Tag Archives: Christianity

TEOTWAWKI . . . Redux

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People might not agree with him, but I’ve never heard anyone call him anything but a good man.

I have a confession to make. Actually, I’ve made it before, but I’ve picked up a lot of followers since then and recent events plus the date have brought this heavily to my mind once again. Some of y’all that I’ve picked up will read this and dismiss me as kooky and probably never read anything I write again. Well, it’s seventeen months from an event I lived my life believing would never occur, so I’ve got to get this off my chest and I guess the chips will fall where they may.

Until October 16, 2006, I was completely, unshakably convinced I would never die — honestly, hand to Heaven, absolutely no joke.

Not only was I certain I would never die, I was JUST as certain Mama, Papa John, and many of my believing friends and family would never taste death either. Standing in front of Papa John’s casket in a driving rain on October 18, 2006 but a huge crack in my uncrackable faith; standing in front of my Mama’s casket on a beautiful, crisp spring morning seventeen months ago shattered it altogether. I am mortal, Budge is mortal, and all my friends I never expected to see buried are mortal.

The reason for my crystal clarity on the matter of my de facto immortality is twofold and one of those reasons I am not prepared to discuss, and may never discuss here or anywhere else, but the second suffices — Mama raised me believing and expecting the Rapture of the Church. Quite simply, Papa, Mama, and I were never going to die because we — and all other believers — were going to be taken up bodily to Heaven to ride out the coming Great Tribulation before our return with Jesus Christ as part of Heaven’s army at the climactic moment of the Battle of Armageddon. I wasn’t going to die. I was going to watch Jesus deal a death-blow to the Antichrist and usher in the Millennial Reign of Christ on Earth.

At one time, I was just as unshakably certain of this as I am now that the Sun will rise in the east and set in the west tomorrow. That is to say, I took it as a matter of course. I couldn’t get my mind around how anyone WOULDN’T believe Jesus was going to take His Church at any second. Then the massively successful Left Behind series of 16 novels came out and all of a sudden, people were talking about what I had believed for certain all my life on Oprah and the Today Show with Katie Couric. The Last Days were the hottest topic of conversation around for a while. Those books closely mirror what I learned as a child and what my own Bible study convinced me of further as an adult.

This series is pretty close to the doctrine I learned growing up.

Then Papa died. Then Mama died. I wasn’t crystal clear on ANYTHING anymore, much less the imminent return of Jesus. Those were black, black days and their shadow and chill haven’t completely left me even now. Some days even now, it’s all I can do to hold on to ANY faith in anything.

I didn’t think about the Rapture anymore. The church I attend now does not stress or teach on the Last Days because our two teaching pastors are diametrically opposed to each other in their views on eschatology (fancy word for “study of the last thing). Good, conservative thinking, Bible-believing Christian people have several opinions on the matter. It’s a big deal and when I was younger, I studied it religiously (no pun intended). I devoured every book on end times I could find and believe me, there’s a lot written. Then, I just stopped because it didn’t seem important anymore with Papa, and especially Mama, dead.

This evening, however, Budge found and read an article to me with the headline “Billy Graham Sounds Alarm for Second Coming.” That got my attention because Reverend Billy Graham is the real deal. The man is 95 years old; he’s been preaching crusades across the world for over SEVENTY YEARS — and his televised crusades were the ONLY thing Papa Wham would switch a Braves game for — in all that time no one has dug up the first speck of dirt on him and don’t think they haven’t tried. No women, no drug use, no money schemes, NOTHING. Seventy years and he’s squeaky clean.

The article took me aback because in all the years I’ve listened to Dr. Graham speak and preach, I’ve never known him to weigh in on End Times. I figured he probably had solid beliefs, but his message was always more about getting people saved than about a heavy theological topic like eschatology. He never mentions it in either of his biographies or in any other writing I can find he’s done. So what? Well, he’s 95 and preachers with that many miles on them don’t usually start making up stuff. If HE is seeing clear signs of the end of days enough that he wants to go on record about it, maybe it’s time to look around a little.

I’m going to set this plane down now by saying I know this isn’t one of my better pieces, but quite honestly, looking at current events and reading the Bible and listening to what other people are saying . . . well, I can’t help but wonder. Most of the major end time prophecies and theories revolve around the Middle East, specifically Israel. In fact, a great many prophecy scholars point to May 15, 1948 as the moment the End Time clock started ticking — Israel, after 2000 years of wandering, became a nation again and with the way Syria is going . . . and Russia (yes, I know Russia isn’t in the Middle East, but Google “Gog and Magog) and things just start looking, I don’t know . . . plausible?

Anyway, I Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

 

 

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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.

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.

Easter Means Even More This Year

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12097112-jesus-resurrectionOne of the last things I told Mama before she lapsed into unconsciousness from which she would not awaken in this world was, “Mama, I’m not sure Heaven has special holidays, but if they do, I bet Easter is a huge one and you are going to be home in time for Easter, Mama.” At her funeral, I shared with everyone the hope of Easter and as Christians, Easter is our hope. Baby Jesus lying in a manger may be sentimental and precious to everyone, but the power and glory of the Gospel is not in Christmas, but in Easter.

Christmas doesn’t bother people all that much either. After all, thousands of people are born every second. The earth has over seven billion people on it and they were all born. Atheists and agnostics find it humorous that Christians believe a Child could be born of a virgin, but since they like to get gifts as well, Christmas gets a pass. Over time, it’s even become increasingly secularized.

Whereas a birth doesn’t cause much consternation, a death — now that’s a problem, but not an insurmountable one. People die in droves each moment; it’s not that hard to wrap a brain around. So Good Friday brings more good-natured ribbing from unbelievers who can’t fathom anyone willing to die as hideous a death as crucifixion in order to save the world from something as banal as “sin.” It doesn’t bother the scientific types that someone deluded enough to call Himself the Son of God died on a cross twenty centuries ago.

Easter doesn’t let anyone off the hook that easily. Now the unbelievers begin to rage and howl and use what Granny Wham would call “ugly language” if she were still with us. Easter takes that virgin born Child from Christmas who was killed on the Cross around 33 Good Fridays later and puts Him in a borrowed tomb THEN we Christians have the unmitigated gall to claim that three days later, that Good Friday Crucified, Virgin Born Christmas Child actually ROSE FROM THE DEAD.

I cannot and will not repeat the crudities I’ve seen written in comment threads all over the internet if someone made the audacious mistake of claiming Jesus was Resurrected and now lives and will return and reign. A favorite among lower class trolls is to refer to Him as “Zombie Jesus” and accompany the words with all sorts of offal remarks.

I try to stay calm and turn the other keyboard because I know something they won’t admit — Jesus did rise from the dead on that first Easter morning and I’m dead level certain of it because Christianity survived 2000 years for me to become a convert. Lies and mythmaking could possibly have kept a fake Messiah’s message going for a few years, maybe even some decades. Some false religions, as long as they are tolerant, can survive centuries.

But a religion that demands you base the safety of your immortal soul on the absolute fact a dead man rose from the dead? If that’s a lie, that movement is going to die off as soon as all the gullible people in Jerusalem who didn’t take the time to stop by an empty tomb die themselves. If Christianity is false, it is the greatest, most consistent, and most elaborately testified to hoax in history and from what I’ve seen of humanity, it is much easier for me to believe Jesus rose from the dead than to believe a bunch of humans, no matter how intelligent, could ever come up with something remotely resembling Christianity.

My Mama is dead to this world, but because He lives, so does she and because of that reality, I am not in the fetal position sobbing and thrashing about. I am looking forward to seeing her again one day . . . maybe soon.

Maranatha!

Love y’all!

And So This Is Christmas

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A_Christmas_CarolI just finished watching my favorite version of A Christmas Carol. In this rendition, Captain Jean Luc Picard plays the part of Scrooge and brings such a weightiness and excellent acting to the part that I tape the version each year to watch on Christmas Eve. As I told a friend of mine while chatting on Facebook tonight, I believe Dickens’ novella is the greatest story of a man finding redemption to be had outside the pages of the Bible. He starts the movie a hard-hearted miserly old . . . well, SCROOGE, but four ghosts later, he is a changed man who knows the meaning of Christmas isn’t presents or even family. The true meaning of Christmas is redemption.

Scrooge can find redemption for the same reason we all can, because a little over two thousand years ago, God was born in the flesh to a teenage virgin girl huddled with her betrothed in a dank odoriferous cave converted into a makeshift stable behind a cheap motel in the backwater town of Bethlehem in the equally backwater region of Palestine. That girl then wrapped God — creator of the Universe — in clean, but frayed cloths and laid Him in a feed trough and probably sang Him to sleep. Royal robes to old rags; angelic choir to a mother’s lullaby. All so that He could undo the tremendous mess His most prized creation had gotten the world into. He came as a baby with one purpose in sight — to die on a cross and save the world. Everyone born WILL die; He was born TO die . . . and save us all.

Atheists, scientists, other religions’ leaders down the centuries have tried to disprove that teenage girl ever had a child named Jesus. They’ve tried through time to say He never existed, and when they failed in that, they tried to say He existed, but He wasn’t God. I think they’ve failed at that as well.

See, the name of the holiday (holiday = holy day) is Christmas. Literally, that means Mass of Christ. Now I’m not going into all the theological historical arguments about Christmas being a usurpation of the pagan Saturnalia and Jesus not being born in December. I know all of those arguments and if you insist on hashing them out, give me an email in the comments and we’ll talk. Now, back to the name. A mass is a celebration so Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. It’s right there in the name.

The name isn’t “Toymas.”

It’s not “Santamas”

It’s not “Treemas” or “Partymas” or “Frostymas.”

It’s not called “Shoppingmas” or “Retailmas” or “Giftmas.”

We don’t sing about “O Shopping Night” or “The First Black Friday.”

We don’t because no matter how much the rising tide of secularization tries to wash away anything Christian to do with Christmas, they haven’t thought to change the name. They’ve tried a time or two. Years ago it started with “Seasons’ Greetings” and today the most PC among us go with “Happy Holidays” (again:  holiday = holy day). Christmas is still on the calendar though. The name of the Federal holiday (holy day) is “Christmas” and not “Winter Holiday.”

The Roman Empire was one of the mightiest political entities ever. They tried to kill the holiday in the womb and stamp out Christianity, but they couldn’t get it done. Neither could Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, or Mao and they ALL had more power than any of our Presidents have ever possessed.

Every gift you run around buying? You are constantly reenacting a central part of the Christmas story — the Magi bringing gifts to the Christ child. Every scrap of “holiday” music you listen to from Halloween to December 26th? Reenacting the angelic host announcing to the shepherds the birth of the Christ child. Wrapping all those gifts? Just like Mary wrapped our ultimate gift.

So try to stamp it out. Try to humbug it like Scrooge did, but at the end of it all, despite the best efforts of generation after generation of genuises, the message of Christmas is still Christ is Born. To quote the greatest showman wrestler of all time, Mr. Richard Fleer, aka Ric “The Nature Boy” Flair, “Whether you LIKE it, or DON’T LIKE it, sit down and LOOK at it, because it’s the best thing going today!”

Can I get a “whooooo?”

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and Merry Christmas.

 

Why I Still Believe: Reason 2

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Granny Wham on her last Christmas with us.

Granny Wham on her last Christmas with us.

Granny Wham started teaching Sunday School when she was 18 and only quit over 50 years later because a stroke left her too weak to stand long enough to deliver the weekly lesson. She started teaching Sunday School at Dials United Methodist Church down Highway 101 where she grew up, but the bulk of her teaching years were given to Beulah Baptist Church in Greenpond. By the time I was born, the Sunday School Committee honored her by naming a class after her. “The Martha Wham Bible Class” exists to this day unless it’s changed and no one told me.

Her teaching Sunday School, however, doesn’t force me to still believe the truth of Christianity even in my darkest times. Not her teaching, not the beautiful hymns she used to sing with the choir, not the way she taught me personally about what Jesus expected of me. None of that. What is burned in my mind and scribed on my heart from a childhood spent at her knee is her faith.

Granny Wham had the purest faith of any Christian — man or woman, adult or child, clergy or laity — I’ve ever known. She believed the Bible was the Word of God. It was black (and some red) words on white pages and gray didn’t enter the equation. Granny’s faith in God and His Son Jesus Christ was a rock solid, steel strong backbone for her whole life.

Granny didn’t develop her faith living some cupcake life on easy street. Of The Greatest Generation who came of age during the Great Depression, she worked in the house with her sister — my great-Aunt Mary — and in the fields with her two half-brothers, Uncle Gordon and Uncle Henry. When old enough, she worked in the sweatshop conditions of a textile mill for a time. Her childhood and youth weren’t easy, but her faith endured those hard early years.

Her faith endured watching those brothers go off to war, one to the Army and one to the shipyards. During that awful war she started exchanging letters with a nice young man from a nearby community. That nice (and handsome) young soldier eventually became Papa Wham and her faith and prayers helped bring him and all her loved ones home safely.

Her faith would not forsake her when Papa Wham came in to her hospital room late on a cold night in January 1948, gently took her by the hand and told her their precious infant child — a little girl she never got to hold — had passed away. I’ve lived to see the death of a child rip marriages to shreds and reduce the strongest faith to agnosticism, but it did not overcome Granny. She grieved, and in some very powerful ways, Aunt Judy’s death would mark Granny — and through her, all of us — for the rest of her life, but as the writer said of Job, “Through all this, [s]he never lost her integrity, nor blamed God foolishly.”

Granny’s faith endured some of worst trials through her other two children. Daddy especially was singled out for her unceasing prayers when he was sent to Vietnam for 13 months to fight. I’ve heard how drawn and pale and haggard Granny looked over those months of waiting, never knowing if the knock on the door would reveal an Army officer and a chaplain with the awful news so many mothers received in those terrible years. It wasn’t to be though, and Granny’s faith was rewarded with Daddy’s safe return.

The latter half of Granny’s life gave a multitude of trials. Mama and Daddy’s divorce was a crushing blow to Granny’s heart because is was bitter torture for her to see her family torn. Later, when my Aunt Cathy and Uncle Larry’s had to endure some growing pains in their early years, Granny prayed hard for them too. When Aunt Cathy was so very sick through two extremely difficult pregnancies, Granny stood by constantly to help and to pray. Of all Granny endured, however, one night nearly 20 years ago stands clearest testament to her trust in her Lord.

It was December 1995; Papa had passed away in July on the day after Granny suffered a stroke. For months she had battled to talk clearly and to walk unaided, but worst of all after 49 years — just 6 months shy of 50 — Granny was alone. This night, we’d eaten at Daddy and Teresa’s. I was on the couch with Budge and Granny watching The Trip to Bountiful which reminded me so much of what Granny had endured I was teary-eyed before the old hymn “Blessed Assurance” began to play.

I thought Granny might have dozed off until I heard a voice — not the strong alto that sang to me, read to me, and prayed for me all of my childhood and beyond — a thin voice, a tremulous voice, but for all that, a perfectly clear voice singing softly, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation; purchase of God. Born of His spirit; washing in His blood. This is my story; this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story; this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long.” Laid low by a stroke, no longer independent, and bereft of the love of her life, Granny Wham still sang her praises to the One who had never forsaken her, Blessed Assurance truly was her story and her song.

Granny is gone  now. I wish she’d been peacefully at the home she and Papa built together, but in her last years, she required more care than we could give her. She was never happy in the nursing home, but her love of us kept her here until she missed Papa more than she needed to stay and “look after us.” So, with Aunt Cathy gently holding her hand she slipped away to join the loves of her life — Papa Wham and Jesus Christ, and that is why she is a powerful reason I still believe.

PurchasePurchasing – Purchasing refers to a business or organization attempting for acquiring goods or services to accomplish the goals of the enterprise.

An Emotional Sucker Punch Put Me on the Canvas

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Thursday coming will be Thanksgiving and the “official start” of the Holiday Season. Of course, nearly half the stores around here had Christmas decorations out before Halloween, so I’m not so certain about how “official” the start is anymore.

Since I love to eat and love my family, the holiday season has always been a coveted and special time of the year for me because it involves a great deal of both. The holidays have also been precious to me over the years because I was raised with an eye towards keeping sight of the real reason we celebrate Thanksgiving — to give thanks for all we have — and Christmas — the birth of our Savior. The holidays held meaning beyond turkey, trees, and tinsel ever since I can remember and as unbelievable as it may sound, I once came desperately close to chucking it all and throwing my lot in with the rest of the commercial and material world because I very nearly renounced my faith in God and Christ and became an atheist. Very, very nearly.

The event leading directly to the train wreck of faith I experienced was the death of my maternal grandfather in October 2006. I’ve written about Papa John’s death before, but I’ve never admitted in my writing just how profoundly his death crushed me on a spiritual and emotional level. Nothing else I’ve ever faced, or am likely to face — including Mama’s impending departure from this life — hit me as hard and affected me as deeply in a core area, THE core area, of my life.

I haven’t always been a Christian, but I’ve always been a believer in Christ. Mama took me to church willingly or by force until I was 12 years old and she said I could decide for myself. Granny and Papa Wham took me to church every Wednesday night and many Sunday mornings when I was young and stayed with them on the weekends from time to time. Christ, the Bible, and Church were the warp of my life and I no more doubted the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible than I doubted the air I breathed.

Quite literally, “Mama ‘n Them” said God said it and they believed it, so I believed it as well. Completely and without question. As I got older, I read a little bit more and studied a little bit more on my own and hashed out some reasons on my own why I believed what I did.

Still, I never put in a lot of thought about my faith or what I believed in. I just took it as a matter of course. Growing up in a small Southern town didn’t really present me with a great many attacks on my beliefs and even when I was challenged by some “Godless” professors at Clemson and later USC, I just laughed them off. I was a de facto associate pastor at the church where Budge and I were married and I was the one many people called and referred others to with hard questions about theology and faith. I was happily and blissfully going along with my Christian life secure in my beliefs and certain beyond doubt God was in His Heaven and all was right with the world.

Then in October 2006, when I was 35, Papa John fell and had to go to the hospital. Seventeen days later, he was dead and when I conducted his funeral in a driving rainstorm the next day, I left my world insofar as what I believed in and the faith I had unquestioningly carried with me from childhood in a hole in the red Carolina mud with him. When I walked away from Papa’s grave, I walked away confused, in more pain than I thought I could bear, and believing in nothing anymore. I’ve mentioned before how much of a hammer blow getting fired from Woodmont and Greenville County Schools had been to me, but that entire event was an emotional scratch compared to the effect Papa’s death had on me.

Here’s where some explanation is due but you aren’t going to get all you need to understand why I reacted so badly mainly because I don’t know how to explain it to anyone but my wife, my therapist, and a tiny handful of people I still call friends. Even if I told the entire story from beginning to end, it still wouldn’t make sense to any of you and worse, you might take the opportunity to think less of and even make a disparaging comment about Papa John and if you did, I’d hate you for the rest of my life. So what broke me? Long story short, Papa John wasn’t supposed to die crippled in a coma the way he did. Oh, he was mortal. I knew that and I’m not stupid. Papa, like all of us, was destined to die, but not the way he did. I hope that’s enough, but just know that’s leaving out 99 and 44/100th% of the story.

I didn’t darken a church door for over a year. For several years before Papa’s death, cracks had been forming between me and my former church and they now became canyons and ended up being hammer blows of their own. Worst of all for my mind though, I started asking questions. I’d always tested and examined every dimension of my life in miniscule detail, but not my faith. Now I did. Once I started asking questions, the gates fell down as questions led to even more questions and the more the questions multiplied, the more the answers disappeared. The more the answers disappeared, the more the doubts grew.

For someone like me for whom faith was the same as oxygen, I was dying. I could have picked up a red hot horseshoe and it may have made a more visible scar, but it wouldn’t have been anymore painful. I couldn’t tell anyone though, because I didn’t want to drag someone down with me. During this entire time, Budge was the only one who knew how bad I was struggling. I had to stay strong for Mama, because for six months after Papa John’s death, I thought we were probably going to lose her also since she was grieving to the point of starvation.

Days dragged in to weeks and weeks turned to months and I was no better off than I’d been standing by Papa’s open grave. It was at that lowest point I figured I would be better off turning my back on everything I had believed in all my life than it was to try to force myself to hold on to what no longer made any sense to me.  At that moment, I was very nearly an atheist and that condition would last for longer than I like to admit.

Come back later and I’ll explain how I ended up still believing today.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

Thoughts on Election 2012 Results: A History Lesson

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Does this map speak volumes to anyone but me? Facts are annoying little things, aren’t they?

This will probably not be my most popular post.

The American people have spoken and the sound-bite election summary is President Obama won reelection, the Republican party maintained control of the House of Representatives but lost a few seats, and the Democratic party maintained control of the Senate and picked up a seat or two as well. Democrats are rejoicing at the win, Republicans are wondering what went wrong when the President seemed so vulnerable, and the Florida Election Committee is still counting votes because that’s how they roll in Florida.

The bigger picture is much deeper. For one thing, I am deeply saddened to learn I now live in a Godless nation. Thank you, Facebook, for alerting me to the departure of the Glory cloud from the Temple. Apparently God stood by us through 200 years of chattel slavery, a century or more of genocide against the Native Americans, the Tuskegee Syphilis “Research”, virulent institutional — if unspoken — anti-Antisemitism, lynchings, Jim Crow, televangelists, reality television, etc. but the 2012 election was the final straw.

Since we re-elected a biracial, Harvard-educated Christian who follows his faith quietly instead of pandering to people by invoking God in everything instead of a man whose Mormonism says Satan and Christ are brothers born from God’s marriage to His celestial wife, that African-Americans are sub-human (at least until 1978), and that unmarried and/or childless women won’t get to go to Heaven because they will have no one to “call them through the Veil,” God is now finished with America. This seems perfectly logical given the state of politics AND Christianity in America today.

I am certain I am the ONLY Democrat in my family — immediate, extended, or in-lawed. In some peoples’ eyes this makes me a bad person who is obviously not a Christian. I find this situation INCREDIBLY ironic since two of the greatest people and Christians I ever knew — my beloved Papa and Granny Wham — died as registered Democrats. See, the youngsters among my limited readership may not know this, but once upon a time, South Carolina was known as a “Yellow Dog Democrat” state because the Democratic Party in South Carolina (and many other southern states) could “run a yellow dog for office and beat any Republican no matter how well qualified.”

That won’t happen today and maybe a very brief history outline will show why. Most southerners forget but the reviled Abraham Lincoln was the nation’s first Republican President. He set the standard for the Constitutional abuses of later Republicans with his suspension of habeas corpus and other executive acts during the Civil War. In the end, though, his actions helped end slavery. On the other hand, the Democratic Party — dating all the way back to Thomas Jefferson — was the party of slavery. South Carolina’s own  John C. Calhoun was a Democrat who defended slavery on the floor of the Senate as “not a necessary evil, but a positive good.” Following the Civil War during Reconstruction, the hated Republican party forced the occupied but unbowed southern states to elect “coloreds” to governorships and high Federal offices.

With this miniscule history of the parties laid out, what happened to make the Democratic Party — once the pro-slavery party — champions of people of color and poor of all colors? It all started with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  FDR’s “New Deal” made him a demigod among the poor and disenfranchised of the Great Depression, but his championing of liberal causes such as labor unions, social welfare, government regulation, and civil rights cracked the Democratic “Solid South.”

Those cracks exploded with the coming of the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties. Democrat became synonymous with minority, poor, hippie, and liberal. The switchover completed in 1964 when the ageless Senator Strom Thurmond, again from this great Palmetto State, left the Democratic Party in protest of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and became a Republican. That’s where we’ve been ever since and as the country has gotten steadily less white and the divide between the wealthy and the middle class has reached its greatest extent since the Gilded Age, the polarization has intensified. Don’t mention the “wealth gap” though or you’ll be pilloried for “provoking class warfare.”

As a result of uber-partisan politics, we have a hopelessly gridlocked government where party loyalty trumps any desire to get anything done which might benefit the American people. Unfortunately, the gridlock has extended to the mindset of entirely too many Americans. God forbid you want to be like every single other industrialized first world country and have some sort of national health care. Mention that around here and people who don’t know the difference between a Communist and a Fascist will brand you a socialist. Even worse than Partisan Man is the dreaded “one issue voter.” For Evangelical Republicans, the issue is abortion. It doesn’t matter WHAT a Republican candidate believes or does. If he or she promises to overturn and undo Roe v Wade, the Southern Baptist Convention will endorse him from the conference floor.

Worst of all, however, is the completely uninformed voter. For Republicans, these are the disciples of Hannity, Limbaugh, and other denizens of talk radio. These voters don’t look up anything for themselves but believe anything and anyone as long as they are on Fox News after 6:00 PM, and they consistently support candidates who do not have their interests at heart. I know rabid Rush Limbaugh fans who collect Social Security or disability checks or receive other government assistance anathematic to the ultra-conservative wing controlling the Republican Party. These people can’t see they are voting for people who — if elected — would do away with or at best deeply cut the very programs sustaining them and their families. . . The irony is worthy of Shakespeare.

So, where do we go from here? The reality is “probably nowhere.” President Obama will continue trying to enact policies to benefit those other than “The 1%” and the Republican Party will fight him and stonewall him at every turn cheered on by a mass of red state voters who can’t or won’t realize when Rush or Glenn Beck are talking about “parasites” THEY are the ones being referred to.

Good luck in the next four years, remember I love y’all — Democrat or Republican alike, and most of all, keep those feet clean.

Easter 2012

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He said to them, "I am the Resurrection and the Life and whoever believes on Me, even if he dies, he shall live."

This is one of my posts that my atheist friends would probably just as soon skip. Having issued that caveat, Happy Easter everyone! I realize most of you are probably reading this after an Easter lunch that may or may not have included a follow-up Easter Egg Hunt because Easter Sunday means one thing all over — you are going to church!

Easter draws us to church like the Moon draws the oceans to make the tides. It’s the one Sunday of the year when anyone who has ever professed some sort of attachment to Christianity at some point in their lives knows that this Sunday he cannot get up and play golf (unless he is in the final round of The Masters) and she cannot lay in late to get extra beauty sleep.

Easter is the Sunday of beautiful new dresses, patent leather shoes, and really big, ornate hats. It is the Sunday of shirts with collars too tight and suits smelling of mothballs. Easter is the one Sunday out of the year when pastors, priests, and parishioners alike know and have known for years what the sermon or homily will be this morning. Some will sit in the pew or upon the folding chairs and wonder to themselves as they do each year, “Is any of what this person is saying real?”

My answer to that question is simple; “If — somewhere deep within you — you don’t believe any of this, then why are you here on this beautiful spring morning and not at the lake?” Christmas may have been overwhelmed by the culture to the point that only the most devout hold on to its true meaning, but not Easter. All the cute little bunnies and brightly colored eggs in the world can’t erase the real meaning of this day. People like Richard “The God Delusion” Dawkins may mock it, David Letterman may laugh at it, and many in the pews may question it, but EVERYONE knows that behind Easter is one simple, incomprehensible fact . . .

Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

For over 2000 years, skeptics have tried to tear down the Resurrection. They have advanced theory after theory about how Jesus didn’t really die on the cross or Jesus didn’t really exist at all or the Apostle Paul made the whole thing up. So far, they haven’t done a very good job because the Resurrection continues to resurrect lost lives.

I will be plainly honest with everyone. For the last several years, I’ve been plagued by doubts about nearly every aspect of my own personal faith. I’ve tossed out all my beliefs and rebuilt them. I’ve teetered on the edge of the chasm of atheism myself all because of several personal struggles that I’ve endured in recent years. Many times I’ve wondered if there’s really anything to any of it. Every time though, when my belief has reached its lowest ebb and my faith is in tatters and I wonder who really is right, one thing and only one thing burns in my mind as the one “doubt” that keeps me going. What is it?

Where’s the body?

Romans and Jews in the ancient world and a slew of modern cults and scientists have EVERYTHING to gain if Jesus really stayed dead. Think about it, Christianity destroyed the Roman Empire. You thought the barbarians did that, didn’t you? Well, guess what? The barbarians that sacked Rome were Christians. They were Arianist and had a few things off in their Christology, but they were Christians.

Where’s the body?

When the disciples started running around screaming about “He is risen, etc, etc”, Pilate and Caiaphas could have simply gone to the tomb with their escorts of guards, opened the tomb, put Jesus’ still dead body on a cart and wheeled it through the streets of Jerusalem. It would have been game, set, and match for this infant religion. When Peter caused such an uproar with his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the authorities just had to go to the tomb and drag out the body. You put Jesus’ body on display in or around 33 AD and the last 2000 years look a whole lot different.

But they’ve never been able to do it.

People have asked me before how someone so intelligent as I supposedly am in so many other facets of knowledge can be so terribly  backward and ignorant about “Zombie Jesus?” I always say the same thing, “Habeas Corpus” which is Latin for “bring forth the body.” I don’t have the certainty I had as a child about how God works. I’m not clear on a lot of theological issues anymore. Still, at the end of the day, there’s the Resurrection and that means there is hope.

Hope that all the suffering that’s gone on down here isn’t for nothing. Hope that I’ll get to see my Papas and Grannies again. Hope that putting Mama in the grave won’t be the end of it all. Hope for something I’ve always felt around the edges but never have been able to put my finger on.

I’ve been called a fool for believing in Zombie Jesus, but considering all the foolish things I’ve done in my life, that’s the least of my worries. 2000 years ago, a bunch of scared women ran into a gathering of scared men and said angels had told them Jesus was risen. A little while later, The Man Himself appeared to them all and said, more or less, “I told you I would only be gone a little while.”

In the 20 centuries since then, a lot of people have given up a lot of things, including their own lives just to hold on to that hope. If it was good enough for all of them, I see no reason to let go of all my hope now. When all else is a big ball of confusion, the Empty Tomb still echos with the words, “He is not here; He is risen, just as He said.”

That’s good enough for me.

Love y’all and have a blessed Easter.

 

A Bit of Comparative Theology

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Every year around this time, people come down on the terrorists who attacked America 9-11-01, but when it’s all said and done and the politicians stop making speeches and the religious leaders calm down a bit, everyone smiles, pats one another on the back and says, “Well, when you get right down to it, Islam and Christianity aren’t all that different. They are both ‘legitimate ways to God.'”

Sure. Poodles and Pit Bulls are both legitimate breeds of dogs to. The problem lies in the way people judge the merits of various religions — by the behavior of the average adherents.

Radical Fundamentalist Christian

Sitting in an average Southern Baptist church at 11:00 AM on a typical Sunday morning isn’t going to show anyone much in the way of incredible devotion to Christ. That’s pretty much the story at most Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and even Catholic services. These are the faithful Christians sittings in Grandma and Grandpa’s pew just like their mamas and daddies before them.

Most adherents of Islam are much the same way. The worshipers at afternoon prayers and Friday evening services at the vast majority of mosques are good, decent people who are worshiping Allah the way their daddies and mamas taught them growing up.

Radical Fundamentalist Muslim

Standing in the back of these mainstream, typical worship centers, a person would be tempted to wonder what all the fuss between Christians and Muslims is all about; however, NEVER judge the merits of a religion by the behavior of the typical and the mainstream. If you really want to know about the ins and outs of a faith, check out the lunatic fringe, the zealots, THE FUNDAMENTALISTS. This is where the differences between Christianity and Islam become wildly obvious.

In the simplest language possible, Christian Fundamentalists don’t fly fully loaded (fuel, cargo, and passengers) jumbo jets into some of a country’s most iconic buildings and kill three times the population of my hometown — Islamic Fundamentalists do. Yes, nuts like Eric Rudolph blow up abortion clinics and kill people, but the body count remains in the single digits. Some people will say death isn’t a “relative statistic.” Okay, ask 10,000 people in the world who Eric Rudolph is then ask the SAME 10,000 people anywhere in the world who Osama Bin Laden is. Compare numbers. Repeat ad nausem. I’ll bet the farm Binny will come out a long way ahead of Rudy.

Result of Radical Fundamentalist Christianity

Long before September 11th became a day of infamy, I once worked in a textile plant with an awesome Pakistani man named Javeid who was a devout, but not Fundamentalist, Muslim. He and I would have amicable debates about our beliefs. Even though he was harmless as a mouse himself, he’d grown up in the mean sections of Karachi. He knew Radical Islam up close and personal and he made a point with me that all these years later rings just as clearly as ever. He said, “Shannon, one day, Islam will conquer and destroy Christianity for one simple reason. Crazy Christians handle snakes and drink poison, but there aren’t many of them in the world. Crazy Muslims wear dynamite belts and carry AK-47s, and there are entire countries full of them.”

Result of Radical Islamic Fundamentalism

I don’t hate Muslims and I don’t turn a blind eye to the problems of Fundy Christians, but at the end of the day, I’d a lot rather have a member of the Tabernacle of Christ the King Church of God with Signs Following pissed off at me than be on the bad side of a member of a Wahhabi Mosque.

Something to think about while you wash you feet and remember the dead.

Love y’all.