Cross Road Blues

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” Jeremiah 6:16 NIV

The legend goes that Robert Johnson was a mediocre blues artist at best, with modest guitar skills. That is, until he went down to the crossroads and there met the devil, with whom he made a deal: his soul for music fame. Within a few years he would be dead, at the young age of 27; but after death, he would gain that fame as one of the greatest blues artists and guitarists that ever played.

I don’t believe this story, but more on that a little later. The point is that we have moments of decision in our lives, many of them, in fact – some small, some big, but all changing our course for better or for worse. Some of these decisions are momentous, for example, selling your soul to the devil! Others seem trivial, such as “Hmmm, should I have cereal or eggs this morning for breakfast?” It is these smaller ones I would like to focus on for now.

Years ago, I attended an outdoor Bluegrass concert while stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. I have mentioned this in a previous post, but it is worth mentioning here, because a seemingly small decision on my part would eventually have a life changing impact.

My friend and I had driven to the concert, which was in a clearing in a wooded area. We arrived and parked in a nearby field, which had been set aside for that purpose. Upon exiting the car, a long haired, bearded individual in cutoffs approached us and offered my friend a small book. My friend said “No thanks,” but when he offered it to me, I said “Sure,” took the book, stuffed it into my back pocket, said “Thank you,” and moved on. As I grabbed it though, I glanced at the title. It read “The Gospel of John.”

Months later I was sitting in my apartment in Fayetteville. I turned and looked at the lamp table beside me and there it was, “The Gospel of John.” To this day, I don’t know how it got there, although I do have my suspicions. I picked it up and read the first few lines, and something told me, this is truth! I relate the full story in my post I Did It… My Way?, if you wish to know more; but suffice to say, accepting that booklet changed my life forever

We often don’t know the impact of our decisions when we make them; in fact, for most of us, our lives tend to be filled with them, both big and small. We barely give the small ones any thought at the time, each one taking us in one direction or another, each one offering us a choice, and maybe more importantly, each one resulting from some previous decision. Self or other, love or hate, G-d or the devil, each decision leading to the next and to the next.

The question is, which path is the right path? How do we know? I could say, well just have faith, and take the one that seems the best. Ok, you might respond, but is it really that simple? We are not made in such a manner that we can just “have faith” and pick the way that “seems the best”; we require some criteria, right? Which way is “the best?”

I have found this to be true, that G-d does not simply say have faith, and then leave us guessing. Even in Eden, He told our first parents: don’t eat from that tree “for you will certainly die.” He gave them a reason!

So what reason or reasons does G-d give us to choose one road over the other? Some of that is dependent on the nature of the particular crossroads at which we are standing. But there is one criteria for choosing that applies to all, when appropriate. Jesus said it best in Mathew 7:13-14:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

This is laid out in Jeremiah. The Lord says “Ask where the good way is and walk in it,” and those who heard said “We will not walk in it.” All they had to do was ask and G-d would have shown them the good path, the path to life, but it was also the narrow road. Was this the reason they rejected G-d’s plea? Because few were traveling that path, while many were going in another direction, the path they also chose to take?

The thing is, it’s easy to take the wide, well-traveled path. After all, could all of these people be wrong? It is an easy decision! One of the nick-names my father gave me when I was young was “Hard Way Bill.” It was his contention that if there were two ways to do something, I would inevitably choose the harder way. I think there is some truth to that, even to this day, and why that is, I am not exactly certain.

I think it is just my nature to be that way. I am not saying that it is good or bad, and I am not necessarily recommending it to anyone. All I can say is that it has worked for me. I certainly can’t say that it has always prompted me to take the narrow path; it has not. Fortunately, if you belong to Him, He will always get you back to that path. One thing I will say about it, I do believe that I learned much by taking the harder route.

So why do I think that Robert Johnson did not make a deal with the devil? As I mentioned above, it was only after his death that he achieved fame. What kind of a deal is that? Now, you can say that the devil is a trickster, and you would be correct, but also listen to the lyrics to his song. He sings,

“I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above ‘Have mercy, now save poor Bob, if you please'”

This doesn’t sound like a man making a deal with the devil. He is on his knees asking G-d for mercy. In fact, if you listen to the whole song, it could be the Sunday sermon at the local church! What do you think?

We don’t really know specifically what the decision is that the storyteller is faced with in the song. That it is a moment of desperation for him is clear. He is trying to leave, but no one will give him a ride. Why? Because he is a stranger, no one seems to know him.. So he is stuck at the crossroad and the “risin’ sun goin’ down”.

He stands there, repeatedly, maybe frantically, looking East and West and lamenting “Lord, I didn’t have no sweet woman, ooh well, babe, in my distress.” No one to give him a ride; no one to give him comfort.

Finally the song ends with the singer apparently meeting someone, and he tells that person to run and tell his friend Willie Brown that “…I’m standing at the cross road babe, I believe I’m sinkin’ down.”

Some, those who believe the devil story, say that the song describes Johnson after his encounter with the devil. A man, terrified, seeking comfort, consolation, and forgiveness, salvation even, but there seems to be none. Since I don’t believe the devil story, I think that it is just a very good song that describes a man in a common situation – one in which there appears to be no way out, no forgiveness, no comfort; a situation probably of his own making.

So what does explain Johnson’s transformation into a truly great musician? The story, from those who knew him best, is much more mundane than the one related above. Johnson met and became friends with a well-known and great blues guitarist named Ike Zimmerman. Zimmerman agreed to provide Johnson with lessons. In fact, Johnson was there so much, playing and practicing with Zimmerman, probably for a period of several years, that Zimmerman’s young daughter at the time later related that she thought that Johnson was her brother and even asked her father if this was so! Ok, yes, the other story is much more interesting, which is probably why it has survived for so long, but this may have a better lesson concerning the rewards of practice and hard work.

Johnson isn’t the only artist that has written about the crossroads. Robert Frost comes to mind, with his poem “The Road Not Taken.”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

On the surface, it would seem the writer is recommending one should take the less travelled road. I have to admit that this is what I thought when I initially read it, as I think many others have. But if he is, it is only obliquely, and that is not the point of the poem. The teller of the tale is faced with a dilemma. He can take one of two paths, and he is searching for clues as too which is the better path to travel.

They both look pretty much the same to him. He thinks he sees a difference in that one road is grassier and therefore less traveled, than the other. But then, in the next verse he says “…the passing there had worn them both about the same.” Our traveler is looking for something, anything, to help him in his choice and finally decides to take what he has convinced himself is the less traveled road.

We don’t really know why the writer took this path, why being less travelled, at least in the writer’s mind, made this path more attractive. Perhaps it was a sense of adventure, or perhaps he had heard that this is what one should do. Regardless, he consoles himself with his decision by telling himself that on another day, he may come back and take the other path, but at the same time understands that given the vagaries of life, he would likely never have that opportunity.

The poem ends with the writer speaking of some time in the distant future when he will be relating to others the story of his moment of decision. He will say, with a sigh, “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” With a sigh? Does he really believe this is what made “…all the difference?” And what is the difference? How could he know, since he didn’t take the other path, which looked much like the one he took? Finally, let’s not forget, the name of the poem is not “The Road Less Traveled,” it is the “The Road Not Taken.” Some regret, perhaps?

Often when we have to make a decision, we search for reasons to go one way or the other. If no reason is forthcoming, we still may grasp at something, anything, to help us make up our minds. In this story, the writer finally concludes that he sees that the one path is less traveled than the other, even though he seems to suspect that it really is not, but he takes it anyway.

Why? Perhaps he had a distant memory of Sunday School and the story of Jesus admonishing us not to take the well traveled path. So, he grasps at the perception that the one path is a little grassier than the other, and despite the solid contradictory evidence indicating otherwise, takes that path. He seems to know that he is fooling himself, because he says at the time, that in the future he will relate with a sigh, and perhaps some regret, that taking the less traveled path made all the difference.

When we are at a crossroad, how do we make a decision? Do we vainly search for minute clues? Do we frantically look up and down the alternate paths, paralyzed by fear? Do we invent reasons? Or do we ask G-d for guidance? If we do the latter, we have G-d’s assurance that he will provide us with that guidance. If we don’t, we will often remain paralyzed with fear, or make an uncertain choice, for which we may later have regrets, always playing “What if…”.

And even though it may be true that most of our decisions are not between a narrow path and a wide path, remember that when G-d does guide us down the less traveled, narrow path with the narrow gate, though it may be much harder to navigate and it may not have the comfort of a crowd to accompany us and assure us of the rightness of our choice, it is always the right path to take.

The Knowledge of Good and Evil

“And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:16-17 NIV

The word “genesis” literally means “origin.” The Book of Genesis is exactly that: a book about the origin of all things. The story of Adam and Eve, which explains the origins of man’s fallen condition, is familiar to people of every faith. In the center of the garden in which G-d had placed man there stood two trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. G-d told the man that he could eat from any tree in the garden, except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If man were to eat from that tree, then G-d said “…you will certainly die.”

Now the understanding is that if man were to eat of the Tree of Life, he would gain eternal life, so the choice was literally between life or death. Of course we know that along came the serpent, the craftiest of creatures, and he told the man a different story. In fact, he directly contradicted G-d and told them, “You will certainly not die.” Man, in an astounding demonstration of misplaced faith, believed the serpent instead of G-d, and ate the fruit of the forbidden tree.

The rest, as they say, is history. One of the things I am most curious about is, why was the knowledge of good and evil forbidden to man? It seems that this would be something that could come in handy. Maybe if they had known good from evil, they would not have disobeyed G-d, and we all would still be living in paradise! Another question that comes to mind is, why was the penalty death? Surely this is a little drastic for simply eating from a fruit tree, especially for a first offense!

I believe that there are some pretty big clues in the story that explain this. The first is that G-d had placed man in paradise, where all of his needs were provided for. To be sure, man was given a job. Actually, he was given a couple of jobs. His first job was to name the animals, and his second was to tend to the garden. One thing this demonstrates is that even in paradise, there is work to do. This also tells me that anyone who thinks heaven will be akin to an eternal retirement home is in for a rude awakening.

The other big clue is that, if man had eaten of the Tree of Life, he would have gained eternal life, but eternal life apparently without the knowledge of good and evil. On the surface, this does not seem to make sense. After all, how would man judge the worthiness of his own words and actions, and that of others, without the knowledge of good and evil?

Finally, maybe the biggest clue of all is that at the root of man’s disobedience was a lack of faith in G-d and in His Word. Adam and Eve readily believed the serpent over G-d! They then acted on this misplaced faith in brazen disobedience to G-d’s command!

Where do we begin to unravel these mysteries? Perhaps the best place to start is with G-d and man’s initial relationship. As previously mentioned, G-d created man and placed him in a paradisaical garden. Here he provided for all of man’s needs. In addition, He entrusted man with dominion over the whole Earth and everything in it. G-d was a loving Father to man, whom He treated as a beloved son.

For man’s part, it was his responsibility to tend to the garden and, most importantly, to obey G-d. In other words, to be a loving and obedient son. G-d walked with man in the garden and man had communion with Him. It is important to note that in this relationship, man was completely dependent on G-d.

This, I believe, is the key to the mystery. If man was dependent on G-d for all things, and man was expected to be obedient to G-d, why would man, independent of G-d, require the knowledge of good and evil? I think it is clear that man did not require this knowledge, given his dependent status.

This doesn’t quite answer the question though, because it does not (yet) explain why this knowledge was forbidden to man. It is one thing to say that one doesn’t need something, and another to say that one can not have it.

We have to consider here what the serpent said to Adam and Eve after he told them they would not die. In essence, the serpent said that G-d was jealous because He knew that if they ate of the tree, they would become like Him, knowing good from evil. Man, according to the serpent, would no longer be dependent on G-d, but could act independently, just as G-d acted independently.

There are a couple of things wrong at this point in the narrative. Yes, man now had the knowledge of good and evil like G-d, but the problem is with that knowledge comes the responsibility to follow, or obey, the good, and reject the evil. Was man equipped to do this? Well, we just said that man was created to be dependent on G-d for everything, so the answer is no, man has no independent intrinsic or inherent capacity to follow the good and reject evil.

Paul himself testifies to this in Romans when he said, “I have discovered this principle at work, Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”

So this is the dilemma: man has been “blessed” with the knowledge of good and evil, but because he is cut off from communion with G-d, his source of strength, he is cursed with the inability to follow the good and reject the evil. Here is where man’s sense of guilt, shame, and fear come from. He now has a conscience which condemns him, for he recognizes that he has done evil by disobeying G-d, and he also recognizes that he has no way of correcting the problem, try as he might. What is his solution? Hide!

He tries to hide from G-d. Man also realizes his nakedness, his inability to conceal what he has done, but he tries to cover his guilt and vulnerability with leaves, both for him and his wife. When G-d catches up with them and questions them, the first thing the man does is blame Eve, “The woman you gave me…”, and indirectly G-d, for his disobedience. The woman, not willing to accept responsibility for her part, blames the serpent.

After G-d pronounces judgement on the three of them, He then makes garments from animal skins for the man and the woman, indicating that only He could deal with man’s sin, and not without the shedding of blood. This also shows G-d’s continued love for man, even though he has rebelled against Him and turned dominion of the Earth and evrything in it over to the serpent.

I think we can start to see from this story why the penalty for man’s disobediance is death. Man’s spiritual communion with G-d is broken and man can no longer gain guidance, support, and wisdom from that communion. Man has essentially died spiritually already. He is also in a state of denial over his transgression, blaming everyone but himself for his plight. He knows in his heart that he is guilty, but he doesn’t accept responsibility for it.

We can start to see it here, but it isn’t until we look at the course of history, and see what man has done to himself and others, that it is clear that man had to sufffer physical death. Imagine if man had partaken of the Tree of Life in his fallen state and become immortal. There would be no end to the evil that men could do, the pain he could inflict, and what he would become. I am reminded here of a dark comedy, “Death Becomes Her”. It shows in a very funny, but effective, way one possible outcome of human beings given immortality in their fallen state. If you have never seen the movie, check out the trailer at the end of the post.

This could have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t. G-d, when pronouncing judgement on the man, the woman, and the serpent, also made a promise. He said that through the woman, someone would be born who, although injured by the serpent, would in the end crush the serpent’s head. Isn’t it interesting? Through the woman, with the man’s agreement and cooperation, the serpent would lure man into rebellion; and through the woman, a man would come who would slay the serpent, thus restoring man to his rightful place as the crown of creation and ruler of this world.

So what relevance does this story have for us today? How can it help us fulfill our G-d ordained destiny as monarchs? Like pretty much all Bible stories, the story of The Fall is a story of faith. Man’s problem wasn’t that he had no faith, it was that he put it in the wrong place. Had he put his faith in G-d, he would have believed G-d and obeyed G-d. Instead, he put his faith in the serpent.

Someone, I forget who, said that there is a G-d shaped hole in all of us, and this is the source of our problems. He went on to say that we are constantly trying to fill that void, that emptiness with something. These are the things we put our faith in: money, sex, drugs, government, other people, ourselves… What we too often don’t try to fill it with is the original occupant before The Fall: our Creator, our Father, our G-d.

It might be a good question to ask the next time disappointment strikes, when we don’t get that thing we strived for so mightily; that thing that was going to make our life just all right and complete. Where were you, and where are you, putting your faith?

As a Little Child

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Jesus invited a little child to stand among them. “Truly I tell you,” He said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:1-4 NIV

When we look at the world around us, it appears to be a world made for adults, but is it? What are adults, after all, but grown children? In a sense, our entire lives on this planet are just one long extended childhood.

As “adults”, we never stop learning, and we never stop growing and maturing, if we are living right. We still have our toys, they are just a little more sophisticated and a lot more expensive, and we love our games to the very end. Part of our problem as adults, I think, is that we forget this, that we are just grown children. We don’t forget entirely, though.

After all, no matter how old we are, we continue to refer to ourselves as boys and girls, within proper context of course. For example, we still say things like “boys night out” and “girls night out.” At a party some time back, the men had gravitated to one area, and the women to another. Someone quipped, “Oh look, girls on one side and boys on the other, just like middle school.” We all laughed. No one was offended, but nobody moved, either. We know we are just big kids, even if we don’t consciously acknowledge it.

Now of course we must mature, take on responsibility, learn to take care of ourselves and others. We could not survive without learning these things. Unfortunately, in learning these things, we tend to lose the things that should not change. Our innocence, for example, is often the first thing to go. Curiosity we also tend to lose fairly early on. And then there is humility.

Humility is the one quality of a child that Jesus specifically mentions without which we cannot inherit the kingdom of G-d, and the greater that humility, the higher our rank in that kingdom! This makes perfect sense, because without humility we cannot change, we cannot grow, we cannot learn. Why? Because without humility, we cannot recognize and admit, to ourselves, to others, and to G-d, our need to change, grow and learn; we cannot admit our deficiencies.

To get back to my original premise, the world, I contend, is a place made for children. But to what purpose? The Apostle John provides a clue in his first letter:

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2

This reminds me of a common quote, attributed to “unknown”: “The caterpillar knows nothing of the butterfly.” According to John, we are becoming something, but we don’t quite know what. We will be like Jesus, we are told. But, according to scripture, He was dead and is resurrected. So what, exactly, is that?

Well, if John says we don’t really know yet, then I am not going to speculate. In that respect, though, we are like the caterpillar, but different in one way. Unlike the caterpillar, we know we are becoming something else; like the caterpillar, we just don’t know what. As Paul says “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

So, what are we now? According to John, we are children, but children of G-d. If that is the case, then why don’t we act like His children? Let’s face it, even some of the most fervent and faith-filled believers in G-d often do not act like they are His children. Why is that?

Before we can answer that, we should consider what exactly is expected of us, as children of G-d. Consider Mathew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” What?!?!?! I can be pretty good, but perfect? Like G-d is perfect?

As children of G-d, this puts us in a difficult spot. My earthly father was a perfectionist, of which I inherited some of that, but he was not perfect. And I’m right there with him. I inherited these things, these imperfections, from him. But if G-d is our heavenly Father, then why didn’t we inherit His perfection from Him?

The short answer is, we did! We inherit His perfection when we put our faith in Him. But we are still children and, as children, we are still learning about that perfection that is within us.

The problem is, perfection is not something we can directly achieve, or even understand through some effort. We cannot reason ourselves to perfection; we cannot exercise ourselves to perfection; we cannot meditate ourselves to perfection. Perfection is first something that we inherit. But then it must be realized in our lives, and to do that we must recognize it.

The time is coming when we will see that perfection, face to face. When that happens, we will recognize it, and when we recognize it, we will realize it and be perfect, as our Father is perfect. But the key is, we must recognize it.

It seems to me then that, until that time comes, our job is to learn to recognize that perfection here in this life, in ourselves, in others, in all of G-d’s creation. I say in this life because, as explained above, we cannot see yet the perfection of the next life. It is incomprehensible to us.

Now one might say that without a clearly defined picture of what that perfection looks like, we cannot learn to recognize it. To that I would say, well, we do have a picture, a person, actually, that many believe did live that perfection in this life. Do I need to mention His name? And remember, “G-d is love”, a big clue as to what perfection is, in this life, and the next.

The point of all this is that we are children, and as children we often fail to live up to the standard that G-d has set for us. I don’t want to say that because we are children, then this is OK. It is not OK. But our failure is understood and, most importantly, it is forgiven. Because we who have faith in Him are G-d’s children, we are forgiven.

I should take great comfort in this when I fail. Sometimes I do, but often I don’t. I tend to beat myself up a lot. I am getting better at not doing this, but far too often I still get angry at myself, and I get down on myself. I suspect that I am not the only one who does this.

If you are also this way, try doing what I do. Remember you are still a child, and you are still learning. Most of all, as a child of G-d, remember you are forgiven. You are forgiven. Knowing, believing, and acting on this makes all the difference, in this world and the next.

Children of My Youth

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.” Psalm 127:3-5 NIV

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to marry and have children.  I am not going to try and explain this, but it is true.  Sure, there was a time – briefly, during my very cynical teen years – when I thought that bringing children into this terrible world was not a good idea, but it passed fairly quickly.

When I look back on the times that I grew up in – the fifties and sixties – I could wonder why anyone would decide to have children. In grade school, we had periodic nuclear attack drills. We were taken to the school basement, lined along the wall, and taught to sit on the floor with our knees up and our head between our legs, just in case someone decided to drop the big one on our little town in New Jersey. Walking to and from school, we were taught to identify the signs posted to indicate a nuclear shelter in case the attack sirens went off on the way.

Then, of course, there was the war in Viet Nam, the draft, and the sometimes violent protests against it. There was the Civil Rights movement – a non-violent movement that had deadly violence perpetuated against it on a regular basis. There was Jim Crow and there were race riots, there were escalating crime rates, the breakdown of societal institutions, and the abandonment of accepted mores and conventions.

We did not have global warming then, but scientists did warn us of global cooling. They assured us that it would not be long before the earth would be just a giant frozen snowball, silently circling a dimming, dying sun. Fortunately this hasn’t come to pass, yet.

I suppose these things bothered me as much as anyone else, as did certain aspects of my personal life growing up. So what happened? What was the source of my optimism in the face of what I just described?

I grew up in a small town with good schools and committed teachers. I loved my First Grade teacher and she took a liking to me for some reason, even though I could be, errr, well, difficult at times. She was a “shore” person, and she had us draw pictures of shells and the beach and ocean, and she would hang them up around the classroom. She had her own collection of real shells in the classroom. We learned all about the shore: the birds, the fish, and the shells.

When we were old enough, my parents enrolled my brother and me in the Cub Scouts. There were pack meetings and troop meetings, merit badges, talent shows, and one year we went to the New York World’s Fair. My favorite, though, was the Soap Box Derby.

We were each given a small block of wood, four wheels with axles, and not much else. We had to shape the wood into a mini race car and then, on the scheduled day, we would “race” the cars on a gravity track in the church basement where we met. Mine never won, but I loved carving and painting my car and, for a long time, I wanted to be a race car driver.

And then there was Little League, bitter sweet Little League. I enjoyed playing sports, but as a young child I was not very good. When I was older I was actually a decent player in most sports, but not as a young child. My first year at the age of seven, I was cut. Yes, not everyone made a team and, in those days, you had to try out. Even if selected, you could still be cut before the season started.

The next year they decided not to cut anyone, but they created the “D” Minors: the league where they put all the kids who would have been cut the previous year. I made the “D” Minors. I would have none of it.

Finally, on my third tryout, I made the A Minors. Ok, it wasn’t the Majors, but we got real baseball uniforms, and we got to play on the Major League field with the fence around it. Not too shabby, and I had a great coach. He was an older man whose youngest son was in his last year. The thing I remember about him the most was his kindness. You could tell he really cared about the kids, not just his own. He just wanted to teach us baseball.

The world, of course, is still a mess; some would say getting even messier. I think, though, it is an odd sort of conceit of every generation that things were never as bad as they are now. Or maybe not a conceit, but an excuse?

Anyway, back to the story. The first hurdle was finding a woman with which to have children. Duh! This search was made more difficult by the fact that I had a fairly low opinion of myself and was generally shy around females. So, while in the back of my mind was this desire to marry, in my conscious mind I was more oriented around just “having fun.”

That is, until I hit my mid-twenties. I had served three years in the Army and, after getting out, began attending college on the GI Bill; I was doing pretty well. Not great, but pretty well. I started thinking hey, maybe I wasn’t such a bad “catch” after all. Maybe I did have something to offer a young lady besides a pretty face.

Right at this time, my future wife literally walked into my life. To make a long story shorter, we met, two months later were engaged, nine months after that were married, and ten months after that we had our first daughter. I say our first because, after that, we would have two more. Daughters.

I think one of the problems of our culture is that we tend to place kids in the expense column rather than in the asset column. This seems perfectly reasonable, given how costly it is to raise children, but is this the most productive way to look at it in the long run?

Let me continue by first affirming that it is costly to properly raise children, but the biggest costs are not counted by money. By far the greatest cost is time: time spent supporting them, caring for them, playing with them; time spent teaching them, and the list goes on – and on.

The next greatest cost is emotional wear and tear. When your children hurt, you hurt; when your children cry, you cry; when they fail, your feelings of failure and inadequacy can often surpass theirs.

There are physical costs. Women can rightly bear claim to the greater costs here, but men also suffer physically from the hardships of raising children. Long hours; going days, weeks, even months with little sleep, eating less, and less healthy, so your children can eat more, and more healthy; physical, mental, and emotional exertion. All of these things can take a physical toll on both parents.

And then there are the financial costs. Money for food, for shelter, for doctors; money for education, money for weddings, money, money, money, money, money! Finally, when the last one finishes college, or gets married, or finishes college and gets married, you think at last, some financial freedom and flexibility! Well, that could be the subject of another post, so I’ll just say “Think again!” and leave it at that.

Had I known enough to count all of these costs before I had children, I may have had second thoughts. Thank G-d I didn’t, because what I found is that the rewards are much greater! But, what are the rewards?

Here, I could say that well, having children gives meaning and purpose to life, which is true. But G-d has many ways of giving meaning and purpose to our lives without children, so what makes children unique in this respect? Are they unique?

I believe they are. Unlike anything else in life, children are a reflection of their parents. As a writer, I recognize that my writing is a reflection of me, of who I am, of what I stand for and believe. How much more so, though, are children? Same blood and genetic makeup of the parents. The values they present to others are a reflection of the parent’s values that were instilled in them.

If your children make a good impression, that has value in this world. People feel that they can know you through your children. It is one thing to try to tell someone that you are trustworthy, for example. But if your children prove themselves to be trustworthy, well, as they say, the apple does not fall far from the tree. And it does have value.

As my wife and I raised our three daughters, I began to realize this, the value of children, but only slowly. It was not a sudden epiphany, “Aha, children have value”, but a slow realization over time. And the value isn’t always so obvious.

When my oldest daughter was ten, she decided she wanted to play rec league field hockey. This is great, I thought. Our town has a strong women’s sports tradition, being one of the first public schools in the country to offer girls field hockey as an extracurricular sport. My sister played both field hockey and lacrosse years ago in the high school. Yes, I encouraged, play field hockey!

This great idea started to turn on me at the end of the first season. My daughter came home from practice and told me that next year was her coaches last year, and he wanted me to come out and help coach. My daughter was a good player and her coach had seen me out at the games, and I had two younger daughters… sooo of course he thought, what better candidate was there than me to take over the team when he was gone.

Well, this was quite a bit more than I bargained for. I just wasn’t the type of person to do this: get out there with other people’s kids, coach a team, take that kind of risk of publicly humiliating myself. But I couldn’t look my daughter in the eyes and say no, so I made some vague commitment with the hope that, by next year, the whole thing would be forgotten.

Of course it wasn’t forgotten, and the next year I took some books out of the library and began to read up on field hockey. I helped coach that year, took over the team the following year, and ended up coaching eleven years in the rec league.

But it gets even better. My kids were good players, one thing led to another, and my wife and I started a tournament club team, taking our kids and their friends to local, regional, and national tournaments, even winning a National Field Hockey Festival championship!

In addition, our children had some musical and vocal talent, so we became involved in these areas, helping to start a local performing arts support group, an orchestra group, and more.

Now, my point here is not to brag about my kids, or about the things my wife and I did in the community in support of our kids, but it is to point out the value of children. I am definitely not a joiner. That first year coaching rec league I practically had to be dragged out to the field by my daughter, myself kicking and screaming (well, almost). It was just not in me to do those things!

So why did I do those things? The simple answer is love! I loved my children and, when it came to things that I knew were good for them, I just could not say no. And of course my spouse was, and is, a great motivator, if you know what I mean. “Hon, you have to coach the team. She’s so excited! She’ll be so disappointed if you don’t.”

So as my children grew, I also grew with them. I did things out of love for them that I otherwise would have never done. I became a better person for it, I think, and have had a very interesting and rewarding life that I otherwise never would have had.

I also realized why I wanted to have children all my life. I said earlier that I could not explain this, but I can, at least in part. I wanted to have children because I loved my children. Now, you might ask, how could I love my children even before I had them? That part I don’t really know, but I did, and do, love my children.

And now my grandchildren. Oh my, the grandchildren. Seems like I’ve always loved them too.

The Final Solution

then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.” Deuteronomy 30:3 NIV

January 27th marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp where it is estimated that 1.1 million people were executed by the Nazis during World War II.  About 90% of those executed were Jews….

Auschwitz was a network of concentration, extermination, and labor camps that the German Nazis built and operated in occupied Poland during World War II. Auschwitz I was originally established in 1940 to hold Polish political prisoners. The extermination of the prisoners there began in 1941. By early 1942, Auschwitz II was constructed as part of the Nazis’ “Final Solution”, their plan to exterminate all of the Jews of Europe, and ultimately the world. It is estimated that at least 1.1 million prisoners were executed at Auschwitz; about 90% of them were Jews. Later came Auschwitz III, a labor camp that supplied workers to an IG Farben factory. (Most of this information is from the Wikipedia article “Auschwitz Concentration Camp“)

When I was very young, probably in the range of 5-7 years old, I came across a set of books belonging to my father. They were a five or six volume set, entitled “A Pictorial History of the Second World War”.

As the name states, the books told the story of WW2, mostly with pictures.  Some of the pictures were relatively benign: pictures of troops in training; of USO gatherings where coffee and donuts were served, or perhaps a USO sponsored dance; and pictures of Women’s Army Corp (WAC) members dealing with the rigors of life in the field.

Other pictures, though, were taken during battles, of land, sea, and air, and showed up-close ground combat, aerial dogfights, and tremendous naval engagements.  As I viewed these pictures, my young heart and mind were awed and made fearful at the same time.  What would I have done, if I had been there?  Would I have been afraid?  Would I have been brave?  Would I have come home?

Still other pictures depicted the aftermath of these battles;  burned out tanks and sinking ships, the wreckage of planes, the desolation in the wake of the atomic bombs, the fire-bombing of Dresden, and of course, the wounded, the dying, and the dead.

One day, as I paged through a volume, I came across pictures that I had difficulty understanding.  They were the pictures of the liberated concentration camps.  War, to a degree, I understood, even at that age.  There were two sides; they disagreed, they fought, killed, and died, for what they believed in.  But the concentration camps were another matter.

At first, I wasn’t even sure of what I was looking at: emaciated survivors with hollowed eyes, crematoriums with half burnt bodies, bodies piled eight feet high awaiting burning or burial, mass open graves with bodies tossed in helter-skelter, where, incredibly, the Nazis had tried to hide their atrocities before the Allied troops arrived, but were forced to flee ahead of the advancing armies before their work was done; and, finally the “showers” themselves, into which the victims, mostly Jews, were herded; and where they were gassed.

This was, to my young mind, incomprehensible.  Why had this been done?  What had these people done to deserve this?  What could anyone possibly do to deserve this?  And who were they, the victims of these crimes?

I went to my parents with my questions about the “war” books, and they were a little upset with me that I had been in their room by myself, something I was not supposed to do. But much more than that, they were horrified that I had been exposed to these things at my young age.  They made an attempt to explain to me what I had seen, but how do you explain such things to someone so young?  How do you explain them to anyone, really?

You can’t, except maybe to simply say that the German Nazis were bad people and, for some reason, they hated the Jewish people.  The bottom line though, was that I was absolutely forbidden to look at the books anymore, and in fact I did not until many years later.

But I never forgot them, and the impression they made.  Over the years I got answers to my questions, but the answers only raised more questions.  For example, to say that the German Nazis considered themselves the “Master Race”, and Jews (and just about everyone else) as inferior; that they were trying to “purify” their nation and their culture, explains nothing.  It is delusional and insane.

A modern, “civilized” nation, one of the most modern and most civilized, put people in charge that not only held these deranged ideas, but believed them to the point that the they would methodically and systematically go about the task of murdering a people with the same detachment and business-like efficiency of a successful sausage maker.

Of course, though the holocaust may be the worst example, persecution of the Jews did not begin with the Nazis.  We should not forget that Israel was born a nation of slaves in Egypt.  The Pharaoh tried to wipe them out when they left Egypt.  Later, the Assyrians defeated the ten northern tribes of Israel, and scattered them to only G-d knows where – and He does.

When the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin were in exile in Babylon, another villain whose name begins with an H, Haman, plotted to induce King Xerxes to destroy them, only to end up plotting his own ignominious execution.  In more recent times, the sorrowful, shameful history of most of the nations of Europe, and their relationship with the Jewish people, led up to the holocaust and made it possible.

And of course, unfortunately, the persecution of Israel did not stop with the German Nazis, either.  The day in 1948 when, for the first time in almost 1900 years, Israel once again became a nation, the neighboring countries tried to drive them into the sea, and out of existence.  This is still the desire of many, to this day.

The most amazing thing, though, about this story of attempted genocides and persecution isn’t that it happened, but that the people of Israel not only survived, but have prospered.  This is where the story gets really interesting because all of this was predicted thousands of years ago.

The prophets of the Torah predicted, starting with Moses, that the people of Israel would be scattered and persecuted.  They predicted the people would lose their land and reside in the land of strangers, even those hostile to them; but, they also predicted Israel’s restoration and ultimate vindication

The Christian scriptures, which also had Jewish writers, followed in this tradition and spoke of these things.  Jesus Himself spoke of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple, and the Book of Revelation describes Israel’s restoration in the end times.

What does all of this have to do with explaining the Holocaust?

I am reminded here of the story of Job.  In the beginning of the Book of Job, we find G-d holding court, and in comes Satan from “roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it”. (Job 1:7 NIV)

G-d asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless–a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil”. (Job 1:8 NIV)

Satan replied that, of course Job fears G-d – G-d has protected Job and made him wealthy, but if G-d took everything that Job had, he would curse G-d. G-d then gave Satan permission to take everything from Job, except his health. (Job 1:9-12 NIV).

Satan left G-d’s presence and attacked Job, taking or destroying all of his possessions, and even killing his children, but Job did not curse G-d. (Job 1:13-22 NIV)

Later, G-d was once again holding court and Satan was there.  G-d pointed out to Satan that even though Satan had challenged G-d into allowing him to attack Job, Job did not curse G-d.  Satan responded that Job still had his health, and if G-d allowed him to take Job’s health from him, then surely Job would curse G-d.  G-d then gave him permission to take even Job’s health from him, but not his life.  (Job 2:1-6 NIV)

Satan once again left G-d’s presence, and afflicted Job with terrible, painful sores all over his body.  He was in such torment, even his wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9 NIV)  But Job refused to do so, and in the end, Job’s fortunes were restored and he was given many children. (Job 42:12-17 NIV)

In my narration, I have skipped many chapters, in most of which three of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, try to convince Job that he must have done something wrong for G-d to allow him to be treated this way.  Job protests his innocence, and at times, questions God’s justice, because He allows the wicked to prosper and the righteous to suffer.

Job’s friends, while they say many true things about G-d,  persist, and even accuse Job of self-righteousness.  This is of course wrong, as G-d Himself said at the beginning of the story that Job was righteous in all his ways; and besides, innocent people suffer all the time in this world, a point which Job’s friends seemed to have missed.

One more of Job’s friends speaks up, Elihu, but instead of claiming that Job must have sinned in some way in order to suffer, he addresses Job’s attitude in the present.  He asserts G-d’s essential righteousness and tells Job that G-d cannot treat anyone wrongly.  He addresses Job’s complaints against G-d, and provides answers to those complaints, but unlike Job’s other friends, he never does accuse Job of unrighteousness.

Finally, G-d speaks up, but rather than try to explain Himself, He challenges Job with a series of questions; just as Job had questioned and challenged Him. Of course, Job is completely unable to answer G-d’s questions but, through these questions, G-d demonstrates to Job His omnipotence and His sovereignty, and Job realizes his folly for questioning G-d, and repents.  When G-d is done speaking to him, Job responds:

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’

My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.

Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:2-6

But G-d did one more very important thing besides question Job, He fully vindicated him.  He told the three friends who had accused Job of unrighteousness that they had done wrong; that hey needed to make the appropriate sacrifices in the hope that Job would forgive and pray for them; so they would not be punished for their own folly.  Job of course prayed for his friends, and was rewarded with far more wealth than he had before.  He was given seven sons, and three daughters who were the most beautiful in all the land, and he saw his children’s children to the fourth generation. (Job 42:12-17)

There are many lessons that can be learned from the Book of Job, but one that stands out for me and is most relevant here is that, according to the scriptures, there is a war going on in the spiritual realm.  It is a war between good and evil, between G-d and Satan.  The war began when the angel Lucifer, the most beautiful and intelligent of G-d’s creation, let pride enter his heart and determined to make himself god in G-d’s place.  One of his strategies is to demonstrate that G-d is not sovereign, that He is a liar, and unfit to be G-d.

As part of this war, Satan enlisted man on his side through cleverness and deception.  G-d, out of love for man, developed a plan; His own strategy to win the war, and to win man back.  G-d could have made other choices, such as to simply destroy Satan and the angels that followed him, as well as man, and started over; but, what would that have proven? In a creation where G-d has given created beings the ability to choose, brute force solves nothing, and persuasion, diplomacy, and most important, love, are necessary.

Mankind, then, is both a combatant and a battlefield in this war.  Satan continues his deception and is constantly trying to create doubt in men’s and women’s hearts and minds about G-d.  G-d simply continues to show His love for them, and requires them only to have faith in Him and His plan.

The book of Job teaches many other lessons; one very important one is about our attitude towards those who suffer and how we should treat them.  Do we accuse them of sin and unrighteousness, or do we provide them with comfort?  Do we tell them that G-d is punishing them, or do we assure them that G-d loves them and cares for them?

Our answers to those questions could very well determine whose side we are on in this great, millenniums long war that we are in.

Revised and republished January 2023.


He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV

I watched as the Monarch butterfly flitted from leaf to leaf, laying its eggs on my milkweed plants.  She started in the garden on the side of my yard and made her way to the garden in the back corner, dropping off her precious cargo on the underside of the milkweed leaves.

It was early September and it occurred to me that the eggs she was dropping here would become the generation in October that would make their way south, probably to Mexico, where they would overwinter, only to start the journey back north in the spring.  This process occurs over the course of four or five generations each year.

The first generation, that makes their way south for the winter, head north to the southern U.S. in the spring where they lay their eggs and then die.  This second generation make their way further north where the same thing happens.  This occurs once or twice again until the third or fourth generation.

It was this generation to which the butterfly that I was watching belonged.  Most Monarchs live only two to six weeks, enough time to ensure the next generation.  This butterfly was no exception, but it was the eggs she was laying that would become the generation that would migrate, often thousands of miles, to their winter home in Mexico, and then begin the process all over again.

At this point it occurred to me that the butterfly I was observing would be dead in a few weeks, at the most, and this saddened me a bit; but it also, as has been my proclivity since childhood, caused me to question what the purpose of all this was.  Fly north, lay eggs, and die; fly north, lay eggs, and die; … fly south, overwinter in Mexico, fly north, lay eggs, and die… and I started asking questions, personal ones, about this particular butterfly.

First, what did she think of all this?  How did she feel about it?  As I watched, she seemed happy in her work, going from leaf to leaf laying her eggs.  Did she know that she would soon be gone?  If she did, she did not show it.  But of course here I am projecting my own insecurities and fears on her.  She was just busily fulfilling the task that G-d had given her.  Maybe I should be more like her.

In my blog post Faith, and What’s Important, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of our existence was to love and be loved.  To love G-d, and our fellow man, and to be loved in return.  We express this love by serving G-d, and we serve G-d by serving each other.

Sounds good, for people – but what about the butterfly?  I think there is no question that G-d loves the butterfly; after all, G-d is love and He created the butterfly. But does the butterfly love G-d?  Does the butterfly love its fellow butterflies, and if so, how does it express its love?

I think we may be able to answer these questions by exploring a few more of the facts about butterflies, in particular the Monarch.  As mentioned previously, the Monarch is a migratory insect.  In fact, it is one of the furthest migrating insects known, and certainly the furthest migrating butterfly, up to thousands of miles.

Think about that: this fragile creature flying thousands of miles, surviving heat and cold, storm and wind, rain and drought, in order to ensure the next generation.  Pretty awesome, and certainly a service to its fellow Monarch butterflies.

So how else does the Monarch serve? Well, the Monarch is a pollinator, as it goes from flower to flower, feeding on the nectar.  This helps to perpetuate beautiful flowers and also provide food for animals and man.  Very useful!

The Monarch is also a beautiful creature, considered by many to be the most beautiful of butterflies.  Appreciating the Monarch’s beauty can make us feel good and bring us closer to creation.  This also is very useful!

But does any of this really get to the heart of the matter?  How does any of this further love and the cause of love?

Well, there is one more thing.  When you think these things, what does it do to you?  When you think of  how the Monarch flies thousands of miles and survives to ensure the next generation; when you think of its usefulness as a pollinator;  when you contemplate its vulnerability and beauty, what is its impact on you?

Does it make you wonder at G-d’s creation?  Does it bring you closer to Him? Do you appreciate G-d’s love more because of it?  Do you love Him more?

My answer to those questions is yes, yes, yes, and yes.  G-d uses this beautiful and delicate creature to inspire us in so many ways.  The Monarch’s migration, against the odds, teaches us that when we are fulfilling G-d’s purpose, anything is possible, any goal is achievable.  Despite our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, even our fragility, we can overcome and succeed.  As Paul said, “ That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10

The Monarch’s usefulness as a pollinator teaches us about the interconnected, interdependent complexities of life, but also about the importance and significance of even the seemingly most insignificant of jobs.  Without pollinators, the food chain would be broken, which would be a disaster for the planet.  Think about this the next time you start thinking that your work has no purpose, when you get discouraged.  No honest work is without meaning, purpose, and honor. Here I think of Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…”

And what about the Monarch’s beauty?  Certainly, the Monarch is pretty, flitting around in orange and black, but does that make it beautiful?  Or, is its appearance only what attracts our attention?  Does its true beauty lie deeper?  Of course it does.

The Monarch’s beauty is connected to all of the things we have just discussed.  Its happily fulfilling G-d’s purpose,  the faith and courage it displays by its travels, despite its vulnerability.  Its dedication to the continuance and preservation of life, not its own, but of future generations of butterflies, animals, and people.  “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” 1 Peter 3:3-4

So, does my little Monarch love G-d, and if so, how does she express that love?  The answer seems obvious to me: of course she does, and she does it in the same way that we do, when we are being more like her.  She loves G-d by fulfilling His purpose: loving and serving others.

Back to the Garden

After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24 NIV

As I have mentioned previously, I grew up during the 1960’s. It was a turbulent and often violent time. The war in Vietnam intensified throughout the decade, as did the Cold War with the Soviet Union and its allies. Peaceful protesters of the Civil Rights Movement were often attacked and sometimes killed. At Kent State University, protesters against the Vietnam War were shot at by the Ohio National Guard and four were killed. Accusations of police brutality, and the frustrations of years of Jim Crow, poverty, and second class citizenship for African-Americans led to race riots in virtually every major city in the country.

But the violence of the times helped to fuel various movements to counteract it. The peace movement sought to bring an end to the Vietnam War, and to all war. Related movements tried to bring about an end to nuclear proliferation. Coalitions of people of all races formed to oppose segregation and discrimination of all kinds. Some groups sought to spread the “sexual revolution” with slogans like “Make Love not War.”

One of the groups that comprised what became known at that time as “the counter-culture” was the hippie movement. The hippie movement was very popular and very influential within the youth community, despite the fact that the actual number of “full time” hippies was relatively small.

The reason for this popularity and appeal to the youth was simple. It offered a lifestyle that seemed to be liberating and free of responsibility. Drugs, particularly marijuana and LSD, were consumed in copious amounts. Sexual liberation and communal living were other hallmarks of the movement. Rejecting straight society, with its rules and “hangups” was de rigueur. A saying to come out of the movement, popularized by LSD advocate and guru Timothy Leary, was “turn on, tune in, and drop out.”

As mentioned above, communal living was a big part of the hippie philosophy. The idea behind communes was to create a perfect society within, but sealed off from the corrupted prevailing society, where individuals could pursue, unhindered by that corruption, their own course to enlightenment and perfection. In essence, create paradise and allow man’s better nature to prevail within it. The famous, or infamous (depending on your perspective) movie Easy Rider has a scene where the protagonists, two biker buddies played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, visit a hippie commune where the lifestyle described above is portrayed.

The idea, though, of transforming individuals by transforming society, was not just limited to the hippie movement, but gained widespread acceptance in society in general. Many people began dedicating themselves, through political activism mainly, but also other means, to transforming society to some idyllic, pre-fall Eden. This was, and still is, believed by many to be an achievable goal. A popular song at the time, Woodstock, captures this idea:

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere was a song and a celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bomber death planes
Riding shotgun in the sky,
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation

We are stardust, we are golden
We are caught in the devils bargain
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden

For the complete song, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young: C, S, N, & Y Woodstock

Or from the composer, Joni Mitchell: JM Woodstock

These attempts at regaining paradise have a long history in America and the world. They usually involve some form of socialism, and they have ultimately ended in failure. Why? I believe it is because they end up encouraging the worst aspects of human nature; selfishness, laziness, theft, envy, and more. A prominent example of this is Plymouth Colony.

The Pilgrims, like the Jamestown Colony before them, had agreed together to a communal, even socialist, style of living. Everything was held in common and food was kept in a common storehouse. The result? Some people worked, others did not, and there was theft of food, often from the crops in the field, even before it was fully ripe. Those who produced resented those who did not, food production was inadequate, and they almost starved to death, until they abandoned their “communal” lifestyle for one which allowed every man and woman to keep the fruits of their labor.  For a first hand account, see the first Governor, William Bradford’s diary, Of Plymouth Plantation.

There are other examples in American history of attempts to create some sort of paradise on earth, to go “back to the Garden,” so to speak; but of course these efforts did not start here. In a previous post, The Era of Big Government, I wrote about man’s attempts from the beginning of history to nullify the consequences of our first parents’ decision so many years ago by banding together in large numbers and unifying around certain principles and projects. The Tower of Babel being the first recorded effort.

These efforts continued throughout history, right up through the terrible Marxist and fascist movements of the twentieth century, to today’s efforts by many to enforce their political and religious views on the rest of us through violence, coercion, and conquest.

All of these efforts at regaining paradise, to this day, have one thing in common, and that is they have ended in abysmal , and often tragic, failure. Throughout the centuries, empires, and their associated dreams and visions, have risen and fallen. From Alexander to the Caesars, to Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich, they have all ended badly, with the blood of hundreds of millions on their hands.

Why are these experiments doomed to failure? William Bradford, the first governor of Plymouth Colony, determined that it was at least in part due to man’s fallen nature. Not a surprise, given that he was a Christian, but maybe he had, and has, a point.

What is man’s “fallen” nature? What does it mean to have a fallen nature? We see from the story of Adam and Eve, that after they disobeyed G-d by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were banned from the garden for fear that they would partake of The Tree of Life, and thereby gain eternal life.

What is interesting about the story is that prior to their rebellion, they could have eaten of The Tree of Life at any time. It was only afterward that they were barred. The implication of this is that something about them had changed, and because of this, they were barred from eternal life. It is good here to remember that G-d had told them that the consequence of their eating of the forbidden fruit would be death.

There is a relevant story in Acts 5 that tells of the early church in Jerusalem. Out of their love for one another, in G-d’s Spirit, they willingly shared their material wealth, and often donated the proceeds of sales of their property to the church leader’s, who would then distribute them to the needy.

One couple, Ananias and Sapphira, sold some property, and donated the proceeds to the church, but they held some back while claiming to have donated all. When confronted with their lie and hypocrisy, they both died on the spot. For more information on this, see Story of Ananias and Sapphira .

Now some have tried to use this story to justify socialism, the argument being that if a form of socialism was good for the early church, it should be good for us. The problem with this argument is that the early Jerusalem church was a relatively small group who voluntarily shared their wealth. This idea has carried on to this day by various religious orders in which members take a vow of poverty and live a communal lifestyle. Modern socialist movements, on the other hand, are extremely coercive, and as has been noted, have been responsible for more death and destruction than any other movement in the history of the planet.

The story, though, would also seem to support Bradford’s contention that man’s fallen nature is the heart of the problem. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to participate in the communal giving and sharing, but not willing to give all. This would have been fine, as nothing in the story suggests that they had to give all, so it would seem that they were concerned with appearances. They wanted everyone to think that they had given all, so they held back some, and lied.

It shows that even in small, voluntary associations, problems arise when people feel, even if only from their own inner desire to be recognized, compelled to share what they have worked for. This is just as true in religious orders, where members who break the rules will eventually be expelled if they continue to refuse to conform.

So what is man’s fallen nature? Years ago, a well-known secular psychiatrist and author, Dr. Karl Menninger, stirred up some controversy when he published a book titled Whatever Became of Sin? The controversy over the book at the time – this was 1973 – demonstrates how unpopular the concept of personal responsibility had become, and the idea that there is an immutable moral law that man has violated and continues violate. That in fact, there is something wrong with man that has put him at odds with G-d and his fellow man, and that compels him toward rebellion.

Keep in mind that this is a secular book, and it is not written from a religious viewpoint, but a clinical one. Therefore, there is much for a Christian believer, for example, to disagree with in the book; but the idea that any kind of healing or redemption for an individual is only possible when that individual accepts personal responsibility for themselves and their actions, is completely consistent with Judeo-Christian scripture, and is in fact foundational to religions based upon that scripture.

This idea that man exists in a state of sin that inclines him away from G-d and His laws, and toward disobedience, is still very unpopular today. Society, ones parents, bad teachers, the church, even G-d Himself, are all blamed. But the evidence is all around us, even in young children who, arguably, have not yet been “corrupted” by any of these things. Don’t believe this? Then ask yourself the question as to why “reverse psychology” works so consistently well.

How often have we experienced telling a child not to do something, only to have them immediately do it? “Don’t touch that dial” (on the television set, yes TV’s used to have dials), you admonish , and of course he touches the dial. “Don’t pick up that candy from the ground”, and then what happens? Not only does he pick it up, but he will put it in his mouth. When my daughter was young and had a miserable face, we would say to her “don’t you smile,” and of course she would inevitably smile.

OK, well this is all innocent enough when you are dealing with young children. But what happens with adults? No need to answer this, just look around you and at thousands of years of history. Now, you might say, well, yes, but not everyone is like that, and if you mean that not everyone commits horrible acts and heinous crimes, you would be correct. Most people do not do these things because we have been conditioned by parents and society to believe that they are awful things, and for us to do them would make us awful people, so most of us refrain from these  reprehensible acts.

There are, though, lesser “evils,” which all of us, at some time or another, do commit. Lying, unfaithfulness, gossip, unjust anger and hurtful words, and many others. The list is actually quite long. In addition, we all seem to have at least one “sin” that we just can’t seem to control, whether it is one of the above, or maybe an addiction, such as to alcohol, drugs, food, sex, money, power; again, I could go on.

So what are we to do? As has been indicated above, some analyze the problem and propose that its source lies outside the individual, for example in society. There is inequality and injustice in society, the story goes, and so people have the above mentioned problems because of this. The solution, then, is to remake society and rid it of its injustices. Once this is done, man will be free to do the right thing and will become perfect.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? We are not responsible for our actions, society is! “Remake society the way I want it to be, and I’ll be good. Just you wait and see.” Hmm, what is wrong with this picture? Well, for one thing, the biblical paradigm, as proposed by William Bradford. If it is true, then this “solution” cannot work and could lead to much trouble – and it has!

Just take a look at the carnage that has been left behind from attempts to regain paradise! In the twentieth century alone, there was death, destruction, and suffering on a previously unimaginable scale. Just maybe the prophets, Jesus, William Bradford, and even Karl Menninger were on to something, when they claimed that the problem lay within the individual human heart.

So, if that is true, and it does seem that the problem does not originate from outside of man, then what are we to do? Of course, scripture has an answer! I’ll leave you with the following quote from Isaiah, 45:22:

Turn to me and be saved,

all you ends of the earth;

for I am God, and there is no other” (NIV)

Too simple, you might say? Well, sometimes the simple is sublime, but most importantly, true.

A Christmas Story (Redux)

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” Revelation 21:4 NIV

I first published this a few years ago.  The stories involved were related to me as true stories, by the soldier himself.  It is a story of redemption.

It was Christmas eve, and the soldier stood in the mess line, shivering a little. It was late, so the line was thankfully short, for the air was bitter cold.  His turn came, he got his hot chow and coffee, then looked for a place to sit.

He had just arrived in this small town in France  with his unit the day before, December 23, 1944.  One day he was relatively warm and safe in Britain, and the next he was preparing to face combat for the first time.  They were moving to the front in the morning, on Christmas Day, to take up positions in the Ardennes Forest and help counter the German offensive that would become known as the the Battle of the Bulge.

Because of the lateness of the hour, there were only a few men in the mess area, but the soldier wanted to be alone, so he walked off a little looking for a place to eat his food, drink his coffee, and think.  The soldier had gotten several opportunities to avoid combat, and even the military.  When he was first called up and went for his physical, a spot showed on his lungs. The doctor wasn’t sure what it was, but suspected tuberculosis, and was going to fail the recruit because of it.

After some persuasion, the soldier-to-be convinced them not to fail him, but to let him come back in several weeks to retake the physical.  During the intervening weeks, he changed his lifestyle, exercised and ate better, and sure enough, when he returned, the spot had disappeared, and he passed.

Later, after basic training, while still stateside, a Sargent came around asking if anyone had any clerk typist skills.  The soldier did and said so, and the Sargent took him to an office to fill in for a day for someone who was out.  At the end of his shift, the Sargent told him to report back the next day, but the soldier replied that his unit was going overseas, and that he could not come back.  The Sargent told him not to worry about that, he wasn’t going anywhere, the Sargent would see to that, just report back the next day.  No, the soldier insisted, he would ship out with his unit, and he did.

He thought about these things, and his new wife he left behind, his mother, and home.  After walking a short distance, an unexpected sound got his attention.  He stopped, and listened, and heard it again.  It sounded like a baby softly crying.  It seemed to be coming from a darkened alcove nearby.  He walked toward the sound.

As he approached the alcove, some light from the street penetrated the darkness, and he could make out a woman and infant, huddled together and wrapped against the cold.  He drew nearer, and as he did, it became apparent to him that the woman was trying to nurse the child, but something else also caught his attention.  There was a glow around the mother and child, a halo around each of them.

Now, the soldier was not a religious man, and in some respects, quite the contrary.  It wasn’t that he was a bad man, but he carried in his heart an anger and bitterness, against G-d, and His church, that were founded in the experiences of his childhood, experiences he had never reconciled.

His parents were immigrants who didn’t have much, even when his father was alive and working.  However, when his father died and left his young wife with five small children, things became much worse.

His mother took in laundry, washed floors, and did whatever she could do to feed her family, but it just wasn’t enough, so she went to the local parish church for financial assistance.  Instead of giving her help though, they sent her to the welfare office.

The soldier remembered going with his mother as a young boy, to translate for her, because she spoke little English.  He remembered her humiliation, and his own, in having to go on public relief, and he didn’t understand why the church would not help.  First G-d took his father from them, and now His church turned them away in their time of need.

Later, when barely in his teens, the soldier found himself, along with two of his brothers, in a home for boys.  The home was run by an order of Christian Brothers.  The Brothers were good men, who provided the boys with the basic necessities: food, shelter, education, and when required, discipline.

There was a problem though, the home was infested with cockroaches, and it was the job of the boys to catch the cockroaches, as many as they could.  In fact, they had a daily quota, and the Brothers, each evening, would check and count each boy’s collection of insects, to ensure that they had found their fair share.  Those who did not had to keep searching until they did.

Sometimes, when the roaches were hard to come by, and a boy was tired and hungry, he would break some of them in half, so they would count as two.  This worked fine if he didn’t get caught, but if he did, there was the aforementioned discipline.

Discipline consisted of the offending boy being held face down across a large barrel, and having his behind whipped with a switch.  The process did little actual damage, aside from a few welts and bruises, but it was extremely painful, and to say the least, the boy’s were terrified of the punishment.  They would beg and plead for mercy, to no avail.

Not all offensives merited this form of punishment, but lying about meeting your cockroach quota did, and the soldier had received this punishment on several occasions, until he learned how to fix his roaches so that they actually looked liked two whole bugs.  There was a trick to it, you see.  Whenever you caught a big one, you cut it in half with your thumbnail, and then smashed up each half a little bit, and that was it; dinner, and bedtime, were at hand.

The soldier thought of none of these things though, as he peered into the alcove.  He was a little surprised by his vision, this picture of a haloed Madonna and Child.  Was it the angle of the light, was it only his imagination, or maybe the pressures of facing combat the next day were getting to him?

As he wondered at the sight, he was broken from his brief reverie by the realization  that the woman was motioning to him.  It took a few moments, but he soon understood that she was indicating to him that her breasts had no milk for her child.  His wonder turned to pity and sadness.  What could he do?

He thought of the canned milk at the mess truck, so he told her, as best he could, to wait for him, that he would get milk for her to give to her baby.

He hurried back to the mess area, and found them packing and preparing for the next day’s deployment.  He walked up to the mess Sargent and quickly explained to him the situation, and asked him for some milk.

The Sargent was in no mood for this intrusion, and told the soldier that he could not give him any milk, but the soldier persisted.  Just a little milk for the baby?  The Sargent replied that the milk was for American soldiers, for their coffee, not for French civilians.  The soldier said, well, OK, I have some coffee, how about giving me a little milk for my coffee.  Finally, the Sargent relented and gave the soldier the milk “for his coffee”.

The entire negotiation took only a few minutes, and the soldier hurried back to the alcove with the milk.  When he arrived though, the mother and child were gone.  In fact, there was no sign of anyone, or that anyone had even been there.

The soldier would think about this experience throughout his life.  He would relate the story to his wife when he returned home, and later to his children.  The story of his visit by the Madonna and Child on a cold Christmas Eve in an alcove in France.

It would be nice to relate that the soldier’s anger at G-d would dissipate after his experience, but unfortunately, this would not happen for many decades.  Decades of tragedies and triumphs, joy and sorrow that would follow.  Near the end though, he did seem to find some peace, but only G-d knows for certain.

So the significance of the story isn’t that the vision immediately healed the soldier’s anger and disappointment, or that it even gave him great comfort, except maybe for a few brief moments.  The significance of the story is the significance of Christmas itself.

For the Christmas Story is the story of a promise, a promise of a redemption that is yet to be fulfilled.  Yes, Christians will speak in the present tense, and tell you they are redeemed, and it is true, this was accomplished and completed on the cross, and demonstrated by the Resurrection.

But, in our lives, we still have our tragedies and disappointments, and our anger; and the world is still full of violence and chaos, and of mothers who cannot feed their children.  So, it is this part of the promise that is unfulfilled, our physical redemption, and the redemption of this tragic world we live in.

It is a story of hope.  Hope for the world, hope for each one of us, even hope for the angry soldier.  G-d can deal with anger, because to be angry at G-d is still to believe in G-d and it is to recognize G-d’s sovereignty, over us, our lives, and the world.  After all, what would be the point in being angry at a G-d who wasn’t sovereign?

Jesus once told us to be either hot or cold.  G-d can warm and soften the coldest, most hardened of hearts; He can temper the most heated and passionate of hearts, but with the lukewarm heart, the indifferent heart, what can He do?  What can be done with someone who just doesn’t care?

The Christmas Story is also a story of our own helplessness in the redemptive process, except according to G-d’s will.  The soldier,  in the end, was unable to help the mother and child, despite his best efforts. Yet redemption came to him that day, even if he did not realize it.  He could have simply ignored the mother and child, dismissing them, like the Sargent, as not his problem.  After all, what had G-d done for him anyway?  Instead, he responded with sympathy and compassion.  Its not that his simple act of getting the milk was in and of itself redeeming, but it’s the fact that he would even do so that demonstrated the redemption that was already in his heart, despite his anger.

Finally, there is this.  We think we know people.  We see what they do, we hear what they say, and we fear for them.   We see those who are angry at G-d and man, or who live dissolute lives.  We see people who seem to make every bad decision a person can make, and sometimes we may wonder, what hope is there for that person?  What we do not know, and only G-d knows, is what redemption may lie in that persons heart.  We see the outside, but G-d sees the inside, and only occasionally, if ever, does G-d give us a glimpse of what is truly there.

So, we should not fear, for others, or for ourselves, but should always look for the best in each; and when we can’t see that best and fear starts to take hold, think of the Christmas Story and its promise of redemption.  After all, who is redemption for, anyway, if not us?

The Desires of Your Heart

Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 37:1-4 NIV

We were speeding down the highway, on our way to a Christmas Eve party, for which we were considerably late.  We were exceeding the speed limit, that is certain, but we were driving safely, and staying in our lane.  Suddenly a car sped up behind us, and the driver, unwilling to wait for us to shift lanes and let him pass, and after dangerously tailgating us, quickly shifted lanes himself, and sped by.

Already somewhat annoyed at the driver’s unsafe maneuver, not to mention the prick to our pride, we became even more agitated as he continued down the highway, weaving in and out of traffic at high speed, sometimes traversing two lanes in one move.

The whole event became the topic of conversation, as we considered our options.  Should we call 911? Look at him!  Did you see what he just did?  We should report this!  And so it went for the next few minutes until we finally all calmed down a bit.

Around this time, Psalm 37 came to my mind.  I brought up my Bible app, looked up the Psalm, and read the first four verses to the others in the car.  I told them I thought these lines were appropriate to this incident because we were fretting about the wrong behavior of the driver.  The others disagreed, and after some discussion that did not resolve the issue, we continued on to our party, and of course we did not call 911.

What is it about our nature that agitates us so much when we see someone getting away with something that they should not be doing?  Is it simply our sense of justice?  A concern for safety?  Or is there more to it than that?  Is there maybe just a little bit of envy there?  Isn’t there just a little bit of, “Boy, if I did that, I would probably get a ticket”?

The majority of us live our lives “by the rules,” for the most part, and we get upset when people violate the rules with seeming impunity, and worse yet, profit by it in some way.  But let’s face it, one of the reasons we live by the rules is that we are afraid we’ll get caught and punished.  When someone acts as if they don’t care about punishment, this impacts our emotions in several ways.  It scares us, but it also often inspires a bit of admiration, and yes, envy.  Why is this?

One explanation, I think, is that someone who is not concerned about consequences appears to be able to act with perfect freedom.  Let’s make something clear though, when it comes to the big sins or crimes, most of us would not in any way admire or envy this kind of freedom.

But what about the “small” stuff? What about those things where nobody gets “hurt,” especially the “little guy?”  Or, maybe even the “big guy” does get shaved a little?  “Slick” Willie Sutton comes to mind.

For those of you who may not have heard of him, Slick Willie was a bank robber operating mostly in the  1920’s and 30’s.  He allegedly stole $2,000,000 during his “career” and ended up spending about half of his life in prison.  The thing about Willie, though, is that he was a popular figure with the public and was well liked and respected by those who knew him, both in prison and out.

The reasons for his popularity are many.  He was always a gentleman, even during his robberies, and no one was ever hurt.  He always had a gun, but admitted shortly before his death, that it was never loaded because “somebody might get hurt.”  He was highly intelligent, engineering three prison escapes, including one from Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, considered to be “escape proof.”  And of course, he was robbing mainly banks.  Particularly during the Great Depression, banks were very unpopular, because they were taking people’s homes in foreclosure.

So, in the case of Willie Sutton at least, who was admired by many, there was probably considerable envy by those who wanted to be like him but were not willing to take the risks.

The driver of the car, on the other hand, while he may have inspired some small amount of envy, did inspire quite a bit of fretting.  But whether it is fretting or envy, the problem is it takes our minds off of what is important, which is “Trust in the Lord and do good. When we are focused on the unrighteous actions of others, we are not trusting G-d, and we are not doing good.  As such, it is worse than a complete waste of precious time, it is a misuse of our time and takes us backward in our spiritual journey.  Why?

Two reasons are given: 1)  The efforts of all “those who do wrong” will ultimately come to nothing.  As the passage says, “for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.”  So, what is the point of our concern?  But more importantly, 2) when you trust in the Lord, and “Take delight” in Him, “he will give you the desires of your heart.”   So, what this means is that we are missing out on the good things that G-d has in store for us when we are not delighting in Him.

Well, as you can see from the way this post started, I am as guilty as anyone of focusing on the wrongs committed by others and not taking delight in the Lord and the good things He has done.  But, at this point, I at least can realize it is a problem.  This is progress.  As I have said, this is a journey, and the destination seems a long way off.  But, progress is progress.  I’ll take it.


What Does It Profit?

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mark 8:36 KJV

I am a child of the sixties.  I was born in the early fifties, grew up in the sixties, and came of age in the seventies.  The fifties were a time of innocence for us baby boomers.   World War II was receding into the past and the Korean Conflict settled into an uneasy truce.  America was ascendant, and all was good.

Well, maybe not, but it certainly seemed that way. Televisions were becoming ubiquitous, and my neighbor even had color!  We had the Friday Night Fights, on Friday night of course, and Howdy Doody on Saturday morning.  The Honeymooners never failed to draw a laugh and a tear, and of course there was Ed Sullivan, Topo Gigo, and Elvis.

Sure, there were many things wrong.  There was the  Soviet Union and the air raid drills in case of nuclear attack.  There was Jim Crow and the backlash against the nascent civil rights movement.  President Eisenhower warned us of something called the military-industrial complex. But we were too young to really know or care about these things.  Things that in the end would define so much of our lives.

We started the Sixties with a young, vibrant, and idealistic president who asked us to give of ourselves: to our own, through Ameri-Corp, and to others through the Peace Corp.  He said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  He told us we were going to the moon, he promised us Camelot, and he delivered.  His idealism was infectious, and we were certainly infected by it.   Then, reality came crashing down on us all one day in November, 1963.

John Kennedy’s assassination could have destroyed our idealism. We were in shock.  We wondered why, we cried, and we mourned; and though we may have lost our innocence, the one thing we did not lose was the idealism he had imparted to us.  This lived on, and if anything, it became stronger and more real then ever.  But why?

A big part of the answer to that question, I believe, is that something else happened right around that same time that would also have a tremendous impact on my generation.  That something was called The Beatles.

The Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964.  They sang to us, and we loved them for it.  Their music and antics didn’t just entertain us though; they helped us to refocus our minds on what was important.  And what was important to us young boys and girls?  Why, young boys and girls, of course.

A simple song about holding hands, or asking someone to dance, reminded us that the important things in life were still there and could be had simply by choosing to have them.  But they didn’t stop there.  As we grew, they did too, and their music grew with them and us.  In their music they wove together, as if by some magic, the events of the day – the most fundamental experiences in life, and a spiritual journey.

Later, when the Beatles broke up, we were saddened by it, but we also soon realized that there were benefits to the break-up, as each Beatle was now free to pursue his own path.

John took a political one, certainly with a spiritual side, but distinctly political none the less.  Paul remained most true to the Beatles origins with his ballads and love songs.   And Ringo, well, despite his tremendous musical success, he was and is just Ringo, the “every-man,” and that is all he had to be.

But it was George, the spiritual one, seeking truth in meditation, music, and in the religious traditions of east and west, who may have had the most influence on me.  This may be because as I grew older, the world around me was changing drastically.  Our society was creating wealth at an unprecedented rate, and with it came materialism and the pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake.

Traditional, community-based religion was being abandoned and was being replaced either by a personal spirituality, accountable to no-one, not even G-d, or by a social-club religion which left the Judaeo-Christian G-d completely behind.  In either case,  for many, G-d, if He was even deemed to exist at all, became an impersonal force that required nothing from us – a Cosmic Sugar Daddy who could be tapped just by saying the right words or thinking the right thoughts.

Politics grew uglier every day, where in the West, defeating your opponent turned into destroying your opponent.  We were more civilized about it in the West than in the East, of course, where in places like the Soviet Union or Red China, political defeat often meant execution or lifelong imprisonment.  No, we destroyed lives by destroying reputations and demonizing our opponents.  This practice continues to this day.  Our political opponents are not just wrong, they are evil.

And what about traditional love and marriage?  There are still many that believe in these things, but they are certainly not the ones who predominate in our culture and society.  The hedonists of the sixties became the Me Generation of the seventies, who became the jaded post-modern cynics of today.

And then there was George:

“We were talking about the love that’s gone so cold
And the people who gain the world and lose their soul
They don’t know, they can’t see, are you one of them?”
from Within You Without You by George Harrison

Even if he didn’t have the ultimate answers, he was asking the right questions, echoing the words of Jesus, spoken so many years ago.

I’ve been thinking more about George lately, and his spiritual quest.  A quest that so many of us took up.  What happened to it?  For me, it slowly transformed back into the Christian faith I was raised in.  But it is a more stable faith, a more informed faith, and a scripture based faith.

As mentioned previously, George drew on many faith traditions to inspire him and his music.  In my own journey, I have also traveled many paths.  This has led me to believe that there is no one, true religion, the practice of which will gain you salvation.

Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying that some religions do not bring you closer to the truth than others, and in this sense, all religions are definitely not equal.  Also, I am not saying that religion has no value; the right religion has tremendous value in that it does bring you closer to the truth.  Now, if we must have a one, true religion, that is it.

It has also helped me to understand that “The Church” is not a particular group or religion or faith tradition; it is the living body of the Word, composed of all who believe in that Word and have put their faith in Him, regardless of the religion, if any, that they may practice.

I personify the Word here because scripture itself does.  The idea of the living Word goes back to the very beginnings of time.  Didn’t G-d, with his Word, bring all things into existence?  In Genesis 15:1 Abram has a vision of the Word and the Word speaks to him saying, “Do not be afraid Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.”  Abraham believed in the Word and became the progenitor of nations and kings.

In fact, there are numerous places in scripture where the Word is seen as a person, speaking, and coming and going.  This idea of the living Word is one of the subjects that Michael S. Heiser documents in great detail in his book, The Unseen Realm, for those who would like to know more.

So if the simple practice of religion can’t “get you into heaven,” what can?  According to Judeo-Christian scripture itself, salvation comes by the grace of G-d, through faith in G-d and in His Word.  This is what I mean, then, when I say that there is no “true” religion.  Religion has been defined as man attempting to gain G-d’s good graces through works and the observance of rites and rituals and traditions.  The way of faith, on the other hand, is about what G-d did and does for us, not what we do for Him.

Well, what about my idealism?  I started off talking about how I thought the Beatles helped to restore the idealism of my generation.  If you look around at the current state of affairs in the world, one might think that the baby boomers have completely lost it.

I can’t speak for my entire generation, but only for me.  That idealism is still there and is as strong as ever, but it is different than the idealism of my youth.  It has been tempered by my faith and my experience.  By my faith because I understand that G-d is sovereign, and as scripture says, if G-d does not build a house, then the builders labor in vain.  To put it differently, if what we do is not in accordance with G-d’s will and plan, and is simply our own undertaking, it will in the end come to nothing good.

It has been tempered by my experience because  I have learned that if you want to change the world, it has to start with your own heart and head, and this is only something G-d can do.  It then continues to your family, your home, and your own backyard; to your friends, your community and your job.  My point, I’m sure, is obvious: If you want to change the world, you have the best chance of doing that in the world immediately around you.

This reminds me of the lyrics to another Beatles song, Revolution:

“You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free your mind instead.”