Category Archives: Uncategorized

“I’m Pretty Sure I Can Wire Around That”

“I’m pretty sure I can wire around that.”

Right.

That’s the sort of statement that fits in very well with other Famous Last Word pronouncements of the Tim “the Toolman” Taylor variety.

“Nah, don’t flip the breaker; I’ll work it hot.”

“The can says it’s flammable, but this stuff almost never explodes.”

“Forget the extra jack; I’ll just crawl in under there.”

“Just put in a bigger fuse.”

I’ll admit that a light in my head flipped from green to yellow when I heard myself say those words: “I think I can wire around that.”

The weather was turning cold. We’d already had a few freezes. The plants I cared about were already tucked into my shed/greenhouse.

When I built that edifice, I didn’t know how versatile it would be. It doubles, triples, quadruples as a man cave and occasional magic fairy princess/powerful elf prince castle. During the current pandemic it also serves as a medical test facility. If you enter and don’t smell paint or other aromas from a recent grandchild/PawPaw project finished in the castle, or cigar smoke from . . . well, if you don’t smell some such aroma, you better get a COVID-19 test.

I do love that facility, and, yes, we’ve put it to very good use.

To do its job, though, during this time of year, it needs a little temperature adjustment. Plants freeze without heat. Occupants freeze out without heat.

To be sure I could answer that need, I built the place with a circuit/wiring that will handle more than one heater, etc., along with some power tools. The best heaters I’ve been able to find thus far are of the “milk house” variety.

And. They. Are. Lousy.

But they’re cheap. In every way. You can get one for just a bit over twenty bucks. And I admit, you’ll get a season or two or maybe even a few out of it. The same Chinese (I think) company makes almost exactly the same heater for a dozen (at least) brands.

I need to research this. I think I’ll find that these “milk house heaters” look very much like older, much more expensive, much more durable “milk house heaters” that, perhaps, dairies and farms once actually used.

Did I mention that the new ones are really cheap?

That’s how I ended up with a “milk house heater” bone pile in my garage. Over a few years, I’d stacked up about six dead or dying and utterly undependable units. They’d passed the “bang it hard on the floor and it might turn on” stage and could only be trusted to let your greenhouse plants freeze and then thaw into jelly.

Time for heater postmortems. Conclusion? Every one succumbed to the failure of an incredibly wimpy “thermostat/safety switch.” Good luck fixing one of those that’s fried. Good luck finding a replacement part for a twenty dollar heater. I tried.

Right after the postmortem. That’s when many guys will hear the words coming out of their mouths: “I’m pretty sure I could wire around that.”

Me, too. And, yes, you could. But stop. Wait a few seconds for the safety device in your head to kick in with two words: Bad Idea. Or maybe a name: Tim Taylor.

Sometimes we get away with wiring past safety features. Sometimes it’s fine to laugh at and skip over “lawyer litter” warnings written for fools.

But when our Creator has plainly written words of warning, we’d better read and heed. When the caution light in our souls goes from green to yellow (and even red), we wire past it at great peril to ourselves and others.

Out in my dumpster. Six heaters. All dead. Not parts enough for one Frankenstein heater. I admit it: I tried.

 

 

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 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Give Thanks in All Circumstances”

“O most gracious God,” wrote the eloquent sufferer, “on this sickbed I feel under your correction, and I taste of humiliation, but let me taste of consolation, too.”

John Donne, poet and priest, so wrote in one of his “devotions” in 1623. In Christianity Today over twenty years ago, Philip Yancey shared a brief edited, somewhat modernized, excerpt of Donne’s “Devotions.”

As Yancey explains, Donne had fallen seriously ill. Not unreasonably, he assumed he had contracted the bubonic plague, the scourge filling graves with masses of people during those dark days. The “Black Death” had made its presence unmistakable. London’s church bells tolled “dolefully,” and Donne wrote his famous poem, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” reminding his readers that the loss of anyone is a loss to us all. So, do not ask “for whom the bell tolls,” he penned, “it tolls for thee.”

In his “Devotions” (as Yancey shares them), Donne writes of all the blessings God has given.

“Nature reaches out her hand and offers corn, and wine, and oil, and milk; but it was you [God] who filled the hand of nature with such bounty.”

Donne thanks God for the blessings that come from fruitful labor, and he acknowledges that, no matter how hard and well the laborer has worked, it is God who guides and “gives the increase.”

He thanks the Lord for friends who “reach out their hands to support us,” even as he acknowledges, “but your hand supports the hand we lean on.”

I’m continually amazed at how suffering is used by some as Exhibit A against God, at the very same time as others, passing “through the fire,” eventually come out with faith strengthened and “tempered.”

On his sickbed, Donne writes, “Once this scourge has persuaded us that we are nothing of ourselves, may it also persuade us that you are all things unto us.”

In striking contrast to the verbal drizzle of those who promise health and wealth to the faithful, or to those whose “faith” is in consumer religion as long as it “meets their [most shallow] needs,” Donne reminds us that when God’s own Son on the cross “cried out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ you reached out your hand [Lord,] not to heal his sad soul, but to receive his holy soul.” And Jesus surrendered his soul to his Father in trust. 

Donne would recover. His sickness was not the plague. But before he knew the certainty of the outcome, he was certain of his hope: “Whether you will bid my soul to stay in this body for some time, or meet you this day in paradise, I ask not.”

But he wrote his confidence: “I can have no greater proof of your mercy than to die in you and by that death be united in him who died for me.”

With Donne, we can be confident, not in ourselves but in our Lord all along the journey. As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 6, God’s children have already experienced a death and resurrection. I’ve been reading theologian Thomas Long’s excellent book Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral. He urges us to remember that, just as the community of faith gathered at our baptisms as we were “buried with Christ by baptism into death” and then been raised to “walk in newness of life” as we begin our journey with our Lord, the community of faith will gather once again in faith and with singing as we are eventually “buried with Christ” again in “the sure confidence that [we] will be raised to new life.” And so Donne believed. And so we believe, as Long writes, “In the Christian faith, the dead are going somewhere. That is [literally] the gospel truth” and, though our relationship with them has changed, it has not ended.

If even death itself cannot cut us off from Christ and all who have died with him to be raised with him, how could we be severed from our Lord’s love and power even during the most difficult circumstances? Donne wrote during the unspeakable horror of the Black Plague, but his confidence was in the Author of life. Surely, even during terribly difficult times like, say, a pandemic, our Lord is the same Lord.

Following the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) is not even a little easy. But if we’ve already died with Christ and been raised, our faith is in God—not in luck or our own power or circumstances. We often need to be reminded, but it is nonetheless deeply true: easy lives and blessed lives are not the same thing.

Let’s give thanks and trust the Giver of all blessings. And not just our own faith will strengthened and affirmed. And not just our own lives will be blessed by that trust and gratitude.

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 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Living Wisely Is Not the Same Thing as Living Fearfully

      

We can be safe, or we can be truly alive. Not both. Opting for “safety” is an illusion both unsafe and pathetic, a gag gift all wrapped up with three bedraggled ribbons: fear, arrogance, and control.

        When safety is our highest goal, we betray a fear of life and, deeper still, a lack of trust in the God of life. Then we’re well on our way to becoming our own gods. Why? So we can control our own lives and the lives of those around us. (Note: I’m talking about life in general here, and not mainly at all thinking about the present mess of a pandemic. Most of this was originally written pre-pandemic. You’ll recognize what’s more recent.)

        Law-based religion is wrapped up in those three constricting ribbons. Fear that if we don’t keep all the right laws, we’ll be lost. An unwillingness to trust the God who through his Son has done the work of salvation. An arrogance so blinding that we actually think that we can save ourselves. A deep desire for the control we’d gain if we could demand what we’ve earned rather praising God for what we’ve been given. A longing for control over others we think we’ve bested in religious rule-keeping. To trust in God’s grace means to stand alongside all who hope only in grace–shoulder to shoulder, above no one. Ah, a bitter pill, God’s grace. Amazing indeed. But it’s not safe. It’s deadly to pride.

        We long for the “safe” way. The one-talent man in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) should be our patron saint. Afraid of his master and desiring above all to be “safe,” he buried what his master gave him. We’d call him smart and conservative. We’d honor him for being careful in his ritual, fastidious in his life, flawless in his law-keeping. Jesus called him a “worthless servant.” He made God sick.

        The illusion of safety, along with its three ribbons, shows up everywhere. Full of ourselves, we’re sure that if we follow the right books on child-raising, eat the right stuff, adhere to the right exercise program, be afraid of all the right things (Twinkies and cigars, for example), adopt exactly the right strategy to control our business, our families, our lives . . . If we do it all right, well, then we’ll live to be a prosperous and healthy 120. Seeing our own deaths as largely theoretical, we deep down think we could live forever right here–if we did everything right. No one has yet, but we just might. With complete confidence in our ability to plan, control, and execute, we trust ourselves with a faith dwarfing the magnificence of the finest cathedral.

        Oh, and have you noticed? If dealing with the present pandemic doesn’t make folks more insufferably arrogant, it tends to make them more gracious and, may I say on the eve of this Thanksgiving, more grateful. On one hand, it’s wise to be appropriately cautious. Masks at the right time? Yes. Distancing? Yes. But could we work to find a little common sense as we’re looking for reasonable safety?

        I’m not wearing my mask in the shower. (I don’t think I know anyone who does, but sometimes I wonder.) Outside on a walk? Not me, thanks. Unless I’m running shoulder to shoulder with folks in a marathon (and I most certainly do not plan to), I refuse to sniff mask-sweat instead of the great outdoors. If you jog up to me for a visit, let’s follow the rules. We can stay apart or pull up our masks to have the unique enjoyment of missing more than half of what we each say. (And fault me if you will, you’ll have to make your own decision about what to do when your grandchild runs toward you and launches into the air, but I plan to catch mine.)

        I really have been trying to be careful. I bet you have, too. But folks who think or seem to think that anyone COVID catches or who catches COVID just hasn’t been careful enough—ya know, like them—is likely a self-righteous twit who would do us all a favor by quarantining a lot, even if the virus disappeared tomorrow. Jerks are more dangerous to the common good than viruses. (And, I’m tempted to say, if there’s any justice, more likely to get sick.)  

         Living wisely surely means often exercising some caution and care, but Eileen Guder’s words are also well taken into account; stodgy by nature and “default safe” to a fault, I need to hear them, and they make me smile: “You can live on bland food so as to avoid an ulcer, drink no tea, coffee, or other stimulants in the name of health; go to bed early; stay away from night life; you can stay off the freeway, avoid all controversial subjects so as never to give or take offense; mind your own business; avoid involvement in other people’s problems; spend money only on necessities and save all you can. You can do everything the safe way and still you can break your neck in the bathtub, and it will serve you right.”

        Apart from God safety is a myth. Real faith is soul-deep and joy-filled; it’s not a makeup veneer slathered on to disguise a face—and a life—filled in fear. Living life focused on never making a mistake just might be one of the biggest mistakes of all.

  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 2020 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 Clock, a Deadline, a Caterpillar, a Train, and Living Hope

Well, here we go again. 

It’s a normal Monday morning. At least, as close to normal as anything gets in 2020.

Our clock just chimed 9:00 a.m. I know that because it chimed nine times in the key of G, ante meridiem, and not D, post meridiem.

Not really. Well, nine times, really. Different morning and evening keys? No. 

But I really am three hours away from my column deadline for a couple or three newspapers (a “hard” deadline) and a blog (a “soft” deadline). Aided by coffee (a hot shower usually has to wait on Mondays), I generally manage to hit “Send” at about 11:57 (key of G) as I’m sitting in our living room recliner in my sweats, lap laden with laptop computer.

Mondays are my day off, which means I usually write my column in the morning and maybe mess with recording podcasts or some such fun work in the afternoons.

That is, by the way, dumb. A disciplined (and, ironically, probably more productive) person would have a much better definition of “off,” and I’m not kidding. Nor was our Creator being anything but serious (and loving) when he gave as one commandment out of the Big Ten, “You kids be still for one day out of seven, and I mean it. No fussing about it. Hush, I said! It’ll be good for you.”

My younger brother Jim, also a pastor, generally takes Fridays off. He won’t take Mondays because he says they follow Sundays and he’d hate to feel that bad on his day off.  

Rocking and writing on Mondays, I’m a caterpillar on a railroad track watching the 12:00 noon express train roaring towards me. You’d think that grotesque images of green and yellow goo and a closed casket caterpillar funeral would come to mind, but this situation is, I admit, pretty normal; I almost always manage to creep off the track a full three minutes early, and the train rumbles by.

My brother Gene, a disciplined person, writes columns weeks ahead of deadlines—even years, in the case of holidays, lest he find himself playing Christmas music in the background in July 2020 to help set the mood as he writes Christmas columns for December 2020. Or maybe December 2021. (Hey, Sammy Cahn, lyrics, and Jule Styne, music, wrote “Let It Snow” in Hollywood, California, in July 1945, during a heat wave. The actual title is “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” It was a plea for mercy.)

Anyway, I find Gene’s column-writing discipline repugnant, appalling, incomprehensible, and completely elusive. If I’m writing Christmas columns, it’s a good bet a tree’s lit behind me. And it’s probably a Monday.

I’m way early on this particular Monday. It is now just 10:41 CST, and I’ve been saved by these meandering musings, of questionable value though they may be.

You see, I’d been tempted, on the heels of the recent election, to try to find words to write in a nice way that either made nobody mad or made everybody mad (the former would be my first choice but the latter is at least non-partisan) that four years of whining and conspiracy theories are a waste of time and unhelpful to our nation whether they come from the political left or the political right. I was also thinking about saying, in some way, that our King is still our King and if the Emperor Nero couldn’t steal the genuine hope of God’s people “way back when,” I’m pretty sure I know where we should be placing our genuine hope during any ruler’s “reign” now or four years from now or 400 years from now. I was tempted to mention Charles Colson’s very wise words, “Salvation does not come riding in on Air Force One.”

Yeah, I was thinking about saying all of that in politically neutral sorts of terms but trying to point to real faith in the real King and his very real kingdom, and that God’s people can and should live in genuine hope, come what may, and that a failure to do so is, in fact, a denial of the gospel.

Alas, I’m out of space and out of time. That’s probably for the best. I’m not at all sure I could have said most of that without writing poorly and being misunderstood.

Good grief! How’d it get to be 11:57 a.m.?

Send.

    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 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Election Day 2020: Some Thoughts for Dual Citizens

Here we go. Election Day 2020. Tomorrow, as I write.

I’m not sure I remember ever dreading one, an election day, more (though the 2016 experience was very close).

It’s not the day I dread so much as the very real possibility of an Election Month or months or, maybe worse still, an “election in the courts.”

Maybe as you’re reading this you’ll know a good deal more than I possibly can (as I’m writing) about the outcome. Maybe it’s done and decided. Maybe really decided. Maybe—this is a long shot—most folks acted like adults and behaved. I hope so. I doubt it, but I hope so.

It would be nice to avoid the spectacle of inner city Democrats in a rage going through scads of pencils blistering their fingers and frying computer keyboards by writing hot letters to legislators decrying the horrid result of the election. Or the spectacle of roving bands of crazed Republicans in golf shirts or pin-striped suits burning police cars, setting fires in dumpsters, and looting neighborhood stores.

Maybe the exact scenarios above are somewhat unlikely, but others more likely and just as unpleasant are exactly the kinds we’d do very well to avoid.

I hope we can. We’ll soon know.

For me, and for many, our dual citizenship makes all of this both better and worse.

Citizens of God’s kingdom know who our real Lord, our real King, is. Our deep desire is to follow Christ and be true to his will, whatever the dictates of the rulers of the earthly kingdoms in which we’re also citizens.

We also are aware, or, at least, should be, that one of the rules of Christ’s kingdom is that we try to be among the very best citizens of the earthly nations in which we find ourselves. Sometimes and in some places, that is relatively easy; in others, very difficult indeed.

This I know: My citizenship in the United States of America pales compared to my citizenship in God’s kingdom. That higher citizenship trumps my earthly citizenship in every way. (No pun intended. Well, not much.)

But I also know that my earthly citizenship, even in a land that is far from perfect, has been for me, and for most of my fellow citizens, filled with blessing. I know that I owe a very real debt to my fellow citizens who have been willing to put their lives on the line and even to die to preserve the blessings of citizenship in this land and to try to make our world a better place. Only in nightmares can I imagine living in a land where I’m a virtual prisoner and starving so my mis-leaders can flirt with nuclear power. And, as much as my earthly citizenship pales in comparison to my allegiance to my citizenship in God’s kingdom, it is still precious enough that I hope I would be willing to die for it.

And, yes, I’ve already voted in this election. I find little comfort to be found in the main choices. It seems to me that this great nation should be able to do vastly better. But to have a choice at all is a very real blessing.

So here we go. For good, for ill, for what will certainly be, whoever wins, a varied and frustrating combination of both, citizens of God’s kingdom have an immense consolation and hope.

Our King is our King. Come what may here and into eternity, our King and our victory are sure.

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 2020 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 Little Varmint Hunting Always Makes Me Feel Better”

Fair warning this is, given to protect your eyes and general psyche from sudden and perhaps overwhelming shock: If you open the door at our house that leads five steps down into the garage, you will find bodies everywhere. You will have literally stepped into a killing zone.

So, there. You have been warned.

A couple or three years ago, a dear friend gave me for Christmas one of the best gifts I have ever received: it’s an a-salt gun.

I didn’t say, “an assault rifle.” This particular type of weapon is almost certainly going to remain completely legal no matter which candidate wins the upcoming election. Absolutely no background check is required to purchase one. No questions regarding a buyer’s mental health. (But get one, and I promise that your mental health will improve.)

Gun and ammunition sales generally increase before elections, but before this political contest, the increase in sales is off the chart, prompting high prices and supply shortages. But ammunition for the weapon I’m discussing here is plentiful and incredibly cheap.

I’ve fired this thing so many times in the last couple of days that my left arm is sore from pumping ammo into the chamber, and my right thumb is sporting a painful blister. The safety switch on this weapon has to be toggled after every pump, every shot. Pump the gun, flip off the safety, and fire! Repeat. I’m getting pretty fast at the whole cycle, but my thumb hurts.

I’ve had a good time shooting during this present dove hunting season; I won’t be bragging too much about my shell to bagged bird ratio, but it could be worse.

But my kill ratio with my a-salt gun is much better. Much better.

This weapon, you see, is literally a “Bug-a-Salt” gun, and I love it. What a great product! What a fantastic gift!

This thing shoots salt. Really well. Pretty safe, it’s got the usual lawyer litter: “Don’t be a brainless fool and shoot yourself in the eye.” But if you shoot yourself in your bare foot, it’ll likely only sting and maybe make a red mark.

But what it will indeed do is massacre flies. Even on a normal day, say, a Saturday such as the Lord intended in which you sit outside and smoke meat, you’ll find having this weapon by your side a genuine comfort and help.

Even in the house, it’s much, much better than a fly swatter, and you’ll hardly notice a little salt on the counter.

I despise flies. I’m willing to stop anything I’m doing to kill just one. “Suffer not a fly to live” is my motto. But right now, right as the first deep freeze is coming and flies rush through any open door—say, an open garage door—in biblical plague numbers, desperately seeking life-extending warmth, this weapon makes doing battle with them and watching the disgusting little bodies pile up an absolute pleasure.

Before I write my next column, the looming election will be over. At least, I pray it will. Election Day, in any case, will be over. I hope we won’t be cast into weeks and months of election limbo, interminable court cases, and high-pitched whining from losers.

If I start feeling stressed (I personally don’t expect the results, whatever they are, to bring much joy), I plan to take my gun into the garage and kill some despicable creatures. It’ll make me feel better.

But what will really make me feel better is realizing that, no matter who “wins,” the gospel, the truly good news of genuine hope in this and in all times for God’s people, is that the victory that truly matters is in Christ, and he will win. Our King, our Lord, will be on the throne long after the present pompous politicians are dust, historical footnotes, long gone and almost completely forgotten.

My vote is cast. The one is this election. And the one long ago that matters much more. My real hope is secure.

Now back to the hunt.

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 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


The Pandemic, Statistics, and Perspective

Death. There seems to have been a lot of it lately, at least in my experience. Funerals have been the order of the day.

I know. Your first thought will likely be of COVID-19 deaths. According to Johns Hopkins University, the United States, at this point, has suffered 219,282 deaths.

Of course, we’re awash in numbers as we try to get a perspective on this mess.  I found some particularly interesting. (But check me on them. Statistics are slippery.)

On an average year, between 34,000 and 43,000 people die due to the flu. According to an Associate Press article, the average of recent years was bumped up by the 2017-18 flu season, the “worst in forty years,” in which 80,000 people died. Half of that number would have counted as “an unusually bad year.” Mix together an unusually strong flu virus and an unusually ineffective flu vaccine, and you have a recipe for nothing good.

Even more recently, the CDC  (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that, before April 4, 2020, between 24,000 and 62,000 people had died in the 2019-2020 flu season.

You probably already know that the 1918 flu pandemic was epic and very deadly indeed. It actually lasted two years and estimates are that it killed 500,000 Americans.

What we generally see from the seasonal flu, notes Dr. Anthony Fauci, is a mortality rate of 0.1%. He also says, and this is probably what we’re most interested in right now (though dead is 100% dead), that the coronavirus is “ten times more lethal” than the flu.

And here’s a number for you. The worst pandemic in human history was the Black Death (the Plague) in the mid-fourteenth century that killed between 75 and 200 million people, a very significant portion of an estimated 450 million worldwide population.

But, the Big One aside, I’m not even sure how to evaluate the scads of other more recent numbers regularly tossed at us. A lot of estimating must be required. The CDC is well aware that many folks with relatively light cases of the flu never see a doctor during their manageable misery. My own opinion, almost completely worthless, I’m sure, is that many, many more folks have had COVID-19 than the official numbers indicate, and that affects the true mortality rate.

Some numbers may not surprise you, but they say a lot. As of early September, a total of 38,500 U.S. military personnel had contracted the virus; seven had died. A single nursing home in Brooklyn had 55 deaths and many states report that over half their pandemic deaths are in assisted living and nursing home facilities.

It’s become quite clear that, though we see mostly the same data, we filter it through our own political and social lenses. I don’t want anyone to die from flu or COVID-19, but I must confess that the flu’s 0.1% mortality rate doesn’t worry me much. Nor, if I’m honest, for me personally, does COVID-19’s higher number. I figure it’s good to be prudent, and I’ve long thought that, for a guy who likes to sing for people, a little germophobia and the consequent frequent hand-washing, etc., is not so much a phobia as it is good common sense, pandemic or not.

And yet all of our views on this are skewed in so many ways for so many reasons. Do you know someone—do you love someone—who has died from COVID-19? Do you know someone left with serious health issues? Then one is far too many.

Statistics are crazy. What to make of them?

Here’s one. In the United States, we have 331,002,651 people and have had 8,390,547 COVID-19 cases.

Here’s another statistic that presently frightens me. Out of those 331 million folks, a bunch (that’s a seriously technical statistical term) belong to two political parties who have chosen the two candidates for president—presumably, their best options, which I find 100% statistically horrifying. One now has no logical need at all to wear a mask, though a mask with a mute button or a filter would help him garner more votes. The other is likely to drown in his shower as he waterboards himself. I figure he wears his mask even under running water.

In the midst of all this barrage of statistics, one stat gives me comfort. I’m 100% sure I know the One who brings us from death to life and breathes into us the only health that ultimately matters. I have 100% confidence in our real King.

    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 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Tolerance” Is a Plastic Idol, But “God Is Love”

Tolerance.

I find myself wondering if the word, these days a sickly, anemic, anorexic wraith of a word barely staggering around on its wobbly feet—and yet incredibly loud despite its weakness—has always carried with it a genetic predisposition toward infirmity and decay, or if the present-day virulence of political correctness has fed its malignant bone rot.

“Just give tolerance a chance.” Let’s hold our candles high and sway to the music as we stand in front of our university’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, hoping that the wind whistling through our ears doesn’t extinguish our flickering flames. Still, it’s quite a moving experience, this worship of tolerance. All the more heady, issuing in tear-streaked cheeks and spirits utterly astonished at the depth of our own virtue, if we’ve just managed to “cancel” a speaker whose speech we’re frightened we might not agree with. And the music plays, we sway, wind whistles, candles flicker, minds atrophy.

Forgive me, but “tolerance,” oft-mistaken in our society these days as the highest of virtues, seems sickly, wobbly, and unequal to the task its worshipers have thrust upon it, even as it tries to do what they demand. Not see. Not care. Have no strong opinions, except those most popular, plastic, and unencumbered by anything as morally or dreadfully confining as reality or physics. You believe two plus two equals five; I believe the answer is four. Oh, well. Be tolerant. Light a candle. What difference does it make as long as we’re all happy and on the right—better make that, the correct—side of the latest opinion polls?

Strange, though, how tolerance, as generally practiced in the ever-constricting PC world, stretches only one direction and how utterly intolerant it is in the other. Flirt with a politically incorrect opinion and feel your career flame out as diversity seems suddenly unappreciated. 

In his Wall Street Journal article (10/10/2020), Joseph Epstein lists five views among many “the tolerant absolutely won’t tolerate.”

*That abortion “is, somehow, anti-life and thus just might be wrong.”

*That “the final word isn’t in on climate change, let alone what, if it exists, ought to be done about it.”

*That “racism isn’t systemic but the absence of fathers in African-American families is, with 70% of black births being out of wedlock.”

*That “sexual reassignment surgery and transgendering generally is a ghastly solution to what possibly isn’t a problem.”

*That “most government programs for the improvement of the human condition are unlikely to be effective and in many cases exacerbate the illnesses they set out to cure.”

What a strange virtue tolerance is, especially if it tries to lay claim to being the highest of all virtues. Long before we get even through the list of five items above, let alone to hundreds of others, the high priests of Tolerance have covered their ears, shredding their vocal cords  belting out, “All that we’re asking is give tolerance a chance . . .” all the while completely unwilling to ever really try.

We’d do well to remember that Jesus named and crowned the highest of virtues long ago: love. Love is completely up to the task our society has futilely entrusted to tolerance.

Just not caring much. That’s the highest win “tolerance” can manage. Love cares deeply. Love may have very strong opinions indeed. But love loves anyway, even those with whom it most strongly disagrees.

I could blather on. But I’d rather offer examples of love’s strength as opposed to insipid “tolerance.” Think Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. Think George W. Bush and Michelle Obama. And think—I hope you can—of someone you love deeply, someone you’d die for, whose politics, opinions, and even choices, you abhor.

Tolerance will never be up to that task. For love, such strength is simply what it’s all about. Tolerance is a plastic idol. “God is love.”

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 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Question: “I Wonder What Would Happen If …”

I wonder.

I wonder what would happen . . .

Well, it probably wouldn’t happen, at least, not with the folks I’m thinking of, though I think there’s a pretty good chance it could happen, would happen, and does happen with you or me or anybody you really want to spend much time around, folks who don’t suck the air out of any room they enter, people you can honestly say that you like, but I wonder . . .

I wonder what would happen if the loud politicians (and most of them are loud) presently enjoying their fifteen minutes of this world’s fame, would do what they almost never do, find very difficult to do, and maybe literally can’t do: what would it look like if one of them just occasionally laughed at himself, herself, or itself (to be inclusive here)?

What would happen? I can think of a few who’ve done it. Not many. But, thank the Lord, a few.

Can you imagine, though, Russia’s chest-baring narcissist, China’s fake-smiling bully, North Korea’s puffed up toad, Iran’s . . . well, you get my drift—those guys who might well be termed “deplorables” . . . Can you imagine a genuine, good-hearted laugh from any of them, much less a laugh at themselves?

And, though I’ll try to be reasonable here—I really don’t think it’s fair to lump “our” present pols into that sorry wad of bottom-feeders—hang with me here and think about this.

Wouldn’t it be a great sign if our political leaders were truly better at laughing in general and laughing at themselves in particular?

I’m talking about a real laugh. Not a smirk from the nose down. Not a grimace. Nothing aimed at an opponent or critic. Nothing at all sardonic, cynical, withering, bitter, resentful, supercilious, ignorant, arrogant, rude, condescending, or fake. No.

But a genuine full-involvement-of-the-face laugh. The real deal. A good-natured roar. A guffaw. An explosion of deep mirth accompanied by a flash of eye-twinkle that confirms it.

That’s probably far too much to hope for all at once. I think even a teeny, tiny joke about one’s own foibles and inconsistencies issuing in a real and spontaneous, unscripted and unguarded smile would be refreshing and a good start. And it could and should cross all political lines.

Maybe if Trump laughed a bit about his own Twitter propensity and Biden grinned about his own gaffe-ability, we’d feel better and late night comics would have a little less ammunition.

I think I’d nominate George W. Bush and Michelle Obama to give lessons. Whatever I may like or dislike about the politics of either, I like this about them very much: those two could pull this off.

Ya know what? Upon reflection, I really do think I could name a handful of other political sorts we have seen, or can imagine, doing this without straining any facial muscles at all. I’d gladly vote for one of them.

I’m serious about this. It’s a much bigger deal than we might at first imagine. What kind of heart, what kind of soul, does it take to be able to laugh at oneself? For all of us, not just politicians, it takes a heart with something still warm and beating in it and a soul with something still alive in it. Something still genuinely good. Something that knows itself well enough to be able to get out of self and not be locked up—north, south, east, and west—in a cell with bars fashioned by self as its own tyrannical jailer.

Sadly, that kind of self-imposed prison is not just common to egotistical politicians, it can lock up the hearts of any of us who take ourselves too seriously and our God not seriously enough. If we really trust our Father, we’ll have plenty of time, many good reasons, and ample occasion not only to love but to laugh, often at ourselves.

Personally, I think it’s foolish and dangerous to put much trust in anyone who doesn’t.

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 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Wow! That Person Really Knows the Bible!”

“Wow! That person really knows the Bible!” I hear that comment made fairly often, and I always wonder what the speaker means.

Usually they mean that someone is quite familiar with the words of the Bible, its many facts and wonderful stories, etc. On one level, that’s great, since most studies these days show that the general level of factual Bible knowledge among even Christians is appalling.

But then I wonder, how much does that person whose Bible knowledge is being touted really understand about God’s written revelation? For example, how much does he understand about the various types of literature that are contained in the Scriptures? Does she realize that being serious about learning what a particular book of the Bible has to teach means being serious enough to learn something about its context and setting? And on we could go.

I don’t doubt for a moment that one doesn’t have to have credentials as a Bible scholar to derive great blessing from simply reading the Bible and learning about the amazingly Good News of God’s love; but neither do I doubt that biblical “malpractice” and mistaken “theories” that sound good on the surface are most easily promulgated by folks who haven’t had the training truly needed to swim in the deeper ends of the pool; they are easily misled and often mislead others whether they have great intentions or not.

Interestingly, those who have worked the hardest and studied the longest to truly know the most about the facts, the message, and the meaning of the Bible are the very last to ever claim to know much about it at all. You might as well claim to truly know every “corner” of the Milky Way, and only the most foolish and blind astronomer would ever make that claim.

I’ve been enjoying Dr. Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor. One of Peterson’s most truly wise and learned teachers at the Johns Hopkins University was Professor William Albright, then perhaps the world’s leading scholar in biblical archaeology and Semitic studies.

Peterson says that one day Dr. Albright walked into the classroom greatly excited. For years scholars had been debating the exact location (and meaning) of Mount Moriah, where Abraham had “bound Isaac for sacrifice.” Dr. Albright had awakened that morning to suddenly realize that he had discovered some very important answers. He stood before his doctoral students and laid it all out, filling the chalkboard with Ugaritic, Arabic, Assyrian, Aramaic, and Hebrew words pertinent to the issue. He’d gone on for twenty minutes when one of his best students raised his hand and asked, “But Dr. Albright, what about . . .”

Peterson says that the Professor stopped, considered for twenty seconds, and said, “Mr. Williams is right—forget everything I have said.” Amazing humility! And true humility is always impressive.

Most folks don’t even begin to realize how much we are blessed by those like the good professor and so many others who have devoted their lives to helping us better understand God’s written word.

May we never forget that the real purpose of God’s written revelation—every page—is to help us know and become like the Lord behind it. Knowing its facts but not its Author would be sad indeed. The more we truly know of Him the more truly humble we will become.

    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 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


%d bloggers like this: