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Thursday, Apr. 2, 2015
Straining against the leash (03/29/15)
On this Palm Sunday, when Christians recall Jesus entering Jerusalem astride a donkey to Hosanna cheers, this column will address itself to another of God's creatures, the ubiquitous canine. The dog, as is the donkey, is mentioned in the pages of Scripture. The Scotsman Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), author of the celebrated novel "Rob Roy," viewed the dog as a divine gift:...
Relying on God to defend against injustice (03/01/15)
In the 1989 movie "Road House" is an otherwise forgettable scene in which the main character, Dalton, played by the late Patrick Swayze, arrives to manage a rowdy bar in an unnamed Missouri town. Dalton, who has bought a junker car in anticipation of future vandalism in the parking lot, encounters a swaggering bouncer who tells him, "You don't look like much to me." With no trace of anger or irritation, Dalton simply replies, "Opinions vary."...
Does it matter that valor and achievement are earned? (02/15/15)
Referring to a boast that is ultimately untruthful, "blowing smoke" is a wonderful colloquialism. When I was attending seminary in the early '90s, a surprising number of my fellow students would pipe up in class and say, "I marched with Dr. King," meaning the great civil rights leader and Baptist pastor Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated 1968. In my hearing, these students were not challenged to provide details...
Is boredom really 'public enemy No. 1?' (02/01/15)
This column is about the Super Bowl but it isn't. It's really about our collective embrace of the trivial. We embrace it because we have to talk to each other about something, don't we? The only explanation that makes sense to me to account for why "Deflategate" has endured in the public mind for two solid weeks is that we're bored. And when we're bored, we cleave to the nonessential, to trivia...
Seizing an opportunity to become the living hands of God (01/18/15)
"Some men see things as they are, and say, 'Why?' I dream things that never were, and say, 'Why not?'" The epigram above may be one of the best-known quotes attributed to Robert F. Kennedy. No one knows the job the assassinated RFK might have done as president. ...
Keeping it simple has advantages (01/04/15)
It is four days into the new year. Time enough for New Years' resolutions recently made already to be broken. Here's one I hope will endure for me: Keep things simple. Simplicity is required when speaking to small children or to seniors with memory impairment. For everyone in between, simplicity is usually cast to the four winds...
Truth-telling is not necessarily a clear-cut matter (12/21/14)
Tell the truth. Those words are not explicitly stated in the Ten Commandments, although they are broadly inferred by commandment No. 9 -- the one prohibiting false testimony against a neighbor. "Don't steal," however, is straightforwardly stated. In the 2003 best-selling book, "The Kite Runner," the author suggests that every violation ultimately comes down to stealing...
In the spirit of the meddling Jerry Jones (12/07/14)
We tend to make up our minds pretty quickly about people -- sometimes too quickly. I've never had much use for Jerry Jones of Dallas Cowboys fame, for example. My view of him has been settled for some time -- as a meddling, uber-wealthy NFL owner who can't stop but interfering with the operation of his franchise. ...
Real or artificial? (11/23/14)
My dear wife is not a demanding person. I am aware of her preferences, though, and try to make a concerted effort to fulfill them. As she does for me. It's marriage. There is one thing about which she is insistent. We've been a couple for 37 years, and she's always wanted this. What does she want? A live tree at Christmastime...
What can separate us from the love of God? (11/09/14)
My mind seems to go immediately to the Bible when I'm asked a question that has to do with morality or ethics or, especially, the character of God. It's dangerous for a human being to comment about God's attitude about anything -- which is why it's necessary just to fall back on Scripture...
'Did you read the book?' (10/24/14)
With all of the recent excitement over the movie "Gone Girl" -- shot extensively in Cape Girardeau -- people have been in conversation. "Who did you see (in the movie) that you knew? "Where did the busy nightscape come from as Ben Affleck's car crossed the Emerson Bridge?" East Cape is pretty dark at night, you know...
Power of a symbol is in its simplicity (10/12/14)
Whoever it was who came up with the idea of using pink to highlight breast cancer awareness, whatever marketing genius developed that idea, deserves a big bonus every year. During October, we see pink everywhere. Drive past my place of business, Chateau Girardeau, and you'll see decorative pink as you drive along Independence Street all along the frontage to our property. I'm even sporting a polo shirt with a pink emblem. I assure you that pink would not be on my clothing for any other reason...
The words of a great American theologian (09/28/14)
God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time,...
New is exciting, untainted and tempting (09/14/14)
Stay together -- or split up? A professor at a Texas seminary tells of the time he and his wife were on the verge of divorce. Their estrangement was deep and wide. The only thing they had left of their decades-long marriage was their mutual respect for their wedding vows. They held onto those words of lifelong commitment; it was the sole remaining connection left between them...
Support for 2014 movie 'God Is Not Dead' (08/31/14)
Classes have resumed at Southeast Missouri State University. I have met the 28 students in my Old Testament Literature class in Dempster Hall, and we already have had two sessions together. On the first day of class, I did not require the students to sign a statement denying the existence of God...
The danger of a world without common ground (08/17/14)
Me: You sound as if you know a lot about the Civil War. Friend: No, not the Civil War. It's called the "War of Northern Aggression." Full disclosure first: My place of origin is Pennsylvania; I'm a Yankee. The friend to whom I refer is from Georgia. We don't call the war by the same name because our ancestors didn't. It is just one of many differing perspectives on this four-year tragedy in our national life and history...
Talk radio trivia, Flintstones and the Good Book (08/03/14)
[Genesis is a product of] ... "Bronze Age desert tribesmen." -- Richard Dawkins, author, "The Greatest Show on Earth," 2009. On my way home from work, as I -- as do so many others -- try to unwind, I frequently turn on the sports radio station in my car. It's relaxing for me to hear men who make their living talking about the achievement of athletes become so passionate about truly unimportant matters...
Allspark, or the kingdom of God within you (07/20/14)
"And let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness ..." (Genesis 1:26) If you read this entire column, you will note that a group of people in Southeast Missouri did an amazing thing for a terminally ill man and his family. When I heard what they did, my mind went to the epigram that begins this screed...
Tough guy St. Paul: '... live at peace with everyone' (07/06/14)
"I wasn't bad but the bad boys didn't mess with me." -- Cecil Long I hope the reader will indulge my continued use of epigrams to begin this column. On this particular occasion, my thoughts turn to something my late father used to say about his toughness as a kid...
From the same mouth: Blessings and curses (06/22/14)
"People can't drive you crazy if you don't give them the keys." The aforementioned was seen recently in a sign outside First Presbyterian Church in Jackson. The statement is pithy and memorable. Placing a morsel of wisdom in the context of a readily accessible metaphor such as driving a car is an astute strategy for getting at truth. People are, without doubt, God's most maddening creatures...
A genius is at work in the scriptures (06/08/14)
"Some of the happiest people in the world go to bed at night stinking to high heaven." -- Bruce Almighty, 2003 What you've just read were lines from a popular motion picture. The character reading them was played by Morgan Freeman, whose role in the film was that of God. There's nothing from Scripture in that quote, but it's not a stretch to imagine the Bible might carry that exact language...
A holy moment and a humbling experience (05/25/14)
"Why does he shout like that?" ("It's a warning: A warrior is coming.") One of the memorable moments in the 1987-1994 television series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," is when a Klingon dies. A fellow member of his race, realizing the soul has departed for Stovokor, the Klingon heaven, lifts his face to the sky and bellows a savage cry. The cry is a warning that a warrior has died honorably and well and is headed upward...
'Ministering angel' heard voice of God (05/11/14)
What would you say if a person told you he -- or she -- heard the actual voice of God? I use a long-abandoned literary convention, "Dear Reader," to respond. Dear Reader, you might be a bit suspicious of such an utterance. Those who claim that God speaks to them are suspected, at the least, with having a touch of eccentricity. ...
What really happened on that Saturday? (04/27/14)
Last Sunday night, Easter night, my wife and I took our dog for a walk. It was a beautiful night, warm with a slight breeze. Our canine chafed at her leash, so eager was she to explore downtown Jackson. The walk was invigorating and my spouse's curiosity had been piqued. When we arrived home, Lois said, "So, I have a theological question."...
Before Easter, feeling the pain of Good Friday (04/13/14)
Today begins Holy Week, a week that shifts from year to year because the date of Easter -- since the time of the 4th century Roman Emperor Constantine, a Christian convert -- floats depending on the arrival of a full moon. The explanation is a little more complicated than the foregoing but it's close enough to accurate that we'll leave it there. Easter is quite late in 2014, almost as late as it ever can be. I'm grateful for the extra time. A lot has happened...
Biblical stories make a return to the silver screen (03/30/14)
"[Christians] boycotted Hollywood, but they've finally realized that Hollywood doesn't respond to criticism. It responds to the box office." The aforementioned quote appears in the March 31 editions of Time magazine, in a story about the recent spate of financially successful religious movies: "Son of God," which opened earlier this year, and "Noah," which recently opened. Another film in this genre, "Exodus," starring Christian Bale, is set for a Christmas release...
Which of Jesus' disciples are you? I took the test (03/02/14)
A website recently invited me to answer a bunch of questions about myself. The goal was to find out which one of Jesus' original band of disciples I most resembled. Can't resist stuff like this -- so we gave it a try in the hopes it might be revealing...
Just take a pebble: Few things occur in utter isolation (02/16/14)
"You have a splendid grasp of the painfully obvious." A seminary student once said the aforementioned in my presence to a professor, in an act of brazen courage and sheer stupidity. Some things are, to put it colloquially, "as obvious as the nose on your face." Many times we don't realize what is right in front of us, though. Our lives get busy or we become so narrowly focused that we miss what's happening...
A father's null curriculum of restraint (02/02/14)
My father, whose tenuous grip on life has been slipping for awhile thanks to stage-four oral cancer, is coming around the final bend in his nearly 80-year journey. Dad is headed toward the finish line. In fact, since this column was submitted six days before today's publication, it is possible he's already crossed it...
His words turned heads; his deeds saved souls (01/19/14)
Getting people's attention, in a world full of distractions, calls for creative strategies. At one time in our nation's history, when traffic moved more slowly on two-lane roads before the advent of the interstate highway system, a particular company found a way to get motorists to take note of its product...
Using the past as a guide to the here and now (01/05/14)
Those who lead churches are well advised to remember something. In the main, people want their needs met; when they are not met, they vote with their feet. They go elsewhere or they drop out. Today is Epiphany Sunday, the day Christians recall the visit by Wise Men to Bethlehem...
Make room for whom there was no room (12/22/13)
This Christmas, I'm thinking of tinsel. One of the strongest memories of growing up is seeing the shiny silver strands dangling from the branches of the tree. My wife says in her family of origin, tinsel didn't appear until it was time to open presents. ...
A not-so traditional Christmas tree (12/08/13)
This weekend, despite my persistent and patient pleas for an alternative, our family will go out and cut down a live evergreen for our living room. Every year for the 32 Christmases we've spent together as a married couple, I've asked my wife to consider an artificial tree. Every year she tells me if I want a petroleum-based tree made of PVC or aluminum, I'll need a different spouse...
Pain can be like a black mold (11/24/13)
When you ask someone to remember something that happened 50 years ago, it would be perfectly understandable for the reply to be: "I don't know, I've slept since then!" A few things we are able call to mind after a long span of time -- yet those things that have to do with hurt, pain or loss seem to always linger. ...
A look at lollygagging (11/10/13)
There are certain words that consign you to a place in time, words that tend to date you as a human being. "Groovy" and "far out" summon up images of Woodstock, inverted "peace" crosses and the 1960s. These not-to-be lamented terms were gratuitously used in the 1989 baseball movie, "Field of Dreams." A couple of aging hippies buy a farm in Iowa and dead baseball players come out of the cornfield to play on a diamond constructed -- to consternation of his neighbors and his brother-in-law -- by Ray Kinsella, portrayed by Kevin Costner. ...
Touching the third rail (10/27/13)
It's possible that what you are about to read might persuade my editors to retire this column -- given the loyalty this region has always given to the St. Louis Cardinals, now in the World Series. Writing anything that has to do with the Redbirds may be akin to the third rail on a subway track. Touch it and you die. Here I go, plunging ahead, heedless of the danger...
Telling the truth at all times (09/29/13)
Sometimes it's difficult to face and tell the complete truth at all times. Think about it. University of Nebraska head football coach Bo Pelini suggests that angry words inadvertently captured on audio tape two years ago lambasting Cornhusker fans did not represent his true feelings. ...
Worship is like golf, not drivers' education (09/15/13)
Several years ago, a few members of the Cape Girardeau Public Library board of trustees accompanied the director, Betty Martin, to Jefferson City, Mo. We went for Library Day, a chance to meet with our lobbyist in the state capital and with three of our local legislators -- none of whom is serving today. ...
Finding the clutch to put it in reverse (09/01/13)
A friend of mine hates the phrase "going forward." A devotee of plain speaking, even bluntness, the term sounds artificial to him, much the way "downsizing" and "revenue enhancements" sound to me. "Going forward" is a phrase heard in my line of work almost weekly -- and when it is used, an inward grin rises in me. Recalling my friend's distaste for the colloquialism, I find myself forcing down a smile when it escapes another's lips...
Remembering Pope John Paul's message (08/18/13)
Fifteen years ago, a priest from Most Precious Blood parish in south St. Louis called me with an offer I couldn't refuse. "Hey," he said, "You want to go see the pope?" The Rev. Pat Ryan procured tickets for four Methodists to see John Paul II at what was then called the Trans World Dome. And so it was that in January 1999, three youth and I went to see the head of the Vatican state and the worldwide leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The pope doesn't come to your town very often...
Listening through the rain (08/04/13)
If you listen closely, you can hear a lot of things. Even when it's raining. In late July, our family spent a waterlogged week taking in general information sessions and tours of several colleges and universities in Massachusetts. On a wet Friday, while dodging numerous puddles, my wife and I trudged across the Harvard University campus wearing hastily purchased plastic ponchos, with our daughters either doing without or sporting a more useful umbrella. ...
Self-actualize, or 'pay it forward' (07/21/13)
In the 1980s, I worked for a wealthy New York businessman who used to take me and other managers to lunch. This man, worth many millions of dollars, used to review the restaurant bill line-by-line -- removing his eyeglasses to peer closely at the figures. ...
Paying attention to the road of life (07/07/13)
There are lessons to be learned from paying attention to the road. The other day, I was returning to the office after lunch with the newest member of our administrative team at Chateau Girardeau. My passenger noted a police car parked along Independence with its lights flashing. ...
A lesson in living life to the fullest (06/23/13)
On this day, June 23, Jonas Salk died in the year 1995. Salk is probably the greatest man I've ever personally met. It was a chance encounter. Salk, who pioneered the polio vaccine at the University of Pittsburgh -- my hometown, had returned in the 1980s to the city of his greatest achievement to make a speech. ...
Take the first step toward reconciliation (06/09/13)
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift. First go and be reconciled to them. Then go and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24) When I first started out in the pastorate, there were two very diligent servants of Christ in that church who disliked one another. ...
Swearing and forgiveness (05/26/13)
Fudge! I'd like to tell you that the aforementioned was the word that sprang to my mind [and to my mouth] when my laptop noisily fell to the pavement last weekend. Thoughts of spending several hundred dollars to replace the contraption also entered my mind. "Fudge" wasn't the word employed. It was a similar one-syllable utterance which my maternal grandmother would say merited having my mouth washed out with soap...
The Bible, my students and taking notes (05/12/13)
I've had the opportunity to teach at Southeast Missouri State as a part-time instructor over the last couple of years. I'm enjoying it enormously. One thing consistently befuddles this writer. Since confusion is my frequent companion, perhaps this is not out of the ordinary. I'm aware some teaching colleagues share my discombobulation. Here it is: students don't take notes in class...
Robinson's restraint a noble quality (04/28/13)
"With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so." [James 3:9-10] Jackie Robinson could have had a prosperous career as an anger management consultant. ...
A stranger's kindness was appreciated (04/14/13)
Blanche DuBois and the 13th chapter of the letter to the Hebrews would not seem to have much in common. The former is a character in a Tennessee Williams play, "A Streetcar Named Desire." The latter is from a letter of anonymous origin found in the New Testament. The commonality in these apparently disparate references can be found in the attention both play to strangers...
Artwork with special meaning to Christ's resurrection (03/31/13)
There are gifts, and then there are gifts. On this Easter Sunday, I relate a quite unexpected bestowal made to this author. A few weeks ago, a colleague and I were in a business meeting with Cape Girardeau businessman Jim Riley. At one point in the meeting, Jim -- an energetic and enthusiastic person, reaches over and pulls from a shelf a reproduction of a painting. He hands it to me, saying, "It's yours. Take it."...
The church is stronger when we ask questions (03/17/13)
With my students in religious studies at Southeast Missouri State University, the only true and inviolable commandment to them is that they think. They must know and understand the positions taken by the instructor, but they are under no compunction to agree with them. Thinking critically is one of the great necessities of our age -- and any age. I quite literally rejoice when a student is able to use his or her mind to "push back" on the curriculum...
The pursuit of a meaningful life (03/03/13)
Brad Pitt is an actor, hailing from Springfield, Mo. Most Americans, I suspect, recognize his name. The late Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist; his hometown was Vienna. Frankl's name, I'll wager, is somewhat less familiar. One man enjoys a life of great financial wealth and his exploits are often in the news. ...
The love of Jesus is as reliable as earth's gravity (02/17/13)
Church sign boards, sometimes elegantly referred to as marquees, sometimes elicit a chuckle from me, occasionally a snort of derision, and infrequently -- a moment of reflection. The other day, I passed the church in which I was baptized and confirmed. ...
Watching the words we say (02/03/13)
The other day, while sitting in a midday meeting comprised of folk of both genders, an articulate, well-dressed speaker let loose of a profanity that literally led me to choke a bit on my water. Without further elaboration, I'd describe the word as a midrange epithet. Not garden variety swearing but not heavy duty cursing either. If the purpose was to revive us from drowsy attention spans brought on by an excellent repast, the method brought the desired response...
Amish face fracking dilemma (01/20/13)
I went to college in a community dominated by Old Order Amish in northwestern Pennsylvania. Because of this history, I've been following a controversy that is testing the convictions of the members of this tightly knit religious sect. The unrest is over energy; specifically, it's about drilling -- called "fracking" -- for natural gas...
Comparing 'Atlas Shrugged' to Scripture (01/06/13)
For the better part of the now-completed Advent season, I've been reading the late Ayn Rand's 1,158-page novel, "Atlas Shrugged." Rand paints a vivid picture of what she terms as two kinds of people in the world: creators and second-handers. Her praise for the former and her contempt for the latter are fully on display in her 1957 tome. ...
The Christmas story worth retelling and believing (12/23/12)
When our daughters were little, they used to enjoy hearing Dad tell them bedtime stories. I told a tale about a giant playground slide that reached into outer space that seemed to hold their attention for quite awhile. Narratives about a certain wicked witch seemed to delight them, too. At this season of the year, though, Dad would tell his young charges fanciful accounts about Santa...
Four things (12/09/12)
In less than a month from now, the most famous Roman Catholic university in America, Notre Dame, will play Alabama for the FBS national football championship. The last time Notre Dame won such a title was in 1988 when Lou Holtz was the head coach. Holtz was said to have been a master motivator of players and a strict disciplinarian. ...
Seek to understand, not simplify, the Bible (11/25/12)
Years ago, while appearing before a committee vetting candidates for ordained ministry, I answered a question that earned me a well-deserved dollop of ridicule. It's been a lot of years but my memory of the brief exchange went like this:Me: "I believe what the Bible says."...
The afterlife question (11/11/12)
Now and again, I find myself at the Internet doorstep of www.beliefnet.com. I find it an interesting, if somewhat perplexing, website. The website was established in 1999, went bankrupt early in 2002, was re-posted six months later and has been bought and sold twice since its original debut. ...
Religion, politics and the coming election (10/28/12)
"I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end -- where all men and all churches are treated as equal--where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice -- where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind -- and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.". ...
Intelligence vs. understanding (10/14/12)
Albert Einstein was a smart cookie. Of all the sentences you will read in this column, this first one is beyond question. The Nobel Prize-winning Einstein, dead for more than half a century, was the creator of the seminal and groundbreaking General Theory of Relativity and Unified Field Theory. He has been called, for substantial cause, the most intelligent man of the 20th century...
Count blessings and find a path to happiness (09/30/12)
During a recent stay in a bed-and-breakfast in St. Mary's, Mo., the proprietor said the following to my wife and me: "On a certain day in April, for many years, people came from all around to this hilltop to watch the migration of the passenger pigeons. They filled the sky. It must have been something to behold. Of course, the passenger pigeon is now extinct."...
The Bible and outsourcing (09/16/12)
With about 50 days or so until Election Day, both presidential nominees will continue to have plenty to say about one another, little of it complimentary. If we've not made up our minds already, we wade through the rhetorical muck in the hope that something worthwhile will emerge between now and the first Tuesday in November...
My alley-oop nomination for Jesus of Nazareth (09/02/12)
The Republicans have nominated their presidential candidate; the Democrats are about to do the same. It is a plum assignment to get to place Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in nomination. These speeches are the equivalent of the alley-oop pass. The nominating speech floats high and lofty; the nominee slams it home the following evening. The crowd cheers wildly...
Ignorance should not be allowed to breed fear (08/19/12)
"For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of self-control." (2 Timothy 1:7) Fear is caused by many things: uncertainty, pain, danger, etc. Fear is also caused by ignorance. It occurs to me that this last kind of fear, the one born when we are terrified of somebody we know little about, may be the reason for a massacre two weeks ago today. ...
Parsing the words of John Lennon (08/05/12)
The host site of the Olympics receives extraordinary attention from the rest of the world for a two-week period. The United Kingdom is home to the Beatles, arguably the most important pop group in the latter half of the 20th century. Only two of the four Beatles are still living. One of them, Paul McCartney, performed at the opening ceremonies in London on July 27...
Things that make you go hmmm ... (07/22/12)
Arsenio Hall, the most recent "Celebrity Apprentice" winner as per Donald Trump, used to have a wildly successful late-night talk show -- one that may have hastened Johnny Carson's 1992 retirement from the genre. Hall, the Ohio-born son of a Baptist minister (which helps explain Hall's dead-on impersonation of a pastor in the 1988 film "Coming to America"), used to employ a phrase on his eponymous program that often springs to my mind. ...
Like Moses and Barnabas, we can be cheerleaders for other people (07/08/12)
"Save the cheerleader, save the world." This plea, oft-repeated during the inaugural season of NBC's "Heroes," may appear a quirky, even incomprehensible, beginning to a religion column. The reader's patience is therefore requested. Cheerleading has become an expected element in America's sports culture, although it is not universally present. ...
True Christianity vs. the 'I'm OK, You're OK' belief (06/24/12)
"There is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9/NIV) This morsel of truth from one of the Bible's classic books of wisdom literature is endlessly evident. Ideas are continually repackaged, given a new coat of paint and trotted out as new and innovative. ...
Why I am persuaded to say 'God, Yes' (06/10/12)
Penn Jillette is half of a magician/comedy team. Successful for many years, the 57-year-old ponytailed Jillette now is branching out from magic and comedy to commentary on religion. He is a nontheist. In other words, Jillette is a professing atheist who has written a book titled "God, No!"...
A name is just a name; make it what you want (05/27/12)
What's in a name? I've had occasion to consider the question this week while watching professional basketball on TV. I rarely watch the pro game on television unless it is playoff time. When the NBA gets to the postseason, I try to catch as many games as possible. ...
The church can reach more men (05/13/12)
In a 1975 episode of the TV comedy M*A*S*H, the following exchange occurs:Visiting Chaplain: "So, you are a regular churchgoer?" Maj. Frank Burns: "Oh, sure, church is a great way to kill an hour." Burns' line is actually more amusing than it may appear in print. Amusing or not, the sentiment is troubling...
As Jesus did, we should also stick to standards (04/29/12)
Jesus said (to a man asking about how to attain eternal life): "'There is one thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.' At this, the man's face fell. He went away sad, for he had great wealth." (Mark 10:21-22)...
Stepping into the waters of retirement (04/15/12)
W.T. Handy was a strong leader -- a man who knew Robert's Rules of Order so well that you'd think he had written them. When he presided over the yearly meeting of United Methodists -- called an "annual conference" -- there was little doubt about who was in charge. I was in awe of Bishop Handy and, to be candid, a little afraid of him...
Our past can provide the path for real growth (04/01/12)
"I know nothing!" Those who troll their television sets looking for 1960s-era situation comedies will no doubt recall the declarative exclamation that opens this column. Sgt. Schultz of "Hogan's Heroes" (1965-1971) is the author of that signature line...
Words of wisdom when pondering marriage secrets (03/18/12)
"Never presume to know the secrets of a marriage." More than 60 years ago, Sir Michael Redgrave uttered the aforementioned in the 1951 movie "The Browning Version." Redgrave was playing the role of Andrew Crocker-Harris, an unpopular teacher of classical literature at a British school. ...
Intelligence and smartness differences (03/04/12)
This week I bought a "smart phone." It's my first. The store manager accepted my old phone -- presumably a less-than-bright version -- as a trade-in. Apparently, if a portable telephone can only be used to call someone or to send text messages, it cannot earn the "smart" label. Who knew that my little Pantech -- an erstwhile and reliable companion, was a little slow?...
Facebook, blood type and Jesus (02/19/12)
I have a Twitter account but can't remember my "hashtag," whatever that is. For me, Facebook is easier to access and I check it a couple of times each day. It keeps me connected, quickly, with other people -- and given my role as a pastor, this social network helps me in my work...
The mission and those who carry it out (02/05/12)
"It is here now, the supreme folly. This is its hour." The aforementioned was the reputed final declaration (possibly apocryphal) of Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury. Becket was said to have spoken the words just before his assassination by barons loyal to English King Henry II in the year 1170...
Toughness, compassion and love (01/22/12)
Margaret Gorman was the first Miss America, crowned in Atlantic City, N.J. in 1921. Gorman, who died in 1995, once told a newspaper: "I never cared to be Miss America. It wasn't my idea. I am so bored by it all. I really want to forget the whole thing."...
A lesson in never giving up (01/08/12)
Every piece of clothing I own has cat hair on it. All right, that's an exaggeration. It does seem that way sometimes, though. Last Sunday before church, someone approached me to say, "Uh, Jeff, the back of your sweater vest is covered in cat hair." A few quick swipes with the lint roller took care of that. Detritus of feline fur is part and parcel of living with cats -- and my wife and I have owned cats for 30 years...
Love: The secret to gift giving (12/25/11)
The Southeast Missourian is kind enough to offer me a small stipend for every column written -- the proceeds of which I am deeply grateful to receive. I consider this source of revenue "mad money," meaning I do not feel compelled to account for its expenditure in a way that others might find rational and useful. (The preceding two sentences are meant as a "hook" to you, dear reader, in the hopes that you will be intrigued enough to read further.)...
Christmas and accepting God's help (12/11/11)
The Beatles once had a song called "Help!" Not a single person reading this column fails to understand what help is. That's because each of us has been helped, at one time or another, in one way or another, by someone else. At Christmastime, we make our annual declaration that God helped us by sending Jesus to earth -- to share our common lot, to teach, heal and perform miracles and to do the work for which God glorified Him -- death on a cross and resurrection from the grave. ...
Helping out those in need this season (11/27/11)
As you might imagine, Sunday mornings are pretty hectic for a local church pastor. Some colleagues of mine have it rougher. They are assigned to more than one church and have to travel between them to preach on a given Sabbath morning. I've never had to do that. My ministry always has been at one place at a time. Still, Sundays are busy days for those who share my vocation...
'Tebowing' in appreciation (11/13/11)
Tim Tebow is the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos, and his Christianity is on open display at all times when he plays football. While leading the University of Florida to two national championships in three seasons (and winning the Heisman Trophy in 2007), Tebow put Bible verse citations -- most notably John 3:16 -- in his eye black on game days. ...
A surprise from ego-surfing (10/30/11)
I must confess to a "crime." Now that the reader's attention is fully engaged after that opening sentence, the crime to which I refer is not jaywalking (for which I was cited once in Washington, D.C.) Nor is it for a moving violation, which has occurred -- I'm sad to say -- more than once in my life. The unspecified offense to which I refer to is something not found in any book of criminal statutes, but perhaps should be...
Thank you, Billy Graham (10/16/11)
In Cleveland's old Municipal Stadium (which no longer exists), I got saved during a Billy Graham revival as a child. I remember it was cold and that our seats were far, far away from where Dr. Graham was speaking. My recollection is that my coming to Jesus was mainly a flight from the devil. I recall Dr. Graham's words as the lakefront wind chilled me to the core: "If you would die tonight, do you know where you'll spend eternity?"...
What is a family? (10/02/11)
I grew up watching "Leave It to Beaver" on my parents' black-and-white TV set. The cast was made up of Ward and June Cleaver with their boys, Wally and the Beav, with frequent visits from the neighborhood sycophant, Eddie Haskell. A traditional two-parent arrangement, the so-called model of American normalcy in family life...
Pray to God and he will provide (09/18/11)
This summer, God brought me to a verse in the Bible that changed the way I view prayer. In Mark 11:24, Jesus said, "when you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it and you will be given whatever you ask for." Whoa. That is one of the most beautiful things I've ever hoped and believed in...
Success (09/04/11)
I'm not much of a fisherman. I enjoy fishing but am unsuccessful most of the time. Success is measured by catching. There is precious little of that. I have all the necessary means at my disposal -- johnboat, oars, fishing rods, scale, knife, hooks, weights and artificial lures of all varieties. ...
Show, don't tell (08/21/11)
Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 2005, our family spent 16 years in St. Louis County. Up north, this is the question that people ask one another: "Where did you go to high school?" (There are, to be fair, lots of high schools in the St. Louis area.) The high school identifier is a way to locate you geographically...
Evaluating free will with a blockbuster (08/07/11)
I've been writing this column for about five years and have only used this space once to do a movie review. It's about to happen again. If you have roughly two hours free sometime and you enjoy popping a film into your DVD or Blu-ray player, allow me to recommend the 2011 film "The Adjustment Bureau," starring Matt Damon. It has done excellent in the box office for a fairly low-budget (by Hollywood standards) motion picture. It is out of theaters and is available to rent...
A mother-in-law's faith (07/24/11)
I once heard a comedian ask, "Do you know how cold it was that day? Let me tell you: It was colder than a mother-in-law's hug!" My mother-in-law died last week, and I was privileged to have had the eulogy. There was nothing cold about her treatment of me. ...
The Bible isn't broken (07/10/11)
Trying to decide if it makes sense to fix something you own or buy new is one reason I'm paying a lot of attention to the current issue of Consumer Reports. I'm a subscriber to the magazine, and while most things inside are not terribly relevant to me, the "Repair or Replace?" article caught my eye...
Pay attention to the words (06/26/11)
A parishioner purchased the Oxford English Dictionary for me. This is the "big boy" of dictionaries. It's got every word you can possibly imagine -- unabridged, unaltered, uncompromising and unsparing. If a word has appeared in the English language, it's in the OED...
Let's be clear (06/12/11)
Next to the clothesline in a neighbor's backyard. This was the first place I remember really getting hurt in my life. It is one of those sun-drenched fall days, a Sunday afternoon; the weather is crisp but not yet cold. October in western Pennsylvania, culled from the recesses of memory, is recalled as a spectacular time. ...
Honoring the dead (05/29/11)
With Memorial Day weekend upon us, a few thoughts about respect for the dead. William E. Gladstone, 19th-century British prime minister, is reputed to have said the following: "Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness, the tender mercies of its people, their loyalty to high ideals, and their regard for the laws of the land."...
Jesus wept; there's no shame in that (05/15/11)
Years ago, my wife had the opportunity to interview Jim Brady, the onetime press secretary for President Reagan. Brady's work for the 40th president came to abrupt end March 30, 1981, when Brady was shot in the head. What Lois recalls about talking to Brady, who is still alive, is that he had great difficulty controlling his emotions. He would be in the middle of a sentence and just start weeping inexplicably. Brady couldn't help it, of course. But most of us find it unnerving when men cry...
The power to effect change (05/01/11)
Alfred Nobel was appalled at what he read. In 1888, a French newspaper reported erroneously that the Swedish chemist and armaments manufacturer had died. A very much alive Nobel obtained a copy of the report and was startled to read in the obituary the following sentence: "Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday." (Nobel is the inventor of dynamite.)...
Jeff Long
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