Category Archives: Church for Writers

Hope and Bob Dylan

About a week before Bob Dylan was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature,  a mighty powerful thought came to me. I had been talking to a friend about the way we often distort our thinking. Suppose a loved one appears to betray us and we begin to think people in general aren’t worth trusting, or we wave to an acquaintance and she doesn’t wave back and we believe she has for some reason decided not to like us. And so on. Many of us think like this now and then or every day. Long ago, I read a fine book about such “cognitive distortions”, and I still recommend it: Feeling Good, by David Burns.

The powerful thought came when I woke up feeling lousy and didn’t particularly want to roll out of bed because a voice like a dementor from Harry Potter told me that the day promised nothing worth rising for. Then out of nowhere a voice like an angel told me, Hey, something good is going to happen today.

I jumped up (well, maybe not jumped), eager to learn what the good thing would be.

Every day since then, as soon as I awake, I tell myself that something good is going to happen. And when I look back at the end of each day, I realize something good has happened. Today, for instance, Zoe pitched masterfully and her team almost beat a great team from a national championship organization.

That day when the angel first urged me to look for the good that would happen, Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for Literature. Now the only way the Nobel committee could have pleased me more is if they had chosen me, and not only was that not likely to happen, it would’ve have seemed quite right.

I don’t attend a lot of concerts, but I have gone to watch Bob Dylan about a dozen times, in venues small and large. The best ever was in Tucson, Arizona when he performed all Christian songs backed up with a group of six or seven gospel singers. I returned for the second performance the next day.

For at least two reasons, I’m delighted that Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize. One, he has done wonders for America by adapting several American art forms, our folk tradition, our topical (protest) song tradition, and the blues, and made them his own, which is what artists do best, build on what’s come before. Also, he has given us an honest Christian voice.

During his “Christian” period, surely, (I think of it as his churchgoing period, before he probably got disillusioned by churches as many of us do), but also before and after.

The best way to make sense out of one of his earliest hits, “Blowin’ in the Wind” is to view the wind as the Holy Spirit: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8; “And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” Acts: 22

Here’s a deft analysis of “All Along the Watchtower”: “… a riff on the prophecy from Chapter 21 of the Book of Isaiah, where two watchmen on a watchtower see two riders approaching. ‘There must be some way out of here,’ said the joker to the thief. ‘There’s too much confusion/ I can’t get no relief.” The first stanza is about existential angst, about the futility and violence of the modern world. “Businessmen they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth./ None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.” In this consumerist world, we drink, we steal, we work, but nothing seems of real value.

“’No reason to get excited,’ the thief he kindly spoke.’ Who is the thief but Jesus Christ who describes himself as returning to Earth “like a thief in the night’? Indeed, ‘the hour is getting late,’ the thief informs us, another Biblical catchphrase about the return of Christ. [He continues]‘There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke./ But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate.’ The seeming futility of life is something that we need to rise above… “Which takes us to the third and fourth stanzas: “…Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.” This is a prophecy from Isaiah 21. The two messengers are announcing the fall of Babylon…. also a theme in the Book of Revelation, referring to Christ’s Second Coming.”

One of my favorites of his later songs is “Highlands” in which he sings in accord with W.B. Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium”, a poem I consider strikingly Christian in its preference for pursuing the eternal over clinging to the earthly. If you haven’t read it, please do. You might want to augment it with a movie (from a novel) that played off the poem’s opening line: “That is no country for old men.”

As this is about twice as long as most of my messages, I’ll end it here with the hope that you haven’t already, you will now click some of the links. The linked version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” is most excellent.

The Necessity of Hope

I can’t seem to make myself stop beginning the day with a dose of world news. This morning I read about the many political assassinations in Russia, and about the thousands of deaths and nearly unfathomable misery the people of Syria and Syrian refugees are suffering.

It’s not like such horrors are unfamiliar. I was born a month after we bombed Hiroshima, and my earliest years were often tainted by stories of the holocaust and of Stalin’s purges.

All my life, the world has been, for many, many, people, a hideously tragic place.

After my morning dose of news, I drove to a restaurant to meet my son for breakfast and on the way listened to an old Andre Crouch song, “Jesus is the Light of the World” and felt as if a boulder had risen off my shoulders. Because belief in Christ and the God he proclaimed gives me hope that all this tragedy will get redeemed; that people who die young, suffer in unimaginable ways, or have very little chance of living in anything like contentment, will at last find peace and joy.

In my favorite of all novels, The Brothers Karamazov, brother Ivan admits that even though God may redeem all the tragedy and suffering, he cannot forgive God for it all. I am neither as bright nor as sensitive as Ivan. Perhaps that’s why I can accept that God has motives far beyond what I can begin to comprehend.

I worry about people who reject God out of hand, who take as gospel the Darwinian world view and essentially contend as did the skinny wrestler in the film Nacho Libre, “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science.” I wonder how these people can live with the world’s tragedy. Maybe they compartmentalize and lock the grim facts away in some dark corner of their minds. If not, how do they accept such a world? Have they become so callous?

I’m a fan of science. My Zoe is a lover of science and I encourage her to follow science as a career, since it offers so many exciting opportunities in so many fields. But to take science as the answer to everything is to ignore the very simple fact Plato portrayed about 2500 years ago in “The Allegory of the Cave”: we only perceive what our senses allow us to know, and our senses are limited.

Though I am glad my belief gives me hope, hope is not the basis of my beliefs. That would be nothing but wishful thinking. Reasons that led me to believe are given in Reading Brother Lawrence.

I suspect only people whose hearts are damaged or turned off can look at the human condition and fail to be driven to actively search for a reason to hope in some destiny more fair and beautiful than what our senses perceive.

Coincidentally, or providentially, take your pick, about an hour after I wrote the above, Pastor Jason in a message at Journey Community Church offered this insight: “One of the central symptoms of our sickness as humans is a rock hard shell of callousness, exhibited in self-absorption, belief in self-sufficiency, and consequent apathy that numbs us to God and people around us.” He attributed it both to the fall (the one in the Garden of Eden) and to defense mechanisms we create out of fear. He also mentioned God’s promise to Ezekiel. “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

My prayer is that God will extend that promise to me and mine and to us all.

white-Christian-evangelical

Nowadays, “white”, “Christian”, and “evangelical”, are loaded words. White can mean oppressor; Christian can mean ignorant; and evangelical often means bigot.

Since I could be called a white evangelical Christian, I frequently take offense at the way they are used. The one I find most offensive is “evangelical”. Last month I wrote about the abuse and misuse of that word. But I feel compelled to keep writing about it. Here’s why: though the category evangelical may comprise as wide a variety as the category animal does, most often “evangelical” is used as if the whole demographic belonged to the variety I consider the worst of us: those who use the label “Christian” as a cover for greed, racial and class prejudice, fear and other attitudes wholly opposite from those Christ preached and practiced.

For about ten years, I have attended a church that grew out of a distinct “evangelical” tradition. I will try to deliver an accurate summary, at least as far back as the tradition’s origins in the Salvation Army.

Out of that movement, through her parents, came Aimee Semple McPherson*, a remarkably passionate and effective evangelist and faith healer of the very early twentieth century. Sister Aimee, in connection with her Angelus Temple in Los Angeles’ Echo Park district, founded a bible college. One of the college’s students was Chuck Smith, who later, as pastor of a small church in Costa Mesa, California, actively welcomed the truth-seeking hippies we used to call Jesus freaks. Pastor Chuck, with the help of some highly charismatic young people, most notably Lonnie Frisbee, gathered a following that grew exponentially until it became a denomination of its own, called Calvary Chapel.

A number of Calvary Chapel preachers founded churches that, while not under the Calvary Chapel umbrella, continued in the same tradition. Three of those are among the most popular churches in San Diego, where I live. The first was Horizon, out of which came Journey and The Rock. The Rock, founded by long-time Horizon preacher Miles McPherson, once a football player for the San Diego Chargers, has become a true mega-church. I suppose in part because Miles is black, The Rock is quite racially integrated. The other two, though primarily white, have never, to my knowledge, promoted or condoned racism in any way. Over ten years at journey, I have never heard anything that could be construed as advocating greed, racial or class prejudice, or fear of anything but exclusion from the love of God.

In my mind, “evangelical” is lovely word that describes a belief that “the essence of the gospel consists in the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s atonement.**”

If I knew how, I would start a movement to take the word back from its abusers.

* For a fascinating look at Sister Aimee, read The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles.

** Quoted from Wikipedia.

Trump and Evangelicals

Recently I read that four-fifths of “evangelicals” intend to vote for Donald Trump.

As a writer, I’m all about words. And a common word that concerns me is evangelical.

I’ve been a churchgoer for about twenty-five years and a believer in Christ since long before my churchgoing began. I have attended Quaker, Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Assembly of God, Methodist, Episcopal, and independent churches. These days, my church is Journey in La Mesa, CA, which grew out of the Calvary Chapel movement. Also, I taught five years at a conservative Christian college. Through these experiences, I have come to distinguish between evangelical and fundamentalist.

In my mind, fundamentalists are essentially about conservatism, holding to traditional ways, while evangelicals are essentially dedicated to experiencing a connection to Christ, understanding his message, and proclaiming that message to others.

In this wretchedly political year, I have far too often read the term evangelical as referring to everyone who accepts the Biblical doctrine that we should be born again.

Given my definitions, I am not in the least surprised if four-fifths of fundamentalists mean to vote for Trump, since his message is all about holding onto or returning to the way things were. But if four-fifths of those I call evangelicals plan to vote for a fellow who is all about power, privilege, and isolation, when Christ’s message is about sacrifice, love, and outreach, I am quite disturbed.

Either I or the journalists had better revise our definition of evangelical. I hope it’s them, because to me, at least, evangelicals and fundamentalists are about as much alike as Sunnis and Shiites.

Love Everybody?

I try to write a Church for Writers post at least every month, and this month I meant to offer some thoughts about the religion of evolution. But then a man entered a nightclub in Florida and killed and wounded almost a hundred people. And the next day, a radio personality commented: “We need to start acting kindly to each other. If everybody did just that, the world would be a safe and happy place. And though we can’t make other people be kind, we can behave kindly ourselves. That much is easy.”

Her comments were quite appropriate, I thought, and right in accord with Christ’s command for us to love our neighbors. And though I was touched by her passion and innocence, I need to note that being kind to everyone is not so easy.

Before I go on, I should point out that in my vocabulary, to love our neighbors and to be kind to people are practically synonymous. Psychologist and author M. Scott Peck defines love as a willingness to sacrifice, which could translate to being kind even if it hurts.

Kindness may be easy when people treat us well and don’t get into our way. But when they attack or demean us or frustrate our plans or desires, being kind to them is hard. It’s something we need to work at. Something most of us need to learn. And kindness to the degree it becomes sacrificial love is, for many if not most of us, mighty hard.

Following my first divorce, I began to detect that I was not good at loving people. So, being an avid reader, I began reading up on the topic of love.

I could recommend quite a few books, but I’ll start with Soren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love . Kierkegaard maintains that when Christ instructs us to love our neighbor, he is issuing a command, not making a suggestion. And Christ clarifies the command with the parable of the good Samaritan. In this context, to love our neighbor means to love without distinction. Everybody. Even those who believe or act in ways we find odious. Even those who may have done us grievous wrongs.

Being truly kind, not just friendly, is hardly easy. But it’s possible, if we put our hearts and minds to it.

Please try to love without distinction, and consider reading a book on love, and pray something like this: “Lord, teach and help me to lover better.”

The rewards of love are many and miraculous.

Please subscribe to this blog and read about them, maybe next month.

Purple Rain

For no particular reason I can recall, I never quite connected with Prince, except that every time I happened to hear ”Purple Rain”, I thought, Whoa, that’s some mighty fine blues.

And now Prince died. I read a few articles and watched a couple U-tube performances the articles linked to, and learned to appreciate the fellow so deeply that a couple days ago, I downloaded “Purple Rain” and since then have listened to it obsessively. If I’ve ever been as moved by a song, the memory has flown.

I used to be mystified by the purple rain image, and a little put off by it, as some of us tend to be when we find ourselves clueless. But this past week, it only took a few times listening until I knew, as sure as I know anything, that purple rain is the holy spirit.

Skeptical? Listen for yourself.

Should you not believe in the holy spirit, call it the muse or whatever else you may consider the source for inspiration, or the part of our nature that guides us to and through what some call intuition, and into every sort of transcendence. No doubt many would contend it begins with or results in brain chemistry. No matter, the effect is so powerful, so transforming . . . see below.

I’m in Tucson for reasons probably irrelevant to this discussion. I’m alone, no Zoe to occupy my energy, fewer distractions than when I’m home. This evening, I listened to “Purple Rain” on the way to dinner at Rocco’s Chicago Pizza, a most delightful establishment (on Broadway, in case you should visit that part of the world). Only seconds after I took a patio seat, I heard a man at the next table telling a joke: the Pope dies. St. Peter takes him to someplace reminiscent of a Chicago El train stop. The Pope says, “I didn’t expect heaven to be quite like this.” As St. Peter begins to respond, a server interrupted my attention. If you know the end of that joke, please send it to me. I might’ve asked the man to repeat it, but he had already segued into a story about swimming in the ocean and running into a Portuguese man of war, which, as he pointed out, is purple. “Fitting,” he said, “since purple is the color of danger.”

Whoa, I thought. The holy spirit is dangerous all right. It can break “the frozen sea inside us”*; force us to witness us who we really are; and/or compel us to gaze into an abyss where we learn that “if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” **

If we survive, we are rich beyond measure. If we don’t, who knows?

Thank you, Prince. You have given me a bountiful week.

* Franz Kafka
** Friedrich Nietzsche

Rapture and the Indomitable Spirit

So many people I care about have died this year, which is not yet four months old, I have wondered if the rapture may have arrived.

For those lacking knowledge (or opinions) of the rapture, here’s a Bible passage:

1 Corinthians 15:51-52: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

Okay, I saw the twinkling of an eye part, but I’m as sure as can be that our perception of time is simply an illusion. And even if time is flat out real, in God’s perspective, how long would the twinkling of an eye take?

Pleased don’t misunderstand . I am no fan of the Tim LeHaye-Jerry Jenkins bestselling Left Behind series.

Pam, Zoê’s mom attended a high school connected with a church LeHaye had pastored. And long before those books came out, LeHaye issued videos based upon the premise that soon God would take the best folks out of the world and leave the rest of us rascals and ingrates to duke it out with Satan and his minions.

Pam is the source of Zoê’s diligent-student gene. She missed one day of school K-12, which was day two of these early Left Behind videos, because on day one she learned that pastors didn’t necessarily get the green light, and her dad was a Methodist minister. The next morning, she faked an illness and skipped school.

Fast forward. Pam and I taught at a college of which Tim LeHaye was one of the founders. He came and gave a speech at the invocation of a new president. His topic was basically there is us and there is them. And we’re the good guys.

Afterward, between the ceremony and the reception, we adjourned to our office to ditch our cap and gown outfits. The instant the door closed behind us, we turned to each other and said in unison, “That guy is scary.”

I only read a few pages of the LeHaye-Jenkins books. No comment. And until this year, I didn’t give the rapture much thought. But now …

The recent deaths that have most troubled me, even the ones readers of this post aren’t likely to know, I will list because doing so will help keep them in my memory.

First was Carol Galante, a wonderful friend in the mystery community, mother of authors Lisa Brackman and Dana Fredsti. Then Alan Rickman, Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, of which I am quite a fan. Then came David Bowie, and very soon Glen Frey of the Eagles, with whom I hung out one long afternoon when we were young. Incidentally, Rickman, Bowie, Frey, and I were all born within about a year of each other. Next I got news of the death of Amy Radovic, a young, vital and vivacious colleague from our time at San Diego State University. And a day or so later, writer Jim Harrison died. Then came of Merle Haggard. And last week, Prince.

Every one of these people was exceptional. They all, I believe, had big hearts. Not a jerk amongst them. Which has led to my weird thoughts about the rapture. Weird thoughts have long been one of my specialties. This one may be weirder than most. I ran it by Pam. She thinks I’m loony. We are no longer married.

Yesterday, my Zoe wanted to watch The Karate Kid, so I watched with her, as I’m a big fan of Mister Miyagi. And while watching, I hearkened back to my years practicing Tae Kwon Do and recalled that the main point of the art was to develop an indomitable spirit.

I earned a black belt, which indicates that my spirit at least ought to be reasonably indomitable, and reminding myself of that lifted me out of some fairly severe melancholy. So today, I called my friend Mark, another black belt, and suggested we get together once a week for a Tae Kwon Do workout, even though it’s been some years since I have practiced the art.

I mean, to live in this world, especially if we’ve been left behind, a fellow can certainly use an indomitable spirit.

Emotional Growth = Spiritual Growth

I was a mess. Some months after the end of a seventeen- year marriage, my kids were in San Diego and my job was in Chico, northern CA. I had arranged to take my mother on a cruise on the Mississippi where my great-grandfather used to pilot a sternwheeler, but then she got too ill to make the trip. At eighty-two, she wasn’t about to recover. So I was in San Diego, taking care of her and deciding to give up my job as a tenured prof, which also meant leaving behind a new romance.

At nights, if I managed to fall asleep, I would awake in about two hours with no chance of sleeping again. Pills didn’t work. All day long, my stomach felt as if I had been gobbling large portions of lead, though I had lost about thirty pounds.

A letter came from Charlie Morgan, a grad school friend. Charlie had gone to NYC, written ad copy, saved money and was now studying psychology in Boston. The letter expressed his excitement about a book he’d discovered, The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. I scanned the letter and returned to the darkness.

Several weeks later, I went to a bookstore for no other purpose than to find something on the topic of relaxation as a sleep aid. While browsing, I happened upon a title that seemed to link psychological health with spiritual growth. I bought it and began reading some pages every day. A few days in, one of the book’s themes cured me.

The theme was: anyone seeking emotional or spiritual health must face the absolute truth, no matter how bitter, brutal, dangerous or threatening to the ego.

That prescription worked like magic. It gave me hope, the antidote to despair. The weight in my stomach floated away. Beginning that very night, I slept. Every day, I spent some minutes reviewing my past and present with a keener, bolder, more objective eye.

One day, having remembered I hadn’t responded to Charlie’s letter, I reread it and found that the book he recommended was the very same book that had turned me around.

Some months later, the author lectured at a church not two miles from my home. My cousin was a member the church and had confessed she’d prayed that God would lure me there. Though in those days I avoided churches, I attended the lecture. Once again, Dr. Peck cured me, this time of a severe church-phobia.

His topic was the stages of emotional/spiritual development. As I recall, he laid out our spiritual growth as follows:

1. We begin as infants with pure narcissism. All we care about is fulfilling our needs.

2. Then experience teaches us that to get what we want, we need to fulfill certain expectations, act in certain ways, so we enter a stage of more or less enlightened narcissism.

3. The third stage involves an awareness of our utter selfishness (our sin nature, in Christian lingo). We recognize (either vaguely or acutely) that even what we think of as love is mostly based upon selfish motives. We begin to suspect that selfish people (like us) are a danger to themselves and others. Now conscience or something may lead us to seek out a creed or an authority, a dogma that will hold our base natures in check.

4. Some of us reach stage four when we begin to develop a portion of faith in our ability to rise above our selfish natures. We may become willing to strike out on our own without external restraint.

5. And some blessed folks enter the fifth stage. Though they have conquered the fear of their selfishness, they still feel a call to reach for a greater awareness and gratitude, to live in beauty, in a light the mundane world can’t provide.

As you may have conjectured, church congregations are largely composed of folks in stage 3 and stage 5.

Dr. Peck maintained that his motive as a psychologist was to help his patients move from whatever stage they find themselves in to the next stage. He didn’t believe he could save people or change them from beasts to angels. But he could help them take the next step upward.

I suspect that a precious few adults live squarely and consistently at one or another of those levels. Still, I’ll suggest that as writers we ought to join Dr. Peck in the effort to help our readers grow a little; if not a whole step, at least a shuffle in the right direction.

Who Would Jesus Vote For?

Selections from his SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

Beatitudes

He said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Murder

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Eye for Eye

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Forgiveness

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Treasures in Heaven

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Do Not Worry

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Judging Others

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

True and False Prophets

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

True and False Disciples

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

The Wise and Foolish Builders

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Losing Faith?

A dear troubled friend recently told me she lost her faith.

Although I understand what she means, I don’t believe her statement. In the world I see, nobody loses his or her faith. If faith goes, it’s because a person gives it away.

To avoid semantic arguments, I’ll give my definition of faith: belief in and trust in something or someone. Since my friend was referring to spiritual faith, specifically faith in the Christian God, I will address that in particular.

Her father was a Methodist minister. He taught that if we do right, God will bless us here on earth. He wasn’t an advocate of what folks call prosperity gospel. Still, he proposed that if we are good, work hard and help others, our lives will be rewarded in material ways. So my friend grew up expecting that the degrees and honors she earned would lead to a satisfying and secure teaching job, and later that her attention to diet and exercise was bound to lead to excellent physical and emotional health. And so on.

Her expectations haven’t always been met. Neither were her father’s, by the way. So, either God is at fault or doesn’t exist, right?

Sure, an easy answer is: maybe her expectations were in some way misguided. I’ll buy that. But let’s dig a bit deeper.

I grew up with two parents who didn’t abide by any particular religion, a grandma who professed to be a Christian Scientist but paid little attention to the creed, and another Christian Scientist grandma, this one very devout, who was in my estimation an angry and demented person (The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles exposes my feelings about her). Anyway, with the exception of a mild dose of fear, I grew up having no use for religion.

But my mind changed (see Reading Brother Lawrence). And at a Billy Graham crusade, I made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe my friend’s and my different backgrounds give clues to decoding why she feels faith can be lost while I maintain it can only be given away. Her faith was given to her, and given in a package with expectations. My faith was chosen, and not blindly as I had experienced enough of what else the world had to offer to make a reasonable decision that what faith in Christ offered appeared far better than living in any other way. I stepped over a border into another mysterious world about which I held no real expectations.

I’m not proposing that teaching our children about God is wrong, only that we should be careful what expectations we give them, and that we should allow and even encourage them to make their own decisions.