Focus on Faith

When Love Fails and Christ’s People Fuss 

If heaven were not already Paradise, the mere fact that no misunderstanding will mar its joy would make it heavenly.

Drat it! I got word recently of yet another misunderstanding and its sad fruit: broken relationships, deep hurt, and the waste of precious energy that could be put to far better use.

Careful now, lest you think I’m writing about anyone we might both know.

Remember the story about the fellow in England who sent a note as a joke to his prominent acquaintances saying, “Flee! All is discovered!”? Within a week, they’d almost all left the country!

Broken relationships are so common that almost anyone who reads this might think, “Goodness gracious! He’s writing about me and . . .”

No, I’m not. But the lesson will fit us all.

As I understand the situation, a man—an exceptionally good man—got his feelings hurt. He was disappointed by something that happened in his church (a Presbyterian church, not that the brand makes an atom’s worth of difference) with which he disagreed seriously. His disappointment turned to anger when he realized that his pastor and most of the folks in the church felt he’d over-reacted. He responded by over-reacting, effectively cutting himself off from those who thought he’d loved them as family. He had, but this time, his love failed, and the ground became fertile for a crop of bitterness.

Nope, I won’t tell you about the presenting issue behind the fuss and the fracture. I’ve long thought that the best lesson from the two good sisters’ fuss the Apostle Paul mentions in Philippians 4 is that nobody remembers or cares why they fussed; the point is that they did, and they shouldn’t have.

Even if the offended man I’m thinking of here was right, he was wrong. That he allowed his scruples to fracture the fellowship was far worse than the issue at hand.

In this case, almost no one else at his church thought the issue as serious as did he, and it’s a good church (not one given to regular in-fighting) which warns me that even a fine person can be beset by carnal pride that says, aloud or not, “I’m wiser, more scrupulous, more committed, than all of you; I can even turn my back on you and feel holy.”

How desperately Christians need to read one of the most practical chapters in all of the Bible: Romans 14. Gray areas in which equally committed Christians make different decisions have always been difficult for the church to handle. But St. Paul and God’s Spirit in Romans 14 point to the way to deal with precisely such matters, and say plainly: Love each other. Don’t judge each other. You are all saved by grace and grace alone. Uniformity of practice is not required. Love is.

Life is too short and the Christian family too precious to be fractured by the pious piffle Satan builds up in our minds as being all-important. How much of it is really more important than our unity in Christ?

God can use people with strong personalities. Thank God when they’re right. Watch out when they’re wrong. “Those readiest to die for a cause easily become those readiest to kill for it.”

And it might do us good to ponder the fact that, ever since Christ died, the first folks to show up with hammer and nails at any crucifixion are the “spiritual” folks who consider themselves more righteous than the believers at the other end of the pew.

When we fuss, unbelievers see it and Christ is dishonored.  Is the fight worth it? In my experience, almost never.

Oh, Lord, why would you want petty humans like us in your church? Wouldn’t angels have caused a lot less turmoil?

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 2021 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 Conversation With the Apostle Thomas 

Ah, Thomas, I hate to mention this, but you could have saved yourself a great deal of trouble if you’d have just hung with the rest of the disciples on that first Easter evening.

You wouldn’t believe the spin lots of folks have put on the fact that you weren’t there that night. Yes, I know one would think that people would give an apostle of Christ the benefit of the doubt, so to speak. What? Oh, yes, a rather bad choice of words. Sorry.

But you would be the first to admit, I’m sure, that you apostles as a whole didn’t look too shiny for a while there. I mean, Judas . . .  Well, you know. And Peter pretty much threw in the towel. Three times. Cussing like a sailor. Or maybe a fisherman. Most of the guys scattered like quail. And then you sort of skip church. I know it wasn’t to sleep in, take out the boat or RV, or [fill in the blank with] bounce, pass, putt, throw, toss, hit, volley, kick, lob, or otherwise play with a ball, or even to nurse the dog who looked maybe a bit pale that morning.

You know what I mean when I say that the Bible only says that you weren’t there when the risen Lord amazed your apostolic compadres. The madres, the gals, had already tried to tell your friends that they’d seen Jesus, and he was alive again! But the macho guys wouldn’t believe them. “Silly women,” they said, until Jesus appeared in the room with them and scared them silly. Then, “giddy as schoolgirls” themselves, bubbling with joy, they almost bowl you over with the news when you show up.

And again, by the way, where were you?

The folks who call you “doubting Thomas” imply that . . .  Oh, you didn’t know about that? Sorry, but I’m afraid that’s the title you’ve been stuck with. Those folks seem to take it for granted that you were off doing something you shouldn’t have been doing just then. Sitting on a bar stool or playing golf or something, I guess. And your reaction when your drunk with joy companions assail you with the almost-too-good-to-be-true news—“Unless I put my finger where the nails were, . . .” really hasn’t played very well.

Yes, I know you’ve always been a low key sort, a non-pep-rally type whose turn of personality is to focus more on holes than donuts. But, yes, I also know that you’re a good man in a pinch. You’ll be glad to know that John remembered to record in his Gospel the fact that you were the only one who said, “Let’s go with him!” when all of you thought going back to Bethany with Jesus would mean sure death. And I guess it did. Christ’s death.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I like the idea my brother once shared with me. He thinks you weren’t with the guys that night because you loved him so much and his death had so broken you that you couldn’t stand to be with anybody as they prattled and rattled on. You needed to be by yourself.

I know for sure that I’m right when I say your statement of faith when you did see Christ—“You are my Lord and my God!”—is incredibly strong, one of the most noteworthy statements of faith ever uttered, and I’m with you as you’re with Christ. To draw breath is to put faith in something or someone, even if just ourselves (and that’s sad—and naïve). To live takes faith, and if faith in Christ is a mistake, I think it’s far less a mistake than the alternatives.

So just between us, I guess I’m glad you weren’t there at first, because, well, when the evidence comes in for you, it comes in for me, too.  

Don’t broadcast this, but I’ve had some doubts myself.

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 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“We’re Still Friends If You Disagree” 

Since this column has my name on it, this should be obvious: The opinions expressed herein are simply my own to own.

G. K. Chesterton died far too long ago for me to tell him, in this life anyway, how much I love his writing. I do indeed love his way with words and his wit regarding politics (and everything else).

Regarding government in general, he writes, “All government is an ugly necessity.”

Regarding politics, he recommends, “What we should try to do is make politics as local as possible. Keep the politicians near enough to kick them.”

And he continues, deciding that a kick may be inadequate: “It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.”

His only error, I think, is in giving politicians too much slack.

I’ve taken a few of those online “political typology” quizzes, and I invariably fall into the “Core Conservative” category, a group that accounts for only about 13% of the general population. I’m an even rarer species if you take into account a couple of big elections in which 95% of the 13% and I aren’t exactly on the same page. (Being hard to categorize is fine with me.)

“Core conservatives” have fallen on hard times, but I guess I am one. I’d like to see us actually try free enterprise sometime. I believe that capitalism with its many faults has far fewer faults than any alternatives. It seems clear to me that most governmental attempts to “end poverty” perpetuate the problem and end up being incredibly cruel even as they salve the consciences of well-off elites who need the help to feel good about themselves. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me that to vote, folks need to provide the same I.D. they’d need to buy beer or write on themselves with tattoos. I confess: I’ve never been sure why our nation is in any way blessed by “Motor Voter” registration. I don’t think registering should be hard, but if I don’t care enough about voting to at least actively register, maybe I should bless our republic and my fellow citizens by staying home.

So I guess the surveys have me correctly “filed.” No wonder I chuckle with Chesterton about politicians. I am, I admit, a tad squeamish about hangings. A worse fate for politicians these days might be to hang them only if they break out of the luxury hotel we lock them into for a forced vacation where they’re required to actually talk to each other. (Personally, I’d still vote to hang the ones, either party, whose now customary post-election whining about “stolen elections” is equally annoying.)

I do mean a “luxurious” hotel or resort. Make it nice. Beyond comfortable. (But no hiding in rooms. Conversation between political enemies is required.) Feed them well, even lavishly. If we could get them to really talk, human to human (a few may have some humanity left and not be entirely plastic), this would be an incredibly worthwhile use of taxpayer dollars.

Political talk would be off-limits. (Shock collars?) Talk about families, kids, grandkids, and pets, encouraged. No lectures, just maybe board games and conversation over jigsaw puzzles or even cigars, by those not offended by such incense. (Ya know, peace has often broken out over a little legal smoke. Peace pipes.)

I wondered about offering bowling or darts, but overt competition and sharp objects probably should be avoided. Cornhole?

Two weeks, I’d say. On the second, they could be ferried to another fine resort for a change in scenery. Cheap at any price.

During the whole time, no phones. No staff. No calls to staff. No media. No mail, in or out. No grandstanding for fawning followers. No fund-raising letters disguised as surveys written for dunces who can’t spot a rigged question, who can’t wait to be manipulated, and who can’t wait to send checks.

I think my proposal would help us all. Some among “us all” are surely equally committed Christians who hold a wide variety of political viewpoints. We need to remember who our King is and, as one wise person said, realize that “salvation does not arrive on Air Force One.”

The Apostle Paul commands us (1 Timothy 2) to pray for our rulers (one of his was the Emperor Nero who would later kill him) so that we may live “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” I like the sound of that.

Anyway, don’t you think that folks from both the ultra-left and the ultra-right have more in common than they like to think? Looking for “salvation” in politics, they take themselves far too seriously to be able to laugh healthy, good-hearted, face-fully-involved laughs, and they almost never utter five syllables: “But I could be wrong.”

Well, I could be wrong. But, for my part, we’re still friends if you disagree.

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 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Won’t It Be Nice to Be Out of Time? 

Won’t it be nice to be out of time?

Say what?

I’m serious, and I repeat: Won’t it be nice to be out of time?

I don’t wonder that you’re confused. You’re probably thinking: Whaddaya mean? “Nice” to be out of time? I find myself “out of time” innumerable times every week, and running out of time may be many things, but “nice” is not one of them. Try another word, Bucko!

How about “frustrating”?

Maddening? Depressing? Infuriating?

I think all of those words well describe how most of us feel when we “run out of time.”

A job to do.

A test to take.

A vacation to enjoy.

A conversation to savor.

A flavor to savor.

A letter to write.

A book to write.

A book to read.

A race to run.

A game to play.

A nap to nap.

A puppy to hug.

A marriage to delight in.

A child to raise.

A grandchild to snuggle with.

A laugh to laugh again.

A friendship to nurture.

A story to tell.

A time to say, “I love you.”

A life to live.

And you can add plenty of items to my list. But don’t take too long, or . . . you’ll run out of time.

The bell will ring.

The alarm will go off.

The vacation will end.

The job will lose its joy.

The time for the laughter will be lost.

The strength you need to play the game will vanish.

The friendship will be fractured or the friend long gone.

The marriage, still cherished, will be over because marriage takes two and one has stopped breathing.

The marriage, now bitter, will be over because marriage takes two and one has run away and trampled on vows.

Ah, we’re always running out of time—until the day we really run out of time when the “grim reaper” visits and . . .

I was bemoaning to my brother the other day that I had one week in which to do the work of two. It’s so hard to get ready to be out of town; you almost wonder if it’s worth the effort. It is. But my email to him ended, “It’s always so hard to get off [on a trip]!”

His reply: “Not if you have a heart attack, like the guy I’m burying this afternoon. He’s off! Too bad that’s what it takes to finally stop the race.”

Hmm. So we run, and run, and run. I sometimes wonder if we run so hard lest we ever have to slow down . . . and think . . . and ask ourselves if what we’re running after is really worth the race. We can’t even seem to rustle up the courage and the discipline necessary to turn our cell phones off for one whole meal and be fully present with our companions, much less the courage to stop and consider why we’re always running.

Do we ever give any thought to taking a vacation of a different sort occasionally that is actually designed for rest and not just diversion (by which I mean just a different sort of fast-paced busy-ness than our usual business)?

We tend to just run. And run. And then the time comes when we run “out of time.” Sad.

But this is also true: For those who’ve taken the time to center their faith on the eternal God of Heaven, surely one of Heaven’s best blessings will be to be “out of time.” Truly. And to have all eternity to drink in God’s joy and do, well, anything that brings Him glory and magnifies His—and your—eternal joy forever.

No tears there, we’re told. No clock-watching, either.

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 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Resurrection Power Transforms the Ordinary 

“He is risen!”

“He is risen indeed!”

Such power is difficult to imagine. We read the Gospel accounts and try to view the scenes in our mind’s eye. Mind-boggling.

Pick any of the events of that first Holy Week. Some are obviously filled with meaning and mystery. Some seem rather mundane, almost commonplace for that time and place, until the Gospel writers and Christ himself pull back the curtain just a bit. Any Passover meal is already deeply meaningful and symbolic, but listen to Jesus’ words at that Last Supper, watch him wash the disciples’ feet, break the bread, drink the cup, and infuse it all with a depth of meaning and mystery that, yes, boggles the mind.

As Jesus walks through that week, time seems to slow as God himself invests each moment with eternal meaning. It’s as if the passing moments of our ordinary weeks hold the water we need for our lives and our journeys, but the Lord of all transforms the moments of that week of weeks into vessels filled with the most exquisite wine.

Yes, time slows.

Christ Jesus, fully human, does what divinity could never do: he dies. Christ Jesus, fully divine, does what no human could never do: he takes on himself, quite literally (oh, don’t ask me how!) all of the sin and guilt of the world.

Every moment of that week is mind-boggling and mystery-infused. Filled with God-chosen donkeys, adoring crowds crying loud “Hosannas,” curse-hurling mobs shouting themselves hoarse begging for blood, the Passover Lamb leading the meal and lifting the cup and pronouncing, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

And so much more.

The moments of that week shimmer and glow, charged with God-glory and Spirit-mystery, holiness and power. Amazing, how the ordinary becomes truly extraordinary that week, every cup a Holy Grail. 

 And so our minds are boggled, our wits overwhelmed, as we try to take all of this in. What is God doing at that moment? Oh, did you see that!? Why would he do that? How could he possibly make that happen? Can you imagine the power it took for even God to accomplish that?”

How? Why? Wow!

In the midst of it all—all the holiness and divinity, all the power, all the wonder and majesty, the meaning and the mystery—I keep coming back also to . . .

Well, I find myself fascinated by what Christ’s power does in the lives of the weak and ordinary. People like me.

The apostles Jesus says in Matthew 19:28 will one day sit on glorious thrones (ah, there’s some mystery for you!) were looking pretty ordinary during that first Holy Week. As a young person, I admit that I found it rather extraordinary that Peter and James and John could fall asleep when their Lord, wrestling in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, so needed them to “watch and pray” with him. Now, perhaps less full of myself and more aware of God’s grace for ordinary people and our deep need for his grace and power every moment, I look back at the events leading up to their eye-drooping, and I’m right with them. I’d have slept, too. Of that I’m sure. I couldn’t have helped it.

But our extraordinary Lord is more than able to redeem even our weakest moments and our worst and most human failures.

Perhaps that’s the most amazing thing of all, what Christ’s Resurrection does to transform even the most seemingly ordinary people and events and moments of our lives into the truly extraordinary.

The mundane becomes the vessel for mystery. Water becomes wine. Wine becomes blood. Blood becomes salvation.

 And Jesus Christ, betrayed and murdered and lifted up on a cross, becomes the exalted Lord of all. Even a tomb becomes an incubator for glory.

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 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Then Simon Peter Drew His Sword” 

“I could be wrong to swing this sword, but swing it I will! Try to arrest my Lord, if you will, but this sword says that there will be blood!”

Was something like that going through the Apostle Peter’s head when, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he drew his sword and swung it to defend his Lord?

An armed “detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees” (John 18:3), lit with torches and adrenaline, had come to arrest Jesus. It seemed clear to Peter that this was the time to cock his sword, take it off “safety,” and swing. Or something like that.

I don’t think he was thinking much, just taking what seemed like a natural and reasonable defensive action. If he’d been more soldier than fisherman, would he have swung harder and taken better aim? Would Malchus, the chief priest’s servant, have been headless instead of just shorn of his starboard ear? Was the swing half-hearted? Or full-out but ham-handed?

I don’t know. I do know that Jesus quickly told the big fisherman to put away his sword: “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (18:11). And then the Lord miraculously, graciously, reattached the whomper-eared servant’s outer auditory apparatus. And that’s pretty much the last we hear about Malchus, his ear, and Peter’s sword.

I doubt that Malchus was a particularly bad guy. He was following the wrong leaders, but he had lots of company in that. He’d evidently done his job well enough that he’d risen to a position of responsibility. He must have been right amongst the front line of the arresters to have been such a readily available target for Peter’s blade.

I must admit that, from my childhood, I’ve always been glad that at least somebody that night did something that made some sense. Jesus will go quietly. He’ll let his enemies take him. He’ll be mostly mute while they lie about him, beat him, and taunt him. He’ll let them nail him to a cross and kill him. Before he dies, he’ll even ask his Father to forgive them.

I can’t imagine doing any of that. What I can imagine is joining Peter and adding to his sword any weapon at my disposal.

I can imagine feeling just as the disciples did. What we need is firepower! More swords!  Jesus had entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” Wasn’t it time now for the revolution to begin in earnest, time for Christ to publicly establish his kingdom?

But they didn’t understand. And, admit it, it’s hard to understand even now.

Swords and their modern equivalents are quite necessary in this fallen world. One day, swords will be “beaten into plowshares” (and tanks turned into tractors?), but not yet.

And it still takes something called faith, as we wait for God’s kingdom to come in all its fullness and “every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord,” for us to realize that the “rule and the reign” of Christ in our hearts can begin for any one of us at any moment. Right here. Right now. We can experience his peace and his presence whether we are treated fairly, or get all of our rights, or are healthy and wealthy and comfortable, and in charge.

Though I’m immensely thankful for the nation in which I live, Christ’s peace can be full and rich in the hearts of his children regardless of their earthly citizenship or any external circumstances. His kingdom is far more powerful, more real, and infinitely longer lasting than the best, or the most evil, of earthly kingdoms. His peace transcends any time, any place, any circumstance.

Oh, we want justice and truth, and, yes, mercy and fair play, all to hold sway. One eternal day, they will.

Until then, I need to think a lot more about what it means for Christ’s kingdom to come—already, yet again, each day—in my heart.

It seems to me that right now, especially during this Holy Week, some more thinking about that dark night in Gethsemane, focusing on our Lord, and, yes, even pondering a bit more about Peter and Malchus, might be my Lord’s way to teach me how to be a better citizen of his eternal kingdom.

My ear is fine. It’s my heart that needs healing.

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 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Lord, I Believe; Help My Unbelief!” 

The people of faith who impress me the most are the people who are the least impressed with their own faith.

Folks like this are slow to throw down glib and easy answers to life’s hardest questions. They’re quick to be present, mostly in silence, as they put an arm around a friend facing one of life’s genuine tragedies and offer real tears, but they’re slow to show up to add verbal drizzle and plastic platitudes that, well-meant or not, make a horrible situation even worse.

One of the most impressive people of faith in the New Testament is the father in Mark 9 who is completely unimpressed with his own faith. He’s not one of those self-confidently “spiritual” folks who have all the answers, rock-solid “faith,” and are always the first to show up religiously with more nails at the site of any opponent’s crucifixion.

No, this guy is just an ordinary guy, and he knows it. (Oh, how much extraordinary courage we can see daily in the lives of ordinary people, if we just look!) But he’s long dealt with serious heartache as he’s had to helplessly watch his son being victimized by terrible affliction. His hope is almost gone; he’s just about down to empty, running on fumes.

And then Jesus comes.

Truth be told, Christ’s disciples had shown up first, attempted a healing, and failed so miserably that they had just about exhausted the patience of their Lord (read about it in Mark 9).

But this ordinary man bypasses the failed apostles and goes right to the top, desperate: “Lord, if you can do anything . . .”

“‘If I can do anything?’” Jesus replies. “Everything is possible to him who believes.”

Then comes from this ordinary man a statement, a pattern, I think, of real faith: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” He humbly asks, and Jesus heals.

I like this guy. I like his “lack.” He knows that his faith is lacking, but I like his lack of pretense. I like his lack of whatever were then the popular pious phrases of the “spiritual” folks. I like his lack of guile. I like his lack of reliance on the self-help “mental gymnastics” some folks equate with faith as they try to snooker themselves into “belief” that if they work hard enough to believe enough, the Lord will give them just the answer they want. I love this man’s simple request. And, yes, I love the Lord’s answer, the Son’s healing of the son.

It’s rather amazing how little of what we hear about faith describes the real thing. Skeptics are religious about charging that it’s devoid of reason. That simply is not true.

And, far too often, believers twist it into something more akin to magic than real faith. Say the right words in the properly worked up frame of mind and we can manipulate the Almighty? I doubt it. Real faith means allowing God’s love and power to act on us; it is not a tool we can use to act on him.

I have a great deal to learn about faith. I need more faith to pray for more wisdom. I need more faith to pray for more patience when my prayers are not answered as quickly as I like or in the ways that I like. I need more faith to pray that the Lord will help me to understand that often what I ask for is not what I need. I need more faith to pray to be less impatient and less angry when the answer seems not to come at all or comes in a package I’d very much like to “return to sender.” And I need more faith to pray for eyes to see the memercy-filled answers that have already come and a heart to be filled with gratitude for the wonderful answers that will come.

Even when faith questions and prayer perplexities drive me nuts, I need to remember what my Father has done, that he is always good, that he is always loving, and that I am always his. I need more faith to know that, while I may be in a difficult chapter, the end of the story the Author has in mind is utterly delightful.

But, yes, what a great prayer for a father at the end of his rope and a child like me: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

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 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Roused, Am I Waked, Woken, or Woke?” 

I am a self-confessed English major. And I’m choosing words carefully here, words that in our present cultural climate serve as—take your pick—solemn and grim warnings, red stop signs surrounded by flashing lights, cease and desist orders complete with dire penalties lawyer-littered in pages of small print.

I am [pause here for display of deep emotion as a substitute for rational thinking] concerned.

I am [pause here for display of deep emotion as a substitute for rational thinking] troubled.

I am, yea, verily [pause here, well, you know, but wait for the ominous pronouncement by which I stop you in your tracks and transport you into self-loathing, guilt, and endless soul-searching for ways to make some small, ineffectual atonement for your general wretchedness and that of your horrid ancestors] offended.

As an English major, what offends me at this very moment, though goodness knows the whole universe is too small to contain the list of items and ideas sensitive people like myself might be offended by these days . . .

What offends me presently is yet another attack by “progressives” on an upstanding and honorable word that has done nothing to merit such sullying, such besmirching. I won’t list many examples, lest anyone else become more concerned, troubled, or offended than a tender human soul could, these days, be expected to bear. But how long ago is it now that we could sing on a fine Yuletide that phrase in “Deck the Halls” about donning “lively and exuberant” apparel and not snicker? I snicker not, that sweet little word deserved better before it was plucked and had its primary definition plundered.

By contrast, the word I’m thinking of now, I must admit, has long been something of a problem child. The conjugation of the English verb “wake” has always confused me. Add “up” to it, and it gets worse. Throw in English usage versus American usage. Even worse. (Google it, if you want your brain to bleed.)

The “simple indicative past” conjugation is simple: I woke; you woke; he, she, or it (or whatever gender said entity woke up feeling like today) woke; etc. But get much past that and you’ll soon find yourself amongst a head-boggling variety of forms: “waked,” “woke,” “wakened,” etc. Whoa! No, woe.

Already complicated, the poor word has been twisted dreadfully by the incredibly religious self-righteous fundamentalists of political correctness (IRSRFPC?). Trampling roughshod over the English language and this poor word, they call themselves “woke.” Why not “the awakened”? They’re an incredibly loud lot to be so hazy and sleepy intellectually, albeit completely confident in their wokeness, waked-up-ness, awakedness. Of all generations, wisdom and virtue have finally found a home in them. The woke. The waked. The awakened. They’re—sing it to an Elvis tune—“all waked up, oh, yeah!”

What an odd religion. A faith all “woked” up but with eyes sewed tightly shut.

It’s nothing new. Just the latest iteration of the idol worship and the chanting worshipers the Apostle Paul wrote about who “claiming to be wise, became fools” (Romans 1:22).

I need a nap. Wokeness (who knows these days if that’s a word?) is not only tedious, mind-numbing, ignorant, boring, and tiresome, it’s incredibly tiring.

Please wake me up in thirty minutes, and I’ll jump up singing, “I’m all waked up!” Or is that “all woke up”? Let me sleep on it.

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 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“True Confession: I Am an English Major” 

I am an English major.

I am an English major who wears many hats in my work and the various aspects of it, but most of them are colored by the fact that, as I mention yet again just before I step off a verbal cliff and fall into triple redundancy, I am an English major.

My wife married me anyway. She says that as a young lass she’d always thought she’d marry a preacher or a farmer. I’ve long wondered why a girl would dream of a life almost guaranteed to produce very modest financial gain. And to set those last four words in boldface type, she chose a preacher/English major. For a wise woman who is now a judge, this choice seems evidence of a serious lack of judgment, but I am eternally thankful for it.

I love words. I like working with them, choosing them, hunting them, bagging them, and lining them up. Except for working with foul and voracious deadlines always hounding, drooling hot-breathed down my neck, I like living a life where I write sermons, columns, essays, devotional magazine copy, and an occasional book. I write them, edit them, proofread them, stack them, lay them out in lines of print copy, design pages for them, and live with them. When words are not driving me crazy, eluding me, mocking me, and making my brain bleed, I am in awe of them, their friendship, and their magic.

I often wonder why so many people who seem bored or perplexed or tired don’t open a book and look for the words that will launch them into a great story, soul-growing refreshment, and even impart a little, or a lot, of wisdom. Such words are readily available. Yes, I know that it’s easy to fall into a cesspool of verbal sewage. Just as you can join very foolish people poisoning their souls with “music” boasting “explicit lyrics” and a nihilistic view of life leading, predictably, to despair, you can choose worthless and/or vile words. But you don’t have to. Music infused with beauty and joy is still available.

Likewise, many wonderful word-streams, sweetly teeming with life, still flow. Yet too often we blindly trudge on, heads down, eyes glued to the phones that own us. We are twits tweeting and texting on, parched with thirst, complaining that we live in a desert when water is everywhere; we are making such good time on the road to nowhere that we just won’t stop to drink.

Words, to change the metaphor, are a time machine to jail-break us from the tyranny of living always blinded by the foolishness of our own era; they are a highway to the wisdom of the ages. They are a view through the eyes of the most amazing people who have ever lived and whose innermost ideas still speak; we do well to listen. 

But back to the earthly for a moment. Are you tired of this world? For heaven’s sake, then, why spend all of your time in it? Feeling locked up in, say, a funk or maybe the occasional pandemic? Pick the lock with a book! Go to Middle Earth, or Narnia, or any of a million marvelous places. Want to go to Mars? Why wait for NASA or for Elon Musk to build (as he will, I think) a starship that doesn’t explode? I’ve been to Mars many times with paper and ink or an e-book as the only launch vehicles. No astronaut training required. No English degree, either. Just the ability and desire to read and launch.

I do admit that English majors can be an eccentric lot. I have a t-shirt emblazoned with the words: “The Oxford Comma: Fighting ambiguity, confusion, and bad grammar since 1853.” I love that shirt and feel deeply about its message. You, too, can order one. Amazon lists it under the sub-category “nerd shirts.” But how one handles commas used in words in a series matters. (Just do an internet search for “Oxford Comma.”)

English majors have strong feelings about such issues. I’m sure bar fights have ensued. The stakes are crucial: “Let’s eat Grandma” versus “Let’s eat, Grandma.” You see? Commas can save lives.

It is no accident that God’s Son himself is the Word incarnate and that the Father chose the written word as an amazing way to reveal to us his Son, his will, and his deep joy in his children and in all of his creation.

Yes, I love words. Most amazing, though, is that the Word loves us.

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 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

God Has No Problem Identifying His Children 

During one of the most famous battles ever fought, the World War II “Battle of the Bulge,” the Germans made use of a battalion of men commanded by Major Otto Skorzeny, “the most daring commando in the German army.”

According to author Stephen Ambrose in his book Citizen Soldier, 500 or so volunteers from that battalion were dressed in American uniforms and dispatched across the lines to wreak havoc and confusion, perpetrate mischief, and cause misery and mayhem in any way possible. They spread misinformation about German strength and troop movements to lower morale among the American troops, misdirect the Allies, and generally spread seeds of panic. They shifted directional signposts to wrong directions to cause further confusion.

Ambrose writes that once the American troops realized what was happening, the word spread amazingly quickly: “Trust no one!” American soldiers, particularly Military Police, began to quiz anyone who looked suspicious or who was crossing a barricade, with such questions as, “Who plays center field for the Yankees?” (I’d have been shot as a spy if they’d asked me that one.) “Who is Mickey Mouse’s wife?” (I know; I’ve got granddaughters.) “What is the capital of Illinois?” (Ambrose says that even General Omar Bradley was detained for answering correctly, “Springfield.” The MP was sure it was Chicago.)

But the spy-detection gambit that most caught my interest had to do with a proofreading mistake (and proofreading mistakes are the bane of this minister/writer/editor’s existence!).

It seems that a German in an American officer’s uniform was stopped at a roadblock. The man’s English was flawless. In fact, many of Skorzeny’s men had spent some time living in America or Britain; one wonders how much trouble we could save ourselves if we’d just quit training our enemies.

This guy’s identification papers were also perfect. In fact, it was the perfection of the German forger who produced his papers that cost this man his life as he was later shot as a spy.

Ambrose says that the authentic Adjutant General’s I.D. card that all American soldiers carried had at its top these printed words: “NOT A PASS. FOR INDENTIFICATION ONLY.” But the German forger had corrected the typically efficient bureaucratic spelling mistake and taken out the offending “N” so that the spy’s card read, correctly but fatally, “IDENTIFICATION.”

I am thankful that God the Father has no problem at all correctly identifying his children. We may get our bloomers all bunched up and fuss about various rituals and rites, some of which are beautiful, meaningful, and God-prescribed (but not for arguing about).

But the Apostle Paul makes it quite clear (read his letter to the Galatians) that the real proof that we’re God’s children is not ritual-based (as beautiful and meaningful as rituals can be): it is centered on God’s Spirit living in our hearts, giving us life, and producing wonderful fruit, proof positive that we’re God’s people.

Oops! Did I say God has no trouble “identifying” his children? Maybe you’d better make that “indentifying.”

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 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.