Look Before You Leap!

The year was 1997. I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, with my feline roommate, Calypso. Life together had settled into certain routines. After my morning shower, Clipper (her nickname) routinely jumped into the tub in her birthday suit to watch me shave through an opening in the curtains. Okay, there is no accounting for taste.

Calypso’s birthday suit was a fine tuxedo. Her smooth black coat came with an elegant tail. Her tummy was fluffy white with matching socks. It was amusing to see such a well-dressed figure in my bathtub.

One morning, unknown to Calypso, water lingered in the tub because the drain was clogged. After I got out, Clipper leaped over the rim toward her usual destination in the tub. During her downward descent, she noticed that something was different. However, she was dead to rights committed to a bath. Gravity demanded it.

Then an amazing thing happened. She decided in a fraction of a split second that she would just as soon not have a bath that morning, thank you. She performed the most astounding cat acrobatics I have ever seen. She managed to spring from one vertical side of the tub to the other and catch a portion of the curtain with one paw while hooking the rim of the tub with another. She downright defied the laws of physics to avoid a baptism by immersion (isn’t it amazing what some will do to avoid baptism?) I tell you, that cat had virtual mid-air brakes! It was like watching a frantic cartoon character suspend itself in animated animation to avoid an undesirable encounter.


(editor’s notes: this is not Calpyso, nor do we endorse tricking cats to jump into a tub full of water)

Having escaped a feline fate worse than a visit to the vet, I saw Clipper shake a paw. It must have grazed the watery surface, indicating she may not have completely defied all the realities of life in the elemental world after all. Still, if Olympic judges had seen it, she would have scored perfect tens across the board. I was duly impressed and I laughed so hard I could hardly brush my teeth.

I miss Calypso but I still relish the lesson she taught me that morning: Look before you leap!

I have a list of favorite oxymorons and “cat baptism” is on it. You, however, are not a cat so Christian baptism may be for you. If so, look before you leap! Jesus used the example of a builder intending to erect a tower to teach that those who wish to follow him need to first sit down and estimate the costs (Luke 14:28-30). Consider carefully the life-transforming ramifications of being buried with Christ in baptism and don’t start something you cannot finish. Count the cost before taking the plunge. Here are some Bible passages to peruse as you consider baptism:

  • Matthew 3:13-17.
  • Luke 3:1-6.
  • Acts 2:36-39.
  • Romans 6:1-11.
  • Galatians 3:23-29.
  • Colossians 3:8-15.
  • 1 Peter 3:18-22.

And by all means, never jump into a tub with your tux on, even if it is your birthday suit.

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The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

Or Else…

SERIOUS QUESTIONS:

1. Should a private dating service be forced against their conscience to facilitate homosexual relationships? This happened to E-Harmony in 2008 under the prospect of huge court costs (much of which they had to pay anyhow). Homosexuals are not hindered from starting dating services and many exist. Nevertheless, homosexual activists and their lawyers forced E-Harmony to meet their demands, or else.

2. Do you think a faith-based adoption agency should be forced by law to abandon any priority given to traditional families (with a mom and a dad), or else? This too is happening. After “same-sex marriage” was imposed by some judges in Massachusetts, Catholic Charities had to end its longstanding work of placing orphans in good homes. A legal mandate to place children in same-sex households (a violation Catholic teaching) was forced on them, or else.

3. Do you think private business owners (wedding photographers, caterers, bed-and-breakfast owners, etc.) should, under legal intimidation or intense boycott pressure, be forced to support the homosexual lifestyle or suffer financial loss or be shut down? A quasi-marital “civil unions” policy in New Jersey caused a Methodist institution to be stripped of its tax exempt status because they could not in good conscience allow ceremonies blessing homosexual unions in their privately owned facility.

4. Should the Boy Scouts be forced to comply with homosexual demands to abandon their scoutmaster qualifications? Shouldn’t they be free to as a private organization to set their own safety policies? The Scouts do nothing to interfere with anyone’s right to start an alternative organization with different policies. Yet, their freedom of conscience has been under attack by the ACLU and homosexual militants for two decades. Since losing a 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision in 2000 (favoring the free association rights of the Scouts), opponents have formed a coalition of groups to escalate attacks against the Scouts at state and local levels. They pressure companies to withdraw support from the Scouts, demand that United Way drop the Scouts from their fundraising drives and file countless law suits against local governments to prohibit the Scouts from using parks and public buildings. The ACLU has managed to deprive the Scouts from recruiting resources and public fund-raising avenues that are freely used by radical homosexual activist and atheist groups.

5. Should our government compel pro-life hospitals, clinics, physicians, surgeons, nurses and other health care professionals to perform or participate in abortions or refer patients to those who do, or else? Or should the public respect the consciences of others and take their own initiative to find non-religious institutions and health care workers who do not have pro-life scruples? In 2012, the Obama administration (Department of Health and Human Services) attempted to impose a mandate on religious organizations to provide insurance for things which violate their conscience. For the first time, such a decision violating religious liberty came by executive fiat.

6. Do you think children in public schools should be exposed to homosexual recruiting literature and indoctrination at taxpayer expense? Should public school kids grow up being asked to decide if they want to marry a boy or a girl someday? It’s happening, whether our media report it or not.

7. Should Christian clergy be prosecuted for preaching biblical morality related to sexuality? This has happened in other Western countries. In America, hate-crime legislation as well as alleged anti-bullying pretexts are regularly abused to intimidate people of conscience who don’t have an ounce of hate in them and would never bully a soul. It is people of faith and good conscience who are more often being bullied.

A SOBER ANSWER:

Religious conscience is not well respected today. Threats and intimidation have worked on many (not the Boy Scouts which is why they remain under relentless attack). Following Jesus means truly loving all sinners while objecting to and actively opposing the destructive and disrespectful trends we see in our current culture. When faced with another intimidating “or else,” we will take “else” rather than compromise our conscience for a cheap reward or to appease an intimidator. Like Jesus, we will stand alone if we must. Our culture is toxic enough.

A month before Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson passed away, he was placed on a black list by The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation along with 35 others who GLAAD targeted for demonization and exclusion from major media outlets. No one is more fair and gracious than Colson, even in disagreement. Let’s give him the last word here:

“A believer may risk prison for his own religious beliefs, but he may never build prisons for those of other beliefs… It is our duty to create a cultural environment where conscience can flourish.” Charles Colson, The Enduring Revolution

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The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

Goodness Vs. Gaga

Our popular culture seems to love sin and hate sinners.

Face it–we live in a scandal-mongering society. The same media that celebrate so many sins also love to devour the sinners who commit them. Sympathetic portrayals of homosexuality, prostitution, shacking up and adultery pervade our entertainment media while public figures caught engaging in such celebrated pathologies are often crucified by the media. National elections often teeter and totter on the latest outrage over someone’s sin, depending on who the self-righteous media choose to destroy. Ruining reputations, shattering careers, shaming the “guilty,” are specialties of our national media. And we eat it up.

Speaking of loving sin and hating sinners, Lady Gaga, a pop-culture entertainer with some 21 million Twitter followers, calls her fans “little monsters.” I fully realize it’s a term of alleged affection (and a marketing tactic) for people who are seen as nerds, freaks, weird, queer or rejects. They apparently love being called “little monsters” and she loves getting rich off of their “love.” This label does not apply to her fans respectfully as individuals but as a category defined by traits she wants to glorify. Her song, “Bad Kid” (from her Born This Way CD), celebrates monstrous traits with terms like “b-t-h,” “loser,” “jerk,” “brat,” “twit” and “degenerate.” Reveling in her badness, Gaga croons, “I’m so bad and I don’t give a d-mn, I love it when you’re mad.” Turning from herself to her fans, she sings, “You’re still good to me if you’re a bad kid baby.”

She’s gaga over blatant badness and I can’t spin this as respect or genuine affection.

Long ago, the prophet Isaiah saw through such spins. He sang of those who “call evil good and good evil.” (Isaiah 5:20). Gaga glorifies badness as goodness and celebrates the alienation that can come with being bad. Her evil-glorifying influence tightens the shackles that sin has on the hearts of the fans she belittles as “monsters,” at the expense of their dignity as human beings. The fact that so many revel in this and idolize Gaga does not make it right.

Christianity turns all this right-side-up! The life-changing ministry of Jesus to struggling marginalized people bears no comparison to the sin-glorifying destruction that pop-icons like Lady Gaga bring to them. God showed a harrowing hatred of sin and an incredible love for sinners when He executed His plan for Jesus to die on our behalf and then rise again. The maxim, “hate the sin and love the sinner” is rooted in the cross of Christ where God demonstrated His holy hate for sin and divine love for sinners at the same time. Christians see God’s dynamic posture toward sin and sinners as marching orders as we take up our cross to follow Jesus. The Bible contains countless calls to hate evil. And though our neighbors (like us) are sinners, we are commanded to love them.

In the Christian classic, The City of God, St. Augustine wrote:

St. Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430 AD)

That is, he should not hate the man because of the fault, nor should he love the fault because of the man; rather, he should hate the fault but love the man. And when the fault has been healed there will remain only what he ought to love, and nothing that he ought to hate.

Over a millennium later, the ever articulate poet, Alexander Pope (1688-1744) said, “Love the offender, yet detest the offense.”

This motto, however, is a crippling cop-out if you claim both sides of it (hating sin and loving sinners) but only practice one side. The principle reflects the gospel at its core, but if we pay it lip service to both sides but still hate sinners in actual practice, we are without excuse. And if we say we love sinners while “lovingly” excusing sin, this is an equally ungodly stance.

The Christian gospel has always turned the world’s values on its head. It humbles the exalted and exalts the humble. It puts the first last and the last first. It transforms our love of sin into repentance and our self-righteous disdain for sinners into sacrificial love. Isn’t grace amazing?

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The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

“I have to help out”

“By helping others, you are a hero.”
Dale Gifford, Minister, speaking at Harding University, January 24, 2007, at his son’s memorial service.

“Heaven holds All to me.”
Marsha Gifford, in a letter after the death of her son, Micah.

Micah Stephen Gifford (1979 – 2006)

Late in 2006, two men in army uniforms (a sergeant and chaplain) rang a doorbell in Redding, California.  Without words, Dale and Marsha Gifford knew why they came.  An improvised explosive device (IED) had taken the life of their 27-year-old son Micah while supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Before Micah was born, I met his dad Dale at a Bible camp.  He was what I wanted to be; a minister.  Years later, I toured Europe with a group that included Dale’s irrepressible wife Marsha.  Micah was the youngest of their three boys.

In college, Micah was a defensive lineman and linebacker for the Harding University Bisons.  He graduated in 2002 with a degree in business administration but his goal after school was to become a firefighter.  After learning of some gruesome beheadings in Iraq, he enlisted in the US Army.  People run in different ways at the sight and sound of horrific danger.  You already know which way Micah ran.  He said, “I have to do something, I have to help out.”  Micah made the supreme sacrifice for his country.

At Micah’s memorial service at Harding on January 24, 2007, his father Dale told his fellow mourners,

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Losing his life to a terrorist bomber did not make Micah a hero.  He had been a hero his whole life.  He had a heart for others — from the church camps, youth groups, mission trips to Honduras and Mexico — to talking to his fellow soldiers in Iraq about Christ.
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Dale defined heroism for his son’s grieving friends; “By helping others, you are a hero.”

Micah’s mom, Marsha, found some solace expressing herself on e-mail to her friends and reading responses filled with comfort and gratitude.  In one letter, Marsha reported, “He loved this country and he loved serving it . . .  We did not lose our son. We know where he is.”  She signed her letter.  “Heaven holds ALL to me.”

Citizenship in heaven can carry a believer through the worst earthly nightmares conceivable.  Heaven, in the end, is everything.  We rent here on earth with a mission from God, but we own a home in heaven, by God’s grace.

Marsha also remembers taking a bouquet of flowers to Micah’s grave at the Fort Rosecrans National Military Cemetery in San Diego, California, on Point Loma overlooking the ocean.  She rested at his headstone for hours.  Inscribed on it are the initials “BSM” and “PH” ( “Bronze Star Medal” and “Purple Heart”).  While absorbing her pride, Marsha tells of a “delicious,  temperate breeze which playfully tangled my hair, ruffled the folds of my dress,  and whispered a constant low pitched hum, like a mother’s song as she rocks her baby.” She continued, “God was holding me.”

Later, in a personal letter, Marsha got practical with a here and now challenge that I carry with me always: 
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]Make a difference, even if it’s only one person at a time . . .  Take an EXTRA STEP and stand up and SAY what is RIGHT… oppose what is WRONG!” (
all caps are Marsha’s).
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Her son was unafraid to stand in the gap.  Marsha was challenging me and others to do the same.  What else could a mother do with her pride?

I consider it a Christian virtue to be deeply grateful for my American heritage and for those who sacrificed to pass that heritage on to me.  To accept Marsha’s challenge, I posted a picture of Micah Stephen Gifford on the inside of my office door so that his face will remind me of the gratitude and courage I must carry in my heart whenever I leave my office.

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The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

In Honor of Memorial Day

All gave some

Some gave all

By Joel Solliday

I began to take Memorial Day seriously in the ‘1990s when I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, where the Grove Street Cemetery featured the graves of many Revolutionary War veterans along with the following great Americans:

One notable gravestone marks the resting place of a lesser known casualty of our War for Independence, which reads; “Shot in the back while sitting in his own house by a British soldier.”

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment at the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania, located on Cemetery Ridge.

Later, when I lived in Minnesota, I made a memorable Memorial Day visit to Lakewood Cemetery where many Civil War veterans are laid to rest.  Minnesota is rightfully proud of The First Minnesota (the 1st Regiment, Minnesota Volunteer Infantry) which is well known for its gallantry and sacrifices at Gettysburg.  On July 2, 1863, The First Minnesota prevented the Confederates from pushing Union forces off of Cemetery Ridge, contributing to the turning point in a battle that became the turning point in the war.  Their casualty rate (83 percent) represented the largest loss by any surviving military unit in American history during a single engagement.  The few surviving Minnesotans stepped up to fight again the next day helping to repel Picket’s Charge.  The flag of the First Minnesota fell and rose again five times on July 2 and is now on honorable display in the rotunda of the Capital building in St. Paul.

 

 

Arlington graves on Memorial Day

Memorial Day (formerly known as “Decoration Day”) was officially proclaimed five years later.  On May 30, 1868, flowers were formally placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  Since then, the last Monday in May has been dedicated to honoring the men and women of our Armed Services who made “the supreme sacrifice.”  Since 1775, over 1,343,812 Americans have died in combat.  Nearly twice as many have been wounded.  Not counted are those who perished off the battlefield from disease or in training or in transit.  We also must not forget the spouses, parents, children, siblings, extended family and friends whose losses were immeasurable.

Gratitude is impossible without a memory and memories often fade without memorials.  I hope your plan for Memorial Day includes more than just a cookout or block party.  I recommend a respectful trip to a cemetery to pay your respects to a fallen soldier.  Below are a few more recommendations that will help move your heart toward a deeper celebration of Memorial Day:

READINGS:

Movies:

  • Mrs. Miniver (1942 – Dir. William Wyler) with Greer Garson, Walter Pigeon and Teresa Wright. Depicts the war’s effects on family and life in London.
  • Since You Went Away (1944 – Dir. John Cromwell), with Claudette Colbert, Shirley Temple, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotton. The opening frame reads: “This is a story of the unconquerable fortress: the American home, 1943 (war time portrayal of the home front).
  • The White Cliffs of Dover (1944 – Dir. Clarence Brown). Irene Dunne stars as an American who marries a British soldier and faces both world wars, first as a wife, then as a mother
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998 – Dir. Steven Spielberg) with Tom Hanks

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The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

An Answered Prayer

Some of the most gnarly, weather-beaten trees I’ve seen are in Palisades Park, Santa Monica, California . Like some people, the Australian Tea trees found in that park get more twisted, and yet somehow more beautiful, with age. Their tree trunks crawl along the ground, ebb up and down (sometimes high enough for a homeless person to sleep under), and wind their way through fences before finally looking up to the sun.

This mirrors the life of Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 –430), who did his share of crawling and twisting before finally looking up.

These gnarly, wandering trees are dispersed among smooth, sleek palm trees, towering to the sky along the walking path above the red clay bluffs overlooking the Santa Monica beach. Along this peaceful strip at the city’s edge, on one side a pedestrian can see tall buildings and on the other, the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean. On a summer day, one also overlooks a human sea of sand-dwelling sun-worshippers on the beach below blending into this coastline composition.

Santa Monica is not just a beautiful city. It is also the name of the faithful Christian mother of Saint Augustine. A sculpture of Saint Monica, standing in a heart-shaped bed of grass, has been part of the visual composition in Palisades Park since 1934. It was sculpted by Eugene Morahan (1869 – 1949) who studied under the great American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and lived in Santa Monica for the final 19 years of his life. To portray her legacy of persistent prayer for her wayward son, Monica’s eyes are closed and her hands are crossed together over her heart. It is no coincidence that a work of grateful public art with such heartfelt sentiment (almost inconceivable today) was sculpted during the Great Depression.

God answers prayer in boundless ways, beyond our wildest dreams. As Monica endured many years of inglorious disappointment without ceasing to pray for her son, she could never have imagined that the conversion she prayed for would so profoundly influence Western civilization.

Praying for unbelieving children is common throughout Christian history. But it’s not something done on center stage. Without prayer, however, there is no stage. Many a mother can identify with Monica. All she could do was pray. Her prayers increased as Augustine spent his unsaintly youth in debauchery, laziness and resistance to Christianity. Nevertheless (I love that word), she kept on wrestling with God, year in and year out, regarding her son’s soul.

Finally, Augustine embraced the struggle himself. In his Confessions, he tells of the time he gave full vent to his tears under a fig tree over former iniquities. Intense contrition filled his heart when he heard a child’s voice nearby utter the words, “Take up and read; Take up and read.” Accepting this subtle challenge, he turned to Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter 13) and read words that further challenged him to turn away from orgies, drunkenness, debauchery, eroticism, indecency, lust, strife and rivalry (all things he had reveled in) and turn instead to Jesus Christ. As Augustine tells it, “…a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” (The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book VIII).

This was his turning point, described by Augustine in specific and sudden terms. However, it may be better explained by the ceaseless intentional prayers of his mother in the years preceding that powerful moment.

Turning points mean little apart from the changed life that follows. Augustine went on to become a giant of Christian theology. Some see this priest, bishop and author from Roman North Africa as third in line behind Jesus and Paul in his influence on Christendom. His teachings on sin and grace rose from extensive personal experience and had a massive impact on great reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin over a millennium later. The impact of his insights on morality, the church, and the trinity remain to this day. He drew some vital distinctions between state and church that presented healthy challenges to Constantine’s earlier influence. One might say that as a great theologian and philosopher, Augustine re-planted the church in deeper better soil. He has long been called the great “Doctor of the Church.”

They say that behind every great man is a surprised woman. Behind Saint Augustine of Hippo, however, was a praying woman who lived just long enough to enjoy the sweet surprise of answered prayer.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

Movie Review: October Baby

Great Story

A college freshman dealing with physical and emotional struggles is not unique. Where those struggles take Hannah (Rachel Hendrix) in her search for answers is captivating as the plot in October Baby unfolds. Her medical history is a puzzle with missing pieces. Her emotional fabric is torn and she doesn’t know why. After a collapse on stage, Hannah is finally told she was adopted after a premature birth. She survived a botched abortion.

Feeling like her whole life was a lie, Hannah sets out in search of answers to questions not yet fully formed, unaware of how much pain this would invite into her heart. Coincidences reveal clues that lead Hannah to her birth mother. For the rest of the story, I recommend this movie.

Great Themes

The vital importance of family, friendship, freedom, faith and forgiveness, as well as the rich value of human life, are all featured in vivid emotional colors in October Baby. The eyes of your heart will open wide for the hues of hope and love in this story. Forgiveness is portrayed not as an abstract idea but as an uphill journey toward reconciliation in real life terms.

Great Mentoring

October Baby deserves high praise for its powerful portrayal of moral courage in pursuit of truth; or is it the pursuit of truth that leads to moral courage? Either way, it was a journey Hannah could not travel alone. A childhood friend (Jason) was there for her each step of the way. But older adults (a policeman, ex-nurse and priest) also stepped up to offer pivotal mentoring moments along her journey. Age and culture gaps were bridged at crucial moments and life-changing lessons were learned on both sides of the so-called generation gap.

Hannah’s Parents (John Schneider and Jennifer Price): Withholding the truth from their daughter caused it to come out in hurtful ways. Hannah’s father is too controlling and protective to be open with her. His mentoring mistakes become clear as consequences unfold. Still, great love can endure major mistakes.

A Policeman (Tracy Miller): When Hannah and her friend get into trouble with the law, a police officer takes the time to listen and is able to change gears and sow some seeds of mercy in her heart before Hannah fully knew what had been done to her. He uses police lingo to convey a profound principle that he hopes will help her to “hate the crime, not the criminal.” Under that badge was a heart of grace.

An Ex-Nurse (Jasmine Guy): Following the policeman’s lead, Hannah finds the nurse who signed her birth certificate. Hannah’s unexpected arrival once changed this nurse’s life and two decades later, a second encounter changes Hannah’s life. They share an incredible mentoring moment as the truth Hannah craved comes from a woman who long ago found the strength to turn from deadly excuse-making to life-saving compassion. This ex-abortion clinic nurse told Hannah:

When you hear something enough times, somehow you start to believe it. It was just tissue. That’s what they told us… not viable tissue… I saw the pain and I didn’t see no tissue. I just saw the face of a child.

Hannah was viable proof that human beings are more than tissue.

A Priest (Rodney Clark): Hannah seeks refuge in a cathedral and encounters a kind priest who listens to her vent anger and hatred for her birth mother, her adoptive parents and herself. He sees the love behind her hate and gently encourages her to let go of the wounds others have inflicted. Taking his cue from the Apostle Paul, he mentored:

In Christ, you’re forgiven. Because you’re forgiven, you have the power to forgive, to choose to forgive… Hatred is a burden you no longer need to carry.

The priest tore through a lifetime of cover-ups and confusion with a simple truth: “Only in forgiveness can you be free, Hannah.” A stranger was there to help put her on a track of faith, hope and love. Hannah needed (and got) well-placed mentors in public positions of influence and authority.

A Challenge

If you have walked ahead of others in life’s journey with some experience under your belt, ask God to guide you to a child, niece, nephew, student, youth group misfit, neighbor, scout, or anyone born later than you so mentoring connections can happen. Listen first, then love.

October Baby also features a powerful example wherein life-changing mentoring flows from young to old. Good mentoring makes wisdom flow on a two-way street. God’s desire for inter-generational intersection is brilliantly built into the institution of the family. It overflows into other relationships as well . In an era of family breakdown like ours, good mentoring across age gaps is more needed than ever. October Baby challenges me to defy the alleged “generation gap.”

October Baby: Official Trailer.

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The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

Book Review: Blue Like Jazz (Movie Release April 13!)

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Author: Donald Miller. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003

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Blue like jazz book coverBlue Like Jazz, the movie, is set for release on April 13, 2012. It is based on a semi-autobiographical book by Donald Miller with the same title, published in 2003 (a New York Times best seller). I read Blue Like Jazz upon the enthusiastic recommendation of a delightful young lady whose father is a friend of mine. Just a few years ago, it was wildly popular among young people interested in spirituality and its author has been hot on the Christian speaking circuit ever since. In advance of the movie release, I wanted to share some thoughts on the book itself.

Miller’s thought-life is the body and soul of this book. His memories and musings are a spiritual playground he shares with the reader. We meet the author first as a child, trying to figure out God, sin, guilt, and the human condition. Like God’s little spy, he searches out the mysteries of the universe, or at least those of his neighborhood. He learns the hard way that goodness does not come natural and that God is not a slot machine.

So far so good.

Deep inside the Grand Canyon, Miller recalled listening to the music of the river and speaking with God. He wrote, “There’s something beautiful about a billion stars held steady by a God who knows what He is doing. (They hang there, the stars, like notes on a page of music, free form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue like jazz.)” It occurred to Miller, a college Bible class leader, that God was up there.

I came to Blue with upbeat expectations, but it left me in sorrow. There were more than a few unhealthy spiritual hazards in Miller’s semi-autobiographical playground, besides the fact that his populist subtitle is oxymoronic. Here are a few concerns that I hope do not drag the movie down:

1. Miller overplays the “Christianity-stinks-but-Jesus-is-cool” card. His apologies for the Crusades, televangelists and our neglect of the poor were gratuitous. He was sorry for genocide, Columbus and for well-dressed preachers who support Republicans. He and his friends even set up a booth on a college campus to apologize for Christianity. They asked people to express their hostility against Christians. He said, “It felt kind of cool, kind of different. It was relieving.” (p. 127). Instead of Christianity, Miller believes in “Christian spirituality.” This dichotomy became tedious for me since it is too easy to confess the distant sins of others and feel better as a result.

2. Miller trafficked in too many stereotypes about big-haired preachers and heartless Republicans. This came off as mean-spirited and unfair. He complained about how little work there is in the Christian writer’s market “if you don’t write self-righteous conservative propaganda” (p. 188). Yet, his own success defies his resentment. He lost me when he quipped, “Republicans did not give a cr-p about the causes of Christ.” (p. 132).

3. Looking back, he expressed admiration for “Mark the cussing pastor,” who led a cool church “filled with hippies, yuppies, artists and people who listened to public radio.” Mark earned a reputation for cussing “a lot,” said Miller. Fortunately, he did not share specifics. But Mark’s church made Miller feel like he “could breathe for the first time in years.” (p 133). Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but pastors who cuss to be cool are unworthy of their profession. Profanity is unspiritual. Give me big hair and a clean mouth any day.

4. Miller’s personal discoveries of grace were insightful. However, sometimes his picture of grace looked like a choice between love and self-discipline. He made the muscular side of Christianity look silly and knocked it over with a warmer fuzzier version. Grace and self-discipline may tug at each other, but they should end up as partners in God’s scheme, with love in the lead.

5. The phrase, “I feel…” dominated the book. I began circling all the “feel” words, and this kept my hand very busy. Cover to cover, Miller saw Christian spirituality as more or less what Donald Miller “feels.” In the final chapter, he wrote, “I think Christian spirituality is like jazz music. I think loving Jesus is something you feel… Everybody sings the song the way they feel it.” (p 239). For Miller, belief in God was like falling in love. I’m no killjoy when it comes to feelings and falling in love, but faith in God must run a lot deeper and wider than our feelings. Miller took his trust in feelings over the top.

6. As a reader, I began to mistrust Miller’s narrative color commentaries as if it meant more to him to entertain than to tell stories accurately. The hippies were too angelic, the conservatives too inhuman, the women all too beautiful and the Republicans too plastic. And he was a bit too cynical about things I value.

I hope this movie is one that enables people to say, “The movie was much better than the book.” Watch the trailer below and leave your opinions behind. What do YOU think?

Blue Like Jazz: Official Trailer.

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The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

Courage

In The Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion are all defined by their deepest desires (a heart, a brain and courage respectively).

Did you catch the classical Greek philosophy there? In his book, The Republic, Plato (424 – 348 BC) outlined the three parts of the human soul thusly:

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[list_item]Eros: the feeling part (desiring; caring).[/list_item]

[list_item]Nous: the thinking part (or logos, the reasoning part).[/list_item]

[list_item]Thumos: the volitional part (willing).[/list_item]

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Some translate the three parts as appetite, reason and spirit, but you see the connection with the three wishful characters of Oz.

For old Plato, we humans are defined by more than just our desires. That’s only a third of what makes us, well, so human. He thought that the reasoning part was the most important but I think it’s that third one—the volitional part.

The thymos, as I see it, is primarily what defines us as creatures made in the image of God. It establishes us as free moral agents. The heart and the head play a huge role in deciphering right from wrong and weighing the consequences either way, but actually doing what is right is more a matter of the free human will (thumos). Thinking and feeling right are important, but when dire consequences loom over truth and goodness, it takes courage to choose to stand by them and do right. That’s essential!

God wants our heads and hearts in tune with Him, but the will is the part of us that God demands completely and the part we most want to keep for ourselves. It’s easy to be religious with our hearts (emotions) and minds (logic) but God wants nothing less than our will, the single hardest thing for us to surrender.

dorothy says, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" to the cowardly lion.

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The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

Happy Trails

Leonard Franklin Slye was born on November 5, 1911. If you’re over fifty, you know him by another name. Need some clues?

baseball glove and grass1. Leonard grew up in Cincinnati where Riverfront Stadium (later Cinergy Field) was built. He once joked that he was born at second base.

2. He worked during the Great Depression as a transient fruit picker in California before forming The Rocky Mountaineers.

3. Seeing his singing bring joy to destitute fellow pickers around campfires helped trigger his desire to pursue a living in music (“trigger” is a huge hint).

tumbling tumbleweed!4. He played in such groups as the Hollywood Hillbillies, Texas Outlaws, and the Sons of the Pioneers. Remember “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”?

5. He made over 100 movies and his TV show lasted from 1951 to 1957. One month, he received 78,852 fan letters. He became affectionately known as America’s “King of The Cowboys”.

6. His famous theme song, “Happy Trails”, was written by his talented wife of 51 years, Dale Evans.

palomino stallion7. Slye’s golden palomino stallion (“the smartest horse in Hollywood”) died in 1965 and was stuffed for posterity. In 2010, a Nebraska Cable TV Network ponied up $225,000.00 at an auction for “Trigger.”

If you don’t know his name by now, you’re probably not still reading this nostalgic post or you grew up watching a different Mr. Rogers. And you probably never ate your lunch out of a Roy Rogers lunch pail—which means you haven’t lived.

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Roy Rogers loved children. He had about eight of his own, five of whom were adopted. In 1952, a daughter with Down Syndrome died of complications with mumps. Another daughter died in 1964 in a tragic bus accident. A son choked to death in 1965. Rogers once said, “If there were no valleys of sadness and death, we could never really appreciate the sunshine of happiness on the mountain top.”

Most of Roy Rogers’ “B-westerns” and TV shows catered to kids but were loved by all ages. Off-screen he made countless personal visits to children’s hospitals, orphanages and shelters over the years. In the 1940s, he started a club for children called the “Roy Rogers Riders Club.” Any child who sent Roy his or her name and address received a “Rogersgram” arriving by “Trigger Express” and an authentic membership card with the Riders Rules on it! Such an honor exceeded even that of carrying a Roy Rogers lunch pail to school.

No matter how old you get, you cannot outgrow these Rider’s Rules:

1. Be neat and clean.
2. Be courteous and polite.
3. Always obey your parents.
4. Protect the weak and help them.
5. Be brave but never take chances.
6. Study hard and learn all you can.
7. Be kind to animals and take care of them.
8. Eat all your food and never waste any.
9. Love God and go to Sunday school regularly.
10. Always respect our flag and our country.

Okay, perhaps you have ridden down some happy trails far enough to be a parent or grandparent yourself. Maybe you need to cut down on certain foods. But those rules still ride right nicely if you ask me.

Roy Rogers embodied goodness, fairness and love for God, church, community and country (or at least he tried to). Some eye-rolling fuddy-duddies and uppity aesthetic experts call much of what he did, “kitsch” or “hokie” (derogatory terms for things antiquated, simple and decent). I admit it’s not Academy Award eligible and that my nostalgia need not be yours. Still, we belittle such things probably because they are so hard to implement in our complex contemporary lives. Our trails can get rather rough and unhappy as a result.

Roy and Dale were outspoken Christians who founded and operated many children’s charities, especially on behalf of homeless and handicapped children. They paved many trails on which others found some joy and peace.

I could go on, but it’s timefor a hokie Roy Rogers farewell: “Good bye, good luck and may the good Lord take a likin’ to ya.”

Dale and Roy Singing “Happy Trails”