Month: October 2016

Ten years ago, on an October day in Nickel Mines, PA, a man named Charles Roberts who was “angry at life and angry with God” according to accounts at the time, crept into a one room schoolhouse.  He took ten girls hostage, and then shot them, before killing himself.  Five of them died, and the rest were seriously injured.

Almost immediately, the devastated Amish community sought to forgive the deceased perpetrator, and to reach out with compassion to the family of Mr. Roberts.  As reported by NPR“Several families, Amish families who had buried their own daughters just the day before were in attendance and they hugged the widow, and hugged other members of the killer’s family.”  The Amish later donated money to his widow and children.

In a further twist–like the old idea of “paying it forward”–that love and embrace has spread. Terri Roberts, the mother of Mr. Roberts, has in turn helped those whom her son victimized. She has become a part time caretaker of an Amish girl named Rosanna, who was neurologically devastated by a gunshot wound to the head.  (As reported in New York Daily News).

This “Amish grace” shocked the nation almost as much as the horrific crime out of which it manifested.  Though many still struggle at times, the Amish families were able to endure thanks to their strong community and the deep faith that permeates their day-to-day lives.   In this, they are exemplars to all of us.

In fact, before I became aware of the “Explore God” project, I had written the following rough draft for the section of the “Underground Church” website called “Christianity: An Introduction for the Curious and Perplexed”:

Christianity: An Introduction for the Curious and the Perplexed

You may be scratching your head as to why–in the technologically advanced age in which we live–do people still bother about invisible deities controlling things behind the scenes. You may wonder what’s all the fuss over a guy who was executed in a Roman outpost, Jerusalem, in the year 33. If so, read on.

Many of life’s most perplexing questions cannot be answered by science. I speak here of the “Big Questions”–such as “why are we here?”, “are we alone?” or “what is the meaning of life?” or “why should I choose this action over that one?” These are thorny questions, and try as we might we can’t really think our way through to all the answers. There are facets of our lives that Science is mute to address. That has led some to denigrate the questions, and denigrate those who ask them. “Manliest men don’t need those answers. They are weak minds who seek such things.” It may well be that these questions cannot be answered. Christians believe that they can be approached, but not by techniques and methods designed to measure the physical world.

How can we know anything?

Why are we here? Where do we come from?

Why is there evil and injustice all around me?

Are we alone? Does anyone care about humanity?

Who was Jesus?

Is this life all there is? What happens when I die?

Does my life today have a higher purpose, or meaning?

I initially had the idea of introducing potential inquirers to Christianity using this questions-based approach. Sort of “welcome to Christianity–we believe we have answers to some of life’s toughest questions”. (In fact, this is close to my earliest discarded wording).

Ultimately I set the material aside for the current essay which begins with the central mystery of Christianity, namely the Resurrection accounts. I made the change for several reasons. One is that we already have a “Q and A” section, and so this kind of approach seemed a bit redundant. Also, it became obvious that despite my efforts at brevity, an essay that incorporated all of this material, and did these questions any kind of justice, would by necessity have become quite long and unwieldy. Also, I felt that people would be more likely to want to read such an essay from a personal, subjective approach–I thought about reworking this into a different essay called “my own path to faith”. That may still come at some point. Stay tuned.

Many of the churches in a large metro area are advertising and participating in a program called “Explore God”. As billboards and promotional information indicates, sermons and discussions will center on “7 Big Questions”. This looks like a project that has been traveling from city to city, starting with Austin, TX, a few years ago, so it is likely that you will encounter it at some point:

Does Life Have a Purpose?

Is There a God?

Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?

Is Christianity Too Narrow?

Is Jesus Really God?

Is the Bible Reliable?

Can I Know God Personally?

These sound like excellent questions, and we may explore some of these as well in the future. In fact, Christianity in toto, with all its intricacies, texts, rituals, and teachings accumulated over 2000 years of existence, is an answer to these questions. My hat is off to anyone that can handle any of these questions in a single sermon or lecture.

In the meantime, here is a website for this program:<\a>.

By the way, as a caveat, I will say that I don’t know who exactly is “behind” this campaign. It appears to come from a nondenominational but predominantly protestant evangelical approach. Regardless of your background, these are questions that deserve thought, and I would hope that the “Christian” answers would be shared by believers of all stripes.

Wacky Episcopalian progressives are at it again. In a move that basically represents a middle finger to traditional Christianity, a controversial statue is again being installed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. “Christa” is a 250 pound bronze figure of a nude woman, with arms outstretched to look like Jesus on the cross.

This is not the first attempt to install this statue at the Cathedral. In 1984, the bishop of New York stepped in and overruled the local clergy. As was reported in a previous edition of the New York Times:
Bishop Walter Dennis accused the Cathedral Dean, the Very Rev. James Park Morton, of ”desecrating our symbols.”
Biishop Dennis, who is in charge of the diocese while Bishop Paul Moore Jr. is on a leave of absence, said the display was ”theologically and historically indefensible.”

What has changed? The times apparently.

“We have people who worship here who expressed concerns,” Ms. Schubert said on Monday, as the statue was being put into place. Still, “the leadership of the cathedral said this is 2016, not 1984,” she added. “Surely we can have a woman on the cross.”

Read more at New York Times.

Of course, an old adage comes to mind: Those who marry the spirit of this age will find themselves widowed in the next.

I am reporting today a small silver lining in an otherwise very dark time for Haiti. We are told that the death toll stands north of 800 people as 145 mph winds destroyed buildings and uprooted trees in this tiny island nation. Within a day of the terror inflicted by Hurricane Matthew on one of the poorest of nations, Christian agencies are already on the ground trying to help.

Christian groups are at the fore of early relief efforts as Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful hurricane to hit the United States in a decade, brings storm surges and lashings of rain to Florida after killing at least 339 people in Haiti. (Christian Today)

The article mentions Christian Aid and the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief as two organizations already mobilized and working alongside the Red Cross/Red Crescent. Other news articles have mentioned “Samaritan Purse” and “LiveBeyond” as agencies already involved. I am aware of other churches entering into the relief efforts.

Our thoughts and prayers for protection go out to the people of Haiti, Cuba, Bahamas, as well as our own brethren in Florida, and the eastern seaboard of the US. If you are interested in contributing, contact your local church or one of the aid organizations mentioned above, for suggestions on how to help these relief efforts.

In Townville, South Carolina Wednesday more than 1000 mourners said farewell to a boy clad in a batman costume. The guests also came dressed as Wonder women, Power Rangers, Batman, and Captain America. The unusual event has captured briefly the attention of the world, as this story has made into news outlets as far away as Europe.

The deceased, Jacob Hall, was a nine year shooting victim who loved superheroes. His life was tragically cut short last week by a murderous teen who shot him in the leg at a school playground. The older youth (who is now in custody) had also earlier shot and killed his own father.

The Toronto Star reported that one of his friends called Jacob a “sweet boy who knew a lot about Jesus”. At the funeral, pastor David Blizzard had this to say:
“He’d say, ‘Mama, forgive that boy and love him like Jesus loves him because Jesus loves him.’ That’s exactly what Jacob would probably say.”

It sounds as though this young man was indeed a little superhero. We presume that he rests now in the arms of Jesus.

A CNN news report caught my eye. “Wells Fargo’s September from Hell”. The article lays out an overview–a sketch, really– of the scandal involving bogus bank accounts.

On Sept 8, it was announced that 5300 employees of Wells Fargo were fired for fraudulently opening accounts in their customers’ names. Subsequently,

Dozens of fuming former Wells Fargo workers reached out to CNNMoney to share horror stories of the pressure-cooker environment that led to this sordid behavior. Some said they had been fired for refusing to engage in these illegal practices, while others said they were fired for blowing the whistle.

You can

Sept 21, the CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumpf, was called to testify before Congress. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s tongue-lashing became the the buzz of social media. In addition to calling him “gutless” and telling him he should resign, she said this to Mr. Stumpf:

She said Stumpf’s personal holdings of Wells Fargo stock increased by more than $200 million while the fake accounts “scam” was going on, thanks in part to the bank’s success in selling tons of products to customers that they didn’t need.

“You squeezed your employees to the breaking point so they would cheat customers and you could drive up the value of your stock and put hundreds of millions of dollars in your own pocket,” Warren said. (Also from

In timing that couldn’t be more ironic, the executive Carrie Tolstedt, who oversaw those fired employees, will herself get to retire peacefully. Although she has been asked to forfeit severance pay and performance bonus, she will leave with shares and stock options worth $77 million. This, I am sure, is is a much more generous outcome than is experienced by any of the lowlier employees summarily dismissed from her “pressure cooker.”

To my mind, something deeper is going on. This company had a “month from Hell” in more than one sense. It could be said that all of their months are from hell. And they aren’t likely much different from any of the other giant banks–or, for that matter, from corporations in general. Wells Fargo and most of the rest of the corporate world can be seen as a manifestation or reflection of Hell on earth. They are bloated monsters sucking the lifeblood out of their workers while relentlessly pursuing “Mammon” unmoored from any of the ethical restraints that in past generations might have been provided by Christian teachings (or at least the public shame that could be leveled by gross violations of the same).

My point is not to wax nostalgic for the bankers of old–their yachts were just as surely fueled by greed and ruthlessness. But, by and large, a social compact existed that has since been eroded and killed by a banally evil corporate culture that now pervades all of our economy. Little concern remains for quality in craftsmanship of products, or honesty and integrity in delivering of services–These seem to be given no more than lip service. There is no reputation worth preserving if trashing it will eke out a slightly higher profit margin in the short run.

Smaller firms have been merged and swallowed into an oligarchy of megacorporations. The average worker has seen stagnating wages for much of the last decades, while executive pay has skyrocketed into the stratosphere. For the masses, this means ruin. The noble idea of “the career” has been supplanted by menial and dreadful jobs serving the whims of corporate empires. Surveys indicate that 70 percent of people dislike their jobs. Most of those not fortunate enough to be independently wealthy will have to spend the majority of waking life in the “pressure cooker”–subjected to perverse incentives and demeaning treatment. (The main alternative, I should hasten to add, is the equally demeaning manifestation of hell on earth known as “government bureaucracy”–a worthy topic in its own right).

Carmine Gallo in Forbes magazine opines that people would be happier at work if they were treated better and had a sense that what they are doing is meaningful: The trouble is nobody is inspired to get up Monday morning because their job offers free soda in the vending machine. People want to be inspired. They want to work toward a higher purpose and feel good about themselves and their leader. It requires better communication, not more perks.

We agree. It would be naive to expect a company to provide Heaven on earth, but there could be some steps taken in a better direction.

Christian evangelicals in Iowa are suffering malaise, as reported in an interesting New York Times article. Deeply troubled about the direction taken in recent years, they suddenly feel isolated, and abandoned by the mainstream culture:

The change in America seemed to happen so quickly that it felt like whiplash, the Odgaards said. One day, they felt comfortably situated in the American majority, as Christians with shared beliefs in God, family and the Bible. They had never even imagined that two people of the same sex could marry.

Overnight, it seemed, they discovered that even in small-town Iowa they were outnumbered, isolated and unpopular.

…“It all flipped, so fast,” said Mr. Odgaard, a patrician 70-year-old who favors khakis and boat shoes. “Suddenly, we were in the minority. That was kind of a scary feeling. It makes you wonder where the Christians went.”

The election coming up is another source of frustration. They feel that neither of the presidential candidates reflects and represents their values:

So, in a year when many voters see nothing but bad choices, many evangelicals feel deeply torn. Long part of a reliable Republican voting bloc, many are appalled to find Donald J. Trump their only alternative to Hillary Clinton. They say he has taken positions all over the map on same-sex couples and abortion and does not have the character to be president. Others are still bewildered that Mr. Trump defeated not only Mr. Cruz — a pastor’s son who made “religious liberty” a signature issue — but also half a dozen other conservative Christian contenders they would have gladly supported.

You may read more at New York Times.