Focus on Faith

The Pandemic, Statistics, and Perspective 

Death. There seems to have been a lot of it lately, at least in my experience. Funerals have been the order of the day.

I know. Your first thought will likely be of COVID-19 deaths. According to Johns Hopkins University, the United States, at this point, has suffered 219,282 deaths.

Of course, we’re awash in numbers as we try to get a perspective on this mess.  I found some particularly interesting. (But check me on them. Statistics are slippery.)

On an average year, between 34,000 and 43,000 people die due to the flu. According to an Associate Press article, the average of recent years was bumped up by the 2017-18 flu season, the “worst in forty years,” in which 80,000 people died. Half of that number would have counted as “an unusually bad year.” Mix together an unusually strong flu virus and an unusually ineffective flu vaccine, and you have a recipe for nothing good.

Even more recently, the CDC  (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that, before April 4, 2020, between 24,000 and 62,000 people had died in the 2019-2020 flu season.

You probably already know that the 1918 flu pandemic was epic and very deadly indeed. It actually lasted two years and estimates are that it killed 500,000 Americans.

What we generally see from the seasonal flu, notes Dr. Anthony Fauci, is a mortality rate of 0.1%. He also says, and this is probably what we’re most interested in right now (though dead is 100% dead), that the coronavirus is “ten times more lethal” than the flu.

And here’s a number for you. The worst pandemic in human history was the Black Death (the Plague) in the mid-fourteenth century that killed between 75 and 200 million people, a very significant portion of an estimated 450 million worldwide population.

But, the Big One aside, I’m not even sure how to evaluate the scads of other more recent numbers regularly tossed at us. A lot of estimating must be required. The CDC is well aware that many folks with relatively light cases of the flu never see a doctor during their manageable misery. My own opinion, almost completely worthless, I’m sure, is that many, many more folks have had COVID-19 than the official numbers indicate, and that affects the true mortality rate.

Some numbers may not surprise you, but they say a lot. As of early September, a total of 38,500 U.S. military personnel had contracted the virus; seven had died. A single nursing home in Brooklyn had 55 deaths and many states report that over half their pandemic deaths are in assisted living and nursing home facilities.

It’s become quite clear that, though we see mostly the same data, we filter it through our own political and social lenses. I don’t want anyone to die from flu or COVID-19, but I must confess that the flu’s 0.1% mortality rate doesn’t worry me much. Nor, if I’m honest, for me personally, does COVID-19’s higher number. I figure it’s good to be prudent, and I’ve long thought that, for a guy who likes to sing for people, a little germophobia and the consequent frequent hand-washing, etc., is not so much a phobia as it is good common sense, pandemic or not.

And yet all of our views on this are skewed in so many ways for so many reasons. Do you know someone—do you love someone—who has died from COVID-19? Do you know someone left with serious health issues? Then one is far too many.

Statistics are crazy. What to make of them?

Here’s one. In the United States, we have 331,002,651 people and have had 8,390,547 COVID-19 cases.

Here’s another statistic that presently frightens me. Out of those 331 million folks, a bunch (that’s a seriously technical statistical term) belong to two political parties who have chosen the two candidates for president—presumably, their best options, which I find 100% statistically horrifying. One now has no logical need at all to wear a mask, though a mask with a mute button or a filter would help him garner more votes. The other is likely to drown in his shower as he waterboards himself. I figure he wears his mask even under running water.

In the midst of all this barrage of statistics, one stat gives me comfort. I’m 100% sure I know the One who brings us from death to life and breathes into us the only health that ultimately matters. I have 100% confidence in our real King.

    You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Tolerance” Is a Plastic Idol, But “God Is Love” 

Tolerance.

I find myself wondering if the word, these days a sickly, anemic, anorexic wraith of a word barely staggering around on its wobbly feet—and yet incredibly loud despite its weakness—has always carried with it a genetic predisposition toward infirmity and decay, or if the present-day virulence of political correctness has fed its malignant bone rot.

“Just give tolerance a chance.” Let’s hold our candles high and sway to the music as we stand in front of our university’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, hoping that the wind whistling through our ears doesn’t extinguish our flickering flames. Still, it’s quite a moving experience, this worship of tolerance. All the more heady, issuing in tear-streaked cheeks and spirits utterly astonished at the depth of our own virtue, if we’ve just managed to “cancel” a speaker whose speech we’re frightened we might not agree with. And the music plays, we sway, wind whistles, candles flicker, minds atrophy.

Forgive me, but “tolerance,” oft-mistaken in our society these days as the highest of virtues, seems sickly, wobbly, and unequal to the task its worshipers have thrust upon it, even as it tries to do what they demand. Not see. Not care. Have no strong opinions, except those most popular, plastic, and unencumbered by anything as morally or dreadfully confining as reality or physics. You believe two plus two equals five; I believe the answer is four. Oh, well. Be tolerant. Light a candle. What difference does it make as long as we’re all happy and on the right—better make that, the correct—side of the latest opinion polls?

Strange, though, how tolerance, as generally practiced in the ever-constricting PC world, stretches only one direction and how utterly intolerant it is in the other. Flirt with a politically incorrect opinion and feel your career flame out as diversity seems suddenly unappreciated. 

In his Wall Street Journal article (10/10/2020), Joseph Epstein lists five views among many “the tolerant absolutely won’t tolerate.”

*That abortion “is, somehow, anti-life and thus just might be wrong.”

*That “the final word isn’t in on climate change, let alone what, if it exists, ought to be done about it.”

*That “racism isn’t systemic but the absence of fathers in African-American families is, with 70% of black births being out of wedlock.”

*That “sexual reassignment surgery and transgendering generally is a ghastly solution to what possibly isn’t a problem.”

*That “most government programs for the improvement of the human condition are unlikely to be effective and in many cases exacerbate the illnesses they set out to cure.”

What a strange virtue tolerance is, especially if it tries to lay claim to being the highest of all virtues. Long before we get even through the list of five items above, let alone to hundreds of others, the high priests of Tolerance have covered their ears, shredding their vocal cords  belting out, “All that we’re asking is give tolerance a chance . . .” all the while completely unwilling to ever really try.

We’d do well to remember that Jesus named and crowned the highest of virtues long ago: love. Love is completely up to the task our society has futilely entrusted to tolerance.

Just not caring much. That’s the highest win “tolerance” can manage. Love cares deeply. Love may have very strong opinions indeed. But love loves anyway, even those with whom it most strongly disagrees.

I could blather on. But I’d rather offer examples of love’s strength as opposed to insipid “tolerance.” Think Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. Think George W. Bush and Michelle Obama. And think—I hope you can—of someone you love deeply, someone you’d die for, whose politics, opinions, and even choices, you abhor.

Tolerance will never be up to that task. For love, such strength is simply what it’s all about. Tolerance is a plastic idol. “God is love.”

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Question: “I Wonder What Would Happen If . . .” 

I wonder.

I wonder what would happen . . .

Well, it probably wouldn’t happen, at least, not with the folks I’m thinking of, though I think there’s a pretty good chance it could happen, would happen, and does happen with you or me or anybody you really want to spend much time around, folks who don’t suck the air out of any room they enter, people you can honestly say that you like, but I wonder . . .

I wonder what would happen if the loud politicians (and most of them are loud) presently enjoying their fifteen minutes of this world’s fame, would do what they almost never do, find very difficult to do, and maybe literally can’t do: what would it look like if one of them just occasionally laughed at himself, herself, or itself (to be inclusive here)?

What would happen? I can think of a few who’ve done it. Not many. But, thank the Lord, a few.

Can you imagine, though, Russia’s chest-baring narcissist, China’s fake-smiling bully, North Korea’s puffed up toad, Iraq’s . . . well, you get my drift—those guys who might well be termed “deplorables” . . . Can you imagine a genuine, good-hearted laugh from any of them, much less a laugh at themselves?

And, though I’ll try to be reasonable here—I really don’t think it’s fair to lump “our” present pols into that sorry wad of bottom-feeders—hang with me here and think about this.

Wouldn’t it be a great sign if our political leaders were truly better at laughing in general and laughing at themselves in particular?

I’m talking about a real laugh. Not a smirk from the nose down. Not a grimace. Nothing aimed at an opponent or critic. Nothing at all sardonic, cynical, withering, bitter, resentful, supercilious, ignorant, arrogant, rude, condescending, or fake. No.

But a genuine full-involvement-of-the-face laugh. The real deal. A good-natured roar. A guffaw. An explosion of deep mirth accompanied by a flash of eye-twinkle that confirms it.

That’s probably far too much to hope for all at once. I think even a teeny, tiny joke about one’s own foibles and inconsistencies issuing in a real and spontaneous, unscripted and unguarded smile would be refreshing and a good start. And it could and should cross all political lines.

Maybe if Trump laughed a bit about his own Twitter propensity and Biden grinned about his own gaffe-ability, we’d feel better and late night comics would have a little less ammunition.

I think I’d nominate George W. Bush and Michelle Obama to give lessons. Whatever I may like or dislike about the politics of either, I like this about them very much: those two could pull this off.

Ya know what? Upon reflection, I really do think I could name a handful of other political sorts we have seen, or can imagine, doing this without straining any facial muscles at all. I’d gladly vote for one of them.

I’m serious about this. It’s a much bigger deal than we might at first imagine. What kind of heart, what kind of soul, does it take to be able to laugh at oneself? For all of us, not just politicians, it takes a heart with something still warm and beating in it and a soul with something still alive in it. Something still genuinely good. Something that knows itself well enough to be able to get out of self and not be locked up—north, south, east, and west—in a cell with bars fashioned by self as its own tyrannical jailer.

Sadly, that kind of self-imposed prison is not just common to egotistical politicians, it can lock up the hearts of any of us who take ourselves too seriously and our God not seriously enough. If we really trust our Father, we’ll have plenty of time, many good reasons, and ample occasion not only to love but to laugh, often at ourselves.

Personally, I think it’s foolish and dangerous to put much trust in anyone who doesn’t.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Wow! That Person Really Knows the Bible!” 

“Wow! That person really knows the Bible!” I hear that comment made fairly often, and I always wonder what the speaker means.

Usually they mean that someone is quite familiar with the words of the Bible, its many facts and wonderful stories, etc. On one level, that’s great, since most studies these days show that the general level of factual Bible knowledge among even Christians is appalling.

But then I wonder, how much does that person whose Bible knowledge is being touted really understand about God’s written revelation? For example, how much does he understand about the various types of literature that are contained in the Scriptures? Does she realize that being serious about learning what a particular book of the Bible has to teach means being serious enough to learn something about its context and setting? And on we could go.

I don’t doubt for a moment that one doesn’t have to have credentials as a Bible scholar to derive great blessing from simply reading the Bible and learning about the amazingly Good News of God’s love; but neither do I doubt that biblical “malpractice” and mistaken “theories” that sound good on the surface are most easily promulgated by folks who haven’t had the training truly needed to swim in the deeper ends of the pool; they are easily misled and often mislead others whether they have great intentions or not.

Interestingly, those who have worked the hardest and studied the longest to truly know the most about the facts, the message, and the meaning of the Bible are the very last to ever claim to know much about it at all. You might as well claim to truly know every “corner” of the Milky Way, and only the most foolish and blind astronomer would ever make that claim.

I’ve been enjoying Dr. Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor. One of Peterson’s most truly wise and learned teachers at the Johns Hopkins University was Professor William Albright, then perhaps the world’s leading scholar in biblical archaeology and Semitic studies.

Peterson says that one day Dr. Albright walked into the classroom greatly excited. For years scholars had been debating the exact location (and meaning) of Mount Moriah, where Abraham had “bound Isaac for sacrifice.” Dr. Albright had awakened that morning to suddenly realize that he had discovered some very important answers. He stood before his doctoral students and laid it all out, filling the chalkboard with Ugaritic, Arabic, Assyrian, Aramaic, and Hebrew words pertinent to the issue. He’d gone on for twenty minutes when one of his best students raised his hand and asked, “But Dr. Albright, what about . . .”

Peterson says that the Professor stopped, considered for twenty seconds, and said, “Mr. Williams is right—forget everything I have said.” Amazing humility! And true humility is always impressive.

Most folks don’t even begin to realize how much we are blessed by those like the good professor and so many others who have devoted their lives to helping us better understand God’s written word.

May we never forget that the real purpose of God’s written revelation—every page—is to help us know and become like the Lord behind it. Knowing its facts but not its Author would be sad indeed. The more we truly know of Him the more truly humble we will become.

    You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“What Might Be Filed in a ‘Column Seed’ Folder?” 

Two or three folders stuffed with little pieces of paper covered in scrawled notes. A computer file folder named “ColumnSeed” with files named “ColSeed0001” and on up, presently, to “ColSeed0334.” What each of those folders holds, of course, are ideas for newspaper columns/blogs and now, podcasts.

The column-starter ideas submerged in them (though most are relatively benevolent) are a bit like the nuclear missiles resting in submarines and silos: they are usually out of sight, but I feel better knowing they are there.

I almost never look at them. When I do, I am reminded of why I almost never look at them.

Most of them seemed good to me at the time, but now seem weak, at best, and completely unneeded and uninteresting, at worst.

More than a few of them seemed timely at the time. That time is not now. The week I handed a diploma to a son, a few of those ideas were fresh, and I wrote about one of them. The week each of my grandchildren was born, I was overflowing with gratitude. Still am. But it’s another time in those sweet lives. Even the “bug emergency” a granddaughter brought to my attention regarding bugs adrift at sea in our backyard wading pool, well, was an emergency then. And I wrote about it, and I’m glad. But a few such noted moments are notes past their “sell by” date now.

Most of my column-starter notes, as I mentioned, are benevolent in tone, but not all. [Note the preceding sentence. Notice how much can be done with differing combinations of N O T E S in just one sentence. Are words not wonderful?]

Some of my not-so-benevolent notes are actually complete columns that I wrote while ticked off. Writing them delivered me of a gut-load of fury—righteous, self-righteous, or otherwise—but they never needed to see the light of day. I am not, you understand, saying that they were untrue. But Scripture tells us that truth-speaking should be done “in love.” Even if your point is ever so true and desperately needs to be made, skewering someone with pointed truth heated by blistering anger is much more “aggression” than it is “love.” It never helps.

So the angry columns—and, I’m pleased to say that they are few in number—helped me at the time but will help others only by staying where they are. All of which, by the way, is a good reminder that anything you write quickly as a text, a social media “shot” or reply, etc., should be allowed to marinate a bit before you fire it off. Many people, I’m told, even some national leaders and famous folks, don’t have enough discipline to just wait a couple of minutes for their blistering note and hot head to cool off; they just launch the missile. Almost always a mistake. Most mature third-graders know better than to behave that way.

Some of my notes seemed funny or witty at the time, I guess; they are not now.

Some were written in a crisis time. Crisis times are nothing I enjoy, but the shock sometimes lights off brain cells. Some of those (few) notes seem to have come from a scorched brain; others, more worthwhile, are more interesting but the fizz has gone out of the soda. (And I’m glad.)

So, there. Looking for something to write about, I just shared some thoughts on “column seed” and am saved from having to scratch out on a note to stick in a folder: “Write about how to keep ideas available on stuff to write about.” Whatever ColSeed0335 turns out to be, it won’t be that one.

I probably wouldn’t look at it anyway. In my experience, ideas for stuff worth writing about don’t come out of a dusty file; they come from the story the Author of life is always busy writing all around us. I just need to be still long enough to open my eyes and notice.

He’s not called “the Word” for nothing.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Why Didn’t I See That Wreck Coming?” 

Some wrecks you simply cannot see coming; others, well, it’s almost criminal negligence not to see them heading your way. The latter can and should be avoided.

If you are busy minding your own business as a good citizen when you are suddenly dispatched (tragically, for sure) by falling space junk, or perhaps by a less flashy but nonetheless spectacular, garden variety meteorite, I don’t see how anyone could rationally criticize you for not seeing the danger coming.

Of course, we’re so incredibly enlightened now that we can’t criticize anyone for anything. If we’re nailed on the noggin and nullified by a statue we’re busy pulling down, say, of a Confederate general or Mother Theresa (ours is not to reason why), and we are not city workers doing our job after a legal city council vote or city-wide “Does This Statue Offend Us?” referendum . . .

If we’re just short of other things to do, enjoy a good protest or riot, are full of ourselves and our victim-hood (whatever the issue and whatever our color, economic class, intelligence or lack thereof), and relish mayhem, and the statue we’re destroying accidentally destroys us, I don’t know that we’d have a lot to complain about. Vandalizing public property carries with it inherent risks that should not surprise us. Once upon a time, one of those risks was being arrested.

Some problems can’t be avoided, but others? Is it really necessary to light a cigarette while filling a gasoline can? Or why not just get out of the way of the speeding train? You saw it coming, right? Loud whistle. Bright light. In the name of all that still makes sense in this crazy world, why did you stand there and wait for its kiss—and then expect others to clean up and mourn the mess as being unpredictable?

And now, in the midst of an already crazy time comes Election Day rumbling down the track. If you’d be ecstatic over the choice between a proctological exam or a root canal, you’ll love this one. Even more lovely is the serious possibility that it will be Election Month (or worse).

In a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger writes that looking ahead at the coming election is like sitting in a boat about to plunge over Niagara Falls: any fool can see trouble coming.

He’s specifically talking about the mail-in ballots. Fraud possibilities aside (which seem very real to me), he’s talking about the widely varying state to state post-marking, acceptance, and verification rules for mail-in ballots. WSJ polling, he says, suggests that 66% of Trump voters plan to vote in person, and 75% of Biden voters say they’ll vote by mail. Interesting. But it means, basically, “parallel elections for the same office.”

I recently received four of the same item in the mail. Why? Because of mail delays—“item presumed lost”—the store tried three different times to mail me the same product. All of their tries finally, but very tardily, succeeded. I really don’t blame the USPS. The pandemic has their boat loaded. One might say that they are paddling near Niagara Falls. Already. And obviously.

So, writes Henninger, we see the problem coming. It’s headed our way. The wreck is completely predictable. Some states (wisely) require mail-in ballots to be received by Election Day (by close of polls) to be counted. So mail it very early; if you don’t, and it’s not counted, no whining. Some states say ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2 or 3, but we’ll count them until X days after the election (or if they arrive before Easter in years when the big rodent saw his shadow on the previous Groundhog Day; just kidding on that last). Most states require that the voter have a pulse when he/she marks the mail-in ballot. (Kidding again. I’m not sure California or New Jersey require a pulse.)

Anyway, we’re just gonna watch this happen, singing “Row, row, row your boat merrily down the stream” as the thunder of the falls resounds and the spray hits us in the face? Really?

Such idiocy is breathtaking. We better work on fixing this now.

But before I get too haughty, perhaps I should recall how many times I’ve ignored my Father’s clear warnings and wise counsel, been utterly foolish or rebelliously disobedient, “sowed the wind” and “reaped the whirlwind.” Yes, and then acted surprised by the wreck!?

    You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“A Good Door-knocker, I Am Not!” 

I might as well just admit it: I am not a good door-knocker.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Probably not me, or you’d not have heard the clatter.

I don’t like to make noise. I like peace and quiet and assume that others do, too, so I tend to knock too quietly. Nor do I enjoy having to stand outside a door as I realize that I knocked too tentatively and that it’s probably my own fault that I’m standing there, waiting, wondering if anyone is home, if anybody heard my wimpy knock, and how long I should wait before knocking (apologetically) again.

Knocking, by its very nature, seems intrusive. I don’t like to bother people. I’d starve as a door-to-door salesman, religious pamphlet passer-outer, etc., for all of the reasons above—and more. If, when the door-knocker knocks, he’s praying that no one is home, he is not well-suited for door-knocking.

But some people are.

Like the guy in Jesus’ parable in Luke 11.

It seems to me the fellow is a few slices short of a loaf. Actually, he’s three loaves short of “enough for company.” Oh, and he’s “you.”

Don’t be offended, but “you” are a little clueless in this parable. It is, however, Jesus’ story and not mine. And the Lord calls him “you.”

You show up at a friend’s house at midnight. Unannounced. You shouldn’t have. Granted, you’d have had to wait about two thousand years to call or text ahead, but you shouldn’t have done that, either. No way to shine this up.

You knocked. Loudly. With authority. (Even though you have none.) I’m sorry, but, if this is you, I figure “you” stand in people’s personal space and talk too loudly even at decent hours. Spittle sputter. Buzzard breath. You may be a tad short of friends.

But you’ve rattled the timbers around this particular soon-to-be-former friend’s door. At midnight.

Three-quarters asleep, he stumbles over and manages to raise the bedroom window: “Hey, fool, we’re trying to sleep here! The lights are out, the door’s locked, and my kids are finally asleep—or at least they were. Go away!” Where I live, we’re more civilized. We might just forgo the filibuster, cock the .45, and growl, “Git!”

But “you” plead your case. Another friend has shown up for a visit, and you don’t have a morsel or crumb anywhere in the house. You figure a loan of three loaves of bread will be enough. Wheat, not white. Mind wrapping it up?

“Are you daft? No!” Please? “No!” You sure? “For heaven’s sake, let me sleep!” Just this once?

The window slams shut. Curtains pulled. Unprintable snarls. A baby’s yowling.

Louder unprintable growls. Heavy steps. Bolts sliding. A door flung open. More snarls. A package of, presumably, three loaves shoved in your chest. A door slammed in your face.

You probably won’t be doing a garage sale together anytime soon. But you got the bread.

Why? Jesus says it’s because you’re a loud jerk. Well, he calls you “shamelessly persistent.”

The Lord tells this story in the midst of some of his most amazing teaching on prayer. And he is telling us something important about our Father. Above all, notice that this is not a comparison, it’s a contrast. 

We’re not obnoxious neighbors who get on God’s nerves; we’re the sons and daughters in whom he delights.

So keep asking, seeking, knocking. It’s your Father’s deepest joy to open the door to his children.

Anytime. Any time. Any time at all.

   

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“My Grandchildren Have Each Come Equipped with GPS” 

When my first grandchild, a beautiful little girl, was born, I was surprised to learn that grandchildren are born with an integrated GPS. All of mine have come thus equipped.

The Grandpa Positioning System can be initiated with a simple smile aimed at the old guy, a pudgy little finger pointing PawPaw in a specific direction, or a cute giggle triggering Granddaddy Gymnastics (which—let grandpas beware—may lead to lumbar consequences).

At one point a few years into my grandfathering career, led by the aforementioned GPS, I found myself, a father of four sons, in the strange position of perusing YouTube videos trying to learn how to French braid a little granddaughter’s silken hair. A major goal, of course, was to do a good braiding job. For an amateur, I did okay. (May I strongly suggest a good comb and dampened hair?) The over-riding goal, however, was to elicit smiles and giggles and hugs. On that score, I did better than okay!

The tricky part of French-braiding hair comes because the good Lord saw fit to give most grandfathers only two hands. The process requires holding at least three strands of hair and a comb, all at the same time while juggling a spray bottle, and not fumbling hair strands, comb, or water sprayer in the process. PawPaw’s fingers found the multitasking to be a bit challenging. But the giggles were wonderful compensation!

“All at the same time” can be a challenge—and not just for grandfathers.

When Jesus came into this world at Bethlehem, the Apostle John describes him as being “full of grace and truth.” In his ministry, Jesus himself makes it clear that those who love and follow him are to be people whose lives are filled with love, grace, compassion, hope, joy, and so much more—all at the same time. What a beautiful braid! But what a challenge!

In that “braid,” so many wonderful qualities are, by the power of God’s Spirit, woven together beautifully. But integral in that lovely weave, a special strand intermingles with the others lending a deeper tone, a richer sheen, and producing in the whole braid a magnificent beauty, lush and lustrous and, at the same time, providing a marvelous strength. That strand is truth.

“Grace and truth.” Our world is in desperate need of both. Real grace. Real truth. Together. Grace separated from truth becomes an anorexic wraith. Or change the image. “Cheap grace” is no more real grace than those pathetic globs of “poultry” Gary Larson once drew in his “Far Side” cartoon under the caption “Boneless Chicken Ranch” were real chickens!

And truth separated from grace? It is cold and hard and brittle, quickly lost as our society tries to force truth to be anything at all that anyone at all might find useful at any given moment at all. Hurling a rabbit off a mountaintop and calling him an eagle won’t help with the landing. Truth matters. But our self-destructive culture is often unwilling to admit that objective truth even exists. Many people don’t want it to exist. And many, because of their approach to life, can’t afford for it to. No wonder Pontius Pilate’s cynical sneer is as modern as tomorrow: “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

But truth does exist, and all genuine truth is God’s truth. The real thing is no chameleon or shape-shifter changing hue or form to fit the latest opinion poll or fashion. We might as well talk about “my gravity” or “my multiplication table” as to spout nonsense about “my truth.”

Accepting the truth about ourselves, our world, our Creator, is the way to life and healing and joy because in our Father, grace and truth are beautifully braided together with love.

 

    You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

 

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

 

“I Will Soon Be Taking Orders for MAMA Caps” 

I’ve been thinking about ordering some hats. Caps, really. Baseball-style caps. Something like those famous red ones that are emblazoned “MAGA.”

But those won’t work for me. Oh, we can discuss the message, but I don’t plan to. Not here. I’m just talking about the style.

The fact is, I’m not a big hat person. I sometimes wish I was. Nothing looks better than a nice cowboy hat on a guy who was made for a nice cowboy hat. But I just can’t seem to pull that look off.

I’ve recently found a couple of Irish caps. Dunno if, occasionally, I can pull that look off. Some guys make fun of them. I don’t care. But if you want a hat to do billboard duty, forget the newsboy/Irish caps. You’d have to put your message on the top. It’d look like a tilted helipad, and vertically challenged folks would never see your ad/slogan.

So we’re back to some variation of baseball cap. Yeah, like the MAGA caps. But I repeat: I don’t care for that exact style. I don’t like straight-up billboard caps, even if they’re best for billboards. I don’t like flat brim caps; I want curved. I don’t like mesh hats; I want softish fabric. I don’t like cardboard or starched almost-90-degree angles; I like fitted or, at least, aerodynamic or what some folks call “dad” style. Soft. Well-broken in. A clasp, if it’s not fitted. No plastic.

Not a serious hat person, I seriously know what I want in a hat.

Now we’re ready for color. This will be hard.

I’m a sucker for blue or maroon. Or black. But ya gotta be careful these days. You can’t say “good morning” without sending the wrong message. “You’re a racist! You’re a homophobe! You’re a . . .”

What?! All I said was, “Good morning”!?

“It was your inflection. I’ve heard it before. It is systemic. You need to read this book or a few. Bathe appropriately in abject guilt. Then come back and try saying ‘Good morning’ to me again in the morning.”

So color matters. Red’s out. And blue. (Both appropriated by political parties.) White? (You dastardly bigot!) Black? (Better, but still . . .) Same with brown. Green? (It seems to elicit gaseous emissions.) So, rainbow? (Nope. Even “all colors fit all” has been sadly sullied and co-opted.) This is difficult. Okay. I vote to table the color discussion and move on to “message.”

Well, why not wear just a plain ol’ non-messaged cap to keep your head warm or salvage a bad hair day? Just a possibility. No? My mistake.

So . . . I vote for MAMA. I like it. You already feel warm hugs, right? Even before you know that it stands for “Make America Mature Again.” I could have said MAP(olite)A or MAC(ivil)A or MAN(ot)A(s)D(umb)A(s)AP(ost)A. All of the above are good messages for both political parties, whether, on any given day, they are engaging in self-righteousness, preening, virtue-signalling, busily shooting themselves in the foot, or perpetrating any idiocy anywhere in between. Yep, I vote for MAMA.

Somebody with an “in your face” cap of any sort comes toward me. I just turn toward them, and my MAMA cap says it all silently.

It says, for example, in the midst of this virus mess, if you’re not wearing a mask and I am, I’ll not scowl at you; I don’t know your reasons. The scowl would be wasted anyway because you couldn’t see it unless I frown all the way up past my eyebrows. That’s hard on a face, and mine’s showing some wear.

And if I’m not wearing a mask and you are, I won’t scowl because I’ll assume the best, that you don’t want to infect me. I’ll just figure you think it’s all hooey and that, if you’re a Christian, you sincerely believe you have very good reasons for not “submitting” to “governmental  authorities” (Romans 13) in this case.

I find myself in the middle on this discussion. Not unusual. But to my friends, both sides, who want to actively politicize this “issue,” may I just say that I don’t plan to join in.

It’s ironic. Intemperate alcoholics and intemperately loud teetotallers share the same problem—way too much focus on alcohol. Loud maskers and loud non-maskers are the same. There’s more to life, even in the pandemic, than to mask or not to mask. Decide. Don’t filibuster about it. And be nice to the rest of us who just want to get through this thing.

Disclaimer: If you force a hand at me, trying to make a point, not just because you forgot and have been doing handshakes courteously forever, I’ll take my hat off and tip it to you. What I’m really doing is looking at those letters, MAMA, to remind myself of why I shouldn’t extend my balled up hand into your teeth, which you deserve if you’re trying to force me to help you make your point. But you’re probably not. So I’ll probably shake it and later use hand sanitizer. Or I’ll fist-bump. Maybe hug. If I like you, and I probably do, I’ll risk a hug if you will. But your move first. And not in a crowd; I shouldn’t hug everyone.

But, you see, my MAMA cap covers even that. It says wordlessly to kids who should know this already, especially if they claim to be our Father’s kids (and our Father has always been maddeningly apolitical on this sort of issue, no matter what those who claim to speak for Him say), “Do you fussing little brats just need a hug? There ya go. I love ya. Now, go play. And straighten up. And get over yourself. Come back if you need your shoe tied. Or if you need another hug. Johnnie! Janie! I mean it!”

MAMA says it all. Caps, $12.99. A steal, I say.

 

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

“May I Say Just a Few Words in Favor of Mondays?” 

MondayHello

Well, here we are again. Monday morning. At least, in my corner of the universe. I mean, of course, as I’m writing this. I don’t know when you’re reading it. Whenever it is, I do very much appreciate your discerning and impeccable literary tastes. (And, I beg you, please give me at least one more chance after you read this particular column. I’m thinking it will be a little thin.) But onward . . .

This is probably not news to you, upon reflection, but most barbers and a good many pastors share a “general population” minority view of Mondays; we are very fond of them.

Please understand, I genuinely love what happens in my life on Sundays. At least, I love it once I’ve pried myself out of bed, and caffeine and hot running water have done their vital work.

And may I say, since COVID-19 shut down so many of our churches for real, in-life, in-person, flesh-and-blood worship times, I value Sundays now more than ever. I admit that I didn’t mind sleeping in for a Sunday or a few. That whole experience has been exhausting and involved harder work than ever, but having done Sunday’s video early, I did find a few positives in the general mess. And less than ever am I tempted to count myself as some other species who cannot imagine sleeping in on Sundays. On balance, it’s a sad and hurtful choice, I think, but I quickly admit it: I understand those whose church attendance good intentions are derailed by every “gnat’s eyelash and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails” and who come faithfully—whenever the barometric pressure in Bolivia is conducive to church attendance. Hey, I’m human, too. (And some of you, for very good reasons, really should not come right now. But let’s also get real: more of you than are, wherever you attend, should. If not for you, for others; I’d say, for both.)

All of that said, just about any pastor worthy of any trust, pandemic times or not, will also understand me when I say that the best thing about Mondays is that they are as far as you can get from Sundays. A few of my breed may not admit such. They are probably also the ones who say they enjoy weddings.

Regarding weddings . . . Honored to have done them. A privilege to be asked. Love the families I get to share life with. Incredibly proud of and delighted by those weddings that inaugurated heart-warming marriages. But more convinced than ever that a great marriage has less than nothing to do with a big wedding where every gal the bride ever said “Good morning” to is a bridesmaid and the groom is suckin’ air to think of that many friends.

I do know a preacher or two that I trust who claims to like weddings. But it still tends to be, maybe just to me, a red flag. “Judge not.” I know. But a little discernment doesn’t always cross that line and recognizing a red flag can be a valuable life skill. For example, not everyone who wears a bluetooth phone earpiece habitually for no work-related reason is an idiot and well worth avoiding; in my estimation, for what it’s worth, which is nothing, two perfectly good strikes remain. And I’m glad to have been proven wrong here more than once. What’s on your red flag list? I find such lists interesting.

Okay, I was going to say something profound to wrap this up and salvage my space this week. I don’t think this is redeemable. May I just ask that you come back next week? It’ll be profound, I’m sure.

In the meantime, I’ll say with real thanksgiving, I am immensely thankful to the Giver of all good gifts. Please forgive me for thinking that one of those great gifts is called Monday.

 

                                  

    You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.