One Incident Commander

My pastor recently started a new sermon series on spiritual disciplines we did not choose. Topics will include persecution and suffering, aging, God’s silence, difficult people, rejection and loneliness. Pastor Brad had planned to talk about aging on Mother’s Day but a couple of things happened during the week that caused him to change his mind. A friend of his passed away and there was yet another school shooting in our community.

At the time of the Columbine High School shooting, my pastor was serving as a chaplain for the county sheriff’s department. He got a call to go to the elementary school to be with the parents who were waiting for their kids. After the Aurora theater shooting, he spent hours in the waiting room and at the bedside of a survivor from our church. About five years ago, there was a school shooting at the high school his daughters attended so again, it hit close to home. Last week, there was a school shooting at the STEM charter school in our community.

I can understand why my pastor had too much on his mind to talk about aging. It is hard enough to deal with the grief of losing a friend. But once again, Brad had to counsel parents who feel sad and helpless about school safety and to try to find something positive and encouraging to say to mothers.

So he spoke about trouble instead.

Jesus did not tell us that life would be easy. No, he said you will have trouble. Trouble comes in many ways. The Greek word thlipsis means pressure, affliction, tribulation, anguish, persecution.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Timothy wrote that there would be terrible times in the last days. Every time I read this scripture, it strikes me that the last days sound a lot like now. People today are just like Timothy described – self-centered, greedy, brutal.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

2 Timothy 3:1-5

Pastor Brad told us that police have learned a couple of important lessons from Columbine. Too many people tried to take charge at Columbine and the response was not well directed and coordinated. In an active shooter situation, police used to set up a secure perimeter around the building and wait for SWAT to arrive. Now police officers know that there must be one and only one incident commander and it doesn’t have to be the highest ranking person. Now, instead of waiting, the first officer on the scene acts immediately to get to the shooter.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you see how messed up this world is. Jesus wanted us to be prepared for trials and tribulation. But he also wanted us to be at peace. He wanted us to take heart. He was not defeated by this world and he has equipped his followers to be overcomers.

God is the first incident commander. He is with you. Do not be discouraged. Do not be afraid. Put on his armor. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:14-15). In good times and bad times, commit yourself to him and continue to do the right thing.

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:19

The Truth Project’s Battle Against Science

My Bible study group recently completed the fifth lesson of the The Truth Project, Science: What is Truth? Prior to watching the lesson, I was skeptical because many Christians seem to be anti-science. Dr. Del Tackett acknowledged the skepticism in the audience. He admitted that scientific investigation is a valid way of ascertaining truth. Then he asserted that man has exchanged the truth of God for a lie (evolution). Although he made some valid points, in defending one view of creation and categorically condemning another, he threw out the baby with the bathwater.

The apostle Paul said that though what may be known about God is plain to all of us, man has exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Tackett argues that man has transformed straightforward scientific inquiry from a search for truth into a philosophy that excludes the Creator; central to this anti-God worldview is Darwin’s evolutionary theory.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Romans 1:20

Before I get to the rather antagonistic claim that The Truth Project makes about people who believe evolution is true, I want to summarize some of the good points.

The Work of His Hands

Dr. Tackett started out with David’s beautiful psalm about the heavens proclaiming the work of God’s hands and revealing knowledge of his creation.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19: 1-4

Tackett presented a compelling case for intelligent design versus randomness. He asked us to imagine the likelihood of forming two lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet by randomly dropping Scrabble tiles on a tabletop. Of course, you would also have to imagine that mere chance could account for the tiles having letters on them.

Tackett asked the important philosophical question, why is there something rather than nothing? We all know that we can’t create something from nothing. But I believe that there had to be an ultimate beginning, an ultimate source of all material and living things. Christians believe that God is the ultimate source; the Latin phrase creatio ex nihilo refers to God creating something from nothing.

My favorite part of the lesson on science was a video that illustrated the activities of the complex “machinery” within cells that converts DNA into specific types of proteins. I believe that DNA is undeniable evidence of an intelligent creator but my appreciation of the complexity of genetic codes was enhanced by seeing an illustration of the intelligent processes of transcription and translation. How in the world can this sophisticated design be the result of chance?

The Truth Project’s Battle Against Evolution

The Truth Project teaches that there is a cosmic battle between God’s truth and the lies of the world. On the subject of science, Dr. Tackett claims that Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory is central to an atheistic philosophy that excludes God as the creator.

The lesson guide summarized Tackett’s message about science as follows:

…fallen man ignores the plain evidence of objective scientific inquiry and promotes the atheistic philosophy of evolutionary theory primarily because he is determined to do as he pleases without answering to a higher authority.

The Truth Project, Science: What is True?

After making this generalization about people who believe in evolution, the lesson guide goes on to say that if group participants are uncomfortable with this claim, it is “precisely because it hits so close to home.”

Dr. Tackett used an inflammatory quote from atheist C. Richard Bozarth (“evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus’s earthly life was supposedly made necessary”) to support his claim that evolutionists are antagonistic towards anyone who questions whether evolution is a theory or a fact.

Dr. Tackett spent much of the lecture presenting The Truth Project’s arguments against evolutionary theory, which are primarily based on the concept of irreducible complexity and on the lack of fossil records.

Critical Thinking Under Attack

Before I watched the lesson on science, I was aware that the Truth Project has been criticized for indoctrination. Still, I watched the science videos with an open mind and found some positive points. I can understand why Dr. Tackett throws out the claims of atheists like Bozarth. But he also throws out the critical thinking of people of faith who disagree with his beliefs about evolution.

After I watched the lesson on science, I was curious about why people have issues with TTP’s teaching on this subject. I read a critique from a rather snarky mathematician/attorney. I can understand why Dr. Tackett ruffled his feathers but his response turned me off. He ridiculed Dr. Tackett and said that if your degree is in business management (like Dr. Tackett), you have no business refuting evolution. I have an MBA but that doesn’t mean that I can’t comprehend scientific concepts.

Dorothy Boorse, a Professor of Biology at Gordon College, wrote a review of the TTP’s lesson on science that was both respectful and comprehensive. She says she wants to heal “the rift people perceive between science and Christian faith.” There are a wide range of views in the Christian scientific community and Boorse would have liked to see these views presented. Tackett discussed only extreme views, which present a false dichotomy between worldviews. He dismissed evolution but did not provide a legitimate alternative. He also defined and used words incorrectly. Boorse notes that evolution makes no philosophic claims. It is not a worldview that denies the existence of God. That would be scientific naturalism or materialism.

A Christian blogger, Elliott Ritzema, came to the same conclusion about the science lesson on his blog, All is Grist. While he agrees with much of what Tackett says about science, in attacking evolutionary theory, Dr. Tackett has “chosen the wrong bad guy.” The battle should be against scientific naturalism.

I think that Del is right in many of the things that he says about science, but he has unfortunately chosen the wrong “bad guy.” The bad guy here is not the theory of evolution, which, as I mentioned, many Christians who work in the sciences believe in. No, the bad guy is scientific naturalism, which says that the only real things are the things we can examine through science. This is the worldview that needs to be addressed.

Elliot Ritzema, All Is Grist

Another concerned Christian created a website called The Truth Problem, addressing his concerns with the entire TPP video series. The site includes a Science Fact Check and provides links to other Christian points of view. In Creation & Evolution – A Case for Inclusivity, he makes the point that we should be “humble and open-minded especially towards Christians who take the Biblical creation account metaphorically.”

Although I have been critical of Dr. Tackett myself, I like him. We’re on the same side, though I suspect he would throw me out with the bathwater too.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

It’s weird when you’re watching a documentary with a scene from a puppet show that aired more than 50 years ago to find yourself saying, wow, that sounds like you-know-who. In an early episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, King Friday XIII was very angry because Lady Elaine had rearranged things in The Land of Make-Believe. King Friday didn’t like change. So border guards were put in place to prevent people from coming and going. In a side note in an article about episode two, the author wrote, it’s a scenario that seems almost too real today — a petulant ruler who blames outsiders for making changes to his kingdom so he decides to shut his country’s borders, even though the real problem is WITHIN his kingdom.

The second episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood aired when I was 4 1/2 years old. I wasn’t aware of the social and political turmoil of the time – ongoing racial divisions, the Vietnam War. I don’t remember how old I was when I first watched the show. I just remember that Mr. Rogers was kind, calm and consistent – and a good neighbor.

In Won’t You Be My Neighbor, I learned that Fred Rogers bravely and lovingly tackled a lot of adult issues in his children’s show. In an episode that aired in 1969 (1065), Mr. Rogers cooled off his feet in a small pool of cold water. When Officer Clemmons, a black man, stopped by to visit, Mr. Rogers invited him to share the pool with him. It was a simple gesture that may not seem like a big deal now, but in the 1960’s, many swimming pools were still segregated. It was, as Hannah Anderson wrote, an act of reconciliation and humility, symbolic of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.

In the documentary, I learned that the number 143 was special to Mr. Rogers. In an episode with Mr. McFeely, he explained that 143 was a kind of code. He said, it takes one letter to say I, four letters to say love, and three letters to say you.

One of the things I didn’t know before watching the documentary was that many people blame Mr. Rogers for giving rise to our entitlement culture. They think that because he told kids that you are special just for being you, he was in effect telling them that nothing is expected of you. Don’t blame Mr. Rogers. His critics miss the message he was trying to get across – that we all have inherent value as human beings. And I think Rogers understood that some people really need to hear this. God loves you unconditionally.

I found myself crying when I saw a scene with Daniel the Tiger, a puppet based on Fred Rogers himself. Daniel wonders to Lady Aberlin whether he was a mistake. I’m not like anyone else I know. Lady Aberlin sings to him, You’re not a fake. You’re no mistake. You are my friend. At the end of the scene, the two sing at the same time – Daniel repeating his worry that he is a mistake as she tells him he is not. His self-doubts persist even as she assures him he is fine just as he is. Even as an adult, I know how persistent negative self-talk can be and how important it is to have friends who let you know that you are accepted just as you are.

Fred Rogers was well known for his love for his neighbor. In explaining the song Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Fred Rogers said it is an invitation to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving. Love is at the root of everything. Love or the lack of it.

It’s an invitation to help somebody know that they are loved and capable of loving. Love is at the root of everything. Love or the lack of it.

Fred Rogers

Sometimes the real problem is not other people. It is the lack of love within us. You are both loved and capable of loving people who are not like you. Since we’re in this life together we might as well say, would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?

***

Sometimes I Wonder If I’m a Mistake

[Daniel Striped Tiger]

Sometimes I wonder if I’m a mistake
I’m not like anyone else I know
When I’m asleep or even awake
Sometimes I get to dreaming that I’m just a fake
I’m not like anyone else

Others I know are big and are wild
I’m very small and quite tame
Most of the time I’m weak and I’m mild
Do you suppose that’s a shame

Often I wonder if I’m a mistake
I’m not supposed to be scared am I
Sometimes I cry and sometimes I shake
Wondering isn’t it true that the strong never break
I’m not like anyone else I know
I’m not like anyone else

[Lady Aberlin]

I think you are just fine as you are
I really must tell you
I do like the person that you are becoming
When you are sleeping
When you are waking
You are my friend

It’s really true
I like you
Crying or shaking or dreaming or breaking
There’s no one mistaking it
You’re my best friend

I think you are just fine as you are
I really must tell you
I do like the person that you are becoming
When you are sleeping
When you are waking
You’re not a fake
You’re no mistake
You are my friend

Where is the hope?

The last time I went to my Bible study, a woman in my group handed me a book, With Her Last Breath, written by the Director of Caring Ministry at our church, Barbara M. Roberts. The book is about the suicide of Roberts’ niece Kathy and includes images of the 26-page journal that Kathy wrote in the last 36 hours or so of her life. Which each page of the journal, Roberts provides advice to those who struggle with suicidal thoughts and to those who walk beside them.

Another friend couldn’t bring herself to finish the book because it reminded her too much of a struggling family member. It is hard to read about people who are suicidal, but I wanted to learn how to recognize when someone needs help and how to uplift and support those who have lost all hope as Kathy did.

Hope and despair

Hope and despair are polar opposites so we may think they are mutually exclusive emotions. But as Roberts wrote, hope and despair are often intertwined. We can feel both at the same time. We all experience ups and downs in this life and it can be really hard to hold onto your hope.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40: 31-32

Kathy believed in God but her life on this earth had become so unbearable due to health issues and loneliness that she felt she had no hope – except in the promise of heaven. She believed that killing herself was against God’s will but suicide was the only way she knew to escape her pain and torment. She hoped that God would forgive her.

At the time of her death, Kathy was just a few months older than I am now. She had COPD and was living on disability benefits. She rarely left her apartment. She had lost the one person in her life who was her support system.

In leaving a journal behind, Kathy provided a glimpse into the mind of a suicidal person. She wrote that she couldn’t take it anymore. She was tired of everything being so hard. She felt like she was in a living hell. She had never felt so alone and in the dark. Each day was worse than the one before. It had become hard to just exist. She wished that she could find one good reason to live. She could hardly breathe. She wondered what God wanted of her. She wondered, if God wanted her to live, why her life had been reduced to misery and suffering.

Empathy and understanding

I have not experienced the physical suffering that made Kathy’s life intolerable. But I have been through trying situations that have nearly broken my spirit. I have experienced feelings of despair, anguish, and hopelessness. In my lowest moments, I cried out to God – I begged God – please help me! I can’t take this anymore. And in those dark moments, I even said words to my Maker that I didn’t really mean. I want to die. Thankfully, I knew that God was with me. He lifted my burdens. He pulled me through.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
   the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

In reading Kathy’s journal, I found myself wondering why she didn’t ask God to help her. I believe that if she had asked, God would have put the right people in her life to ease her loneliness and suffering. But as Roberts wrote, “Sometimes people do not use the way out that God provides but rather choose their own solution.” Kathy didn’t ask God for a way out. She chose her own way out of suffering and knew that she could not ask God to help her commit suicide. It is easy to judge Kathy for the decision she made. But I know from my own experience, when you are really depressed, your thoughts are not the most rational.

Kathy rightly noted that no one else was qualified to judge her. No one else knew what her life, the life she described as a living hell, was doing to her. I can only imagine how hopeless I would have felt in my own struggles if I had not had a social support system, if I had not had people who depended on me, if I had not had reasons to go on.

God redeems our own times of suffering by allowing us to come alongside others in their suffering. This, of course, is based upon the assumption that others are honest about their struggles.

Barbara M. Roberts, With Her Last Breath

Helping the hurting

I wrote a bit about my own struggles with despair. I have also struggled to be a good helper of the hurting. A few times in my 32-year marriage, my husband got very depressed and it was really, really hard for me to deal with. He isolated himself. He wouldn’t talk to me or anyone else. I felt ill equipped to help him through it. So I did the only thing I knew to do. I stayed with him and I prayed for him.

Roberts wrote that unlike other obvious injuries, the hurt of a broken heart is hidden. You don’t have to be a skilled healer or gifted counselor to help. Just being available to listen and to walk alongside the person helps the hurting.

It is an amazing gift of God’s grace that the kind of expertise needed for the broken heart comes from those God has placed in our lives whose skill set includes love, availability, listening and just simply being a fellow journeyer willing to travel with us.

Barbara M. Roberts, With Her Last Breath

How can you be a supportive fellow journeyer in this thing called life? How can you help others find hope?

  1. Be fully present and attentive.
  2. Listen without interrupting.
  3. Communicate your caring and support.
  4. Take the person’s concerns seriously.
  5. Don’t minimize their suffering.
  6. Don’t be pushy or judgmental.
  7. Keep the person’s confidence but get help, if you are really worried.

Dear Lord, please help those who are struggling right now with feelings of despair and hopelessness. Wrap your loving arms around them. Let them know that they are not alone. Help me to be a light in the darkness. Help me to be available where I am needed, help me to listen, help me to love.

+++++++

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

The siren song of social media

Years ago, I signed up for Facebook to get updates on a nephew who was in the Peace Corps. In the beginning, Facebook seemed like a great way to stay in touch with family and to reconnect with classmates and old friends. But over time, Facebook had an unhealthy, almost addictive hold on me and I would get angry or depressed about things I read. How could something that was so appealing in the beginning turn into something dangerous and destructive?

In Greek mythology, sirens were beautiful half-bird, half-woman creatures who lured passing sailors to their deaths with sweet songs and music. A siren’s song is an enticing and seductive appeal that ultimately leads to destruction.

Siren song describes something that is very appealing and alluring on the surface but ultimately deceptive, dangerous, or destructive.

Facebook is a siren song that appealed to my desire to connect with people. It appealed to my desire to be entertained. It appealed to my desire to receive positive feedback from other people. But below the surface, there was a dark side to it.

When I thought about how hard it was for me to resist checking my Facebook account several times a day, I wondered if there is such a thing as social media addiction. While there is no clinical diagnosis, according to Leslie Walker, “a social networking addict could be considered someone with a compulsion to use social media to excess – constantly checking Facebook status updates,” for example. The compulsive behavior may very well fit a common definition of addiction.

Addiction usually refers to compulsive behavior that leads to negative effects. In most addictions, people feel compelled to do certain activities so often that they become a harmful habit, which then interferes with other important activities such as work or school.

Leslie Walker, What is Social Networking Addiction?

My use of Facebook had become compulsive and it was clear to me that social media was having a negative impact on me.

  • Facebook interfered with face-to-face interactions. My husband didn’t like how much time I was spending glued to my phone. And I understood his reaction because I don’t like it when other people do the same thing.
  • I wasted a lot of hours looking at unimportant posts, which took my attention away from more important, productive, or edifying activities.
  • I had the ridiculous fear of missing out (FOMO) on something interesting if I didn’t check my news feed every day.
  • I cared too much about social approval. Facebook encouraged me to be narcissistic – to be overly concerned with how people reacted to my posts. I became too concerned about the image I presented.
  • My moods and my feelings about other people were negatively impacted. Social media exposed me to a lot of negative attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. People say things online that they would not say to a person face-to-face.

On the website “MakeUseOf,” Joel Lee asks a couple of important questions about social media. Does it really improve our lives? Or have we become slaves to it? He warns that social media interferes with our dopamine systems. He warns about “social media creep” – an addiction takes a hold of you before you realize it. He recommends doing a social media detox.

The comment about dopamine intrigued me. So I read Simon Parker’s post, Has dopamine got us hooked on tech? It was disturbing to read about how the “feel good” chemicals in our brains are being exploited by social media companies to keep us hooked. I don’t like being manipulated.

This is the secret to Facebook’s era-defining success: we compulsively check the site because we never know when the delicious ting of social affirmation may sound.


Simon Parkin

When my pastor recommended giving up social media for Lent, he motivated me to take a much needed break from Facebook. I had become a slave to it. It was bringing me down. When Lent is over, I will replace my social media fast with a severely restricted diet. Resisting the siren song of Facebook is liberating!

*****

By Edward Armitage – http://images.bridgeman.co.uk/cgi-bin/bridgemanImage.cgi/600.LMG.0816210.7055475/123001.JPG

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6574249