just like thousands of others through out the country, tells us our souls need things to possess rather than people to love and beauty to behold.
Christians have accepted the lie of modern apologist such as Freud and Darwin who argued that beauty is a “hoax” and “has no obvious use: nor is there any clear cultural necessity for it.” However, observation and history show us that when beauty is lost, people begin a subtle slide into becoming stunted and incomplete. Our creator God created us to create and to enjoy that which has been created. Beauty’s decline is bad for the soul.
So what can be said to a culture consumed by pragmatism and the bottom line so much that it is willing to sacrifice the eternal and beautiful? Perhaps the answer can be found in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables when Bishop Dignes says that the “beautiful is as useful as the useful … More so, perhaps.”
Please don’t feed the homeless!
There are few things I have done in my life and ministry that I am certain were true, pure and good. But, there is one thing I know for sure – feeding the homeless was right. My wife and I getting up more than once in the middle of the night and paying for a young abused mother and her children to have a hotel room was pure. Opening our home to a young man who had spent a year on the streets was good. Giving clean, dry socks and a new pair of shoes to an alcoholic whose feet were raw from living in the rain for days was true.
There is a lot of room for disagreements and discussions about what Scripture means when it says this or that but there are a few things that are very clear. “Whatever you do for the least of these, you have done it to me,” leaves no room for discussion. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is nothing if it is not clear as crystal. There is little confusion to prompt disagreement with “judge not lest you be judged” and “whoever is without sin may cast the first stone.”
I am beginning to believe we have lost a key to interpreting Scripture correctly, and that is to interpret toward love. Thats what Christ did. At least it sure looks that way to me.
So, what is a pastor to do when his city makes it illegal to feed the poor, hungry and homeless?
Yes, you read that right boys and girls. The city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida has passed a law making it illegal to care for “the least of” those among them. Whoever said we were a self-absorbed generation? We just want to drive the homeless and hungry into the woods so we don’t have to see the unsightly drama of their starvation.
But do not lose hope. Not everyone is looking the other way. There are at least three pastors in Fort Lauderdale (Really? Only three? And we wonder why the wider culture thinks Christians are a joke and all hypocrites).
One of the pastors is not even a pastor anymore. Arnold Abbott is a 90-year-old retired pastor who now is facing jail time because he decided last Sunday that instead of going to church he would actually be the church. He did this by giving out food to the hungry and homeless in public. He was arrested, fined and has a court date where he will face 60 days in jail. He plans to do it again on Wednesday when he expects to feed some of the city’s 10,000 homeless.
“I am my brother’s keeper, and what they are doing is just heartless,” Abbott said.
Those who argue for the law say that feeding the homeless encourages them to stay on the streets. However, in 25 years in ministry, I never met someone without a home or food who decided to become or stay homeless so they could get a cold bowl of soup and a dry sandwich. People become homeless because they are out of options, addicted to a substance or mentally ill. People stay homeless because they have lost hope.
I have no idea if Pastor Abbott and I would agree on the finer points of theology or doctrine, and I could care less. When I saw pictures of him caring for the homeless of his city, I saw Jesus, and that was enough for me.
Every Monday my church provides a meal for the homeless of our city. This coming Monday I am going to be there in honor of Pastor Abbott. I am sure there are “soup kitchens” in your community as well. Would you like to join me? Wherever you are?
Why Beauty Matters
What images, either through words, film, art or music, have changed you? If you stop and think about it you may be surprised how much beauty has shaped who you are today. Possibly the most powerful image to shape my life came first from written words and later the same image as it was produced in film. It is the image of Atticus Finch, from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Atticus has just lost his case where his client, an innocent black man, was found guilty because of racial prejudice. His daughter, Scout, is in the balcony watching and as Atticus begins to leave the court room the local minister taps Scout and tells her to stand up. “Your father is passing,” he says.
That image tells so much. It tells us that justice is right and worth fighting for even against the odds. It tells us that character does not always win but it is always right. For me, it represented the kind of man and father I wanted to be. Do not dismiss beauty, in whatever form it may take because it has the power to transform and shape your life. Images of beauty makes us dream of a better world and strive for our better selves.
I believe that all art, in whatever form, is intensely spiritual. Images of beauty created through music, canvas, or words are the highest expression of the human spirit and push us to levels of experience and understanding that often cannot be defined.
Think about your experiences reading. Which has stayed with you longer an explanation of how something occurred or works or a picture created in your mind through an image or description? The best writing is that which is image driven rather than instructional. This is one reason I am so frustrated with the state of modern publishing, particularly that which labels itself “Christian.” They churn out books that tell us how to win, not sin, please God, stand up against culture, and all sorts of list and things to do and not do. But where is the beauty? Where is the creativity? One exceptional book that gives us beauty and allows to to see beyond ourselves and the present will change far more lives than some bland how to book. Where is the beauty in “Christian” publishing today?
When we live by beauty and love, our lives with each other and with our creator grow beyond doctrine, theology or self-help sermons. “Right answers” seem shallow and simplistic when they are confronted with love and beauty. It is shocking how rarely Jesus seemed to be concerned with right answers, or even right behavior. It was his enemies that seemed to be consumed with such things. Jesus was much more interested in the human heart and assumed that a heart which produced beauty and love was what was desired rather than one that produced answers.
Increasingly I am finding that my soul is longing for beautiful images of my faith and that three point sermons, weekend seminars and books that either point out everything thats wrong or promise to make everything right are inadequate and stifling. I long to see dead instruction replaced by beautiful transcendent images.
So here is a question – “Does the way you are living your life encourage others to love better and to be image bearers of beauty? Does it cause others to dream? Or, does the path you set them on lead them to a religion of deeds and doctrine? Images are powerful. What are you creating?
I believe one of the most beautiful pieces of art hangs on the wall of my office. When I saw it seven years ok through a picture on the internet, I immediately knew what represented. It spoke powerfully to my soul and spirit. I had to have it and within weeks it arrived. There is only one in the world, and it hangs in my office. There is no way to measure the hope and beauty it has brought to my life.
However, there is a reason it hangs in my office rather than my living room, den or bedroom. My wife does not like it – at all. She does not “get it” as some would say, and she is not alone. I can not tell you the times I have excitedly and proudly ushered people into my office to show them my pride and joy only to be met with blank stares and awkward responses. There have been people who have liked this particular piece of art, and a few who even seemed to have been as moved by it as I am. But they are the minority.
So how does one explain that I was so moved by something that I spent money I did not have to get that others look at with empty expressions and bewilderment? The answer lies in a rarely acknowledged truth about beauty and creativity. Art and beauty are not created by the artist – they are begun.
No matter what form art takes – visual, written, auditory or any other, the artist only provides the spark of genius to begin the process for bringing beauty into the world. There is an equally important person involved in the process of beauty, and that is the receiver. Art is a participatory experience.
“A painting which elicits no response from a viewer never lives,” writes author Madeleine L’Engle. A song that is not heard or evokes no effect has died somewhere between the musician and the hearer. If I write a book or poem and the reader cannot create it with me, then that book is “stillborn.” The person who listens and hears, who reads, who understands, and who sees is equally a creator as the one who set down the words to paper, applied paint to a canvass, or played notes upon their instrument.
There is no higher joy for a writer or artist than when we encounter someone who completed what we began.
Beauty is not something to read, see, or hear. It is an event for one to share. Beauty is a glorious thing that occurs when the artist, God, and the receiver become co-creators with each other. The creative process loudly proclaims our reliance upon each other and God.
Recently, I have discovered the Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi. When I listen to his “Nuvole Bianche,” I compose along with Einaudi as I hear it and allow it to take me to deep places within myself. As a writer, I spend hours and sometimes years writing a poem or book. However, whatever I have written only can become beautiful if someone reads it and finishes what I began.
Now go and create something beautiful with another!
*Mixed Media piece by Grace Carol Bomer