Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dear Dad: In heaven, do people argue doctrine with Jesus?

Dear Dad:

A book was published a while after you died.  It was written by a missionary kid named Paul Young, and it was titled The Shack.  It was a best seller for many weeks.  Essentially, it told the story of a guy whose little girl was abducted from a campsite and raped and murdered in a little mountain shack.  The father and mother never really recovered and as a last resort, the guy had an encounter with Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit back up in the mountains where the crime occurred.  They had a day long discussion and quite a few more about what happened, why it happened, how the three big guys think, and lots of other stuff.  Now Young took quite a few liberties with doctrine some folks might say.  But the doggone book was just a novel. And a very good one.  You would have liked it.

A little background.  Young was a missionary kid and was abused and raped at a Christian and Missionary Alliance boarding school in Papau New Guinea along with a whole bunch of other innocent children.  This was a case of those in charge, adult Christian men, not doing what is the most basic thing Christian men should do.  Take care of children.  Anyway, this was his way of dealing with the pain and grief of what happened.  In the book, he ends up understanding forgiveness as an incredibly painful, but worthwhile, process.

I liked the book.

But quicker than an egg cooks on a hot griddle, some of my friends and some who were not, started instructing me on why this book was worthless.  Turns out they were frauds as they actually had not read the book, but just read a review on some wacko Christian website that tells otherwise decent folks how to think.  They took a NOVEL, and dissected it as a theology text. And they weren't even theologians.  They were accountants, ironworkers, engineers, teachers, and who knows what?  Young's not trying to upset your pastor or your statement of faith, he's just writing a book and making a lot of money.  It's the American way...right?

So, anyway, after this disappointing little episode, I started noticing that every time I mentioned a preacher, an author, a blogger (you don't know what the heck that is, but don't worry about it.  Most of 'em aren't worth a Treasury Bill), or anyone else that thinks a little.  Every time I mentioned some book I liked, or sermon that inspired me...some Christian guy would start instructing me on why I shouldn't read this or that, listen to this guy or that guy, or whatever.

You name it, Dad, people argue about it.  Tithing, speaking in tongues, worship songs, Sunday vs. Saturday church, and many others.  You know what I think?  It's the outcome of a whole bunch of content, lazy, rich Christian folks that have forgotten they're supposed to be lifesavers and decided they were kings instead.

You know what I mean, Dad.  Just like the churches back in Tulsa, where rich guys run the show, and think it is more about organization and denomination, than saving souls.

You know what I say?  *&%$ 'em all.  I don't listen anymore.  I talk with my wife, kinda like you did back in good ol' Tulsa, read the Bible, pray for understanding, and make up my own mind.

So, Dad, you're up there with Jesus, God, and the Holy Ghost.  So I wanted to find out a couple of things about the other side.  OK?

Are there jackasses in heaven?  Or does everybody really have a good attitude to go along with their "goodbody?"  Do people hang out with Jesus, God, and the Holy Ghost, and then start a discussion about the nature of the Trinity?  Do folks try to speak in an unknown tongue right in front of the dudes who are omnipotent?  Do men and women walk down the streets of gold and then let the collection plate pass by with hardly a glance?  Do old rich guys try to draft up a Statement of Faith?  Do you still fall asleep the end of the sermon?  WAKE UP , OLD MAN!!!  Do you look around and realize someone close to you is not there, and get sad that they're in hell?

I guess I should tell you, Dad.  My shctick is self deprecation.  I figured that if I can make everybody think they're smarter than me, then maybe they'll listen just to try and correct me.  So I make fun of my Oklahoma roots, my education, and everything else.  Works pretty good, Pops.  Especially in Minnesota, where folks have a very high opinion of their intellect.

But you know what?  You were a smart %$#@$#%%$@##, Dad.  You knew it, and I knew it, too.  So the next time you corner Jesus ask him my questions.  Inquiring minds want to know.

And by the way,  if Mom is there, tell her not to stop worrying about how she looks, everyone is perfect in heaven.  Smile.

Until next time Pops.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Dear Dad: My favorite things. You should have asked.

Dear Dad:

I heard a guy on a sports talk radio station the other day speaking in a disparaging manner about The Sound of Music.  Screw him.  You liked it, I liked it, and my family likes it today.  You can be a macho man and still like musicals.  In fact, I still find myself humming some of the songs to myself from time to time.  I always liked My Favorite Things.  Now Dad, you weren't real big about talking to me or asking me how my day went.  In fact, if I added up all the conversations you started, it would probably be equal to the number of Republican congressman that will invite Barack to their kid's bar mitzvah.

Oh, I forgot.  You already passed before he came into prominence.  Well, it's a heckuva thing to have a Kenyan as President.  I know, I know, I'll stop.  It's a joke, Dad.  But you wouldn't believe how politics piss people off today, Dad.  It's all most people do, Pops.  Argue about politics.  Even in Sunday School.  We don't have a real leader who would tell all the political hacks to shut their traps.  Nope, we can start talking about the miracles of Jesus and before you know it, we'll be talking about Joe *&%$#$@$% Biden and his latest nonsensical moment.  But you know what?  Nobody ever does anything about it.  We all just sit there,  polishing the chair with our rear ends and posting %$#@ on the internet, and then we feel cool when all our "friends" agree with us.  It's self-esteem building, Dad.  Yeah, I know you never worried about the internet or about your self esteem.  You were too busy worrying about other people and making sure they had everything taken care of.  You know what, Dad.  You had it right.

Now where was I, before I got distracted.  Oh.  I think I want to tell you my favorite things.  You never asked me what I liked to do, so I figured you're up in heaven and you must be halfway omnipotent, even though you're praising Jesus twenty-four/seven, you might still have a few minutes to listen to my rant.  So here it goes.

I like Christian worship music, but only when it's a girl or a guy and a guitar.  No fancy stuff.  It pollutes the song too much. Nothing worse than some dude primping after a guitar solo right in the middle of Our God Is An Awesome God.  I like going out and getting doughnuts on Sunday morning.  I like watching my kids eat 'em too.   I like to cook Italian food, which seems to go quite well with red and white wines of all types.  I like watching my wife work in the mission field and read her Bible.  I like watching her teach our kids and pray and talk on the phone.  I like walking around our neighborhood together.  You know what, Dad.  I just like being with my wife!  I like fast cars, but I haven't had one in a long time.  I like pickup trucks and cool breezes and country roads and driving with nowhere to go.  I love nuke power plants, not so much for the technology or the economics, but just because I've spent the last twenty-five years surrounded by the smart, patriotic, strategic, passionate guys who love what they do.  I like taking a nap after church or watching a football game.  I like preaching.  Isn't that hilarious?  Who in the *&$# would ever want to listen to me?   Even those intellectual Minnesotans let me preach up there.  I think it was just because they needed a little Southern hospitality once in awhile, to break the chill.  I like bicycles and parks and ice cream and barbecue and Mexican food.  But not the Minnesota kind.  I'd rather eat radishes.  I like playing music loud and I like telling jokes at dinner.  I like helping around the house and sitting down in front of an air conditioner when its hot outside.  I like cutting grass cause I feel satisfied when I'm done.  I like the smell of gasoline on my hands.  I like leading a Bible study and I like it when I teach kids and the light bulb comes on.  Know what I mean?   I like having a little money in the bank, but I like giving it away more...I think.  I like being in foreign countries, but I always worry about the water.  I like hitting a seven-iron flush but I haven't played golf in ten years.   I like reading the paper, and I like liberal writers and conservative too.  I like reading the Bible, and I like the book of Romans most of all.  I like Andy Stanley, he's Charles Stanley's kid.  He's kind of an attention seeking rich guy, but he's the best speaker I've ever heard.

You see, Dad, it's a heckuva thing.  I kind of like most of the same stuff you liked.  I guess I'm like you, although it took me a long time to admit it.  Except I didn't have my life interrupted by a damn war, and killing and mayhem and being frightened so much you peed in your pants.  I missed all of that, Dad, and I guess I'm better for it.  But sometimes, I'm not so sure.

Anyway,  enjoy those services up there, Pops. But don't sing too loud, because your voice ain't that good.

Until next time,


Friday, January 25, 2013

Dear Dad: Does God let you tell jokes in heaven?

Dear Dad:

I was wanting to ask you a question, Pops.  Do they make you talk up in heaven?  I mean, I know about the never-ending praise, which is a good thing, because never-ending sermons would be a little tough to take.  And I know that you've got new bodies, which is also good, because you weren't getting around too well when you had your appointment with St. Peter.  And I know that there's laser shows and thrones and spinning creatures with too many appendages.  Sort of like a KISS concert.  I know all that, Dad.  But I seem to remember you never had much to say down here in good old Tulsa.  So are you different up there?  You can send me an e-mail and let me know, if Jesus remembered to pay the wi-fi bill! Ha Ha!

Seriously, Dad, reflecting back on my growing up years, I'm still a little angry.  I mean, it would have helped if you would have asked me how things were going in elementary school.  I would have told you back then. You might have taught me how to shave, or instructed me about girls (that would have helped), or told me about all the times you screwed up so I wouldn't have felt like such a loser.  You could have talked to me about war and peace and life and death and employees and bosses and taxes and bills and whatever else was on your mind.  I might even have listened without letting you know.

You know what, Dad?  It's OK. You weren't real big on talking, because I guess you didn't have to be.  Mom could talk enough for everyone else.  In fact, she talked enough to take care of the whole block.  Now, she wasn't a gossip.  She didn't turn church into the National Enquirer.  But she could tell a pretty good story.  By the time I grew up, I felt like I was an honorary citizen of Gadsden, Alabama.

But getting back to what I wrote this letter for in the first place, it's OK.  I forgive you.  I learned all those other things the hard way, or through friends, or other men at church or at work.  And looking back on it, it wasn't a bad way to do it.  It made me who I am today.

Just so you don't think I'm one of those kids who just gripes about their lousy parents, you did a lot of good stuff too.  You cooked and cleaned and helped Mom around the house.  You told a pretty good joke, and no dirty ones that would cause your Southern Baptist friends to gossip.  You hacked away at a job for fifty years.  You loved your wife and took good care of her.  You had the best garden in the city and you liked to watch golf.  I shouldn't tell you this, but remember Tiger Woods?  He was just getting started when you died.  Well, he made $200 million dollars and married a Swedish model, then blew most of it on, shall we say, "women of dubious character."  The model took the kids and about $50 million and left him.  What a dumb *&%!  Back to what I was talking about.  You paid your bills and taxes and didn't vote for Jimmy Carter.  As you put it, he might make a good peanut farmer, but he should stay home in Georgia where he belongs.  You read your bible everyday and I know you prayed for me all the time.  You were never negative with me, that would have taken words!  I noticed all those things, Dad, I just never told you.  You probably don't care now, since with your new body, you're probably snowboarding or dancing with Mom or something like that.

Anyway, we've got three kids and with them, Pops, I'm not like you. You know why?  Because I'm more like Mom.  I yap all the time.  They probably get tired of it,so maybe I'll cut down and do my best Dad imitation for a while.  Then they would worry if I was sick or something.

Well, old man, that's a few things I've been wanting to tell you for years.  I just waited too long.  Don't take it too hard, Dad.  Sons and Dads have a rough time, but then when we grow up, we see that you all were't as *^% stupid as we thought you were when we were seventeen.

Do me a favor, Dad.  If Mom's up there tell here not to turn around and talk to the person behind her during those never ending services.  It might make the big guy mad.

So long, Dad.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dear Dad: You wouldn't want to be here today. You'd fire all your employees.

Dear Dad:  How was your evening in heaven?

I'm not sure how that twenty-four/seven worship thing is going to be.  I'm hoping the music's better up there.  Don't they ever let you take a nap?  In all fairness, most of the music down here is inspiring and anthem-like.  A lot of the big churches even add fancy lights and smoke machines.  No Dad, I'm not still going to KISS concerts.  I quit that about thirty-three years ago!  You and Mom hated KISS, but you let me go.  The way I look at it, it's your fault!!  Ha ha! You'll be glad to know that I'm sold out on Jesus music today.  Have been since 1990.  The one thing that I can't stand is when "worship artists" start playing around with a hymn.  I mean, do we really have to add new lyrics to Jesus Paid It All or The Old Rugged Cross?  I mean, good Southern Baptists have been singing the first and third verses to those songs about eighty years before Big Daddy Weave was born. And what kind of name is that for a Christian singer?  How about Moses or Paul?

You would have been proud of the girls, Dad.  We went to this little old ranch up by Rosharon, Texas for their first Western Horsemanship lesson.  This place looked like a cross between Sanford and Son and Bonanza.  Donnie, who if you looked up Texan in the dictionary there he'd be, was their instructor.  He chain smoked Camels and barked out instructions like an old drill sergeant I once knew.  I wasn't sure how the girls would react, they aren't too big on getting yelled at.  But they took to ol' Donnie like a flea takes to the backside of a hound dog.  They're already asking for boots and spurs for their next spin around the arena.  And don't you dare call it a corral, them's fighting words in Rosharon.

Speaking of fighting, since you went to meet your Maker, the good old U.S. of A. has been fighting in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and only the good Lord knows where else.  Boys have been getting killed left and right for years.  A kid from Byron, Illinois, where we used to live, named Alec, died at nineteen years of age.  There wasn't a dry eye in town, but there were many proud hearts.  You should have seen all the flags lining the roads into town.  Now there's a Baptist church in Kansas named Westboro.  But they ain't a real church.  They're a bunch of morons who protest at military funerals because America's going to hell.  It may be going to hell, but it ain't the time or the place to upset the family.  So a bunch of bikers stood guard outside the church ready to pistol whip anybody who didn't look right.  Worked just fine.

I know we had our differences, Dad, and both of us acted kind of foolish at times, but you know what?  I never properly thanked you for enlisting in the Army in 1940 and spending the next five years in uniform.  Knowing how quiet and kind you were, I bet you were scared %$%#&@*$ when you got over there.  I know I would have been.  I wish you would have told me a few more stories, but I kinda understand why.  Nobody likes to talk about body parts, corpses, and rivers of blood.  So you know what, old man.  Thanks for telling me about the old @#%$@#% that everybody liked, Patton, and the one who all the guys hated, Bradley.  He sounded like a pompous $#%.  It made it seem real to me.  Thanks!  You made me proud.  In fact, when I enlisted in the Navy in 1983, it was because I wanted to make you proud of me.  I hope you were, even though our uniforms were pretty lame compared to yours.

Now speaking of hard work, I've been working at nuke power plants since 1988.  I don't ever think I've taking more than one or two days for being sick in all those years.  Heck, you had to be almost dying before you'd stay home.  So I guess I'm a little more like you than I'd like to admit!  But truth be told, Dad, it's not that hard.  I sit at a desk and work and then teach a few times a week.  I love it and I am excited to get to work everyday.  Not everyone can say that.

I remember that you started working in 1930 for Western Union as a bicycle messenger when you were thirteen.  I guess you never really stopped working until 1983.  That's a long time, Dad.  You were a hacker.  I think you wouldn't be to happy with the employees you'd get today in your old company.  Most days they might show up on time but as soon as they sit down and pop open a healthy beverage of some type, they're on those smart phones.  I guess it's more important to let everybody know what color your socks are that day, or some equally important piece of information, than it is working.  People even fight for their "right to social network" at work. That's just a fancy way for being lazy in 2013, Dad.  I guess the equivalent in your day was the fifteen minute coffee break that always ended up being thirty.

I remember Mom being a hard worker too. Not only that, but she also was a feisty counselor at work too.  And those young girls there needed it. More than once she told them to quit sleeping around and have some self respect.  Even gave a couple of 'em bibles and one of 'em got saved.  She was a regular workplace evangelist.  When she wasn't kicking some #@$.

Well, Dad, I better get to bed in a little while.  I have to be to work at seven, but you guessed it, I'll be there at five-thirty sharp.

Hey do one thing for me, Pops, if the old preacher, Warren Hultgren, is up there and if you can get him to stop talking, tell him hello for me.  And if you see him, maybe you can stay awake this time for point three of his sermon.  You might learn a thing or two.  He's probably telling Jesus to be quiet right now so he can preach once a while.

Until the next letter.  Your son, Bill.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dear Dad: Church ain't the same today, but it ain't bad.

Dear Dad:  You've been gone quite a few years now but we still miss you a lot.  I hope heaven's everything you thought it would be.  I bet you don't have a special box to keep track of all of your pills, do you?  We're once again living in Texas now and we are enjoying it.  The girls are learning how to ride horses.  You never got to meet them did you?  They're smarter than a whip and prettier than a picture.  I suppose there's no better place to ride horses than in the heart of Texas!  Bradley's almost as tall as me, and he's quiet and kind.  Wonder where he got that from?  Smile.

I always remembered watching you when we sat in the balcony of First Baptist Church, Tulsa, when I was a kid.  You had a good singing voice and you knew all the hymns from memory.  I thought that was pretty cool.

I also remember you had a heckuva time staying awake for the sermon.  No matter how much old Warren Hultgren would raise his voice, you usually never made it past his second point.  I hate to break it to you now, Pops, but his third point was always his best. You probably could have been a CEO if you would have heard his grand finale.  He always got us out on time, though, for a good old roast beef and mashed potatoes lunch, interrupted only by the sounds of the Cowboys game coming in from the living room.  Those were the good old days.  I probably ought to come correct though, Pops.  Vickie hits me in the ribs to wake up in church now that I'm fifty-two.  Getting old is awful tough.

And speaking of church, it's different today.  We threw away all the suits and ties and fancy dresses and hats a long time ago. Most folks wear whatever they fell like and some even come in their pajamas.  Heck, there's not even a Sunday School in most churches, and the men sure don't go outside to smoke cigarettes after it's over and before the worship service.  Most kids come to church today looking like they just came back from Spring Break.  They carry these things called smart phones, which must not be that smart, cause any dumb *&% can use one.  They look at them all the time, and the parents even let them use them during the service.  I bet Mom would have marched our sorry %%$#% back to the cloak room and whupped us good if we would have tried anything like that.  Most folks are a little bit irreverent and some never stop talking throughout the whole "worship" time.  I guess there's a lot of important gossip to catch up on.  Some things never change, eh, old man!

Now the sermons you would like.  They usually throw in a video and a drama and they never last more than 30 minutes.  They tell you what to think in the notes and they never tell us we're going to hell anymore if we don't repent.  No screaming today.  More of a preschool teacher coaxing the kids in from the playground.

Well, Dad, I can't wait to get up there with you.  You were a pretty good Dad and a heckuva guy.  I bet you're driving a Cadillac now, which probably beats the hell out of that 69 Rambler wagon.  What a bucket of bolts that was!

Have a good evening, Dad, if you have evenings up there.

Your son,  Bill

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Simple to complex....right to wrong.

We've been trying to undo the maddeningly simple teachings of Jesus for many centuries.  In our churches today, we've added so many layers to most of his teaching, spoken or not, that it's hard to distinguish where truth ends and inference begins.

We teach our children the Golden Rule, as we like to call it, when they're quite young.  We use it in the context of sibling behavior, or Sunday School class decorum.  Treat others as you want to be treated.  Be pleasant when others are not.  Share your cookie and juice with someone who is still hungry.

Our children, with their young and kind hearts, will believe that this principle applies to us also, and will remind us of opportunities to do the same.  

That's where the simple teachings of Jesus become the ridiculously complex practices of ourselves today.

What we say...

Well, Junior, you just aren't old enough to get it quite yet.  I mean you can't just give hard-earned money away to someone you don't know.  That would be throwing it away.  God wouldn't be pleased if we waste what he's given to us.  You see, there's so many more things I have to think about it that you don't realize.  I have to put food on this table. I have to pay the light bill and the mortgage and the blasted phone bill with a million texts per month.  What will your mother and I do when we get old?  You don't know what that person is going to do with my money.  They could use it to buy candy or booze or a million other things they don't need.  I work hard for what we have, and we must be good stewards.  We give to our church, it's just that you don't see everything that goes on.

What it means...

Somewhere along the way, my heart has grown cold.  I've become lazy in the faith.  I won't get to know anyone that could rob time from the pursuit I love the most, which is the accumulation of wealth and the feeling of security. I say I'm a Christ-follower, but I sure don't bother to act like Christ most the time.  My decisions and the way I use my resources say otherwise.  I should get on my knees and repent, trouble is, the preachers and everyone around me are just the same.  We've become a self-centered, egotistical church that breeds complacency and self-importance.  We worry more about the wasting of a few dollars than the loss of a life for eternity.

You see, most the time, Jesus made things crystal clear in His word, it's in our fuzzy application that's based on the desires of culture, that we've polluted His message.

Will you be different?

Matthew 7:12  So in everything, do to others what you would have them do unto you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

The charlatan cyclist and other fables.

The story was always too good to be true.  Turns out, it was.  Lance rode roughshod through the cycling world for fourteen years, intimidating men and women alike.  He took no prisoners and had no friends.  He left his wife for a singer, he hung teammates out to dry.  His pharmacist was so rattled, her hands shook while dispensing the drugs he long denied.

You see...nobody is that good.  Not Clemens, not Bonds, not Armstrong, not Bagwell.  But it's not just limited to the sports world.  There's a sprinkling of deceit in all of us.  Write me if you have not glamourized your resume to fit a job.  Let me know if you haven't embellished a date, a vacation, or a trip to Vegas.  Please inform me if you have never misrepresented yourself in any way.  Because you'll be the first that's ever lived.

You bet I'm mad at Lance and his charade.   He parlayed his pumped up talent into a hundred million dollars, by some estimates.  Hundreds of thousands, if not millions who were inspired by his cancer charity, are probably a little dazed by his shenanigans.  The government's not amused, sportswriters who went on the ride are not amused, and most everyone I know now scoffs at his name.

But you know what?  There's a little bit of Lance in all of us.  The Bible tells us that everyone has sinned and falls short of the Lord.  It tells us that the number one quality of our heart is deceitfulness.  The Lord doesn't need a drug test to know if we're not being truthful.  He knows.

But He also knows that some will come to Him.  Some will confess and seek forgiveness and His heart is gigantic and He will forgive anyone who comes and repents.

So, if we're to be like God, which we're told to do, we must also forgive.

Who closest to you has hurt your feelings with lies and deceitfulness?  Forgiveness is mandatory if you're a Christ follower.  The relationship may never be the same, but being like Jesus is a step in the right direction.