Sunday, September 22, 2013

How is it? Laws, violence and mental health.

How is it that a government agency was treating him for mental illness and yet he maintained access to a military facility?

How is it that he had a record of gun abuse in his past but was hired to do contractual work on a military base?

How is it that he could purchase a shotgun so easily considering his mental health and gun background?

How is it that the US Military forbids its highly trained officers from carrying military issued sidearms on military installations?

How is it that in a city with the highest gun control laws and on a gun-free military base the laws did not work?

How is it that another city with equally strong gun control laws leads the nation in murders?

How is it that in other areas of the country with relaxed gun control laws the incidents of gun-related violence decreases?

How is it that while we have gun laws that are not being enforced some think that adding more laws will turn the tide?

How is it that mental illness and anti-psychotic drugs ars more often than not a factor in these terrible acts of mass shootings, yet restricting guns, not those drugs is the answer?

How is it that in a nation where simulated gun violence is a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry we expect our young men (who play those games) to be peaceful?

How is it?  I'm just wondering.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Wake Up Call Forgotten

September 11, 2001.

I remember well the events of that day.  So shocking were they that the course of an entire nation came briefly to an abrupt halt before making a slight turn.  Shock turned into anger, which turned into a resolve that seemed for a while to pull this vast American union together.

The flags flew.  The seventh inning stretch became a time to sing God Bless America in place of Take Me Out to the Ball Game.  As we watched the rescue efforts at the Pentagon and World Trade Center morph into recoveries we were made ever so mindful of our own mortality.  And that triggered something within us - a spark that was encouraging, but never grew into a flame.

That following Sunday at every church in America seemed like Easter.  Everyone, it seemed came to a realization that God was important in their lives. At least for that moment He was.

But as Americans we proved once again that we live for the moment and not with eternity in mind.  The resurgence of church lasted just a few weeks before waning away.  The requests to open the church doors during the week so prayers could be made on the lunch hour faded.  And instead of making a 180 back to God we just took a bend in the road before getting back on the same old paths away from Him.

And here we are today, twelve years later.  Not only are we not closer to God, as a nation we are running in the opposite direction as fast as our relative moralities will take us.  I wonder what God thinks?  Surely this didn't surprise Him.

Preachers like myself, while hating the evil of 9-11 hoped that perhaps it was a true wake up call leading to a revival like the Great Awakenings or even the Jesus Movement.  But it was not.  Like on a rainy afternoon we were interrupted from our nap only to roll over and go back to sleep.

What will it take to bring America back to our knees?  That's where we need to be.

Before it's too late to change.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Look First in the Mirror

On Sunday afternoon after church, while Grandma was getting Sunday dinner ready it was Grandpa's ritual to take a short nap in his rocker on the front porch of their farmhouse.  One particular Spring Sunday ten year old Johnny had a stroke of mischievous genius.

He walked out to the pasture where Grandpa's dairy cows were grazing and looked for a fresh cow pie.  Taking a stick, he got the end of the stick sufficiently covered and gingerly walked toward the front porch and his napping grandfather.

Grandpa had a healthy mustache.  He told Johnny it was his "cookie duster".  He was also a heavy sleeper, which was in Johnny's favor.  Making sure no adults in the house saw him, he quietly crept up the steps and on to the porch.  With the stick he carefully smeared fresh cow manure on Grandpa's mustache.  Then as quickly as he was quiet, he got off the porch and hid behind the tractor to watch what happened next.

It only took a couple of snoring breaths before the old man's olfactory senses opened his eyes and furrowed his brow.  The squint of his eyes told Johnny that the pungent stench had Grandpa concerned.  As a farmer he was most familiar with the smells of the farm.  But this was stronger than anything he had ever experienced.

He muttered just loud enough for Johnny to hear, "Something around here stinks!".  And rising from the rocker he went on a search to find the source.  First, he went into the house.  Instead of the smell of frying chicken and baking biscuits, he smelled the manure.  "The house stinks!", he told himself.

Grandma was too busy getting the apple pie ready for the oven to notice him walking up behind her in the kitchen.  He had done this hundreds of times over their long marriage, usually to give her a quick peck on the back of her neck.  But this time as he approached her he noted the smell was just as strong.  "She stinks!".  Wisely he didn't speak the words, but just thought them.

Walking out the back door he made his way to the barn, which was filled with sweet, fresh hay.  "The barn stinks!"  Into the hen house, which usually had it's own distinctive smell he went.  But this time the smell was not the same and much stronger.  "The chickens stink!"  The smokehouse, where hams hung curing didn't have that smoky smell that makes your mouth water.  "The smokehouse stinks!".  On and on he went  into every outbuilding and corner of his barnyard.  He couldn't escape that smell no matter where he was.  Grandma's rose garden, the horse stalls, the bee hives.  Even the field planted with winter wheat ready for harvest.

Exasperated Grandpa said loud enough for all to hear, "The whole world stinks!".

Johnny couldn't hold back his laughter.  He knew the truth.  It wasn't the rest of the world that smelled so bad.  It was Grandpa.  He just couldn't see it.

Often, when life doesn't pan out like we think it should, especially if we find it unpleasant, disagreeable or uncomfortable we can quickly come to the conclusion that everyone else is in the wrong and it's someone else's fault, when in reality the problem is our own.  Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing the source of the stench we can come to the conclusion that everyone else is the problem when the problem is as clear as the mustache on Grandpa's face.

Accepting personal responsibility rather than seeking blame is often. a sign we've started at the right place.  It's a lesson we all need to learn.  Crusty manure gets hard to clean off.   But once it is discovered and cleaned, the rest of the world certainly does smell better.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Celebrating Work

How did you spend and celebrate Labor Day?  If you are fortunate, you had a day off.  If you are really fortunate it was a paid holiday.  But many of us worked on Labor Day, not to actually celebrate it, but because we needed to keep our jobs!  But by doing so you kept the local economy rolling or provided necessary services for the rest of us, and we thank you!

More than just the “official” end of the summer tourism season and the beginning of “fall”, Labor Day has its roots in the recognition of something God designed and affirms: work.  Although it is totally secular in its origins as recognition of American labor, the idea of work started even before the very onset of mankind’s creation.

In the very opening words of Scripture we’re told that God used His creative powers to form the universe, including our solar system.  For the first six days He “worked”, speaking into existence all we see or know in nature and astronomy.  Taking the seventh day off to “rest” He set examples for us.  First, work is a good and necessary thing.  Second, we should always take time off after working. 

On that sixth day, after covering all the basics of creation and the animal world God produced a creation designed in His own image: man.  And even with everything provided for him to live and enjoy life Adam and Eve were given “work” responsibilities.  They looked after the garden God had given them as their home.  He had given them intelligence no enjoyed by the rest of creation, and with that intelligence He gave them a task: name all the animals in the garden.  In what we suppose as a life of leisure there was still work to do.  And it must have been enjoyable as they came up with the names and looked after God’s perfectly crafted home.

But apparently they didn’t use their idle time wisely, and found themselves in a pickle.  Rather than trust God for everything, they fell to the temptation of thinking they could become gods themselves and picked and ate the fruit that God had forbidden.  Among the penalties placed upon them for their rebellion was a life of work.  But this work wasn’t simple and easy.  Here’s what God told them:

“The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground…” - Genesis 3:17b-19a.  So next time your work is painful or sweaty, blame it on the poor choices of your progenitors. 

Life would be a dream if we could get back to the garden (think Crosby, Stills and Nash there).  But work – hard work is our lot.  Healthy minded descendants of Adam have learned to accept that and seek to provide the necessities, and if we’re fortunate, the better things of life through work.  Blessed we are as Americans to live in a country where we’re free to work and free to seek whatever kind of employment we desire.  Our economy stands on the backs of working men and women no matter what color their collars.

I know that there are some people who can’t wait to get up and go to work every day.  And those people are especially blessed.  But most of us likely have those days (especially if the fish are running or there’s a great swell) when we’d rather be doing something else.  But we’re blessed, if we have jobs, to be able to punch the clock and earn our living.

Thanks to all who do so.  And to those who may perhaps be currently unemployed, I hope you return to work soon.  Work is what we do, and makes a difference in so many positive ways in our society and in hour homes.