Friday, December 28, 2007

The Devil is in the Details

Note: My wife, Catherine, posted this article on her blog about a year ago, but I thought it might be interesting to post it again for anyone who hasn't read it. Most people who have read this article agreed with it overwhelmingly, but I have received some criticism as well (interestingly, most of the criticism was regarding a matter of detail, which made me wonder if they understood what I was really trying to say in the first place). As always, I make no claims to being "right"; these are just some thoughts that I've had on this particular subject. Whether you agree with me or not isn't the point; the fact that you thought about it one way or the other is.

From the book "Finding Liberty".

As I would suspect is the case throughout all of America, churches here in Casey County, KY have an alarming lack of youth showing up on Sunday mornings. In the fall of 2006, a group of musicians attempted to counter that trend by sponsoring a Christian rock concert here in our little corner of the world. It was meant as a bridge, a means of reaching out to the youth of our area and connecting with them at the place where they happen to be.

The next week, a scathing letter to the editor appeared in our local paper denouncing the event, saying that there is nothing “Christian” about rock music and that it is instead an instrument of the devil. The writer went on to condemn long hair also; saying that Christian men wear their hair short and neatly trimmed.

This letter touched off a minor firestorm, and letters quickly dominated the editor’s page as people voiced their opinions on the topic and argued their case for or against. A scripture was fired off across the bow. A broadside of other scriptures were shot back. The vast majority of letters were written in a kind, loving way, but many were much more opinionated and damning.

This went on for 2 months.

All of the people who sounded off their opinions in this little episode were Christians, none of whom were willing to budge from their own predetermined personal convictions, and who, if anything, now cling to them even more tightly than before.

The question I have is not whether you think Christian rock is right or wrong, or whether Christian men should have short hair. The question is this: In what way did all of these Christians move God’s kingdom forward by publicly bickering & squabbling amongst themselves - because that was certainly how it appeared - on the pages of a newspaper read by hundreds of people, many of whom are not Christians?

Because if I’m a non-Christian reading those letters week after week, I’ve got to be thinking to myself something along the lines of, “Are you kidding me? These are the people who say I’m lost? These are the people who tell me how wonderful it is to be a Christian because of all of the love that Jesus Christ has brought into their lives? These are the people who say I’m wrong and they’re right? That they know the one true God? They can’t even agree on something as insignificant as the length of your hair!”

The sad part is, they would be wholly justified in thinking those thoughts. I mean, why would anyone want to be a part of a group like that, especially when there are plenty of ready alternatives that are so much more appealing.

A year or so ago a very devout Christian woman saw a teenage girl at the mall walking with her mother. The girl was dressed, as dozens of other girls walking around the mall that day were, in the current fashion of the day; a “Britney Spears” ensemble of blue jeans, t-shirt, and bare mid-rift. The exception was that the shirt that this particular girl was wearing also had the letters “WWJD?” emblazoned on the front.

The Christian woman was offended, and proceeded to walk over to the girl and denounce her publicly - in front of her mother, in front of everyone - for not being dressed as a proper Christian should be.

Since this story was related to me, I’ve often wondered what became of that young girl. A young girl at a very impressionable stage in her life. A time when, consciously or not, she is choosing role models and mentors to guide her, making decisions that, unbeknownst to her, will affect the entire course that her life will take, and in the process, forming for herself a set of opinions and beliefs that she will carry with her for years to come.

However “wrong” this young girl may or may not have been in her “Christian attire”, at least she wasn’t afraid to associate herself with the name “Jesus”. How many teenage girls have the guts to do even that? And if she maybe wasn’t a “proper” Christian, at least she had a foot on the right path; a path that over time would have eventually made her realize all by herself that, among other things, perhaps her attire was not appropriate. I have to wonder if Christ is still a part of her life now, or if He instead is closed away forever behind a door that was slammed shut in a shopping mall.

There’s a saying I read once that states, “Don’t speak unless you can improve the silence.” Was the silence improved here?

I think that that Christian woman - as well as all of the people who weighed in with their letters to the editor regarding the concert - were well meaning. I’m sure they had good intentions. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and if the end result is that a couple miles of interstate was constructed in that direction because of these incidents, does anything change just because “we didn’t mean for that to happen”?

We talk a lot about the evil that Satan does in the world, but I’m not so sure Satan is really that busy anymore. I see him more like a Maytag repairman; highly skilled in his art, but not a whole lot to do at the moment. All of us Christians seem to be doing a pretty good job of doing his work for him. Fussing, arguing, judging, and rebuking amongst ourselves. Apparently not content with just keeping non-believers away from God, we take it a step further and slice our fellow Christians to ribbons before throwing the unsightly trash of their being out of our self-righteous front door.

And for what? Oh, that’s the kicker! For a detail. A detail that we can’t even prove is correct, that doesn’t even necessarily have anything to do with anything, but one which we have decided to embrace and defend at all costs. We’ve all heard the old saying, “can’t see the forest for the trees”, and that’s what these individual details are; separate and distinct trees that are part of a much larger whole. But in our obsession over one or two of these details that we feel so strongly about, we will blindly exalt and protect them, and all the while remain blissfully ignorant of the rest of the forest, even as it burns to the ground around us.

That may seem a little harsh. I mean, we’re only talking about 2 small instances here, and we are only human after all. We know we will stumble and fall sometimes. But surely we – Christians – do much more good than bad. In the larger scheme of things, these incidents themselves are merely a couple of minor “details” aren’t they? Is it possible that I’m simply making a mountain out of a molehill?

Maybe. Each molehill by itself is certainly rather small, but what happens when you pile them all together? Because there sure are a lot of them:
How to conduct Baptisms, the rapture, alcohol consumption, head coverings, modest dresses for women, what music to listen to, hair length, body piercings/tattoos, what foods we’re supposed to eat, church attendance, anointing with oil, what day is the real Sabbath, speaking in tongues, attire at church, predestination, working on Sunday, laying on of hands . . . folks, I’m just getting started. Pick your poison, identify your detail, and I guarantee you’ll find Christians somewhere fighting about it with other Christians.

Note that I’m not saying we should relax what we believe in, or water down our faith so that it “feels good” to everybody. I’ll talk about that later. But for now, just realize the damage that we do to ourselves – and everyone else – when we allow these individual details to become more important than the larger whole that they are a part of.

United we stand, divided we fall.

You can say whatever you want about the Catholic church, but like it or hate it, one thing is for sure; for the first 1500 years after Christ’s death & resurrection, if you were a Christian, you were a Catholic.Note 1 In other words, regardless of what differences of opinion Christians in the Catholic church had with each other, regardless of whether or not the hierarchy of the church was corrupt from power and money, at least all of the Christians in the world were on the same team. But from the moment Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis’ on the church door, we have allowed our differences of opinion and our varying interpretations of the same book to divide us further and further upon ourselves.

I’m not saying that Luther was wrong for doing what he did; far from it. But have things gotten any better since the reformation? It’s not as simple as saying “Catholic” and “Protestant”, because there isn’t just “one” protestant church. You’ve got the Methodists, the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, and the Episcopalians. Then there’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Church of Christ. And don’t forget the Quakers, the Puritans, the Shakers, and the Amish. That’s about all, right? Doesn’t seem too bad.

But you already know that’s not even close. Although that’s 13 separate denominations right there, there are plenty more where they came from. And once you get a complete list (if you can), take a closer look at each one. Just in the classification of “Baptist” churches you have Southern Baptist, American Baptist, Primitive Baptist, Full Gospel Baptist, Separate Baptist, Independent Baptist, and so on. Push on to the Presbyterians and you’ll see there isn’t just one of those either. Ditto for the Lutherans. Ditto for the Methodists. And don’t even bother to try to get a headcount of all of the “non-denominational” churches out there. You’ll hurt yourself.

How many protestant denominations are there? I have no idea. I’ve seen estimates ranging from 35 to 23,000 (yes, that was 23 thousand). I don’t think anybody really knows. Just throw a dart; you’re bound to hit something.

Why so many? They’re all worshipping the same God, aren’t they? They all use the same Bible, don’t they? Yes, and yes. The divisions come from disagreement, and the disagreements are all on varying details. Details of method. Details of style. Details of interpretation.

Who’s to say who is right and who is wrong? After all, do any of us actually have the ability to see into the mind of God? To say for sure that “This is what God meant. Everybody else is wrong”. As with any argument, it soon degenerates into being more about who is right than what is right. Winner take all.

Details have not just divided the Christian church, but have splintered it into hundreds - possibly even thousands - of disconnected fragments. Was this done for God’s sake or mankind’s? Whose kingdom did this fragmentation of the Christian church serve better, God’s or Satan’s? And does it make any difference whether that’s what we intended to do or not?

I go back to what that young girl in the mall had on her shirt; a catch-phrase that was pretty popular a few years ago. WWJD?: What would Jesus do? It’s a shame that this little question came and went as little more than a fad, because it’s a powerful question, one that we would all do better for remembering and continuously asking ourselves.

What would Jesus do?

Details? I don’t think Jesus cared a whole lot about details. You can see His disdain for meaningless details throughout the gospels: Not enough loaves and fishes to feed the multitude? So what. A minor detail. Too late to heal the little girl because she’s already dead? Don’t worry about it. Want to get baptized but can’t because you’re already hanging on a cross? “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

True, Jesus was detailed about some things. His entry into Jerusalem, for instance, was very specific regarding his mode of transport and his lodging. I don’t know the significance of why He was so specific in that case, but I know He had his reasons, and in some way those details served His purpose. And that’s where I think the difference lies; do the details that we embrace serve His purpose, or ours? Are we so focused on the details themselves that we are completely missing the spirit behind them? Have the details become more important to us than God Himself?

Jesus’ run-ins with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes are very interesting. These were all people who knew the details of the law, and they held themselves in very high regard. Like vultures they would hover around Jesus, just waiting for Him to slip up so that they could pounce:

Eating with tax collectors and sinners! (Matt 9:11)
Not fasting! (Matt 9:14)
Working on the Sabbath! (Matt 12:2)
Not washing His hands before He eats! (Matt 15:2)
And so on, and so on.

Every confrontation between Jesus and these men was a matter of some detail. When you think about it, Jesus was really quite the maverick. He was constantly crossing over these lines in the sand - these details - and stepping on the toes of those who held them so dear. And I think in His actions He makes it quite clear that it’s not the details that matter, but the heart behind them.

Jesus warns us in several of the gospels to beware “the yeast of the Pharisees”, and He makes it quite clear how He feels about the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes in Matthew 23, the entire chapter of which is devoted to them, albeit probably not in the manner they would have preferred.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” - Matt 23:13

But I think we’re making a big mistake if we think that Jesus is simply talking to a bunch of men who all died 2,000 years ago. He’s talking to us, because every one of us has the potential to become a Pharisee just as soon as we allow the focus of our hearts & minds to slip away from the righteousness of God and become instead centered on the righteousness of ourselves, a condition which quickly leads us to begin judging others on matters of detail. And when our hearts & minds shift away from the Lord, like Peter we suddenly find ourselves sinking into the waves.

I look at Christianity as a mountain to climb. On the mountain are all of those who have accepted Christ as their personal savior. Some have been climbing that mountain for a long time, others have just begun. Some move more quickly up the slopes, while others have a more difficult time. But while we may all be scattered across the face of that mountain, and though some of us have made higher ground, we all have one thing in common: we are all trying to reach the top.

The interesting thing is that none of us can reach the top on our own. In the end, the summit can only be reached through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. What is important is not where we are on that mountain, but that we are on the mountain. Because as long as we are, it makes no difference to what heights we might ascend to as Christians in this life; as long as we are on that mountain - anywhere on it - the hand of the Savior can ultimately reach down to us and pull us to the top when we expire from this earth.

It’s interesting that in any other group of people – doctors, lawyers, athletes, soldiers, etc. – we inherently know that there are wide variations of skill and ability within those groups. I’ve personally known salesmen who were so good they could literally sell you your own shirt and make you think you got a great deal. I’ve also known others who couldn’t give away a glass of water to a man dying of thirst. Yet they both wore the badge of “Salesman”. In any group of like minded people, due to knowledge, experience, ethic, mental comprehension – whatever - some are simply better than others.

But have you noticed that that reasoning doesn’t seem to apply to those who put on the badge of “Christian”. As soon as someone becomes a Christian, they are immediately held to the same standard by which all other Christians are measured. It’s bad enough that secular society holds us in that regard, but to make matters worse, we do the same thing with each other.

The problem is that we are all at different levels in our climb up that mountain. Those on the lower slopes need help – not animosity – from those who are higher up. The climb is tough enough as it is without all of us shooting arrows at each other, targeting, judging, & rebuking those who have not reached the point where we happen to be, or maybe more appropriately, where we think we happen to be. The first thing we as Christians need to do is to encourage those who are on the beginner slopes to keep climbing, not give them a reason to turn around and give up.

Once we’ve got that taken care of, the second thing we need to do is to get the attention of those who are not yet on the mountain at all, and give them a good reason to want to check it out.

Because stretching out below the foot of the mountain are the flat plains of secular living. Lots of people on those plains, and it’s pretty easy living there – no mountains to climb, no standards to uphold, no boring accountability to worry about – and there’s plenty to keep you occupied. Neon lights, parties, raucous laughter; drugs, booze, sex, & money flow like a never-ending river.

Some of the folks on the plains are firmly rooted; they’re staying put. But there are scores more who are asking themselves questions. They’re very busy there, they’re having loads of fun, but they feel hollow and unfulfilled. They often look over at this mountain and see all of these people climbing it. Why? Sure seems like a lot of work. They get curious and walk over to it’s base. What will they see? Will they be greeted with a smiling face and a wave? Will someone say to them, “Hi there! Join us, won’t you? I know it looks hard, but you’ll never regret it. C’mon! We’ll help you!” Or will someone look down on them from the heights of self righteousness and say “Get away! You’re filthy and you’re dirty and you reek. I know what you’ve been doing! We don’t want your kind here.”

Last Sunday in church there was a young boy – probably 10 or 11 – who was sitting in the pew in front of me. I’d never seen him before and he was sitting there by himself. He had an earring in his ear and a definite look of attitude on his face. His behavior was atrocious; wiggling & squirming, putting his feet up on the pew in front of him, laying down, kicking the hymnals back and forth in their holder. Not only was he not listening to a word being said, but he was disturbing others around him, distracting us from focusing on the sermon.

In all honesty, I didn’t like the boy. I wanted to give him a good smack upside his head and tell him to put his feet on the floor, sit still, and show a little respect to God in His own house.

But in a moment of restraint that is unfortunately all too rare in my life, I actually stopped and thought about the situation before I acted. I told my inner Pharisee to just shut up for a minute and let me figure out what I should do. I wanted this young boy to behave, yes, but that’s only what I wanted, and I wasn’t even sure if I could say or do anything to accomplish that end. More importantly, I started to think about what God wanted for this boy.

True, his behavior was deplorable, he wasn’t listening to a thing being said, and he was annoying those around him. But he was in church. He was in church because our Youth Minister had somehow convinced him to come, and had taken the time to go pick him up and bring him. So what if he didn’t know how to act in church; so what if he didn’t know or care what it was all about. He had probably never even been to church before. But he was there now. He was at the foot of the mountain. Was I willing to take the chance of breaking God’s tenuous hold of this young boy and send him away from the mountain before he could even find out what it was all about simply because he was annoying me?

In the end, I did nothing. Despite it all, he was at church. Let him come back to church again. And again. Let him realize that church is not a bad place, that the people he sees here will not judge him or hold him to a standard he isn’t ready for. And after he’s been there a few times and starts to feel a little more comfortable, maybe someone comes up to him and says something like, “You know young man, it’s great to see you here. We love that we get to spend some time with you. Could I ask you a favor, though? I’ve noticed that during the church service you sometimes put your feet up on the pew in front of you. There are some folks here who get a little distracted by that. Do you think maybe you could help them out and just kind of keep your feet on the floor? That would be so great of you if you could do that. I really appreciate it.”

And with a few kind words, a lesson is learned and a young boy takes another step toward the mountain.

I wonder what would have been different if that person who wrote the condemning letter about the Christian rock concert had said instead, “I just wanted to say “thank you” to all the men and women who took the time to reach out to the youth of our community and hold the Christian rock concert. I don’t care for rock music or long hair myself, but it was refreshing to see that someone cared enough to actually do something to fight for these young people. Your efforts have inspired me to get off of my behind and do something myself! Would anyone like to help me?”

I think the enemy just blinked.

I wonder what would have been different if the Christian woman in the mall had checked her desire to berate that young girl and instead said something along the lines of “Young lady, I just wanted to tell you how proud I am of you for not being afraid to associate yourself with Jesus Christ. You don’t know it, but your actions are making other young women look at you and wonder what it is you know that they don’t. I wish you all the best in your walk as a Christian. Please don’t ever give up!”

Oh, my. I do believe Satan just sat up and dropped the remote control.

* * *
Author’s Note: Several weeks after I wrote this, that young boy I mentioned earlier accepted Christ as his Savior and was baptized. While I did nothing myself to help bring that about, you have no idea the relief that I feel for not doing anything that might have prevented it from happening. I had an opportunity to finally speak with him a short time later; he seemed surprised that everyone knew his name. I said, “Why shouldn’t everyone know your name? You are important.” No big shakes, I know, but how much better for him to hear that instead of the “Shut up and sit still!” that I might have said earlier.

Note 1: An earlier division in 1054 had already split the Catholic church into “Eastern Orthodox” and “Roman”, but the real free-for-all didn’t start until 1517. I am also not considering the many unorthodox sects (Gnostics, Ebionites, etc.) that existed during those times.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Few Good Questions

I don’t have a whole lot of wisdom to share with the world (some might argue that I have none at all), but I’ve collected a few questions over the years that have helped me immensely in living my life, and I think that that’s important, because regardless of what promise I will receive upon my passing from this earth, I’m continuously impressed by the fact that I’m not dead yet. I’m still very much alive, still living this life that God gave me, and I have to think that He would be much more pleased with me if I actually did something with that life rather than just sit around waiting to die so that I can receive my eternal reward.

I’ve come to love figuring things out for myself rather than relying on – and trusting in – someone else’s worldly “expert” opinion (the same experts who told me for years that Pluto was a planet and who now tell me that it’s not; the same ones who once said eggs were bad for me before recanting years later to say that they are in fact actually pretty good for me; the same ones who have a scientific law that says matter & energy can neither be created nor destroyed and yet have no explanation for where all of the matter & energy that exists in the universe came from [and whose very existence would seem to be a direct violation of this particular “law” because, well let’s face it, it’s all here and it came from somewhere]).

I realize too that for anyone reading this, I myself fall into this category of “someone else”, so I won’t even attempt to force my advice on you, because it would probably be wrong anyway. But I will offer these questions to you in the hope that you may find them useful in coming to your own conclusions:

What would you do right now if you weren't afraid?

I used to have this question taped to my monitor at work years ago so that I would constantly see it during the day, and it helped me to face certain aspects of my job that I would rather not do and would often put off until later (returning a call to an irate customer, dealing with a personnel issue, etc.).

But fear hasn’t just compelled me to shun “negative” things, it’s also stopped me from doing things that I would actually have liked to do. How many questions did I not ask in school because I was afraid? How many girls that I really liked in my younger days never knew that because I was afraid to tell them? How many sports, activities, plays, etc., did I not participate in because I was afraid? I have no idea. But there was a bunch.

I still have fears, but asking myself this question helps me to face whatever it is that I am afraid of at the moment and push through it. Would I do it if I wasn’t afraid? Yes? Then do it. And you know what? No matter what it was that I was dealing with, it was never as bad as I feared it would be. In addition, I’ve also learned that regardless of appearances, just about everybody else is afraid too, so I’m always in pretty good company.

Are you pretending not to notice YOUR part of the problem?

I’ve known dozens and dozens of people who are divorced – friends & coworkers, men & women - and many of them have shared the details of their pain and the “sins” of their ex-spouse. What I’ve learned is that one person always seems to be a villain and the other a helpless victim. But you know what? Of all the divorcees that I’ve talked to in my life, never once have I ever talked to the villain. Isn’t that funny?

You’d think that sooner or later – marriages being made up of only two people after all – that at some point I would have met one of the villains. But everyone I’ve ever talked to has always been the victim in the relationship. On top of that, I’ve never met anyone else who has ever talked to the “villain” either. I find it very interesting that we should all defy the law of averages in that way.

You see where this is going. My mom once told me, “There are two sides to every story, and both of them are lies”.

Catherine & I don’t argue much, but it does happen, and when it does, sooner or later I always get around to asking myself this particular question. After all, I always know what she did wrong - that’s why I’m arguing with her in the first place, right? - but what was my contribution to the problem?

I don’t like stepping out of my shoes to stand instead in hers, because then I am forced to see what she saw and what she heard, including the tone of my voice, the look on my face, and the words that I used. And I have to tell you, I have never once been able to look into that mirror and absolve myself of all guilt. In fact, what I usually find - to my own shame – is that I contributed more to the problem than she did, or, in more instances than I would care to admit, I was the one who actually created the whole problem in the first place.

Sometimes, just to summon up the courage to ask myself if I’m pretending not to notice my part of the problem, I first have to ask “What would I do right now if I wasn’t afraid?”, because looking into that mirror can be a little scary.

In what way will this move God’s Kingdom forward?

As a Christian, this is a question that I try to hold close by at all times. It’s pretty similar to the little question that was popular years ago, “What Would Jesus Do?”, but I find that I’m able to use it a little more effectively. The problem for me with the question “WWJD?” is that I don’t know what Jesus would do. I mean, Jesus blew people away with some of the things that He said and did, and I think it would be rather arrogant of me to assume that I could somehow know His mind when I’m still trying to figure out what half of the things He said & did actually meant. But if I can’t claim to know the mind of God, I have no problem at all understanding my own; my thoughts, and my desires.

This question is very deceptive because while answering it honestly isn’t usually that hard, taking the appropriate action based on what the answer is can be excruciatingly difficult. Everything we say and everything we do has an impact. Sometimes it’s big and sometimes it’s small, but it has an impact, and it makes no difference whether we like it or not. And all of it – whether we like it or not - is going to move God’s Kingdom in one direction or the other.

Sometimes, in my own selfish desire, I feel an overwhelming compulsion to say or do something out of an adamant belief that I am right to do so. But so often, when I take the time to stop and ask myself what the result of my words & actions will be, I find that I have to stop myself from doing what I wanted. And it can be SO HARD to bite my tongue or stay my hand when I feel that I am justified but the answer to the question still comes back as: “It won’t move God’s Kingdom forward at all, Blaine. In fact, it will actually push it backwards a step or two”.

I’ll be very honest; I don’t like it at all when I get that answer, because it means that I can’t do what I want to do. But if I guide my actions with the answer that I receive, even though I won’t be able to do what I want to do, the possibility exists that I might be able to do something that Jesus would.

And wouldn't that be something?

Monday, December 10, 2007

He Said: The "Honey-Do" List

Buried deep in the fine print of every wedding vow is a clause that legally enables the creation of what is commonly known as the “Honey-Do” list. For those not familiar with it (read: all unmarried men), the “Honey-Do” list is a compilation of tasks, chores, repairs, and improvements that wives would like their husbands to accomplish.

It usually germinates from a single, innocuous request placed upon the husband early in the marriage, which, in his desire to please his new bride, he nobly accepts as his duty. The problem is that once started, the “Honey-Do” list cannot be killed, and from that initial tiny mustard seed of a request will sprout a monster as thorny and unstoppable as an over-fertilized Bouganvilla bush.

In my early married years I did my best to try and accomplish the items that were on the list, however, I soon found that for every item I was able to scratch off as complete, two more were instantly added. My feverish attempts to make any headway against this list eventually became all consuming, until one night my little daughter asked me a question which made me realize that I would need to take a completely different approach in order to conquer it:
Daddy, what are those white things poking through your fingers?”
“Those are daddy’s bones, sweetheart.”

The dilemma was a tricky one though, for just as you can never complete the “Honey-Do” list, neither can you ignore it (to do so will alternately whip your wife into an uncontrolled fury or send her crashing to the floor in a fit of tears depending on what day of the week it is).

The solution, I have to admit, came about quite by accident during a period of time where – although I was trying – I was unable to finish anything on the list for several weeks. What I discovered is that once the list grew to a certain point, Catherine stopped adding things to it. Whether this was out of compassion for my weary soul or contempt at my incompetence I have no idea, but the fact remained that it did not grow beyond a certain size. And this is where my genius kicked in.

You see, the trick to dealing with the “Honey-Do” list is not to actually get things done, but to pretend that you’re getting things done. Let me show you what I mean.

Every Saturday morning when Catherine asks me what I’m going to be doing that day, I grab the “Honey-Do” list off the fridge, give it a very serious look, and say “I think I’m gonna try and knock some of these out.” What happens next depends on what she does.

If she stays around the house, I’ll make tracks outside and hang out somewhere for awhile, usually with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. After a few hours, I’ll spritz myself down with water to make it look like I’m sweating, cross off the first 5 or 6 things on the list, and then proudly show it to Catherine so she can see that I scribbled through some of the tasks. She’ll give me a big smile because she thinks I actually did something, at which point I’ll go upstairs and pretend I’m taking a shower while I rewrite the list in the bathroom and put the things that I had crossed off back on at the bottom of the new list. To her, it appears that I’m making headway, but since the list never actually gets any smaller she won’t add anything more to it.

And bada-boom, bada-bing, just like that I post it back on the fridge and I’m off the hook for another week.

Sometimes - as a cool variation - I’ll head off in the car on Saturday morning to get some “supplies” that I need to “complete” something on the list. After fishing down at the lake for a few hours (it’s actually better if you don’t catch anything because then you don’t have to try and come up with an explanation for where you got the fish; that can be tricky) I’ll come home, tell her that I drove around to several stores but couldn’t find what I needed, and then go upstairs and take a nap (I’ve gone to great pains over the years to make sure Catherine knows that operating a motor vehicle really wears me out).

It’s even easier if Catherine goes out on Saturday morning instead of sticking around the house. If she does that, I just park it on the couch and watch TV for a few hours. When she comes home, I hold up the list, tell her I just got out of the shower, give her my best “I’m exhausted” look, and then try not to smile as she tells me to just lie down and take it easy for the rest of the day.

No matter how it plays out, she’s happy, and that makes me happy, so even if it may sound like I’m being a little devious, to me, the end absolutely justifies the means. When all is said and done, a happy wife makes for a happy home. And if a happy wife feels the need to head off to the kitchen to cook up a great big dinner for her hardworking man, well, that ain’t all bad either.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Free Book Offer

Hi Folks, thank you for the enthusiastic response to the book offer! If you're just getting here, I regret to have to tell you that the 50 books have all been spoken for; I'm sorry!

I do hope that you return back to visit my blog in the future. I will try to post things that are worth the time to read, and I also plan to give away 1 book every week (as soon as I figure out the best way to do that). Details to come!

For those of you who made the first 50, you should receive your book in the mail within the next 2 weeks (depending on the backlog in the Postal Service as we approach Christmas).

Thank you again to everyone!

* * *

Everybody knows the old saying: Don’t talk about your problems; half of the people don’t care about them, and the other half are glad that you have ‘em.

Well, I have a problem, and I’m hoping to appeal to the half of you out there who are glad that I have it. The whole essence of the problem is that I’m a writer, but nobody knows who I am, or what I write, or how good I may be. That causes problems when you’re trying to sell books, because there are so many good established writers around already that there really isn’t any need for someone to take a chance and buy a book from an author that they’ve never heard of.

Advertising is a waste of time (and I’ve come to loathe the whole concept of it anyway), book critics & reviewers receive so many books already that they throw the vast majority straight in the trash, and all of the “big name” people that might provide a “plug” for a book simply don’t have time to read one from an unknown. On top of that, I have a marketing budget of about $2.

But here’s the way I see it; book critics and advertising companies and “big name” people aren’t the ones who buy books. Regular people – like you and me – buy books, so why shouldn’t "regular" people also be the ones to evaluate them and determine whether or not they have merit?

I could send out 50 copies of a book (or more) to newspaper critics and reviewers all over the country and, if I am lucky, maybe 1 or 2 of them will actually read the book. I’d like to get a little better return rate than that, and since I would be sending out all of those books to them at no charge anyway, I’d like to try something a little different that might work out for both of us.

Here’s what I propose: I will send a copy of “Finding Liberty” at no charge to the first 50 people that contact me. No tricks, no gimmicks. All that I ask in return – all that I ask – is that after you read it, you post a review of it – good or bad - on at Finding Liberty. If you also have a blog, it would be great if you could talk about it there too, but that would be your option.

That’s it. Please note that I do have to limit this to US residents only; I apologize for that, but it costs $10 a copy to mail overseas (did I mention my marketing budget?)

“Finding Liberty” is a collection of stories & articles about God, marriage, fatherhood, and life in general, all written from the Christian point of view of a regular, ordinary man, so if that doesn’t sound like something that would appeal to you, I’d simply ask that you please pass this up as a courtesy for someone who might actually enjoy the book (several of the stories in the book can be found here on my blog if you’d like a preview).

So if that sounds like a fair deal to you, just let me know. The first 50 people who contact me with their name and mailing address at will get a free book.

Thanks & Blessings,

Monday, December 3, 2007

My 2nd Favorite Christmas Story

My favorite Christmas Story is, well, the Christmas Story, but I’d like to take a moment to share my 2nd favorite Christmas Story with you. I've only heard it one time - about 12 or 13 years ago – as it was told by the now retired Pastor Ronald Fink during a Christmas Eve candlelight service held at Trinity Lutheran Church in Orlando, FL. If you’ve never heard it before, I hope it blesses you as much as it did me. If you have heard it before, please forgive me if the retelling is less than perfect; all I can do is write it the way I remember it. If you do like it, please feel free to share it as much as you wish; a story has no value if no one hears it, and this one doesn’t belong to me anyway.

The story is about a man who doesn’t believe in Christmas, and he doesn’t believe in Christmas because he doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ. It’s not that the man has a hard heart, it’s just that he’s given this a lot of thought, and the whole concept of an "all-mighty, all-powerful" God sending His Son to earth in the form of a man (and wasn’t that convenient) just didn’t make any sense at all. If there really was a God, he thought, and He really was all-mighty and all-powerful, why would he do something like that? It just didn’t make any sense. If God really did exist, He could have just opened up the heavens Himself and told us directly what He wanted us to know. The whole “Jesus thing” was just too ridiculous and convoluted, and since it didn’t make any sense to him, he had long ago decided that Jesus was just a fantasy created by mankind to give ourselves hope when there really wasn’t any hope at all.

And so, as yet another Christmas Eve came upon him, the man did again what he did every year; he went out to a party at a friend’s house and enjoyed some good company and holiday cheer. He arrived back home at around 11:30 that night, and he was glad that he did, because it had just started snowing as he pulled into the driveway and he was thankful that he had gotten home before the roads turned treacherous.

He went inside his house and started going about the business of preparing to turn in for the night when all of a sudden he heard a loud thump! He paused for a moment and then heard it again: thump! Curious, he started walking through the house, looking for the source of the strange noise. Upon entering his living room, he heard it again – thump! – and he could instantly tell that something had just hit the large plate-glass window facing out to his front yard.

Thinking that there might be some teenagers roaming the streets throwing snowballs at his window, the man rushed outside, intent on giving them a piece of his mind. But as he made his way out the door and into the front yard, he immediately noticed two things: The first thing he noticed was that the snowfall had gotten much, much heavier; heavier in fact than he had ever seen in his entire life. Huge snowflakes were literally cascading down from above, and the night was alive with intense motion and yet eerily quiet at the same time.

The second thing he noticed was that there were no kids in his front yard throwing snowballs; instead, there was a flock of birds, and even as the man stood there watching, he suddenly saw two of the birds shoot away from the others and slam into the plate-glass window on the front of his house - thump!, thump! – hitting it so hard that their bodies fell dead to the ground below.

The man instantly knew what was going on. The birds - confused and frightened by the heavy, swirling snow - were fluttering and flying around in a panic, and they could see right inside his house to a place of light and shelter, and they were trying to get inside. But what they didn’t know – what they could never know – was that no matter how hard they tried, they would never be able to get in through the glass.

Thump! Thump! Thump! Three more of the birds slammed into the glass and fell lifeless to the ground.

Now, the man didn’t believe in God or Jesus Christ, but he wasn’t a bad man; he had a good heart, and it crushed him to see what was happening before his very eyes, and he was determined to put a stop to it.

He quickly ran back inside his house and turned off all of the lights, thinking that if the birds couldn’t see inside, they would stop killing themselves trying to get in. But even though the birds could no longer see inside, the now darkened window still held the appearance of shelter – a cave opening, perhaps – and the birds continued to fly into the glass, and their bodies continued to pile up in the snow underneath.

The man then ran to his garage – only 30 feet away - and threw open the door to give the birds a real place of shelter that they could enter without harm. But the birds just continued to fly into the window. Kicking himself, the man ran back into the garage and turned on the lights. Now, he thought, they’ll be able to see that the shelter they need is right over here. But the birds were so focused and intent on getting through the window that they simply didn’t see him at all.

Thump! Thump! Thump!

Becoming increasingly panicked himself, the man started shouting at the birds. “Hey! Over here! Over here!”, he yelled, trying to get their attention. But still, the birds did not come.

Finally, the man rushed out right into the remains of the flock, yelling and shouting and waving his arms, trying to herd what birds were left towards the garage. But if the birds had been confused and frightened before, they were now absolutely terrified at this new apparition in their midst, and faster than ever, they hurtled themselves into the glass: Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump!

Not knowing what else he could do, the man stood there in the cold darkness, snow falling all around, and watched the birds die one by one. With helpless tears flowing down his face he thought to himself, “If only I could be a bird for just a few minutes . . . I could talk to them in their own language – they wouldn’t be afraid of me; they would understand me, and I could tell them what they needed to do to save themselves.”

At that very moment the man heard bells begin to ring; It was midnight, and church bells throughout the town were ringing to usher in Christmas morning, this day set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

And as he stood there he thought about what had just happened, and about the words that he had just said to himself, and all of a sudden, the concept of an all-mighty, all-powerful God sending His Son to earth to be with us - to be one of us - for just a little while, didn’t seem like such a crazy idea after all.

Tongue in Cheek - The New & Improved PETA

By now everyone is familiar with PETA and the tactics they use to push their agenda: They protest in the nude, they throw blood on people wearing fur coats, they give fishermen a hard time, and they harass hunters during deer season (which, by the way, seems pretty dangerous to me since a 12-point buck and a protestor holding a sign look a lot alike).

In fact, PETA seems to pretty much do whatever they want in any manner they want, no matter how ridiculous or distasteful it may be to the rest of us who don’t accept their particular ideology and who also recognize that the human mouth is equipped with sharp canine teeth that are designed to rip apart flesh.

That’s why I’m thinking of starting my own group to give PETA a little of their own medicine. I have to tell you, though, I’m just too downright lazy to think of my own acronym, so the first thing I’d do (which they’d probably get really upset about) would be to use their acronym, except instead of standing for “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” - which in truth should be “PFTETOA” if you really want to get right down to it - in my group PETA would stand instead for “People who Eat Tasty Animals”.

I think this is a great idea. Anybody using the internet to find out what PETA is all about might get directed to our website by mistake, which would give us the opportunity to remind them of how delicious animals are when slow roasted over an open pit barbeque. For the intellectuals in the crowd, I’d write a downloadable essay that would explain to them in simple terms that the whole concept of being at the top of the food chain means that you have to be able to eat the rest of the food chain. Otherwise, a less politically correct minded animal will be more than happy to assume his place at the top and relegate the human race to nothing more than what it would simply refer to as “food”.

We could have protests just like the original PETA folks do, but instead of boring, physically demanding things like running around in the woods or smacking the water with a canoe paddle to scare the fish away, we could do less challenging stuff, like sitting at a sidewalk cafe and ignoring people who wear man-made leather.

Members of “People who Eat Tasty Animals” could also participate in protest “eat-ins”, where we would all gather together in front of a vegetarian food market and chow down on pulled-pork sandwiches. Or, even better, stuff ourselves with so much turkey & dressing that we all pass out on the ground from a really nasty triptafan rush. I mean, the possibilities are endless.

Oh, and we could sell stuff too, like T-shirts and coffee cups and bumper stickers with cool sayings like “Vegetarians are People Too” and “Be Nice to Animals Before You Eat Them”, and “You Know, There’s a Lot of Good Meat on a Cat”.

I have to tell you, the more I think about this idea, the more excited I get, and not just because it would get the folks at the original PETA a little steamed (though in all honesty, I’ll admit that that’s pretty fun to think about too). No, I’m excited mostly because by thinking about all of this, I’ve come to realize how truly hungry I am. So if anybody else thinks that this is a good idea and would like to discuss it in further detail, please feel free to meet me down at Sonny’s.

(Note: Before anyone demonizes me for poking fun at PETA, please note that I actually very much agree with the core tenet of PETA; the ethical treatment of animals. However, they have gone so far beyond that principal in both their agenda and their methods that, with me at least, they have lost all credibility).