Monthly Archives: November 2012

A Rose Is a Rose, But a Man’s Flower Is a Pansy


If you don’t mind, let’s begin here with a little general vocabulary drill; specifically, some synonyms for “tough.”

How about . . . durable, hardened, hardy, resilient, robust, rugged, stalwart, steeled, stout, sturdy, strong, tenacious, unyielding, vigorous . . . for a few? And with just a little more time spent with my thesaurus, I could continue resolutely reciting a litany of toughness terms.

But here’s a noun you won’t find lurking among the flinty descriptors above: pansy.

Along this line, a couple of pansy-based adjectives are available. Pansified. Pansied. I even wondered about coining another term or two. Pansy-ish. Pansitious. Nope.

But I’m beginning to think that the word “pansy,” which has come to be associated with the weak and “sissified,” has been much maligned. The term may, in fact, deserve a place of honor right alongside the toughest toughness terms we might dredge up.

It’s my actual pansies, the little blue and yellow flowers occupying flowerpots strategically located in our yard, that have made me reconsider my position on the term.

I like flowers. I inherited my mother’s love for green and growing things, but not her green thumb. For years now, I’ve been torturing a pot of ivy in my study, my care evidently subjecting that poor plant to a long and lingering but inevitable death. Anyone who can kill ivy has no business attempting to grow more complicated plants, but I try.

Every year, just before our first freeze, or, more often, just after the first freeze coupled with my procrastination has wiped out my least hardy plants, I move the survivors into the shed/greenhouse I built in the back yard. And that’s when I set out some pansies.

When the weather’s getting colder. When most other flowers give up and die. When fancy bloomers frost up and melt away. When other plants go in, that’s when the pansies come out. A rose may be “a rose by any other name,” but a pansy? Tough as nails even by its misappropriated  name.

This year those little flowers have not only stood up to frost, they’ve endured what our local weather-folks call spring-like conditions. If that term conjures up in your mind birdies and butterflies, you don’t live here. Think instead about parching wind, choking dust, and nary a drop of rain. Couple “spring-like” with a few serious freezes, and still my pansies soldier on. Those cute little flowers are slandered by their very name.

One more time Heaven smiles as we’re confounded, our “wisdom” turned upside down. Little flowers out-last and out-perform far showier varieties. Little children become guides sent by God to lead stodgy adults back to what is truly precious in His kingdom. Little faith-filled ladies on walkers humble us with the power of their prayers. Over and over again, God uses “the weak to confound the strong.”



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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.

Giving Thanks to No One in Particular Must Feel Strange


Everybody I know, except turkeys (take that any way you wish), likes Thanksgiving. What’s not to like?

I’m sure there are people who are utterly alone for whom Thanksgiving is a difficult time. If, by the way, there were no other reason to be part of a church family, and I think there are many, the need for human companionship is itself a pretty good one! Even a person who is not at all sure about the claims of Christianity, but who doesn’t want to be lonely and alone, would do well to attend a church where an honest and unpretentious doubter would at least be made to feel cared for and loved. Thank God, there are many such churches!

Those who have to be at work on Thanksgiving may find it more difficult than most of us to enjoy the day as it was intended.

Those who are grieving over the loss of loved ones or weeping over the death of a marriage, those who have chosen to nurse a bitter spirit rather than their relationships, those who are dealing with deep depression and hurt, those in the midst of caring for loved ones who are seriously ill, I am sure may find Thanksgiving difficult.

But for most of us, Thanksgiving is a great time! It reminds us, even in the midst of some pretty difficult times, that we have much, much indeed, for which to be thankful to the Giver of all good gifts.

Ah, but what about those who don’t acknowledge the beneficence or even the existence of the Giver?

Understand, I don’t mean to be harsh. I have known some fine people who were skeptics—honest agnostics who, as the term implies, were truly searching and simply didn’t know what to believe. (The lion’s share of atheists, on the other hand, tend to be louder and less rational. They have an axe to grind and some reason why they really can’t afford for God to exist.) For such people, Thanksgiving must be a bit of a strange time. As author Cornelius Platinga observes, “It must be an odd feeling to be thankful to no one in particular.” Giving thanks “to whom it may concern” seems like pretty thin “gratitude.”

Though the holiday is not, of course, one that comes from the ancient Christian calendar, it is uniquely and deeply rooted in faith. Faith that this world is no accident. (I don’t have enough faith to believe otherwise!) Faith that men and women are created in the image of a personal and loving God. Faith that all of the bounty and beauty, the love and joy, that fill our lives come from Someone who is the Wellspring, the Source.

Bible scholar A. W. Tozer put it this way: “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and not be poorer but richer for having made it.”

Let’s give thanks!



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.

A Recipe for a “Stress-free, Perfect” Thanksgiving?


“Stay with us,” came the morning TV tease, “and we’ll hear from a restaurant critic who’ll help us plan for a ‘stress-free’ holiday. Coming up is his guide to the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.”

Well, that put a bad taste in my mouth. It sort of stuck in my craw, and I tuned out before I heard what to stuff in my stuffing. Any recipe that claims to marry the flavors of “stress free” and “perfect” is 100 per cent guaranteed to cook up gut-wrenching failure and frustration. On any holiday. On any day. In any life.

I used to believe over-achievers who work from the deeply held (and unexamined) premise that if they can just push the rest of us hard enough to live up to their standards, we, too, can become almost perfect.

I used to think “motivational” sayings like “Good is the enemy of Excellent!” were wise. (If you’ve just been to a “success” seminar, bought the idea and the poster, forgive me.) I know they mean to caution against complacency and urge toward improvement.

But real encouragement that builds up and leads to genuine improvement is not the same as arrogant brow-beating that sends the message: you’re inadequate, and you’ll never meet my standards. One leads to hope, and the other leads to despair (and makes most folks want to say, “You can take your standards and . . .”).

Have we noticed? The only truly perfect One opts to save the world through grace, not a step by step improvement plan. Grace not only frees and forgives, it empowers.

But didn’t Jesus say, “Be perfect”? Just a very little study will show that the word means “complete” or “full-grown,” as in “moving toward maturity.” It’s hopeful movement in the right direction! It’s not the arrogant soul-sucking, joy-killing, despair-producing idolatrous lie that perfection will be ours if we just get really serious about “trying harder.” Or, worse, that if we push hard enough, we can force the folks around us to be as perfect as we are.

We don’t get “perfect.” Not here. “Self-righteousness” and “do-it-yourself holiness” are lies. Trying to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps has one benefit: It shows us how flimsy our bootstraps are and how weak is our grip. We’re wiser, kinder, a lot easier to be around, and a whole lot more useful to God, once our bootstraps have broken. It’s easier to look up to God when we’ve fallen red-faced on our tails, no longer convinced that if you give us long enough and we try hard enough, we’ll get life right, and we’ll get the rest of you to shape up, too.

That’s a sad and lonely way to live. What arrogant assumptions about ourselves make us think we’re suited to live with perfection even if we could get it or force it? Perfectionism doesn’t produce better Thanksgivings or better turkeys—or better spouses, or children, or homes, or churches, or businesses. Settle only for “perfect,” and, not only will you not get it, you’ll chase away “good.” And your joy, and the joy of those around you, will soon be circling the drain.

So do yourself and your family a big favor and forget about a stress-free perfect Thanksgiving. Or a stress-free perfect life. Opt for “grace-full” instead. Then you’ll not only get some great cranberry sauce with your turkey, you’ll get a full helping of joy with your life as you let God do the job of being God. And, ironically, you’ll get a lot closer to tasting what God calls “perfect.”


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.

Some Thoughts on Pride, Flies, and the Common Cold


It’s quite true. Pride is still the deadliest of the sins besetting fallen humanity. As pervasive as acne at a Justin Bieber concert, sinful pride entwines its roots around and throughout the human heart, and only the Spirit of God can effectively deal with its cancer.

But what, pray tell, does the human race really have to be arrogant about?

I stopped writing a few moments ago to deal with an age-old blight and do some killing. Flies. I hate ’em! The only good one is a dead one, but it’s autumn; they all want inside, lest they freeze to death. And the fight is on! I know we have a few other weapons, but still the best and most fulfilling way to dispatch the little pests is to swat ’em. There have been, I’m sure, variations on fly swatters, but ever since a cave man rolled up his copy of the Bedrock Times and splattered fly innards across his rock coffee table, most of us have used pretty much the same approach. Yeah, we’re very advanced.

I’d feel “advanced” if I could ever make it through the holidays without a cold, but it’s early November (too early, I’m afraid, for this one to count as the traditional holiday sneeze-fest), and I’m sniffing and snorting and in a foul mood and generally zombied by a wide variety of cold remedies. I’m thankful for some of those cold-fighting options, but “remedy” is a stronger word than they’ve earned.

If I corner the market on kleenex, cough drops, anti-congestion pills, anti-mucous tablets, antihistamine capsules, anti-inflammatory caplets,  anti-cough syrup, nasal passage irrigating “pots” (therapeutic waterboarding), gargles, and a slew of other just general anti-snot pills and paraphernalia . . . I’ll get well in a week or so. Which is probably about the same time I’ll get well if I do nothing and just take the misery full on (which is not tempting).

I wonder how long it took the aforementioned cave man to get well as he snorted, coughed, and spluttered around his cave annoying (and infecting) his wife and family and making himself less miserable by killing flies? Betcha it was about a week. Very advanced we moderns are. Right.

But if you really want to see how far we’ve come, look at the human character. Just kidding, but a look is instructive. A quick perusal of just the ancient Bible book of Genesis makes it depressingly clear that not much related to the human character has changed. Take a brief glance at even those great patriarchs in that great account. What is most remarkable is that their worst flaws are not by our pathetic standards remarkable at all. The most serious blights of the human spirit “way back when” are the most serious blights of the human spirit exactly right now. It seems our souls are ravaged by a still-rampant virus only God can remedy.

I see ample room for humility. I’m sure I need a big dose.



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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