About Time


My wife and I were talking with her parents and aunt after a meal and the subject of the passing of time became the topic of conversation.  I remarked that having recently turned 50, many of the events I’m relating to others startle me when I realize they were 30 plus years ago.  But what was interesting, and I know what you’re thinking, (dear Lord please write something interesting soon), was that the feeling was shared by all at the table.  Kelli’s parents are 70 somethings, 70 is the new 60, and Kelli’s aunt is in her 90′s and all expressed their surprise at how fast time has passed.  Kelli’s aunt Lam, (Lam pronounced Lum, is a nickname, as her actual Dutch name is unpronounceable just like Mr. Spock’s) spoke excitedly about how she remembered things 60, 70, 80 years ago.  We should be longing for that place where time will be no more and HE will wipe away our tears

Life is inconveniet and time is greedy. Dad always had time.  Time to drive the round trip to Lamar to pick up medicine for his wife.  Time to force a weary body out of bed to care for his livestock.  I remember on many occasions dad bringing newborn piglets inside our basement so they could spend the night inside to avoid the potentially lethal cold .  Time to take me to a baseball game though now I realize those hours may have been better spent storing hay for the upcoming winter, but who knew, I had an arm like a 10 year old Jim Palmer and dad may have been thinking this kid is my golden ticket.  Time to buy me the greatest Christmas gift of all time- a yellow, chain driven, 3 wheeler upon which I pedaled more miles than Lance Armstrong.  Time to serve our country.  Time to drink a cup of coffee with friends. Time to take sick neighbors to the hospital.  Time to serve his generation.

I thought it might be interesting for you dad (and for those of you who haven’t yet logged back on to the facebook- add the “the”, it’s clumsier) to take a look back at just a few items of note from 1928 and wonder as I did at some of the incredible people and events.  Seems like yesterday I awoke on that Christmas morning and walked the few steps from my bedroom to the living room where sat the 3 wheeler and I wondered to myself for whom could such a glorious gift be, surely not I.  Did I ever thank you dad?  Thank you dad and best wishes on your birthday.




Author’s postscript

The September 15th cardinal entry was a bit of a surprise since during the 70′s it seemed 18 runners left on base was their per game average.


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November 4, 2014

I’ve decided to vote tomorrow here among the sage and cacti and casinos not necessarily because I’m sure my vote will decide the future of my adopted state- but because it’s owed.  Owed to those who had the courage to make their way across an ocean not knowing what lay ahead.  Owed to those who felt they had the right to govern themselves, lost most of what they had in the process, and wrote it down beseeching Almighty God’s providence.  Owed to those, our great great grandparents who fought sometimes among their own household, trying to determine if the union was worthy. Owed to those who fought world war one. Owed to those who stood little chance on the sands of Normandy and whose crosses mark their sacrifice.  Owed to those who traveled to the 38th parallel.

My former neighbor, who works as a police detective told this story.  He was on foot in Vietnam with a few of his patrol and an armored vehicle slowed down and the captain of the bunch offered them a ride.  Along the way they were engaged and the enemy clambered up on the vehicle.  The captain shut down the vehicle, took out his pistol and announced to my neighbor and all inside, “I’m going outside to get those boys off my truck.”  My neighbor said he heard plenty of gunfire and yelling and the captain came back in and without a word started off again.  It is owed.

Owed to those sent to the middle east from Bush to Barack.

Owed.  On my ballot are some fifty or sixty I’ve never met, probably will never know.  I’m going to vote for both republicans and democrats.  Twenty or more judges to be decided.  Governor and Lieutenant Governor, Treasurer, Secretary of State, State Controller, Attorney General, House of Representative federal and state.  May they also remember what is owed.

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Memorial Day 2014

My father related a story from the early fifties in Korea.  He was serving in the armed forces and it came time to bed down one evening amidst the rain and mud both inside and outside his tent.  Sometime during the night a Korean walked into his tent which immediately posed the question, friend or foe?  Thankfully, friend.  But, fear was a companion during his stay in Asia.  Some sixty years later fear is still a companion only now it walks our neighborhoods, drives our streets, and accompanies our conversations.  The spirit that drove us in World War II and the leadership that kept us on course by many accounts has departed and left America disillusioned and divided.  There has never been a greater opportunity for God to seek out and find the “Gideons” who remain in our land and world.  If you haven’t read the Bible account in Judges 6 and following take some time away from the distractions of life and chew on the meat of the Word and take heart.  Gideon was of little account in his own eyes but deep beneath God saw a “mighty man of valor.”  God took a man living in fear, and I might add, a man who made some regrettable choices toward the end of his life, and used him to make a difference in his generation.  Gideon was a man with doubts and questions but ultimately chose to place what little faith he had in a merciful, grace-full God who desired to help both Gideon and those around him.

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Happy birthday April 27 2014 (sung in the sultry Marilyn Monroe style)

An early first memory of my brother Mike occurred during a lunch break from some farmwork.  I was around six so he would have been 17 and he had made some sort of delicious sandwich, but it was the ice cold drink that had caught my fancy.  May have been an ice tea, or the more coveted and rare soda he had prepared.  In those days ice was made in industrial strength aluminum trays which had mechanical handles that when operated dislodged the individual cubes to some degree but never perfectly,so the chance of having perfectly formed cubes was small.  I don’t believe we had central air conditioning at the time, and it was hot out, and in, and lust formed in my little devious mind.  I wanted that perfectly chilled soda.  Condensation beads standing on the outside of glass, the sweet carbonated elixir faintly singing to me- I wanted that glass-nay, demanded that glass.  He could not have expected the explosive pounce of a 6 year old tormented by thirst and as I lunged for the glass it became for a moment dislodged from a secure grip and was immediately captured by gravity, emptying the contents upon the floor.  I,immediately recognizing my guilt, slowly looked at Mike for his reaction which was an unexpected silence.  It could not have been more effective if it had been Jesus telling Peter you will deny me three times before the cock crows twice.  The spill was cleaned and I believe I was able to ask politely for a drink and receive.

A ball of some sort would be the center of companionship for most of our years.  Again as a young boy learning to hit a wiffle ball we happened upon a strike zone set in stone by the front porch of our house.  If a pitched ball struck the steps it was a strike, then, as now, ball and strike calls were not reviewable.  A certain pitch on a certain day broke late and caught the corner for a strike which at the time created quite a heated defense from me, so much so that I delayed the match and caused Mike to say in no uncertain terms “do you want to play or do you want to argue”?  I wanted to play and it created in my mind the beginnings of a philosophy that continues today- that being, enjoy every moment of the competition with joy being the focus.

We moved to a new ballpark dominated by a looming red barn in left and a towering silo in right.  The ball was upgraded to a tennis ball and usually the bat was a handle taken from a gardening implement.  The backstop was a white block turkey barn with a couple of black vertical stripes to indicate the width of the plate and these strikes were called by the pitcher.  Low and high strikes were usually called by the batter.  Battles were had but no records have survived.  Mike used very effective off speed pitches and I developed a split finger pitch ala Bruce Sutter.  Great times, but I can’t remember the last match we played.  I think about the last matches now more often the older I get.

Matt and Josh were born as was my second childhood.  As soon as they were able a ballgame of some sort was introduced and eventually the greatest games of all were played in the friendly confines of their backyard stadium with Mike, Mary, Matt, Josh, and myself.  Wiffle was the ball of choice.  Short porch in right, a polo ground center and left center which required a prodigious blow to escape the boundary fence.  It was a hitter’s ballpark.  Pitcher’s ERA’s were swelled by the southwest wind. And at the appointed time the last game was played and perhaps we didn’t realize it.

Now, the lasts in life are accumulating, memories bring joy and soften the heartaches that have been given for us to ponder, and I treasure those memories shared with a brother and his family who I love dearly.  Happy birthday friend. Your brother.

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Wheaton College Update

Philip Ryken, Wheaton College’s President, released a statement about the recent chapel demonstration related to Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s speaking engagement. From the statement:

Wheaton College’s conviction on homosexual practice remains as articulated in our Community Covenant, which is affirmed each year by all students, faculty, and staff:

“Scripture condemns . . . sexual immorality, such as the use of pornography (Matt. 5:27-28), pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and woman (Rom. 1:21-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31).”

Chapel guests and programs speak to various topics, including contentious issues of the day, always in alignment with the biblical standards outlined in the Community Covenant.

As our Covenant states, Wheaton College is a community of living, learning, and serving. We are a confessional Christian academic community with a focus on the spiritual and intellectual formation of our students. While we are not insulated from cultural conflicts over ideas, including our own students’ search to understand how the truth of Scripture shapes each Christian’s life, our educational model does not require us either to silence critical exploration of complex issues or to accede uncritically to cultural pressures.

Instead, the Christ-followers who lead this Christian liberal arts institution, and who value the minds and hearts of the students entrusted to our care, judiciously employ a variety of responses to student concerns and conduct. These responses may include personal conversation, civil public discussion, godly counsel, admonition, and discipline.

Within Wheaton’s historic commitment to biblical truth, as well as in our model of liberal arts education, our goal is to grow a community where questions can be raised, disagreements can be expressed, discernment can be modeled, and disciples can be nurtured.

As a do-over, this series of statements greatly improves upon those offered by the Chaplain in the previous article.  Had Wheaton started from this position, it seems doubtful anyone would have bothered to say anything at all. But it still reveals the defensive position American evangelicals are increasingly operating from on this issue (and others) in a culture that is slowly but steadily abandoning Christianity. Let me point back to the comment in the previous article that probably angered me just enough to write a blog post:

“My prayer is that hearing Dr. Butterfield’s story will encourage and embolden all of us to share our stories with each other — to warmly invite those stories and to warmly receive those stories,” Kellough said. “My hope is that in telling our personal stories, we will be pointing one another to the ‘story of stories’ found in Jesus’ love for us.”

The reason I got so hot at the original article was the implied notion that because everyone’s story is meaningful (I agree with this), everyone’s story is equally edifying to us, equally pleasing to God, and equally worthy of the Ooohs and Ahhhs of a Kumbaya Moment. This is absolutely not what Christianity teaches, and this further reveals the inability of many American Christians to understand both the nature of the conflict and their current position in it. The article itself reveals that even the groups talking about ‘more than a single story’ recognize this, otherwise they would have been just as enthusiastic about Butterfield’s story as their own. Their real position was revealed to be ‘A Certain Set of Pre-Approved Stories In Deference To Us’. Our stories all have meaning, but not the same meaning. All of us are of equal value, but there is no neutrality in the Cosmos. The demonstrators instinctively understood this the moment they encountered a story that challenged them. Wheaton still seems unwilling to challenge them on this central point.

Our prayer should be that the stories shared by each of us, as varied as they undoubtedly are, will become unified on the central point of repentance and transformation through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The stories are wonderful, always unfolding in unpredictable ways, but the critical point of focus ought to be the path chosen at the fork in the road.  A culture moving away from Christianity will undoubtedly employ tactics to move the focus elsewhere (preferably upstream, where sins remain unchallenged). However, a Christian institution should be among the last to accept the premise that the focus should be moved at all.

The mistake made by Wheaton has nothing to do with listening to the demonstrators. This is what they should have done. The mistake was made the moment they agreed to play along with the game the demonstrators offered rather than simply pointing out the hypocrisy of the language of the demonstration itself, something they still haven’t had the courage to do. The response from Wheaton should have come, publicly, in the form of one simple question:

Why does Butterfield’s story, or 10 million like it, even bother you at all?

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Movie Review: Lincoln

I’m a bit slow to watching Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, but here are a few quick thoughts:

  • Normally I absolutely love anything Spielberg makes, but I was disappointed with this one. The pacing was just too slow, an error Spielberg almost never makes.
  • Daniel Day Lewis was fantastic. His performance saved the movie, making it watchable.
  • As with most Hollywood versions of history, it seemed to be more concerned with telling the story in a way that makes the audience feel good about things believed today, as opposed to simply telling the history as it was. For example, Lincoln’s views on slavery were much more complex than what the movie presented. Lincoln’s views about colonization were entirely absent (I think). It seems that a 150 minute movie could have spared one to mention this. I suppose having heroic characters in a film discuss this as a (potential) solution to a present political problem would have made the audience too uncomfortable, even though examples of this have been implemented even in recent memory.
  • A second historical problem is the Hollywood tendency to entirely omit very interesting facts (in deference to making the audience feel good about their own beliefs), while also presenting as fact some items that are open to debate. The above is an example of the former, while the closing scene of Thaddeus Stevens climbing in bed with his housekeeper is an example of the latter (note that this is also in deference to a modern audience.) Wouldn’t it have been more entertaining to play Stevens’ relationship with his housekeeper as one of rumor, as it was in real life?
  • My biggest complaint is that Spielberg treated the subject matter with kid gloves, unwilling to challenge a modern audience in any way, even though this would have been both more accurate and more entertaining. The answer to the question seems so obvious now, but it was very clearly not obvious then, given that about 700,000 people had to be slaughtered to provide it, and Lincoln himself continued pursuing colonization even after he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
  •  Basically, the movie attempted to set the audience in 1865, with the benefit of hindsight and the modern mood still intact. A better movie would have attempted to set the audience in 1865, warts and all.
  • UPDATE: I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed the choice to show Lincoln’s assassination from Tad’s point of view (he was attending a different play that evening). I don’t recall seeing that before in a film, and it was, for me, a very moving scene.
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Love the Sin, Hate the Conversion

American Evangelicalism has nothing to offer to the Kingdom if personal testimonies given at Christian colleges now have to be followed by prostration before the zeitgeist:

Students sat on the front steps of Edman Chapel holding signs and singing on Friday morning, Jan. 31, in a demonstration of solidarity and a desire to be heard before chapel guest Rosaria Champagne Butterfield gave her testimony and address to the Wheaton College community.

The demonstration, named “More Than a Single Story” by its organizers junior Justin Massey and sophomore Jordan-Ashley Barney, featured students holding signs that said “We’re all loved by God,” “This is not a protest,” “Rosaria’s story is valid, mine is too,” and “I’m gay and a beloved child of God. This is my story,” among many others. The students remained on the steps until just before chapel began, at which point they prayed together and then entered into the chapel to hear the message. Plans for the demonstration were formed on Wednesday, when Barney and Massey learned about Butterfield’s coming to Wheaton and heard from friends about their concern for the possibly negative impact that Butterfield’s story could have on Wheaton students.

What is Butterfield’s story? Oh, just one of conversion and repentance. One has to wonder if Massey and Barney would have protested had the only story told on that day been one akin to Andrew Sullivan’s. Those caught up in the zeitgeist don’t seem to truly desire an abundance of varied stories; after all, they are compelled to protest when one comes upon them and increasingly attempt to reduce the likelihood of one sneaking out.

Remember that time when Jesus, after calling people to repentance, then spent the day apologetically listening to his detractors tell him that His isn’t the only way? Yeah, me neither…

By the way, here is the Mission Statement and Motto of Wheaton College:

Our Mission:

Wheaton College serves Jesus Christ and advances His Kingdom through excellence in liberal arts and graduate programs that educate the whole person to build the church and benefit society worldwide.

Our Motto:

This mission expresses our commitment to do all things – “For Christ and His Kingdom.”

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Life Lessons from My Dad

Well another trip around the sun has been completed and a new one has begun.  Here’s wishing you a happy birthday dad, and I have to say, I’ve been thinking of the lessons you’ve taught me over the years.  The lessons you attempted to teach me, but which I miserably failed to learn, are currently being re-taught to me by my children, wife and my parole officer and he thinks it’s safe to say I’ll be a productive member of society in five to ten years.  Memories are priceless and I’m learning that the older you get the easier it is to relive memories rather than expend valuable energy making new ones.  So reader join me in celebrating my father’s birthday, if not with cash and gift cards which he would no doubt prefer, then by absorbing these life lessons.


Number one- Get up early

Dad’s typical day included teaching high school, driving a school bus before and after classes , farming, leading FFA related activities and/or driving a bus for evening school activities, and oh yes, being a husband and a father.  So it was not unusual for a days work to begin before five in the morning and end past eleven or twelve at night.  I’ve heard my dad say, and I would join him in saying, that there has never been a day he wanted to get out of bed.  To aid in this monumental task dad employed the best technology available at the time, a large clock radio alarm with the face back lit with an orange glow; millions continue to use such a device, and admittedly, to be awakened gently by music is appealing. The device had buttons and knobs and the buttons, if I recall correctly, were in a row on the top, with a knob on the bottom front left which controlled the tuner for the radio receiver and a knob on the bottom front right which controlled the volume for the speaker.  I don’t recall any markings which indicated the range of the volume but the loudest setting should have been marked “detonate”.  For quite a number of years that radio alarm would activate around 4:30 a.m. at a decibel range that would make Seattle’s football stadium seem like a library in comparison.  I believe it was set to KWTO ,which during the decade of the seventies, the format was country music, farming news, fishing reports with Bill Ring, and Paul Harvey news.  However because of the voltage flowing through the three inch diameter speaker, the noise was more like a tractor at full throttle pulling a wagon full of ten gallon milk cans.  From blissful, seven year old, warm in my bed sleep, to screaming banshee from hell, scared wide awake, heart pounding terror.  Not just for ten seconds while you fumble for the off button, but a full fishing report from Bill Ring, a full rundown of the previous days pricing for any animal sold anywhere on earth, and, time for a song, I’m the happiest girl in the whole USA .  This was the original torture method of choice by branches of the clandestine services but they were forced to use waterboarding because it was deemed more humane.  Today, I wake up a few minutes before the alarm, those final few minutes before the alarm are just too stressful.


Number two- Introduce the children to the wonder of animals


Dad had Shetland ponies which roamed the farm.  I may have been been seven or eight years old and it was determined for reasons I can’t remember and probably wouldn’t have understood that the ponies needed to be “rounded up”.  Come to think of it, even now I realize I still don’t understand the reason for these “roundups”.  At any rate, forget whatever Hollywood movie fantasy of a roundup you have in your imagination.  The movies depict cowboys on horseback guiding the herd through open range land, crossing dangerous rivers, directing them into corrals with hardly more than a pointed finger.  The cattle moved smoothly, the scenes lasted mere minutes, the cowboys moved on to the saloon, it was perfect.  We however, employ a different strategy- exhaust and collapse.  A few laps around the 120 acres of rolling farmland on a warm humid day, aided by JoJo, a dog who could outrun a cheetah, usually did the trick. ”Sic em JoJo” was a great stress reliever for Dad.  Finally, the livestock nearing death would seek refuge in the shade of the barn.  Piece of cake.  On this day I don’t recall the temperature or the duration of the chase but I do remember the gate.

Good corrals are a work of art.  They are sturdy and durable, able to withstand the abuse meted out by 800 pound animals with bad attitudes and loose bowels.  Good corrals control the flow of traffic.  They allow the farmhand to take a large group of animals, separate them into smaller groups, and/or work on a single animal at a time, all with the minimum of risk of injury to both the farmhand and the animal.  Our corral however, was more of a suggestion than a law when it came to controlling the livestock.  In our corral, Shetland ponies became gazelle’s and cattle became more destructive than a Fukushima reactor.

Yes, the gate.  On this day, dad and my brother managed to contain a few of the Shetland she-devils in a small pen with the opening blocked by a gate constructed of  steel pipe around its four sides and a wire grid  composing the rest.  It was sturdy and heavy thus meeting our conditions laid out previously.  I’m not sure if it was intentional or just happenstance but I was on the outside of the gate while the ponies on the inside, frightened, began to rotate inside the pen, accelerating like subatomic particles in a supercollider.  The gate, and myself, which had been vertical now became horizontal, leveled by a half ton of horseflesh.  I being watched over by angels, was pushed into the soft ground of the corral, and the gate became the reason I was not known as “the hoof face boy” as the ponies used it like a bridge over troubled children .  All in all, a successful roundup.  My therapist and my parole officer discuss this event often and agree it made me a better person than I probably would have been.


Number three- Take coffee breaks


Until I was an adult I don’t recall dad ever taking a traditional vacation or using a sick day.  To my knowledge dad never missed a day of work due to illness in his thirty plus year teaching career.  In my job I receive personal days, for which I’m grateful, which serve a dual purpose as either a sick day or I can schedule one for a day away from work.  I can’t accumulate these days nor can I accumulate any of my vacation time so it must be used every year which I am very happy to do.  So technically, of the 52 weeks of the year I can be excused for 6 of those. Dad didn’t take days off.  Dad’s record in my opinion far surpasses what Cal Ripken Jr. and Lou Gehrig accomplished, in large part, because they were playing and dad was working.  Some may say, “well school teachers have the entire summer off for a vacation”.  True.  Dad’s time off was spent typically sunup to sundown storing forage for his above mentioned ponies plus other assorted livestock, and of course, myself, so vacations were not likely.  Now, the body, mind, and spirit need a minimum amount of refreshing.  Oft times the need for a summer time break was signaled by a machinery breakdown.  Dad owned equipment for hay making that, unlike our neighbors machinery, needed repairs on a daily, even hourly basis.  Even to this day, dad owns a mowing device that was designed I’m sure as the result of a bar bet.  Launching a supply ship and docking it with the international space station requires no more effort than hooking this machine to a tractor.  But tires go flat, sickles need sharpening, equipment needs fuel so off to Dadeville for solutions to life’s problems and these trips were highlighted by a stop at the local café then known simply as the “drive in”.  Do you remember the coffee ad campaign featuring Juan Valdez who represented the Columbian coffee growers?  Juan had a job picking coffee beans because of Dad’s coffee consumption at the drive in.      The real reason for the drive in visit I believe is because dad used these stops as his mini-vacations. He could take a break from the heat, relax for a few minutes, and there was always someone there he would engage in conversation. Dad has a gift for making the other person know they are being listened to and that they are important.  The apostle Paul put it this way, “esteem others better than yourself”.  Dad has spent a lifetime putting others first.   Thank you dad for being a patient father to me because I surely caused you more than a few grey hairs.  Happy birthday!

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Thanksgiving Day 2013

Dallas Cowboy football, a buffet of food cooked by my grandmother Minnie, granddad in his easy chair, spittoon at the ready, television playing the game, these were some of the wonderful memories of my childhood. I’m thankful for the good memories but sometimes the bad memories play important roles.

“My life didn’t turn out the way I’d expected,” was how Redford’s Roy Hobbs explained it.  How can you explain a San Franciscan, a convert to Christianity who was attending Bible college by day and scrubbing floors by night boldly sharing the gospel with a farm boy from Dadeville.  I didn’t have much use for him or his faith at the time.  Fast forward a few months.  I was working the night shift at a Git-N-Go on the north central side of Springfield, Missouri and a fellow of the lewd and baser sort asked me for some money.  It was the gun he held that I found to be quite persuasive.  Along about this time a relationship I was involved in was crumbling and I began to look for a new way of living.  This was Christmas time 1987 and the next few months were spent in reflection of what would have resulted had the gun been fired.

July 7,1988.  I didn’t know much about God but I had been asking the heavenlies for help and I dreamed Charlie Sarchett’s name.  That night he let me in the front door of what was then Smitty’s supermarket on north Glenstone and showed me from the Bible who could help me, Jesus the Christ.

To say all has been good since would be false.  I have built close relationships only to see them dissolve.  I have been part of churches destroyed by wolves in sheep’s clothing.  I have had my faith pushed to the point of  being extinguished.   Even so, please come back soon, Lord Jesus.

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Forgiveness Exemplified

A few words of Jesus Christ frighten me each time I come across them; a handful of verses cause me to sit up straight and take seriously this thing called Christianity; a few passages serve to regularly wake me from my slumber.  A chief example of this is, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Well.  There appear to be no exceptions – I have checked, disappointed by my lack of findings.   Unfortunately for we sinful creatures, this is surely a fair deal.  If He is going to forgive me for my wickedness, shouldn’t this same mercy begin to be reflected in my response to others?  C.S. Lewis put it this way:

Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war.  And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger.  It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible.  ‘That sort of talk makes them sick,’ they say.  And half of you already want to ask me, ‘I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?’

So do I.  I wonder very much.  Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it comes to the point.  I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do – I can do precious little – I am telling you what Christianity is.  I did not invent it.  And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’  There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms.  It is made perfectly clear that if do not forgive we shall not be forgiven.  There are no two ways about it.  What are we to do?

One thing that is helpful to me in trying (and too often failing) to be obedient to this command is looking to others who have had more success.  Just this week, two such examples were seared into my conscience.  The first involves forgiveness offered by a woman surviving a napalm bombing.  Here are some excerpts:

8 June 1972, a plane bombed the village of Trang Bang, near Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in South Vietnam after the South Vietnamese pilot mistook a group of civilians leaving the temple for enemy troops.

The bombs contained napalm, a highly flammable fuel, which killed and badly burned the people on the ground.

The iconic black-and-white image taken of children fleeing the scene won the Pulitzer Prize and was chosen as the World Press Photo of the Year in 1972.

It communicated the horrors of the Vietnam War in a way words never could, helping to end one of the most divisive wars in American history and later becoming a symbol of the cruelty of all wars for children and civilian victims.

In the centre of the photo was a nine year old girl, who ran naked down the highway after stripping off her burning clothes.

Kim Phuc Phan Thi was with her family at the pagoda attending a religious celebration when the plane struck and lost several relatives in the attack. The children running with her were her own brothers and sisters.

Understandably, forgiveness was not the first thought that came to mind, but it was in her future:

Grateful for the care she had received she later decided to study medicine but struggled to come to terms with her deep physical and psychological scars.

‘My heart was exactly like a black coffee cup,’ she said. ‘I wished I died in that attack with my cousin. I wish I died at that time so I won’t suffer like that anymore … it was so hard for me to carry all that burden with that hatred, with that anger and bitterness.’

But it was as a second year medical student in Saigon that she discovered a New Testament in the university library, committed her life to following Jesus Christ, and realised that God had a plan for her life.

Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope, and forgiveness. If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?’ (Kim Phuc, 2008)

It is often said that time heals all wounds.  I certainly agree that the passing of time provides perspective, but it seems to me it is the grace of God both shown to us and reflected by us that enables true healing.

The second account, summarized here but given a lengthier treatment here,  is the story of Henry Gerecke, a US Chaplain who served 15 Nazi war criminals in the months leading up to their trials and executions at Nuremberg.  It is easy to speak of the love and mercy of God.  It is harder to confront the fact that this means Heaven will be populated with a few Nazi war criminals.  Yet, this is clearly what the Gospel implies, and it is clearly what we as Christians are called to embrace.  These examples show me that the hard-as-nails policy around forgiveness is indeed not an impossible virtue, but a reasonable requirement given to us by a merciful God.

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