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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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True Colors

Back in April 2012 I wrote a blog post that was dedicated to an old friend of mine who, at that time, I had not communicated with for several years. That post was titled, You Think About That.” My friend is a former pastor of many years, a professor emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, a radio broadcaster, and founder of Key Life Network. He is also the author of numerous books, of which I wrote a blog post on August 5, 2012, on his last book published titled, Three Free Sins.”

Well, he’s been at it again. . . . His name is Dr. Steve Brown (but don’t call him doctor; call him Steve), and his latest book it titled, Hidden Agendas: Dropping the Masks that Keep Us Apart.” Sounds a bit ominous, doesn’t it? But it’s not. It is quite a delightful book. Here is one of the many endorsements on his book:

“Talk about crafty. Under the guise of exploring that scariest of topics, human motivation, Steve Brown has hidden a remarkably wide-ranging, uncommonly funny, and psychologically penetrating masterclass of practical theology. What’s more, he’s jam-packed it with the kind of stories you can only accumulate from a lifetime of full-blooded ministry, rooting the Good News right where it belongs–behind the masks we all wear. Here’s a not-so-hidden, kicker-free agenda for anyone interested in understanding themselves, loving other people, or knowing God. Digest this book, post-haste.”

~David Zahl, Editor, The Mockingbird Blog; author of A Mess of Help: From the Crucified Soul of Rock n Roll (2014).

Yep, we all wear masks . . . every single one of us. And we all have hidden agendas, too. In the “Introduction” to the book on page 2, Steve writes:

Dr. House (of television fame) often says, “Everybody lies.” That may be truer than any of us would like to admit. But when one gets as old as I am, one lies less and, more important for the purpose of this book, one doesn’t feel as constrained to wear so many masks. It may or may not be true that everybody lies, but everybody wears a mask, everybody has an agenda, and almost everybody you know is different than you think. (Quote source: Hidden Agendas,” page 2.)

In Chapter 1 titled “Halloween Horror,” Steve defines four questions (listed on page 6) as a starting point:

  • What is a hidden agenda and why is it hidden?
  • What are masks and why do we wear them?
  • How do those masks and agendas hurt us and those we love?
  • Why are we so afraid that people will discover our agendas and look behind our masks?

Before I go any further, you have to read the book to get the full impact, the humor, and the years of experience in dealing with others including himself to really appreciate what this book is truly offering to the reader. There is no way I can do justice to it in a blog post. For the purposes of this post, I will give a very brief description of how Steve defines hidden agendas and the masks we wear (re: the first two questions above). He goes much further with each by giving personal examples from his lifetime of experiences. So let’s start with the first question:

What is a hidden agenda and why it is hidden?

An “agenda” is a plan designed to accomplish, change, fix, destroy, remedy, reward, punish, promote, or hinder. In other words, an agenda is what we do to get from where we are to where we want to be–from here to there. Further, a hidden agenda is either hidden intentionally to accomplish what we desire, or hidden unintentionally because we don’t even know we have an agenda in the first place. (Quote source: Hidden Agendas,” page 8.)

And here’s the second question:

What are masks and why do we wear them?

Masks are designed to hide, conceal, or disguise the reality behind them. In other words, the masks are created to further an agenda. Like any agenda, the masks are sometimes intentional, but more often than not, the wearers are unaware of their masks.

Someone has said that the definition of “diplomacy” is saying “Nice dog . . . nice dog” until you get a stick. The “nice dog” part is the mask. (Quote source: Hidden Agendas,” page 10.)

In Chapter 2, “Ugly in a Nudist Colony” (you need to read the intro paragraph to understand the title–and I’m not going to give it away in this blog post, either), Steve, who is Presbyterian, describes a time a number of years ago when he was attending presbytery (e.g., a group of church pastors and leaders who live in a defined geographical area) where some of the younger leaders announced they were pretty much done with the meetings that were so “boring, anal, and so often ‘the noise of solemn assemblies'” (quote source page 24). One of the young leaders announced, “We need each other, and from now on, we are going to be different. We’re going to devote presbytery meetings to caring for and loving each other instead of just church business. And this morning we are going to begin by confession our sins to one another. I’ll start.” Here’s the rest of the story:

Then to the shock and surprise of everybody there, that leader confessed a very embarrassing and particularly humiliating sin to the presbytery. “Now,” he said, “it’s your turn.”

There was a long pause and then, to my surprise, members of the presbytery stood up and one by one confessed their sins. Those weren’t the “deep and dark” sins over which Christians crucify other Christians, but is was a good and freeing beginning.

I [Steve] was sitting in the back of the auditorium when all of this happened. As the confession progressed, I noticed that the presbytery members kept turning around and looking at me. I had been a seminary professor to many of them and it was apparent to me that they could hardly wait to get some dirt on the old guy.

So finally I stood up. It grew so quiet that you could hear a flea burp. In my kind and pastoral way I said, “Are you crazy?” I’m not confession my sins to this bunch. You aren’t safe! So forget it.” Then I sat down, only to quickly stand back up again and say, “Well, I suppose that is a sort of confession.”

Everybody laughed because we all knew that, while confession was good for the soul and good for the church, inappropriate confession was quite dangerous.

We live in a time when secrets are hard to keep. With social media, cameras on every corner, YouTube, email hackers, and viral tweets, town gossips have pretty much been put out of business–or maybe now they have a much bigger platform. If you don’t want everyone to know what you say, write, and do, don’t say it, don’t write it, and don’t do it. It will come back to bite you. Just ask those whose lives were destroyed by an online revelation, a Google search, or a camera about which they were unaware.

Until the church, the world, and our communities become safe places, a wise man or woman will be careful about an inappropriate authenticity that is more akin to stripping than honesty. So before we “get down” to our discussion of masks and  how they hurt us and those we love, let me remind you of some things that are very important. (Quote source: Hidden Agendas,” pp. 25-26.)

Now if you think I’m going to give you the rest, you’re crazy . . . buy the book!!!

take-off-the-maskThis post would be hopelessly long if I gave you snippets from each of the fourteen chapters. I wish I could, but it’s all in the book. Okay, okayhere are two more examples. . . . 1f601

In a section titled, “What is Really Important,” in Chapter 6 titled, “Dead Men (and Women) Do Tell Tales,” Steve writes:

Do you remember the story Jesus told about the farmer whose farm was incredibly successful (Luke 12)? The farmer was smoking a cigar on the back porch and planning how to deal with his new found wealth. He was going to tear down his barns and build bigger ones, and then he was going to kick back and enjoy his retirement. He fantasized about booze, parties and fun. God said to the man, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20).

It is said that after the North had taken Richmond during the Civil War, there were literally wagonloads of Confederate money hauled away. Some of the soldiers who had become bored with it all got together and played a poker game. They played the game with worthless Confederate money, often playing for thousands of dollars a hand. What was important about their poker game? Nothing. Nothing at all.

In our culture we are playing, as it were, a lot of poker games with phony, worthless money. Mark Twain once told a group of wealthy business people that they would one day meet someone who didn’t have a dime yet was happy. “Then,” he said, “You’ll know that you’ve paid too much for your whistle.”

The world lies to us all the time. I actually believed the commercial pushing the hair growth product. They lied. So did those who said that fame, money, and being more religious would make everything okay. I’ve had a modicum of all three and those folks lied to me, too. I thought that if I ate properly, exercised regularly, and stayed away from products bad for my body, I would live a long and healthy life. Instead, I found out that I was just like a ship going down with nothing to throw overboard. They lied. And it was the Holy Spirit who reminded me. In that reminder, I was able to “consider myself dead.”

All of my life I wanted to be a mega-church pastor. I always served relatively small churches until eventually God told me I didn’t have to be a pastor anymore. Not too long ago a member of the pulpit committee of a very large church asked me to consider becoming their pastor. I told him he was crazy, but he said, “Steve, at least pray about it.” I did.

“Lord,” I prayed, “you know I’ve always wanted that kind of church. Think of the impact I could make for you and the lives I could touch…to say nothing of the money I could make. I would tithe that money and you would get far more then you’re getting from me now.”

At that moment, God took the blinders off and reminded me of that day in my study when my life came apart. He showed me a picture of angry Christians at a congregational meeting. He showed me the graves beside which I wept and the suicides I had cleaned up. He reminded me of the sleepless night when a drunk called at 3 o’clock in the morning and the times I stayed up worrying about the direction of the church.

I wrote the man on the pulpit committee. “I did as you requested,” I wrote in handwriting so shaky I could hardly read it. “I prayed and God said I was crazy to even pray about it. I will, however, be praying for you guys as you seek the right pastor for your church.”

The reminder was from the Holy Spirit. When he reminded me about the importance (or lack of it) of serving a mega-church, I repented (i.e., agreed with God) and it was a part of the process of considering myself dead.

Considering yourself dead is also to discover . . . 

What Is Going to Last

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus . . . and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:13-15). In other words, a lot of things aren’t going to last, but Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever [Hebrews 13:8], and when you die only that will remain. In the great love chapter of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), Paul wrote that three things would last–faith, hope, and love–and then he pointed out that love was the greatest of the three. Not only that, Paul wrote his friends in Philippi that the Holy Spirit would remind them of what will last and what won’t. I have a friend who says that everybody ought to be a part of something that will last longer then they do. (Quote source: Hidden Agendas,” pp. 83-86.)

The last snippet will come from Chapter 12 titled, “A New Kind of Family.” Steve writes:

Jesus said that we should be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) In chapter 2 [you’ll need to get the book!] I quote my late mentor when he said that the inappropriate and reckless ripping off of a mask was the kiss of death for friendship. He’s right. In fact, let me suggest that you read that second chapter again and remember what I taught you. You have to be very careful to whom and in front of whom you take off your mask, as well as the timing of that removal. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If we’re willing to reveal who we are in the little pieces and to admit our hidden agendas in small places, it will become addictive. And it will become contagious.

I have a friend, a famous pastor (you would know his name) who was disgraced, with a great number of people bearing witness to the way they were shamed and demeaned by him. I’ve stayed in touch with him even though some friends have told me I shouldn’t. At any rate, one friend told me that he was glad I was and then said, “What he really needs is someone to hug him.” In order to do that, I have to be real to him about who I am. I hate that but I’ve been watching and waiting, and this just came along.

We’ve all heard a lot about “creating opportunities” to be witnesses for Christ. Forget it. You don’t have to create opportunities. Just walk around in your new shoes and try to be sensitive to the opportunities God has given you to be real, to cut slack, and to set aside your hidden agendas. The people you touch will amaze you.

Just don’t duck. (Quote source: Hidden Agendas,” page 177.)

There are a total of fourteen chapters in the book, and at the end of each chapter Steve gives us several questions to digest regarding the chapter’s topic, which makes the book an excellent source for individual or group study. The many stories in his book are captivating, as is his sense of humor. It is, in fact . . .

Vintage Steve Brown . . .

And I can guarantee . . .

You will not be disappointed. . . .

Ordering information (Available May 16, 2016–it can be pre-ordered now if you’re reading this post before that date):

Key Life: Click here to order, $15.00

Amazon.com: Click here to order, $17.99

YouTube Video: “True Colors” (1986) by Cyndi Lauper:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Future is Now

The Future is NowWhat has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
~Ecclesiastes 1:9

While we live in an age of ever increasing marvel and technological wonders, some things never change–like human nature. Due to the ever increasing rise in terrorism that is spreading around the globe like a cancer claiming it’s next victim, we do ourselves a great disservice if we bury our heads in the sand and pretend it can’t happen here in America. And all of the braggadocio talk we can muster won’t stop it, either. In fact, it won’t even put a dent in it. If anything, it encourages it all the more. . . .

This post is going to deal with the subject of persecution and, specifically, the rise of persecution and the basic steps involved in persecuting others. Persecution is defined as “hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs; and persistent annoyance or harassment” (quote source here). Whether it is individualized to a specific person or an entire group of people, there are several stages that take place in the systematic persecution of any individual or group. An article titled, The Five Stages of Persecution,” published on July 31, 2014 on Patheos.com written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker spells out those stages:

The Five Stages of Persecution

Seeing the rise of persecution against Christians in Iraq, the far East and Africa, Msgr Pope has a great archived article here on the five stages that precede outright persecution. Can it happen in the USA – land of religious freedom? Msgr Pope observes the five stages.

1. Stereotyping the targeted group  To stereotype means to repeat without variation, to take a quality or observation of a limited number, and generalize it to the whole group. It involves a simplified and standardized conception or view of a group based on observation of a limited sample.

Basically as the stereotype goes, Catholics and Bible believing Christians are a sad, angry, boring, backward and repressed lot. To many who accept the stereotyping we are a laughable, even tragic group, caught in a superstitious past, incapable of throwing off the shackles of faith.

2. Vilifying the targeted Group for alleged crimes or misconduct  As the stereotyping grows in intensity, Catholics and Christians who did not toe the line in the cultural revolution were described as close-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, reactionary and just plain mean and basically bad people.

The History of the Church is also described myopically as little more than bad and repressive behavior as we conducted crusades, inquisitions, and hated Galileo and all of science. Never mind that there might be a little more to the story, or that the Church founded universities, and hospitals, was the patron of the arts, and preached a Gospel that brought order and civilization to divided and barbarous time in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. Stereotyping will hear little of that, or, if it does, it will give the credit to anything or anyone but the Church and the faith.

3. Marginalizing the targeted group’s role in society  Having established the (untrue) premise that the Church and the faith is very bad and even harmful to human dignity and freedom, the next stage seeks to relegate the role of the Church to the margins.

To many in secularized culture, religion must go. They will perhaps let us have our hymns, etc., in the four walls of our churches, but the faith must be banished from the public square.

In this stage it becomes increasingly unacceptable and intolerable that anyone should mention God, pray publicly or in any way bring their Christian faith to bear on matters of public policy. Nativity sets must go, out with Christmas trees, even the colors green and red at “holiday time” are banished from many public schools.

4. Criminalizing the targeted group or its works – Can someone say HHS mandate?

But prior to this egregious attempt to violate our religious liberty there have been many other times we have had to go to court to fight for our rights to openly practice our faith. Increasing litigation is being directed against the Church and other Christians for daring to live out our faith.

Some jurisdictions have sought to compel Catholic hospitals and pro-life clinics to provide information or referrals for abortion, to provide “emergency contraception” (i.e. the abortifacient known as the morning after pill), Several branches of Catholic Charities have been de-certified from doing adoption work because they will not adopt children to gay couples. The State of Connecticut sought to regulate the structure, organization and running of Catholic parishes in 2009. And recently a number of Christian valedictorians in various states have suffered legal injunctions when it was discovered that they would dare to mention God, and Jesus in their talk. (More HERE)

5. Persecuting the targeted group outright  If current trends continue, Christians, especially religious leaders, may not be far from enduring heavy fines and jail.

The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, desertification, and ultimately jail. (Article and quote source here.)

As Msgr Pope stated in the original article published in 2012 and cited at the beginning of the above article, “Unlikely you say? Alarmist? Well, stages one through four are pretty well in place. One may wish to whistle past the graveyard but it looks like we’re pretty well set for Stage 5. You decide.” He added the following under Stage 5 in his original article:

In this country there are greater provisions for free speech but, as we have seen, there is a steady erosion in religious liberty and many Catholic dioceses are well familiar with having to spend long periods in courts defending basic religious liberty. The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, desertification, and ultimately jail.

The subject of persecution (the systematic destroying of others) involves “the suffering of all types of persecution and harassment short of death brought against a person or group on account of adherence to a cause and especially to one’s religious faith. This type of persecution usually takes the form of political, psychological, legal and financial harassment” (quote source here). And it occurs much more frequently in societies like America who wish to hide the outright persecution of its citizens who they see as being “unfit” in whatever category they choose to put them in (whether religious, racial, etc.) since it is not yet legal to persecute them “out in the open” (although what they do is pretty overt at times).

Love Never FailsPersecution is alive and well right here in America. It isn’t as obvious as beheading anyone on beaches yet, or gassing them in ovens; or working people to death in death camps, but it is here. For example, how many millions in this country are in the “long-term unemployed” category and have given up ever hoping to find work again? Their lives have been decimated financially and in many other ways but does anybody care? The number of homeless has vastly increased while the number of laws against the homeless has increased, too. And you won’t find their numbers listed anywhere in the latest unemployment statistics. We hide persecution under the various cloaks of long-term unemployment, or calling into question the sanity or mental stability of those we can’t “control” (especially if they have strong religious beliefs that are not popular among the general population), not to mention the systematic targeting of specific individuals for all types of harassment. There is no shortage of examples from those being persecuted as stated above on the internet if one wants to go looking for them. Unfortunately, most people just don’t want to know, and it’s easier to call them crazy. In that way perhaps they don’t think it will ever affect them.

Let’s take a look at the early stages of persecution that took place in Nazi Germany between 1933-1939. An article titled, 1933-1939: Early Stages of Persecution,” on MyJewishLearning.com states the following:

On January 30, 1933, Adolph Hitler was named chancellor, the most powerful position in the German government, by the aged President Hindenburg, who hoped Hitler could lead the nation out of its grave political and economic crisis. Hitler was the leader of the right-wing National Socialist German Workers Party (called “the Nazi Party” for short). It was, by 1933, one of the strongest parties in Germany, even though–reflecting the country’s multiparty system–the Nazis had won only a plurality of 33 percent of the votes in the 1932 elections to the German parliament (Reichstag).

Once in power, Hitler moved quickly to end German democracy. He convinced his cabinet to invoke emergency clauses of the constitution that permitted the suspension of individual freedoms of press, speech, and assembly. Special security forces—the Gestapo, the Storm Troopers (SA), and the SS–murdered or arrested leaders of opposition political parties (Communists, socialists, and liberals). The Enabling Act of March 23, 1933–forced through the Reichstag already purged of many political opponents–gave dictatorial powers to Hitler.

Also in 1933, the Nazis began to put into practice their racial ideology. The Nazis believed that the Germans were “racially superior” and that there was a struggle for survival between them and inferior races. They saw Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and the handicapped as a serious biological threat to the purity of the “German (Aryan) Race,” what they called the master race.

Jews, who numbered about 525,000 in Germany (less than one percent of the total population in 1933) were the principal target of Nazi hatred. The Nazis identified Jews as a race and defined this race as “inferior.” They also spewed hate-mongering propaganda that unfairly blamed Jews for Germany’s economic depression and the country’s defeat in World War I (1914-1918).

In 1933, new German laws forced Jews out of their civil service jobs, university and law court positions, and other areas of public life. In April 1933, laws proclaimed at Nuremberg made Jews second-class citizens. These Nuremberg Laws defined Jews, not by their religion or by how they wanted to identify themselves, but by the religious affiliation of their grandparents. Between 1937 and 1939, new anti-Jewish regulations segregated Jews further and made daily life very difficult for them. Jews could not attend public schools; go to theaters, cinema, or vacation resorts; or reside or even walk in certain sections of German cities.

Also between 1937 and 1939, Jews increasingly were forced from Germany’s economic life. The Nazis either seized Jewish businesses and properties outright or forced Jews to sell them at bargain prices. In November 1938, the Nazis organized a riot (pogrom), known as Kristallnacht (the “Night of Broken Glass”). This attack against German and Austrian Jews included the physical destruction of synagogues and Jewish-owned stores, the arrest of Jewish men, the vandalizing of homes, and the murder of individuals.

Although Jews were the main target of Nazi hatred, the Nazis persecuted other groups they viewed as racially or genetically “inferior.” Nazi racial ideology was buttressed by scientists who advocated “selective breeding” (eugenics) to “improve” the human race. Laws passed between 1933 and 1935 aimed to reduce the future number of genetic “inferiors” through involuntary sterilization programs: 320,000 to 350,000 individuals judged physically or mentally handicapped were subjected to surgical or radiation procedures so they could not have children. Supporters of sterilization also argued that the handicapped burdened the community with the costs of their care. Many of Germany’s 30,000 Roma (Gypsies) were also eventually sterilized and prohibited, along with Blacks, from intermarrying with Germans. About 500 children of mixed African-German backgrounds were also sterilized. New laws combined traditional prejudices with the racism of the Nazis, which defined Roma by “race” and as “criminal and asocial.”

Another consequence of Hitler’s ruthless dictatorship in the 1930s was the arrest of political opponents and trade unionists and others whom the Nazis labeled “undesirables” and “enemies of the state.” Some 5,000 to 15,000 homosexuals were imprisoned in concentration camps; under the 1935 Nazi-revised criminal code, the mere denunciation of a man as “homosexual” could result in arrest, trial, and conviction. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who numbered at least 25,000 in Germany, were banned as an organization as early as April 1933, because the beliefs of this religious group prohibited them from swearing any oath to the state or serving in the German military. Their literature was confiscated, and they lost their jobs, unemployment benefits, pensions, and all social welfare benefits. Many Witnesses were sent to prisons and concentration camps in Nazi Germany, and their children were sent to juvenile detention homes and orphanages.

Between 1933 and 1936, thousand of people, mostly political prisoners, were imprisoned in concentrations camps, while several thousand German Roma were confined in special municipal camps. The first systematic round-up of German and Austrian Jews occurred after Kristallnacht, when approximately 30,000 Jewish men were deported to Dachau and other concentration camps, and several hundred Jewish women were sent to local jails. The wave of arrests in 1938 also included several thousand German and Austrian Roma.

Between 1933 and 1939, about half of the German-Jewish population and more than two-thirds of Austrian Jews (1938-1939) fled Nazi persecution. They emigrated mainly to the United States, Palestine, elsewhere in Europe (where many would be later trapped by Nazi conquests during the war), Latin America, and Japanese-occupied Shanghai (which required no visas for entry). Jews who remained under Nazi rule were either unwilling to uproot themselves or unable to obtain visas, sponsors in host countries, or funds for emigration. Most foreign countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, and France, were unwilling to admit very large numbers of refugees. (Quote source here.)

Nazi Germany didn’t happen in a vacuum. The whole world watched and turned a blind eye to the horror and atrocities that took place until the world found itself engulfed in the Second World War.

Regarding persecution in America, I ran into an article published on March 6, 2015 by  on Patheos.com titled, Yes, There Is Christian Persecution in America And Here’s What it Looks Like.” His take is a bit different regarding where the source of the persecution is coming from. He opens by stating what most people believe about persecution in America:

I’ve often written about the American persecution complex that tends to see anti-Christian persecution under every rock, and have long been a proponent that such claims of persecution are often simply a loss of privilege or the ability to persecute others. Each time I say something along these lines, I usually get a flood of comments and messages/e-mails telling me how wrong I am and that Christianity in America is under attack. One commenter even said recently that “Jesus” is the only name you’re not allowed to speak at work without getting fired.

Secretly I’ve had some misgivings about my position and these doubts have now given way to a change in position. So, this post is a capitulation to my critics and a public admission about how wrong I’ve been. Yes, Christians are bullied for their faith in America– and it happens on a daily basis. Yes, Christians can lose their jobs simply because they believe in the teachings of Jesus. Yes, some Christians in America are hated on account of their association with Jesus. Real persecution just happens to look differently than what is often claimed as persecution. Case in point:

A few weeks ago, MidAmerica Nazarene University chaplain and Vice President of Community Formation Dr. Randy Beckum spoke at the student chapel services. Dr. Beckum gave a short sermon during the chapel service that is being billed as “controversial” and something that really upset the student and faculty population at MidAmerica Nazarene (see/read full text here). What was so controversial and offensive you ask? Well, let’s take a look…. (You can read the entire article at this link).

You might be surprised (or maybe not) at where Corey sees the persecution of Christians in America coming from (hint: other Christians). And if you read the article, you will find out that the President relieved Dr. Beckum of his duties as Vice President of Community Formation. The topic of Dr. Beckum’s sermon during a chapel service that started the whole controversy was on Jesus’ admonition to his followers that we are to “love our enemies.” (The article is available at this link). There is something so antithetical about Christians persecuting other Christians when Jesus clearly commanded his followers to “love our enemies.” Christians persecuting anyone should not exist.

With that being said, persecution can come from anyone or anywhere, and no one particular group has a niche on it. It is all about the motives of those who are doing the persecuting (whether persecuting an individual or an entire group of people). The persecution of others is done for a variety of reasons, often of a religious nature but not always (e.g., money and control are huge motivators for persecution, too), goes on everywhere. As I mentioned above, just because we aren’t beheading people on beaches here in America doesn’t mean we aren’t stealth in other ways of persecuting others we want to try to control (or destroy) for whatever reasons. Those involved in the persecution are adept at making others look stupid or crazy and ruining their lives if there is personal gain in it for them. Persecution in America is alive and well hidden, but it is very much “out there.”

America is changing and it is changing at a very rapid pace. What will it look like in ten years? Who knows? Just look at the upheaval in our political system during this election year. By the way, as a disclaimer, the articles I have mentioned are for information only on the subject of persecution and I do not personally endorse some of the statements in them. I have used them because they cite specific situations of how the persecution progressed in Nazi Germany, and how one high ranking administrator lost his job here in America by giving a sermon in chapel at a Christian university on Jesus’ topic of “loving our enemies.”

The irony of it all. . . .

While persecution is a sobering topic, I want to end this post on a more positive note. An article published on August 10, 2015 written by Thomas Christianson in Relevant Magazine gives us some food for thought, and it is aptly titled, What It Actually Means to Love Your Enemies.” You can read his article at this link.

Jesus said it best in Matthew 5:43-48:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So let us go . . . 

And do likewise . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Never Giving Up

ready-for-defenseBack on November 3, 2013, I wrote a blog post titled, The Woman, the Judge, Justice and God,” and I reblogged it again last year on April 23, 2015, adding a few words and titled it, Always Pray and Don’t Give Up.” It’s regarding a parable that Jesus taught on one of the most important topics we need to remember when we are in the midst of an ongoing trial (sometimes lasting for years) that just never seems to let up and, in fact, over time the pressure intensifies in order to try and make us finally give up. It tests our mettle to the max, and too often we give up when the going just keeps on going and getting harder instead of better, and the obstacles get tougher and more numerous and the pressure seems unbearable at times. And it’s at that very point that the message of the parable is so vitally important for us to remember. If we rely on ourselves and our own understanding, we will fall. 

As a preface to the parable, Jesus states, “Always pray and don’t give up.” And he is our example to follow. After all, he never gave up, either (see Hebrews 12:1-3). The power to move forward when all hell comes against us is found only in God, and not is us. This parable is about persistence and how important it is to have it, and to keep it, and keep going on and to not give up, no matter how long it takes and no matter hard it gets, and no matter who may mock us or how many are against us in the process. The parable is found in Luke 18.1-8:

The Parable of the Persistent Widow

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

JusticeThere are a lot of people in this world who don’t fear God or care what people think. The judge in this case was such a person. However, what eventually got to him was this widow’s persistence in coming to him to get justice from her adversary. We are not given the details of her particular problem with her adversary, but it was clear she needed justice from the harassment she was under and the judge was the only person who could give it to her. But he refused to help her “for some time.” It could have been several years, but she never stopped coming to him for help, and she never gave up seeking help from him as he was the only one who could get justice for her from her adversary who just never gave up harassing her. Finally, the judge was so tired of hearing from her that he decided to finally give her the justice she needed so that she would stop bothering him about it, but it took a very long time for it to happen. In fact, the judge’s response states that he would finally see that she got justice so that she wouldn’t eventually come and attack him. He was wearing out under her continual pressure of asking for justice, and it was her persistence that paid off for her in the end. While we don’t know what happened to her adversary, we do know the harassment finally stopped and she was finally free from her adversary.

Of course, the ending of the parable states, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

It is interesting that Jesus asks that question at the end of this parable–“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” The faith he is speaking about is the kind of faith portrayed by the widow’s continual persistence and the fact that she never gave up seeking justice from her adversary (see James 1:2-4). And that included the widow having to live through years of whatever her adversary was doing to her (Trial #1), and also the reluctance of the judge to help her for a very long time (Trial #2). And it paid off with the judge finally giving her justice from her adversary.

It has been seven years and seven months now since I started that job in Houston that has left me unemployed for all of this time. That job lasted barely seven months, but the consequences from it have lasted seven years so far. The punishment hardly fits the crime, and my only crime was accepting that job in the first place as I did nothing wrong while I worked there that warranted me being fired from it, and certainly nothing that warranted me not being able to find another job in all of this time. And I was employed in my profession for twenty years before I showed up on their door step. I suppose in a way it could be compared to a David and Goliath” story. I hadn’t thought of that comparison before, but the corporation that owns the company I worked for is definitely a “Goliath” in size and power, owning and managing over one hundred for-profit institutions of higher education (colleges and graduate schools), of which my former employer was one of them.

What happened to me there wasn’t right . . .

It wasn’t fair, and it certainly wasn’t just . . .

And I’m still looking for some justice. . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

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A Matter of Privacy

Tech-Sector-vs.-Government-Surveillance-privacyThree years ago I watched a movie titled The Pelican Brief (1993) starring Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, and Sam Shepard, that was made from the third novel by John Grisham with the same title, The Pelican Brief,” published in 1992 (an excerpt from the book is available at this link). There was a line in the movie that ended up being the inspiration for a blog post that I wrote on May 4, 2013, titled, Threats to Liberty (available at this link and reblogged in part below). The other day I ran into a hardback copy of the book at the local library for sale in their bookstore for $1.00, and since I don’t have a permanent address since I am still living in a hotel for reasons I have previously explained (and I can’t check out books from the library as I can’t get a library card with a temporary address), I decided to purchase the book to see how closely the movie follows the book. The main plot and story line are the same, but the movie is, obviously, a “quick version” of the book, with a little license thrown in. However, in reading the book it brought back the passion I felt after watching the movie three years ago. In fact, I think I’ll watch it again. . . .

There is a line stated very early on in the movie that inspired my blog post three years ago that was stated by Thomas Callahan (played by Sam Shepard), a Tulane law professor who teaches Constitutional Law to his students. The line is as follows:

“Passion and self-interest are threats to liberty.”

And they still are threats to liberty today, so I thought I’d repost the main part of that blog post titled, Threats to Liberty,” published three years ago as a reminder of what is at stake:

Threats to Liberty

life_liberty_the_pursuit_of_happinessOn July 4, 1776, these words were written by representatives of the original thirteen United States of America in Congress as part of the Declaration of Independence“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness . . . .” (quote source here).

America was founded as a “republic” and not as a “democracy” (as it is commonly referred to), and there is a major difference between the two. “The difference between a democracy and a republic is not merely a question of semantics but is fundamental. The word ‘republic’ comes from the Latin ‘res publica’ — which means simply ‘the public thing(s),’ or more simply ‘the law(s).’ ‘Democracy, on the other hand, is derived from the Greek words ‘demos’ and ‘kratein,’ which translates to ‘the people to rule.’ Democracy, therefore, has always been synonymous with majority rule” (quote source here).

“The Founding Fathers supported the view that (in the words of the Declaration of Independence) ‘Men … are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.’ They recognized that such rights should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be violated by an unrestrained king or monarch. In fact, they recognized that majority rule would quickly degenerate into ‘mob’-ocracy and then into tyranny. They had studied the history of both the Greek democracies and the Roman republic. They had a clear understanding of the relative freedom and stability that had characterized the latter, and of the strife and turmoil – quickly followed by despotism – that had characterized the former. In drafting the Constitution, they created a government of law and not of men, a republic and not a democracy (quote source here).

America is governed by laws and not by majority rule. Does that come as a surprise to you? It’s true. American citizens have the right to vote for their representatives in government, but it is the laws created and passed by that government that rule over America and its citizens, starting with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The Founding Fathers recognized that such rights should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be violated by an unrestrained king or monarch” (quote source here).

The Founding Fathers recognized that such rights should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be violated by an unrestrained king or monarch.” In other words, “an unrestrained majority” or an “unrestrained king” (in our case that would be the president), or both, have no right to trample the rights of any citizen in America as long as that citizen is a law-abiding citizen and has done no harm to anyone nor violated any laws. And as citizens of America, the Declaration of Independence clearly states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That means we are all equal. No exceptions. None.

No_LibertyIn America, we all have the right to“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and that means every single one of us. When that right in trample on and/or gets taken away from even one of us, all of us lose out. There’s a line in the movie, The Pelican Brief,” (1993) by Thomas Callahan, a Tulane law professor (played by Sam Shepard), where he states to his class, “Passion and self-interest are threats to liberty.” Let’s look at the definitions of these three words from Dictionary.com:

Passion“any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.”

Self-interest“regard for one’s own interest or advantage, especially with disregard for others.”

Liberty: “freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc., power or fight of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice; freedom from captivity, confinement, or physical restraint: The prisoner soon regained his liberty.”

If we allow the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (not to mention the right to privacy) to be taken away from even one American citizen who has done no harm nor violated any laws because of hatred, greed, and/or self-interest by any person or persons, majority, or government official, liberty no longer exists for any American citizen, and that is a slippery slope we will never recover from. And if it is allowed to happen to even one citizen, it can happen to all of us.

And let’s take a look at the “right to privacy.” Did you know there is a Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It states that a right to privacy is explicitly stated under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

The following quote comes from Wikipedia.com (link here):

The U.S. Supreme Court has found that the Constitution implicitly grants a right to privacy against governmental intrusion . . . . An article in the December 15, 1890 issue of the Harvard Law Review, written by attorney Samuel Warren and future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and entitled “The Right To Privacy,” is often cited as the first implicit declaration of a U.S. right to privacy . . . . Most states of the United States also grant a right to privacy and recognize four torts based on that right:

  1. Intrusion upon seclusion or solitude, or into private affairs;
  2. Public disclosure of embarrassing private facts;
  3. Publicity which places a person in a false light in the public eye; and
  4. Appropriation of name or likeness.

Do we as citizens of America take seriously the threat against allowing any person or persons, majority, or government official(s) to take away our basic human rights and rights as U.S. citizens? Do we just sit back and ignore it because it’s not happening to us at the moment? Well, it WILL happen to us eventually if we allow it to happen to even one U.S. citizen who had done no harm or no wrong to anyone nor broken any laws.

And if we don’t think it can ever happen in America, think Nazi Germany, and read that history. Under Hitler’s rule, Germany was transformed from a republic into a dictatorship using the process of Gelichschaltung (coordination)” (quote source here). Systematic coordination . . . . Germany was transformed from a republic (which is what we are) to a dictatorship, and it was done systematically over a very short period of time (1933-1945).

So, if we don’t care what happens to our own citizens as long as it isn’t happening to us at the moment (and if we are so ignorant as to believe that it won’t happen to us), don’t be surprised when we wake up one day to a transformed America where we have no rights at all anymore.

It’s a wake up call, folks. So do we just hit the snooze button and roll over one more time? Well, one more time might be too late. The following YouTube video is the same song I posted three years ago on that blog post mentioned above, and since I love the Doobie Brothers. . . .

Here it is again. . . .

Enjoy. . . .

YouTube Video: “Takin’ It To The Streets,” by The Doobie Brothers:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit
here
Photo #3 credit here

Strangers Among Us

love-hateWe have met the enemy and he is us.”

This quote was made famous by Pogo,” a comic strip character created by Walt Kelly (1913-1973) back at a time when environmental issues took front and center stage in America (1970-71), and they are still very much with us today. Here’s a little background information on the quote (source here):

We have met the enemy and he is us--PogoThe animal characters Walt Kelly created for his classic newspaper comic strip Pogo were known for their seemingly simplistic, but slyly perceptive comments about the state of the world and politics.

None is more remembered than Pogo the ‘possum’s quote in the poster Kelly designed to help promote environmental awareness and publicize the first annual observance of Earth Day, held on April 22, 1970 (see poster at right):

“WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”

In the poster, under the quote, Pogo is seen holding a litter pick-up stick and a burlap bag. He appears to be getting ready to start cleaning up the garbage humans have strewn over Okefenokee Swamp, the part of the planet where he lives.

Kelly used the line again in the Pogo strip published on the second Earth Day in 1971.

The words poignantly highlight a key concept of environmental stewardship: we all share part of the responsibility for the trashing of planet Earth, so we should all do our share to help clean it up.

Pogo’s quip was a pun based on the famous quotation “We have met the enemy and they are ours”—one of two famous quotes made by American Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry on September 10, 1813, after defeating a British naval squadron on Lake Erie during the War of 1812. (Perry’s other famous quote that day was “Don’t give up the ship.”) 

Kelly had used a version of the quote in the foreword to his 1953 book, “The Pogo Papers,” but it was not as pithy or memorable as the line he coined for Earth Day 1970.

Today, the environmental issues we face today are clearly daunting…. (Quote and article here.)

While the environmental issues here in America as well as the rest of the planet are certainly daunting, there is an enemy lurking is all of us that is far more daunting and far more damaging than any environmental issue including the latest one to hit the news known as global warming.”

While the “trashing of planet Earth” has been the main focus of the global warming controversy, there is another type of “global warming” that threatens all of us, and it is far worse than any particular environmental issue (not that they aren’t important). It is the “trashing of the human race” which is far more serious.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) in Nazi Germany (1933-1945) tried to exterminate an entire race of people (the Jews living among them at the time, and he succeeded in murdering six million of them–known as The Holocaust–and a total of eleven million people between 1933-1945) before he committed suicide at the end of World War II. Many centuries earlier, Haman, the main antagonist in the Book of Esther, who was a vizier in the Persian empire under King Ahasuerus, traditionally identified as Xerxes I, also tried to exterminate the Jews but the attempt was foiled and he was hanged on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai, a Jew who Haman considered to be his arch enemy along with the Jewish people living in Persia. As a consequence, his ten sons were also hanged.

In an ironic twist, an article published inUnited with Israel: The Global Movement for Israel titled, Incredible Parallels between the Purim Story and the Nazi Trials,” published March 10, 2014, shows the uncanny parallels between the hanging of Haman’s ten sons centuries ago and the hanging of ten Nazi war criminals after the Nuremberg trials for the crimes committed against humanity under Hitler. The article is available at this link.

Obviously, the topic of this blog post is one we are all very familiar with, whether it’s bullying in the classroom or road rage on the freeways, or being the recipient of disdaining looks from people we don’t even know. When left unattended, especially over time, it can turn into time bombs like Nazi Germany or the many other “revolutions” that have plummeted this planet of ours over the centuries (including two World Wars in the 20th Century). And it makes our environmental issues pale in comparison. While most of us (except our veterans and other military and medical personnel) have not experience the ravages of war up close and personal, we still run into people who seem to have a pennant for disdaining others whether they know them or not. And there seems to be a lot of pent up rage out there today. Just look at the political climate during this very tumultuous election year. And sometimes it seems like it’s coming from a feeling of superiority in thinking we are somehow better than others who are around us or who are not exactly like us. Whatever form it takes, it is ugly, and we’ve all experienced it and/or been a part of it.

Goth HippieIt brings to mind an experience I had three years ago when I was doing a lot of traveling in search of a job (which still has never materialized but the traveling has subsided considerably). I was driving through one of my favorite areas on the Gulf Coast between Houston, TX, and the town I lived in at the time that was located just north of Tampa, FL. I decided to take a short detour and got off the main interstate to drive along a coastal highway next to the Gulf of Mexico lapping on the sand beside the pavement. It was serene and beautiful and I came upon a pretty fancy multi-storied hotel right on the beach that looked too expensive for me to stay in (I found out later that it was formerly condos that had been turned into a hotel). However, I decided to check out the rate for one night anyway so I drove into their parking lot. I was wearing “road clothes” with means I was very “dressed down” in sweats as I had just driven a very long ways from Houston by the time I stopped there. I’m sure my makeup was no longer fresh, either. As I entered the hotel (I had to walk through a parking garage to get to the elevator), I noticed that the people I ran into were definitely of the “upper crust” crowd as their clothing and luggage stated as did the vehicles parked all around the hotel, and while I didn’t mind it at all, the looks I got from the folks I ran into was, well, let’s just say it was less than inviting. It was as if they wondered what the heck someone dressed like me was doing there. Glad they didn’t see my car with the faded paint job on the roof and trunk although it was only just starting then and not nearly as bad as it is now. Anyway, their reaction was disconcerting to say the least.

Nevertheless, I remained undaunted and took the elevator with a few of the well dressed folks with expensive luggage to the front desk located two floors up. As the elevator door opened and we exited the elevator, others were waiting to get on and I received the same look from them (that look of “Honey, what ARE you doing here?” if that look could be verbalized). Granted, I was not dressed like they were dressed but that didn’t matter to me. For all they didn’t know I could have been a billionaire incognito. I was there to inquire about a room to see if I could afford it for one night. Well, I was told nothing was available by a young female clerk who gave me a similar disdaining look, and I got the message loud and clear that I should perhaps look elsewhere. So I did. And I found a really wonderful room right down the street right across from the Gulf from that fancy hotel that catered to the well-to-do.

And that is when I discovered that there really is a caste system right here in America, whether by birth or even if wealth has been acquired recently by those newly rich from the internet/technology boom or Wall Street or mass tort litigation or some other means available in the Land of Opportunity (and maybe through illegal drugs or other unsavory means, although the prescription drug industry is legal and a billion-dollar enterprise). Everybody wants to be rich in America, right? Well, the compulsion is certainly there. Just look at our multi-billion dollar advertising business selling us anything we can ever possibly need or want (and often things we never thought about needing before). And the lottery system has done a real job on us, too, promising instant millionaire status in exchange for a few measly bucks every week. Well, over the years those “few measly bucks” turn into real money for the lottery folks, while the rest of us doing the spending dream on and spend more and get little or nothing in return. I don’t happen to play the lottery.

loveisnotarrogantWell, I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked. The issue at hand is how we treat others, and that includes ALL others. Quite frankly, unless those “others” are our friends or relatives or folks who can do something for us, we don’t much think about the homeless on the streets, or the less fortunate living right under our noses, and you’d be surprised at those who are forced to live in hotels. I never gave it any thought until I was forced to start living in hotels almost 18 months ago.

Probably the most interesting thing I’ve noticed during these past seven years since I lost my job in Houston and my lifestyle was considerably downsized is how there really isn’t much difference between the church folks among us from the rest of the folks in society when it comes to helping others who are truly needy or judging people we don’t even know. But that’s a subject for a blog post I probably won’t write any time soon if ever. That is not to say that there aren’t Christian and secular organizations that stand ready to help people when an emergency strikes (although the initial mess from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 stands as a real sore spot in our recent history). But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the day-to-day folks we all run into when we are out shopping or going to jobs (if one is lucky enough to have a job if they want one) or walking a mall, or going to the park, etc. We all can be nice and lovely to those we know and have a lot in common with, but those we don’t know? Well, let’s just say you’d have to walk a few miles in the shoes of all those folks we like to prejudge in order to understand what I’m trying to say here. We are not the friendliest bunch of folks around total strangers in our midst, or else there would be a lot less homeless in our nation if we were. This “brother’s keeper” stuff isn’t much to our liking.

And it hasn’t gone unnoticed, and I’m not even referring to anything I have personally experienced in the past seven years. It is about how we as a nation are perceived by others, and yes, even those living among us who experience our disdain first hand.

I think back to that hotel experience I mentioned above and wonder if anyone in that hotel that catered to the “well-to-do” would have helped me if I had asked for help from any of them. Or were they too busy judging me by my appearance to want to have anything to do with me? The impression I was left with was that they couldn’t have cared less about me personally because my appearance said I wasn’t “well to do” (without them knowing anything about me), and I imagine they would have treated anyone dressed like I was dressed in a similar fashion. While I didn’t take their attitudes personally, I wondered how they treated others that didn’t measure up to their standards that they ran into on a daily basis and not just at that fancy hotel. And we don’t have to be numbered among the rich to treat others so callously, either. Plenty of regular folks are in that category, too. And multiply that number of folks we’ve disdained over a number of years or a few decades. It should matter to us how we treat others we don’t know, but I don’t think it does anymore. We primarily look out for ourselves and maybe family and friends (if we are lucky and it’s not an inconvenience to us).

And don’t think the strangers living among us haven’t noticed. . .

The environment can wait. . .

Humanity can’t afford to wait. . . .

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, 
it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
~I Corinthians 13:4-8

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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