Here are my columns to date, posted at Girls Just Wanna Have Guns. I’ll put up the texts a bit at a time, but if you want to go to the site, here they are.
This is a column of mine, published at Girls Just Wanna Have Guns.
Here’s the link: http://girlsjustwannahaveguns.com/2013/04/heart-of-a-lion/
I was getting ready for work one morning, around 6 am, when I heard soft footsteps on the stairs. My youngest son, then 11, emerged into the entry way. He was stepping carefully and in his right hand was his favorite Cold Steel brand machete.
I asked, ‘so, what’s up?’ (I was a little afraid he was sleep walking and would make quick work of dear old pop before I could get to the ER to take care of other injured folks.)
He replied, ‘I heard noises but wasn’t sure who was down here.’
Bottom line? He was ensuring his family was safe. And woe to any poor soul who felt the wrath of his blade.
We had a chat. I praised him for his bravery and then added a parental caveat: ‘but, if you think we have an intruder, you must come and tell me or your mother.’
Like his siblings, he’s passionate and brave. A student of history, he loves the idea of chivalry. My children and I have had many long talks about courageous persons of the past, about battles and strategy and about the merits and disadvantages of ancient weapons. My son’s walls, and the walls of his brothers, are festooned with assorted swords, axes, daggers and archery equipment. Even little sister has a favorite blade, stored in her room in case of emergency. (Don’t panic. They’re unsocialized homeschoolers, so this is pretty normal in our world. Along with reading books that aren’t politically correct and going to school without bullies.)
Contrary to popular wisdom in the public school systems of the West and the lame-stream media, my kids are about as gentle and kind as any on earth. Not that they aren’t capable of doing harm. But you’d have to push pretty hard for them to launch a spear or tomahawk your direction. And by that, I mean you would probably have to break into their home and threaten to harm them or the rest of the family.
I think there are some lessons here; and not just because I’m proud of my children. The first lesson is this: freedom can only be preserved when we teach our children valor. This means explaining to them that there are times in life for bold, decisive, even dangerous action. There are times when it is appropriate to confront evil with force. If we raise generations who believe that the most dangerous threat can be mitigated with hugs and negotiations, then freedom will die along with all of those who try to understand and dialog with tyrants and psychopaths.
Teaching valor involves telling stories of the past, talking about the news of the day, and providing our children with fitness and the sort of activities considered completely appropriate in centuries past; things like wrestling, boxing and marksmanship.
But here’s the second lesson. Just as freedom must always be balanced by responsibility and accountability, so courage and valor must be kept in dynamic tension with morality and mercy, with kindness and gentility. We cannot raise men, or women, capable of violence (and every human being is) if we deny the value of morals and ethics. We may fight in the front yard with heavy plastic swords, shoot arrows at targets or shoot clay-pigeons with shotguns. But we also discuss right and wrong through the lens of history and the teachings of our faith.
The world is dangerous. And those of us who believe that self-defense is a right granted by the Creator, not sanctimoniously granted by politicians who think we’re peasants, also believe that we have to prepare our children for those dangers, moral and physical.
Much of the world disagrees with that assessment. Oh, they know it’s dangerous. But they don’t want anyone prepared to deal with it in any way other than calling 911 and waiting for the inevitable end. Because of this, they want the masses disarmed. But here’s what they don’t understand. Self-defense doesn’t reside in the weapon, but in the spirit.
This is what we have to teach our next generations. Weapons are necessary to combat both tyrannical rulers and dangerous individuals. Americans have developed a unique passion for the creation of weapons and the appropriate use of weapons. But ultimately, the weapon is secondary. The heart and mind are most important.
If we do that, if we teach right and wrong, if we teach freedom and justice, if we teach chivalry and courage, then the weapons themselves are not the issue. Trust the guy who saw the fire in the eyes of his son, who was prepared to clear the house of bad guys with nothing more than his machete…and the heart of a lion.
This is my column in today’s Greenville News.
Acts of Altruism and Goodness Transcend our Divisions.
We all love a good story because its lessons endure; it penetrates into our hearts and minds. For example, you can sit and tell your child why love matters, about how night-time is bed-time and that he should close his eyes and to go to sleep. But you’ll make your point more clearly if you hold your child while you read ‘Goodnight Moon,’ by Marjorie Wise Brown. ‘Goodnight moon, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere,’ is pure sleepy-time poetry. You can also discuss the dangers of jealousy till your eyes turn green, but a reading of Othello really speaks volumes.
We have innumerable laws to stop violence, hatred and discrimination. We condemn hateful speech and teach kids about fairness and equality by using the jargon of politics and law. We try to explain the value of altruism by framing it in evolutionary terms. But a story does the job. And what better story to teach us love than Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan?
It’s a tale set in ancient times about a man who is beaten, stripped, robbed and left for dead on a lonely highway between Jerusalem and Jericho, and about the unlikely man who stops to help. But it requires some context. The road the two were traveling was known to be dangerous, a place for robbers. Stopping to assist a half-dead stranger was not what our moms would call ‘a good decision.’ It was, in modern terms and ancient, a little crazy. The two main characters, one a Samaritan and one a Jew, came from common ancestors. However they came from cultures that had great animosity towards one another, based on historical events.
If you don’t know the rest of the story, it’s like this: after two influential religious men walk by and ignore the wounded fellow, the Samaritan stops to help him, puts his bloody, bruised form on a donkey, takes him to an inn and pays the inn-keeper to take care of the stranger. Then he promises more payment later if the costs exceed the money he leaves. Jesus asked his listeners, ‘which of them do you think was a neighbor to this man?’
This is a parable that we can adapt for our times with relative ease. But it requires us to think differently, and especially to think differently about those we dislike, or even hate. For instance, what if the the event happened in ‘the bad part of town,’ or at 3 am on a busy highway? What if the wounded man was a known member of Westboro Baptist Church? And what if the man who finally stopped was a soldier, a groups roundly condemned by the odd folks of Westboro?
What if the wounded man was a wildly popular atheist author and two preachers walked by. What if only an elderly Sunday School teacher had the courage to stop?
What if three liberal college students stopped to look at the wounded man, who was an influential conservative talk radio host? What if they wanted to help, individually, but each was too committed to their views to risk acting with kindness in plain view of the others?
What if the wounded man was a wealthy industrialist, and he was passed by a news reporter who hated him, but a Communist stopped to help? What if a Jew stopped for a Muslim? What if a Muslim stopped for a Jew? What if two politicians walked by but a homeless man stopped and draped his only coat over the victim? Here’s ‘what if.’ They would become, in Jesus’ words, neighbors. Sometimes we believe that we cannot love our enemies. This is because we think feelings must precede actions. But it’s quite the opposite. The Good Samaritan may not have felt love for the man he helped. But he acted in love, because it was right. If we do this sort of thing enough, we see what he saw; the scars and vulnerability of even our most bitter opponents. If we do it enough, we will pay a price, in criticism, in danger, in money or health. And if we do it enough, we may see that we are as likely to be the wounded man, or the careless passerby, as we are to be the Samaritan ‘hero’ we’d like to be.
The story tells us the truth. Our actions, our acts of altruism, kindness, mercy and goodness, are the essence of love and transcend divisions. And that’s how enemies become neighbors in God’s eyes.
Here’s a great link from Wired Magazine.
This is a link to my column at today’s Girls Just Wanna Have Guns.
This is an older blog post, but I realized it needs a re-post since it still gets significant traffic from physicians who are questioning their careers.
This is my column in today’s Greenville News.
Hateful words do damage.
Recently, two deaths shed remarkable insight into the human capacity for cruelty and hatred. Early this month Matthew Warren, the 27-year-old son of noted American pastor and author Rick Warren, died by his own hand. He had suffered from lifelong depression and had received extensive professional care. He apparently spent the day with his family then shot himself that night.
A few days later, Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, passed away of a stroke at 87. Her policies were polarizing, to say the least. Progressives hated her and conservatives adored her.
In the wake of both deaths, there were voices of sympathy and mourning. Kind persons said they were sorry were for the families of these widely separated, unrelated persons; one a broken young man, the other a venerable world leader.
Of course, there’s another side. The side that believes in kicking a family when it’s down. The side that is gleeful at the death of an ideological foe. The side that ignores the old axiom, ‘don’t speak ill of the dead.’
In response to a USA Today column about Matthew Warren’s death, some left comments that saying there was no heaven or hell, so Matthew’s Parents would never see him again. Others attacked his father, suggesting the tragedy was a kind of ‘just desserts’ because of his conservative theology, particularly his stance against same-sex marriage. Another explained that the Warrens should simply abandon primitive superstitions like their faith. Obviously, there were many kind comments, many heart-felt expressions of grief. But there were plenty who felt that this was the perfect time to launch a verbal and emotional assault on Rick Warren, his family and his faith.
Those thrilled with Thatcher’s demise asked fellow supporters to buy copies of Ding Dong the Witch is Dead from the Wizard of Oz, to propel it up the charts so that BBC Radio would have to play it on their weekly Official Charts Show. Street parties celebrated her death and assorted online comments mocked her state funeral, saying that it should have been privatized ‘the way she would want it.’ Not surprising, since some British artists have hated her for so long. In 1987, musician Elvis Costello released a song with these unfortunate lyrics about Margaret Thatcher: ‘I’ll stand on your grave and stamp the dirt down.’
Fast forward to the horrors of this week’s Boston Marathon, where a terrorist bomb left three dead, hundreds injured (many critically) and resulted in some 30 amputations. As a nation we shake our heads. World leaders say how sorry they are. Sympathetic persons overseas, in places like Baghdad, express their concern…they know a few things about bombs in crowded places. We check the television and the Internet, waiting for what we hope is an answer, a suspect, any bit of information to put the pain and suffering into some kind of category. Hoping at least for someone to blame; for some face to attach to our fears that we might also be in a crowd, one day, when suddenly flames and shrapnel erupt. We know what, when and where. We want the other W’s. Who and why?
We can’t imagine that anyone could be so cruel. Why hate that much? Why would anyone need to detonate a bomb in a crowd? Who could despise innocent people and murder them? Who could feel such hatred towards free people on a lovely day in a beautiful city?
Here’s the thing. The Bible says ‘From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.’ History is clear; ideas become words and lead to actions. If we can hate the mourning, if we can dance with joy at the death of legitimately elected leaders, how far is it to violence? If we can speak cruelly to the suffering, if we can laugh at misery, if we can write lyrics celebrating death, how long until we can laugh as we cause suffering? Until we laugh in the face of the miserable, rather than hiding online? How long until we feel fully justified killing the persons whose ways of life, ideas or goals we find reprehensible?
St. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, said this in 1 John 3:15: ‘Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.’ If he’s right, and I believe he is, the line between hateful words and nail-packed bombs may be thinner than we like to believe.
My wife and I have been going through the Focus on the Family Truth Project with our four children. It’s heady material but extremely well done. Even as it educates, it raises vital issues of philosophy and theology, too often ignored by evangelicals.
Let’s be honest. As Christians, we prefer easy answers. The problem is that the questions of life, the really important questions, don’t lend themselves to easy answers. Sure, we can say ‘because the Bible says so,’ or ‘it’s what Jesus wants.’ But that sort of answer does not prepare our children. And it leaves them wandering aimlessly into ambush by the world and by academics, media figures and cultural icons who on the whole consider Christianity an antiquated faith of blathering idiots, if not a hateful faith of fundamentalists. While neither of those are true, it is imperative that we not assume our children understand the truth.
So here is my advice to my fellow Christian parents: If you want your children to be life-long believers, to follow a faith that is both glorious and difficult, heart-changing and mysterious, simple and often confusing, you have to let them ask hard questions without judgment. And you owe it to them to give honest, well-researched answers instead of Sunday School platitudes.
You need to read to them and with them. You MUST pray for wisdom and insight. You need to explore apologetics along with science, history along with evangelism. You need to read the Word of God and read the words of God’s saints. Not just the latest offerings at Lifeway Christian Store, or the most recommended book from the biggest church. Read some Augustine, and some Aquinus, some Polycarp and some Luther, some St. Francis and some Wilberforce, some Jonathon Edwards and some G.K.Chesterton, along with C.S.Lewis and George MacDonald. My list is woefully inadequate. But I’m trying to say this: your children need you to understand the reasonable, rational, historical and eternal nature of their Faith. And they need you to listen as they ask about right, wrong, good, bad, sin, evil, warfare, sex, sexuality, drugs and every other thing that crosses their paths. And you can’t answer all of those things by simply reading the Sunday School material and hoping for the best.
Let’s reclaim knowledge and wisdom. Let’s make our sons and daughters not only evangelists but thinkers, philosophers, theologians, thinkers! If we do, they’ll turn the world upside down for God.
Or, since it’s already upside down, perhaps they’ll turn it right-side up.
This is my Easter column in the Greenville News. May you have a deeper understanding of the message of the resurrection of Jesus.
Easter Sunday is the day we too easily make Jesus the God of good people, the God of nice boys and girls and proper men and women, with freshly pressed clothes and baskets of candy, who go home for nice dinners. The people who know all of the right Sunday-School answers to life’s questions.
However, having spent my medical career seeing a lot of wounded, broken people, I have a message this Easter, whether you’ll be in church or not; whether you’ll have chocolate bunnies or just be happy for food. Whether you have a new dress or an old pair of jeans. Because the miracle of Easter is for all; and especially for those who are longing for hope and love.
Here’s what you need to know. The resurrection was for ancient alcoholics and 21st century Methamphetamine addicts. It was for the prostitutes of antiquity and the sex-workers of the Internet. That magnificent event was meant to heal the bitter slave holders and oppressors of times past and the manipulative money-launderers of modern banking scams. The Man from Galilee died for physical sicknesses of the past that left men and women beggars, and for the schizophrenia that leaves people babbling beneath underpasses today. He died for the grief, depression and anxiety that we now treat only with pills and more pills.
Jesus’ act was for all. For the Roman soldiers who crucified Him and for the terrorist bombers of our time. It was for the poor and rich, for the starving and the obese. He died and rose for environmentalists and litterers, for progressives and fundamentalists. It was for those whose sin is pride and for those whose pride was long ago lost in professional failure. It was for those who rob from the poor, and for the vicious poor who use poverty as an excuse to steal and murder. It was for the married and divorced, the widowed and the engaged, the orphan and the beloved son or daughter. It is for the believer, but it remains available for the ones who can’t believe; at least not yet.
Jesus came for scientists and simpletons; for academics and tradesmen. He made no difference between them, for all were ultimately in need of the same saving work. He came for the religious leaders who condemned him, for wayward pastors, embezzling televangelists, abusive priests, patient missionaries, non-committed universalists and the martyred founders of the Church. Indeed, He came to give the same clarity to all. The clarity that He was the way and that by believing and seeking Him they could find their longings answered and be re-born in Him and in His love. His intent was for His followers to continue in kind, and embrace everyone else with the love they received, offering them not sterile, disinterested ‘tolerance,’ but much more. They were to spread His offer of healing, forgiveness, redemption, transformation and eternal life.
Consider this. In an age of endless demographic groups used for politics and marketing, there is no demographic for whom Jesus did not die and live again. There is no sin or affliction, no shame or personal abuse, no history, no wound, no lie, no faithlessness, no cruelty endured or inflicted that did He did not take to the cross. Nothing, and no person, that He neglected in His universe changing, soul-saving, death-ending, time-shattering, sin-atoning act.
This is harder for us to accept that we might like to admit. It’s one thing for Jesus to die and return for me; but quite another that he did it for someone I dislike, disdain or with whom I share no commonality. And yet, that is the salient point. The bruised, bloodied and resurrected point. He is our commonality, who unites us in redeeming our common sin.
Whomever we are, we bring our wounds and sins to this new day, this resurrection day; sometimes hidden beneath our pinks, greens and blues, suppressed (even in church) by the right words and smiles. Happily, whatever we woke up bearing, whatever personal agony, whatever tomb we seem to dwell in or be destined for, this morning there is unbelievable news.
Jesus took our place, Jesus took our pain and guilt and sorrow and fear. Jesus took our disease and wounds and very mortality and condemnation up to the cross, down to the grave, and left it behind. And whatever we are, or did, or bear upon us, these words remain relevant.
He is risen. So are we if only we desire and accept.