“Courage Is Almost a Contradiction in Terms”

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms,” writes G. K. Chesterton. “It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.”

Yes, and we wonder, don’t we? We always wonder how much courage we really have, for how can we know until we’re tested?

I still have my draft card. I remember when I was still in high school, Amarillo’s Tascosa High, being required to make the short trip over to an office in the even-then historic Herring Hotel (est. 1927) to register for the draft. As I recall, I made the trip in my old VW beetle. Considering that the Vietnam War was winding down, it was a bit of a somber trip, but not nearly as bad as the trip a number of upper classmen had already made to the hotel, and thence to Vietnam. Guys my age were among the last in that era who had to register at all.

A friend who is nine years older tells me of being in college during that war. He remembers that two groups of guys got drunk on the evening of the lottery: those whose numbers were called, and those whose numbers were not. I’m against drunkenness, but if you want to find someone who blames either group, you’ll need to shop elsewhere.

Had my number been called, and had I been shipped to a jungle on the other side of the world, I can’t help but wonder how successfully I’d have faced, well, whatever I’d have faced. I don’t know. I’m glad I don’t know. But I wonder.

My father-in-law was tested many times in the long years he served in World War II. He led men, fought battles, lay wounded in the snow in Normandy, and came home with medals—and shrapnel. He had “a strong desire to live,” but so did many who died. We’ve got the letter an officer wrote to him in the hospital in England expressing relief that he’d learned that Mick had survived: “That hole in your right chest had me really worried.”

We owe more than we could ever repay to those who made such sacrifices—and to those who still are. We see a bunch of courage still “in the DNA” of those who serve. And, yes, I’m afraid we’ve also seen more prominent in our culture a genetic propensity to selfishness and whining. It’s not really in the genes; a sinful nature is common to us all, but we seem to be uncommonly willing to let ours run loose and be perversely proud of it. Did I mention that we whine a lot? Me, too. I hope we can at least muster enough courage, if that’s what it takes, to be a lot more grateful to folks who didn’t—and folks who don’t—whine. A lot of whining and a lot of gratitude rarely mingle much in the same soul.

Ironic, isn’t it? Sometimes courage means “a readiness to die.” But sometimes it means a readiness to live during the times when it would be easier to die, times when breathing and consciousness bring deep pain, physical or emotional.

A fellow pastor told me recently about preparing a funeral service for a sweet elderly church member he’d known for years. Only after her passing did he learn a number of stories from her earlier life detailing tragedy upon tragedy, any one of which would have been enough to throw most people into lifelong despair. Death would have been easier than life, but she chose life, and hope, and faith.

When my father-in-law died, I watched my mother-in-law and realized how well-matched they were. She went through some very hard years, harder than we realized. But no one who knew her would use the word “whine” in the same paragraph with her name. “If I were the only one this had ever happened to,” she’d say, “maybe I’d have something to complain about.” Oh, I’d have complained long and hard. But she chose life, and hope, and faith.

Do you want to see real courage? Some stories are written on battlefields across the ocean. Some stories are written in police cruisers and fire trucks.

But for some of the best stories, just look around you. How many “ordinary” people are showing extraordinary courage simply by getting out of bed in the face of pain and struggle and heartache? They’re heading to a cancer treatment. Every day they’re caring for a spouse being lost to Alzheimer’s. They’re carrying the grief of the loss of a spouse or the death of dreams for a child.

So many people could easily play the victim, embrace that role, and be defined by it. Almost everyone qualifies on some level. I’m awed by those who quietly choose instead for life, and hope, and faith.

You won’t need a large room with many people in it to be surrounded by more than a few heroes. Just look around. You may not see the medals, but just open your eyes. You’ll see a great deal of courage. Thank God for it. Honor it.

And, by the way, thank you for your courage.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Cat, Some Kittens, and Some Surprising Joy

True confession #1: I don’t feel the least bit guilty about my next true confession.

True confession #2: I have never been much of a cat person. I’ll pick a slobbering dog over a condescending cat every time.

I do admit that those types are not necessarily the only choices. But enough truth lies in the stereotypes that we all chuckle knowingly at Winston Churchill’s variously-quoted truth: “Cats look down on you, dogs look up to you. Give me a pig! He looks you in the eye and treats you as an equal.”

I’ll take his word about the pigs (though the feral ones I’ve seen are improved only with a bullet), but we all know he’s right about the canines and felines.

So I was a bit surprised to find myself—and more surprised to find my wife who likes animals “over there” but not “over here”—consorting with a cat. A black one. Technically, I’m sure, a feral one.

Bella or Runt, as she is called, depending upon which of two yards she’s scavenging or mooching in, is at least a two-family cat. She may even have more names and homes; I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t swear to it. A dog is an open book; cats are secretive, close-mouthed, shifty-eyed creatures that tend toward duplicity.

I’ll give her this: she’s a gentle cat, especially for one of the feral variety. I warned a granddaughter not to try to pick her up; the next thing I knew, the three-year-old was wagging the cat around. No bites. No scratches. And an older granddaughter was naming her.

About that same time, Bella (if I may use her Shelburneshire name) and I started “mousing” together. I have some birds—doves, a pheasant, etc. —in a rustic aviary I built out in our back yard. Bird seed on the ground means the occasional mouse under the ground. The cat and I discovered that if I turn on the hose, open the door a bit, and shoot water down a mouse hole, a half-drowned mouse or a few will likely scamper out. And she’s ready. Oh, yes, quite ready. She likes to play with her food. She should chew it more. But she enjoys it a great deal.

A few weeks ago, Runt/Bella gave birth to two kittens behind a couple of fenced in rain barrels I have in the back yard. I’m not sure about her morals, but I’m quite sure about her reproductive capacity.

I will admit that watching the little ones grow has been a lot of fun. One is black and white; one is gray. One, my pet-skeptical wife has named Sweetie Pie; the other, she has named Sugar Plum. Whatever you think about cats and dogs, I suppose everybody loves kittens and puppies.

Cats rarely ever condescend to coming when whistled at or called, even by name. And we’re not very sure yet if these are girl cats or boy cats. Maybe the other human grandparents next door could come up with a couple of boy cat names for use if needed. I’d hate to throw these kittens into unnecessary confusion. But these days, if one wakes up feeling distinctly like a dog trapped in a cat’s body, I suppose we may have to call it Fido or be considered brutish and cruel. (I still doubt it would come when called.)

But, seriously, ya know what’s been most amazing to me? The joy. I know some biologically necessary reasons exist for some of the romping and playing, rolling and chasing, frolicking and jumping (both fur-balls have amazing “verticals”) these kittens engage in between themselves and their mom. But you’ll not get me to believe that it’s all just zoology.

It’s too much. But it’s just right. It’s a smiling Creator’s gift. It’s joy. Deep. Real. Joy. And he gives it to us, too, when we open our souls to it.

I’ll wager that he’s always willing to help us do that. If we just ask.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Real Joy Never Runs Out, Never Runs Down

Entropy.

What pops into your head when you hear that word?

Well, just to prove that I listened some in a science class forty-plus years ago, here ya go: “The tendency of a body in motion to remain in motion and a body at rest to remain at rest.”

Impressive, right?

Not so much. Because, I’m now reminded, that is the definition of “inertia,” not “entropy.”

Okay. Let me think. “Entropy” is “a wasting away or progressive decline due to disuse or disease—for example, a muscle due to neurological disease or trauma.”

Nope. That’s “atrophy.”

So I should look it up?

Yes, I should, and, overcoming inertia on my couch, I did, and it, like life, is much, much, much more complicated than one might think. Just read a little of even the Wikipedia article, and you’ll find that the concept is integral to classical thermodynamics, statistical physics, information theory, chemistry, etc.

But then I looked the word up in my favorite online dictionary. Yep, thermodynamics is there. But jump on down to definition 2b: “a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder.” Bingo!

Inertia may keep me on the couch, but entropy just might be behind my inertia. Yes, and I suppose all of this could be connected to mental atrophy.

Stuff, as a rule, just runs down. “Downer” examples are depressingly easy to find.

I drive past what was once a beautiful lawn, one the previous owner was justly proud of. New owner. Grass is already history. A car or two parked on what was the yard.

Even really nice hotels have a shelf life. Without a lot of continual work and many dollars, what-a-great-place quickly becomes what-a-dive.

Didn’t we just have the house painted? Rats! It’s already peeling and begging for more paint.

Most cool cars don’t stay cool; they start to creak and rattle. Like their owners.

Didn’t I just drop ten pounds about ten minutes ago? So why am I now up fifteen?

Once-respected media outlets degenerate into National Enquirer wannabees.

Joe Cool thought the tattoo on his chest looked, well, cool. I wonder if he likes it now that it’s a lot nearer to his stomach?

Great tans turn into not so great skin damage and wrinkles. 

Cosmetic work can put off the inevitable, but when raising a left eyebrow causes a right pinkie toe to wiggle, that’s entropy, not progress.

And can I still list “gray” as my hair color or has entropy robbed me of even that?

Entropy. Harsh reality. So much around us seems to be running down.

But, amazingly enough, some things don’t have to.

My attitude might actually get better! Long shot, but it’s possible.

I might even lose a little weight but, better, I might lose a chip off my shoulder.

I might pray for, and find, God’s help to heal a relationship.

With the Lord’s help, my spirit might actually grow faster than my waistline.

Yes, a person’s hair might be turning white or loose, but maybe some wisdom is accruing in his cranium.

Maybe her heart is becoming younger and more vibrant. Maybe laughter is making laugh lines much more than worth their downside.

Entropy may be as pervasive as the law of gravity, but even if our backs hurt worse with time, our souls can learn to dance longer, better, and with more joy.

Real joy never runs out, never runs down.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“In Times Like These, It Helps to Recall…”

“In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these.”

Yep.

I’m not sure where I first heard that statement, but I’ve always thought that its truth packs a punch. I did a little “search engine” research and found it attributed to Paul Harvey or Will Harvey. Some versions say “remember” instead of “recall.” I don’t know Will Harvey, but I certainly remember Paul, and he said a great many things well worth recalling.

I know. Lots of things look bad. Lots of things are bad. In more than a few arenas, we are forced to wonder how long things can go on like this.

But hasn’t that always been the case (though we surely do well to remember that blessings not gratefully cherished can be squandered)?

The cave guys sitting around the campfire in the evening, passing around a wineskin and discussing the day’s hunt, also talked about how things had gone south since the “old” days and how this new pre-pre-pre-millennial bunch are lazy, self-centered, dumb as granite boulders, couldn’t find their own foot if they were hunting for it, and couldn’t hit it with their own spit, much less a bow and arrow, even if they did find it.

Haven’t there always been questionable “prophets” who, either self-deluded or biblically illiterate, actively spread delusions or naively pass them along? Not understanding “apocalyptic,” highly symbolic, literature such as Revelation, they pull out their newspapers or, more likely today, ransack the internet for news, and think they’ve somehow lined up all the clues, and write books, sell books, read questionable books (without understanding the questions), and think the “answers” are all there: Here’s when Christ is coming back!

Never mind that Jesus himself said in Matthew 24 that no one knows the hour or day—not even the angels, or the Son (!), but “only the Father.” And I’ll betcha dollars to donuts he was talking specifically in that context about the coming fall of Jerusalem to the Romans and not the “end of time,” though some important “be ready for the end” principles are surely there.

Is Christ coming back? Oh, yes, I absolutely believe that he is! Does anybody know when? Nope, I absolutely believe Christ when he says that they do not. (I surely wish I could figure out an ethical way to sell a few million books discussing heart-palpitating theories, though. I’d love for my present bank balance to be “left behind” with many more zeroes.)

But what about all the natural disasters, plagues and pandemics, wars and fighting, demagogues and despots, disgusting and stupid (and vile and/or terminally dim-witted) pompous politicians? What about morals spiraling downward, addictions and pernicious predilections proliferating, poor-pitiful-woe-is-me-and-it’s-all-your-fault “victims” pathetically and ceaselessly posturing?

More specifically, what about truly current events? Hey, Israel fired a bunch of missiles recently. Does that mean we’re closer to the Second Coming? I very much doubt it. (How much the nation of Israel has to do with spiritual Israel is another question and one Bible scholars and theologians with hard-earned clout reasonably disagree about.) I’m pretty sure it means that organizations with terrorist ties, folks who would lose power if peace broke out, should think twice about starting a fight with Israel.

Oh, you can count on about as many books as missiles coming out in the coming weeks claiming to explain all of this biblically. They’ll likely sell well. And they’ll be equal parts of moonshine and hogwash.

 Count on it. Times like these can be hard. Really hard. But all generations have had their own cave writing, smoke signals, newspapers, or internet convincing them that their times were the absolute worst ever. And they could each make a pretty tempting case.

It’s that last fact that bolsters my own case: “In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these.”

So pray before your head hits the pillow and then sleep well. Our Father’s got this. Always has. Always will.

Oh, yes, in times like these.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Talking Dog for Sale: Five Dollars”

I’ve long ago forgotten where I found the tale I’m about to relate, but I like it. Personally, I very much doubt that it’s factual; it does, however, hold a lesson or two that are true indeed.

As the story goes, a fellow was walking down the street one day when he saw a hand-lettered sign in a yard: “Talking Dog: Five Dollars.”

Quite curious, the man walked up to the front door of the house and knocked. When an ordinary-looking fellow answered, the guy standing on the porch said, “Pardon me, sir, but I saw your sign. Are you kidding? You’ve got a talking dog? A dog you want to sell for five dollars!?”

“Yes,” the answer came back, “I do have a talking dog that I’d sell cheap. In fact, he’s out in his doghouse now. If you’d like, feel free to go on back and have a chat with him.”

So the fellow went out to the back yard, found the canine sitting calmly in the dog house, and rather sheepishly bent down and asked, “So . . . so you’re a talking dog?”

“That’s right,” came back the quick answer. “Yep, started talking when I was just a pup. Been talking ever since.”

“Wow, that’s something!” said the amazed man. “You must have had quite a life!”

“Oh, yes,” replied the dog in excellent, even cultured, English. “Yes, indeed. You see, when people discovered that I could talk, they made over me a great deal. In fact, at one point, years ago now, I spent several years as a CIA field operative. You can imagine what a great tool a talking dog would be in the spy game. Why, a talking dog who knows when to keep his mouth shut is better than the best electronic bug money could buy! Hard hours, though, and a tough element to work with. I was once on assignment for such a long time that I ended up losing my wife. She nuzzled up to a Basset hound and ran off with him while I was gone.”

After closing what had been a very interesting conversation and thanking the dog for his time, the man walked back to the porch and spoke again to the amazing beast’s owner.

“I still can hardly believe my ears. You’re right! He talks! That’s mystery enough, but why in the world would you be willing to part with a talking dog for just five dollars? Are you crazy!? You’d really sell that dog for five bucks?”

“Yeah, he talks,” the owner answered, “but I’d sell him. Why, you can’t believe half of what that dog says!”

Sometimes we expect too much. Sometimes, critical to a (very serious) fault, we focus too much on the flaws of those around us and fail to be properly grateful for the blessings they bring.

God’s children already have the Father’s love. Fully. Completely. Through his Son, we receive pardon. We are completely accepted, just as we are. Through his Spirit, we receive power and healing. It is our Father’s joy to help us become the best and truest selves he has created us to be and, yes, to become better than we are. But he could not possibly love us more than he already does, and he will never choose to love us less. And having received his grace, we become ever more gracious to those around us.

How sad and dangerous if we forget how much grace we’ve received! Then our spirits shrivel, we live in fear, and we morph into tyrants so hard to please that nothing and no one can meet our “standards.” Then what we breed in our families, coworkers, and associates (I don’t say “friends” because we won’t have any real friends) is not hope but despair.

When you hear a dog speaking the King’s English, you don’t waste time criticizing his grammar or running a background check to make sure he has his facts straight. You just thank God for such a wonder! Come to think of it, the humans God has put around us don’t have to be even nearly that wonder-full to bless us. If we’ve received grace ourselves, we might seriously consider passing some of it along.

I surely would like to talk to that dog.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


When Love Fails and Christ’s People Fuss

If heaven were not already Paradise, the mere fact that no misunderstanding will mar its joy would make it heavenly.

Drat it! I got word recently of yet another misunderstanding and its sad fruit: broken relationships, deep hurt, and the waste of precious energy that could be put to far better use.

Careful now, lest you think I’m writing about anyone we might both know.

Remember the story about the fellow in England who sent a note as a joke to his prominent acquaintances saying, “Flee! All is discovered!”? Within a week, they’d almost all left the country!

Broken relationships are so common that almost anyone who reads this might think, “Goodness gracious! He’s writing about me and . . .”

No, I’m not. But the lesson will fit us all.

As I understand the situation, a man—an exceptionally good man—got his feelings hurt. He was disappointed by something that happened in his church (a Presbyterian church, not that the brand makes an atom’s worth of difference) with which he disagreed seriously. His disappointment turned to anger when he realized that his pastor and most of the folks in the church felt he’d over-reacted. He responded by over-reacting, effectively cutting himself off from those who thought he’d loved them as family. He had, but this time, his love failed, and the ground became fertile for a crop of bitterness.

Nope, I won’t tell you about the presenting issue behind the fuss and the fracture. I’ve long thought that the best lesson from the two good sisters’ fuss the Apostle Paul mentions in Philippians 4 is that nobody remembers or cares why they fussed; the point is that they did, and they shouldn’t have.

Even if the offended man I’m thinking of here was right, he was wrong. That he allowed his scruples to fracture the fellowship was far worse than the issue at hand.

In this case, almost no one else at his church thought the issue as serious as did he, and it’s a good church (not one given to regular in-fighting) which warns me that even a fine person can be beset by carnal pride that says, aloud or not, “I’m wiser, more scrupulous, more committed, than all of you; I can even turn my back on you and feel holy.”

How desperately Christians need to read one of the most practical chapters in all of the Bible: Romans 14. Gray areas in which equally committed Christians make different decisions have always been difficult for the church to handle. But St. Paul and God’s Spirit in Romans 14 point to the way to deal with precisely such matters, and say plainly: Love each other. Don’t judge each other. You are all saved by grace and grace alone. Uniformity of practice is not required. Love is.

Life is too short and the Christian family too precious to be fractured by the pious piffle Satan builds up in our minds as being all-important. How much of it is really more important than our unity in Christ?

God can use people with strong personalities. Thank God when they’re right. Watch out when they’re wrong. “Those readiest to die for a cause easily become those readiest to kill for it.”

And it might do us good to ponder the fact that, ever since Christ died, the first folks to show up with hammer and nails at any crucifixion are the “spiritual” folks who consider themselves more righteous than the believers at the other end of the pew.

When we fuss, unbelievers see it and Christ is dishonored.  Is the fight worth it? In my experience, almost never.

Oh, Lord, why would you want petty humans like us in your church? Wouldn’t angels have caused a lot less turmoil?

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Conversation With the Apostle Thomas

Ah, Thomas, I hate to mention this, but you could have saved yourself a great deal of trouble if you’d have just hung with the rest of the disciples on that first Easter evening.

You wouldn’t believe the spin lots of folks have put on the fact that you weren’t there that night. Yes, I know one would think that people would give an apostle of Christ the benefit of the doubt, so to speak. What? Oh, yes, a rather bad choice of words. Sorry.

But you would be the first to admit, I’m sure, that you apostles as a whole didn’t look too shiny for a while there. I mean, Judas . . .  Well, you know. And Peter pretty much threw in the towel. Three times. Cussing like a sailor. Or maybe a fisherman. Most of the guys scattered like quail. And then you sort of skip church. I know it wasn’t to sleep in, take out the boat or RV, or [fill in the blank with] bounce, pass, putt, throw, toss, hit, volley, kick, lob, or otherwise play with a ball, or even to nurse the dog who looked maybe a bit pale that morning.

You know what I mean when I say that the Bible only says that you weren’t there when the risen Lord amazed your apostolic compadres. The madres, the gals, had already tried to tell your friends that they’d seen Jesus, and he was alive again! But the macho guys wouldn’t believe them. “Silly women,” they said, until Jesus appeared in the room with them and scared them silly. Then, “giddy as schoolgirls” themselves, bubbling with joy, they almost bowl you over with the news when you show up.

And again, by the way, where were you?

The folks who call you “doubting Thomas” imply that . . .  Oh, you didn’t know about that? Sorry, but I’m afraid that’s the title you’ve been stuck with. Those folks seem to take it for granted that you were off doing something you shouldn’t have been doing just then. Sitting on a bar stool or playing golf or something, I guess. And your reaction when your drunk with joy companions assail you with the almost-too-good-to-be-true news—“Unless I put my finger where the nails were, . . .” really hasn’t played very well.

Yes, I know you’ve always been a low key sort, a non-pep-rally type whose turn of personality is to focus more on holes than donuts. But, yes, I also know that you’re a good man in a pinch. You’ll be glad to know that John remembered to record in his Gospel the fact that you were the only one who said, “Let’s go with him!” when all of you thought going back to Bethany with Jesus would mean sure death. And I guess it did. Christ’s death.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I like the idea my brother once shared with me. He thinks you weren’t with the guys that night because you loved him so much and his death had so broken you that you couldn’t stand to be with anybody as they prattled and rattled on. You needed to be by yourself.

I know for sure that I’m right when I say your statement of faith when you did see Christ—“You are my Lord and my God!”—is incredibly strong, one of the most noteworthy statements of faith ever uttered, and I’m with you as you’re with Christ. To draw breath is to put faith in something or someone, even if just ourselves (and that’s sad—and naïve). To live takes faith, and if faith in Christ is a mistake, I think it’s far less a mistake than the alternatives.

So just between us, I guess I’m glad you weren’t there at first, because, well, when the evidence comes in for you, it comes in for me, too.  

Don’t broadcast this, but I’ve had some doubts myself.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“We’re Still Friends If You Disagree”

Since this column has my name on it, this should be obvious: The opinions expressed herein are simply my own to own.

G. K. Chesterton died far too long ago for me to tell him, in this life anyway, how much I love his writing. I do indeed love his way with words and his wit regarding politics (and everything else).

Regarding government in general, he writes, “All government is an ugly necessity.”

Regarding politics, he recommends, “What we should try to do is make politics as local as possible. Keep the politicians near enough to kick them.”

And he continues, deciding that a kick may be inadequate: “It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.”

His only error, I think, is in giving politicians too much slack.

I’ve taken a few of those online “political typology” quizzes, and I invariably fall into the “Core Conservative” category, a group that accounts for only about 13% of the general population. I’m an even rarer species if you take into account a couple of big elections in which 95% of the 13% and I aren’t exactly on the same page. (Being hard to categorize is fine with me.)

“Core conservatives” have fallen on hard times, but I guess I am one. I’d like to see us actually try free enterprise sometime. I believe that capitalism with its many faults has far fewer faults than any alternatives. It seems clear to me that most governmental attempts to “end poverty” perpetuate the problem and end up being incredibly cruel even as they salve the consciences of well-off elites who need the help to feel good about themselves. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me that to vote, folks need to provide the same I.D. they’d need to buy beer or write on themselves with tattoos. I confess: I’ve never been sure why our nation is in any way blessed by “Motor Voter” registration. I don’t think registering should be hard, but if I don’t care enough about voting to at least actively register, maybe I should bless our republic and my fellow citizens by staying home.

So I guess the surveys have me correctly “filed.” No wonder I chuckle with Chesterton about politicians. I am, I admit, a tad squeamish about hangings. A worse fate for politicians these days might be to hang them only if they break out of the luxury hotel we lock them into for a forced vacation where they’re required to actually talk to each other. (Personally, I’d still vote to hang the ones, either party, whose now customary post-election whining about “stolen elections” is equally annoying.)

I do mean a “luxurious” hotel or resort. Make it nice. Beyond comfortable. (But no hiding in rooms. Conversation between political enemies is required.) Feed them well, even lavishly. If we could get them to really talk, human to human (a few may have some humanity left and not be entirely plastic), this would be an incredibly worthwhile use of taxpayer dollars.

Political talk would be off-limits. (Shock collars?) Talk about families, kids, grandkids, and pets, encouraged. No lectures, just maybe board games and conversation over jigsaw puzzles or even cigars, by those not offended by such incense. (Ya know, peace has often broken out over a little legal smoke. Peace pipes.)

I wondered about offering bowling or darts, but overt competition and sharp objects probably should be avoided. Cornhole?

Two weeks, I’d say. On the second, they could be ferried to another fine resort for a change in scenery. Cheap at any price.

During the whole time, no phones. No staff. No calls to staff. No media. No mail, in or out. No grandstanding for fawning followers. No fund-raising letters disguised as surveys written for dunces who can’t spot a rigged question, who can’t wait to be manipulated, and who can’t wait to send checks.

I think my proposal would help us all. Some among “us all” are surely equally committed Christians who hold a wide variety of political viewpoints. We need to remember who our King is and, as one wise person said, realize that “salvation does not arrive on Air Force One.”

The Apostle Paul commands us (1 Timothy 2) to pray for our rulers (one of his was the Emperor Nero who would later kill him) so that we may live “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” I like the sound of that.

Anyway, don’t you think that folks from both the ultra-left and the ultra-right have more in common than they like to think? Looking for “salvation” in politics, they take themselves far too seriously to be able to laugh healthy, good-hearted, face-fully-involved laughs, and they almost never utter five syllables: “But I could be wrong.”

Well, I could be wrong. But, for my part, we’re still friends if you disagree.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Won’t It Be Nice to Be Out of Time?

Won’t it be nice to be out of time?

Say what?

I’m serious, and I repeat: Won’t it be nice to be out of time?

I don’t wonder that you’re confused. You’re probably thinking: Whaddaya mean? “Nice” to be out of time? I find myself “out of time” innumerable times every week, and running out of time may be many things, but “nice” is not one of them. Try another word, Bucko!

How about “frustrating”?

Maddening? Depressing? Infuriating?

I think all of those words well describe how most of us feel when we “run out of time.”

A job to do.

A test to take.

A vacation to enjoy.

A conversation to savor.

A flavor to savor.

A letter to write.

A book to write.

A book to read.

A race to run.

A game to play.

A nap to nap.

A puppy to hug.

A marriage to delight in.

A child to raise.

A grandchild to snuggle with.

A laugh to laugh again.

A friendship to nurture.

A story to tell.

A time to say, “I love you.”

A life to live.

And you can add plenty of items to my list. But don’t take too long, or . . . you’ll run out of time.

The bell will ring.

The alarm will go off.

The vacation will end.

The job will lose its joy.

The time for the laughter will be lost.

The strength you need to play the game will vanish.

The friendship will be fractured or the friend long gone.

The marriage, still cherished, will be over because marriage takes two and one has stopped breathing.

The marriage, now bitter, will be over because marriage takes two and one has run away and trampled on vows.

Ah, we’re always running out of time—until the day we really run out of time when the “grim reaper” visits and . . .

I was bemoaning to my brother the other day that I had one week in which to do the work of two. It’s so hard to get ready to be out of town; you almost wonder if it’s worth the effort. It is. But my email to him ended, “It’s always so hard to get off [on a trip]!”

His reply: “Not if you have a heart attack, like the guy I’m burying this afternoon. He’s off! Too bad that’s what it takes to finally stop the race.”

Hmm. So we run, and run, and run. I sometimes wonder if we run so hard lest we ever have to slow down . . . and think . . . and ask ourselves if what we’re running after is really worth the race. We can’t even seem to rustle up the courage and the discipline necessary to turn our cell phones off for one whole meal and be fully present with our companions, much less the courage to stop and consider why we’re always running.

Do we ever give any thought to taking a vacation of a different sort occasionally that is actually designed for rest and not just diversion (by which I mean just a different sort of fast-paced busy-ness than our usual business)?

We tend to just run. And run. And then the time comes when we run “out of time.” Sad.

But this is also true: For those who’ve taken the time to center their faith on the eternal God of Heaven, surely one of Heaven’s best blessings will be to be “out of time.” Truly. And to have all eternity to drink in God’s joy and do, well, anything that brings Him glory and magnifies His—and your—eternal joy forever.

No tears there, we’re told. No clock-watching, either.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Resurrection Power Transforms the Ordinary

“He is risen!”

“He is risen indeed!”

Such power is difficult to imagine. We read the Gospel accounts and try to view the scenes in our mind’s eye. Mind-boggling.

Pick any of the events of that first Holy Week. Some are obviously filled with meaning and mystery. Some seem rather mundane, almost commonplace for that time and place, until the Gospel writers and Christ himself pull back the curtain just a bit. Any Passover meal is already deeply meaningful and symbolic, but listen to Jesus’ words at that Last Supper, watch him wash the disciples’ feet, break the bread, drink the cup, and infuse it all with a depth of meaning and mystery that, yes, boggles the mind.

As Jesus walks through that week, time seems to slow as God himself invests each moment with eternal meaning. It’s as if the passing moments of our ordinary weeks hold the water we need for our lives and our journeys, but the Lord of all transforms the moments of that week of weeks into vessels filled with the most exquisite wine.

Yes, time slows.

Christ Jesus, fully human, does what divinity could never do: he dies. Christ Jesus, fully divine, does what no human could never do: he takes on himself, quite literally (oh, don’t ask me how!) all of the sin and guilt of the world.

Every moment of that week is mind-boggling and mystery-infused. Filled with God-chosen donkeys, adoring crowds crying loud “Hosannas,” curse-hurling mobs shouting themselves hoarse begging for blood, the Passover Lamb leading the meal and lifting the cup and pronouncing, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

And so much more.

The moments of that week shimmer and glow, charged with God-glory and Spirit-mystery, holiness and power. Amazing, how the ordinary becomes truly extraordinary that week, every cup a Holy Grail. 

 And so our minds are boggled, our wits overwhelmed, as we try to take all of this in. What is God doing at that moment? Oh, did you see that!? Why would he do that? How could he possibly make that happen? Can you imagine the power it took for even God to accomplish that?”

How? Why? Wow!

In the midst of it all—all the holiness and divinity, all the power, all the wonder and majesty, the meaning and the mystery—I keep coming back also to . . .

Well, I find myself fascinated by what Christ’s power does in the lives of the weak and ordinary. People like me.

The apostles Jesus says in Matthew 19:28 will one day sit on glorious thrones (ah, there’s some mystery for you!) were looking pretty ordinary during that first Holy Week. As a young person, I admit that I found it rather extraordinary that Peter and James and John could fall asleep when their Lord, wrestling in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, so needed them to “watch and pray” with him. Now, perhaps less full of myself and more aware of God’s grace for ordinary people and our deep need for his grace and power every moment, I look back at the events leading up to their eye-drooping, and I’m right with them. I’d have slept, too. Of that I’m sure. I couldn’t have helped it.

But our extraordinary Lord is more than able to redeem even our weakest moments and our worst and most human failures.

Perhaps that’s the most amazing thing of all, what Christ’s Resurrection does to transform even the most seemingly ordinary people and events and moments of our lives into the truly extraordinary.

The mundane becomes the vessel for mystery. Water becomes wine. Wine becomes blood. Blood becomes salvation.

 And Jesus Christ, betrayed and murdered and lifted up on a cross, becomes the exalted Lord of all. Even a tomb becomes an incubator for glory.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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