Archive for November, 2010

Gospel According to Dickens

It was a great weekend at the Whispering Pines B&B in Nebraska City with the Notting Hill Napoleons (Denny & Claire Hartford, Bill & Karen Coker, Quint & Carol Coppi, Ruth Densler, Karla Struble, Chet Thomas and Barb and I) discussing this years Dickens selection, “David Copperfield”. You won’t hear the common refrain, “I’ll wait for the movie to come out” with this group. Avid readers all, they come with their unique perspective on each book we read and enrich everyone else’s reading experience.

The Napoleons is the name of a book reading club that Barb and I have had the privilege of being a part of since 1992. Every year we read a Dickens novel in November and spend a weekend in Nebraska City with the group and choose our next years reading selections and discuss the Dickens novel. It was a lively and instructive as well as challenging discussion again this year. Among the wide range of thoughts we bring to the discussion, we always bring our faith to the read as well as the discussion trying to discern the Christian themes and how the author is challenging us.

I was particularly struck this year by three themes that we discussed. The first was the idea that when given an opportunity to be a blessing to someone else, if you capitalize on that opportunity you are able to forget about your own problems, focus on someone else and you will be blessed and you will change for the better.

There were numerous examples of this starting with David’s Aunt Betsy Trotwood. Betsy had turned her back on David when he was born but when given another opportunity to be his guardian, she put her whole self into that and became one of the favorite characters in the book. Mr. Peggoty, Traddles, Mr. Micawber also were part of this theme, but probably none more so than a minor character by the name of Martha. She was a fallen woman who had left her small town to hide in the anonymity of the London streets. Mentioned early in the book, we loose track of her until well past the middle of the book, a young woman (Emily) who had befriended her after her fall, went missing herself and for a similar reason to Martha. Emily’s guardian and uncle, Mr. Peggoty is determined to find Emily and thinks of Martha. He seeks her out and finds her about ready to jump into the Thames and end it all. The possibility of helping her friend Emily gives Martha a reason to live. She dutifully does all she can. Without giving away too much to those who might want to read the story, this purpose for Martha’s life is redemptive for her. This challenges me to remember that my life is best used up in reaching out to others or offering to provide lifelines. Do you want the blessing? Who are you blessing? The best way to ensure God’s blessing on you is to be a blessing to those around you.

The second theme I thought particularly interesting, coming from Dickens whose “Christianity” was somewhat spotty based on his life style and writings, was the idea that “Christians” could be un-Christian without Christianity being blemished.

There were two characters, a brother and sister Murdstone, who used Christianity as a veil or as a cover to be very unkind and even cruel. In spite of that and the fact that Dickens calls them out (“I find no support for the positions of Mr. Murdstone in the New Testament”) there is no trashing of Christianity per se’ in the book. Mr. Peggoty is shown as a very devout man who loves God. It is interesting in that Dickens portrays two very real situations in Christendom, the hypocrite who would bring disrepute to the church and the true man or woman of God who is in fact honest, trustworthy, kind and charitable. The first does not invalidate the latter and a bad experience with the first does not require the repudiation of the latter. How many of us have had bad experiences with Christians and have had a hard time maintaining a relationship with God or His people? God is good!

Finally towards the end of the book I was surprised to see a very clear presentation of a man laying his life down for another. What was so stark about it is that not only was this man able to lay his life down for another man, he was able to do it for his enemy. I was reminded of the scripture “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. The man, Ham who was severely wronged by Steerforth, waded into a raging tempest of a sea to try to rescue him. Did he know he would die in the attempt? Did he know who he was going to rescue? It is not clear. Did Dickens do it for irony sake, or was he trying to paint a picture of the great love our savior had for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ willingly died? I do not know what Dickens intentions were, but I do know that for me it was clear. Christ knowingly died for me and he did it even though I had severely wronged Him and even though He knew I would fail Him many times after my rescue. He also did it regardless of me accepting His plan of rescue or not. He also did it for everyone reading this.

So, as I sign off and look forward to my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, I challenge you to remember His rescue this Thanksgiving and give Him the thanks He deserves.

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How Will we get to Grandmothers House?

The recent furor over the airport searches this past week had me wondering what I would do if I was planning to fly?

I know that not all the extreme stories are true about the pat downs or full body images, but there are real concerns from a modesty standpoint to appropriate touching of adults with children as well as concerns from a health standpoint. That is not to answer the real question will the searches actually keep us safer?

I am reminded of a well-known Benjamin Franklin quote “If you give up your liberty for your safety, you will end up with neither” that seems particularly applicable to our current situation. Now it is true that all of us will give up some liberty for safety. We all think that stop signs are a good idea. We think it is a good thing that if you are intoxicated, it is illegal to drive. We think it is ok for there to be certain minimum building standards, so we don’t have to worry about building collapses. There are many other examples in our daily lives that we take for granted. It is possible that some of those lost freedoms were once fought to be retained, but we have come to appreciate the safety measures, without really even thinking of them. I wonder if that will happen with the enhanced security measures. Will we eventually get used to them? Should we?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S Constitution states in part “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause….”. Are these searches reasonable? Is there probable cause? Have warrants been issued? I am not an attorney and I do not know all of the case-law that has ensued from this amendment to clarify it, but I’m sure this will be tested in the courts and smarter people than I will sort it out, but I know where I stand on this. Do you?

We have become quite used to infringements on our rights and unreasonable searches are becoming more prevalent and the recent activities at airports are just the most recent and most egregious example. Ceding rights to a government is a dangerous thing to do, because they rarely come back. I remember the fuss over the Patriot Act shortly after 9-11, but that has mostly died down. Sadly I think we will get used to the public humiliation in airports as well. The down side is that if we do, we can expect this type of search to expand to other areas, such as train stations, bus depots and multiple occupancy office buildings. Do we want that? Is that hysteria?

Are we descending into a police or fascist state? I don’t know. I read with horror the lives that people live(d) in Nazi Germany, or Communist China and I know we are not there, but I wonder how many of our freedoms we have to cede before we become no better than those police states.

Back to these airport security checks, I guess I should be glad that they are checking everyone because that means they are not profiling. Who knows, if the TSA decided to profile, maybe they would profile white middle-aged men from the Midwest. I would be in deep soup then. Until then I guess we can all be inconvenienced, humiliated and put at a health risk because a few Muslim men from other countries have attacked our airplanes.

I Thank God For America

November is the month of Thanksgiving and as I was thinking about that, it was mixed in my mind with other days that are significant in the month, including Election Day and Veterans Day. I began to realize that I am really thankful to God for America for so many reasons. Let me recount some of those reasons:

  • I thank God that He has birthed us with a respect for who He is and what His role is in our individual as well as corporate lives. His word says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and our founding documents say that “we are endowed by our creator”. I thank God that we recognize that.
  • I thank God that He founded us with a respect for human life, “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among those life….”
  • I thank God that our station in life is not static. If we are born in poverty, we can achieve all that God intended for us to accomplish, because our country allows us the freedom and encourages us to pursue our dreams, which in reality are God’s dreams for our lives. “I know the plans I have for you,… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”
  • I am thankful to God that I am not a subject of a king or a government, but that God has given me the privilege and responsibility to govern. I am part of this government of the people, for the people and by the people.
  • I thank God that I am free to worship Him. I do not answer to a government, nor do I need to worship Him in secret. I can unabashedly and fearlessly worship God and honor Him in my home or with friends, in a park or a building, but I do not fear persecution, jail, beating or death because I choose to worship God.
  • I am thankful to God that many men and women, many good friends (my dad included) have been willing to protect these blessings from God with their very lives, traveling far from home, in extreme cold and extreme heat under duress from enemy guns. I am thankful to them, but I recognize Jesus in their self-sacrifice and so I know God put that in their hearts to be willing to lay down their lives for a friend. The ultimate thanks goes to God.
  • I thank God that I can travel from sea to sea in peace because I know God has blessed us with laws that are fairly and consistently enforced through honorable law enforcement personnel and honorable judges. “When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice”
  • I thank God for the abundance and the quality of food and clothing that He provides to us. God is kind to us and I thank Him. “Her profits will go to those who live before the LORD, for abundant food and fine clothes.”

For these things and many other things, great and trite, I thank God for America. I feel like America is God’s gift to me (us). He carved a country out of a world of tyranny and oppression, where the poor were doomed to poverty, with unjust and fickle law and no ability to improve their station in life. It was a world where only a privileged class made the laws that people were subject to, but often the rulers were exempt from.

It may seem naive or nationalistic or even jingoistic to write this way, but I am convinced that America was formed with a purpose by God and, as His people, we are to be thankful for it. Where it falls short in reaching the heights I have ascribed to her, it is incumbent upon us, the People of God and the people of America to restore her to or bring her to those heights. We have been given a great opportunity by God to do good in the world. I am thankful to God to be able to be a part of that. 

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