Category Archives: My Philosophy of Life

Why People Hate the Empty Tomb

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https://i1.wp.com/slcbc.org/media/images/articles/Easter.jpgTomorrow is Easter Sunday when Christians in non-Eastern Orthodox traditions celebrate the single most important event in the history of the universe . . . a man, dead and buried since the previous Friday . . . walked out of a borrowed tomb alive. This event, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth stands alone in the annals of time. It is a unique event that now serves as the fulcrum of how we measure time worldwide — even in officially non-Christian countries. Jews, Muslims, and other religions may have calendars they follow to schedule religious ceremonies, but all business gets conducted on the Gregorian — the Christian — calendar. Christ’s return from the dead is so powerful, it changed our calendar from BC, “Before Christ” to AD, “Anno Domini” or “In the year of Our Lord.”

As powerful as the event, as essential as the sacrifice leading up to it, and as all-important as the Man involved, to many people the empty tomb of Easter is not an object of reverence, a touchstone of faith, and a symbol of life everlasting, it is an object of derision, a touchstone of folly, and a symbol of a corpse of a rotting religion whose time has passed. Many people hate the empty tomb and everything it stands for and while some disparage the Resurrection out of ignorance of or antagonism towards the Person and message of Christ, some have much more specific reasons for their antipathy towards that bare cave in the cliffs outside Jerusalem.

One reason many hate the empty tomb is they mistake what Christians have done in the world for what Christ did on the Cross. I will not sully the memory of those who suffered under the heel of the Christian boot during the Crusades, the Inquisition, the forced conversion of Native American children and many other atrocities committed in the name of the Lamb of God. However, it is unjust of anyone to judge the Gospel based on the actions of sinners . . . and we are all sinners. Crusaders were sinners, Inquisitors were sinners, abortion clinic bombers are sinners, and, what’s more, every single person sitting on a chair or in a pew in any church in the world today is a sinner. The only One who has ever lived who was NOT a sinner died so all the sinners who came before and all who would come after could have hope their sins would not be held against them, and the people of His time killed Him for His troubles. You cannot measure the value of the Gospel using the scales of a sinner.

Another reason people hate the empty tomb is the feeling of guilt and shame acknowledging the sacrifice of the Cross and victory of the Tomb creates. People will rail at the Heavens about how they did not ask for anyone to come die for them. They feel angry at the idea of not being “good enough” for anything they may want. No one wants to feel ashamed or guilty and in our modern culture “guilt” is today reserved almost exclusively for legal proceedings while “shame” is just the product of a backward mind unwelcome in this brave new world. After all, we’re all okay. If we just tolerate and celebrate each other and embrace the diversity of sins around us, everything will be fine. We just have to get passed the false guilt Christianity via the church has bound our freedom with for centuries. We aren’t shameful or guilty as long as it is politically incorrect to equate ANY behavior with shame or guilt. We would follow a truth to avoid The Truth.

That brings up the strongest reason people hate the empty tomb. As long as “open-minded moderns” can believe Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett are correct and God truly does not exist so no tomb ever really was empty, we can go about our merry way and do what we want, when we want, as long as we want, with whomever we want and no consequences will ever weigh us down. As the Wiccan Rede says, “Do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” We can die peacefully with Bertrand Russell’s thin, reedy voice intoning in our fading hearing, “”Death is nothing to us; for that which is dissolved, is without sensation, and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us.” As long as God is dead and the Tomb either full or fairy tale, we are the “Master of our fate; the captain of our soul.”

However, if the opposite is true and Jesus rose from the dead, they are not only guilty, but they are also in debt and facing judgement. The presence of a just and holy God who provided a way to escape eternal capital punishment through the deliberate sacrifice of Himself in the form of His Son absolutely plays havoc with their lives — inner and outer. If that God is real; if that Christ is real, then I don’t get to live any way I want. I don’t get to rob and thieve and steal whatever from whomever I please. I can’t have sex like some randy alley cat willy-nilly. Most of all, though; my life doesn’t belong to me. I owe my life, my existence to Someone else and one day, I will stand before Him to give an account of my actions.

That possibility at once terrifies and enrages every atheist I’ve ever known. The very possibility they are not in control of their precious little existences rankles at them like a rock in their shoe. Man likes to think he is top of the food chain and the pinnacle of all in the Universe for that is what the Enlightenment has taught him, but no . . . There is One; the Three in One to whom everyone from the most devout Muslim to the most strident atheist will one day bend a knee and proclaim thrice holy . . . and each of them despises the fact and by extension the Empty Tomb which gives them a way of escape from that day of wrath.

An interviewer asked the aforementioned Bertrand Russell what he would do if, after his death, he found himself standing before God. Mr. Russell replied, again in that wispy whisper of his, “Well, I’d simply say, ‘You didn’t provide me enough evidence!'” So what you are saying, Mr. Russell, is if confronted with the King and Creator of the Universe in all His power and glory, you — a mere human — would lead your defense of your miserable unbelief with “Not enough evidence?”

No, sir, I don’t believe you would. He has given us enough evidence and chief among it all is that stark, empty tomb which so many in the world hate . . . to their own peril.

Love y’all, Happy Easter, and keep those feet clean! He is risen indeed!

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My Advice to the College Bound

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college or bustAll around the country a great odyssey is in progress. Students are finally getting their wishes and leaving home to head off to colleges and universities everywhere. In some places, classes are already starting and so this advice may be coming entirely too late as it is, but I feel compelled to try anyway. I do not have any children of my own and so will never be in the position to take someone to school, help him or her unpack the car, and get all the luggage and accoutrements into the dorm. Even so, I’m calling on my own experience in a huge public university back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we took notes on a slate instead of an iSlate. Pass it on as you will. It comes from the heart.

Here goes, in no certain order of importance:

1. CHOOSE YOUR ROOMMATE CAREFULLY. Do not, under ANY circumstances, pick your BFF as your roommate as a freshman. No better method for destroying a friendship exists in the annals of civilization than trying to co-habitate the same space as a person you have known and ostensibly loved for a big chunk of your life at a time in both those lives when everything about the two of you is in flux. You are better off taking the luck of the draw than trying to keep the friendship alive by rooming together.

2. BE RESPONSIBLE. You have been screaming at your parents and the rest of the world just how responsible and grown up you are. Well, now is your chance to ACT LIKE IT. Don’t talk about being responsible — do it. Set an alarm and go to class on time, even the 8:00 AM ones you were insane enough to sign up for. Go to bed on time. Study as much as you need to.

3. DO NOT TRUST ANYONE YOU DO NOT KNOW until he or she gives you ample reason to do so. You are in the “real world” now and that world is full of predators. I’m not trying to scare you, but this isn’t a stupid horror movie. If you get in with the wrong person, you could end up in big trouble. You CANNOT tell a book by its cover. Ted Bundy was movie star handsome, brilliant enough to run for office, and executed for murdering at least 30 COLLEGE GIRLS. Watch yourself. Eventually, you will make friends who will go to the wall for you and when you do, look out for each other.

4. REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE. College is a time of challenges — to your beliefs, your ideals, and your character. You’ll be pressured to “change” in some way or another. Ignore the hype. If you love Jesus, don’t become a militant atheist just because a professor says so. Don’t dabble in Wicca just because the cute boy down the hall claims to be a high priest. Don’t change who you are just for the sake of changing. After all, being who you are got you this far, right? Of course, if you’re an asshole, by all means change. No one likes an asshole.

5. GET A PLAN. I’m where I am right now because I am the poster child for goal-less wandering. I wouldn’t trade my years in teaching for anything, but to be honest, I backed into education as a major. I NEVER sat down with myself or anyone else and figured out where I wanted to head in life and what I needed to do to get there. I just floated along and now I’m paying for it. Set goals, do research, decide what needs to be done and go do it. Alternatively, just go with the flow, but if you do, don’t be surprised when you are 43 and wondering, “How in the Hell did I get here?”

6. WATCH YOUR MONEY. Once again, I’m speaking from painful, personal experience. Unless you or your parents are exceptional planners, you’re already looking at student loan debt. Don’t add credit cards and other money suckers to that mountain as well. When I was in college, we didn’t get pre-approval credit card forms. Back then, they sent us a real live credit card and all you had to do was call and activate it and start burning plastic. I never turned one down and that’s why I live in a single-wide trailer instead of having a log cabin on the Bitterroot River in Montana like one of my buddies from high school and college.

7. AVOID STUPIDITY. Don’t make stupid choices, don’t hang out with stupid people, and don’t do stupid things. This is the era of social media. Any stupid move you make will be worldwide before you get back to your dorm room. The night I passed out on the steps of Tillman Hall stumbling back from the Esso Club, I didn’t have to worry about anything but security guards and rain. Try that nowadays and you’ll be on someone’s Facebook page in a skinny minute. Get drunk and strip on a table at a frat party? Hello, viral YouTube; goodbye future promotion opportunity. Ignorance is fine; it can be cured with education, but — to quote Ron White, “You can’t fix stupid.”

8. DON’T BLOW YOUR FUTURE TO HAVE FUN TODAY. You will be faced with a dictionary of choices in your freshman year. You can choose to party or study; go to the game or to the library; drink that one more drink or switch to water; have sex with that person or not. Binary choices. Yes or no; this or that. Choose wrong and you actually could screw up your entire future. Of course, that could never happen to you, but I watched it happen to people I knew and cared about. It only takes one bad decision and you could end up in jail, with a disease, with an unexpected baby, with a ticket out of college, or even with a headstone if it’s bad enough. Trust me on this one and don’t insist on finding out for yourself.

9. ACT LIKE YOU’VE GOT SOME SENSE. Your generation didn’t invent sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll so don’t act like you’re a rock star. For example, if you are at a party, do not, under any circumstances, drink ANYTHING offered to you unless YOU break the seal or YOU pour the drink. Once you set a drink down, consider it gone. Why waste a good drink? See #3 above. If you are tanking in a class, act like you’ve got some sense, swallow your pride, and go get help. Pride is a piss poor excuse for failing out of college. You will usually know what the right thing is to do whether you want to or not– do it. That is what acting like you’ve got some sense means.

I hope this helps some. Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

Missionary Position

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boys fightingOnce upon a time, I was a new Christian determined to win the world for Jesus. I thought everyone should go to Heaven and I was the one to show them the way. I had ALL the answers to anything anyone could ever ask me about faith. Then, eight years ago, Papa John died and I didn’t have answers for MY questions, and when I finally had those pieces of life somewhat reorganized, Mama died and dumped my apple cart again. I went to a seriously dark place emotionally and mentally and almost gave up on everything.

A year later, I’m still recovering, but I’m a different person. I still believe Jesus is our savior, sacrifice, lord and the ONLY means of salvation and eternal life. (Wonder how many followers THAT lost me?) I still want to go to Heaven . . . especially if it means I’ll see Mama again. I’m still “on the firing line” as the old gospel song says, but . . . BUT, I understand a few things differently now. For instance, everyone doesn’t WANT to go to Heaven. Lots of people could care less about Heaven or Jesus too for that matter. I know there’s a difference between civil rights and religious teachings. I’m different and I’m scarred now, and because of that, I have a better missionary position than before.

I’ve developed my position around three critical ideas: a perceived interest, a perceived need, and/or an established relationship. First, I have a willingness to discuss the story of my faith in Christ and what He’s done for me with anyone who shows even the remotest interest. I believe all Christians should be willing and able to do the same because we are admonished to “always be ready to give a defense or reason for the hope we have in us.” I also think it’s important to pay attention to the person I’m talking to. If I see the reptilian haze begin to fuzz over their eyes or they seem to bristle at the name of Jesus, then it’s time to talk about the weather or football or — God forbid — politics.

Second, I’m willing to start a conversation about Christ and faith with anyone (even a stranger) who seems to be in a state of physical or emotional turmoil or pain. Some people might see that approach as intrusive or offensive, but I see such a conversation in the same light as a compassionate nurse or doctor checking on someone he saw take a tumble or having a little trouble breathing. I like to help people; I want everyone to go to Heaven, and I have the skill set for such a conversation. If they seem open, I go as far as inviting them to church one Saturday night or Sunday morning; if I sense pushback, fine – it’s a perfectly legitimate choice on their part and we’ll just leave it at that. It never hurts to care about people, though.Finally, I’ll initiate faith discussions – often intense ones – with non-believers I have an established relationship with. The key is ESTABLISHED. I’m not going to ask a person if he’s a Christian on our first meeting unless he brings it up. Football is much safer for a conversation starter. I’m talking about people I’ve known and interacted with over a lengthy period of time. It could be a friend, but I’ve also had these faith discussions with my regular waitress at restaurants I frequent. These are people who know a decent amount about me. Hopefully, they can tell I’m a Christian before I even bring it up; if they can’t, I’ve got a bigger problem because my life isn’t a reflection of Whom I serve.

Discussions like these, however, are YEARS forming and they are not without hazards – I’ve lost touch with a couple of people I considered good friends over tension between our beliefs, but such is the risk anyone who wants to point people towards God’s Kingdom must be willing to take. It doesn’t feel great and it certainly doesn’t make me some sort of martyr to lose a friend over my faith, but if you put yourself out there, it’s likely to happen at some point. In the end, all I can do is show the way; I can’t walk the path for them. My grandmother-in-law had a saying I think of often: “We must let people go to Hell in their own way.”

Now just as I have three key ideas I live by for sharing my faith, I also have three things I avoid. For one, I will NOT “debate” religion in a comments section of a website or in posts on Facebook. Text is a poor way to debate ideas because so much communication and meaning relies on non-verbal cues. It is extremely difficult to gauge someone’s state of mind or read his intent on a message board. I see online religious “discussions” as THE fastest way to obtain proof of Godwin’s Law, Poe’s Law, and – most profoundly – John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Theory, often all in a single comment or post. Remember, don’t feed the trolls.

The second thing I will not do is participate in any sort of mass “direct evangelism.” For those who didn’t grow up in the South, direct evangelism is going door to door in neighborhoods, trailer parks, and shopping malls to ask random people to sit down and discuss their salvation. This kind of missionary position is not the exclusive domain of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons, but they’ve made it famous; however, I know of several “regular” churches where one night per week is “visitation night” or “outreach night.” I know this human faith wave has produced fruit, but I also know it’s created more bad press for Christians than good. No one wants to deal with telemarketers, even if the product is salvation, and knocking on the wrong doors these days is a quick way to meet Jesus in person via a 9 mm slug to the head.

My final taboo is “Christian merchandising.” My cars do not sport chrome fish or any other Christian device. I do not own a Christian t-shirt. I don’t carry a reference or study bible with me wherever I go. None of this is due to my shame at being a Christian; it’s the polar opposite. Before chrome fish, we didn’t have chrome fish with feet, chrome fish eating chrome fish with feet or vice versa, or chrome flying spaghetti monsters. Also, I know how I drive and ESPECIALLY how my Budge drives. I don’t want to embarrass Christ with our road rage. I can’t think of a worse witness for Jesus than cutting someone off with a huge chrome fish on your bumper THEN giving them the finger when they blow their horns at you.

So, that’s my take on sharing my faith. I want everyone to go to Heaven, but I’m not naïve enough to believe everyone will make it in. Hell, some days (LOTS of days) I have serious doubts about myself! Love y’all; keep those feet clean.

World of Nursery-craft

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Man-Holding-Crying-BI am an exceedingly odd duck — and not for the reason most longtime readers of my work are thinking of right now.  I am a male nursery worker whose wife doesn’t work in the nursery with him.  To my knowledge, and the knowledge of everyone I’ve discussed this with, I am the only member of my kind.  I serve in the Snails class at our church.  This class is the pre-Sunday School of Sunday School and encompassed ages from “walking steadily without help” down to “mama finally has the courage to leave her bundle with a semi-stranger.”  I serve because I enjoy babies — spit up, dirty diapers, and all.  I should note, however, that my church has a policy forbidding males to change any baby’s diaper.

It’s one of those particular rules which runs its fingernails down the chalkboard of my anti-authoritarianism because I resent the implication implicit in the policy, but I make it a point of honor to tell my co-servers I am forbidden by statute, not a weak stomach, from changing diapers.  After all, I am a veteran of three Samples children from my former church nursery.  Those little tykes — who are now in high school and middle school — were fearsome in what they could pack in a Pamper. Their mom didn’t bring Wet Wipes, she packed Bounty paper towels and a shop-vac.  On more than one occasion, I have held a Samples child beneath a running faucet to expedite the removal of “material” from his back and it is not unknown for a nursery worker to resort to shampooing hair to complete a full diaper change. After Logan, Riley, and Emily, nothing in a Huggies can deter me. Stun me for a moment, maybe, but not deter.

But I digress.

This past Sunday morn, I was on the schedule to serve with the Salon twins.  They have never served with me before and when they arrived and I was already in the room, I got the usual “well, he’s going to be useless” look.  Most of the time, I take women by surprise because of having Shannon for a first name.  I love and miss Mama, but regardless of the fact she swore to her dying day it’s a unisex name, I never got to have a bicycle tag or a book bag tag because all the Shannon’s were pink and not blue. But I’m not bitter. Anyway, these two are in college and are six-year veterans of nursery work and babysitting and I could tell they figured on carrying me for the day. crying-baby-cartoon

Oh thee of little faith.

When the first song of the service started, we had three charges: Jackie, who is the chunkiest little boy you’d ever want to meet and adorable besides; Madeline, a darling little girl who isn’t long for Snails since she is up on two legs and motoring well; and Oakes, another little girl but she is a tee-tiny newborn and her mom was leaving her in the nursery for the first time. Three babies; three workers.  Easy-Peasey, right? No.

To understand what happened next, you have to understand a little about church.  Service starts at 9:15 AM.  That means the first song cranks up then.  Most people seem to live in some other time zone, though, because THEIR 9:15 is much closer to OUR 9:25 — 9:30.  It never amazes me how the same parents who can get multiple children out the door to school and day care so they can get to WORK on time have such an awful record of getting those same children to CHURCH on time.

Same goes for those scheduled to serve — a man or woman who may have a seven-year running record of perfect attendance at his or her employment doesn’t think twice about calling the staffing coach to say they “just can’t make it today.”  Now that it’s football season, it’ll get exponentially worse.  A guy can stay out until midnight on Monday or Thursday at the sports club watching football and still manage to get to work on time or even a little early, but for some reason he just can’t get up the day after tailgating and watching a NOON game at the ol’ alma mater forty-five minutes away.

Anyway, having three bambinos at 9:15 means nothing.

By 9:30, we had EIGHT.  Madeline was our best walker, Jackie our fastest crawler, and Oakes had another member of the “car carrier club” situated next to her in the teensy person of Lyndsey.  Our other four were Osteen, Mae, Benjie, and Sidney. Only Maddie was fully mobile so it looked like we were off to a good start . . . for five whole minutes.  Then, for some reason we never did determine, Mae decided to see if she could hit E flat over Middle C.  For those of you who’ve never worked with babies en masse, it’s the funniest thing — when ONE of them goes ballistic, they ALL go ballistic! By 9:45, we had an eight piece choir making a not-so-joyful noise.  The three of us looked at each other with a gaze that must have been reminiscent of the look the troopers of the 7th Calvary gave Custer when all those Sioux and Cheyenne rose up out of the grass at the Little Bighorn.

We petted and rocked and patted and replaced binkies which were promptly spit right back out.  I know a lot of you are wondering why we didn’t just cork the kids with a nice warm bottle? No such luck. The majority of women at our church are nursers and while I am capable and willing to do a lot of things traditionally considered “woman’s work,” breast-feeding is something God in His infinite wisdom thankfully did not equip me to do.  We were swimming upstream against an Amazonian current.  At one point, I had a baby on each thigh hugging and rocking them while simultaneously rocking Lyndsey’s car carrier with my foot.  The twins, veterans that they were, had two and sometimes three little ones, walking them around the room, trying to interest them in a ball or a rattle or something.  Then we had to make sure Jackie and Madeline — our two mobile mites — didn’t get into something dangerous. It was nothing short of pandemonium.

Just in time for Mom and Dad to pick up and take home.

Just in time for Mom and Dad to pick up and take home.

Now we have a system for paging parents to come get their children if we can’t get them settled, so why didn’t we?  Well, that’s the heart and soul of nursery work.  For a lot of these moms, this is baby number two or three . . . and sometimes four.  These are really busy women and even though they would be down at the nursery seconds after seeing their child’s number flash on the pager, all most of us who serve in the nursery realize this hour is the only time many of these moms have a chance to THINK.  We hold out as long as we possibly can, then hang on just a bit longer so the moms can have some time to themselves to worship and thank God for the precious little baby who is even now screaming his head off a mere twenty feet beneath her seat!

It’s not pride. It’s service and that why I do it and why most of the ladies I serve with do to.  As for this past Sunday, mercifully the whole group began to nod off into sound slumber — literally “sleeping like babies” — a whole five minutes before the first parent came down to pick up at the end of the service!  Nothing like having service end right at morning nap time! Oh, and the girls know I can hold my own in the nursery now!

Love y’all, keep those feet clean!

Behind Every Great Fortune . . .

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logo@2xHonore de Balzac once remarked, “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” I would like to appropriate his comment in a paraphrase to state “Behind at least one growing fortune likes a great hypocrisy.” Anyone who knows me for long will discover at some point in our relationship I hate three things above all others — cabbage, the New York Yankees, and hypocrisy. I would rather deal with a pathological liar than a hypocrite because at least with a liar, you know what you’ve got. I realize I’ve often been cited as having no filter for my opinions, but I prefer to look at it as letting everyone know where I stand. The reason for this particular rant against hypocrisy has its roots in a “direct sales” party Budge attended just before school was out.

I love direct sales parties. Where else can you make rent money by guilting your friends and your friends’ friends into buying overpriced stuff they will never use while they are under the sway of a glass or two of Bi-Lo wine and surfeit of those little cream filled chocolate eclair poofs from Costco? Personally, I’m a Pampered Chef junkie. I have the ice cream scoop, apple corer, a set of utensils, and a sweet, lime green santoku knife. With direct sales, you know you’re getting huckstered, but that’s okay because you’re going to do the same thing to this same group of people at your next “party.”

Still, I cannot abide hypocrisy and to me the worst form of hypocrisy is that which strives to make money or any other form of gain through the use of reference to the Bible, Jesus, God, or any other type of religious iconography. The company which has attracted my ire most recently for this egregious profiteering is Thirty-One.  Oh, let the hue and cry begin. How can I come down on such a wholesome group? Why, the very name “Thirty-One” is a reference to Proverbs 31; a Bible passage which outlines the graces and superlatives of the ideal woman. However, as the son of a real Proverbs 31 woman and the husband of another, I take offense at Thirty-One’s hypocrisy that appears on the little tags inside every piece of Thirty-One merchandise  which say “Made In China.”

Here is the email I sent the customer service department of Thirty-One after discovering all of the items Budge had bought said Made In China:

Dear Thirty-One:

My wife brought home her recently purchased order of Thirty-One product today and as I was looking over her goods, I found to my great dismay that each item was labeled “Made in China.” I hope an organization like yours, which purports to be founded on “Christian ideals and principles” and mentions the name of God several times in your material would have a legitimate reason for purchasing your products wholesale from the greatest persecutor of Christians since Domitian ruled Rome. Child labor, slave labor, human rights violations by the score AND unyielding persecution and outright murder of Christians are daily facts of life in China yet you do business with them. Please, I beg you, spare me the tired saw of “well, it’s the only way we can AFFORD to sell at the price we do,” because the minute you say that, you are out of the realm of God and into the realm of Mammon.

I don’t have an issue with your company if you want to make money. Making money in all throughout the Scriptures and is a linchpin in the passage of Proverbs the company is named for, but I have serious issues with your company if you are using God like so many politicians today — as a marketing tool — all the while filling the coffers of an avowedly atheistic regime, I don’t mind entrepreneurship but I detest hypocrisy in all it’s forms. Dealing with China is as much a deal with the devil as the nefarious bargain Faust struck himself in Goethe’s masterwork.

There is no reason your textile based products cannot be made in America. Certainly the costs would triple, if not more, but again, I must ask whom do you serve? God or Mammon? I will also grant you this nation of ours is fallen far, far from the “Light Upon A Hill” some of our Puritan forebears wished it to be — if indeed it ever really was — but so far, our government does not openly or covertly execute Christians as “enemies of the state” and that is an extremely important distinction.

Perhaps you buy your items from a wholeseller and didn’t know of the origin of the goods, in which case I would think you are poor businesspeople, but at least not hypocrites. Now you know where the textiles originate so the question remains — what are you going to do about it? Are you going to keep treating with a godless and atheistic nation that persecutes people just for naming the name of Christ — whom you claim to serve — or will you buy your goods from somewhere Christians are free to worship as they choose. It doesn’t even have to be the USA, but it certainly mustn’t be the People’s Republic of China.

For the record, I am not a particularly enthusiastic Bible thumper. I am a political liberal, so don’t get the wrong idea, please.

I hope to hear from you soon.
Sincerely,
Shannon Wham

I sent this email June 1st. I haven’t written anything about it because I wanted the company to have time to explain itself. So far, a month later, all I have received is the following email:

Hello Shannon,

Thank you for contacting Thirty-One Gifts’ Consultant Support! We appreciate your concern about our products. I have forwarded your concerns onto our management department, and they will be reviewing them as soon as they can. Thank you again!

Please contact us again if you have any further questions.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to help you,

Alycia
Thirty-One Gifts
Consultant Support Representative

I don’t have an axe to grind with Thirty-One. They are trying to make money and let other people have a piece of the pie too. What I have a problem with is they passing themselves off as a wonderfully Christian organization while at the same time buying their goods from China.

Folks, I said what I had to say in the email, but not to put too fine a point on it by way of summary they KILL CHRISTIANS IN CHINA! The government has a very sanitized state run church and its members are generally viewed with suspicion, but to be a member of an underground house church is a death sentence. Knowing this, how can a “Christian Company” with a name taken directly from the Bible have dealings with these people?

Maybe you can answer me in the comments.

Until then, love y’all and keep those feet clean.

TLDR

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clenched-fistThis beach trip recollection wasn’t supposed to take this long to finish, but it is what it is. I’m cutting to the chase to tell the story I wanted to tell all along and you’ll see why my senior beach trip caused a sea change in my life that rolls like mighty waters to this day.

A clumsy stumbling woke me up on Thursday morning. I had a hangover stabbing pain in my neck resulting from an earring I barely remembered getting. At least it wasn’t a missing tooth or tribal facial tattoo. Then the day went to hell and pushed me a little farther down a road I had no idea I was on.

I had crashed on the couch; apparently it was as far as I could make it under a rare heavy load of Jack Daniels. Two other members of our entourage had stayed at their girlfriends’ much nicer digs. That meant the last guy sharing our room had the place to himself. Let me call him Adonis for the sake of anonymity. Just know he’s in this picture. He was pretty much perfect in every way that matters to a high school teen. I am firmly in the hetero camp and have always and forever batted from one side of the plate, but he was a gorgeous guy — tall, flowing hair, built like Michelangelo’s David but twice as cold and half as smart. He also came from money, drove an AMAZING car, and was captain of the football team and the wrestling team our senior year. His sculpted jaw line and dazzling physique cast my own self-esteem into such eclipse I told my first great love while we were still dating if she ever left me for Adonis, I would understand and wish her well to which she replied, “That’s great you feel that way ’cause if he ever asks me, I’m gone.”

Yeah, him. Pretty close likeness.

Yeah, him. Pretty close likeness.

Adonis could have whomever he wanted but he always wanted someone other than who he was currently with. Worse, he was like a grim, cruel Polynesian god who demanded a special kind of sacrifice — young virgins. He came down to the beach for a hunt with one quarry: a sophomore, sweet, naive, drop-dead gorgeous, and — like so many other girls — very into Adonis. I’m clear on this last point because she was a pretty good friend of mine then and Adonis was a frequent topic of conversation. Let’s call her Melpomene.  Adonis wanted little Melpomene in an extremely Zeus-like way. To his sorrow, however, she was a member of the “Christian promise ring wearers.” The beach can change things though. In this case, yesternight, Adonis happened upon her at a spirited gathering in another hotel room, which I too happened to attend. It’s germane to note though Mel claimed Christianity often and adamantly, like many of Southern extraction, Melpomene was a “buffet believer,” and though fornication was of the devil, the Almighty tended to wink at a little drunkenness.

Since all but the most obtuse of you see what’s coming, I need to be VERY clear about something, Adonis did nothing illegal nor strictly “wrong.” He DID NOT ply Melpomene with drink. Her cheerleader “friends” took care of that long before he showed up. Furthermore, he DID NOT “force himself” upon her. She was smitten with him and was playing an intense game of tonsil hockey by the time I took my leave of the soiree and — apparently — kept a date with a piercing parlor. Yes, Melpomene was drunk, but I’d have to say she was competent, if veeerrrryy uninhibited.

BoromirStarkStill, Eddard Stark had nothing on the idealistic boy I once was, and though crisp blacks and whites have blurred into greys on the monochromatic palette of grimdark reality, I cling to a few unshakable beliefs, and one is an honorable man sees no difference between a girl “drunk enough to say yes” and one “too drunk to say no.” Regardless after I left, the freshly minted pair went to our fleabag suite of rooms where Adonis put another v-card notch on his lipstick case. Melpomene stumbling from the room wrapped in a sheet to use our facilities woke me to my previously mentioned hangover. Our eyes met; she smiled a sheepish smile then turned away. Back then, I didn’t know what “The Walk of Shame” was.

I took the opportunity to slip into the bedroom and change clothes. The beds were pushed together and Tywin would have been satisfied had Tyrion and Sansa’s chamber been so accoutred following their wedding night. I changed clothes and pointedly ignored Adonis. While getting fresh clothes, I slid something from the bottom of my bag into my pocket. Emotion roiled my guts in a way I hadn’t felt it since I was a child when waves of impotent rage overtook me when someone bullied me, which was often.

In case you didn't know what a balisong is.

In case you didn’t know what a balisong is.

Out on the porch where the rest of the guys gathered, I sat down on the steps and tried to focus on a crack in the sidewalk. By-the-by, Adonis and Mel appeared, attired for the beach. When they reached the bottom step, I stood and drew the balisong from my pocket. I was spared a knowledge of prison life when, just as I stood up, a guy I’ll call “Big Bob” put his hand on my shoulder to gently but firmly press me back down onto the top step. He looked at me, shook his head and — as scalding rage tears wound down my blistered cheeks — quietly said, “I know, but it’s not worth the cost.”

Instead of riding back Saturday with Robby, I packed, met up with two guys from a town near home who were going back that afternoon, passed out from emotional exhaustion in the back seat by the time they left Horry County, and slept until they woke me up in front of The Little Barn. Mama saw the earring soon as I walked in, put her right index fingernail (she had such beautiful long nails) into the pyrite-plated hoop, and snatched it out with the words, “I prayed for a boy; not a girl.”

I’ve wanted to tell that story for a long time. I don’t know why.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Of Blowdried Bumblebees

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Bumblebee_on_a_flowerBumblebees are my favorite insect and one of my favorite animals. I’ve always loved watching them dip and swerve around flowers, especially azaleas in the spring. Now I don’t know whether or not I believe the old saw about bumblebees supposedly not being aerodynamically capable of flying. You know the one? Supposedly some aerospace engineers did whatever it is they do and determined the bumble’s weight to wing ratio or some such meant that it wasn’t supposed to be able to fly, but since bumblebees don’t read aerospace engineering journals, they’ve never found this fact out so they fly on anyway. Maybe, maybe not. I know Ms. Mary Kay Ash believed it and that’s why a diamond encrusted bumblebee shaped pin is the most coveted award in the direct cosmetic sales empire she founded.

Whether it’s true or not is irrelevant to me. I love bumblebees because they are like me — fat, uncoordinated, and addicted to sweets.

Knowing this about me, it will come as no surprise when I saw a bumblebee barely making ripples as he drifted inexorably towards oblivion within my pool skimmer, I didn’t hesitate to reach in bare handed and scoop him out onto the deck. People will tell you bumblebees can’t sting. People would be lying. Bumbles can sting just fine when they want to, but they have a very high tolerance of idiots swatting at them so they don’t sting much. However, if you step on one in a patch of clover while cutting your grandparent’s grass in bare feet, they most certainly WILL sting and it hurts like hell.

An actual Mary Kay award bee from her museum.

An actual Mary Kay award bee from her museum.

Anyway, this particular bumble was in no danger of stinging me or anyone else. I was afraid I’d gotten to him too late. Of all the things about pools I hate, the indiscriminate way they slaughter innocent insects and other animals just looking for  a drink of water is highest on the list. Now, one of my favorite creatures lay probably dying as a result of a collision with one of my most hated possessions. Since it was getting dark quickly and the temperature was already falling, I realized Mr. Bumble wouldn’t make it through the night. Even if he somehow managed to keep the water out of his airways, the chill of the early spring night couple with his sodden state would surely bring the insectoid version of the Grim Reaper to claim him.

So, I did what anyone who loves bumblebees would do — scooped him up and carried him into the house directly to the bathroom. Once there, I carefully tapped him with tissue paper to try blotting off as much water as I could. I still wasn’t having much success though. The problem lay in bumblebee anatomy. If you’ve ever looked closely at most bees, you’ll see they are very hairy. This hirsuteness serves a vital purpose to the bees and the flowers they pollinate by acting as carriers for the pollen to stick to. I’ve seen bumbles emerge from some flowers looking like a big yellow cotton ball so laden with pollen were they. Unfortunately for my erstwhile patient, the same hairs were also matted and massed and holding too much water for the paper towels and tissue to soak up. I was afraid he was fading. He was moving very little, mostly just twitching a leg or an antennae every now and again. The prognosis, even to my inexpert eye, was bleak.

Then, I saw the blow dryer. My brain made the leap of logic nearly instantly. What are blow dryers FOR?! Drying hair of course! And what was wrong with my bumblebee? His HAIR was soaked! So, with no further ado, I cut the blow dryer on high heat and low wind and brought it near my patient. Of course, bumblebees possess significantly less mass than a human head, so he tumbled over instantly. I adjusted the beam of warm air but it was still too strong. Finally, I hit upon covering him with my hand and aiming the dryer on high heat / high wind right at the top of my fingers. That seemed to do the trick. The hurricane force (to a bee anyway) of the dryer stream blunted against my hand, but the life saving heat swirled around my fingers and began to have the desire effect.

DUDE! That was some party.

DUDE! That was some party.

When I felt him begin to stir, I moved my hand and started holding the dryer at a single spot on the towel, thus heating it significantly. He would crawl — slowly at first but with increasing vigor — over to the hot spot. Then I would move the beam away and heat another spot. We played this game for about half and hour, at the end of which he was quite dry it seemed. His hairs were still rather messy, but even my finest, smallest comb could not hope to bring any order to such a miniscule mountain of chaos.

With him now dry, I again picked him up and took him to the front porch where the last bits of daylight were shining. He sat on the railing unmoving and I thought he still might not make it. Then I hit on the idea of putting him on the azaleas that were in gorgeous full bloom right in front of the house. I eased him onto a large pink blossom and he immediately burrowed head first into the stand of stamens.

That’s where I found him — upside down and motionless — the next morning.  A strange sadness washed over me. I felt a sense of irreplaceable loss as this innocent little bee dying brought Mama’s recent death flowing back to me. I was just about ready to collapse into tears and I reached out to stroke the lifeless little legs sticking up forlornly into the air. Just as I touched one though, it quivered a bit. Heartened, I went and got a piece of tissue and pressed it against all six legs. To my everlasting joy, all six latched on to the bit of paper and I was able to lift the “resurrected” bumble from the blossom. I’m not sure what happened to him. Perhaps he was just tired from the ordeal before or maybe he drank too much azalea nectar during the night.

Whatever the case though, I placed him, tissue and all, gently between two blossoms and left him — now upright — alone to go do some cleaning. When I returned a couple of hours later, he was gone but the tissue remained and a fifteen minute search of the surrounding plants revealed no bumblebee corpses so I’m thinking the little guy made it — at least I hope he did. For all I know, he became a meal for one of the mockingbirds living in the boxwood on either side of the porch. I will choose, however, to believe he is alive and well and living out his short life enjoying the flowers and making sweet bee love to some hot little bumble sheila.

At least, I hope so. I’ve had enough of death for a while.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

We Are NOT That Broke Yet!

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Friends don't let friends wipe with dollar store toilet paper.

Friends don’t let friends wipe with dollar store toilet paper.

I went down to check on Mama recently. She’s been suffering for a good while now with C.O.P.D. and if God is not merciful to her, it will eventually take her from me. I try to keep watch over her and I’m thankful for the hospice organization and my wonderful step-dad for helping me. Now before you go getting bummed out, this post is only tangentially connected to Mama’s health.

Anyway, while I was at Mama’s the salad from the night before and the large bowl of Raisin Bran from earlier in the morning both decided to end their tour of my colon. I told Mama I had to go see a man about a dog then grabbed my phone to have something to pass the time because I figured this might take a bit. The phone was my undoing because I was so focused on pulling up Angry Birds I forgot to check the toilet paper. Big mistake. Now you’re probably thinking the roll was empty, leaving me stranded. Actually, that would have been a better scenario than the one confronting me as I finished my lengthy constitutional because had the roll been empty I could have called Mama from the bathroom and asked her to bring me some paper towels using her scooter chair. No, the holder was full. Unfortunately, it was full of the worst substance known to man.

Dollar store toilet paper!

Now long time readers know I am a restroom connoisseur. Were I to become wealthy enough to build my dream home, I already have the bathroom completely planned out. Budge can design everything else. My exquisite taste in all things water closet related extends to toilet paper as well. At home, having a septic tank keeps me anchored to the pedestrian but adequate Scott Tissue, but I do have a couple of rolls of White Cloud Ultra Soft stashed away for those “occasions” when my stomach has risen up in rebellion and constant use of the facilities begs for something more tender than Scott 500 grit special. When the economy and civilization collapse, it won’t be lack of food, water, or power that does me in; it will be the dearth of bathroom facilities and the end of manufactured toilet paper.

Wonderful but frivolous luxury.

Wonderful but frivolous luxury.

Sadly, the fake dollar store toilet paper ended up in Mama’s bathroom because her illness necessitated turning the shopping over to my step-dad. Now I won’t lie. Money is very tight at our two households. Budge and I have been helping Mama pay her bills for over a year now. Rob, my step-dad, knows this so he’s always trying to cut corners and save wherever he can, which is perfectly reasonable since we are more or less broke. However, as bad as it may be, we are NOT dollar-store-toilet-paper-level broke yet. We can’t necessarily afford luxury like Charmin or Quilted Northern, but we can certainly afford some Scott Tissue. Granted, Scotts isn’t the softest on one’s bottom but at least it is absorbent enough to do the job while being strong enough to not have to wrap a hand in half a roll just to keep the wiping fingers from bursting through mid-stroke.

I don’t know what dollar store toilet paper is made of. Based on its absorbancy, I would guess wax paper, but wax paper is many orders of magnitude stronger than dollar store TP, and that’s where this stuff really starts to wreak. Apparently, dollar store TP is woven from unicorn farts, angel burps, or something else comparably rare and insubstantial. As a general rule, I shouldn’t be able to read a newspaper through a ply of decent TP, but laying a sheet of dollar store rubbish on the funny pages doesn’t even dull the colors much. At the risk of sounding a bit gross, if this stuff is all you’ve got, you’re better off just bare-handing it and cutting out the middle man, so to speak. Dollar store TP is really that bad.

The bare-a$$ed minimum acceptable TP. (see what I did there?)

The bare-a$$ed minimum acceptable TP. (see what I did there?)

To make matters worse, this  “paper,” which is so useless in its intended hygienic function because of its lack of strength and absorbancy in the hand turns into some sort of uber-wadded concrete blob once you drop it in the toilet. It might not take poop off a goose, but two or three handfuls of this stuff will clog up a toilet tighter than the Chihuahua that ate a whole cheese and peanut butter sandwich. Plunging only makes the stuff multiply like some sort of soggy, stinky Hydra. Dollar store TP truly is a mystery substance.

In any event I managed to finish up and get myself reasonably ready to reenter the world so I went in to Mama and begged her to have Rob stop buying dollar store TP. She reiterated what I already knew — he was just trying to save us money. My reply was simple and heartfelt. Buy REAL toilet paper and I’ll give up cable and internet or cut us down to one car to make up the difference. It’s like I told Mama and I’m saying it again to y’all, I’m a simple man. I don’t have many needs. All I ask for to make me happy is decent A/C in the summertime to keep my fat butt cool and some good quality TP to keep the same fat butt clean. Is that too much to ask? When the day comes we can’t afford at LEAST some Scott Tissue, it’ll be time for me to start paying close attention to Breaking Bad reruns.

Love y’all! Keep those feet clean . . . and all the other parts as well!

The Holy Grail of TP! It has THREE PLYS and Shea Butter!!!!

The Holy Grail of TP! It has THREE PLYS and Shea Butter!!!!

Happy Birthday, Beren!

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jrr-tolkienJ.R.R. Tolkien would be 121 — “twelvity-one” in hobbit-speak — today were he still with us in body. I say “in body” because any person moderately interested in the fantasy genre knows full well just how omnipresent Mr. Tolkien is in spirit and influence. I am not, however, of the faction who feel Tolkien created the world of high fantasy. Certainly Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, and Arthur Conan Doyle — to name a few — blazed part of that trail before Bilbo set off on his most unBaggins-like, unhobbitish  journey.

Tolkien, though, picked up their trail and turned it into a superhighway traveled by the “usual suspects” of fairy tales like shape-shifters, dragons, and elves — though Tolkien’s elves wouldn’t have been recognizable to the Grimm brothers, but also by new wayfarers like orcs, wargs, and — of course — hobbits. I can’t say much that isn’t already written in the multitude of volumes in libraries today extolling Tolkien’s works and cutting into the minutiae of Middle Earth. I have nothing in my poor hack writing to add to them. What they cannot do, however, is tell what Tolkien, hobbits, and Middle Earth meant and still mean to me.

I read The Hobbit for the first time thirty years ago when I was a fat, awkward kid in sixth grade. The library at Gray Court – Owings School was a welcome refuge for me since I was nonathletic, unaesthetic, and borderline neurotic. One October afternoon, I had just finished off the last book in the World War II section of non-fiction when Ms. Goodhue, the finest school librarian to ever hold the title, sat me down and asked if I’d ever read any fantasy. I could honestly reply in the negative because I wasn’t really sure what fantasy even was. Without fanfare, she went to the paperback section of the “big kids” side of the library (supposedly for 7 – 8 graders) and brought back The Hobbit. She told me to try the first few chapters and let her know if I liked it.

Much to the chagrin of my 3-6 period teachers AND my grandmother, I read the entire book before bedtime that night, stopping only to take a spelling test and eat supper.

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Just in case you’re wondering who in the world is Beren and why is he in the title of a post about Tolkien.

The next day, Ms. Goodhue took my glowing report of how much I loved the book then reached into her book bag and pulled out HER PERSONAL COPY of The Fellowship of the Ring for me to borrow. I read it — and The Two Towers and The Return of the King — by the end of the week. That Saturday, I went to the now-long-defunct Waldenbooks in the now razed-to-the-ground Greenville Mall and bought a matched set of all four books with my entire piggy bank . . . and a little “advance” from Papa Wham. To this day, they sit in an honored place on my office bookshelf. I’ve read and reread those four books AT LEAST sixteen times cover-to-cover in the intervening years. In fact, that set is so precious to me, it nearly caused my beloved Budge and I to “have words.” The movies were due out and she wanted to read the books beforehand so she asked me if she could read MY set. Having seen how she was prone to treat other paperback books she read — crushing their spines and bending pages — I flat-out told her NO to her (and my) utter shock. In my defense, we’d only been married about four years and I did not possess the wisdom and knowledge a husband of more years would have displayed. I immediately recanted and told her she could, but as every woman reading this knows, I couldn’t have PAID her to TOUCH “those books of mine” so I took her to dinner RIGHT THEN and we bought her very own set — which I have not touched to this day.

That incident is just a taste of how The Lord of the Rings has been a thread through my last three decades. I think the major reason is I discovered the books at a time when I was in profound need of seeing someone small and insignificant use wits . . . and a bit of Tookish luck . . . to overcome tons of negative stuff being hurled at him. Even though it had been five years since my parents’ divorce, I was still unable to process why my mother and father were not together. To top things off, Daddy had remarried and so had Mama and now Mama was realizing exactly what the wise aphorism “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face” really meant. In short, I was at a time of overwhelming mental and emotional turmoil. Tolkien gave me a place to go. When I was in Middle Earth, I was aware of the dangers, but they were dangers I could face on equal terms with sword and steel instead of lying helpless before words and people more cruel than any orc. Middle Earth was my refuge at a time when I desperately need one and it has sheltered me from many more woes and foes this world has offered.

So thank you, Professor, for turning the horror of WWI’s trenches into a world where a little boy could escape, if but for a little while and join a heroic quest to a Lonely Mountain because, as writer G.K. Chesterton so eloquently stated, ““Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Love you all and hope the new year is off to a great start! Keep those feet clean.

It’s Already Tomorrow in Australia

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It seems reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated!

It seems reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated!

As I’m writing this, folks who slept in all around Southeast Asia are just crawling bleary-eyed out of bed and on their side of the International Date Line, it’s already Friday, December 21, 2012 and the BBC, MSNBC, and FoxNews are all reporting nothing of consequence is happening across the Pacific. So, it looks like 12-21-12 is going to join a long and distinguishedly infamous list of other dates under the heading of “Days the Apocalypse Didn’t Come.”

I know some people are seriously disappointed. I don’t mean “fake disappointed,” either. Some folks are probably sitting around scratching their heads in real consternation wondering where all the earthquakes and meteors are or what happened to Nibaru? I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised to hear some disturbed individuals will have committed suicide by the time 12-21-12 makes it all the way around the globe. Echo and the Bunnymen said it best, “People are strange.”

I never seriously considered the world ending today. I still owe money and haven’t hit the lottery. If you ever see me on TV holding up one of those funny, oversized PowerBall checks, THEN you should probably make preparations because I’m willing to bet if I ever get rich, the game is going to end. That’s just my luck.

In the interest of some vein of seriousness though, any thinking person should have realized the world wasn’t going to end on this specific day. First, look at the problem scientifically. The Universe couldn’t care less about dates. The idea of dates — as well as most other divisions of time — are human inventions. “Tomorrow” or “next century” don’t have any meaning to planetary forces like earthquakes. Comets don’t punch time clocks. Any scientific end-of-the-world scenario hitting on a particular date is simply the wildest of consequences. The Universe just doesn’t have a calendar.

Secondly, from a theological standpoint, God doesn’t have a calendar. Neither does Allah or any of the other myriad gods man has worshipped over the millenia. Time doesn’t matter to an eternal being. God will end the world if and when He gets good and ready and not before. A being who exists OUTSIDE of time has no need of specific dates so anyone trying to pin a date down is just flirting with disappointment.

We petty human peons are the only creatures on the planet things like the page on a calendar or hands on a clock mean anything to. Animals go by seasons and the sun and natural rhythms. Tides have no time, but only the pull of the Moon and the Sun. We alone fret over our arbitrary conventional invention.

So get over it and go shopping, people. Christmas is only four days away! Go on. Occupy yourselves some other way until the next big prediction comes along. But until then,

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Geez, people, you took our lands, you took our gold, you took our way of life . . . can't you take a freaking joke? Just turn to the next calendar page!!

Freaking A, people, you took our lands, you took our gold, you took our way of life . . . can’t you take a freaking joke? Just turn to the next calendar page!!