A couple stories with a common theme caught my attention last week.
First, from the December 6 installment of The Writer's Almanac:
And it was on this day in 1917 that an accidental explosion destroyed a quarter of the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was the height of World War I, and Halifax was serving as an important port city for many of the ships carrying supplies for the battlefront. One of the ships coming into the port that day was a French supply ship called the Mont Blanc, carrying 200 tons of TNT, 2300 tons of other explosives, as well as ten tons of cotton, and thirty-five tons of highly flammable chemicals stored in vats on the ship's upper deck. On its way into port, the Mont Blanc collided with a Norwegian freighter, which started a fire, and the crew of the Mont Blanc piled into lifeboats and then paddled frantically away.
The fire on the Mont Blanc drew a crowd of onlookers along the shore of the channel. The docks filled with spectators, trams slowed down, people stood at office windows and on factory roofs to see the blaze. Then, a few minutes after the fire had started, the Mont Blanc exploded. It was the single most powerful man-made explosion at that point in human history.
The blast wave of water hit the shore, sweeping away buildings, bridges, roads, vehicles, and people. City streets split open. Houses, churches, schools, and factories collapsed. Virtually every building in the city had its windows broken. About a quarter of the city, was completely destroyed. More than 2,000 people were killed and more than 9,000 were injured. It was the worst disaster of any kind in Canadian history.
One of the only people who had known about the cargo of the ship was a dispatcher at the yardmaster's office. As soon as he'd realized what was happening, he began telegraphing warnings around the city, and he kept sending out warnings even though he knew that an explosion could come at any minute. He died at his post.
It was the dispatcher that caught my attention. He knew about the explosive cargo, knew an explosion was imminent, but chose to stay at his post where he died while warning others about the danger.
Then I read a story about a 7-year-old girl in Detroit who put her body between her mom and an enraged gunman and took 6 bullets while shielding her mom from harm.
Alexis Goggins, a first-grader at Campbell Elementary School, is in stable condition at Children's Hospital in Detroit recovering from gunshot wounds to the eye, left temple, chin, cheek, chest and right arm.
"She is an angel from heaven," said Aisha Ford, a family friend for 15 years who also was caught up in the evening of terror.
The girl's mother, Selietha Parker, 30, was shot in the left side of her head and her bicep by a former boyfriend, who police said was trying to kill Parker. The gunman was disarmed by police and arrested at the scene of the shooting, a Detroit gas station. Police identified him as Calvin Tillie, 29, a four-time convicted felon whom Parker had dated for six months.
A benefit fund has been set up for Alexis.
These stories, of course, reminded me of the verse from John 15:13:
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
It made we ponder whether or not I, if placed in that sort of situation, would be paralyzed or if I could on the spur of the moment give my life for a family member or a stranger. I don't know, but I thought these two serve as great examples.
From the Central church of Christ (Nashville, TN) bulletin, 5 Feb 2006:
There is a story of three doctors who all died suddenly. They met all met Saint Peter at the gates of heaven. He made them an unusual promise: he would make sure that whatever they wanted said about them at their funerals would be said.
The first doctor said that he wanted it said that he was the best doctor in the world. In fact, were it not for his untimely death, he certainly would have found the cure for cancer. And it was said.
The second doctor wanted it said that he was the best husband and father in the world. That's exactly what was said.
The third doctor said he wanted those standing near the casket to say, "Hey, I think I just saw him moving!"
From the Central church of Christ (Nashville, TN) bulletin, 1 Jan 2006:
The following story illustrates how one perspective makes a difference in the way he or she interprets the events that occur. It also illustrates that the Lord works in unusual ways.
There was a little old lady, who every morning stepped onto her front porch, raised her arms to the sky, and shouted: "PRAISE THE LORD!" One day an atheist moved into the house next door. He became irritated at the little old lady. Every morning he'd step onto his front porch after her and yell: "THERE IS NO LORD!"
Time passed with the two of them carrying on this way every day.
One morning, in the middle of winter, the little old lady stepped onto her front porch and shouted: "PRAISE THE LORD! Please Lord, I have no food and I am starving, provide for me, oh Lord! The next morning she stepped onto her porch and there were two huge bags of groceries sitting there. PRAISE THE LORD!" she cried out. "HE HAS PROVIDED GROCERIES FOR ME!"
The atheist neighbor jumped out of the hedges and shouted: "THERE IS NO LORD. I BOUGHT THOSE GROCERIES!!" The little old lady threw her arms into the air and shouted: "PRAISE THE LORD! HE HAS PROVIDED ME WITH GROCERIES AND MADE THE DEVIL PAY FOR THEM!
So what's with all the "trunk-or-treat" and "harvest festivals" taking place on Halloween night at churches in Midland? Halloween is an event where neighbors can take time to come out of their homes to have conversation, check-up on each other, and show hospitality to children. Most churches offer events of fellowship for their members on a regular basis. Forums for fellowship with those that you see driving in-and-out of the neighborhood driveways everyday are not as easy to come by. As a Christian, I know I should be available and connecting with my neighbors throughout the year. I am ashamed that my busy life inhibits my doing this properly. I am disappointed, however, that many churches in the area (my own included) are making an effort to pull their members away from a traditional and comfortable opportunity to reach out to their neighbors. My light will be on this Halloween as I take part in this festive occasion for making those friendly connections that I should be making all year. I challenge you, Midland-area Christians, to embrace Halloween as an opportunity to be a blessing to your neighbors. You can fellowship with your church friends next Sunday.
So says the byline of an article in The Economist from last week. It makes the case that for those of us who desire to see abortion numbers drop (I think we're pretty much all in that category), legislation is not a tool that anyone should expect to be effective for achieving that outcome:
[According to] the largest global study of abortion ever...Restricting abortions...has little effect on the number of pregnancies terminated. Rather, it drives women to seek illegal, often unsafe backstreet abortions leading to an estimated 67,000 deaths a year. A further 5m women require hospital treatment as a result of botched procedures.
In Africa and Asia, where abortion is generally either illegal or restricted, the abortion rate in 2003 (the latest year for which figures are available) was 29 per 1,000 women aged 15-44. This is almost identical to the rate in Europe—28—where legal abortions are widely available. Latin America, which has some of the world's most restrictive abortion laws, is the region with the highest abortion rate (31), while western Europe, which has some of the most liberal laws, has the lowest (12).
Between 1995 and 2005, 17 nations liberalised abortion legislation, while three tightened restrictions. The number of induced abortions nevertheless declined from nearly 46m in 1995 to 42m in 2003, resulting in a fall in the worldwide abortion rate from 35 to 29. The most dramatic drop—from 90 to 44—was in former communist Eastern Europe, where abortion is generally legal, safe and cheap. This coincided with a big increase in contraceptive use in the region which still has the world's highest abortion rate, with more terminations than live births.
Listening to Psalm 85 recently, the title phrase to this post jumped out at me as a beautiful metaphor for a time when God and his people are in a state of harmony:
8 I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying,
for he speaks peace to his faithful people.
But let them not return to their foolish ways.
9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
so our land will be filled with his glory.
10 Unfailing love and truth have met together.
Righteousness and peace have kissed!
11 Truth springs up from the earth,
and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
12 Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
Our land will yield its bountiful harvest.
13 Righteousness goes as a herald before him,
preparing the way for his steps.
(New Living Translation)
A difficult question is how should a Christian engage her culture. From opposite sides, Jim Wallis and James Dobson are two guys who are out there wielding power and influence to try to shape the course of political debate. My distaste for Dobson is well documented.
Politics aside, for me personally it's a question I wonder about. What's the best way for me to engage those around me...and the news about what Christianity means to most young people these days is also on my mind:
Majorities of young people in America describe modern-day Christianity as judgmental, hypocritical and anti-gay. What's more, many Christians don't even want to call themselves "Christian" because of the baggage that accompanies the label.
A new book based on research by the California-based research firm The Barna Group found that church attitudes about people in general and gays in particular are driving a negative image of the Christian faith among people ages 16-29.
When I listened to the following passage recently, it jumped out at me. Paul's advice to the Thessalonians about engaging non-Christians is interesting and may be the same advice that we need today:
“11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
- 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
God has created a masterpiece. What do you think it is? This passage jumped out at me the other day in the One Year Bible-on-Radio podcast:
8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Eph. 2:8-10 New Living Translation
I'm no fan of labels like liberal and conservative...not in politics, religion, wherever. Still, they're often kind of hard to avoid...because it does feel feel like theres something about people such that, on the surface at least, do tend to fall in one of two camps, whatever you choose to call them.
Denise Gellene describes what that something is in the LA Times article titled "Study finds left-wing brain, right-wing brain":
Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.
In a simple experiment reported todayin the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information.
Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.
It's kind of funny what the actual study was...a fairly simple game involving either typing or not typing a letter on a keyboard when it appeared on a monitor.
Based on the results...liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.
Lead author David Amodio, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University, cautioned that the study looked at a narrow range of human behavior and that it would be a mistake to conclude that one political orientation was better. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said.
Still, he acknowledged that a meeting of the minds between conservatives and liberals looked difficult given the study results.
"Does this mean liberals and conservatives are never going to agree?" Amodio asked. "Maybe it suggests one reason why they tend not to get along."
On Sunday mornings this summer our church had a series of surprise testimonials during class time on Sunday mornings. It was partially modeled after something Lisa's church used to do on Wednesday nights when she was growing up.
This is how I explained it when I asked people to participate:
Each Sunday a different member will give a surprise testimonial. The person will basically tell his/her life story...his background, how he grew up, what she does for a living, how he came to follow Christ, etc. Though not essential, the speaker is encouraged to highlight any spiritual insights/decision points/transitions that she has arrived at during her journey. If you're comfortable doing so, please also spend some time discussing any struggles that you consider to have been your toughest moments; for example, addictions, marriage difficulties, financial struggles, challenges in raising children, loss of loved ones, etc..
Since you're the world's leading expert on the subject of your talk (you and your life), it shouldn't require too much planning or preparation...maybe just a little thinking about what the main events and thoughts will be. If the audience is curious about anything, they can ask. You can answer or not. You'll have about 30 to 40 minutes. If you don't use all the available time, that's OK...the remainder will be spent as social time.
This is intended to accomplish a couple things:
1) The more we know about each other and our backgrounds and struggles, the tighter our bond to each other will be. The more we'll be comfortable leaning on each other and depending on each other as together we follow Christ. The less likely we'll be to succumb to divisions when difficulties arise. A few of us may know everything about everybody, but most of us don't. Some of us are relatively new. Some of us have been here a while but still may not know some people as well as we'd like to know them.
2) To the extent that we can be more open and sharing about our struggles in the past, we make ourselves available to minister to someone else who is going through something similar now. Maybe someone is struggling in their relationship with God right now because she has a spouse that pulls her in a very different direction. Maybe you've been through the same thing in the past and could really minister to her effectively...but you don't know that she has that struggle and she doesn't know that you've been through a similar situation...so she doesn't know that you're the person she needs to talk to. Perhaps we can use this summer of surprise testimonials to make some of those connections.
It turned out pretty great. Folks seemed to really like it. I definitely did. I had I little trouble getting people to agree to do it. I'd say maybe a half to a third of the people I asked agreed to speak. I missed a couple of weeks on vacation, but all of the speakers I saw did a great job.
- Someone told the church for the first time that he was/is suffering from prostate cancer.
- Someone described his continuing struggle with OCD.
- Someone described being in a mentally and physically abusive marriage
- Someone described how she responded with hope when her son was shot and killed
- Someone described how he felt on the day he participated in failed effort to rescue people on the Edmund Fitzgerald
- Someone described how he felt awkward and out of place growing up until he finally found his niche in college.
- Someone confessed to excessive drinking and to using drugs in college
- Someone else confessed to using and selling drugs as a teenager
- Someone described how she dealt with having a husband who suddenly began refusing to go to church and refusing to talk about it
- More than one person mentioned his discomfort when he's having a beer at a restaurant and sees someone from church (since he doesn't know for sure what the "rules" are related to that).
It was exactly what I had in mind. I think I'll try to make it a recurring summertime series...if enough people will agree to speak.