CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Oh, I am REAL good at right and wrong. But nicey-nice? Uh…

I have been corresponding with a friend for a while on an issue that we both are working on.  John is my accountability partner with internet use and so on, and I would be so far from where I am if not for him.  Over time I have had several guys to whom I made myself accountable, and I am so grateful for their work and prayers.  So, thank you to Randy, Carl, Doug, and John.  May God richly bless you for taking the time to work with a hard head like me on such a difficult issue.  I remain a “work in progress,” but any success I have had is due to your prayers and work.  Thank you.

Anyhow, my correspondence with John took a turn in an interesting direction the past couple days.  We have come to a point in our discussion where the focus is on matching Biblical Grace with Biblical Truth, and not as separate issues.  This is what John said:

“Grace and truth often appear to be in conflict with each other and yet Jesus was FULL of both at the same time.

At the risk of offending you and apologies if I do, you are FULL of truth and light on grace. We need to be FULL of both and that’s so very hard (seemingly impossible) to do.”
A couple of weeks ago our Pastor, Bob Klecan, gave a message that I discussed earlier (see my earlier post, “Exclusive? Definitely.  Inclusive?  Even more so,” put up on August 19).  In just a sentence or two, his point was basically this: do I want to win a point, or do I want to make a mark for eternity?  And this is a difficult issue for me.
This past Sunday, Pastor Bob made a point that I paraphrase in this way:
“Christianity is unique from other religions in this way: other religions offer advice on what I must do so that in the end God may accept me.  Christianity says that I CANNOT earn my place with God.  ALL I MUST DO is accept the gift of God’s salvation through the finished work of Jesus Christ.  All I must do is repent, NOT first from my sins, but from my righteousness; from that which I think makes me ‘good enough’ to stand before God.  THAT is the ‘gospel;’ THAT is God’s Good news.”
Although the previous point is no problem for me, the others above are issues I have struggled with for a long time.  If one is familiar with the Bible’s New Testament, one is familiar with various personalities.  The Apostle John is rather a dreamer, a mystic.  He appeals to many “artsy” people, but for me he’s a bit too touchy-feely.  Ick.  At the risk of catching rocks, I just don’t identify with John.  Paul, I like.  Straightforward, intellectual, I like to read his stuff.  I like his mind, and I like his logic.  But of all the characters in the New Testament, I probably identify with Peter the most.  Peter, the impulsive one.  Peter the hard-head.  Peter the one-hundred percent committed one that was willing to jump into a sword fight and die with or for the unmistakable Messiah.  Peter, the one who denied that same savior not once, but three times in a matter of a couple of hours.  That’s me.  So the issue of grace and truth is a difficult one.  Truth?  Easy!  Grace?  Not so much.  Also, I want to point out that there are people on Facebook in particular that I really care about and although we disagree, I would never want to hurt them.  With them, it is no chore to be “nicer.”  I love them, and enjoy the debate, but harsh?  I just don’t want to be that to them.
In this post, I talk about two issues: divorce and pornography, and I need to make a couple of points now.  First, I think pornography wrong in each and every instance.  It’s pretty clear according to scripture that looking at someone not your spouse with lust is as destructive and sinful as adultery.  So in no case is porn ever ok.  Divorce is not so cut and dried.  Scripture maintains a few instances where divorce is acceptable, if not ideal.  For the sake of brevity, I would count those reasons as a partner’s infidelity and one suffering abuse.  Further, if one is divorced, so be it.  I have no condemnation for anyone in that place.  But I think in our “no fault” society, we are far too quick to dump someone for any reason what so ever.  And that is what I’m talking about below.
Edited, I responded to John’s email (above) in this way:
Ok, pretty much my whole life I’ve been angry, but I’m not sure exactly at what.  My Dad used to tell me (a lot) that I was going to wind up in jail if I didn’t get my temper under control, so this is not a new phenomenon.  Further, I have always had a strong sense of justice.  Mom used to tell of me coming home from school and after watching kids pick on other kids that were weaker or whatever, talking about how that wasn’t fair.  Finally, I do tend to see things in black and white.  It’s right or it’s wrong, and if it’s wrong, then it’s wrong.  Period.  This part serves me well with things like fidelity and purity, but maybe not so much in my relationship with people.
Now, that having been said, I have long maintained  that I don’t care what you think, or what I think, or what anyone thinks; what does the Word of God SAY?  And if something is spelled out as right or wrong, then there it is.
And here’s where all of the above clashes.  On controversial issues of the day, I have little patience for a unitarian approach, whereby if that’s what one wants to do, well, that’s just fine.  But I also recognize that the “hammer” approach doesn’t often win a lot of converts (or friends for that matter).  So, where does that leave me?
I think that with people whom I trust and feel comfortable with, like Beth, and those of you in Small Group, I feel free to just say what I think, and not hold back.  But that doesn’t really give an accurate representation of what I think, who I am, how I respond, and what image I put forth to the world.  I was talking about this to Beth and she observed that I seem to have “a public face and a private face.”  True.  Especially after Bob’s sermon two weeks ago, I have been trying to be a bit “softer” in my approach on Facebook.  And for a long time, I will rant about our daughters to Beth, but when talking to them, I am much more subdued.
I think I have two issues here.  First, quite honestly, I get tired of taking it.  I get frustrated with people taking foolish or just plain wrong positions, and acting like they are morally or intellectually superior to me.  Makes me nutty. The example I gave Beth was, so if someone says, “You know what, I don’t believe two plus two equals four.  I believe it equals five,”  the response I want to give is, “Idiot, NO IT DOESN’T, AND YOU ARE DEMONSTRATABLY WRONG!!!”  But I’m supposed to say, “Well, that’s interesting.  How do you come to that conclusion?”  That is hard for me.
Second, I really struggle with this:  Who is really served by soft-pedalling the truth?  I’m just not sure.  I know I am harsh, but I struggle with being “squishy” when “capital-T” Truth is being discussed.
One example from Sunday night.  As you said earlier, I am not trying to offend, and I apologize if I do.  I noticed something that was said.  The statement was made that she has no problem with people who are divorced serving in church.  Actually, I don’t either, but like I said then, it depends on why they were divorced.  Referring to what I said above, I don’t care what anyone thinks, what does the Word of God say?  And God says, “I HATE divorce.”  Now that is pretty strong coming directly from God, and I think we are a bit cavalier about divorce.  Is divorce the unforgivable sin?  Certainly not.  But it is a serious topic that we should not just gloss over.
Most sin, I think, affects me, and only indirectly others.  Gluttony or lying being examples.  Both are wrong, both are sin, but often the main effect of either sin is directly on me.  I bear the brunt of the crushing effect of them.  But pornography or divorce very often hurt people right next to the one committing that particular sin.  I recognize that in terms of value all sins are the same, but the ripple effect, I think, is much more striking in some sin than others.
 So, where do I go from here?  Hard to say.  I am trying to be kind.  I am trying to be less harsh, less of a hammer.  But how well is that working?  I don’t know, and I am still so conflicted.  In issues where it is so clear to me, how do I let it go?  How do I show love when I think a slap is more appropriate?  It’s not enough to say that God didn’t treat me like that, or any other similar platitude.  I know these things in my head.  but I am far more a “soldier” than a “diplomat.”  God help me!  I just don’t know how to spare the sword and offer a hand.
Advertisements

Not Saint, not Satan. She was my Mom. Part II.

When Dad died, Mom immediately packed her stuff and moved closer to us.  We had counseled her to wait a while, but she was determined.  In retrospect, I think she had always had a man to take care of her (she did, after all, grow up in that era), and it seemed she wanted me to kind of take over Dad’s position in her life.  I think she was always a bit bitter that I would not do that; I had my own family, my own life that I had to take care of.  On the other side of the coin, she was proud of the fact that she did so much that she didn’t know she could on her own.

But try as I might (and I tried a lot), I couldn’t get Mom to integrate into our lives.  Multiple times we asked her to bring her crocheting or knitting (she was phenomenal) to the house and just spend the evening, but she couldn’t do that.  So, as time went by, I think our relationship suffered.  There was never any doubt of my love for my Mom, nor of her love for me.  It’s just that our worlds didn’t seem to ever mesh.  The “Dillaman guilt” definitely had a field day with me.

And it was difficult.  As Mom aged, she got more “old lady-ish;” set in her ways, demanding, and a bit mean.  Everyone loved Mom, and I frequently heard how sweet she was.  But I think it’s often different for close family.  I’m not saying she wasn’t sweet, she was, but I didn’t always see that side.  Being my Mom, she never hesitated to criticize me, or let me know I wasn’t calling or stopping in enough.  But from my perspective, I was doing what I could.  It’s just that Mom had never made a life for herself without her family.  To Mom, (and I suspect the Dillaman family of Oscar and Inez), family was everything.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my extended family, but I also have a life; full, busy, interesting.  And it was hard to reconcile the two.  When Beth and I would go on vacation, I would always call my mother to let her know we were on the way, having discussed our vacation plans in advance with her.  She always said, “Have a great time, don’t even think about me.”  No manipulation there, boy.  It took a long time for me to realize that what she was actually saying was, “I depend on you, you’re all I have.  What if something happens to you, who’ll take care of me?”  It made me sad, because Mom was capable of so much more, she just didn’t know it, believe it, or try for more.

And as she got older still, it got more difficult still.  Beth, having the more flexible work schedule, bore the brunt of Mom’s doctor appointments, dentist, eye doctor, whatever.  Beth was fantastic with Mom.  And as much as Mom loved Beth, it was me that she talked about.  Kind of hurt Beth a bit.  But when Mom was with me, I only heard critiques of my driving, handwriting, whatever.  And “the old days.”  She talked a lot about when I was young, but did not much talk about her memories as I got older.  I think when I got to about age ten, it became so hard for Mom to let go that she just treasured the earlier years and pined for that “golden time.”  She used to say that I was “their whole world.”  A lot.  I just wanted to be their son, not their “whole world.”

Her dying was no less difficult.  Age 90, she fell and cracked her pelvis.  The doctor said that structurally, she was no weaker than Beth or I, but that the pain associated with walking was terribly intense.  Mom had been living in Brevillier Village in Erie, PA for a while, in independent living up to this point.  However, after the fall they moved her into nursing care for rehab.  She tried, but the pain was so bad that she had a hard time coping.  And this was a woman who even at her age could handle pain like no one I’d ever seen.  No matter what, Mom was no whiner when it came to personal pain.

She also had a problem with her white blood cell count; Strike two.  We had known about this for some time, but she had refused any treatment, deciding to let it run its course.  I wasn’t really happy with this decision, but it was hers to make.

After the injury, her white blood cell count went through the roof.  Additionally, due to the fall, Mom had a section of her bowel go necrotic.  Strike three.  The doctor said Mom would need an operation to remove that section of bowel, but with her white blood cell count in the stratosphere, it was pretty much a done deal that she would not survive the operation.  With these problems, the doctor said it was just a matter of time, that she could not come back from this.  I took as much time off work as I could, and Beth and I sat by her bed, playing music she would like, talking to her, and just being near.  As she slipped away, she could only rouse herself when company came, especially her granddaughters.  She loved them dearly, and smiled for them, enjoying their company like nothing else.

As time moved, Beth and I got exhausted, and Mom’s sister, my Aunt Phoebe, came to the hospital to spell us.  I cannot say how helpful that was, that Beth and I got a chance to sleep in our own bed at home.  But my Mom was slowing down, like a grand old clock who’s spring was tired, and simply could not be wound up again.  Mom slipped more, seldom rousing for anything.  It was hard watching my Mother die, but this was the last thing I could ever do for her on this earth, and I would not have been anywhere else in the world.  Beth and I sat by her bed, twenty-four seven.  We took turns sleeping; the staff at Ball were amazing, and more helpful than I can describe. They would make sure that we had coffee, snacks, juice.  Beth or I would get tired, and one of us would go to the library and sleep as best we could on the sofa, and then switch off so the other could get a few hours sleep.  Somehow, at some point, a hospital bed appeared in the library, and we took advantage of that.  It felt so good to stretch out.

There is a cat that prowls the halls of Ball Pavillion.  She is friendly, but not overly so.  However, as we talked to the staff, they told us of one of the cat’s peculiarities.  It seems that, although she was friendly with many, when one of the residents were failing, the cat spent a great deal of time in that resident’s room, often being there for hours on the day that the resident finally died.  Not one to put a ton of stock in stuff like this, I did notice on this one particular day that the cat was in Mom’s room quite a bit; rubbing on Mom’s bed, jumping on my lap and staying for quite a while.

That night, I was beat and at one point went to the library, just down the hall from Mom’s room.  I might have been asleep for half an hour when Beth woke me and said that I better come to Mom’s room, something had happened.  Getting out of bed, I staggered down to Mom’s room, and found that as Beth had observed, Mom’s breathing was ragged and irrhythmic.  We watched her breathing slow, and finally stop.  The grand old clock was tired and had run down.  I closed my Mother’s eyes as I had my Father’s, and we mourned.  We stayed with her for a while, and walked down the hall with her to the funeral home vehicle, where she would ride to get prepared for her funeral.  The staff and Mom’s best friend at Brevillier lined up and sang farewell as Mom was escorted out to the waiting vehicle.

A number of relatives and friends came to Mom’s viewing, and Mom had been made up beautifully.  Beth had picked out one of Mom’s favorite dresses and jewelery, and she looked at peace.  We got through the day, as all do who have to lay a loved one to rest, and went home.  The next morning, I got a lawn chair and a cup of coffee and drove up to the cemetery where my Mom and Dad were once again side by side.  I opened up the chair and sat there, watching the sun come up.  I talked to Mom and told her how beautiful she had looked, that her hair was done just like she would have wanted, that Beth had picked out a wonderful dress.  I told her that I missed her, and wished that things had been different.  But I was glad for how nice she looked on her last day.  Weird, but right then a shooting star arced its way across the sky.  I don’t know if there is that kind of communication from “the other side,” but it was nice.

I sometimes wonder what Mom said to relatives and friends, if she praised me or pounded me.  But I guess in the final analysis it doesn’t matter.  I did the best I knew how with what I had.  I loved my Mother the only way I could.  We were who we were.

I still miss my Mother, no surprise there.  I think of her, and although I am sad for me, I am happy for her.  For years all she professed was that she wanted to be with my Dad again.  Now she is.

A lot of people hated their mother.  Due to abuse, neglect, whatever, they are cursed with memories of evil incarnate instead of a loving mother who did all she could to raise her children.  Others put a photo of their mother on an altar, elevating their mother to near deity, refusing to remember any blemish, any imperfection that their mother may have had.  My mother was neither saint nor satan.  She was a flawed human that loved her family with everything she had.  She raised her children, loved them, and cherished them with her whole being.

May God bless you, Mom.  I owe you and Pop everything that I am, all that I turned out to be.  I hope you are proud of what I have accomplished, and I hope to see you someday again, when we are all exactly what we were created to be.  I can’t wait to look into your eyes again, and see the Mother that raised me, loved me, taught me.  You were the best.

Not Saint, not Satan. She was my Mom. Part I.

My Mother grew up during the depression, getting married just before World War II.  Dad was drafted, and Mom bore my sister while Dad was fighting in France.  My sister is what is now called a “Special Needs” child, and Mom took the brunt of caring for her without Dad for a while, in a time when such children were viewed with suspicion; my Grandmother, Dad’s Mother, told Mom once when JoAnne was little that, “Nothing like that had ever happened on Dad’s side of the family,”  not so subtly indicating that it was Mom’s fault that JoAnne had the problems she did.  In reality, when JoAnne was born, Mom had a doctor that believed in “letting nature take its course.”  JoAnne was born after an extremely long labor with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.  Not Mom’s fault, but I wonder if she harbored guilt over that the rest of her life.

Actually, that’s not much of a stretch.  Guilt was one of the driving forces in my Mother’s life.  She felt guilty for everything.  I once observed to her that she felt guilty when the sun came up in the east.  She didn’t really get it, but it is near fact.  For some reason, she always felt guilty about something.

Mom was the second youngest of five born to Oscar and Inez Dillaman, the oldest being a boy, the rest girls.  Certainly not uncommon for the time, she grew up on a farm.  They were located a few miles north of Meadville, PA, and the daughters did chores just like the men.  When she became of age, she got a job at Talon, met my Dad, fell in love, got married, and got pregnant.  With Dad off to war, she lived with her folks, taking care of her ailing mother (and handicapped infant daughter) for a time.  Once, Mom used to tell, JoAnne had a seizure.  In the dead of winter, they didn’t plow the roads as they do now, and no vehicle they had would get through the snow.  JoAnne wouldn’t come out of the seizure, so Mom bundled her and JoAnne up, along with Mom’s father and brother.  They carried JoAnne for miles until they could get someplace (Coon’s Corners, PA, I think) where they got a ride and got JoAnne to the hospital.

Another story she liked to tell was when she was thirteen.  Mom developed appendicitis, and it got bad.  They called the doctor, who gave no hope that she would live.  I believe it actually burst, as they opened her up and rinsed her out with salt water, leaving a drain in her to drain the nastiness out.  Of course she lived, growing, maturing, and becoming the woman she was.

Mom was “made of stern stuff” we like to say.  Strong genetic material, shaped by the hardness of the life in which she grew.  Mom was also blessed with beauty.  As a young woman, she was gorgeous, and Pop got quite a catch when she “hitched her wagon” to him.  Mom was aces with family stuff, but not so much with studying and learning.  Growing up in a time when school wasn’t mandatory as it is now, Mom got a ninth grade education before having to drop out; she never did get her high school degree.

After the war, Mom and Pop moved all over this part of PA, Dad taking different jobs here and there.  He was so disillusioned with having to take orders in the military, he swore he wouldn’t work for anyone again, and used the GI Bill to learn animal husbandry, becoming a farmer, like his ancestors before him.  Sidenote: Pop was extremely smart.  Up to his late 70’s he could do algebra in his head.  I asked him once why he didn’t take accounting with the GI Bill, and he said that at the time he didn’t even know such a field existed.  I wonder how life would have been different sometimes.

Mom and Pop settled down near Springboro, PA, where Dad bought a dairy farm.  And that’s where I enter the picture.

After the war, Dad couldn’t have any more kids (I never did  learn what that was about).  I think they had disagreements over adopting, as Dad apparently didn’t think he could “love someone else’s child as much as his own.”  However, they cared for a young kid, and Dad grew to love him.  When he went back home, Pop allowed that he could, indeed, love another’s child.

My biological mother had her own issues.  Married with six kids, she lived in Ohio until her husband was killed in a trucking accident.  Moving back near her folks outside Springboro, she took up with a jerk who got her pregnant but refused to be honorable about it; she threw him out, a pretty gutsy move in 1956.  However, she was in true dire straits.  Six kids, including the youngest a pair of twins still in diapers.  Recognizing that she couldn’t give her new child the life she wanted to give him, she approached my parents, and asked if they would consider adopting her child.  Timing is everything, and my parents said that yes they would.  Three days after I was born my bio Mom walked down the hall of the hospital and handed me to my Mother.  How poignant was that moment?  I cannot even imagine the emotions from each mother.  Another sidenote:  I looked up my bio family several years ago, and that will, I’m sure, be a blog post sometime in the future.

My early years were on the dairy farm that my parents lived on until I was six.  I remember Mom doing all the Mom stuff, and canning everything that could grow.  I remember her holding my head when I was throwing up; holding me when I had bad earache(s).   Giving me waxed paper for the slide in the back yard; giving me fresh peaches in season.  I remember her being Mom.

Just before the dairy farmers in PA got their act together and actually started making money, Pop sold the farm and we moved into Springboro, where he bought a gas station.  And Mom still did all the Mom stuff.  I remember picking dandelions for her in the spring, and how she would always “Ooh” and “Ahh’ over them, like they were the most beautiful bouquet she had ever seen.  I remember coming home from school and popping my paper lunch bag; she pretended to be startled and scared every time.

Of course my relationship with my Mom changed over time.  I grew more independent, and Mom got older.  She helped teach me to drive, and held me when I cried, but as I grew and tried to establish a relationship with her, she would shift me to my Dad.  I’m not sure what that was about, but I don’t think I ever knew my Mother, adult to adult.  It was about this time that things got a more difficult.

…con’t. next time…

Exclusive? Definitely. Inclusive? Even more so.

I first feel the necessity to generally highlight my views of the Bible.  I believe the Bible is logos; the Word of God made available to us through the written word.  I recognize the difficulties in logic, timeline, and seeming “contradictions,” but I believe that the Bible is a unified whole, from Genesis to Revelation.  Although no philosopher, the teachings I tend to admire are from C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Francis Schaeffer, and Ravi Zacharias, to name a few.  I style myself as evangelical and fundamental, utilizing the “classical” definition of both.  That is:

Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement. It began in the 17th century and became an organized movement with the emergence around 1730 of the Methodists in England and the Pietists among Lutherans in Germany and Scandinavia.  It continues to draw adherents globally in the 21st century, especially in the developing world.

It is a religious movement that de-emphasizes ritual and emphasizes the piety of the individual, requiring him or her to meet certain active commitments, including:

  • The need for personal conversion (or being “born again”);
  • A high regard for biblical authority;
  • An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the saving death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ;
  • Actively expressing and sharing the gospel.

And;

The term “fundamentalism” has its roots in the Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897), which defined those tenets it considered fundamental to Christian belief.   The first formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs can be traced to the Niagara Bible Conference and, in 1910, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which distilled these into what became known as the “five fundamentals”:

  • The inspiration of the Bible and the inerrancy of scripture as a result of this.
  • The virgin birth of Christ.
  • The belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin.
  • The bodily resurrection of Christ.
  • The historical reality of Christ’s miracles,

both from Wikipedia.  Obviously there is a ton more information regarding both on Wiki and elsewhere, but for my purposes, this will suffice, as definition and identification.

What this does not mean is that I am a rabid, shove it down someone’s throat kind of guy.  I do not believe it to be in the image of God to do so, and at best, I believe that approach counter-productive.  I believe that God loves me enough to be always present, an example, a guiding light, a beacon to find my way home when I have wandered.  I do not believe my God is interested in holding me at arm’s length until I get it right.  And since He is this for me, I should seek to be no less for those that do not believe as I do.  God is patient and kind, and I try to emulate Him with my friends who believe as I do, and those who may think I’m a bit of a nutter for believing this way.  I have friends all across the spectrum, and I like that.  My friends are precious to me, and for me to hit them over the head with my Bible every time we talk, well, we wouldn’t be friends for long, and I could hardly blame them.

This is background for a messaged presented by our pastor, Bob Klecan, last Sunday, August 12, 2012.  Another sidetrack: I have talked about Pastor Klecan before, and continue to have nothing but praise for him.  One of the smartest guys I know, he refuses to show off about it.  Humble and kind, Bob’s the real deal.  He’s a joy to talk to, and can converse on just about any topic one could wish.  And his approach to the Word of God is equally interesting.  He comes from blue-collar roots, and tailors his messages toward a blue-collar, get in the trenches and do this mentality.  Very refreshing.

Ok, back to his message.  It was entitled, “Contending for the Faith: Arrogant and Hateful?”  Although I am going to comment on that sermon, I need to add a disclaimer:  the original is much better than this paraphrase.  Anything that is good is clearly from Bob Klecan, and anything that doesn’t make much sense is clearly from me.  Also, I am still on oxycodone from my recent surgery, and therefore not firing on all cylinders (the number of which varies according to whom one is talking.  I, as an example, would think of my mind as an eight-cylinder muscle car, perhaps a Ford Mustang Boss 302.  Others would perhaps think that granting me a four-cylinder sub-compact would be generous).

Pastor Bob based his message on the Book of Jude, and although it may sound a bit frightening to think of going through an entire book of the Bible in church, it’s not so bad when one realizes that: A) Bob focuses on just a few verses at a time: and B) that the entire book of Jude is only twenty-five verses long.

He is actually doing a series on the Book of Jude, and it has been interesting, to say the least.  For me, Jude has always been kind of a throw-away, something to read quickly and move on.   It just never seemed like there was enough substance there to gain any traction.  But Pastor Bob has really added muscle to the book, and I have enjoyed it immensely.

This past week Pastor Bob started out with an observation from Jude that although Jesus is the fulfillment of Hebrew scriptures, the grace that was gifted to the human race by God was being distorted; that grace was being used as an excuse for license.  True, we are forgiven.  But that does not give us permission to do what we want, when we want.  Although God allows us to do so, this does not help us to grow in our faith, but takes us further from the ideal.  We are called, sanctified, and preserved (v. 2).  How then do we contend for the faith, as we are exhorted to do (v. 3)?  How do we contend for the faith “in a society that believes it is arrogant, hateful, and even dangerous to insist that your faith is the ‘right one,’ and to not only refuse to accept the validity of other faiths, but to also to attempt to convert others to your faith?”

The answer is two-fold.  First the explanation as to why we/I believe as we do.

The explanation is that the Good News as proclaimed by the Bible is uniquely exclusive.  Christianity (as represented by the Bible) makes unique claims, as compared to the world’s other major religions.  Christianity claims that God came to earth and lived among men, at the same time completely retaining His “God-ness” and yet at the same time He was completely man.  Christianity claims that Christ, the God-man lived a real life: that he suffered a real death while accepting every wrong thing that keeps us from a perfect God, and that after dying, he re-claimed His life, thereby defeating death.  Further, that since this is true, Christianity claims that accepting and giving oneself to Christ is the only means by which one can come into the presence of a Holy God (heaven).  Only through the acceptance of, and reliance on the gift of grace offered by God through the sacrifice of his only son, Jesus Christ may one obtain eternal life.  There are multiple verses in support of this exclusivity, suffice it to say that if Christianity is not the exclusive way to eternal life, then Christianity is useless.  It is not a good philosophy, it is not a good set of principles by which to live.  If Christianity is not true, it is worse than a waste of time, it is actually a terrible evil, pulling us away from any correct way to God, and dooming those that have chosen to follow.  But I believe it is true.  Can I prove that by formulae or direct observation?  Not really.  I can offer evidence of miracles that I have personally witnessed.  I can offer the Scriptures themselves as a unified whole.  And I rely on my faith.

The problem with the explanation is that many people stop right there, and basically live their lives as a bumper sticker.  “The Bible says it.  I believe it.  That settles it.”  That’s ok to live by, I suppose, but it doesn’t do much to speak to those with real questions.

Pastor Klecan stated that the best (and often only) answer to the question, “How do we then contend for the faith?”  is not in the explanation, but in the application.  And the application is that this faith is uniquely inclusive.  With the Bible, there is no Jew, no greek, no male or female, no racial divide, no favoritism.  All are equally needy before a righteous God, and all are equally accepted with reliance on Jesus’ sacrifice.  And for those of us who do rely on God’s grace, it is incumbent to present ourselves in a light that is worthy.  In our speech, in our actions, in what we post on Facebook, and in what we write.  This is not to say that we compromise on those areas of exclusivity, but that we reach out in love, always looking to the author and perfector of our faith, Jesus Christ.  Bob said something along the lines of, “Do we want to make a point, or do we want to point toward eternity?”  This is where I often personally stumble.  I have very definite ideas about nearly everything, and don’t often hesitate to share my thoughts, regardless of how harsh or pointed they may be.  I need (no, I must) change that attitude.  And that is a work in progress.  In fact, just this past week, a friend on Facebook kind of lit me up about a post I had passed on.  The accompanying photo was unflattering to the subject involved, and in retrospect, not necessary for the point to be made.  I hadn’t even noticed the photo, I liked the major point, so I passed it along.  My friend was rather relentless, and  when I understood how the poster came across, remembering Pastor Bob’s message, I saw I was wrong and apologized.  I told my friend that I should have seen the inherent nastiness in the photo.  She didn’t let me off the hook, she told me that I should have seen it prior to posting.  And you know what?  She was right.  I am trying to look at my posts ahead of time now.  The presentation is as important as is the message.  Like I said, “a work in progress.”

As Pastor Bob said, exclusivity and inclusivity is not, in the end, a “balancing act,” but a commitment to passionately embrace both the exclusive and the inclusive.  That we keep one foot firmly planted in each area.  That we embrace both with equal certainty.  And that we live both with equal passion.

May God grant me the ability to be His representative in love, and in peace.

My perspective of the 2012 Olympics

NBC, you blew it.  You are my favorite network, even if Fox is more of my political persuasion, news-wise.  I am a huge Bob Costas and Al Michaels fan.  Further, I thought the other announcers did their jobs fine.

Up front, my biggest problem walking in is that I am recovering from very recent surgery, and by the time 8:00 PM comes along, I’m toast (In fact, I am still on some pretty solid painkillers, so this blog post may be slightly ill-advised).  So, anything after that, and I may not have even seen it.  I watched during the day when I could, and usually up to bedtime.  And all day Saturday, and Sunday.  So there are the qualifiers, all out in the open and up front.

So, here’s how you blew it.  Bouncy-balls and hula hoops?  In the Olympics?  Come on!  Those women worked hard, and the movement and coordination is beautiful.  But it’s NOT a sport in any way, shape, or form.  So the Olympic committee erred and let it stay.  You do not have to show it.  Maybe put it on at midnight, if someone wants to watch.  Sand volleyball?  I almost have to give you that one, as I understand that those were the hottest tickets in the Olympics.  However, I suspect it was due to the women that were playing in it, not the sport itself.  And sand volleyball is merely a sport played by people who say, “Dude!” to make them feel like they are almost real athletes.  Dump the sand volleyball.  Handball?  I was jazzed when I heard that one, as I used to play handball.  Tough sport, and one where old guys compete better than young guys.  But what is in the Olympics is NOT handball.  It’s guys carrying a bouncy basketball and throwing it around.  Stupid.  Ditch the handball.

I will list the sports that cause me to look forward to the Summer Games (not in any particular order):  Wrestling, Swimming, Diving, Weightlifting, Gymnastics, Track and Field, Boxing.  Throw in Fencing, Bicycling (off-road and road), Pentathlon, Archery, Judo/Taekwando, Equestrian, Triathalon, Water Polo and Shooting, and you have a real event!  I don’t even mind the Soccer.

But what NBC decided to air was, to put it bluntly, boring.  I was bored out of my skull with this year’s coverage.  Look, I know that sports has become spectacle and entertainment, but can’t you keep a bit of the purity?  Ryan Seacrest and McEnroe (for other than tennis), and you clearly have gone in a non-sports direction.  Now, let me say this.  I think Seacrest is great.  He is charming and witty, engages his interviews well, and is entirely pleasant.  But he is not the first person one thinks of when one thinks of sports.  He was clearly chosen for the entertainment factor.

Now, another disclaimer.  I am old-fashioned enough that I pine for the amateur Olympics, even though I know there were loopholes then, as well as countries that paid their athletes a good salary.  But I believe we have lost the intent of the Olympics when we have professionals play.  And by “professional” I mean anyone that makes a living doing the event for which one is going to the Olympics to compete.  That includes Basketball.  The 1992 Dream Team was great to watch, just because each and every player was one of the best ever, anywhere.  But they should not have been playing at the Olympics.  That would be like me competing with a seven-year old  in a shooting competition.  For the most part, I can confidently say that I would win.  But would that be fair?  So anyhow, I just do not like watching professionals.  When they come on the tube (Volleyball, sand pretend volleyball, Basketball, whatever), I generally turn the channel.

So when did the good stuff air?  I saw very little of the things I like, mostly the boring stuff.  Ribbons, sand, bouncy-balls.  Boring.

In my opinion, it would have been better to show re-runs of the good stuff so more people could see them.  Even knowing the outcome, I would have watched Gabby Douglas and the team compete.  But no.  More hula-hoops.  How about Decathlon?  All NBC did was kind of mention it as an, “Oh, yeah,” kind of thing.

I understand that figuring out what to put on air is a no-win situation.  Even if you did everything exactly as I would personally wish, someone, somewhere would probably complain.  I’m not sure why, since I have the finest mind in the cosmos, but it is possible.  Maybe from the ribbon people.  Yeah, that’s probably it.

I also understand that the time difference was a difficulty, but that’s just something one has to deal with when the events are scheduled on the other side of the world, and we need to just suck it up with stuff like that.  But really, a lot of people actually work for a living, and can’t stay up late to watch the cool stuff.

So.  Put me on record for saying that although I understand how difficult the scheduling would be, this Olympics was a complete waste for me.  And I regret that.  I look forward to the Olympics, especially the Summer Games, but this time?  Dullsville.  Rats.  I was really looking forward to it, too.

Fusion. NOT the nuclear kind.

Ok, now this has been an experience.

My neck has been a sore spot with me for years.  Literally.  It got to the point that maybe twelve years or so ago, I decided to go to a Chiropractor for a consultation and adjustment.  For me that was a big step.  I always was a bit snotty about Chiropractic, but boy was I wrong!  One of the guys I worked with really talked up Dr. John Cassara (Erie, PA), so I made an appointment, and went to see him.  He first took a motion x-ray of my neck, and showed me exactly where the problem was.  He then described what he could do for me, and I decided to go for it.  My first adjustment was about as scary as anything I have ever done.  Here’s this huge guy (John is a body builder and formerly excelled at the  shot put in college) bending over me and messing with my neck.  He got me loosened up, and let me know he was about to do the adjustment, and CRACK!  My neck sounded like a stick breaking.  I remember a minor explosion of air shooting out of my mouth, and as unobtrusively as I could, I wiggled my toes and moved my hands around a little.  Ok, I guess all is well.  Whew!  But as I drove back down Peach Street, I realized that the lateral range of motion in my neck had just increased about thirty percent.  I drove down Peach Street just moving my head side to side saying, “Look at that!  Hey, look at that!”  I hadn’t been able to move my neck that well in a long time.  Well done, John.  My Chiropractor has become my friend as well, and our mutually beneficial sessions were regularly scheduled.  I have no idea how the past decade or so would have been bearable if I hadn’t had my neck adjusted as much as I have.

Further, when Chiropractic couldn’t do it on its own, I went to see Dr. Joseph Thomas, also in Erie.  Doc Thomas specializes in pain management, and I received steroid shots for the past several years.  They also have been helping control the pain.  However, a couple of years ago, Doc Thomas advised me that my neck was getting to the point that I would need more.  “Need more” is code for surgery, and he referred me to Dr. James Kang in Pittsburgh.

Beth and I travelled down to Pittsburgh a couple of years ago, and met with Dr. Kang.  He went over my x-rays, and explained what the root problem was.  I had two discs, C-4 and C-6 that were degenerative.  Basically, they were slowly melting.  This is what he does for a living, and he was pretty matter of fact about the whole thing, which I found reassuring.  What he explained was that at the time, I was in a gray area.  At some point, surgery was going to become mandatory.  I wasn’t at that point yet, but I was well within the range of “it could be done, no question.”  I opted to wait, which he supported.

This changed late last year, when I went to get a shot from Dr. Thomas again.  He realized I had not had a series of x-rays in some time, and so we x-rayed my neck.  I’ll not soon forget the appointment when he looked at the x-rays with me.

Thomas is an interesting guy, profane and funny.  But this day, he was all serious.  He looked at the x-rays, looked at me like I had just sprouted a second head, looked back at the x-rays, and then back to me.  In a totally serious voice, he said, “Do you want something for the pain?”  I answered that no, I was ok.  He said, “Are you sure?”  When I again answered in the negative, he just looked at me like I had suddenly changed form into a mutant.  Apparently, my neck had degenerated to the point that he believed I should be in major pain, or perhaps not even mobile.  I told him that no, I was in pain, pretty much always, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  Doc Thomas immediately set up a new appointment with Dr. Kang, and Beth and I went down again to Pittsburgh.  We looked over the x-rays, and although Dr. Kang felt it was no emergency, we agreed that the surgery could take place now.  Beth and I returned home, having set up a tentative date for surgery for the end of summer 2012.

It seems the timing was very good on the surgery.  I have written about my new V-Star, and how much fun it has been to ride.  But about a month and a half ago I could feel that my left hand was not gripping as well as I thought it should.  Further, when I qualified two weeks ago, we had to set up the range.  I grabbed two 4×8 sheets of fiberboard to take down range (we use these to tack the targets on).  I easily picked up one using my right hand alone,  but not so my left. I couldn’t pick it up at all.  Further, I have noticed a bit of tingling in my left arm, and my left hand has had a minor case of “the shakes” starting up as well.

My degenerative vertebrae have their genesis back to when I was a teenager, maybe 16 or 17.  My family went to Kinzua Bridge with another family, just to look around and have a nice time.  The other family had a son, Dale Shatto, that I had become good friends with; his family and mine camped in the same location for several summers.  We had gotten close, Dale called my folks “Mom and Dad,” and I did the same with his.

Well, on this day, Dale and I were ahead of the old people, and went out on the observation rock to look at the bridge.

Kinzua Bridge, near Kinzua Dam in PA,  is an old railroad bridge spanning (you guessed it) the Kinzua River.  At one time it was the world’s highest, longest wooden railroad bridge, and the view is amazing.  The railroad had largely abandoned it, and it had been renovated into a tourist attraction.  One could walk across it, and look up and down the valley.  Especially in fall when the leaves turn color, the view is stunning.  Unfortunately, a tornado has claimed half the bridge, and I have no idea what its condition is at this time.

In any event, there was a large rock that kind of hung over the valley.  The Park Service had cleared brush from in front of it, and it offered a great view of the bridge.  Along the trail, and on the top of the rock was a fence, designed to keep people from falling over the edge.  Being teenagers, we were clearly smarter than the Park Service, so Dale and I jumped the fence and stood on the edge, looking out, looking down.  We couldn’t actually see the bottom, so I have no idea how high we were.  Dale had the genius idea to stand on the edge with our hands on the top, and wait for the parents to come down the trail.  He told me later he meant to go to the top beside the rock and walk down to the point where we could reach up and put our hands on top, but he didn’t say that at the time.  Thanks, Dale.  Your great idea led to my stupid decision, so naturally I’m blaming you. 🙂  Down about six feet, I saw a little ledge, probably three or four inches deep and a foot wide.  I figured I could easily get down on it, so with Dale’s suggestion still clearly ringing in my head (Thanks, Dale), I sat down, aimed for the ledge, and launched.  Well, I hit the ledge alright.  With my heels.  And I slowly, slowly toppled forward and fell off the rock.  Now a lot of people would say this explains a great deal, but I remember doing a pile driver, and landing squarely on my head, as straight as if I had planned it.  I think I blacked out for a minute, but I remember Dale screaming for the parents, that I had fallen off the rock.  I yelled up that I was ok, and climbed up beside the rock (where Dale had actually meant for us to stand), and back onto the trail.  In those days, people didn’t just dart to the Doctor, and this was no exception.  My Dad basically just called me a Dumb Ass, and told me to get in the car.  Well, I was, and I did.  In retrospect, I’m fairly certain I cracked a couple of vertebrae, as I couldn’t rotate my neck for about a year.  It finally loosened up, and all was well (not).  And then I fell on my head a second time, but we don’t need to go into that.

So here I am, fifty-five years old, needing surgery, and scheduled for it.  I got all the advance preparations done, and once again, down to Pittsburgh we went on August 6, with the surgery scheduled for August 7.  I wasn’t really worried, I knew the surgery needed done, and the pain and necessity came from the sins of my youth, so what can I say?  I was concerned, as there is always a chance of “something bad happening,”  but I trusted my surgeon, and knew I needed the procedure, so let’s get ‘er done.

The technical name for my procedure is Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF).  I went into the prep room, and when they were ready, I was wheeled into the Operating Room.  I already had an IV in, and some blood drawn, so when we went into the OR, we were pretty much ready to get the show started.  The anesthesiologist gave me a shot, and said that it would take effect soon.  They then put the oxygen mask on, and I remember saying, “Whoh!  There it is,” and that’s it.  Gone.  Lights out.  My next memory is…I don’t remember what my next memory is!  Boy, that stuff did it’s job.  However, while I was unconscious, Dr. Kang opened up my neck from the front, laterally on the left side.  After I was intubated, they then moved my trachea to the side, and exposed my vertebrae.  They then removed the spongy bone in vertebrae C-4 and C-6.  He also removed a couple of bone spurs that had conveniently decided to grow into my spinal column, and were causing pain.  He then fused C-4 to C-5, and C-5 to C-6.  Many surgeons use cadaver bone, or even artificial joints, but Dr. Kang uses bone from the patient’s hip.  It is inserted into the spot where the old spongy bone used to be, and held in place.  I now have a titanium plate in my neck that I had not had before.  Kind of like Wolverine, but without all the cool stuff that goes with it.  And from what I understand, this is what the fuss was about.  Fusing on two levels is geometrically more difficult that fusing one vertebra.  So.

The next day was kind of pain filled.  Hip, neck, upper back, shoulders.  Dr. Kang came in and explained that the discs had degenerated so badly that he had to build them back up to where they should have been.  In order to do this, they (in essence) had to push down on my shoulders and pull on my head.  I am now about a half-inch taller than I was a week ago.  Dr. Kang said this explains the pain in the muscles in the back of my neck.  They are basically confused, and spazzing, trying to get back where they think they should be.  Honestly, that was the worst of the pain.  My hip hurt, my neck hurt, but no big deal.  But the back of my neck!  Wow!!  I was more than happy for the pain meds for my neck.  I had one of those push button happy shot things that I could use to self-medicate.  I used it more for the muscles in the back of my neck than anything.

The surgery was on Tuesday, and I came home Wednesday.  The pain was manageable, and the physical therapist was satisfied that I could navigate walking and stairs as needed.  I think several people were surprised that I got out of there as quickly as I did, but I attribute this to two things.  First, I was on the City of Erie’s SWAT team for a long time, and one of the things I learned was to fight through the pain.  Too many people, I think, get all whiney about pain, but really, it’s no big thing.  The human body is capable of so much more than any single person believes.  Just gotta keep going.  And second (and most importantly), I had so many people praying for me.  Friends and family in church, on Facebook, and over the country have been lifting me up in prayer, and it shows.  My recovery is still slower than I would like, but it has been so much faster than most who have this surgery.  Many people are in the hospital for days.  Many are on huge doses of painkillers for a week or longer.  Me, I got out of the hospital the next day, and my use of painkillers even now is judicious.  I pop ’em when I really need ’em.  And that’s not so much.

Right now, Beth has taken off work to be with me for the week, and her care has been both amazing and appreciated.  I will be off work until the August 28, which is my followup appointment with Dr. Kang.  My hugest worry now is that I do nothing that will hinder the bone grafting to the vertebrae, and fusing as it should.  I do not want them to have to go back in.  I am wearing the collar as they required.  I am walking every day.  I’m taking all prescriptions as directed, and behaving as much as possible.

Already I feel better.  I think the procedure did what it was supposed to, and I am hopeful for a complete recovery.  It’s kind of exciting to think of my neck being pain-free for the first time in (twenty?  thirty?) years.  My range of motion may be somewhat limited nodding up and down, but I couldn’t touch my chest with my chin before the surgery anyhow.  I don’t wanna look at my toes, so what’s the big deal with that?  I know my scuba season is done for the year, as likely is my motorcycling, but I am hopeful that I will be up and ready to go for next season.  I am grateful to all my doctors, and to God for His benevolence.  I am grateful to friends and family, for their thoughts, prayers and support.  And I cannot tell you how grateful I am to Beth for her attention, hovering, and reminders to behave.  She’s the best.  Now I just gotta be patient for the next few weeks.  And that could be a problem…

Post Navigation