Monthly Archives: February 2012

“The Root of All Kinds of Evil” Still Thrives

I’m not sure it would be particularly appropriate for me to begin, “There should be a special place in hell for . . .”

So I won’t. But I’m tempted to. (And there really should.)

A fine older lady and dear friend (who I’d nominate for a special place in heaven when the time comes) has been getting fund-raising letters. So have we all! And many are legitimate.

But it seems to me that a good many, and even some of the legitimate ones, are just too slick. I don’t trust “slick.” At best, it makes me wish legitimate charities would waste less money on fancy, formulaic fund-raising and the companies that produce such. At worst, it makes my skin crawl. I want to put my hand over my wallet and back away slowly.

But the bulk mail plea for shekels that my friend just got is not what I’d call legitimate. I would definitely call it “slick.” It’s probably just barely legal. Just barely. An Internet search reveals that a number of states have filed cases against its senders. Few if any have won. So the scam mailings go on.

The top portion of the fund-raising letter is a real check for $2.50 made out to my friend and drawn on what is probably a real bank (with very low standards) from the account of “The Athlete’s Foot Disease Fund.”

Not really. The scammers’ actual account (one of several set up by their several “charity funds,” uses the name of a genuine and genuinely terrible disease. It even says that this “Fund” is a program of . . . and they use the actual name of their larger scamming organization.

Read the fine print on the back and they’ll tell you they’ve filed forms to be able to solicit legally as a non-profit organization, and that they’re also scamming (not their word) in the name of three other horrible diseases. They are working tirelessly, no doubt, to “radically alter” our healthcare system to “serve the interests of the American public.” Read more closely and you’ll find that over 75% of what they take in is used for fund-raising and a good chunk of the 25% left is devoted to “public education in conjunction with fund-raising appeals.” Very little (probably none, truly) goes to actually fighting the disease.

And, oh, yes, they’ll be happy to help you include them in your will so they can go on scamming you after your death. They kindly include the words you can use to add a codicil to your will without having to re-draw it (which would  involve a lawyer). They’re very helpful.

Most people don’t like to throw away checks. Many good people will return the $2.50 check and add a donation. And the scammers (again, just a little Internet research will give you the head thief’s name and history of thievery) laugh all the way to the bank. Oh, how I wish everyone would just cash these checks! (But is that safe? Dunno.)

I do know there is justice in the next world. If there is any here, the thieves will come down with some combination of the diseases in whose names they are fleecing the good-hearted and naive.

Some things never change. The “root of all kinds of evil” still thrives.



Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Please Do Something That’s Not in the Bulletin”

It’s not the kind of “funny” that makes you fall down and roll in laughter, but the cartoon I saw recently did make me stop, think, and whisper a heartfelt, “Amen!”

The cartoon pictures a preacher on his knees in his study, evidently just before he is up to bat for one more Sunday morning, and he prays simply, “O Lord, please do something that’s not in the bulletin.”

“Amen!” indeed.

I know. There is a particular kind of, well, faith-weakness really, that manifests itself in a need to see something in our lives every morning akin to the parting of the Red Sea. We catch ourselves wanting a big-time, heart-thumping, adrenaline-pumping miracle a day to keep doubt away. And in worship, we want to start with an earthquake and work up from there in emotional intensity. If we don’t see those miracles almost every day and have mountain-top worship experiences almost every Sunday, our fervor cools, disappointment mounts, and we begin to act as if God is nowhere near because we haven’t seen pillars of fire appearing right in front of us recently.

Out of his compassion, Jesus once fed five thousand. But he knew that folks who show up because of free fish only stay if the fish keep coming, and, sure enough . . . Nothing has changed. Brother Billy Bob down at the Church of What’s Happening Now would do well to realize that folks attracted by skyrockets and earthquakes will only stay if you keep on manufacturing skyrockets and earthquakes.

And that’s an extreme. Faith that must always be propped up by outward show and ceaseless hyper-emotion is not much faith.

But the temptation I seem to face most often is at the other end of the spectrum. Far from expecting an eye-popping miracle to appear behind every coffeepot, I find myself expecting far too little. I catch myself living life and “doing church” as if God had set the world spinning and then retired or settled down for a long gazillion-year nap.

For example, I work hard to plan worship (as well I should), but I need to remember that the most important things that happen in worship are not things I can plan. When God breaks in and astounds me, I’m so surprised that one wonders why I bothered to come if I really didn’t expect him to show up.

I pray, and then I’m surprised when God rocks me on my heels with a wonderful answer.

I plan and organize and work and almost despair when for long spells not much seems to be happening. Sometimes my hardest work seems to accomplish the least, and then God breaks and then God breaks in and does something far more wonderful than I could ever have planned or imagined.

Dear God, help me to remember that you are God and that your job is to work and my job is to trust in you. It’s all the job I can handle and I do it pretty poorly. Forgive me when I’m surprised when you do something that’s not in the bulletin. But thank you for doing it!




Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“I See God’s Light in This Family Every Day”

I learned long ago to be careful about recommending movies or television shows to anyone. Either they’ll hate the show and wonder about you, or they’ll love the show and tell other people you recommended it. Then, chances are, a good many of those people will wonder about both of you. But I’ll take the chance.

I really like the “Blue Bloods” television series. I like it even though it punches my buttons so seriously that more than once I’ve found myself misty-eyed at the end of the show. (I’m not embarrassed about that, but it’s not a reaction I go looking for when I turn on the tube.)

The show features Tom Selleck as Frank Reagan, the police commissioner of New York City. Selleck is a bit like Sean Connery: he just gets better with age. Probably I also like him because of the obvious resemblance between us. (Yeah. Two legs. Two arms.)

I like the action of the series. I like a good “police show.” I like the cast in general. But most of all, I can sum up what I like in two words. Family and faith.

The Reagans in the series are from a long line of Irish-Catholic New York City police officers. Selleck plays Frank Reagan, the present police commissioner. His wife has died. One of his sons was a young police officer killed by crooked cops. His two surviving sons are police officers, one of them married with two young sons. His daughter is a deputy district attorney, divorced with a teenage daughter. His father, the patriarch of the family, retired as police commissioner himself.

Each week the Reagans have “family dinner” where everyone from Grandpa Henry to the youngest grandchild has a chair and a voice. They laugh together, cry together, support each other, challenge each other, love each other, and share life together. And I like that. A lot.

In a recent episode, Frank, usually the strong and loving father, has confessed to his own father the deep (survivor’s) guilt he feels. Frank and a fellow chief and friend were in the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the South Tower came down, and his friend is dying, years later, because of what he inhaled that day.

Henry listens and then says, “Son, I don’t know why Chief McKenna got sick from the air down there and you didn’t. Just like I don’t know why He [God] took Mary and Joe from us too soon, but I see God’s light in this family every day. And though I may not understand it, I trust in His plan for us all.”

I never care for “God took” words at times of grief, but it surely seems to me there is much to like in Grandpa’s wisdom, words you’re not likely to hear much on television these days.

I like what he says. I understand it better than I once did. And it’s no small blessing if you and your family can say the same thing.


Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Resolution-making Can Be Dangerous

Please forgive me for beginning here with a probably painful query, but, if I may ask, how are your New Year’s resolutions coming along? Maybe a better question at this point in the calendar is not how they’re coming but if you even remember the resolutions that you made!

I very effectively solved that problem in my own life a number of years ago: I quit making New Year’s resolutions. For a number of reasons, I resolved to quit resolving at New Year’s.

First, like most of the other mere mortals I know I rarely ever kept those resolutions anyway.

Second, and please forgive me for being blunt, but I long ago noticed that the very few folks I know who keep most of their New Year’s resolutions most of the time always seem to forget one. They fail to tack onto the end of their list of resolutions the one that says, “I resolve not to be a condescending self-righteous twit when interacting with mere mortals who’ve broken most of their resolutions before Martin Luther King Day.”

Third, I’m discovering that New Year’s resolutions can be physically dangerous. I’ve been visiting in the hospital a good friend and church member who recently resolved to take a walk each evening. (As resolutions go, that’s not a bad one, especially if you enjoy taking a walk. Along the same line, I’m thinking a resolution to take more naps might be one I just might be able to keep for a week or two.) But it was one of those “resolution walks” that landed him in the hospital as he was backed into one evening by another good friend of us both. This resolution business can be dangerous. (And I’d resolved not to mention this. See how good I am at keeping resolutions?)

Some spiritual health concerns are actually even more worrisome. I don’t mean to get on your doctor’s bad side here, but if you’ve spent much time around folks who have successfully quit smoking and also dropped twenty or thirty pounds, you might be pardoned for briefly wondering if it’s better to die sooner, albeit fat and on fire, and still have folks who want to attend your funeral. Most folks shy away from the glow of self-slung haloes.

Well, you know I’m kidding. Mostly. But the Apostle Paul was serious when he taught that one of the most important functions of the “law” is to drive us to grace (Galatians 3:24). The best thing our finest resolutions can ever do for us is to force us to realize how very weak we are and to drive us yet again to the mercy, the grace, the power of the only One who is truly strong.

It’s good for us to be driven to realize that we’re no good. It’s good to be a lot less impressed by our strength and completely impressed by His.



Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Time Is Running Out: Offer Expires Soon”

I’m beginning to wonder if someone—maybe Someone—is trying to tell me something. Since my oldest granddaughter just turned 5 and I just turned 55, I suppose the good news is that I’m ripe for the message (poor metaphor). That’s also the bad news.

We might as well admit it: When it comes to this “aging” business, unless we’ve stopped aging (a serious situation), we’re all in the same boat. Better be seriously careful about looking down on old people; in ten minutes or so, we’ll be them, be we presently 5 or 55.

Some birthdays grab our attention a bit more than others. A good friend turned 65 three days before I hit 55. He says that having nine exceptional grandkids eases the blow, and I already have enough grandkids—three of them and each of them obviously exactly of that “exceptional” variety—to be sure he’s right. Just yesterday another friend who recently blew past 60 candles confessed to me that he found that number a bit stark and sobering.

So . . . today I fire up my e-mail program, having put on my reading glasses and sitting here with an ice pack over my aching shoulder (dunno what I did), and I begin perusing the subject lines.

One promises, “Observations on Getting Older.”

Another quickly labels itself as an ad for “Social Security disability.” It’s of the e-mail type that claims to be IMPORTANT, proving conclusively that it’s not.

A third offers hope: “Win a High Tech Winter Beauty Makeover.” It assumes, I suppose, that anyone so rapidly approaching life’s winter might need a “makeover” on an emergency basis.

Still another also alludes to age, but its truth makes me smile: “Your Kids Are Becoming You, But Your Grandkids Are Perfect.” What it doesn’t say is that my kids, who’ve always thought I was old, also think that I’m getting younger (as in, “more childish”) all the time, inexplicably shedding the kind of sedate maturity they’d always expected.

Ah, but the e-mail subject line that really got me this morning was this one: “Consumer Reports Health: Curtis, Time Is Running Out On Your Free Gift—Offer Expires Soon.” Just quickly scanning, my eye at first conveyed to my brain only a few words: my name, “Health,” “Time Is Running Out,” and “Expires Soon.”

Well, time is running, for sure. And, in view of eternity, we’re all “expiring soon,” whether we lay it down in the next 90 seconds or in 90 years. Whatever time we have left, here’s a prayer that we allow our Father to use it to help us look more like Him—to love more, laugh more, fill up more on his mercy and grace, and, with deep joy, live into his Joy Eternal.



Copyright 2012 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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