Southern Culture Versus Christian Character

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We all like to know, if we possess something considered valuable, whether it is authentic, or is it just a fake.  When it comes to questions of faith, it is easy to see flaws for we all have them.  Even the original disciples of Christ certainly had their problems early on until they decided that they were truly going to surrender their lives completely at whatever the cost.  When we examine the effects of any religion on general society or a large segment of society, we should be able to find a general effect upon that society that is measurable and consistently attributable to the influence that the religion has upon its adherents.  With regard to the Christian faith, when we look at different regions of our country, we should be able to find that areas of the country in which faith is claimed also have a resultant effect that is measurable and consistent with the tenets of the Christian faith.

Marriage between a man and a woman with children born after that relationship is solemnized, followed by raising of those children together as mother and father, certainly are well accepted as being consistent with effects of Christian faith upon people’s lives who state that they are Christians.  While it is more difficult to look at individual lives, the general effect of claimed Christian faith upon society as a whole should be able to be seen when examined.  If that effect is not seen when scrutinized, it naturally brings forth questions.  The first question that many ask, certainly among those who do not accept Christian faith, is whether that faith is fake and not effectual in the lives of those who claim it.   Another deeper way to examine this would be to consider whether that, without the faith, the measured effects would be much more negative without it at all, with the measured effect biased by differences in segments of society.    Considering that we are looking at general statistics, if an area of the country has a higher claimed rate of faith, one would expect a difference to be seen with regard to rates of unwed pregnancies and homes without a father present in the home.  To get more specific, should we not see positive effects, in areas of our country that have higher claimed rates of Christianity, with lower rates of unwed pregnancies and fathers present in homes more commonly?  Sadly, this is not the case in these examined areas.  Many in the secular media immediately leap upon that easiest of answers and claim that Christian faith does not, therefore, have any positive effect, but actually is detrimental in societies in which it is more widely embraced.  Should Christians just brush these accusations off and not address them?  Certainly not.  “’But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15; NKJV).

According to Pew Research Center, a little over 70% of Americans identify as Christians with evangelical Protestants being most common at 25.4% followed by Catholics at 20.8% of the population.  According to the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (https://www.namb.net/Population_Church_Ratios), Mississippi has the highest per capita rate of Southern Baptist churches in the nation at approximately 1,300 people per church.  In comparison, the state of Delaware has about 23,000 people per Southern Baptist church.  In regard to the relative number of places of worship in general, West Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi, North and South Dakota, Alabama, & Utah have the most in descending order; Delaware is at 16th on the list and Nevada is the lowest.  If you look at statistics of how many people click that they “Like” prayer on Facebook, in descending order of incidence, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Wyoming occupy the top seven spots.  Looking at the top seven states with the highest to lowest relative number of those attending worship services, the list changes somewhat:  Utah, North Dakota, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and South Dakota.    In Maine, only about 28% of the population regularly attend worship services while in Utah, about 79% of the population does.  Looking at a county level, every state has at least one county where at least 45% attend worship services regularly.  There is great variability among the counties, but on a state level, it is clear that many southern states top the list with claimed adherence to many qualities that one would expect with Christian faith.

Now the rubber meets the road.  Does the car drive good or does it just look good from the outside?  Jesus Christ stated, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:25-28; NKJV).  Jesus Christ also stated, “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7: 17-20; NKJV).  Therefore, it important for us to know what we should know, but also to know how we are known.  “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.”  (2 Corinthians 13:5; NKJV).  We need to examine ourselves and look into the mirror to see our own reflection.  Is how we think we look, how we really look?  Is it cultural, or is it true character?  James 1: 22-24 (NKJV), reads, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.”  Let us take a look into the mirror, analyze what we see, learn from it, remember it, and then work on changing, with God’s help, what we see that we do not like to even think about, much less behold.

Pew Research lists Mississippi and Alabama as the highest the nation in regard to prevalence of religious people (77%) versus 33% in Massachusetts and 39% in many other NE states where they also have the lowest unwed pregnancy rates, such as Delaware.  Mississippi has the highest rate in the nation of unwed pregnancies (despite similar sexual activity rates in Mississippi and Delaware (powertodecide.org)) with a rate of 53% versus 39% for country as a whole; some counties in Mississippi have rates of 70%.  Mississippi leads the nation in the percentage of single mother households with no father present (https://www.statista.com/statistics/242302/percentage-of-single-mother-households-in-the-us-by-state/).  With surveys showing that 80% of young, unmarried Christians have had sex, with 2/3 of them within the last year, it is apparent that there is disconnection between what is being practiced and stated in belief; according to a Gallop survey, 76% of evangelical Christians still believe sex outside of marriage is morally wrong (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/premarital-sex-and-our-love-affair-with-bad-stats/).

It is very easy to make associations, but properly interpreting those associations is harder.  Many times, what people see is what they are wanting to see.  Many secular media seize upon the material just presented as evidence that their non-biblical worldview is justified.  Just because someone walked down the same street as a murderer during the same hour means that there is an association between them, but not any more than that they walked down the same street.  So, how are we to look at these facts that paint a poor picture?  That depends upon who is doing the painting and also who is looking at it.

Part of the answer with regard to higher unwed pregnancy rates, but similar sexual activity rates, between Mississippi and Delaware, for example, is the rate of abortion (https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/state-indicator/abortion-rate).  Also, Mississippi has a lower rate of birth control usage relative to other states.  Maybe some of it is a psychological effect of being told not to do something so much that it is thought about more and then acted on more than if it were not being fought against as much (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-human-beast/201208/do-religious-people-have-hotter-sex-life).

The “National Survey of Reproductive and Contraceptive Knowledge” shows that 42% of unmarried evangelicals ages 18-29 are currently in a sexual relationship compared to 52% of everyone else.  Ten percent of young, unmarried evangelicals have had sex, but not in the past year, while 20% have never had sex. The percentages go down to 6% and 12% respectively when looking at the sexual patterns of all other unmarried 18-29-year-olds.  However, to look at this survey in more depth, there is an oversampling of minorities which is occurred in their survey methods.  Using 2010 census numbers, 63.7%, 16.3%, and 12.2% of the population, representing whites, Hispanics, and blacks, respectively, are present, but in their survey, the representations were 50%, 22%, and 20%.  When it is considered that 24%, 40%, and 67%, of the same respective households are single-parent homes (http://datacenter.kidscount.org), this has the ultimate effect of making it appear that there is greater promiscuity than it really is, although this does not diminish the fact that it is large percentage anyway.

These same ethnic groups which have higher rates of unmarried pregnancies and single-parent homes appear to make conservative, southern states (which have higher proportions of these ethnic groups) look as though a Christian lifestyle is only preached, but not lived: “Red states such as Alabama and Texas, on the other hand, have lower levels of teens growing up with married parents both because they have lower education levels and because they have high proportions of black or Hispanic residents, whose families are less stable on average than white and Asian families. The educational and ethnic factors overwhelm the predominantly conservative orientations of the state populations in these Southern states. Thus, the red state model does not appear to be successful in the American South” (https://ifstudies.org/blog/red-state-families-better-than-we-knew).  Brad Wilcox wrote in his article, “No, Republicans Aren’t Hypocrites on Family Values” (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/28/no-republicans-arent-hypocrites-on-family-values-215873), “What’s also fascinating about looking at the individual data is that it suggests that the relatively fragile state of families in the Republican South does not apply as much to individual Republicans in the South. Indeed, in both the North and the South, Republican parents are at least 9 percentage points more likely to be in their first marriage, compared with Democrats and independents. The figure also reveals how the ecological fallacy works: Just because the Republican South has more family fragility does not mean that Republican families are fragile. In fact, Republican parents in the South are more likely to be in their first marriage than Democratic and independent parents in the North.  In other words, even though Southerners in general are at greater risk of family instability than Northerners, Republicans in the South enjoy markedly higher levels of family stability than their fellow citizens—a family stability advantage that puts them above Democrats and independents in the North. Another way to put this: It’s blue and purple Americans in the South who are really pulling down family stability in the South, not red Americans.”  Even though these articles are discussed from a political perspective, it is true that general statistics cannot be applied on an individual level.  However, given the fact that many Southern states claim such high rates of adherence to Christian practices and ideals, the variance in the more general, state-based statistics is not completely explained by the individual differences of race and ethnicities, although the effect is very significant to explain the higher state-based rates of unwed pregnancies and fatherless homes.  Political party identification is one way to look at this issue, but identification with Christ is very high in Southern states, as discussed in the beginning of this article, and more than the “red” versus “blue” state method of analyzing this takes into account.  Could this also be explained from the standpoint that in many southern states, it is fashionable and culturally acceptable to proclaim faith in Christ, to state that one attends church somewhere, to talk about prayer, and acknowledge God?  Those who get serious about really believing what they say they do are religious fanatics though to many.  In 2 Timothy 3, we can read about the characteristics of those “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (verse 5; NKJV).  “They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.” (Titus 1:16; NJKV).

What can be done about this?  Many people offer up the usual reply that we just need more birth control.  With that, we see sexually transmitted disease rates continuing to rise despite the higher rates of birth control methods used.  Lower teen pregnancy rates are attributed mainly to higher rates of contraception.  However, just preventing pregnancies with higher rates of birth control has not resulted in lower rates of unwed pregnancies and fatherless homes, which are continuing to rise.

Another approach is what is being done through Crisis Pregnancy Centers across our country.  One such example is at Parkgate Pregnancy Clinic (http://parkgateclinic.com/) in Tupelo, MS.  Jessica Roy is the Development Director at the non-profit that offers ultrasound & pregnancy confirmation to women and men facing an unplanned pregnancy.   They teach WAIT Training Curriculum (Center for Relationship Education) through their MPower Program to over 4,000 students each year in schools in their area.  Jessica recently shared that the clinic has seen a 15% increase in the number of students who state that they made a decision to wait until marriage for sex.  They have seen 79% of those with “risky” behavior make decisions to “start with a clean slate”.  Also, the clinic has recorded a 13% decrease in the number of students who believe it is okay to have sex before marriage if in a relationship.

Preventing unwanted pregnancies is certainly one way to reduce fatherlessness but preventing the behavior that causes it is only possible through changing the mindset of people.  Educational programs such as that provided in the previous paragraph help, but only an approach that involves a change of heart affects the mindset to a greater degree.  Christian based programs certainly focus on trying to influence those who are aided by their ministry to seek a change of heart through acceptance of Christ’s offer of forgiveness and the changes that come through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when salvation is experienced.  No one can really change their own heart; that is something only Christ can do.  Understanding this, it brings us back to the beginning of this article:  Is the faith that is claimed by so many, especially in the South, truly authentic?  If it were, works consistent with the Christian faith would verify it.

How can people in the South who by and large claim to be Christian live the faith that they claim to have?  By actually being a Christian in the beginning is the means of living out the faith that is attested to in those surveys which show the Deep South states with such high rates of Christian faith.  Churches have largely forgotten discipline within the churches and it is easier to join many churches than it is to join a social club in the same city.  When people do not feel that something costs them something, they are likely to value it as worth just what they paid for it.  This is not preaching of salvation based upon works, but salvation evidenced by those works.  In James 2:18 (NKJV), we read, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

If the rate of religiousness is going to translate in better behavior, it cannot be from a source of just religiousness, but of the Holy Spirit dwelling within the true, authentic Christian enabling that person to live out the Christian life as exemplified in the Bible.  “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5-7; NKJV).

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The Relative Passage of Time: Memory Retention Theory

Why does time pass so fast?

timeAlmost everyone has heard the statement, “Time flies when you are having fun.” Our brief time living our lives does go quicker than we think. We are young one day and old seemingly the next. “Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?” (Psalms 89:47). Why do we perceive time this way? Have you not wondered about an explanation for that enigma? One explanation for this could be called the memory retention theory.

When I was a child and my brothers and I would get off of the school bus at around 3:30 p. m., it seemed to us like a long time until we had to go to bed that night. We would get chores done, play, run around in the woods, ride our bikes, make our cardboard box forts, build little cabins out of small trees in the woods, and experience all sorts of activities before it was time to come inside for the night for the dreaded bath time and then settling down. The time we had passed the same for us as it did our parents, but I can assure you that as an adult when it gets to be 3:30 p. m. now, it seems like the day is almost over with little time left for much. We can look backward and it is like a patient told me this last week, “Everything from 30 to 60 years old just seems like a blur.” This is no recent experience we all have for it is mentioned in Psalms 90:4: “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”

Other times in our lives although do seem to last a longer time and we find this scripture in Lamentations 5:20, “Wherefore dost thou forget us forever, and forsake us so long time?” If you have been in pain or anguish before, you have probably noticed how time seems to drag on while you are hurting. Have you ever had an accidental injury and noticed that you remember everything in detail while time seems to slow down? You can recall it almost in slow motion and remember the most intricate details of it. What is the explanation for this difference?

Think of a movie being played with the old films of yesterday when the reel whizzed along with multitudes of still images that when played fast enough seemed to have motion to us in our minds. It played as a movie when shown in rapid sequence, but if you looked at the images on the reel of the film there were still images. Our eyes are like cameras of a movie recorder and life is before us to record it all. However, when we play back our “movies”, we do not have the ability to play them at slower or faster speeds like an old movie reel could have done, but play them at the same rate of frames per period of time. If we record many frames, then the movie lasts longer, but if there are few frames, then it is played back much faster. How many frames we record depends upon our memory capacity at the time of our experience.

When we are very young, our minds are like brand new, empty computers with clean hard drives except for the operating system. A new computer always functions so fast and efficiently with a quicker recall of whatever we try to access. If you let that computer get too much on it or the wrong “memories” on it that use up too much background processing power, then you will have a very slow functioning computer with poor recall ability. Our human brains record everything in detail more readily when we are young, so the playback with a very high number of frames makes it last a long time as we live it or perceive it later over the same time period. As we get older, our memory capacities slowly diminish with the number of frames captured being lower. Therefore, our experience seems to pass faster. You have probably heard many people state that the older one gets, the faster time passes.

Now that we have a basis for how to think about why time would be perceived differently, some questions would naturally come up then such as to why would times of extreme pain or joy seem to last longer to us adults when everything else seems to be the usual speed. This can be explained by the ability of our bodies to enable the “fight or flight” mode when we are stressed, endangered, or just overly excited for pleasant or painful reasons. When entering “fight or flight” mode, the blood flow in a body is diverted away from our intestinal tract and directed toward our brains, muscles, and heart. With the greater brain blood flow comes an increased functional capacity. A vehicle wreck, a life-threatening experience, or some other traumatic experience is remembered many times in complete detail and time seemed to slow down. Those times of life that are the most pleasant seem to pass fast because it is during those times that we are most relaxed with normal blood flow.

The loss of memory that occurs as we age is mainly due to vascular disease that slowly develops over time; the nervous system is the first to suffer when the microvasculature becomes diseased. Just ask a diabetic; they get this type of disease faster than other people. Some of the nerves of our bodies have blood vessels only one red blood cell in diameter.

If we want to experience life to the fullest while keeping the time from seeming to pass so fast, it is important for us to live as healthy a life as we can. God’s word has a lot to say about how to live healthy because God does want us to live up to our potential so that we can glorify Him in the process.

Rescued from Addiction

fatherembracingsonWith all of the headlines lately regarding the opioid crisis, it is nice to get to see some good news. Working with patients who have problems with addiction is challenging, but there are rewards that come with seeing success stories. Such is the case with a young man who decided that he needed to get help and came many months ago to get started on a program to get free from addicting behaviors that were ruining his life.

The wide array of substances that people use to get away from reality is an insidious evil plaguing our country. While people are different and some do have predispositions toward addiction that other people do not have, there is still the choice that must be made on the part of the user to take a substance or medication against the advice of their physician and/or the law. Once that choice is made, for many it is a seemingly never-ending, downward spiral. For those with little or no support to help them when and if they want to seek recovery, the chances of making it be free from the chains of addiction are slim. Watching someone slowly deteriorate as this evil takes their life away from them, to hear their heart cry deep from within to be free from the dungeon encasing it while darkness swirls about them trying to keep them from hearing the truth, to see them reach out and then fall back discouraged, to look at those children who don’t have their parent(s) anymore because they are dead from an overdose is to feel some of their pain. It is more than enough to drive me to my knees in prayer.

For this young man, he was traveling down the road of his life when he came upon a detour that took him places he had never been and wondered if he was ever going to find his way back. For him, it was his mother who came with him the first time, and many times after that, as she was not going to sit idly by while her son’s life was taken away from their family. His wife had left him a while back, but his children still needed him as their father. His parents still needed him as their son. God still loved him just as He always did, if he could just see the light shine through. As time passed and changes occurred, the real person beneath the chains began to emerge more clearly. The medication used to help him slowly get away from the illegal substances was being withdrawn from him a little at a time until on this last visit, he was written his last few doses to finish his treatment with this medication. While this achievement, with God’s help, is encouraging, he faces many temptations ahead and must continue to be dependent upon God to help him daily.

The best reward for me was to get to see his father come with him on this most recent visit. As his father sat in front of him and told his son that he would have given his right arm to see him saved, tears streamed down both of their faces. It was a heavenly scene as this son seemed to realize more than he ever had before of his own earthly father’s love for him and to experience from him love, grace, acceptance, and forgiveness. I will never forget watching that unfold and I told him how blessed he was to be able to have that relationship because so many do not. They got up and were leaving to check out when I happened to come back down the hallway and right in front of everyone were embracing one another in the nursing area in a way that made me recall the story of the prodigal son being received by his father who had run to meet him. Despite all of the bad news, the Good News of the Gospel is still the answer for what ails many in our land.

Go Ahead, Make My Day

20151121_005336The catchy phrase, “Go ahead, make my day”, usually conjures up images of Clint Eastwood in a shoot-out scene, or maybe even the same actor during a recent political speech he made. Someone else actually first came up with that phrase, but it was popularized by Eastwood. However, as we know that, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), we can look further backward to realize our Father has shown us that He has in a way told His children the same concept. Too often, we don’t take Him at His Word in this, but we most assuredly should because we really are His children.

“What?”, you may be thinking, “Are you trying to say that God wants to make my day?” Well, “Yes!” First of all, you have to accept the life-changing, (no, scratch that – change it to eternity-changing) fact that if you have accepted in faith Jesus Christ of Nazareth as your Savior, then you are, without a doubt, adopted as God’s child. Has that sunk in yet? You are a child of the King and you have  access to the great throne room above. It is where you don’t cower down, groveling on the floor, in front of someone who you fear will sentence you to death if you say the wrong thing, such as it is in front of some earthly kings. This King invites you to come and sit in His lap. He invites you to come and have a chat with Him, to be held in His arms, to receive His love for you, to lean on His chest while He holds you as you cry, to watch His smile as you tell Him the successes you have had, to see His loving concern when you tell Him your failures. You see, this King is not like any other earthly King, this King of Kings is also our Father. He wants to make your day! He wants to make your eternity!

While speaking with someone recently in my medical practice, he told me that when he prays he doesn’t ask God for anything, but is just thankful for what he has. That sounds very humble and it is certainly a great and Godly thing to learn to be content with what one has. However, I asked the young man, who is a father, does he expect his own children to be content with what they have to the point of never coming to him to ask for anything? He just looked at me for a second and then admitted that he certainly did not expect them to think that way. He wanted them to come to him if they wanted something. He took joy in hearing their heart’s desires and in being able to then decide what would be best for them at that point. He wanted to see them with joy in their heart and growing up to be mature one day. He wanted to see them not being him, but like him one day. This young father then realized that he needed to expand his concept of who God is to him.

To some right now, you may be thinking, “Well, this sounds like prosperity preaching.” To those who would think that based upon just what is written thus far, I want to remind you again to think of the relationship with your own children or grandchildren. I would imagine you don’t grant every request that is brought to you by them because if you did, you would spoil them, but you surely do want to hear what is on their heart. Sometimes you can just look at them and you already know what they are thinking without them even telling you, but you still would like for them to speak it to you anyway as you listen with understanding and love them in a way that you want to always help them in any way that a good father would want to do. That is not prosperity preaching, it is just fatherly love. No child who is raised properly and with good character is going to come to his earthly parents with greedy intentions, but surely should feel welcome to come to them with whatever is on their mind. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:7-11).

The phrase, “Go ahead, make my day” is actually credited not to Clint Eastwood first, but to Charles B. Pierce, an independent filmmaker who wrote this in the 1983 film Sudden Impact. While Eastwood was the actor in the film who spoke it, it was Pierce who wrote it and Pierce’s father, Mack, gave him the idea based on what he had said to him when he was a child. Prior to Mr. Pierce although, I think we can see that our Creator came up with this idea first and not so someone could be shot, but because a Father wants to bless His children. It is just a matter of whether we want to believe it or not. It is written, “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15). Also, we can read in other scriptures, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,” (Ephesians 1:5) and further that “To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Galatians 4:5). He wants us to come to Him.

We should not buy a trick of the enemy to think that we need to sheepishly hide in the corner of our little space and timidly poke out our head to receive our rations like we are in jail. We are free! We should act like it. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16). He is patiently waiting. Go ahead, make His day.

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Who Will Want Your Chair?

ImageAs I sat listening to my pastor’s Sunday morning message, he spoke of an old recliner that he used for many years and had seen its days of burping babies, kids piling up in it, and all of the usual relaxing moments that most people have in their recliner that becomes a reflection and somewhat of a commentary about its main occupant.  Pondering that example, I could not help remembering special chairs in my own life.   My own father’s chair is one that I remember climbing into with Dad and my brothers.  I do not have that chair, but I wish I did.  I have the first recliner I ever bought when I was just starting medical school and I spent untold hours in that chair reading and studying; it is now in my office at work.

Another chair that came to my mind is this old greenish colored La-Z-Boy that sits in my library at home.  The arms have been reupholstered to match the original color as much as possible.  This particular chair was the first recliner that a very special pastor in my life many years ago had given to him by a church he pastored.  He had kept that old chair for many years until the arms had been worn thin and there were holes in the arms from what was undoubtedly many years of time spent with studying, family, and even counseling his flock.  The times witnessed by that chair were innumerable and special.  Since that old chair had gotten into such bad shape, it was about to be discarded because a new chair was about to be bought.  When I saw that old worn out chair, I hated to see something like that not be repaired and then used again.  After getting agreement with the pastor’s wife to let me have it, I took that chair to get it fixed and have had it ever since then.  What was valued and special to this pastor was even more valued and special to me because of who owned it, used it, and even wore it out so much it has a mild tilt to it.

I’ve got a chair that is conforming itself to me over time and gets a lot of use.  As I started thinking about my own chair in my living room, I could not help wondering if anyone would ever think of a chair I used as being something they would want.  Am I making enough of a positive difference in the lives of others that what I might see as just a chair would be cherished and thought of as being inspiring, like I think of that previous pastor’s chair every time I sit in it?  I know this humble man thought no one would want his old chair, but I did.  Do I inspire others enough that there might be a similar thought in someone else’s mind one day?

Another direction in this vein is to think about the chair itself.  The chair which conforms itself to my form, my image if you will, could be thought of as the life of each individual whom God Himself wants to use.  If I allow myself to be used by Him, I am then transformed into His image.  In the process of being used, I’ll get to squeaking as time passes, my arms will get thin and worn out, and I just will not move as quickly as I used to move.  However, just as an old chair that is made well, it will keep fulfilling its initial purpose.  Each chair is made with a specific function in mind just as each human is also.  We all will eventually reflect our owner and whom we choose to be owned by is really only between two choices.

The Elephant and Gunkin Troll

elephant gazing

You would have to have your head in the sand lately to have not read about the horrible acts committed this last week in the Sandy Hook, Connecticut, elementary school.  Every time we have a tragedy, the public mourning and prayer of the politicians and public figures dies down quite rapidly to be replaced by the almost never ending blame game by those who want to have an opportunity to unveil, and hope to use, their own ax they have been grinding since the last incident.  The same folks who have been publicly crying the loudest over these innocent lives lost think it is fine to kill the little ones as long as the mother chooses this awful fate before birth happens.  This is a fallacious, hollow, and illogical position to have.  Valuing human life should not start just at birth.

After putting aside their public displays of grief, those who refuse to recognize the need for change of the sinful heart of man by God, instead turn aside from that obvious elephant in the room which hardly anyone in public office will even acknowledge any more.  They look around and ignore the completely conspicuous problem while wringing their hands, fretting, and manipulating anything else they can find in the room to blame for the collapsing foundation instead of what is so clear to many.  Therefore, we have the usual whipping boy rear his head again; his name is Gunkin Troll.  He looks like to a troll to those who like whipping him all the time and they keep at it while he screams louder and louder.  Poor Gunkin Troll.  He just will not behave and learn from the mistakes of himself and others.  He cannot have it his way, so he hopes that if everyone around him felt sorry for him enough, then he could have his way. 

There are those who want physicians to get involved in the debate regarding gun control and expect them to start advising on that on a proactive basis as if physicians do not already have enough on their plates to consider with patients.  If the patient brings it up and seeks advice, certainly physicians would seek to help when presented with a problem.  However, ignoring the elephant in the room and turning to gun control isn’t the answer for what ails our society.  A study in Volume 30, Number 2 of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy (pp. 649-694), answered the question in its title: “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? A Review of International and Some Domestic Evidence.”  The answer is that as gun ownership goes up, murder and suicide rates go down.  Two criminologists, Prof. Don Kates and Prof. Gary Mauser, did an exhaustive study of American and European gun laws and violence rates.  They found that nations with stringent anti-gun laws generally have substantially higher murder rates than those that do not. In comparing the nine European nations with the lowest rates of gun ownership (5,000 or fewer guns per 100,000 population) to the nine nations with the highest rates of gun ownership (at least 15,000 guns per 100,000 population), those with lowest rates have a combined murder rate three times higher.  In Western Europe, for example, Norway has the highest rate of gun ownership and has the lowest murder rate.  However, Holland has the lowest gun ownership rate in Western Europe, but has almost the highest murder rate; Sweden and Denmark  also have high murder rates, but few guns. The study’s authors wrote in the report: “If the mantra ‘more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death’ were true, broad cross-national comparisons should show that nations with higher gun ownership per capita consistently have more death. Nations with higher gun ownership rates, however, do not have higher murder or suicide rates than those with lower gun ownership. Indeed many high gun ownership nations have much lower murder rates. (p. 661)”.  In Russia, the murder rate is four times higher than the U.S. and more than 20 times higher than Norway; private gun ownership is very low after decades of totalitarian rule.  Very few Russian murders involve guns, but the overall murder rate is explained in the study, “[P]er capita murder overall is only half as frequent in the United States as in several other nations where gun murder is rarer, but murder by strangling, stabbing, or beating is much more frequent.”

Getting back to the aforementioned metaphorical example, the elephant in the room looks on the scene in complete amazement as to why so many seem to not even see him, but grab on to Gunkin Troll instead, to blame him for their house falling apart in front of their eyes.  While Gunkin Troll is hollering, the house continues to deteriorate, but at least they feel better because they are “doing something.”  Maybe one day, Gunkin Troll will grow up, turn around, and direct his attention at the elephant in the room before the house is completely demolished.

Conservative Backlash or Bow Down

The major media talking heads have been all jockeying to couch Romney’s loss in terms that are the most favorable to their own biases.  There is an array of attitudes from downright depressed and despondent to outright maddening rage.  It is the usual display of emotions that we all experience when there is a loss: (1) denial, followed by (2) anger, (3) bargaining, and then finally, (4) acceptance; there is wide variability in how long individuals remain in each of these stages and some stay in some of these stages quite a while.  Depending upon how long the stage of anger remains, there will certainly be conservative backlash, and then the latter stages’ prevalence will dictate how much bowing down occurs to what liberals think they deserve in return for the retaining of the presidency.

This week we have seen several stories of employers immediately laying off employees after the election and the stock market certainly has nose-dived as well.  Elections have consequences for sure.  Many feel that they are being forced to work hard to pay for those who choose to not do so and know how to bilk the government for what they need.  What is happening is terrible for our country and is exactly what happens in any socialistic country when people begin losing their incentives for hard work.  It will be hard to stop this trend from continuing given the current administration’s ideals of take from those who can and do, to give to those who could and won’t.  There is a certain level of acceptance in this approach to dealing with the current dire economic forecast and not just anger here.  Many employers held out hoping that policies would change and enable them to expand again with some economic certainty, but with those hopes dashed by the gimme crowds, they have adopted a defensive strategy to enable them to ride out what is seen as the coming storms.

A different level of acceptance is seen in those who think all is lost and want to turn conservative truth into half-baked, libservative pie that no one is going to want to eat because it’s just readily apparent that it’s a desperate attempt to masquerade as a partial liberal just long enough to get elected or stay elected.   We have always gotten bad legislation each time conservatives get into power and then decide to put forth liberal ideas because they think it’ll make them popular enough to stay in office.  This bowing down does nothing more than brings contempt and disrespect.  The bad ideas of the liberals are doomed to fail and conservatives don’t need to despair and change, but be patient and the opportunity for making progress again will most certainly present itself with enough time.

This American ship is seen by many as sinking right now and the life boats are being lowered by those who are already jumping ship in mass numbers to protect what they deem is theirs.  For those who don’t have a life boat, many of them are demanding all of the stuff that they can get before the collapse occurs.  Some say that what will be is just meant to be, but I don’t agree.  God’s will is always that He be lifted up and that all people would come to know Him.  God lets us have free will to make good and bad choices while being blessed, or cursed, depending upon those choices made.  This ship doesn’t have to sink, but we must do some better choosing as a nation soon with everyone grabbing a bucket and throwing the water back out of the hull.  From the way it’s looking now, many of those who are doing that are giving up now.  This is not the time for that kind of thought.  This is the time for those who will “walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).  This is the time for those who will go forth “as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  God’s wisdom is there for the asking if we will ask Him, and then act on what He tells us in His Word and through our prayers.