Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Keep Him Away in a Manger

Keep him away in a manger, no crib for a bed
I'd rather not think of the thorns 'round his head
It pains me to picture his back beaten raw
Just give me the baby, asleep on the straw

The cattle! The wise men from far, distant lands!
The little Lord Jesus who makes no demands
I love the old carols and things in that vein
Just stay in the cradle and don't make me change

Be Little Lord Christchild, I ask thee to stay
The babe in a manger forever, I pray
To die when you're perfect would be such a loss
It's far too disturbing: the blood and the cross

*  *  *  *  *  *  *
Truth is...this really is the desire of a lot of folks; enamored with the romanticism and fairytale quality of The Christmas Story, but uncomfortable with the grisly necessity of Good Friday.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Where Was God?

For Newtown, Connecticut

Children were killed
Where was God?
'Cause don't you think it massively odd
That innocent sons and daughters are dead
Because of a guy so sick in the head?

Kindergarten kids will soon
Be placed beneath the sod
And living ones still scream through dreams
So tell me, where was God?

I think that God
Weeps the same
As when his son accepted blame
For every wrong we'll ever do
And Jesus died for me and you

God didn't stop the angry mob
When with their clubs they came
And gave the giver of breath his death
I think God weeps the same

*  *  *  *  *  *  *
Truth is...God refuses to be a puppet master, so there will always be horrible things happening until time itself comes to an end. But just as he did with the crucifixion of Jesus, God still squeezes good out of even the worst that humankind can dish out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Jesus Was WHAT?!!?

It's often been said that Larry Norman was the grandfather of Contemporary Christian Music...that his pioneering blending of folk/rock music with spiritual truth in the late 60's helped create "Jesus Music" and was a major part of the soundtrack for the phenomenon of hippies coming to Christ that was called "The Jesus Movement."

I was never really a hippy, and I grew up in the flat-lands of Northern Indiana instead of the beaches of Southern California or anywhere near Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco...but I felt the influence nonetheless. The setting aside of theological navel-gazing and denominational chest-thumping and just focusing on this guy Jesus really struck a chord with me...and it didn't hurt that I could play along with the simple chords of classic rock that came charging from the vinyl grooves of the hard-to-find albums by the likes of Norman, Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, and Love Song.

That focus on Jesus is what drew me to Norman, as is perfectly demonstrated in his song, "The Outlaw."

Some say he was an outlaw, that he roamed across the land
With a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
No one knew just where he came from or exactly what he'd done
But they said it must be something bad that kept him on the run

Some say he was a poet, that he'd stand upon the hill
And his voice could calm an angry crowd or make the waves stand still
That he spoke in many parables that few could understand
But the people sat for hours just to listen to this man

Some say he was a sorcerer, a man of mystery
He could walk upon the water, he could make a blind man see
That he conjured wine at weddings and did tricks with fish and bread
That he talked of being born again and raised people from the dead

Some say a politician, who spoke of being free
He was followed by the masses on the shores of Galilee
He spoke out against corruption and he bowed to no decree
And they feared his strength and power, so they nailed him to a tree

Some say he was the Son of God, a man above all men
That he came to be a servant and to set us free from sin
And that's who I believe he was, 'cause that's who I believe
And I think we should get ready, 'cause it's time for us to leave

*  *  *  *  *  *  *
Truth is...you can talk, you can talk, you can bicker, you can talk, you can talk-talk-talk, you can bicker-bicker-bicker...but it all comes down to one question: What do you say about Jesus?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Look! It's Jesus!

"If you turn on any of my crew..."

The intense scene pictured above is from the 9th of only 14 episodes of the 2002-2003 television series, Firefly. The loveable scalawag, Captain Mal, has caught the man named Jayne in an act of treason...turning in a pair of fugitives from the evil Alliance that were part of the ship's crew. Jayne defends himself by saying, "It's not like I turned on YOU!"

The quick and angry response is, "You turn on any member of my crew, and you turn on me! You did it to me, Jayne! And that's a fact."

Sound slightly familiar to any Bible readers out there?

It's a reverse image of something Jesus said about feeding the hungry, clothing the needy, tending to the sick, visiting the lonely...

"If you've done it to the least of these brothers of mine, you've done it to me."

Kind of makes you want to think twice before avoiding eye contact with the Salvation Army bell-ringer, or hoarding all those perfectly good coats you'll never wear again, doesn't it? Kind of makes you wonder if the soup kitchen ought to be keeping kosher in order to not offend the line of Jewish carpenters outside its door.

"You did it to ME!"

Truth is...we maybe should be going beyond treating others as we would have them treat us, and instead, start treating others as we would want to treat Jesus.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Tyranny of Perfection

According to tennis great Andre Agassi's autobiography, Open, Agassi got some important advice from Brad Gilbert when he and his manager were recruiting Gilbert to be Agassi's coach. They asked Gilbert for an honest, brutal-if-necessary evaluation of Agassi's game, and Gilbert pulled no punches:

You always try to be perfect, and you always fall short, and it [messes] with your head. Your confidence is shot, and perfectionism is the reason. You try to hit a winner on every ball, when just being steady, consistent, meat and potatoes would be enough to win ninety percent of the time.

Quit going for the knockout. Stop swinging for the fences. All you have to be is solid. Singles, doubles, move the chains forward. Stop thinking about yourself and your own game and remember that the guy on the other side of the net has weaknesses. Attack his weaknesses. You don't have to be the best in the world every time you go out there. You just have to be better than one guy. Instead of you succeeding, make him fail. Better yet, let him fail. ...

Right now, by trying for a perfect shot with every ball, you're stacking the odds against yourself. You're assuming too much risk. You don't need to assume so much risk. [Forget] that. Just keep the ball moving: back and forth, nice and easy, solid. Be like gravity, man... . When you chase perfection, when you make perfection the ultimate goal, do you know what you're doing? You're chasing something that doesn't exist. You're making everyone around you miserable. You're making yourself miserable. Perfection? There's about five times a year you wake up perfect; when you can't lose to anybody. But it's not those five times a year that make a tennis player; or a human being, for that matter. It's the other times.

It's all about your head, man. With your talent, if you're fifty percent game-wise, but ninety-five percent head-wise, you're going to win. But if you're ninety-five percent game-wise and fifty percent head-wise, you're going to lose, lose, lose.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *
Truth is...Earth has felt the footsteps of only one perfect being, and we killed him. So, take it easy on yourself. By the way, under the leadership of Brad Gilbert, Andre Agassi experienced one of the most successful periods of his career.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

[SLAP!] Thanks, I Needed That

I recently began reading a book by Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus. I have really benefited from everything I've ever read by Manning (especially The Ragamuffin Gospel, from which I will surely be quoting in this space sometime in the future) and what I've read so far in this book has certainly not disappointed.

Especially moving is this note that was found in the office of a young pastor in Zimbabwe, Africa...following his death...a death caused because the young man believed in Jesus.

I'm part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit's power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made - I'm a disciple of his. I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I'm finished and done with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean in his presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and I labor with power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way rough, my companions are few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the enemy, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won't give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till he comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till he stops me. And, when he comes for his own, he will have no problem recognizing me...my banner will be clear!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *
There have been times - not nearly recently enough - when I felt like this. And those are the times when I've been the most filled with joy. Perhaps that's why I've also highlighted another paragraph: Philosopher William James said, "In some people religion exists as a dull habit, in others as an acute fever." Jesus did not endure the shame of the cross to pass on a dull habit. (If you don't have the fever, dear reader, a passion for God and his Christ, drop this book, fall on your knees, and beg for it. Turn to the God you half-believe in and cry out for his baptism of fire.)

Truth is...I need a slap in the face like this every so often. Maybe I'm not the only one.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Oh, The Joys Of Heroin

Ron Asheton, of Iggy Pop's punk group, the Stooges, is quoted in the book, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain:

The shooting gallery in Fun House [their communal residence] was my brother's apartment. It had a bedroom, a bathroom, and it was perfect for shooting dope - a dark green tile floor, a big round table, and those kind of cheap white acoustical ceiling things they used to have in doctors' offices. Very fifties. The walls were already kind of brown, but the worst thing was that the acoustical tiles were all bloodstained. And there were big blood drips on the floor, and on the walls, because when you pull a needle out of your arm after shooting up, some blood gets in the syringe, and to clean it out, you squirt it.

So they squirted the walls and the ceiling a lot. Shhhhtick...blood on the ceiling, blood on the walls, just good drops, like if you took a squirt gun and just shot water up there. This went on for a long time. It wasn't all red, just big ugly brown stains, but a lot of times there would be fresh red stuff. Then it would drip on the table or on the floor, where they'd throw their cotton balls. Such degradation.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Sin is like that. We justify and justify and have reason after reason why it's okay...but when we look back at it, it kind of makes us sick.

Truth is...it's amazing the stuff we do that we think is cool when we're in the midst of doing it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Truth

Whether or not you admire the Fab Four from Liverpool, the following quote from The Beatles: The Ultimate Album-by-Album Guide, Special Rolling Stone Edition, edited by Jann Wenner, illustrates an important truth. 

At 10 in the morning on February 11th, 1963, the Beatles...gathered at Abbey Road studios in London to make a debut album. Twelve hours later, they'd done it. Of all the astonishing things about the album Please Please Me - and there are many - the most impressive may simply be the quick-and-dirty haste with which it was recorded.

In 2011, it can take a band a dozen hours to mic the kick drum. But in a single long day...the Beatles laid down 10 songs for their album, including some of their most indelible early performances: "I Saw Her Standing There," "Do You Want to Know a Secret," "Baby, It's You." The day's work wrapped up, sometime around 10:45, with a shirtless John Lennon roaring himself hoarse through two takes of "Twist and Shout." "It was amazingly cheap, no messing, just a massive effort from us," Paul McCartney later recalled. "At the end of the day, you had your album."

The session was a testament to the Beatles' warhorse durability - grinding out song after song, take after take, with unflagging adrenaline. ...

Finally, just around 10 p.m., the Beatles had completed nine songs. No one was sure what to do for the final number. Someone suggested the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout," a barn-burning fixture of the Beatles' live act, with Lennon on lead vocals. Lennon was suffering from a cold; after 12 straight hours of singing, his voice was nearly shot. But he decided to give it a try. He sucked on a couple of throat lozenges, gargled a glass of milk, and headed onto the studio floor. Two takes later, the album was a wrap.

"The last song nearly killed me," Lennon said years later. "Every time I swallowed it was like sandpaper. I was always bitterly ashamed of it, because I could sing it better than that; but now it doesn't bother me. You can hear that I'm just a frantic guy doing his best."

Even when frantic, the Beatles' best was awfully good. Please Please Me is now considered a landmark. It captures the group at its scruffiest and most "bar band" - it is a document, as Lennon once said, of the Beatles before they were "the 'clever' Beatles." As their career took off, the Beatles got artier, more sophisticated, more visionary. But they were never purer than on Please Please Me.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *
Truth is...being real is always better. Forget the bells and whistles. Forget the Photoshopped perfection. Be the best you you can be.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Inferiority of Expert Judgment

What follows applies to a vast range of topics, but is of particular interest (to me) in how it relates to the practice of medicine.

I quote from the book by Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

In the slim volume that he later called "my disturbing little book," [Paul] Meehl reviewed the results of 20 studies that had analyzed whether clinical predictions based on the subjective impressions of trained professionals were more accurate than statistical predictions made by combining a few scores or ratings according to a rule. In a typical study, trained counselors predicted the grades of freshmen at the end of the school year. The counselors interviewed each student for forty-five minutes. They also had access to high school grades, several aptitude tests, and a four-page personal statement. The statistical algorithm used only a fraction of this information; high school grades and one aptitude test. Nevertheless, the formula was more accurate than 11 of the 14 counselors. Meehl reported generally similar results across a variety of other forecast outcomes, including violations of parole, success in pilot training, and criminal recidivism.

Not surprisingly, Meehl's book provoked shock and disbelief among clinical psychologists, and the controversy it started has engendered a stream of research that is still flowing today, more than fifty years after its publication. The number of studies reporting comparisons of clinical and statistical predictions has increased to roughly two hundred, but the score in the contest between algorithms and humans has not changed. About 60% of the studies have shown significantly better accuracy for the algorithms. The other comparisons scored a draw in accuracy, but a tie is tantamount to a win for the statistical rules, which are normally much less expensive to use than expert judgment. No exception has been convincingly documented.
The range of predicted outcomes has expanded to cover medical variables such as the longevity of cancer patients, the length of hospital stays, the diagnosis of cardiac disease, and the susceptibility of babies to sudden infant death syndrome.... In every case, the accuracy of experts was matched or exceeded by a simple algorithm.
Why are experts inferior to algorithms? One reason, which Meehl suspected, is that experts try to be clever, think outside the box, and consider complex combinations of features in making their predictions. Complexity may work in the odd case, but more often than not it reduces validity. Simple combinations of features are better. Several studies have shown that human decision makers are inferior to a prediction formula even when they are given the score suggested by the formula! They feel that they can overrule the formula because they have additional information about the case, but they are wrong more often than not.  
Another reason for the inferiority of expert judgment is that humans are incorrigibly inconsistent in making summary judgments of complex information. When asked to evaluate the same information twice, they frequently give different answers. The extent of the inconsistency is often a matter of real concern. Experienced radiologists who evaluate chest X-rays as "normal" or "abnormal" contradict themselves 20% of the time when they see the same picture on separate occasions. ... A review of 41 separate studies of the reliability of judgments made by auditors, pathologists, psychologists, organizational managers, and other professionals suggests that this level of inconsistency is typical, even when a case is reevaluated within a few minutes. Unreliable judgments cannot be valid predictors of anything.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...there's a reason why it's called practicing medicine.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Lady Liberty

October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was unveiled in New York's harbor in a ceremony attended by President Grover Cleveland and witnessed by a steamship crowded with European immigrants arriving to the shores of America with weary eyes and huge dreams.

Most people have heard the phrase, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," but how many of us have ever read the complete poem engraved into Liberty's base? It was written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, and is titled "The New Colossus."

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Truth is...while many a dream has been shattered amid our fields of amber grain, and one would be tempted, in the deafening roar of political mud-slinging, to think we've gone beyond the point of no return, there still lives here in the land of the free and the home of the brave a hope that will not die and a commitment to peaceful coexistence that will not waver.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Murder or Medical Procedure?

In my humor blog, Almost the Truth, there is a recurring feature called "Almost the News," where I quote actual headlines and then skewer their intent with my twisted perspective on word meaning and syntax. (You can open the latest example in a new window by clicking here.) Because of this, I tend to scan the newspaper headlines frequently...and because of that, I recently found the following Associated Press piece (PG Warning...this is slightly graphic):

Woman Convicted In Fetus Abduction

A Milwaukee woman who confessed to trying to steal a baby by attacking a pregnant woman and slicing out her full-term fetus was convicted Thursday of killing them both.

Jurors deliberated for less than two hours before finding [the woman] guilty of two counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the October 2011 deaths of the mother and fetus. [She] faces a mandatory life sentence...though the judge could allow for the possibility of parole.

A key piece of evidence during the trial was a videotaped police interview in which [the defendant] described her attack.... She told investigators she was desperate to have a son, that she had faked a pregnancy, and that she devised a plan to steal an unborn baby as her supposed due date approached.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Apparently, one's intent is of utmost importance when it comes to matters of ending a human life. (For more on the humanity of the pre-born, see my previous post, On Abortion.) If a person is selfishly wanting a child but inadvertently kills it, that is homicide. But if a person is being paid by the mother to kill the child on purpose, that is a legally-defensible constitutional right.

Truth is...intentionally taking a human life, no matter what his or her size, level of development, environment, or degree of dependency, is taking a human life.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Do You Trust Me?

Aladdin is trying to help the young incognito princess to escape their pursuers. They're running hither and yon, and come upon what seems to be a rooftop dead end. Extending an invitation to jump off the roof for crying out loud, the street rat says to the damsel in distress, "Do you trust me?"

There is no time to explain or debate or come up with an alternate plan. She needs to decide...Do I entrust my well-being to this guy, or do I head off and take my own chances?

Methinks it almost always comes to a point like that for people considering Christ.

A person can study books and weigh opinions and philosophize about altruism and social justice, but sooner or later it's going to have to come down to a decision...Do I entrust my well-being to this guy, or do I head off and take my own chances?

Truth is...it's not about what Jesus taught; it's about who he claimed to be and what you're going to do about that. It's not about believing ideas; it's about trusting a person.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Press On

Billy Sprague has been vagabonding around Christian music and youth ministry for a few decades (you'll notice the decidedly-dated duds in the attached video). This song is a fun, upbeat encouragement to keep on keepin' on, no matter what happens. The amazing thing is that it was born, I believe, out of the pain of Billy's fiance's death. 

I was down in the valley of the shadow of death 
Where the passion for life drained like blood from my chest 
And it took more than my will just to take a step 
When the compass of hope was gone 

In a silence so black that I wished for the blues 
every desperate prayer seemed like heaven refused 
and some days I found faith meant just tying my shoes 
and it was all I could do to press on. 

Press on, mi amigo; press on, mon ami; 
walk on in the face of the mystery. 
Though the night hides the light through the darkness til dawn, 
tie your shoes, my dear friend, and press on. 

On the ocean so lonesome I was not left alone-- 
had some heavyweight friends when my heart was a stone, 
And they carried the heartache and made it their own 
When the currents of sorrow were strong. 

One said, "I pray your memories will not drag you down, 
not be anchors but treasures of the love that you've found," 
and his kind words turned hurt into comfort somehow 
and a wind in my sail to press on. 

Press on, mi amigo; press on, mon ami; 
walk on in the face of the mystery. 
Though the night hides the light through the darkness til dawn, 
lean on me, my dear friend, and press on. 

Though the days seem like years--there may be giants in our fears-- 
Ah, but they who sow in tears--they shall reap in joy; 
They shall run and leap for joy. 

Press on, mi amigo; press on, mon ami; 
walk on in the face of the mystery. 
Though the night hides the light and the journey is long, 
tie your shoes, my dear friend, and press on.

PRESS ON  -  Billy Sprague & Jim Weber
c.1993 Paragon Music Corp / Skin Horse, Inc.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...I've never met anyone suffering from being over-encouraged. So bookmark this and use it to your advantage the next time you get the short end of the stick.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


The Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart, is the fictionalized account of William Wallace's fight for Scottish freedom from England, around the turn of the 14th century.

Scotland considered Wallace a brave knight and an inspiring example of patriotism and selfless service. England, on the other hand, branded him as a murdering outlaw and a traitor.

The climactic scene of the film finds Wallace, as portrayed by Gibson, captured by the British and facing death. He is tied down to a table, arms outstretched as if on a cross, while undergoing unspeakable torture at the hands of an expert.

The man in charge offers a less-painful and quicker death, encouraging Wallace to ask for mercy, which in Wallace's mind would be the same as declaring that he deserved to be punished. Even the people in the crowd were begging Wallace to ask for mercy...just to say the word, "mercy,"...in hopes of ending his horrific pain.

William Wallace gathers the last bit of breath he can possibly muster and screams out in a voice full of conviction. He screams out the one word that had motivated him through years of battles: "Freedom!"

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Jesus was spread out and tortured as well. And while His sacrifice did indeed make mercy toward us possible, it also, and perhaps more importantly, provided for our freedom from the tyrannical rule of sin over our hearts.

Truth is...we are not only forgiven. We are free.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Month's Worth of Mullins

Fifteen years ago tomorrow, an unsuspecting world awoke on that Sunday morning to the news that Rich Mullins, Contemporary Christian singer/songwriter, had been killed in a crash on an Illinois highway. He was probably best known for having written the song Awesome God, but let me share some other quotes, musical and not, for your edification and, perhaps, growth.

1: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ Save me from slick pop sounds laid down in virgin vinyl grooves. Save me from any woman who’d be turned on by the aftershave I use. Save me from trendy religion that makes cheap clich├ęs out of timeless truths.

2: As we age, we begin to forget stuff; our joints stiffen; our heads go a little soft…getting old is part of getting past whatever illusion we have about ourselves. It is part of getting free

3: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ Faith without works, baby, it just ain’t happenin’

4: It used to be really popular to wear little buttons…that said, “Smile, God Loves You.” And that would always hack me off, ‘cause I go, “You know what? God loves everybody. That doesn’t make me special. It just means that God has no taste.”

5: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ When he rolls up his sleeves, he ain’t just puttin’ on the ritz

6: At the Y today, this one guy…talked a little bitterly about how I seem to have it so good. I suppose I do….I think I would envy me too, if I didn’t know me better

7: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ There’s a loyalty that’s deeper than mere sentiment, and a music higher than the songs that I can sing. The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the giver of all good things

8: I think a lot of American people are infatuated with God, but we don't really love Him, and they don't really let Him love them. Being loved by God is one of the most painful things in the world, it's also the only thing that can bring us salvation and it's like everything else that is really wonderful: there's a little bit of pain in it.

9: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ Talk about your miracles; talk about your faith: My dad, he could make things grow out of Indiana clay

10: You can never get so healthy that you don’t have to continue to eat right. Because every day I have to make the right choice about what I eat and how much exercise I need. Spiritually we’re in much the same place.

11: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ Well the Lord said “let there be” and there was, on the earth below and in the sky above. Then he knocked off work ‘cause it was Friday night; come Saturday morning everything was just alright

12: Sometimes it concerns me, the number of people who can quote my songs…but they can’t quote Scripture—as if anything a musician might have to say would be worth listening to….If you want entertainment, I suggest Christian entertainment, because I think it’s good. But if you want spiritual nourishment, I suggest you go to church or read your Bible.

13: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ You was a boy like I was once, but was you a boy like me? I grew up around Indiana; you grew up around Galilee

14: The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart—it is a book full of all the greed and glory and violence and tenderness and sex and betrayal that befits mankind….It does not give us answers fitted to our small-minded questions, but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask.

15: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ You never know who God is gonna use; a princess or a baby…or maybe even you or me

16: When Christ has stripped away…all of our lame, Protestant kind of stupidity, all of our Catholic hang-ups; when Christ has stripped away everything that we have invented about Him, then maybe we will encounter Him as He really is. And we will know ourselves as we really are.

17: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ Love is found in the things we’ve given up more than in the things that we have kept

18: I am a Christian, not because someone explained the nuts and bolts of Christianity to me, but because there were people who were willing to be nuts and bolts

19: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ When I leave, I wanna go out like Elijah

20: If you give a tithe, you get rid of ten percent of the root of all evil. You should be giving ninety percent, ‘cause God can handle money better than we can.

21: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me. He was a stranger in this land and I am that, no less than he

22: When I started writing songs, I thought you had to say everything that you knew in every song. You can always tell a young writer because they always do that. And you just kind of go, "OK, I know all about your theology, but I have no interest at all in your song."

23: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am. I did not make it; no, it is making me

24: Never forget what Jesus did for you. Never take lightly what it cost Him. And never assume that if it cost Him His very life, that it won't also cost you yours

25: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ I’d rather fight you for something I don’t really want than to take what you give that I need

26: Scriptures don't teach us to be assertive. The Scriptures teach us—and this is remarkable—the Scriptures teach us to be submissive. This is not a popular idea

27: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ I will be my brother's keeper, not the one who judges him. I won't despise him for his weakness. I won't regard him for his strength

28: If you want a religion that makes sense, go somewhere else. But if you want a religion that makes life, choose Christianity

29: ♪♫♫♪♪♫ The hope of the whole world rests on the shoulders of a homeless man

30: So go out and live real good and I promise you'll get beat up real bad. But, in a little while after you're dead, you'll be rotted away anyway. It's not gonna matter if you have a few scars. It will matter if you didn't live.

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Truth is...there is no greater wish for me to confer upon you than the two words that accompanied Rich's autograph: BE GOD'S!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Barnum Effect

Apparently, one can fool most of the people all of the time, according to this quote from FOOLING HOUDINI: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind by Alex Stone.

In 1948 the American psychologist Bertram Forer conducted an experiment in which he administered a personality test, called the Diagnostic Interest Bank, to a group of thirty-nine college students. A week after conducting the survey, he handed each student a personality description that was supposedly based on the data he'd collected. The students were then asked to rate the accuracy of their profiles on a scale of zero to five, with five being a perfect match and zero being poor. The results were impressive. The average score was a 4.26, meaning that a majority of the students thought the personality descriptions were spot-on. Only 12.8 percent of the students ranked their profiles below a 4.0 ("very accurate"), and none scored theirs lower than 2.0 ("average"). Typical responses from the students included statements such as:
- Surprisingly accurate and specific.- On the nose!- Very good. I wish you had said more.- Applies to me individually, as there are too many facets which fit me too well to be a generalization.
The Diagnostic Interest Blank seemed to be a sharp tool indeed. Except for one thing: Forer never used it. In reality, he had scrapped the test and given every student identical "personality descriptions" that consisted of a list of generic statements lifted from a newsstand astrology book:
- You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.- You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.- You have a great deal of unused capacity, which you have not turned to your advantage.
Forer had not unearthed some divine trove of universal truth at his local magazine store, but he had discovered a fascinating and surprisingly universal psychological principle, one that lies at the heart of every horoscope and palm reading and psychic divination, a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States alone. Forer's original result has been replicated dozens of times -- to this day, the average rating hovers around 4.2 -- and psychologists have since given a name to the astonishing eagerness with which people will embrace stock personality sketches as unique portraits. They call it the Barnum effect, after P. T. Barnum's favorite dictum, "We've got something for everyone."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...another quote, often attributed to Barnum but probably actually uttered by a David Hannum, might be more appropriate: There's a sucker born every minute.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lessons from an Usher

I follow a blog by Christian musician, Carolyn Arends, titled Wrestling with Angels. In her own words, it's "where I park my Christianity Today columns and other pieces I've written."

In catching up on older posts, I found her piece from December 28, 2011, Lessons from an Usher, to be particularly profound. My favorite paragraph begins with "I don't generally hear the audible voice of God. But that particular afternoon, I could have sworn I heard a chuckle."

I'm hoping you'll take a couple minutes and read it. Click here.

Truth is...I'm proud to pass on this bit of truth about humility.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

George Whinebrenner

A reality check from Uppity: My Untold Story About the Games People Play by baseball player/broadcaster Bill White:

George Steinbrenner's determination to control everything about the New York Yankees didn't end with the team itself. He not only wanted to control the Yankees, he wanted to control what was said about the Yankees – not just by sports reporters, who routinely found themselves frozen out when they displeased Steinbrenner, but also by broadcasters in the Yankees booth. Steinbrenner had a red phone installed in the broadcast booth so he could always be sure to get through when he heard something he didn't like. When that red phone rang, everybody knew it was Steinbrenner – and that he was [not pleased]. ...

Steinbrenner made no secret of the fact that he wanted "homers" [people with unquestioning enthusiasm for the home team] broadcasting his Yankees' games – and [my broadcast partner] Phil Rizzuto was a true homer, unable to hide his love of the Yankees and his joy when they won. I'm not criticizing Phil for that. That was simply the way he was, and it worked for him.

But I was another story.

Unlike Phil, I didn't have an emotional attachment to the Yankees, as a player or as a broadcaster. My job was to call the games as I saw them. If the Yankees played well I said so, and if they didn't, I said that, too. But Steinbrenner wanted something else.

"Why can't White be more like Rizzuto?” he would ask the broadcast producers. As diplomatically as possible – most of them were afraid of Steinbrenner's rages – they would explain that the broadcast needed straight play-by-play to balance Phil's homer-ish style. And in any event, they would say, “Nobody's going to change Bill White.”

Still, the calls from Steinbrenner to the broadcast booth came in during almost every game. A production assistant whose job it was to monitor the red phone would take the calls and write down Steinbrenner's demands and then pass the notes to whoever was calling the game.

If an umpire blew a call to the Yankees' disadvantage, Steinbrenner would want us to rip the ump. If a Yankees player who was in Steinbrenner's doghouse bobbled a play, Steinbrenner would want us to question his playing abilities and value to the team. With managers especially, if the Yankees were doing badly, Steinbrenner would want us to knock the manager's decisions on-air. Sometimes he seemed to think that such on-air critiques would actually be a motivational exercise, driving the player or manager to do better. At other times Steinbrenner, who was notorious for using the news media to communicate his displeasure with a player or manager, apparently wanted to use us to validate his intentions to get rid of a guy.

But whatever his motives, I wouldn't go along. The first few times I got the notes, I ignored them. Finally I told the young production assistant, 'Tell the Skipper I'm not even going to read this note.' Given Steinbrenner's temper, that probably wasn't fair to the production assistant.

The notes from Steinbrenner kept coming, and I continued to ignore them. Then suddenly one day they stopped. When I asked the production assistant why, he said, “Mr. Steinbrenner is still calling in the notes. He just told me not to give them to you anymore."

Truth is…some people whine and gripe and complain, not because it does any good, or even that they expect it to do any good, but because they like to whine and gripe and complain (…not that I’m complaining about that).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Brave Prayer

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:36-39 NIV)

Until I read this passage (for the umpteenth time) this morning, I had always considered it a phenomenal demonstration of courage for Jesus to pray the words "not as I will, but as you will." He knew exactly what his father's will was...that Jesus would go through the kangaroo court of the Sanhedrin, be publicly ridiculed and tortured by the Romans, and then nailed to a cross until he died...all while carrying the emotional/spiritual burden of all the sins of everyone in the whole world since the beginning of time until it all ends.

No wonder he didn't want to drink from that cup.

But this morning, I was floored by this thought: the really brave part of the prayer was "if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me."

There was Jesus, praying for something he knew was against the plan...taking the risk of being absolutely honest with his father...and trusting God to do the right thing.

Truth is...I sometimes pray what I think God wants to hear, instead of what's really real in my heart of hearts.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How This Blog Got Started / On Forgiveness

A conversation was happening between Pastor Dave, a female friend, and me. The subject at hand was the amount of the Powerball jackpot, which at that time was stratospheric. Not surprisingly, thoughts of "what would I do with that much money" started flowing.

In the midst of us talking about how cool it would be to be able to really make an impact on some church project or mission work, or to share liberally with friends and family, the aforementioned female friend said something to the effect of, "Well, I know for sure that my husband's ex wouldn't get a penny! I know we're supposed to be forgiving and all, but that woman...augh!"

My response to that included a reference to the mostly-ignored epilogue to "The Lord's Prayer," where Jesus gives His own commentary on the phrase "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors".

Matthew 6:14-15: "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (NIV)

I followed that up with a clever epigram...not original with me. At that point Pastor Dave, alluding to my mostly-humorous blog, Almost the Truth, said, "Ooh, that's profound! You should have a blog called "Actually the Truth" and post that!"

And the vision that was planted in my brain still remains...and has become what you see before you.

What was the clever epigram, you say?

Truth is...holding a grudge against someone is like drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cure for the Blues

If you're like most people on the planet, there are times in your life when you don't feel as happy and hopeful as you would like. You take a look at yourself and don't necessarily like what you see.

Some call it "the blues," or "feeling down," or "temporary minor depressive tendencies."

There is good news, though, and it's backed up by scientific research, according to this quote from Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, by Martin E. P. Seligman.

OTHER PEOPLE are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up. ...My friend Stephen Post, professor of Medical Humanities at Stony Brook, tells a story about his mother. When he was a young boy, and his mother saw that he was in a bad mood, she would say, "Stephen, you are looking piqued. Why don't you go out and help someone?" Empirically, Ma Post's maxim has been put to rigorous test, and we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.

An old song we used to sing in Sunday School comes to mind: "Jesus then Others then You; what a wonderful way to spell JOY."

Truth is...getting our minds off our selfish wants and focusing on helping others with their needs is bound to lighten the emotional burdens we bear.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On Our Shelves, Not In Our Hearts

While I haven’t read The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book, written by Timothy Beal, and can’t give a recommendation one way or the other, I found the following quote to be fodder for thought.

"According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 78 percent of all Americans say that the Bible is the 'word of God,' and almost half of those believe that, as such, 'it is to be taken literally, word for word.' Polling data from the Barna Group indicate that nearly half of all Americans agree that 'the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings' (88 percent of all 'born-again' Christians believe the same), and the Gallup Poll finds that 65 percent of all Americans believe that the Bible 'answers all or most of the basic questions of life.' These statements are shorthand descriptions of the idea of the Bible as God's magnum opus, the first and last word on who God is, who we are, why we're here, and where we go after this.

"Yet ... recent polls and surveys offer these biblical revelations:

"Less than half of all adult Americans can name the first book of the Bible (Genesis) or the four Gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

"More than 80 percent of born-again or evangelical Christians believe that ‘God helps those who help themselves’ is a Bible verse. [It’s not.]

"More than half of graduating high school seniors guess that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife, and one in ten adults believes that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. (Those two must've been multiple-choice questions.)

"Almost two-thirds of Americans can't name at least five of the Ten Commandments. Some of these people, moreover, are outspoken promoters of them. Georgia representative Lynn Westmoreland, cosponsor of a bill to display the Ten Commandments in the chambers of the House of Representatives and Senate, could remember only three when Stephen Colbert asked him to recite them on The Colbert Report (Colbert, who I hear teaches Sunday school at his church, would probably have done considerably better).

"Even among the majority of Christians who identify themselves strongly with the Bible, Bible reading is a rare activity. In a 2005 nationwide study of religious values, practices, and behaviors by Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, more than half of those identifying themselves as 'Bible-believing' said they had not participated in any kind of Bible study or Sunday school program at all in the past month.

"While biblical literacy is about as low as it can get, Bible sales have been booming. The biggest Bible publishers in this highly competitive business guard their sales data closely, but reliable industry sources estimate that 2007 saw about 25 million Bibles sold, generating revenues of about $770 million in the United States alone. That was an increase of more than 26 percent since 2005, which saw U.S. sales of about $609 million. In fact, the Bible-publishing business has been enjoying a healthy compounded growth rate of close to 10 percent per year for several years. Even during the high point of economic crisis in late 2008, when other book sales were hurting badly, Bible sales continued to boom, with an estimated $823.5 million that year.

"So biblical literacy is low to zip, even while biblical reverence remains high and Bible sales rise. What's going on? Could it be that biblical literacy is being replaced by biblical consumerism? In today's consumer culture, we are what we buy, wear, and carry. We identify ourselves by our patterns of consumer choices, by the market niches we buy into. It's gone beyond that post-Cartesian proof of existence, 'I shop, therefore I am.' Today, it's closer to 'I shop for what I am'."

Truth is…while reading the Bible doesn’t make a person a Christian any more than reading the packaging makes one a light bulb, not reading the Bible is certain to keep a person in the dark.

P.S.: Thanks to DelancyPlace.com for their work of sharing thought-provoking book excerpts.