Sunday, November 27, 2011



Forgiveness is a tricky thing. For me, when a person has gone to all the trouble to hurt me, I have a pretty thick skin, I can be pretty cut and dried on dealing with that person in the future. The defense mechanism that has developed within my 59 dysfunctional years has taught me to "Shut a Door" in my mind. As far as I am concerned, that person no longer exists. I have locked away any feelings, good or bad, I have had for this person - I guess in the digital age, I hit the delete key. From a spiritual and psychological perspective this is the worst thing I could do. I would assume many of you have been hurt or have hurt someone. Whether it is asking for forgiveness and actually forgiving someone, we often let our pride get in the way. In many ways we are hurting ourselves at a far deeper level than we could imagine. Holding those feelings and memories within just festers like a dirty wound. Hurt turns into bitterness, bitterness is followed by hatred, and as Yoda would say - "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to the Dark Side".

My best recollection of experiencing the healing affects of forgiveness was when my ex-wife, Angela, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). We had a horrific divorce. We said things about each other and generally took every opportunity to hurt each other. I can honestly say I hated her. When I heard the diagnosis, I called her. I really didn't know what to say and I blurted out, "I am sorry for all of the things I have done to hurt you and I would like to have this behind us." She expressed the same to me. We decided the past was in the past and that we needed to forgive each other; so, we did just that. What I can't get over was how I felt after that phone call with Angela. It was as if a physical weight had been taken off of my shoulders. I cried all of the way home.I joined her husband Curtis, our daughter Sarah and son Nathan to be there for Angela. It was a tough time for all of us as she slowly disintegrated in front of us. In May of this year I had the privilege to be sitting on one one side of her bed holding her hand as Curtis sat on the other doing the same as she passed away. 

What I couldn't realize at the time was that I had been spending so much time feeding that hatred, that I was destroying myself. That deep seated hatred begins to feed off of itself and you become addicted to thinking how you could hurt this person.

Jesus made a few comments that hit this issue dead on:

"Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors."
Matthew 6:12 - (NIV)
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
Matthew 6:14-15 - (NIV)
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your bother; then come and offer your gift."
Matthew 5:23-24 - (NIV)
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over."
Matthew 18:15 - (NIV)

Did you notice Jesus nailed both sides of this equation? To the person who has been hurt - go to the one who hurt you. The the offending person - go and be reconciled. This theme is carried throughout the New Testament. If we really do believe that we have been saved by the grace of God through faith, and know that all of our wrong-doing has been forgiven; how can we not forgive those who have hurt us?

In all seriousness - look at your life and try to see who you may have hurt or who has hurt you. Reach out and see if forgiveness can take place. In 12 Step programs they talk about:
  • Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • Make a list of all the persons we have harmed, and become prepared to make amends to them all.
  • Make direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong admit it.
Now AA takes it from the side of the offender, but Jesus asks us to take it to the next step. He knew if you just sat around waiting for this person to come on their knees asking forgiveness - that may never happen. During that time you continue to fester. Please reach out and find peace in your life. You will be happy you did.

P.S. At the request of Josephine, here is another Johnny Cash song that fits this blog

Saturday, November 19, 2011



In 1863 our country was at its most divided point in our history. Americans were locked in a Civil War that would see the deaths of over 150,000 Americans. Yet, in the midst of that horrible conflict, President Abraham Lincoln gave this proclamation to ask all Americans to pause and think about the things for which we are thankful.

Currently in 2011, we see the lines of division rising among our people. We still have our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and other loved ones in harm's way from Afghanistan, Iraq and other areas of military deployment. We are seeing class warfare being used to rekindle old hatreds. Many have lost their jobs and homes and we see this economic malaise has gone far beyond our borders. Many are afraid for the future and some almost to the point of taking up arms once again.

I would say that in November of 2011 just as in 1863, we need to pause the rhetoric, division and hatred. We need to step back and think of what we have to be thankful for. I remember a number of Thanksgivings in which I was sitting with a TV Tray in front of me having a Swanson TV Dinner, while my Dad was away at sea and my "Mom", Babe, was passed out in a wine stupor. I didn't know any different and for me it was a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving. Being thankful is not resentment for the things you do not have, it is giving thanks for what you do have.

This week I am going to list some things I am thankful for and invite you to do the same. If you have a list, post it in response to this blog. Let's share this blog and this list with those who can add to it. Maybe, decide not to listen, read or watch the news this Thursday - Sunday. Spend that time taking a break from all that noise that drowns out that still small voice within - be thankful.

I am thankful for:
  • A wonderful daughter and son who I see blossoming into adulthood with strong critical minds and wonderful gifts of music and artistic expression.
  • I am thankful I love my wife, daughter and son.
  • I am thankful for my wife who keeps me young. The zeal for her each endeavors amazes me. Her compassion knows no limits.
  • I am thankful that I am in a congregation of believers that, as a family, loves seeking truth and doesn't require adherence to some ancient dogma.
  • I am thankful that my daughter and son are in stable relationships where they can give and receive love. 
  • I am thankful that I live in a country, that even in the midst of recession and division that our family has a home and food on the table.
  • I am thankful for the peace God has brought back into my life.
  • I am thankful for friends and loved ones.
  • I am thankful I have a job and that I enjoy my work and the people I work with.
  • I am thankful in spite of all the death we have seen in our family, in 2011, those who are still here have healed a great deal.
I think you have the idea. Start looking around your life - start to see the things you have that you can be thankful for. I think we spend far too much of our energies fighting the things we have no control over - like world events and other people in general. Life is full of beauty, we just have to take the time to see it.

P.S. Just for Josephine I thought I would add Johnny Cash

Sunday, November 13, 2011



I knew I would eventually come to the concept of faith. Now before anyone tunes this out as some "preachy" diatribe, give me a chance and read on.

"Skepticism is the beginning of faith" 
Oscar Wilde (Irish Poet, Novelist and Critic - 1854-1900) 
"Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible"
William James (American Philosopher and Psychologist, leader of the Philosophical Movement of Pragmatism - 1842-1910)
"Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods"
C.S. Lewis (British Scholar and Novelist - 1898-1963)
"To Follow by faith alone is to follow blindly"
Benjamin Franklin (American Statesman, Philosopher, Scientist, Printer and Inventor - 1706-1790)
"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase"
Martin Luther King Jr. (American Baptist Minister and Civil-Rights Leader - 1929-1968)
"Faith must be enforced by reason...When faith becomes blind it dies"
Mahatma Gandhi (Indian Philosopher, Renowned for non-violent protests - 1869-1948)  

Faith is a word that is often misunderstood. Many people profess faith and it is used as a way to comfort their fears. It is a belief in a mansion in the sky in the sweet bye and bye. They were raised in a church and never left, more importantly, never questioned. It answers questions, mundane and complex with - "it is God's will". Sadly for many it never goes any deeper. To be honest, faith has never been easy for me. I have a very skeptical and critical mind and have far more questions than I have answers. That may be why when I when to college I focused on Greek and Textual Criticism. I wanted to see if there was historistic
support for the New Testament and for the historical fact of Jesus Christ. In graduate school I pursued Biblical Hermeneutics - which contains studies in Greek and Hebrew, Textual Criticism-(looking at variants in manuscripts),and a study of the times in which the passage was written. This methodology of looking at passages in their original context sheds a great deal of light on interpretation of the Bible, yet the most famous verse in the Bible "defining" faith is not as simple as many believe:

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen"
Hebrews 11:1 - English Standard Version

A few of words translated from Greek may help here:

  1. hypostasis - nature, confidence, assurance - translated here "assurance".
  2. elpizomenon - hope for, expect - translated here - "hoped for".
  3. elenchos - conviction, "argument of disproof or refutation; cross-examining, testing, scrutiny esp. for purposes of refutation" is the central technique of the Socratic method. The Latin form elenchus (plural elenchi) is used in English as a technical philosophical term. - translated here - "conviction".
  4. blepomenon - see look at, observe, shown concern, caution - translated here - "seen".
What I see in this passage, which is followed by an extensive list of people of faith, is that faith is not "magic". The faith of the first century church was seen as an extension of God at work within His creation. The writer of Hebrews follows this list with the line - "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let also lay aside every weight, and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:1-2a - ESV). In the first century, and especially in the Jewish community, this was relatively simple. They had an entire history and the people in that list were familiar. To us in the 21st Century the writer could have listed Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White or Winnie the Pooh.

This where those words above come into play; we are not expected to blindly accept the Jesus of the New Testament like a young child believes in Santa Claus. Rather, faith is built by putting together the evidence and weighing that evidence against evidence to the contrary. Faith is far more than belief. People all over believe or do not believe in God based on, really, nothing more than sentimentality. They have never grappled with trying to find out what is true. Add to that the superstitions, meaningless rituals and at times senseless bloodshed in the name of Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder that people say they do not believe in God? Today the airwaves and the Internet are filled supposed faith healers that more resemble snake oil salesmen, hypocrisy in the church, stories of infidelity and child abuse among church leaders and confusion of Jesus Christ that has morphed into something that doesn't even resemble the historical Jesus Christ. Churches have become religious bureaucratic behemoths that resemble Fortune 100 companies rather than the group of followers attempting to be like Jesus.


As a person of faith, I can say from the core of my being, this breaks the heart of God. I know that a large number of people who read this blog do not profess any kind of faith in Jesus Christ. If after careful study, you have come to that point in your life, I understand. I would recommend you take a serious look at the work that Dr. Gary Cage and Dr. Bob Hemenway assembled for our small congregation -  If you have rejected faith because of some of the things listed above, I am sorry churches have failed people and you in particular. Carrying that pain will only lead you further down that pit. There may be a time you will look at the unblemished Jesus Christ of the New Testament.

In my previous blogs I have spoken about the difficulties, failures and hitting the bottom of life. I believe with all of my heart that my faith, even when I thought I lost it, was my North Star. The difference between belief and faith is that faith causes action. When you have faith, you are drawn to something way beyond yourself. You see people as they can be, you see yourself as you can be - life becomes truly meaningful. Life with faith is not lived on "Easy Street", you will still have ups and downs, people and maybe God will disappoint you - but there will always be a North Star to steer the rudder of your life home. For me, faith is the thing that causes me to get up each morning and put one foot in front of the other and to coin Winston Churchill, to "NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP!"

I hope I have at least caused you to think about what drives my life. I know there are numerous situations that cause people not to look at God. However, I can say, in my life my faith is what allows me to face each day knowing that I have placed my faith in someone who is worthy.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Coming Home


There are a plethora of reasons we walk away. Sometimes it is words spoken in anger that can't be pulled back. Sometimes it's too much drama. Then again there is always a felt sense of betrayal or maybe just boredom.

When people leave the church or in some cases, God, walking away takes on a whole new significance. 

Churches are made up of people and that is their biggest downfall. People from all sorts of backgrounds and each with their very own baggage. The Catholic Church is currently being damaged by its apparent lack of accountability and even hiding pedophiles among their clergy. Evangelical churches seem to go from one fad to the next, trying to fill their pews and coffers. "Seeker Sensitive" was one of the buzz words floating around. You would get the best band and the most gifted motivational speaker/preacher. The up-tempo service would have wonderful stories and great drama - people would get goosebumps; but in the end it was just empty. People found out they could get just as fired up by going to a sporting event, concert or movie. Then there are those who feel the entire exercise is irrelevant to their lives.

Some, myself included, due to a sin or mistake they made in their life were viewed as a pariah. It doesn't take a great deal of time for that message to sink in. Some stop coming and no one ever asks them if they are alright or if they need help, they are just ignored. There are people all over this planet, who for one reason or not - walked away. The church did not seek them out or even, in some cases, realize they were gone. This is hardly in keeping with the words of Jesus when he talked about a shepherd with 100 sheep. He counted and there were only 99, so leaving the 99 in the field, went out in search of that one lost sheep.

Leaving God is a much more difficult thing to face. I was raised in an atheist home and came to faith at around 18. For me the idea of a Father who could love me for me was amazing. Never really having a positive father figure in my life probably made me attracted to this concept. Going on to study Theology at a Christian college and then on to a graduate degree in Theology from a respected seminary, I was caught off guard by the response to my failure. For me, it wasn't the church that let me down it was God. I knew the church had politics, flaws and agendas, but I had always taught love, acceptance and forgiveness. So when I was, in my mind, betrayed - I walked away.

Others have prayed for a relative who was severely ill and God didn't appear to be around or even care - and they walked away.

Others have lost a son or a daughter, even asking God to take them instead to only see death. (In our vocabulary we have the words "widow or widower" for someone who loses a spouse. We have "Orphan" for someone who has lost their parents. But we have no word for a parent losing a child, except excruciating pain) - They walked away

In my near six decades I have seen people who walk away from God mainly because of a sense of abandonment and aloneness or at a critical juncture in their lives.

Don't worry, I am not going to throw out some glib and stupid cliche. That would be insulting and far too typical. I know there is a great deal of pain we all face; some of us more than we deserve. I can only speak  from my own heart. I had for over a decade a gaping emptiness within me, it was as if there was a black hole sucking the joy out of my life. I crawled deeper into my cave and at times contemplated my very existence. I then decided to give God another try and over a period of a few years I had a number of false starts. I am now home. I preached to the Foothills Church of Christ in Reno, NV this morning and I was scared to death, I honestly do not remember the last time I actually preached a sermon. 

I can say now the emptiness is gone and it took a great deal of baby steps. It was difficult to allow my heart to be placed again in a position of vulnerability.

For anyone reading this who has walked away, spend some time thinking about where you are right now. Are you at peace? If so great. If not, you might try a few things:

  • Start by trying to be thankful for what you have. (You have more than you think.)
  • Try and make contact with people you trust.
  • Reach out to people from your past, I used Facebook and it was good.
  • If you lost a child, if you still have any children - lavish your love on them.
  • If you have family try and reconcile with those who have hurt you and love  the rest.
  • If you have left the church, find a small congregation or group, talk to the minister or leader and tell him/her your fears, doubts and reluctance.
  • If you have left God, find something greater than yourself, as AA would say, "Your Higher Power".
  • Above all, start the journey home.
This world is too tough and unforgiving to go-it-alone. Yes, there are people out there who will love you for you, you just need to find them. Let go of anger and resentment and seek healing - even the toughest people get hurt. Letting go of anger and resentment is not an easy thing to do. You might refer to my earlier blogs: "Fallen" and "Wastelands", in which spoke freely and candidly from my heart, about how hard it was to let go of these feelings.

I don't have all the answers, you should have caught me in my 20's for that :), but I do listen and would be happy to dialogue with you.

May the Lord bless you and keep you, may his countenance be upon you and give you peace.