Widows and Orphans

Repeal and replace Obamacare is a politicism that affects me personally. I’ve talked before about how Obamacare saved my ass – literally. Now the replacement proposal is here. As I said before, this is not political for me. It’s very personal. I’ve heard a few times the health care bill will hurt Donald Trump supporters the most. That is certainly true of South Carolina, which went for Trump. USA Today says that Medicaid cuts are going to hit us harder than most states for a number of reasons.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated 14 million people will lose Medicaid by 2026, and 22 million will lose insurance. Republicans who created this bill expect the states to make up the shortfalls, but because of high poverty rates, our state’s budget will not be able to make it up. We’ve been trying for years to come up with money for our roads that are falling apart. We are already second to last in spending per Medicaid and CHIP beneficiary. We are already 42nd in health status overall. If the bill passes with the Medicaid and CHIP cuts, South Carolina will have to come up with an extra $200 million per year over the next ten years. If we can’t do that, we are going to have to make some hard choices. Lynn Bailey, Columbia health care consultant, put it this way.

[C]uts could set the stage for a “Medicaid Hunger Games” where leaders play needy groups against one another — children against the elderly, the chronically ill against the catastrophically ill, the traumatically injured needing rehab against the substance-addicted.

Does that sound overly dramatic? Just look at the numbers.

  • Nearly 1 million South Carolinians are covered by Medicaid or CHIP. Of these, 75% are working families. So don’t give me that “they just don’t want to work” crap.
  • Out of a total of 20,000 nursing home beds, half are funded through Medicaid. Without Medicaid, where will they go?
  • 60% of Medicaid or CHIP patients are pregnant women and children. Don’t call yourself Pro-Life and take away health benefits from pregnant women and born children.
  • 70% of Medicaid budget is spent on the elderly, people with disabilities, and people with mental illness.
  • 12 hospitals across the state will either close or go bankrupt. What’s that? It’s an emergency, and you have to get to the hospital immediately? Sorry, the hospital closed due to lack of funding.
  • Rates of opioid deaths are above national average. Losing Medicaid will mean many trying to free themselves from addiction will lose their chance to get treatment.

I have always heard a society is judged by how they treat the weakest and most vulnerable. The Bible over and over commanded the Israelites and Christians to care for the orphans and widows because they were the most at risk in that culture.

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause (Isa 1:17)

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation (Psa 68:5).

“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen’ (Deut 27:19).

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (Jas 1:27).

You say you believe the Bible. Do you? Who are the most vulnerable in our society? The elderly? People in nursing homes? Recovering addicts? Unemployed veterans? Children? People with disabilities or mental illness? Anyone who is sick and can’t afford healthcare? These are our widows and orphans.

The worst thing about this proposal is they say we have to do this to save money and reduce the deficit, but really, all the savings are going to be spent in tax cuts for people already rich. That’s been their answer to everything. Cut vital benefits and services for the poor and middle class and give tax cuts to the wealthy. That has never worked, it has never produced a balanced budget, and it has never trickled down enough to make up for the losses. The rich get richer, and the sick suffer and die. Is that what a Christian nation does? Is that what Jesus would do? “And he healed all who were sick, except those who were too poor to pay for it.”

Historically, this nation has not done well in providing healthcare for the widow and orphan, metaphorically speaking. The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, attempted to move us toward better care for people who need it most. I know it has problems, but we could solve them if we had a mind to. So the question is do we want to provide quality health care for anyone who needs it, or do we want to follow a political agenda? What would Jesus do?

Fell on Black Days

On May 27 in Seattle, Chris Cornell was laid to rest. I know I’ve already written one post, and I don’t want to look like I’m rehashing the same subject. It’s just that so much about the circumstances in which he died touches on my own experiences with depression and hard lessons I’ve learned through them that one post was not enough.

Depression and Grunge music

The Seattle Grunge that exploded onto the music scene in the ’90s sounded like it came from a city where it rained nine months out of the year: Dark, depressed, moody, brooding, and riddled with distortion and druggy haze, but also brilliantly creative and original. If I asked who were the Big Four of Grunge, I think anyone would say, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Cornell’s Soundgarden. We had already lost Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley. In a 2014 interview for Rolling Stone, Cornell said this about them and other area musicians he knew,

The tragedy was much more than the fact that I would never see him again – it was that I would never hear him again. There’s this projection I had with Andy, Kurt, Jeff Buckley and other friends of mine that died of looking into the future at all these amazing things they’re going to do. I’ll never be able to predict what that is. All this music that will come out that will challenge me and inspire me – that sort of romantic, dramatic version of the perspective. When that goes away, for me in particular, it was a really hard thing. And it continues to be a hard thing….

So part of my memory of every record, and certainly Superunknown, there’s an eeriness in there, a kind of unresolvable sadness or indescribable longing that I’ve never really tried to isolate and define and fully understand. But it’s always there. It’s like a haunted thing.

And now those same words apply to Cornell himself. Of the Big Four, three have now lost lead singers to depression and/or drug addiction. The two often go hand in hand. I never got on drugs myself, but I am convinced a lot of drug use associated with these bands was really self-medicating for undiagnosed depression.

Where do “Black Days” come from?

In that same interview, Chris Cornell opened up about depression. On the inspiration behind the song “Fell on Black Days,” he said,

No matter how happy you are, you can wake up one day without any specific thing occurring to bring you into a darker place, and you’ll just be in a darker place anyway. To me, that was always a terrifying thought, because that’s something that – as far as I know – we don’t necessarily have control over. So that was the song I wanted to write. It just took a while.

Cornell accurately described the experience of millions of people living with depression who don’t even know it. You look around at your life, you think you should be happy, and you’re not. You’re depressed, and you have no reason to be. If you can’t be happy when everything in life is going well, how can you ever be happy? Maybe you think there’s no point in going on. Or maybe you sabotage your career or your relationships, so at least then you have a reason to be depressed. It doesn’t make sense to you, but I’m here to tell you there’s a reason for it.

Depression can either be clinical or situational. If there is nothing in your situation that can explain your depression, then it must be clinical. There are a number of possibilities, but the most common is that you have a chemically imbalanced brain. I’ve talked before about the time I went without my AD medication for a couple of weeks, and about the depressed voice in my head. When I was off my medication, the depressed voice in my head came back with a vengeance. But as I took my new medication, the voice went away. What this means is that voice in your head that tells you you’re worthless, you’re a waste of space, you’re a burden, you’ll never be happy so why not end it all, no one loves you, God has forsaken you, blah blah blahthat is the voice of a chemically imbalanced brain.

This is nothing to be ashamed of. Some people are born with a heart murmur. You were born with something like a “brain murmur.” It’s not your fault, any more than the person with the heart murmur. Clinical depression, like all mental illness, needs to be treated like a medical condition.

The shock of my life

I’ve known this for a number of years. Seventeen years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Before that, there had been times in my life I knew I was depressed. But I had always thought it was temporary. There were times in my life when I thought I was happy. But even then, people sometimes asked why I was sad, or even worse, why I was angry. When I found out about clinical depression, this finally made sense. I might feel happy, but chemically, my brain was still depressed. There was this underlying sadness people sometimes picked up.

It didn’t feel like depression, I guess because it was normal to me. It was the way I had always felt. The thing is, when I was diagnosed, I wouldn’t have said I felt depressed. At the urging of my mother and sister, I got myself tested anyway. The results?

You tested high for depression in every possible way.

I don’t think anyone has ever said anything about me that shocked me more. It was totally surreal. It was something I never would have thought of myself in a million years. I thought, it can’t really be that bad, and yet I knew it was true. Like I said, even at times when I felt happy, people around me thought I was sad or upset. No matter how I felt – happy, sad, good, bad, or apathetic, optimistic or hopeless – every moment of my life, I had been living with a brain that was tilted toward depression.

Don’t believe every spirit

If only someone could have been there to tell Cornell, “These thoughts you’re having are not real. I know they feel real to you. They sound like the Gospel truth. But they are not. These thoughts are just chemical imbalances in your brain. Whatever you do, don’t let these chemically induced voices make life and death decisions for you. Don’t believe these voices in your head. Fight them. Treat them like the enemy, because they want to kill you. Don’t let them. God will help you if you call on Him. God can help you fight these thoughts and imaginations that exalt themselves against the knowledge that you are a child of God with unique gifts to give the world, of which the music is part, but there is much more ahead. Even if you have never believed that before, dare to believe that just this once.

Don’t believe anyone who says Chris Cornell died because of drugs. He died because he had a mental illness, an Anxiety Disorder of some kind. How do I know? Because of the medication he was taking. He did the right thing by seeking professional help for his condition. Medications like Ativan can help some people with Anxiety Disorders, just like Zoloft and Trintellix helped me with Depression. Unfortunately, they don’t help everyone. In fact, for some people, it may make them more depressed, more anxious, and more suicidal. And so it breaks my heart that the very thing that saved my life ended up killing him.

 

image of Chris Cornell and Soundgarden performing at the Sound Academy

Related Posts

Chris Cornell’s Black Hole Sun

The Voice…that no one wants to hear

 

Quick reads–I believe the “dishonest media” on this one. And Obamacare update.

He said he would build a wall, and Mexico would pay for it.

He signed the executive order to build it.

The press pointed out Mexico has not made a single payment and has said publicly they will not pay for it.

He whined how the “dishonest media” did not say that we would pay, but Mexico would reimburse us.

Mexico said they would not reimburse us.

Paul Ryan said, without batting an eye, the wall would cost between $12-15 billion to build. (He also said the Republican Congress would be fiscally responsible).

He tweeted that if Mexican president Nieto was going to refuse to pay for the “badly needed wall, it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”

 

Pres. Nieto canceled the upcoming meeting.

Still think Mexico is going to pay for the wall? Are you willing to bet $12-15 billion on it? If so, I can get you a fantastic deal on a tremendous bridge in Brooklyn.

 

Obamacare Update

 

I do have to give Trump credit for this. Congress seemed all set to repeal Obamacare immediately and create a replacement later. President Trump said he wanted to wait until they had something to replace it with. So, at least this time, Trump was the voice of reason in the GOP. At least someone knows cutting off health care for 20 million people is going to be problematic. In a press conference today, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell seemed like they wanted to work with the new president on most matters. Hopefully that means I won’t lose my health care just yet.

Obamacare saved my ass. Literally.

I know I may be losing readers if I get political. But this isn’t political for me. It’s very VERY personal. Trump campaigned on repealing and replacing “the disaster known as Obamacare.” At least he said he wanted to replace it. All Congress ever did before him was waste their time voting 60+ times to repeal it, without even mentioning anything to replace it, and knowing Obama would veto it. So since the election, I’ve been nervous because I am one of 25 million Americans who now receives health insurance through this so-called disaster. We’ve lost the firewall protecting us from GOP demolition.

I heard, though, it wouldn’t be immediate. They are not going to just leave 25 million Americans stranded when it comes to health care. The Republicans in Congress said they were (finally) working on a replacement plan. Any repeal will not take effect until after they have something to replace it with. However, the Senate did not wait. Thursday morning, I was watching the cabinet confirmation hearings on CNN when I saw the newsfeed scrawl beneath say late at night, the Senate passed the repeal of Obamacare along party lines. What happened to waiting until you replace it with “something terrific,” as the President-elect said?

Now it goes to the House. Paul Ryan says the repeal won’t take effect until they have something to replace it with, but that does not make me feel much better. What are you going to replace it with? I know some people have some legitimate complaints about Obamacare, but wouldn’t it be easier to fix something already in place rather than throw it away and start over from scratch? If your roof leaks, does it make more sense to fix the roof or burn down the house?

I am amazed I even have to write a post like this. Health care affects everyone, Democrat and Republican. It does not discriminate by politics. There is no such thing as a Democrat heart attack or a Republican cancer. There is no such thing as a liberal childbirth or a conservative stroke. We are all going to need help from medical professionals a few times in our lives. Not only you and me but the people we love as well. If we can’t agree on affordable health care for everyone, how are we ever going to agree on anything?

So before you jump on the Repeal bandwagon (or if you are already on it), I ask you to at least hear my story and others who support and/or rely on Obamacare for our health care. And in spite of whatever else I say in this post, if the end result is that the Republican Congress and president-elect comes up with something that solves the problems some people are having AND allows me to keep my coverage, I will be the first to thank and congratulate them. I’m not optimistic that will happen, but for now we can still hope.

My life before Obamacare

Despite all the preachers who say the Bible promises health and wealth for believers, I have been poor, too poor to afford health insurance. And even if I could, I have some pre-existing conditions that disqualified me from signing up for new insurance. I once had employer-provided insurance, but when I lost that job, I lost my insurance as well. Without an employer, I was not able to get around restrictions of pre-existing conditions. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know one of those pre-existing conditions is depression. Here are the others:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – Causes intense abdominal pain and diarrhea at unpredictable times. Requires prescription Levsin (or generic Hyoscyamine), cost $80-121/mo.
  • Sleep Apnea – Causes snoring and intermittent stoppages of breathing during sleep, resulting in blood with not enough oxygen. This has been shown to result in damage to all organs: heart, brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, etc, which long term can cause devastating health conditions. Requires C-PAP machine, cost approximately $5000 plus maintenance and regular replacement of various parts.
  • Flat feet – Sounds like a little thing, but it throws off the alignment of your legs so that standing, walking, or running for long periods of time can hurt not only your feet but also your knees and back. You can correct it somewhat with arch supports. I remember my first chiropractor telling me if I didn’t get supports, I would keep undoing all the work he was doing to fix my back. Even with them, my feet would hurt if I was on them for too long.
  • ADD (without hyperactivity) – haven’t been treated in a while.

After Obamacare

When Obamacare was finally implemented, it was a Godsend. Through the Federal Marketplace I was able to find a plan that worked for me and that my Primary Care Provider (PCP) would take. The premium was well beyond my means. Since my state rejected the expansion of Medicaid to help people like me, I had to rely on federal subsidies to afford this or any plan. And under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a., Obamacare, you cannot be turned down for pre-existing conditions. So what did that mean for me?

  • IBS – Hyoscyamine now $10/mo. co-pay.
  • Sleep Apnea – C-PAP machine covered (might have been a small co-pay, I don’t remember). Scheduled replacement parts overall about $10-20/mo. co-pay.
  • Flat feet – still using arch supports and staying off my feet when I need to.
  • Depression – recently changed medication to Trintillex, which is not covered on my plan. That’s true for most new meds, especially if there’s a cheaper one available, but for me this has fewer side effects. Right now relying on samples from my PCP.

Post-existing conditions

In addition to these pre-existing conditions, I’ve had other things come up that were totally unexpected. This is where I get into the reason for the title. I developed a cyst right between the butt cheeks. I’m not sure how. I saw it happen to my grandfather in his last few years. After he broke his hip, he had a very hard time walking, so he had to sit practically all day. Maybe all the time I spent sitting to research and write got to me as well. It was easier for me, certainly, to stand and walk than for my grandfather, but when you have flat feet, you can’t stand all day. You have to get off your feet for a significant part of the day, and there are some times when you just have to sit.

Men, let me ask you. Do you like to sit with your wife/girlfriend/significant other next to you, resting her head on your shoulder? Women, do you like to sit like that with your significant other? In order to do that, I had to slide down until my butt was off the couch. It was worth the trouble, but still, I could tell she felt a little awkward.

My doctor said I needed surgery to remove it. I’ll warn you, if you’re squeamish about medical issues related to surgery in the gluteus maximus region, you may want to skip ahead to the next heading.

Turns out these things are not just on the surface, so you can’t just lance it. I scheduled the surgery for a time when my parents were visiting, so they could be on hand to drive me home and help with my recovery. I also had a smaller benign cyst on my neck. It wasn’t painful or urgent, but the surgeon said it would be cheaper overall to have both cysts removed in the same operation. Two for one deal, in other words.

The surgery was successful. But when you have a hole in your butt – besides the natural one, of course – you have to take measures to be sure it heals properly. They said it was a small hole, but that’s relatively speaking. A hole cut into your body is a hole cut into your body. I had to insert gauze into the hole and disinfect, inside and out, every time it needed changing, and then cover it. I say “I,” but actually it was hard for me to reach around to get where I needed, so my mom ended up doing that for the first two or three weeks. There are not many people you can ask to do that for you, so God bless her.

[If you skipped ahead, start here]

Without the insurance I got through the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., Obamacare, I would have had to pay over $3000 out of pocket and probably would have had to leave the cyst in my neck. With my insurance, my co-pay was about $338, still expensive for me, but I was able to work out a payment plan that terminated in about a year rather than ten years. So after the surgery, I was able to focus on getting back to my life rather than, “Dear God, how am I ever going to pay for this.”

And that is what the Affordable Care Act was about, making health insurance affordable, so that health care could be affordable when you need it. I know some people say it has not worked that way for them. For some, their premiums shot up. Some were not able to keep their doctor under their plan. Some saw their plans leave the Federal Marketplace. I sympathize. I want it to work for you as well as it has worked for me. Thing is, all these problems could be solved if Congress – and all of us – got serious about covering everyone, like every other industrialized nation in the world does. Other nations know 1) it’s the right thing to do, and 2) people are more productive when they are healthy than when they are sick or injured. Why is that so hard for America to understand?

Even those of us who supported ACA knew it was going to need some course corrections after it got started. But the opponents of ACA never talked about how to fix it, just repeal, repeal, repeal. It’s a disaster. Get rid of it. Rolling out Medicare wasn’t entirely smooth in the beginning. If the same people had been in Congress in the 60’s, we wouldn’t have Medicare today. It was not a disaster. It was not Armageddon. It was not a slap in the face to business owners. It was not the death of America. Medicare may not be perfect, but people would fight like hell if Congress threatened to repeal it. So it should have been with Obamacare.

Finally, I have to say something about the hypocrisy of our legislators in all this. Congresspersons and Senators railed about how ACA is socialized medicine while taking the health insurance plan for government employees. So to my two Senators who just voted to repeal Obamacare, a.k.a., my healthcare, and to my Congressman who has pledged to do the same, if you hate socialized medicine, can I have yours?

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men?

#ChristmasinAleppo

image of Nativity Story movie poster
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8241723

I wanted to write this post last Sunday, December 11, third Sunday of Advent. During this season, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men,” is practically my mantra. Last Sunday, I came out of church and checked the time on my cell phone. There were three headlines from my newsfeed about bombs around the world: One was certainly in Aleppo, another in Egypt, and another I think was in Turkey but I don’t remember for sure. I felt like shouting to all of them, “Don’t you know this is Advent? Don’t we all want peace and goodwill?”

There is so much going on in the world now that makes you wonder about Advent, which is supposed to be a time of hope and preparation for Christmas. Christmas is supposed to be when we remember the birth of the Christ child, whose birth was announced with angels declaring “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” And I don’t care what religion you are, you cannot tell me that is not the desire of every human heart.

Syria has been on my mind for a while. The situation there has been called the worst humanitarian crisis in history. And now what is happening in Aleppo is appalling. You see one report on 60 Minutes, and the enormity of suffering is overwhelming. They have been living like this for months, even years. A city thousands of years old, part of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Seleucid, and Roman empires, so very much a part of Biblical history, that in 2011 had a population of two million, now seeing destruction of Biblical proportions. Constant bombardment and temporary cease fires just so they can draw people out of hiding and shoot them down.

What got to me most was seeing mothers desperate to find a safe place for their children, and there is none to be found. In the choir, we were practicing “Breath of Heaven.” Most people call it a Christmas song, but it’s really an Advent song. The music and words together really capture what I can only imagine Mary must have felt in the first days of her pregnancy as she is running away from her hometown to stay with her kinswoman, Elizabeth (Luke 1:36-45). And as I read, heard, and sang the words, I kept thinking of these mothers in Aleppo. Where is peace on earth and goodwill for them? Do I even have a right to enjoy Christmas when there is so much suffering over there?

Religion In a Time of Despair

I know it’s not the only place of suffering in the world. They aren’t the only mothers as desperate as a girl of about twelve or thirteen, pregnant before marriage, who knows no one is going to believe her when she says God is the father of the baby, and wondering how she will care for him in a world that welcomes neither her nor her baby and might stone her to death for impurity and/or blasphemy. But this situation was fresh in my mind. I saw the connection. I felt it. I’m not going to say I understand what they are going through, because there is no way you can know something that horrific if you haven’t actually lived through it.

This is what I think religion can do for us if our hearts are open for it: To see and feel the connection each of us has with all of humanity, even those who are ten thousand miles or whatever away. If I say I want to honor Christ in all I do, what does that mean for them? It means seeing that the story of every mother crying out for the health and safety of her children is Mary’s story. It means seeing the baby Jesus in every baby whose home, family, and life are threatened by powers that view them as a means to an end.

The True Meaning of Christmas

There are two songs specific to the season that drive this home for me. One I’ve already talked about is Amy Grant’s Breath of Heaven. The other is an older, traditional song but with a new twist: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Casting Crowns. The words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow already told well the struggle between wanting to believe in “Peace on earth, goodwill to men” that Christmas promises and living in a world that seems so bent on violence and hate. The music, however, was boring. Casting Crowns redid the music and adjusted the words just a little so that the mood of both match perfectly. The combination is arguably the most beautifully heartbreaking and hopeful song of the season.

Spiritual Exercise: If you really want to experience the meaning of Christmas,

  1. Stop getting bent out of shape when someone says “Happy Holidays.” With all that’s going on in the world, do you really think Jesus wants you wasting your outrage on that?
  2. Read the scripture in Luke 1:26-40; 2:8-14
  3. Let the words “peace on earth, goodwill to men” sink in
  4. Watch a news story on the plight of the civilians in Aleppo
  5. Then either watch the videos or listen to these two songs.

Amy Grant, “Breath of Heaven,”

Casting Crowns, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, with lyrics

Below: the original artist, no lyrics

WARNING: BE SURE YOU HAVE TISSUES NEARBY.

But What Can I Do?

Hopefully now you feel some of the compassion Jesus felt when he saw the people were like sheep without a shepherd. What can you do? You can pray, of course. I would recommend making that a part of whatever you do. But if you want to back up your prayer with more substantive action, click here for a link to an excellent article. Here’s a summary.

  1. Educate yourself and stay informed. Add Syria and Aleppo reports to your news feed.
  2. Donate to charities doing the work we can’t. Charity Navigator offers a list of vetted charities actually doing what they say, so you can avoid the scammers.
  3. Show your support and outrage. Write letters to the editor. Attend or organize protests at the embassies of Syria and Russia. Write directly to the governments of Syria, Russia, and Iran through Amnesty International.
  4. Tell your Senators you want them to support the Caesar Bill. It has already passed the House.
  5. Talk and/or post about it
  6. If you have special skills, for example, translator, doctor, lawyer, volunteer with agencies that need those skills
  7. If you’re feeling really bold, welcome a refugee into your home

Grace and Peace to you this Christmas season.

DAA

P.S. If you like this, you might also like…

Previous posts about Syria

Previous posts about Christmas

 

 

Democrats, you blew it! So next time…

I was going to write this to the Democratic Party leadership no matter who won. Their campaigning was atrocious, and I have to say something about it.

Please, will somebody in the party leadership listen to some common sense?

Whether they won or lost, the Democrats made some horrible blunders. I have realized for years the Democrats have a much better agenda, but they are terrible at selling their brand. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama helped break that rule in recent years, but overall they still haven’t learned their lesson. Two terrible mistakes from the campaigns for Hillary Clinton and The DCCC made the unthinkable possible.

Hillary Clinton: Your slogan was, “I’m with her,” but you ran as if it was “I’m against him.”

You might want to say I’m wrong or I’m exaggerating. I will give you that it was not true of the whole campaign. The Democratic Convention of July 24-28 was conducted brilliantly. You had Michelle Obama saying, “When they go low, we go high.” (Again, you should have followed that advice). You had Barack Obama reminding us why we were so inspired to vote for him (and not just against the other guy) in 2008 and 2012, even if less so the second time. And your candidate, Hillary Clinton, actually gave us reasons to vote for her, not just against him. And it was the perfect antidote to the toxicity of the GOP convention. What a disaster that was. It was like the Republican Party had gone from Reagan’s “Morning in America,” to Alice Cooper’s “Welcome To My Nightmare.” That was why she got such a big post-convention bounce. And then in all three debates, she did great and kept the lead she had in the polls.

But you have to realize after the debates, there are only three ways people hear your message: (1) News media coverage, (2) personal appearances, and (3) campaign ads.

(1) The news media is only going to play sound bites that may or may not accurately represent you and your agenda. You have little to no control over that.

(2) In the homestretch from the last debate to the election, the candidate is going to focus all their personal appearances in the battleground states, and only people who support you are going to those.

(3) For the vast majority of people, especially those who are undecided and still could be convinced, the only chance you have to reach them personally is in your campaign ads. All I heard from her campaign in the homestretch was replays of all the disgusting things Donald Trump said. Well, not all of them. That would have taken way too long. And of course, in those final weeks, whatever ads you run are playing over and over again.

As Election Day drew near, I noticed the ads were having a psychological effect on me. They not only reminded me of my disgust toward him, but they also killed my enthusiasm for her. They were creating a negative association with the act of voting in this election. I felt strongly enough that I could put up with this and still vote for her. However, people who are undecided or who are not excited about voting do not want to participate in an activity they associate with disgust and/or killing their enthusiasm. I know it was tempting to use all the material he gave you against him, but you fell into the trap of sinking to his level.

So next time, remember: A campaign is like a battery. It runs on BOTH negative and positive. I’m not saying forget the negative. I’m saying DON’T forget the positive.

image of two AA batteries

DCCC: Do you really think hopelessness, panic, and giving up is an effective fundraising strategy?

I received regular emails from various Democratic fundraising arms: the National Committee (DNC), the one focusing on the campaigning for Congress (DCCC), the Senate (DSCC), and the Leadership Council (DLC). The DCCC was the worst, not only of that group but of any campaign fundraising I’ve ever seen. Here are a few Subject lines, and these were the rule, not the exception:

  • We’re panicked.
  • All hope is lost.
  • Kiss all hope good bye.
  • We’re going to lose.
  • We give up.
  • Throwing in the towel.

Seriously folks? If the other party is raising more money than you, maybe it’s because no one wants to donate to a panicky party that says it’s giving up weeks or even months before the election. Leaders at any level cannot panic. When we are anxious, you need to calm us down. When we’re panicked, you need to be the voice of reason. That’s why we elect leaders. You need to create a strategy. You need to steady the ship. You need to give us hope. You need to remind us the game is not over, and we need to keep fighting until the final bell. You need to tell us you’re NOT giving up. This is too important to give up before the end. But when we look to you, you’re declaring defeat and running for the locker room.

I don’t know if this would have changed the outcome. You had hoped that Trump would be a drag on down-ticket candidates, and he proved to be the exact opposite. I know the GOP raised more money than you. And I know how important it is to get back a majority in Congress. But the next time you say you’re giving up before the election is over, you are not getting a penny from me.

So next time: Fire the person who wrote your fundraising emails. Find someone who knows how to communicate your vision, connect with voters, and show confidence. Don’t try to guilt us into donating. Inspire us to donate by talking about what a Democratic Congress will mean for us and for America.

What I fear from a Trump Presidency

Game over for the climate. We have just elected a president who says climate change a hoax, just like Pharaoh called the Ten Plagues a hoax. He started out in denial and ended up in de-Nile. The glaciers keep melting, and our coastal cities will be under water. We won’t see it in four years, but we will see more and more extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, days and weeks of record high temperatures. What do you think that will do to the world’s food when more and more farm land is in drought or flood?

Gap between the rich and the poor getting even worse. His policy for growing the economy is cutting taxes on the wealthy and cutting back on public services. You’ve seen this movie before. Did you forget how it ends? It works spectacularly for the wealthiest 1%, but it’s a disaster for the other 99%. Which side are you on?

Losing my health insurance. I am one of over 20 million people who got insurance for the first time in years through the Affordable Care Act. I couldn’t get it any other way because of a long list of preconditions. I understand there are problems with it, but they could all be fixed. They could already have been fixed, but Republicans in Congress had over 40 votes to repeal it. Not one of them involved any plan to replace it. So he wants to repeal and replace Obamacare? I only believe the repeal part. Instead of repealing it and starting over from the ground up, wouldn’t it be easier to just fix what’s already in place?

The end of freedom of the press. During his rallies, he whined that the news media was unfair to him for basically reporting what he said and did. Especially toward the end of the campaign he started saying, “There’s those horrible people in the media,” and the hostility of the crowds focused on them. People who sold subscriptions to The Arizona Republic were threatened and attacked. Reporters received death threats.

Thomas Jefferson considered Freedom of the Press to be even more important to the flourishing of democracy than government itself. If the press is bullied and intimidated for reporting unflattering news about our leaders, that is the quickest path to dictatorship.

The crushing of dissent. “Knock the hell out of him,” he said about a protester at his rally. He’s talked about revamping libel laws to allow him to sue news channels who report things about him he doesn’t like. And his lashing out encourages his supporters to lash out in kind. That is how dictatorships work, not democracies.

Net neutrality. This means equal access to information. Internet Service Providers should not interfere or regulate information you want to slow lanes. That’s what network neutrality means, but he has threatened to undo protections that are in place now.

Women’s healthcare. Defund Planned Parenthood, the GOP says. Why? Because they perform abortions. Yes, but that is actually 3% of what they do. The other 97% is gynecological exams, prescription assistance, cancer screenings, mammograms, pre-natal care, basically comprehensive health care for women who couldn’t afford it anywhere else. And for that, the GOP has declared war on them. They even pressured John Boehner to step down as Speaker of the House because he refused to shut down the government (again) in order to stop funding for Planned Parenthood.

Trump is a Johnny-Come-Lately to the pro life movement. He used to be, in his own words, “Very pro-choice.” Somehow he has done a 180 and is now pro life, though he never told us his story of how and why he changed his mind. That’s true of just about every conservative issue where he used to be liberal. He certainly has the right to change his mind. But you’d think someone would have asked him to give his testimony. How did you see the light? Why did you change your mind?

At any rate, the new pro-life Trump has given every indication it’s open season on Planned Parenthood, and consequently women’s health. For people who are pro life, I understand why you want to stop public funding for the 3%. But do you really have to do away with the other 97% because of that? If you get rid of Planned Parenthood, what are you going to replace it with?

Wall Street reform gone. Wall Street, big banks, and insurance companies caused the economic crash of 2008. You’d think regulating these folks so they couldn’t do it again would be a priority for the American people, if not the government. Nope. They have the money. They control Washington.
That’s the real reason the system is rigged, by the way. Now, no chance of any meaningful reform. In fact, what reform we have managed, like Dodd-Frank, is now on the chopping block.

Russian tampering. Trump supporters, I know you were happy to get Hillary’s emails. But does it bother anyone that they came from Russian hackers? That Putin supported Julian Assange in putting them on Wikileaks? Not all at once but drip, drip, drip, to keep it front and center on the American campaign scene? That Russia is celebrating Trump’s election? Any other election, Russia’s endorsement would guarantee NOT getting elected. Yet Trump cozies up to Putin and it doesn’t seem to hurt him one bit. And he wants to pull out of NATO, which is exactly what Putin wants from us. It will remove a major obstacle to restoring the Soviet Union, which ultimately is his goal.

ISIS growing. ISIS has said they are going to use Trump’s election as a recruiting point. He said he was going to ban Muslims from coming into the country, and the American people elected him, not in spite of that but because of it. If you are a Muslim outside America and you want to know what America thinks of you, what does this tell you?

Right-wing extremists emboldened. The GOP has been ruled by and catering to its most extreme elements at least since Obama was elected the first time. They can’t get anything done because compromise is a dirty word to them. They shut down the government when they didn’t get everything they wanted. Recently, though, I’ve seen signs that they might be looking for ways to work with Democrats. Now, forget that. The extremists got exactly the candidate they wanted as president, and they are going to push their agenda down our throats.

Finger on the button. A man who can’t let any insult from anyone just go, a man who attacks a former employee on Twitter at 3:00 AM, a man who doesn’t know what it means to rise above petty insults, a man who said “Bomb the s%*! out of them,” even though that’s a war crime, now has his finger on the nuclear button. Sleep soundly, world.

The Supreme Court. We know he will appoint at least one Supreme Court justice, maybe one or two others, so all of this will become codified into legal precedent in the next four years. The disastrous Citizens United decision will not be overturned. Corporations are people. Money is speech. SuperPacs will become even further entrenched in the campaign process. No chance now of fixing the real reason why Washington doesn’t work, big money contributors and lobbyists. You wanted to change Washington? Congratulations, you just made it worse.

So what now?

Okay, I’m starting to sound like a DCCC email now. I’ve given a lot of negative, but to follow my own advice, I will close with some positive. A group of Liberty University students had the courage to say that Trump “does not represent our values as Christians and does not deserve our support as president.”

To the counter-argument if Hillary is elected, she will almost certainly make the Supreme Court more liberal with her appointments, they said,

“Since the birth of Christ, Christians have withstood far more serious trials and tribulations than we face today. First-century Christians faced coliseums filled with lions; today, American Christians face the possibility of a liberal Supreme Court. The Christian message of salvation through faith in Christ has prevailed despite actual threats, from actual tyrants, and it will continue to thrive no matter who is elected president in 2016,” they wrote in the editorial.

If conservative Christians could say this when faced with the possibility of a Clinton presidency, then liberal Christians like me can say the same thing now.

I know there is so much wrong with this, and I’ve only scratched the surface. But look over our 2000 year history as the Body of Christ. We have lived through bad, narcissistic, self-serving, bullying leaders, and much much worse. We will continue to thrive if we remember God is still sovereign. Christ is our savior, not Caesar. We should advocate for good government and just, competent rulers. But if our faith is truly in Christ, we may still grieve, but we will never despair over an election that did not go our way.

The Kingdom of God is not in our elected leaders. It is in and among us. A congressional election is for two years. A presidential election is for four years, maybe eight if they get re-elected. A Supreme Court appointment is for the rest of the justice’s life, so on average, say, forty years. God’s Kingdom is forever. So if you have a call from God on your life, that doesn’t change because of an election. My calling is to write, and I will keep on writing. And there are some things we are all called to do, for example, Do justice, Love mercy, and Walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

Interestingly, Trump and I belong to the same church. He says he loves God and loves his church, so that is one thing we have in common. I will offer then a letter from a Presbyterian minister that is great advice for Presbyterians, but I think it is also great for the president-elect and the country in general. Here are the main points.

  • Presbyterians treat all God’s children with dignity and respect.
  • Presbyterians work for justice and peace.
  • Presbyterians work for racial justice and economic justice.
  • Presbyterians advocate for the vulnerable.
  • Presbyterians are a reconciling people.
  • Presbyterians are called to act with courage, grace, and love.

My fellow Americans, whether you’re Presbyterian or not, let’s commit to doing that. And maybe next election, we won’t have to choose between two candidates who have more people with negative than positive opinions. May God bless you and God bless America, and crown thy good with justice and brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

3 Reasons Why Faith Matters in Recovery

#faithanddepression #12steps

A couple of months ago, I got a notice that someone liked one of my posts. It happens sometimes. (Why do you look skeptical?)

Because we’re both on WordPress, the email gave links to a few of his posts. I clicked one where he talked about reading his official diagnosis from his therapist, and it got him down. I knew what he meant. When I got tested for depression, the therapist was very helpful after the fact. But when I read the report, it was probably the most depressing thing I had ever read.

If you are considering getting tested for depression, I do want to encourage you to do it. It was very enlightening for me. But I’ll give you the same advice I gave this person: Do not read the report unless you absolutely have to. (This is if you are having a therapist test you rather than taking an online screening). Keep a copy of it in your file cabinet, in case one day someone needs to see it, but DO NOT READ IT YOURSELF. In his case it was too late, though. So I whatever it said that got you down, ignore it. It was not meant for you. Only two parts of the report will help you: The diagnosis (clinical depression, bipolar, whatever), and the recommended treatment. Nothing else in the report will be helpful to you. In fact, it may do more harm than good.

He said, “Amen to this. Focusing on the treatment is much more productive. Of course, being depressed, my mind enjoys wandering to the negative. Fighting it, one day at a time. Thanks for your perspective!”

That might have been the end of our exchange, but it sounded like he needed a little more encouragement, so I responded…

“That’s how it is with the depressed brain. Our vision tends to be dark, so we need to find light wherever we can. One thing I like about my religious tradition is it says our purpose is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. God is for our joy and our recovery. So keep turning toward the light.”

I didn’t think I was forcing my religion on him. First I acknowledged a depressed brain does gravitate toward darkness. I know the same way he does, from experience. So I was just offering a bit of light I’ve found. I didn’t say this, but when I share with you something that’s helped me, I’m not trying to convert you. All I’m saying is this helped me. If it helps you, great. If it doesn’t, find something that does.

This was his response, and I’ll warn you there is some rough language in it.

“I’m glad you find strength in your religion. However, we are all a product of our circumstances. There is no god. And I think a part of us knows that this is true. There are about two billion Christians who believe to be blessed to the have true faith. Now replace ‘Christians’ with ‘Muslims.’ The truth is, none of us know what the fuck we are doing. All of us are just desperate for meaning.”

Apparently, it was not received the way I intended. Of course I wanted to smooth things over, so I said,

“Whatever you believe or don’t believe is fine. I don’t subscribe to any idea of one and only one way or one and only one truth. Even with my faith, I have felt lost at times. As you say, we are all desperate for meaning, so I just want to encourage you to find your source (or sources) of light and meaning.”

I think he simply expressed something a lot of people are thinking. Even if they don’t believe with assurance that there is no god, like a genuine atheist, they do sometimes wonder, “Is there a God? I mean really? How do I know?” So to address this, I want to break down what he said.

  1. There is no god.
  2. A part of us knows this is true.
  3. All Christians believe they have the true faith. So do Muslims. [Implied: which one is right?]
  4. None of us knows what we are doing.
  5. We are all just desperate for meaning.

I’m not sure if numbers 4 and 5 are supposed to prove there is no god. To me, they just sound like a description of the human condition and point out the need for a good recovery program. So what about 1-3?

There is no God, and everyone really knows it. They’re just afraid to admit it. He might really believe this. If someone honestly believes there is no god, I have no quarrel with that. However, I know these are the kind of thoughts a depressed brain will tell you. The depressed brain will speak with the authority of ultimate truth, and it will be easy to believe. It’s like Poe’s Raven. Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

The narrator in the poem is depressed. A raven flies into his house. The raven can speak, but only one word: Nevermore. The narrator asks questions that need positive answers, and he’s asking a bird that can only say, “Nevermore.” You see the problem there? No matter what he asks, the bird’s answer will always be, “Nevermore.”

The love of my life has died. Will I ever be happy again? Nevermore.

Will the Cubs win the World Series? Nevermore.

On that second question, what if an overzealous Cubs fan who lived to see his team win the World Series asked the Raven that question two weeks ago, and because of the bird’s answer, killed himself? That’s crazy, you say. No one would kill themselves over their sports team. Have you seen sports fans? But you see the irony. Three weeks ago, it could have appeared to be true. But the bird isn’t speaking “the truth.” It does not even know how to give positive answers. It’s the same with the depressed brain. It says things like, “You’re worthless. No one loves you. There is no god and everyone knows it. You screw up everything. God hates you. God has abandoned you,” because like the Raven, that’s all it knows how to say. So never take your depressed brain to be the ultimate truth. You are just as likely to get “the truth” from a Magic 8-Ball.

Image of Magic 8-Ball, Don't ask me. I'm a ball.
My sources say, “Nevermore.”

One of the most important things I heard someone say when I was at a low point in my life was, Don’t believe your feelings [or thoughts] when you’re depressed. Your feelings will tell you God does not love you. God has abandoned you. You are all alone in this world. But God’s word says I will never leave you nor forsake you. God so loved you that He gave His only Begotten Son. While we were yet sinners [i.e., worthless], Christ died for us. That is true no matter what you feel. Feelings will change according to circumstances, but God’s word is always true in any circumstance.

But when the depressed thoughts come, it’s so easy to believe them. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because it comes from our own mind, so we automatically assume it’s the truth. Our own mind wouldn’t lie to us, right? WRONG! It lies to us all the time. And when it assaults you with dark thoughts like these, you are in a battle like what Paul described in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.

(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (KJV).

I’m not saying this to promote my own religion. I’m just saying in order to stop the dark imaginations from taking over your mind and your life, you need to have the tools and weapons to fight against them. When De-elevator attacks you (I’ve started calling the depressed voice in my head De-elevator, as in Prince’s song, “Let’s Go Crazy”), you need to fight back. Ephesians 6:10-18 is the famous passage about the Whole Armor of God: Faith, Salvation, Truth, Peace, the Word of God – these are powerful armor and weapons in the fight.

If you’re not a Christian, you don’t read the Bible, that’s fine, but you’ve got to find something, some power and authority and truth that is greater than your own thoughts and feelings. And whatever your greater truth is, it must affirm that God is love, or it will fail. That is the only saying of my religion I hold to be absolute truth. God is love (1Jn 4:8).

But you say, “Which God? The Christian God? The Muslim God? The Jewish God? Some pagan God?” When it comes to recovery, that is the wrong question to ask.

As a Christian, Presbyterian to be specific, I would love it if everyone believed in the same God I do. But that’s not going to happen. History has shown over and over that you cannot force everyone in any society to believe the same way. Any religion can resonate with some people, but there has never been any religion that resonates with everyone. In order to live together, we all have to make room for people who come from a belief system or culture that’s different from our own. This is one reason I’ve found Alcohlics Anonymous’s 12 Steps to be helpful. I can’t name off all the 12 Steps, but I always remember the first three.

  1. Admit that you are an alcoholic (or addict, depressed, or whatever you seek to recover from).
  2. Believe in a higher power.
  3. Submit your life to your higher power.

Notice in those second and third steps, they don’t say believe in the Christian god or Muslim god or any particular god. They don’t even say, Believe in God. They say, Believe in a higher power, i.e., some power greater than yourself that you can trust to help you on your journey of recovery. Your higher power does not have to come from any particular religion. It doesn’t even have to be a god in the traditional sense. Most forms of Buddhism, for example, have no formal belief in God, but any Buddhist I’ve met still believes in a power greater than him or herself.

The reason for the higher power is if you could recover under your own power, you would have done it by now. But your own thinking and your own power got you where you are. It’s like you found yourself in a pit, and someone handed you a shovel and said, “Dig your way out.” You dug and dug and instead of getting out, you got further and further down the hole. Now you realize no amount of digging is going to get you out of this pit. You look up and see you are in too deep to climb out. Your only way out is to find a higher power, i.e., someone at the top of the pit to throw you a rope so you can climb, and maybe to help pull you up if you are too weak to climb all the way. For me, that person at the top is God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and the rope is the way of all-inclusive love that Jesus taught.

So who or what is that higher power for you? Once you’ve identified that, you’ll be able to see the rope He/She/It/They have thrown down to you and start to climb out.

Game of Thrones and the Bible – edited and expanded

#GameofThrones

In honor of the premiere of season 6 of Game of Thrones, I am bringing back a post from February comparing Game of Thrones with the Bible, edited and expanded a little.

Game of Thrones and the Bible (for mature readers)

I love Game of Thrones. It’s got political and sexual intrigue, dysfunctional family relationships, shocking violence, and you know what? It’s got nothing on the Bible. It’s still a couple of months before the beginning of Season 6, but I thought I’d go ahead and post this.

WARNING: THERE ARE PLOT SPOILERS. AND THE FOLLOWING MATERIAL INCLUDES GRAPHIC GORY VIOLENCE. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

Genesis 34:1-31: Dinah and Shechem’s Red Wedding

All the fans freaked out over the Red Wedding in Season 3, Episode 9.

How’s this for a red wedding? Jacob’s large family of shepherds wanders into a city. The prince of the city (Shechem) encounters the one daughter (Dinah) of the patriarch. They have sex. The prince wants to marry the girl, but the family is offended because 1) he had sex with her before asking her parents to marry her, and 2) his people are not considered proper for marriage to one of their young girls. Shechem, however, is persistent. He really wants to marry her. He loves her.

Jacob’s family will agree on one condition: he and every male in the city must be circumcised, because as they say, they cannot allow her to marry from among the uncircumcised. He agrees. And since he is the prince, he is able to order the other men to follow suit. While the men of the city are still sore and recovering, two of her brothers sneak into the city at night, kill all the men, and take her back to her family.

So let’s see: There’s a prince who falls in love with the wrong woman. Agreements are made and then broken. Man in love apologizes sincerely to the offended party and tries to make amends. Offended party pretends to accept the apology then kills the offenders. I can almost hear The Rains of Castamere playing in the background.

2 Kings 9:30-37: Jezebel’s gruesome death

The Game of Thrones writers have given us some of the most ghastly tortures and deaths ever seen on television. However, even they have not given us a death more grisly than the infamous Jezebel.

[Jehu] looked up to the window and said, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked out at him. He said, “Throw her down.” So they threw her down; some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, which trampled on her. Then he went in and ate and drank; he said, “See to that cursed woman and bury her; for she is a king’s daughter.” But when they went to bury her, they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands. (2Ki 9:32-35 NRS)

And I thought Catelyn Stark’s corpse was treated roughly.

Judges 11:1-40: Jephthe “Snow-Baratheon”

Characters on Game of Thrones are not shy about their use of prostitutes. Prostitution was certainly part of the Biblical world, and one inevitable result of prostitution is illegitimate children, like Jephthe. He was the son of a prostitute who was rejected by his family and tribe, and yet had enough leadership skills to rise to prominence in spite of it. In the days before Israel had a king, Jephthe became one of the Judges and the head of his tribe. I wonder if Jon Snow was based on him.

Unfortunately, there is one other reason Jephthe is remembered. His greatest victory came at a dire cost. Just before a battle against a powerful enemy, Jephthe’s army was supposed to meet with a troop of Ephraimite soldiers, a neighboring tribe with whom he had formed an alliance. The Ephraimites did not show up, and the enemy was getting near. On their own, Jephthe’s men did not believe they were strong enough to defeat this enemy. Jephthe made a solemn vow to God that convinced them to follow their commander with the boldness of Viking Berserkers.

Jephthe’s army won and returned home in triumph, but now Jephthe has to fulfill his vow to the LORD [of Light?]:

“If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” (Jdg 11:30-31 ESV)

The word in Hebrew translated “whatever” is ‘asher. It could mean whatever or whoever. Jephthe may have had an animal in mind (whatever) or a slave (whoever). Instead, the first to come out to meet him is his one and only daughter. It’s obvious from his response she was not what Jephthe expected.

When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” (Jdg 11:35 NRS)

He vowed to the Lord (of Light?), and he cannot go back. A burnt offering, like Stannis Baratheon‘s daughter, Shireen.

When Abraham was sacrificing Isaac, an angel stopped him before he brought down the knife. Unfortunately for Jephthe’s daughter, no angel appeared.

1 Kings 1:1-43; 2:13-25 – Brothers are rivals who must die [New]

Speaking of Stannis Baratheon, he and his brother Renly were rivals to their family’s claim to the Iron Throne, so they went to war. Melisandre, a priestess of the Lord of Light, helps Stannis by conjuring up a shadow of Stannis to kill Renly, removing his most immediate rival. None of the kings of Israel would do such a thing, would they? Think again.

After David died, there was a brief dispute between factions for Solomon and Adonijah as to who should succeed him. Solomon won peacefully. But when Adonijah wanted to marry one of David’s former concubines, he asked Solomon’s mother to intercede for him. Solomon saw it as a backdoor attempt to strengthen his claim to the throne.

King Solomon answered his mother, “And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite (see 1Ki 1:1-4) for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom as well! For he is my elder brother; (1Ki 2:22 NRS).

What does Solomon do now that his elder brother has tried to undermine his rule? He sends one of his army commanders to kill his brother and rival. No shadow magic, but the result was the same. Was Adonijah really in love with Abishag? To the king, it does not matter. Just as in Westeros, a royal wedding has political consequences. Marrying for love can be dangerous, as Robb Stark found out.

Conclusion

Some people might say because I’m a Christian, I can’t watch a show with nudity, graphic violence, despicable rulers, ruthless power grabs, sexual deviancy, and people killing family members for power or revenge. Some might say about my novels or short stories, If you’re a Christian, how can you write sex scenes and blood and gore and scenes that show how seedy the Roman culture was? To them I say, Have you read the Bible?

I’m not saying we should read or write such scenes and stories just because we feel like it. I exercise discernment about these things when I write, and I expect readers to do the same whether they are reading about a historical world like in my novel, a fantasy world like George R. R. Martin’s, or the Bible. I don’t want to encourage the type of behavior I’ve described in this post, even if it is in the Bible. But if you tell Christian writers, you can’t write that because it’s sinful, or it might tempt some of the audience to sin, you are forcing us to ignore history and human nature. That makes for very boring stories and unbelievable characters. The Biblical authors tell the truth about human nature. Why shouldn’t we?

Resurrection 2016

I must confess I’m a little behind in where I wanted to be in this series. Last week, I really wanted to say something about Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, because these services have become very meaningful for me in the last few years. I couldn’t get them done in time, so instead I reblogged some posts I found relevant and uplifting. Then there was the Easter bombing in Lahore, Pakistan, that killed over 70 and wounded some 300. Of course I wanted to comment on that, but sometimes life and other responsibilities take me away from writing. It may be late, but I would like to say something. After doing a little quick reading on it, and it’s clear the Christian minority in Pakistan need our prayers. They are particularly vulnerable to extremists there because of two extremist groups – one that uses suicide bombers and one that stirs up mobs against them – and a government that is not doing enough to protect them. Although there are signs the latter may be changing.

Obviously, the terrorists chose Easter because it is for Christians the most holy day of the year. Easter is the day we remember Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and in a twist these terrorists may not understand, it is the very thing that guards us against the kind of despair they were trying to instill in us. In Jesus’ resurrection, we see that no matter what they do to our bodies, our spirits and souls live on. These 70+ martyrs who committed no violence, who were there just to celebrate the triumph of life over death, good over evil, live on with the saints who have gone before them. Therefore, as Paul said, we may sorrow over their loss here on earth, but our sorrow is not without hope (1Thes 4:13).

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1Co 15:58 NRS).

P.S. Click the link for coverage of the Pope’s Easter message as he addresses terror attacks, war, poverty, and refugees.

Bonus Post: Sorry for Brussels

I woke up this morning trying to begin developing habits of mindfulness. I took a moment to breathe and be grateful. As my current self-help book (Emergence, by Derek Rydall) suggested, instead of saying, “Good God, it’s morning,” say, “Good morning, God.” It actually helped. I got out of bed with feelings of gratitude for the gift of life and breath God has given me.

Then I turned on CNN, like I do most mornings, and… well you probably know by now. Europe, once again, is the victim of terrorist attacks by ISIS. Two explosions at the airport in Brussels. Another at the Metro station. Reports at the time said Twenty-six dead. Twenty-six people who will never again have the opportunity to thank God for life and breath as I had done just a few minutes before. I wanted to write about other things, particularly continuing my series on Pontius Pilate.

A few months ago, I posted a comment on Deuteronomy 26 related to the Syrian refugee crisis. We have some of our presidential candidates calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the country and saying we can’t take any of these refugees in. I argued instead we need to make every effort to let them in. From a practical perspective, we need friends in the Muslim world. People like this:

A few years from now, he might make a good spy for us. And he’s not alone.

We are not fighting a nation with armies lining up together that we can bomb or send tanks against. We are fighting an enemy that is hiding in plain sight – until they decide to carry out their planned attacks.

Here is an example:

June 22, 2015, Hickory, North Carolina: A nineteen-year-old man was planning to carry out an ISIS inspired attack. His plan was thwarted when his father reported him in to authorities. This particular boy wasn’t even Muslim or Arab, so don’t think if we keep Muslims out we’re safe.

The main point is he was stopped because someone close to him found out what he was up to and reported him. The more friends we have, the more eyes we have to root out these moles. If the ISIS recruiters are reaching out mainly to Muslims, Muslim friends are our best defense against them.

Then there is the Christian perspective. Love your neighbor. Love the stranger and the alien. Love your enemies. What does that mean in the face of terrorism? I don’t have the answer, but I’m pretty sure it does not include banning, hating and denigrating entire groups of people because of race, religion, ethnicity, or nationality. Not a good way to make the friends we need either.

But let’s remember what they really want: Not so much to kill us but to terrorize us. We are going to need to heighten our security, but we need to be smart about it too. Be watchful, but don’t give in to panic and terror. And on this point, I offer one of the best examples of this I have come across.

A friend was planning the baptism of her newborn. She requested specifically September 11 as the date. The pastor was like, “9-11? Why would you want that date?”

She said, “Because that’s the date my husband and I met.”

That’s how you don’t let the terrorists win. Don’t let them take the joy out of your life.

Grace and Peace to you.

P.S. If you’re having trouble believing there are still good Muslims in America and around the world who want to help us, take a look at this: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Muslims-Against-ISIS/1444672609121662.

P.P.S. A lot of good things happening in Estonia. Hear what the Prime Minister says about the Refugee crisis.

“>Starts at 5:00 if you’re in a hurry

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