Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spoiled rich kid who gave it all away

This is the day, February 24, when in 1209 Francis of Assisi believed that God called him to a life of poverty and preaching the Gospel.

Born in Assisi, Italy in 1182, Saint Francis probably didn’t ever go to school, but his dad was a rich merchant. That meant that he could live the life of a playboy when he was young. Then he was held captive for more than a year by another city-state at war with Assisi.

As a prisoner of war, he suffered from a terrible illness. He decided to change his ways. When he got home he helped lepers and helped rebuild churches. His father thought that he was wasting his money. He was so angry with Francis that he disinherited him. Francis became a priest. He continued to serve a leper colony and to restore old churches.

On this day, during Mass, he believed that he heard God tell him to go into the world, owning nothing, but doing good everywhere, just like Jesus told His original 12 Apostles in Matthew 10:5-14.

That same year he began a preaching ministry. 12 men became sort of disciples to him. They became the original monks in the Franciscan order.

He tried to do missionary work in Spain to preach to the Moors (Muslims). In 1219 he went to Egypt, where he preached to the sultan. From there he journeyed to “the Holy Land,” what is Israel today.

Now, as a Lutheran, I believe that the only mediator Christians need between ourselves and God the Father, is God the Son, Jesus Christ- be that as it may, we non-Catholic Christians can certainly learn a lot from early Church leaders and saints like Francis. For one thing, he set a tremendous example. Why does Matthew 10:5-14 or the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 have to only apply to Jesus’ original 12 disciples. Shouldn’t everyone who claims to believe in Jesus want to go out and continue His ministry?

Francis also left us a tremendous gift in a famous prayer that he wrote. I had a colleague who taught with me at a Lutheran school, who grew up in a community of staunch Irish Catholics. He always amazed me not just by the fact that he had this pray memorized, but in spite of knowing it so well, he always recited it with such genuine passion and commitment. It was never stale or rote. Too often too many of us mumble through the words of prayers as if we’re only going through the motions.

It’s a beautiful prayer and if you’re one for learning prayers by heart and you’ve already got the Lord’s prayer, the serenity prayer, or the Jabez prayer down pat, this is one which will no doubt bring you great comfort and I hope you’ll treasure:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred . . . let me sow love
Where there is injury . . . pardon
Where there is doubt . . . faith
Where there is despair . . .hope
Where there is darkness . . . light
Where there is sadness . . .joy
Divine Master,
grant that i may not so much seek
To be consoled . . .as to console
To be understood . . .as to understand,
To be loved . . . as to love
For it is in giving . . .that we receive,
It is in pardoning, that we are pardoned,
It is in dying . . .that we are born to eternal life”
In Jesus’ name,

Friday, February 20, 2009

This is one reason I can be BOTH a Christian AND a liberal

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." ~Proverbs 31:8-9

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How I can be a "liberal" and still be Christian?

I've heard a lot of Evangelicals talk about how we in this relativist, post-modern world shouldn't "pick and choose" which part of the Bible we believe in. Usually they do this because they think that Romans 1 makes it okay to hate homosexuals or that Genesis 2 should be taught in public schools.

But it seems to me sometimes that Republican Christians believe in Matthew 28, but choose to ignore Matthew 25. Helping the poor and upholding justice for aliens and widows shows up far more often than almost anything else in the Bible.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Seeking balance

"Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."
- Reinhold Niebuhr

Awesome quote. I've been thinking about Hobbes and Locke a lot lately and their opposing views on human nature. Are we inherently good or inherently evil. Luther says both. God made us good, yet all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, in sin we're conceived and born into sin and sinful from the day we were born, yet created for good works, meant to be a little lower than angels, blessed that we can be called sons and daughters of God.

Republicans think that government can't be good because it's a flawed, human system. Free markets they say, Laissez-faire they say. Democrats recognize that Wall Street needs limits and big business needs regulating because people are greedy. Give the supply-side tax cuts so that they'll reinvest in capital and create jobs, and they'll invest in a get rich quicker scheme at the expense of everyone poorer than them.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Come with me to a third grade classroom..... There is a nine-year-old kid sitting at his desk and all of a sudden, there is a puddle between his feet and the front of his pants are wet. He thinks his heart is going to stop because he cannot possibly imagine how this has happened. It's never happened before, and he knows that when the boys find out he will never hear the end of it. When the girls find out, they'll never speak to him again as long as he lives.

The boy believes his heart is going to stop; he puts his head down and prays this prayer, 'Dear God, this is an emergency! I need help now! Five minutes from now I'm dead meat.'

He looks up from his prayer and here comes the teacher with a look in her eyes that says he has been discovered.

As the teacher is walking toward him, a classmate named Susie is carrying a goldfish bowl that is filled with water Susie trips in front of the teacher and inexplicably dumps the bowl of water in the boy's lap.

The boy pretends to be angry, but all the while is saying to himself, 'Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord!'

Now all of a sudden, instead of being the object of ridicule, the boy is the object of sympathy. The teacher rushes him downstairs and gives him gym shorts to put on while his pants dry out. All the other children are on their hands and knees cleaning up around his desk. The sympathy is wonderful. But as life would have it, the ridicule that should have been his has been transferred to someone else - Susie.

She tries to help, but they tell her to get out. You've done enough, you klutz!'

Finally, at the end of the day, as they are waiting for the bus, the boy walks over to Susie and whispers, 'You did that on purpose, didn't you?' Susie whispers back, 'I wet my pants once too.'

May God help us see the opportunities that are always around us to do good..

Remember.....Just going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.

Each and everyone one of us is going through tough times right now, but God is getting ready to bless you in a way that only He can. Keep the faith.


Father, I ask You to bless my friends, relatives and those that I care deeply for, who are reading this right now. Show them a new revelation of Your love and power... Holy Spirit, I ask You to minister to their spirit at this very moment. Where there is pain, give them Your peace and mercy. Where there is self-doubt, release a renewed confidence through Your grace. Where there is need, I ask you to fulfill their needs. Bless their homes, families, finances, their goings and their comings. Amen.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Spread it around

If one had taken what is necessary to cover one's needs and had left the rest to those who are in need, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, no one would be in need.

- Saint Basil,
fourth century theologian and monastic

Oh, ouch! Gee, dang, is that "Socialism?" Snap! Poor Republicans, they just think it's SO wrong to regulate business or to have a progressive tax structure that benefits the middle class. Boy, Hmmm, what WOULD Jesus do?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And now, for something truly profound and meaningful...

Last year I felt bad that I hadn't really done any work to pursue cartooning as a career. I made a Jonathan Winters quote as my motto- "if you ship hasn't come in, swim out to it."

I sent columns and cartoons to 8 or 9 syndicates and got rejected by every single one. Boy was I discouraged. This on about the time that I backed out of writing and cartooning for our small local weekly newspaper too (long story, kinda personal) gist of it is it was a hard time for me.

Now realistically I understand that this was only one attempt and most successful professional writers and cartoonists wage campaign after campaign for years before they hit get anywhere. I also have come to understand that most of them also have day jobs. But recently I've been reading "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl and I think I have a very different outlook than I used to. (I know, an existentialist psychiatrist's tale of NAZI concentration camp survival- kind of heavy reading for an aspiring cartoonist right? We're all supposed to be zany and light hearted, right?)

One is finding meaning. I've come to believe that any good artist, and certainly me as a high school Art teacher has the same role as that of a good psychologist- "The logotherapist's role consists of widening and broadening the visual field of the patient (viewer/reader/student) so that the whole spectrum of potential meaning becomes conscious and visible to him."

I know, profound, huh?

Anyway, I also found something else very meaningful in Dr. Frankl's masterpiece:
"Don't aim at success- the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than one's self or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success:you have to let it happen by not caring about it... listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go carry it out to the best of your knowledge... -in the long run- success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it."

So in other words, I'm going to start using reverse-psychology on the universe. The freedom is that there's no pressure. I only cartoon what I want to when I want to and I totally get to cartoon however I want to. Cartooning for cartoons sake. Kind of like art for art's sake. The down side is that posting these cartoons here for free all the time is a lousy business model. I only hope that I can forget to think about how I'm trying to play this sly trick on the universe in hopes that God will reward me by making me an obscenely rich and successful writer and cartoonist someday.

Of course, Frankl also really emphasized that bit about it being "in the loooong run," He actually wrote, "Then you will live to see that in the long run---in the long run, I say!---" and between having adult A.D.D. and the fact that my original campaign of mailing cartoons to syndicates was pretty much my version of a midlife crisis- it's REALLY hard to have the patience for anything real long range. It may be pretty tough to forget to think about how I'm trying to convince Providence that I really couldn't care less. Like a watched pot not boiling, I may have to keep peeking over my shoulder to make sure God's noticing how much I don't care if I ever get to write or cartoon for a living, let alone win a bunch of awards and sell a bunch of books.

This dilemma is what Frankl would refer to as hyper-intention, which is where you want something too much so you end up making it impossible to ever get and hyper-reflection, which is a neurosis where you can't stop thinking about something. These what he contends is the cause of most sexual dysfunction in both men and women. Ah ha, but see, writing this somewhat satirical blog entry poking fun at myself for being so over analytical about it all is what he'd call "dereflecting," or engaging in a therapy known as "paridoxical-intention." That means I'm so charmingly self-efacing in my humorous essay about cavalierly and nonchalantly not caring about whether or not I ever get anywhere as either a writer of cartoonist that God's GOT TO see how sincere I am and go ahead and give me what I USED to want but now couldn't care less about (but if He INSISTED on blessing me that way, I guess I'd have to be gracious and accept it even though I don't really want it anymore). He's just GOT TO!

Isn't this the most sincere pumpkin patch you've ever seen? Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.

But seriously, I don't know if this is how metaphysics work, or just how my maladjusted mind plays tricks on me, but I know that all through junior high and high school and some of college I was absolutely miserable because I didn't have a girlfriend and finally I told God, "screw it, I give up!" And that's about the time that He dropped my wife into my life. So maybe there is something to it.

Completely coincidentally, I named my religious cartoons "Sheep in wolves' clothing" before I ever read "Man's Search for Meaning," and it's kind of one of his ideas. I THINK I can get away with it without having to pay his descendants or estate any royalties because he didn't quite use the exact same wording- he said "one may howl with the wolves, if need be, but when doing so, one should be, I would urge, a sheep in wolf's clothing." Of course now I feel OBLIGATED to draw more of them and they have to all be amazingly deep and meaningful and powerful and perfect and all that in order to be worthy of the name, so now I've got THAT hanging over me. Sheesh.

Well, they say that a picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words and I always meant to just make this a quick, short little entry here and not bore people with something so flippin' long, so I guess I'll stop now. Dang it! Why can't I ever do ANYTHING right?! Stupid! STUPID!

Monday, February 09, 2009

You reap what you sow

Sow for yourselves righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord,
that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

You have plowed wickedness,
you have reaped injustice,
you have eaten the fruit of lies.

~Hosea 10:12-13
In Matthew 12 and Luke 6 Jesus talks about how we can tell a tree by it's fruit.

Matt 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8 all include Jesus' famous parable of the Sower. He explained to his disciples that the seed is God's Word and that people are the different types of soil on which it lands. Some are hard trampled, calloused by life rocky and shallow. People like that may react to religion quickly and enthusiastically, but they don't let it take root and their faith doesn't last long in the heat of the sun.

Some think that God's alright, maybe they want some religion because they think it will make them good or because they figure they're already good people and good people are religious, so they last a little longer. But, Jesus compares them to weedy soil, the cares and concerns of this temporal, physical, material world grow up and choke any vines that came grew out of the seed. Too busy, to concerned with self, to into things.

Finally He says that "the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (Matt 13:23)" In Luke 8:15 He calls them "those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop."

When I read Hosea 10:12-13, it makes me want to ask God to "break up my fallow ground." I want to be receptive soil because I want my life to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith and self-control. And I don't just want to catch a little bit of seed in a haphazard way once in a while (say once a week in church). I want water and sun and fertilizer and (painful as it may be sometimes) weeding and pest control. You too?

Well guess what? You can just sit there like a dirt clod on the road, or you can read the Bible for yourself, attend a Bible Study (hint hint HS kids at St. John's), read devotions or other books by Christian authors, and spend time every day with God in prayer or meditation. You can seek out fellow believers and encourage one another just like team mates spur on and work out with their fellow athletes. You can expose yourself to the seed and to the Gardener Himself.

You reap what you sow. If you want to have the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:21-23) for yourself, you need to work hard at offering to and sharing with others those same fruit- even if you don't think they deserve it- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. I think that THAT'S what Jesus meant when He gave us the "Golden Rule" or treating others the way we'd like to be treated (Luke 6:31).

I don't believe in the Hindu concept of reincarnation, and I do not subscribe to the philosophy (be it Hindu, Jain, Sikh or Buddhist) that you alone are entirely and solely responsible for your fate- that bad things only happen to you if you're bad and only good things happen to you if you're good. On the contrary, I believe that "the rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45)."

But I do think that there is a little something to the concept of "karma-phala," the fruit of your actions. The Midwestern common sense idium we have for it here in Iowa is "What goes around, comes around."

Power of Positive Thinking guru and Congregational Minister Norman Vincent Peale used to say that good won't flow to you unless it flows FROM you. THAT's what I think Jesus intended by "Do unto others." That fits His great commandment of "love one another," and His charge that we even "love your enemies."

You want to have the Fruit of the Spirit?

#1 Spend more time with God, after all they're His character traits and the more time you spend with anyone, the more you start acting like them.
#2 Sow what you want to reap. Show patience and kindness to others and try to bring a little joy or peace to their lives and guess what? Fruit Salad! Fruit Casserole! Fruit Parfait!

You know what else everybody likes? Parfaits. Have you ever met a person, you say, "Hey, let's get some parfait," they say, "I don't like no parfait"? Parfaits are delicious. Parfaits may probably be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!

Monday, February 02, 2009

This is a fun website

Wordle: WhateverWordle: BeatitudesWordle: Fruit of the SpiritWordle: Yes We Can

This website http://www.wordle.net, really is a lot of fun. You enter text and it generates these creative "word balloons." Check it out.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Love our enemies

"We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. " ~Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dear Jesus,
Please create and nurture in me an attitude of gratitude
and a lifestyle of forgiveness.
In Your name I pray,

I ran across this at http://www.allaboutgod.com/fruit-of-the-spirit.htm and thought it was cool, I wanted to post it here. Wouldn't everyone want these? I say, start praying and ask God to produce these in you & yours.

Fruit of the Spirit - The Nine Biblical Attributes
Using the King James Version of Galatians 5:22-23, these attributes are: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. The fruit of the Spirit is a physical manifestation of a Christian's transformed life. In order to mature as believers, we should study and understand the attributes of the ninefold fruit:

Love - "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). Through Jesus Christ, our greatest goal is to do all things in love. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

Joy - "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).

Peace - "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).

Longsuffering (patience) -- We are "strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness" (Colossians 1:11). "With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" (Ephesians 4:2).

Gentleness (kindness) -- We should live "in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left" (2 Corinthians 6:6-7).

Goodness - "Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power" (2 Thessalonians 1:11). "For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth" (Ephesians 5:9).

Faith (faithfulness) - "O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth" (Isaiah 25:1). "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Ephesians 3:16-17).

Meekness - "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). "With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" (Ephesians 4:2).

Temperance (self-control) - "But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love" (2 Peter 1:5-7).

Ocean front property in Arizona

Conservative Christians have been arguing that there's no such thing as global warning. I'll admit that it's been a hard winter which certainly makes it easy to doubt the veracity of claims from scientists, politicians and activists who warn us that we're damaging the environment. Be that as it may, Christians should be careful not to close their ears to the pleas of Al Gore too quickly.

The position of many is that humans must be amazingly arrogant to think that we could somehow ruin or damage something which only God Himself has created. Hey, I'm no deist, I'm totally with you that God is God and I am not and that He alone retains ultimate sovereignty over His Earth.

But please hear me out. My wife and I are home owners. The deed is in our name, we pay the mortgage and the property taxes and the utility bills. But guess what- we still have to nag our kids to clean their rooms and pick up their dirty clothes off the floor and hang their towels in the bathroom and their coats on their hooks. Believe me, as much as I love my children, given complete run of the house, they would wreck it in short order.

When we were renters we were blessed with a great landlord. He was a good friend and a master electrician. He took care of the furnace and the air conditioner and the security alarm. Once he even fixed the garbage disposal. But guess what- I still had to take out the trash and sweep the floors and scrub the bathrooms and wash the windows, and change the air filter not to mention flush the toilets and dust the furniture.

Sure, it may seem arrogant to think that humans are capable of destroying what God has made, but I'm afraid that it's also terribly irresponsible and perhaps even just as arrogant to assume that we aren't damaging the planet, even to the point of altering the climate. Just as children naively and perhaps selfishly assume that their parents are going to take care of everything- (especially if they're spoiled and never taught to make their own beds or wash and fold their own clothes) we would be fools to imagine that 7 billion people, ravenously consuming limited resources, especially with fossil fuels are not or could not demean and even destroy God's creation.

Maybe they did a disservice to mislabel climate change as "global warming" so that when Iowa has the 6th coldest winter in recoded history, the conservatives are so quick to declare that it's all some big lie that we should ignore. The weather has more extremes and the oceans are rising, there may not be any more or any fewer volcanoes, earthquakes or wars, but there are more tsunamis and hurricanes and those hurricanes are more powerful that they used to be. The winter may be colder in Iowa, but the summer is also hotter. And smog , contaminated water, and endangered species are not things to shrug off and disappearing polar bears is not something to just joke about.

Please consider something. Conservatives may not have much patience for environmentalists and they're justified be concerned that jobs shouldn't be sacrificed for trivial and emotional campaigns to save obscure animals. However, why would environmental activists, scientists, and all those terrible "Liberals" make up false claims about the environmental crisis? Just to make themselves feel important? To undermine and destroy all our precious freedoms and American way of life? Do they really want to just ruin all the fun?

Please. These are serious people and as "bleeding hearts," they are by definition, caring and concerned people who want to help make things better. Even if you think that they are sometimes overzealous or misguided, you cannot argue that they are uninformed or negligent. They are thoughtful and intelligent and their concern is for all our best interest. So please, don't write them off as morally inferior or irrelevant and ignore them.

Indeed, we all- especially Christians, need to search ourselves and reflect on our behaviors and attitudes toward the environment. I know that I for one am guilty of crass consumerism and laziness when it comes to "leaving more behind than I came in with," which was the opposite of how they taught us to treat out campsites in Boy Scouts.

God calls us to be stewards of HIS Earth. It was the first responsibility He gave to Adam and Eve and a serious responsibility bestowed on Noah. Humans may be the only creatures made in His own image and the apple of His eye, the only ones He sent His Son to die and rise again for, but it is still arrogant, selfish, and short-sighted for us to think that we are the only creatures that He cares about or that all of creation is meant merely for us to use up and cast off any way we please or that He won't hold us accountable for our poor stewardship- including letting us wallow in the squalor we find ourselves in.

I like to tease atheists by letting them know that just because they don't believe in God, He still believes in them. Well you know something- just because conservatives deny that there's such a thing as global warming, doesn't mean that we shouldn't all start buying that ocean front property in Arizona!

Simple way to remember

  • The Law is what God wants us to do (or refrain from doing)
  • The Gospel is what Jesus has done (and continues to do) on our behalf