Tag Archives: Christ

“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.


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.


“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.


“My Grandchildren Have Each Come Equipped with GPS”

When my first grandchild, a beautiful little girl, was born, I was surprised to learn that grandchildren are born with an integrated GPS. All of mine have come thus equipped.

The Grandpa Positioning System can be initiated with a simple smile aimed at the old guy, a pudgy little finger pointing PawPaw in a specific direction, or a cute giggle triggering Granddaddy Gymnastics (which—let grandpas beware—may lead to lumbar consequences).

At one point a few years into my grandfathering career, led by the aforementioned GPS, I found myself, a father of four sons, in the strange position of perusing YouTube videos trying to learn how to French braid a little granddaughter’s silken hair. A major goal, of course, was to do a good braiding job. For an amateur, I did okay. (May I strongly suggest a good comb and dampened hair?) The over-riding goal, however, was to elicit smiles and giggles and hugs. On that score, I did better than okay!

The tricky part of French-braiding hair comes because the good Lord saw fit to give most grandfathers only two hands. The process requires holding at least three strands of hair and a comb, all at the same time while juggling a spray bottle, and not fumbling hair strands, comb, or water sprayer in the process. PawPaw’s fingers found the multitasking to be a bit challenging. But the giggles were wonderful compensation!

“All at the same time” can be a challenge—and not just for grandfathers.

When Jesus came into this world at Bethlehem, the Apostle John describes him as being “full of grace and truth.” In his ministry, Jesus himself makes it clear that those who love and follow him are to be people whose lives are filled with love, grace, compassion, hope, joy, and so much more—all at the same time. What a beautiful braid! But what a challenge!

In that “braid,” so many wonderful qualities are, by the power of God’s Spirit, woven together beautifully. But integral in that lovely weave, a special strand intermingles with the others lending a deeper tone, a richer sheen, and producing in the whole braid a magnificent beauty, lush and lustrous and, at the same time, providing a marvelous strength. That strand is truth.

“Grace and truth.” Our world is in desperate need of both. Real grace. Real truth. Together. Grace separated from truth becomes an anorexic wraith. Or change the image. “Cheap grace” is no more real grace than those pathetic globs of “poultry” Gary Larson once drew in his “Far Side” cartoon under the caption “Boneless Chicken Ranch” were real chickens!

And truth separated from grace? It is cold and hard and brittle, quickly lost as our society tries to force truth to be anything at all that anyone at all might find useful at any given moment at all. Hurling a rabbit off a mountaintop and calling him an eagle won’t help with the landing. Truth matters. But our self-destructive culture is often unwilling to admit that objective truth even exists. Many people don’t want it to exist. And many, because of their approach to life, can’t afford for it to. No wonder Pontius Pilate’s cynical sneer is as modern as tomorrow: “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

But truth does exist, and all genuine truth is God’s truth. The real thing is no chameleon or shape-shifter changing hue or form to fit the latest opinion poll or fashion. We might as well talk about “my gravity” or “my multiplication table” as to spout nonsense about “my truth.”

Accepting the truth about ourselves, our world, our Creator, is the way to life and healing and joy because in our Father, grace and truth are beautifully braided together with 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.

 

 


“Sure Am Glad No Microphone Is Open in My Head!”

Wow, it’s a good thing nobody can hear what I’m thinking right now. An “open mike” transmitting from my brain might show how incredibly jumbled it is today! I’m sure the funeral directors’ and, of course, the families’ minds are every bit as jumbled. It’s been a flood. But it’s never easy. And multiple services this week.

I’m thinkin’ . . .

The trick with anybody’s job, I guess, is that, if you do it right, it looks simple, and even if it’s “game on” in your head, thoughts are careening everywhere, and mental and real notes are stacking up.

Two funerals to officiate at. Two great guys. One of them my opposite number as we’ve grandfathered the same sweet granddaughters. I sure wanted those girls to have us both a lot longer. I hurt for the grieving families. With the families, sure am thankful the suffering is over. But these losses are gonna hurt us all a lot. But I can’t spare the luxury of dwelling on that right now.

Seen the families. Got great help from both. Great stories. Sweet, not bitter, tears. I judge the wounds to be very clean. No doofus fussing about somebody’s rocking chair or throttling their own shrivelled souls money-grubbing. These guys were both rich in what matters. Their families know it. Any inheritance that matters, they already have. Priceless.

Small in the whole scope, but my job’s a bunch easier since both families are the sort to stay in their lanes, let funeral directors, officiants, know clearly what they want, and let us do our job. (And everybody’s job, like it or not, is harder now with the COVID-19 mess. Sure would be nice if nobody got sick! All we can do is all we can do. Sure would be nice if everybody tried to be kinda careful, mainly to try to take care of everybody else.)

Both funeral homes are home-owned, top-notch, and have already coordinated scheduling together. So good!

Now to put the stories together. Both such good guys. So much good to say. Try to say for all the family/friends what each would like to say. But pick carefully. You don’t have forever. Don’t filibuster. Most of all, try to give God’s word of comfort. What are good Scripture texts, one for each of these good men? Lord, if you’ve got a preference, I don’t expect a note attached to a rock, but could you please . . . ?

Both men of faith. The real deal. Such good guys! So easy to love. So easy to like. Such real fathers, just like their Father. James was a talker and you were his friend even if you just met him. Dewey was a fixer and could make anything run right and run better and would do anything for you. One main Scripture each. What should I pick? What would the Father who delighted in them say? Try to say it. Better start lining up some words. Focus.

Do obituaries first. Obits always take the most work and time, even after the family has done a good job.  NEVER just read names/dates. Use what the family gives as framework.

Before doing obits, nail down orders of service. One two nights ago. One last night. Get songs/music rounded up. Downloaded. Talk to music leaders. Talk to singer me.) Make sure songs and tracks are rounded up and lined up. Make sure sound system is ready. Don’t forget a cord or you’ll be sorry. Talk to audio/video folks at two churches. Communicate with three folks who will be speaking at one service. Line up a “line of defense” song on playlist just in case needed. Bring tripod if needed for Facebook Live. Get pics. Make sure dinner at our church is progressing. (Those gals are amazing.) Help set up tables. Replace ice maker filter and buy ice if that doesn’t work. Get slide show DVD.

Did I say it already? Focus! For once in your life, even though the night is peacefully quiet, try to write a funeral message during daylight. Or you could just do what you always do, fool, and stay up half the night so it’s fresh on your mushy mind.

Man, I’m glad nobody can hear these thoughts. But God’s blessing is going to come in all of this. It will.

Now, let’s just love each other like these two guys taught us to. Like our Father taught us to.

Now, park your rear in the chair and write.

Oh, did I remember to get the song lyrics?

Now, really. I mean it. Write.

Oh, crud! Did I leave this mike on!?

 

You’re invited to visit my website–and especially to check out my new podcast, http://www.CurtisShelburne.com/podcast!

 

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.


Embracing Tunnel Vision Means Losing Vision

Idealists, and, specifically, idealists who are also zealots, scare me. Laser-like focus not only cuts, it blinds. Even if a person is “correct” on an issue, tunnel vision is by definition partial loss of vision.

Idealistic zealots think that the only way to get what they really want—and what they really want is the only result they’ll accept—is by getting all of what they really want. And a significant percentage of them believe or act as if reaching their goal justifies any means of getting there.

It does not. We can “win” at all costs, trample on what is precious, adopt wicked and slimy methods, rationalizing that the result will be something good—and lose miserably even as we scrawl a “W” in the win column.

Zealots generally pigeon-hole the people they deal with as either enemies or friends, nothing in between. In older days, and still in some cultures, an enemy would simply be knifed and removed as a problem; in “civilized” society today, an enemy is just “cancelled.” A friend is expected to help in the knifing or cancelling, and everyone else is ignored.

What that means in practicality is, surprisingly, that those on opposite sides of an “issue,” but those who realize they must settle for some middle ground in order to make any progress at all, may actually be closer to each other than zealots on both far ends. At least, they don’t reach for knives or make every effort conceivable to “cancel” each other. They realize they must talk and, yes, compromise, to get anything done. They might even be able eat an occasional meal together, learn something from each other, and inquire about each other’s families—even as they roundly disagree on many issues, and yes, remarkably, issues that matter deeply to them.

In the above context, “compromise” is a very positive word. But a zealot, wearing his “all or nothing” blinders, will always see compromise as cowardice and treachery. He’ll often get “nothing,” which in a (like it or not) pluralistic society like ours is probably what, I’m tempted to say, he deserves. Even if I agree with him on the issue.

Months ago now, we got word that the member of Congress from our district was coming to my town to meet and speak to his constituents. I actually like him. I trust him more than most politicians. But politics, politicians, and parties have seemed to me increasingly pathetic and, along with many folks, I’ve become increasingly tired of the whole thing and, yes, cynical. In the interest of mental and spiritual health, I almost just stayed home.

But I went. And I’m glad.

I got to ask one question. And I got to see one glimmer of hope.

I don’t recall the exact words, but I asked him privately, “I’ve never met our president; you have. Sooner or later, every president faces a crisis that tests his character, integrity, and wisdom. When the test comes, will our current president have what it takes?” He answered and, I think, meant it. The crisis has come, and we’ll all be answering in November. If you think you know my answer, I’ve written this poorly. I will only say that I expect November to be every bit as much fun as a colonoscopy sans anesthesia. Cynical, right?

But the glimmer of hope? It came during an otherwise pretty predictable speech as our congressman told us that among his little family’s closest friends in Washington is the family of another congressman on the other side. They almost always vote differently, but, personally, they enjoy warm friendship and respect.

That, my friends, is a glimmer of hope, the kind “zealots” will never be able to embrace. The kind that might actually accomplish something when coming together as fellow humans, as different as we are, is the only way to really stand.

Oh, I care about issues, and I care deeply about voting in ways that I believe most likely to honor my King. But hasn’t Christ always cared much more about hearts than issues? Yes, oh, yes.

A zealot will never understand that. His heart won’t let him.

 

  You’re invited to visit my website, and I especially hope you’ll check out my new podcast at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com/podcast!

 

 

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.


“Please Join Me for a Walk Through a Mine Field”

By writing today’s column, I am breaking a promise, one that I made to myself. I didn’t make myself take an oath aloud or sign anything. I suppose it was less a promise than a mental warning not to stroll into any mine fields.

The topic is difficult and highly-charged, a tough one for any of us to deal with wisely and rationally and one where many folks seem to opt quickly for foolishness and irrationality. The best of writers could be easily misunderstood on this subject. I am nowhere near the best of writers. Add to this the fact that loud folks who want to misunderstand in order to be louder and angrier almost always succeed.

But I hereby invite you along for a stroll into a mine field. I really hope we’re seeking understanding, respect, and peace. The Lord promises great blessing to peacemakers, but they can also expect flying shrapnel and subsequent wounding from both “sides.”

What, you might ask, could make a pandemic even less pleasant? And now we know: social and racial unrest.

I suspect that most of us also know that, enjoyable or not, “conversations” about tough issues like race and justice are discussions we need to be able to have and can be positive, if we really listen to each other.

But we did not need looting, burning, and rioting; it is wrong, weak, cowardly, criminal, and indefensible, and I am very sure that the vast majority of people of all races in our land are in agreement on that.

I think most of us, whatever our color, believe that what happened to George Floyd was abhorrent and wrong.

I think most of us believe that it’s a matter for tears that in our land any parent of any race should have to give their teenagers “the talk.” (The much earlier talk about sex is hard enough.)

I believe that I have a lot to learn about the challenges faced by my friends of other races and that trying to learn is worth some effort.

I believe that a lot of what we see as racial differences are also, and maybe on an even deeper level, economic differences. My own experience is that I have very little trouble at all talking to, respecting, understanding, and loving friends of different races who are similar to me (or “above” me) economically and educationally. Some of the folks I’m thinking of are among my dearest friends, and some are family members. This does not absolve me from trying harder to understand folks from other races who are poorer economically and/or educationally. (In my experience, it’s every bit as hard for me to understand and communicate with “poor white” as it is “poor choose-a-color.”)  But we all need to try harder.

My own belief is that much of the unrest and hurt we see most obviously in some of our nation’s largest cities can be traced directly to seeds sown years ago when societally we ran to embrace the selfish and false “freedom” that resulted in massive numbers of fatherless families, illegitimacy, and the many bitter fruits of poverty. And the pernicious result was exacerbated by failed social and economic policies from the left that promise compassion and end up promulgating cruelty.

I also believe that you have every right to disagree with me. You have not only a Constitutional but God-given right to do so, a right that I should cherish and be willing to defend. And “free speech” is rapidly becoming an even larger part of the current “discussion.”

As free people we should be able to talk peacefully about our beliefs, even if they’re diametrically opposed, and whether or not they are in line with the latest opinion polls or the views of the media or the self-righteousness and virtue-signaling of the social and political right or left. (Are those two qualities not easily recognizable by their smell as being of the same substance?)

I believe that any “culture” that would actively “cancel” speech and thought is a culture for cowards, brutes, and immature fools. How can we understand each other if we don’t listen to different views? And who will decide whose opinions expressed in speeches, books, movies, etc., are views that our evidently very delicate ears can handle?

As it happens, I found myself agreeing with and appreciating Jason L. Riley’s Wall Street Journal column (6/17/20; his stuff is always worth reading, and his opinion is always thought-provoking). In “America Has a Silent Black Majority,” Mr. Riley (who is black) quotes Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s words in a 1970 memo to President Nixon that there “is a silent black majority as well as a white one” that “shares most of the concerns of its white counterpart.” Fifty years later, Riley says, this is still true.

“Most black people,” he writes, “know that George Floyd is no more representative of blacks than Derek Chauvin is of police officers. They know that the frequency of black encounters with law enforcement has more to do with black crime rates than with racially biased policing. They know that young black men have more to fear from their peers than from the cops. And they know that rioters are opportunists, not revolutionaries.”

Riley writes that, though there’s nothing wrong with a national conversation about better policing, “blaming law enforcement for social inequality” is “not only illogical but dangerous.” He goes on, “Unsafe neighborhoods retard upward mobility, and poorly policed neighborhoods are less safe.” And he closes, “A conversation that doesn’t acknowledge that reality is hardly worth having.”

I think he’s right on target. But maybe the even larger issue these days is how willing I am to acknowledge and defend your right to think otherwise. A lot of people have given their lives to help preserve our right to live in freedom. Freedom without free speech is not freedom.

The best and most loving, the strongest and gentlest, most truly wise and most completely peaceful Man of all died completely unjustly to bring all of us, of every race and nation, genuine freedom.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

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.


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