A Memorial to Dad

January 20, 2017

 

“Come now, broken, to the cross, where Christ embraced all human loss,

And let us bow before the throneOf God, Who gives and takes His own,

And promises, whatever toll He takes to satisfy our soul.

Come, learn the lesson of the rod: the treasure that we have in God.”

Dad did not intend to leave Lustre—he did not leave because of bad memories or a dissatisfaction with his life here. He left because the memories were so good: a loving wife, four children on a small but good farm, his parent’s homestead. He left because the structure— the environment of those memories—was wrecked by forces beyond his control AND beyond his ability to understand. He left to get a new start. No one blamed him, especially not those who knew him best and loved him most. It is most fitting that he return today, to be laid to rest within one mile of his birthplace and within mere feet of his resting wife and daughter.

Let me express to you today, on Dad’s behalf, the appreciation and support he felt in those dark days and to assure you that he takes with him to his grave today the knowledge that he was truly loved by the people of Lustre. In his later years, as he withdrew into senility, it was his Lustre friends that meant the most to him and pretty much the only ones who would bring an expression of joy and familiarity to his face.

But though he left here and moved to Billings in 1970, he always remained one of Lustre’s sons. If a picture paints a thousand words, I have one for you. It was taken on the Sunday afternoon when Patty died, with my very eyes. It is a scene branded into my 14-year-old mind—one which I could never forget.

The word of our tragedy spread quickly that day, and soon the yard began to fill with cars. Neighbors, friends and relatives (including some of you) came to support Dad and our family in our time of loss. It was a horrible day. Dad was pacing around the yard, still in Sunday pants and stocking feet, having been awakened from an afternoon nap, going from shock, to tearful grief, to disbelief, then back to shock. At one point, I remember he lay face down on the grass in front of the lilac bush, literally not knowing what to do with himself. I remember it so clearly. Uncle Calvin came up on his right side. He knelt beside Dad without saying a word. Then he literally stretched out beside Dad and draped his left arm across Dad’s shoulders and held him that way for a while. That picture not only illustrates the tenderness of a brother-in-law whose heart was also breaking in empathy for dad, but in a real sense he was representing a community of brothers and sisters comforting one of their own who had suffered a hard blow.

Dad was 90 years old as of last July. That is a long life. To tell his whole life story would take a few days. He was a complex person, as we all are, and to tell his whole story would actually be impossible. But allow me tell you a little about him from a son’s point of view.

First, he loved our mom well. It seems like there should be a better way to say this, but he was expressively affectionate, a characteristic apparently somewhat rare among men of his generation.  An early childhood memory I have of our family is Dad coming in for lunch, dusty and dirty. We’d hear his heavy footsteps as he went down into that dungeon of a basement where he’d wash up. Th-thump, th-thump, th-thump he’d go. Then in a few minutes he’d come up, all slicked clean. As he came in through the door by the stove, he’d say to Mom, who’d be standing there, spatula in hand, “Hey, good lookin’, what’s cookin’?” He’d come around her from behind and put his arms around her waste, but not in gentle way. He’d literally tear her away from the stove and spin her around, shouting, “She’s mine! She’s mine! You can’t have her because she’s mine, all mine!” We kids, loving it, would shout back, “No, she’s ours, she’s ours.” She would try to tell him to put her down, but she was laughing too hard to get the words out.

Then she died.

They were truly partners. It must have been the last spring before she died, that I remember them working on their taxes together. She was too weak from the cancer and cancer treatments to get out of bed, but they still worked together. Dad had his papers and receipts spread out all over the kitchen table. He would yell out numbers for her to add up. He would add the same numbers and then they’d compare. She, with her weakened voice, would call out her sum. $483.27! If they agreed they’d go on, if not they’d go over them again. Working together to the end . . .

When she died, in preparation her funeral, Mr. Clayton so thoroughly and professionally explained every step of the protocol to Dad beforehand. At one point Mr. Clayton said that after the viewing, he would remove Mom’s wedding ring and give it to Dad, just before closing the casket. That hit a nerve. Dad, already heartbroken, gave Clayton that stern look, the one we all knew so well, and said firmly, “The ring stays on her. I gave it to her once and I’m not taking it back.” Probably against Mr. Clayton’s better judgement, he honored Dad’s instruction. The lid was closed.

That incident also illustrates the second thing I’d like to say about Dad.

He was principled, conscientious and honor driven. On one hand, he was so very frugal —his answer to most of the things I asked was, “We can’t afford it.” He was awfully conservative in spending money—unless there was a principle at stake. Then money meant nothing. Sometimes this contradiction bothered me. The morning after Delores and Larry’s wedding in Billings, many of the relatives from Lustre and Glasgow met at a restaurant near their motel for breakfast. They invited us to join them, which we did. When the checks came, Dad insisted that they all be given to him—all of them. He paid the whole works. That really bothered me. When we left the restaurant, I said, “Dad, why did you do that? They didn’t expect you to do that!” His answer left no room for argument. He said, “They honored me by coming to my daughter’s wedding. That was the least I could do.”

Speaking of honor, I have another story which I have told numerous times. I have used it in Father’s Day talks and in Sunday School lessons. It is a favorite of mine because it hits on all cylinders in terms of mentoring—in terms of lessons caught, not merely taught. The main character in this story is someone most of you probably know. I do not, but for his name. It happened around 1965. I know that because we were driving a nearly new Ford Custom 500. We were at the Academy for some function, maybe a basketball game. The event was over and Dad was in the hallway visiting with other men, with me at his side. All at once a slender high school boy, probably a tenth grader, came up beside Dad, shyly but intentionally trying to get his attention. As Dad noticed him and turned his way, the young man said, “Mr. Tieszen, could I speak with you outside?” Puzzled, Dad followed him out, me right behind. When we got outside, Elmer Wedel said, “Mr. Tieszen, I accidentally backed into your car in the parking lot. Could you come take a look?” Dad and I were probably both imagining a crushed fender or a bashed in door. But when we got there, we could see no damage. Dad said, “Where did you hit it?” Elmer pointed to a spot on the back bumper. Dad examined it closely in the dimly lit parking lot, even squatting down to look underneath. There was no damage. Maybe a small nick in the chrome, but certainly not a dent. Dad thanked Elmer for showing it to him, but said, “Don’t worry about it. I never would have noticed.”

We could have just gotten into the car and gone home. But Dad, with me trailing behind, went back into the school, as if duty bound. We weaved our way through the crowd where he sought out Mr. Ben Wedel, Elmer’s father. When he found him, Dad said, “I want to tell you that you have a very honest son,” and proceeded to relay the story, how there wasn’t so much as a scratch or dent and that he would never have noticed anything. So this is a story about nothing, right?

No. This was about more than a car and a conscientious young man. There was another character in the story: me, an observing impressionable boy.  What was my takeaway? Obviously, if I wanted the approval of my Dad, which I did, and if I wanted to be thought well of by other people, which all boys do, I should be like Elmer. I thank Dad for that lesson, whether it was intentional or not. It was just who Dad was.

Another story which illustrates Dad’s commitment to honor and conscience was a favorite of Nita and my daughters as they were growing up. In this one, the main character of the story doesn’t look so good. In this one, the main character is me. Some relatives from Canada—I have no idea who they were—came to visit us. They had some kids about my age and we were playing in the corral. We found a watermelon in the stock tank. Dad had bought it for the company and was keeping it cool by letting it float in the water tank. I suppose, to show off to the other kids, I lifted it out of the water and tried to rest it on the edge of the tank. But in an instant, it slipped out of my hands, and down onto the concrete. Amazingly, it didn’t split open, so I just as quickly scooped it up and put it back into the water. Sometime later Dad came out of the house, gathered up the watermelon and took it inside to cut. I was sweating bullets. You guessed it. Dad came back out of the house and yelled my name. “LOWELL, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE WATERMELON?” he demanded. Apparently it had a hairline crack and water had seeped in and it was ruined. Well, I confessed. There was no way around it, with those other kids as witnesses. He dragged me to the barn and gave me a tanning I obviously still remember. But, before I received it, Dad explained that he was not spanking me because of the watermelon. He didn’t care about the watermelon. He said he was spanking me because I tried to deceive him—that I should have told him what happened, instead of letting him take the watermelon in and be embarrassed in front of his company. He was so right. And so wise.

Also, under the heading of honor, I’d like to say something about Dad’s work ethic. My cousin Leon Toews told me a story the other day about a way in which Dad influenced him. Leon was helping us put up a steel bin, and apparently had asked what time it was a couple of times. He was getting tired or hungry. He says that Dad shocked him after his third inquiry, and with that stern look and all business voice, said, “When you are working for another man, you don’t ask what time it is. You keep working until he tells you to stop.” Leon says that startled him and actually changed his life. He credits it for cementing the work ethic he carries with him to this day. All I can say is, that is so Dad.

But I cannot say that Dad was that hard on me when it came to work. In fact, he may have spoiled me just a bit. Oh, he made me work all right, growing up. But after giving me instructions of what to do, whether it was driving tractor summer fallowing or cleaning out the chicken barn, just before he’d leave, he’d turn back to me and say something like, “If you get tired, just quit. Take a rest or go do something else for a while. Then come back and finish later.” He may have been using reverse psychology, because of course I would want so badly to please him that wouldn’t quit until I was done. Well, that is not entirely true. I learned from experience, as well. It was those times when I “took a break”—AND FAILED TO GO BACK AND FINISH LATER that caused me to, once again, get the watermelon treatment.

Dad was astute. The fact that he only completed eighth grade is NOT to say that he was uneducated. Rarely did we college educated children and grandchildren win an argument with him about spelling or grammar. He didn’t know how to diagram sentences, or what all the rules were. He just had a natural knack for it. His competitiveness in Scrabble was well known. Since his passing, numerous people have recalled to me how they and their parents remembered him as a solid player and a fierce competitor. And the thing about Dad was that in any competition, because of his braggadocio behavior, it was fun to beat him, but almost as much fun to lose.

Speaking of being educated, it was not William F. Buckley or Milton Friedman or any of my business professors at the University of Puget Sound who taught me the difference between the major economic models of the world. IT WAS MY DAD. He told me that the Soviet Union would never defeat America, except maybe in a nuclear war, because their system robbed the people of their individual freedom and their incentive to get ahead.

And it was not CNN or NPR or even J. Vernon McGee who taught me the root causes of the strife in the Middle East. IT WAS MY DAD. Just 1/4 mile east of here, as we replaced a corner post back in 1967, he asked me if I was scared about what we were hearing on the news, about Israel being attacked by its Arab neighbors (The Six Day War). I said, “Yes, kind of.” In about 15 minutes, as he tamped the dirt around that railroad tie and attached the wires, he explained to me about the modern day nation of Israel and his understanding of Bible prophesy. In fifty years, I have found precious little to cause me to tweak the worldview I inherited from my dad.

Dad was a sportsman. I did not say he was an athlete. Anyone who thinks he may have been a natural born athlete never watched him bowl. I swear he slid the wrong foot every time, even on his strike balls. Yet he beat me regularly until well into his 70’s. He just had a knack for it. Even in pool, where his form was a little better, he had a way of achieving victory over more finesse players, as his grandson Timothy well knows. He regularly beat Timothy at pool. But then, again, pretty much everyone beats Timothy at pool.

Dad had a trait which is actually quite common among us Tieszen’s: the ability to be alone—to enjoy what we do whether or not anyone is with us. I have memories of calm summer Sunday mornings on the farm, waking up to the clink, clink of horse shoes hitting the stake. Four shoes this way, then four shoes that way. He just loved to play, competing with only himself.

Likability. Dad was shy by nature—public speaking was not something he relished—but he was very personable and at ease with himself in a small group. You all know that. He loved visiting and joking with people. The caretakers at St. John’s loved and appreciated that about him. His jokes were sometimes only funny to himself and his filters, even before senility, sometimes left a little to be desired, a trait that is apparently genetic.

I remember, again in my younger years, at a Toews family gathering, as a bunch of us cousins were roving around Glasgow, the topic of uncles came up. Someone said we should all name our favorite uncle. I was honestly shocked at how many said, “Uncle Willard.” It shocked me because I didn’t remember Dad ever interacting with some of these guys. But somehow he had made an impression on them. I do remember that it made me proud and I saw him in a different light after that. And I am not just saying this. I was really always proud that he was my dad.

Often when we older people speak of Dad and his tears, we think of the grief he endured. But I have three daughters who have a different recollection of his tears. They think of his boisterous, uncontrolled, shoulder-shaking laughter, usually at someone else’s expense, and the tears running down his cheeks. He thought he was so funny—and so did they!

Resiliency: The Billings years. Dad was nothing if not resilient. After leaving the farm and moving to Billings, he adjusted well to his new life. Actually, there were things about it that appealed to him more than farming had. He got a job at the Sorenson Feedlot south of Billings, managing the feed mill, and later, he worked for School District #2 in its supply warehouse. Though I was never comfortable with him having these jobs (they seemed beneath him somehow), he never complained. He seemed to like getting a regular paycheck and coming home early, leaving work at work.

He remarried and he and Jody had over thirty years together. Many of you were in their home. They and their blended family had many, many good times together. Thanksgivings and Christmases were a blast, as we held pool tournaments, played board games and ate huge meals. During the college years, there would sometimes be eight or ten cars at 3729 Heritage Drive and they all belonged to family. It looked like Grand Central Station. These were happy years. I am certain he would want me to tell you that.

Security. Security is a fragile thing. Whether in human relationships or in material wealth, what can take years to establish, can be crushed and destroyed in much less time, sometimes depending on circumstances beyond our control and sometimes depending upon the voices to which we listen. In Dad’s long life, he experienced wide swings in both categories—and at the hand of both causes. Dad takes with him to his grave today mysteries and secrets we would give anything to unlock. But we won’t. He also takes questions—theological questions about suffering and loss—to which he never did find answers. Now he has them.  However, his life, by example, offers us, his descendants, many lessons, if we will but learn from them.

“Oh, living Christ, shine forth and be a blazing warning by the sea,

A signal where the sailors cling to life through reefs of suffering,

And need the blast of light and bell:  beware, what here beneath may dwell.

Beware of subtle, shrewd assaults, a half truth may be wholly false.

Beware of wisdom made in schools and proverbs in the mouths of fools.

Beware of claims that rise too tall: “The upright stand and wicked fall.”

Beware the thought that all is vain; in time God’s wisdom will be plain.”

 

As 2017 opened, we knew the time would soon come for us to say “Goodbye” to our dad, father-in-law, uncle, and grandfather. That time has come.

“Dad, to you we say, ‘Goodbye. You were a very good man, and we salute you.’ ”  I will end with this, by John Piper, and urge us all to—

“Behold the mercy of our King, Who takes from death its bitter sting,

And paints with crimson earth and soul until the bloody work is whole.

What we have lost God will restore— that and Himself forevermore.

When He is finished with His art: the quiet worship of our heart.

When God creates a humble hush, and makes Leviathan his brush,

It won’t be long before the rod, becomes the tender kiss of God. *

 

*This and prior verses herein are taken from “The Misery of Job. The Mercy of God” by John Piper. This long poem has been very meaningful to me in the last ten years or so since my daughter, Jessica, gave it to me as Christmas present.

 

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Lexion is a Beast

The Lexion is a beast. On that there is no argument, though there may be a competitor or two that boast of comparable abilities.  He is the 21st century’s expression of a function that is as old as farming itself. He does nothing more than the slaves of Boaz did with scythe and threshing floor. But he does it faster. Incorporating computer technologies and engineering designs that are the pride of modern man, the Lexion has but one purpose—to harvest grain crops. I saw one work this week.IMG_2367

IMG_2378

A business partner and I visited our wheat farm in Montana at harvest. It was a great time spent with the farm family who grows the crops of which we boast. We rode in the cab of their gleaning machine, the value of which exceeds the average suburban home. The Lexion was showing off that day. Gulping in a thirty-six foot swath of ripened winter wheat, he hardly showed a strain. Hot dry weather his preferred climate, he was doing what he was created to do andIMG_2368

was doing it quickly. Three eighteen wheeled semis could just barely keep up hauling the wheat away from his discharge auger. We snapped pictures and quizzed the operator on all things wheat, but it was Lexion who was having a banner day. Lexion was king. The field belonged to him.

“The sky above the land of Uz
Could change the way the ocean does,
In minutes, with a boding wind,
As if the blue of day had sinned,
And brought the blood of some great saint
Upon the darkening east, the taint
Of some Leviathan upswirled
Beneath the waters of the world.”

We first noticed the husband and wife team checking their iPhones from time to time. Their weather apps were telling them that a large front was approaching, though only a few white puffy clouds populated the “blue and arching screen” above us and Lexion. But as the next few trucks rolled off the stubble and onto the dusty road, the first leg of their trip to the grain elevator, there was an unmistakable change occurring on the western horizon. IMG_2381Darkening clouds began coalescing and were soon marred with downward streaks of gray. The weather apps showed that the brunt of the storm was on a path to the south of us, but storms like this are unpredictable—we all knew that.

We were on the edge, it seemed, as the first large drops of ice cold rain splattered against the bug smeared windshields of the trucks in the field. In just a few long minutes the entire southern and eastern sky, from thousands of feet above us to the rolling hills beyond us turned into a curtain of grayish white. Truck drivers rolled the tarps over their grain trailers to keep the interiors dry. Windows in their cabs were closed tightly.IMG_2382

Under the great drama in the sky, at the far end of the wheat field, Lexion was now but a pebble. The massive movements of cloud, wind and water dwarfed him. Bravely he labored on as the rain increased, but the inevitable moment came. His operator pulled him out of the standing, waving wheat. Lexion, defeated, slinked to the edge of the field and bowed his head. His day was over.

As it turned out, we were lucky. Our field received but a couple of tenths of rain while others a few miles to the east received over an inch and further away some crops were lost with downpours of two to three inches with hail. Later that evening the same weather system dropped 110 mph microbursts of wind at the far end of the state, wreaking havoc on crops and buildings. Lexion finished our harvest unremarkably later in the week.

Those who know me well know of the profound affect a poem by John Piper entitled, “The Misery of Job, the Mercy of God” had on me a few years ago. I have committed a substantial part of it to memory. In it he describes Leviathan, the beast of the Book of Job, who brings suffering to man. He is powerful. He is unrelenting. Man is defenseless in the face of his attacks. The Book of Job is a record of a bantering debate between Job and his friends as to the source of Leviathan’s power and the nature of his intentions. Job argues that . . .

“God never laid aside the reins that lay against the neck of Satan, nor
unfenced his pen, to let him run at liberty, but only by the Lord’s decree.”

Rather, Job believes God uses Leviathan for His own purposes, and at just the right time, God strips him of his “camouflage of strength” and, without his knowing, makes him “serve the plans of humble righteousness.” In other words, Job says . . .

“The LORD has made me drink
The cup of His severity
That He might kindly show to me
What I would be when only He
Remains in my calamity.
Unkindly He has kindly shown
That he was not my hope alone.”

At the time of my writing today, we have loved ones who are suffering with diseases. A daughter weeps with the pain of infertility. A family whom we know mourns the loss of a twenty-two year old son who died this week of unknown causes while on a mission trip. Leviathan is loose. His crushing weight bears down and there is no escape. We are helpless. Lexion is no match for Leviathan.

As in the face of the summer storm that sidelined Lexion, we have but two options. We can shake our fist at the god of the torrent, with predictable negligible results, or we can bow our heads, take a knee and say, “My Lord and My God.” I have come to see that doing this is a discipline. It is not so much faith as pragmatism. Not so much religious emotion as rational, natural emotion. But yet it is my faith. It is my religion. It is my calling and my resolve. I will put my hope in Him alone.

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The Fourth Thing

Proverbs 30:18 “There are three things too amazing for me, four things that I do not understand.”

One of the reasons I know that the writer of Proverbs was much smarter than me is that my numbers have always seemed to be quite a bit higher than three and four. Happily, this morning those numbers went down by one.

In addition to the four things verse 19 lists as things not understood, I have never understood why someone like me, who does not know much about music and knows not one word of Italian, tears up when Pavarotti holds a high C. Why? Listening to his performance I cannot tell if his mother just died or his house burned down or someone keyed his Mercedes, but when he hits the high C, I lose it.

But today I ran across this:

“Tenor high C’s are scattered throughout the opera literature. Sometimes tenors transpose the aria down slightly or drop an octave, other times they fake it and edge into falsetto voice, where it is easier to sing. Just as often, they hit it, and hold it, and that moment is one of the most exciting in an opera house. It is moments like those when opera, in addition to the aesthetic joys and emotional satisfactions, can seem like a spectator sport or a circus high-wire act. They’re times when opera audiences cheer or jeer. But the high C has a more visceral, spine-tingling lure.

‘The reason it’s so exciting to people is, it’s based on the human cry,’ said Maitland Peters, chairman of the voice department at the Manhattan School of Music. ‘It’s instinctual. It’s like a baby. You’re pulled into it.’ When a tenor sings a ringing high C, it seems, ‘there’s nothing in his way,’ Mr. Peters said.”

So, I am not alone. Apparently, my phenomenon is widely understood. It is just that up until now I was in the dark. It was just one of those questions I have always wondered about but never got around to asking. It was a private mystery.

There is more. There is this about the high C:

“Being able to hit the note consistently, in the context of a moving line and with a ringing, beautiful sound, requires talent, but also technique.”

“Mr. Peters, of the Manhattan School, said the chest voice, the strongest source of sound, and the head voice, where the sound vibrates in the head’s cavities, must be perfectly balanced. The base of the tongue, the jaw, the larynx must all lie in just the right position, unrestricted by tension.”

“Mr. Pavarotti once described the feeling this way: ‘Excited and happy, but with a strong undercurrent of fear. The moment I actually hit the note, I almost lose consciousness. A physical, animal sensation seizes me. Then I regain control.’ ”

Wow! What a way to describe the affect music done well has on us. I think I am beginning to get it. Excited. Happy. With an undercurrent of fear. Nearly unconscious.

And I think I am beginning to get a clearer picture of heaven. Heaven is me, holding a high C!

Note: Quotations are from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/09/weekinreview/09wakin.html

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Hiatus

Every winter our local church holds a weekend men’s retreat.  On Saturday morning before breakfast I have fallen into the habit of giving a short devotional.  Delivered with men in mind, I usually try to use a hook to which most can relate.  I will share this year’s here with hopes other men will identify with it and join their own church men’s group.

“Our devotional this morning is comprised of a word study.  The word is: hi-a’-tus.  What is a hiatus? Most would say it is a break in work, like a sabbatical, and it is often used as a synonym that way.

Others, like medical people, would be correct in describing a hiatus as a gap or hole. For example, holes in our bones through which blood vessels and nerves pass are called a hiatuses, as are the fissures between bone plates in our skulls.

In real estate, too, the word hiatus has a few unique meanings. These are of special interest to me, as you can imagine, and I would like us to concentrate on these meanings this morning. A favorite quote from one of my favorite books, James Michner’s, Centennial, is this: “Men who love land, study maps.” The statement may not be all that profound, but it certainly rings my bell to think of men through the ages running their fingers across maps of oceans, plains and mountain ranges and tapping their index fingers hard on specific points, plotting their plans, their hopes and their dreams.

A hiatus in real estate is portion of land, usually a sliver or wedge, formed by erroneous surveying techniques sometime in the past. It is piece of ground that has ill defined borders and, thus, not clearly owned by anyone; but, naturally, claimed by landowners on both sides. These hiatuses are the results of mistakes made by surveyors in an earlier time, the mistakes due to faulty instruments or sheer incompetence on the part of the original land surveyors. There is no question that rough terrain and a thick land cover of brush and trees contributed to their errors. But if you ask an experienced land surveyor in a western state today, he may tell you by name which of the original government Land Surveyors in his area had a drinking problem. Mistakes were many and are a source of frustration today, as historic property lines are not where they should be. A common hiatus occurred when the surveyor did not get his degrees just right. I know of one hiatus that came about because the direction of the property line was off by just a hair—but it went on for 50 miles. An inch gap in the beginning became three miles wide at the end. An Indian tribe and the state have been in court for years to resolve the issue, with no resolution is in sight.

Throughout history, hiatus properties or territories have been known as “no man’s land”.  One well known no-mans-land in U.S. history is the Oklahoma panhandle. When Texas applied for statehood in 1845, it didn’t really care about its northern border beyond the Red River, so it rather arbitrarily drew the line at 36’ 30” degrees latitude.  It gladly let the federal government have everything north of that.  Later, in 1861, when Kansas was applying for statehood and its borders were being discussed, it would have been natural to have its southern border run across the top of Texas.  But someone wisely observed that that region was a Comanche hunting ground.  No one was interested in stirring up a hornet’s nest there, so the southern border of Kansas was drawn 34 ½ miles north.  The land between Texas and Kansas was left to the Indians and whatever criminals, debtors, free-range cowboys and nare-do-wells dared camp there.  The Panhandle would not be tamed until the state of Oklahoma entered the Union forty years later.

Our text this morning is Psalms 142. But, seriously, this chapter doesn’t mean a lot to us until we are familiar with I Samuel 22. We find there an example of a hiatus, or a no-man’s-land. This is the chapter that tells of David escaping from King Saul. No place in his home country was safe for him, so he went to the hill country of Adullum. Adullum was a no-man’s-land between the Israelites and the Philistines. It was where as a young boy David had killed the giant, Goliath, and had become a national hero. But now he was in a cave there, feeling very alone. I Samuel does not tell us how he felt—Psalms 142 does. It was apparently written while he was in a cave.

Reading from Psalms 142:1-4

“I cry aloud with my voice to the Lord; 
I make supplication with my voice to the Lord.  I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him.

When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, You knew my path. In the way where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.

 I look to the right and see there is no one who regards me;
There is no escape for me; 
No one cares for my soul.”

“I look to the right, and no one regards me,” he says, or, pays attention to me, or walks in my shoes, or understands me. “I look to the right and no one regards me.”

What does he mean by that?  I believe there are a couple of possibilities:

Here is one. Looking out from his cave entrance, to the left were the coastal plains of the enemy Philistines; to the right, his homeland, the Kingdom of Israel. But he could not see a familiar face there. He could not trust anyone because Saul, the incumbent King in Israel, was trying to kill him. He felt alienated from his own people. We might wonder why, because hadn’t the people turned against Saul and thrown their support to David? Yes, they had. But incumbency has its advantages. Saul and his special-op soldiers were hunting David with the intent of killing him, and, similar to the situation during the Iraq War, when any Iraqi citizen who cooperated with the Americans was asking for a death sentence if and when Al Qaida returned, it was not safe for anyone in Israel to associate openly with David. David knew that he had his supporters—people who had turned against Saul—but he could not walk around freely among them. He had to duck and dart incognito.  He was never sure whom he could trust. He surrounded himself by what one commentator describes as a rag-tag militia, a band of about 400 criminals, debtors and nair-do-wells, similar to those who lived between Texas and Kansas. In his cave in the Adullum hiatus, when he looked to the right, he felt very alone.

Further, there is quite possibly a more specific implication of “I look to my right and no regards me.” In other psalms that he authored, David often refers to his right side as a place of honor, or a place of power and authority. For example, in Psalms 16:8 he writes:

“I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”

Jesus Himself used it in this way. In Matthew 22:44, Jesus says,

“The LORD said unto my Lord, ‘Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool’ ”

It is the contrast that is notable here. The connotation of what the “right hand” means is definitely different.

So what does David mean when he says, “I look to my right and no one regards me?” It may be a reference to the Hebrew judicial system where, from the standpoint of the accused, his accuser stood on his left and his defender, or his defense attorney, stood to his right. He is saying here, however, that, when, in his trouble, he looked to his right, no one was there. It was like his defense attorney had left town. The one in whom he had confided was no longer interested in him (vs 3), or so he felt. There, in the hiatus, he felt vulnerable and alone.

What can we take from this story? And how might it apply to us men here this weekend?

I believe there is a lesson here for us.  The more we get to know other men well, the more we understand that many men—Christian men—spend a lot of time in no-man’s-land.

What do I mean by that? I mean that there are many men who are believers but who do not feel confident in their faith. For a myriad of reasons—maybe because their wives are the spiritual leaders in their homes and they feel ashamed about that, or it may be because of secret sins—they don’t feel particularly comfortable around other men of the church once they get outside the Worship Center. Because of their Christian convictions, however, they do not to turn left, to the unbelieving world, and away from their familiar home, which is the church. But yet they feel when they turn to their right, to their own homeland, the church, they feel somehow alone and out of place. I believe we all feel that way sometimes. I confess to feeling this way at times, and I’ll bet most of you do as well.

We feel, deep down in the privacy of our own souls, that our lives are so unique, so different than others, our thoughts so personal that no one else could really indentify with us, or we with them. Or we may feel that we are not respected and/or appreciated the way we’d like to be, so we seek refuge . . . in no man’s land.  Hey, is this not where we often live?

But a hiatus is a lonely place. Few men really like to live there, but they feel they have no other options—like the squatters of the Oklahoma panhandle or the men of the Adullum militia. For whatever reason, they feel like they must dwell there, and the fact is, while they are not really “unchurched,” they are not really part of it either, in terms of the living organism we call the small “c” church.

This is where Men’s Ministry has a role to play—and it brings me to a second vocabulary word: Charitas. Cha’rit-as. Very simply, it is the Latin word for charity.

Thomas Aquinas, an Italian Catholic priest in the 13th century, understood charitas to be a natural outgrowth or a result of a friendship with God. A later writer added,

“Ultimately, the study of Scripture together leads to deepened friendship with one another. In that space, we learn to cultivate more genuine depths of safe intimacy with one another, not merely for our own sakes but for the sake of the One (Jesus) who first called us friends and never sent his disciples out alone.”

Men’s Ministry strives to be that place. That place where, like the theme of the TV show Cheers says, “where everybody knows your name.” And like the song implies, it is a place to get to know one another well, just by hanging out and doing manly things together. It is NOT comprised only of victorious, bold and beautiful men. It is made up simply of men of the church, many of whom struggle with a form of spiritual insecurity, but who have nevertheless answered the call to come out of no-man’s-land.

Men’s Ministry is not a service club, though we do serve from time to time.  It is not a mentoring organization, though we do intentionally spend constructive time with kids and younger men.  It is merely a congregating of God-fearing men who study the Word. And there are huge benefits to that, the most obvious being that when, as men making our way through this oftentimes confusing world, when our fears materialize and our insecurities mobilize . . .when we look to our right, we see a band of brothers there.

Our chapter 142 ends with this, in vs.7:

“Bring my soul out of prison, (or out of no-man’s-land),
 so that I may give thanks to Your name;
 The righteous will surround me,
 For You will deal bountifully with me.”

That is what this weekend is about. We have come away for 24 hours to study hard and to find, with each other, a common bond.  May we, in the coming months, leave our hiatus and move toward charitas as we study and serve together.”

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Are you a Liberal Christian? I Don’t Think So

Recently I took issue with a favorite Bible teacher of mine on Facebook for saying that he thinks conservative Christians made a mistake by “aligning” itself with a political party. I countered that just because some pollsters identified Christian voters as a voting block, did not honestly confirm wholesale collusion with a political party. It simply meant that Christians had gotten involved in the political process and supported the party which gave their issues legitimate air time and which used its clout to further an agenda of their liking. That is called citizenship, no more.

But a good friend of mine objected to my objection. He defended liberal Christians who have apparently been made to feel like lesser Christians because they are liberal. I then challenged him to point out specific issues that would tend to attract a believer in God and the Bible toward the liberal rather than the conservative side of politics. To my surprise, he did. I was surprised he did because a challenge like this usually results in being called names and/or being “unfriended”—certainly “unfollowed” on Facebook. Hats off to you, good friend!

Here are my responses to his six points:

(Name), I appreciate your taking a stab at this. I will respond to each or your points individually. One impression jumps out immediately. Who are you allowing to define terms for you? It appears you have adopted some definitions from Bill Mahr or somebody. If that is the case . . . if you let the over-the-top liberals define conservatism for you then, yes, I’ll have trouble arguing you out of them. But let me try. You said, Liberal Christians believe in . . .

1)   Community sharing of resources. They don’t prefer the “every man for himself” conservative view. They view higher taxes as a voluntary forced thing.

Answer #1: Every man for himself, huh. That’s the conservative view? Where do you get that? From the emphasis we put on personal responsibility? Yes, the conservative stresses personal responsibility, both in terms on lessening his burden upon his community, and for personally taking care of his brother or sister who, for whatever reason, cannot take care of himself/herself. That comes from the parable of the Good Samaritan, where the Samaritan came upon a beat up man and cared for him PERSONALLY, with his own time and with his own (hoarded) resources. That is the conservative way. The liberal way would have been for him to run to town, demand that the town leaders send someone out there to help him, confiscate some funds from the townspeople—some of which would be used to meet the victims medical needs and the rest, well, nobody knows where it went, but its gone. We suspect some of it might have gone to raise more money to pass a law against beating up people on the road. That is liberal compassion.

Answer #2: You said, “They view higher taxes as a forced voluntary thing.”

OK, assuming I can get over the “forced voluntary” concept, let me ask you this: how high should taxes be? The major cities of the US, and I mean ALL of them, New York City, Chicago, etc. were built with taxes of 1% to 2%. If they had been any higher, the people would have rebelled. This city building occurred when politicians were community leaders and required by their constituents to be conservative money managers. Today, it takes 8-10% taxes just to maintain the status quo—and many of them are still nearly broke. I think we could agree on a couple causes: a) our societal fabric is in tatters, which has left so many people with so many needs, and b) city leaders—we would say liberal leaders—have irresponsibly shackled their cities with so much debt they can hardly breath. The conservative view—do more with less and do it with what you have wisely hoarded for a rainy day. The liberal approach—promise the moon and confiscate whatever you have to later on to keep those promises. All this, without even mentioning that the reason the social fabric is in tatters is greatly the result of an abandonment of conservative principles of sexual morality, personal responsibility and Christian compassion.

2) Believe in systems that discourage excess hoarding of money/resources by    individuals or corporations.

Answer: Have you ever seen the Phil Donahue/Milton Freedmen interview?   Classic! Phil asked how anyone can support a system built on greed. Milton challenges him to name a system not built on greed. Is socialism not built on greed? It sure is. Is communism built on greed? Of course it is. Every economic system known to man is built on greed. But the beauty of the free market system is that every person is able to make their own decisions IN THEIR OWN SELF INTEREST and the end result is everyone benefits, though some more than others. But the end result is a higher standard of living for everyone. The liberal systems based on forced sharing and confiscation drive the masses into poverty and the leaders into becoming dictators. But somehow, liberals are still able to convince people if they tax themselves a little more (under the guise of taking it from the other fella) their lives will be better. History proves otherwise.

Secondly, what is hoarding? I think the way liberals use it (and you have here) reveals a profound lack of understanding of how economics works. What is hoarding? Do you think money in the bank just sits there? The beauty of our capitalistic system, thanks in large part to Alexander Hamilton, the money in the bank, whether it is owned by people or corporations is leveraged to provide goods and services to the entire system. Remember the old classic “It’s a Wonderful Life”? The money put in the bank as savings by John Q. Public is loaned out to you and me in the form of mortgages to buy homes and start businesses. Whether borrower, lender or saver, we all participate by using those same dollars over and over. The same principle was very well illustrated in the old movie, Mary Poppins, with the six-pence, or whatever. That stuff is really true. But, oh, yes, there will be some “hoarders” who will have a more enviable standard of living, but to think the rest of us will improve our lot by taking what they have is not grounded in fact. It is grounded in envy—and Jesus had something to say about that, did he not?

3) “Do not kill” They have a high view of life and are less willing to have people killed for theoretical “saving of more lives”.

Answer: I assume you are talking about the “no war” thing the liberals pull out when life gets really hard and the bad guys get the upper hand. I have written a long article, now on this blog, about this so I will not reiterate it here. In a nutshell, I make the point that liberals are being disingenuous about not wanting people to die. Sure, they wish it didn’t have to happen, but so do conservatives. The debate is over who should die and when. The point can quite easily be made that pursuing “no war” policies eventually leads to way MORE people dying. The post is called “My Mennonite Heritage and Why There Are No War Memorials In Lustre”.

4) “Do not judge” More willing to suspend personal judgement in favor of God’s judgement. More fearful of sinful human judgements.

Answer: (Name), this one hurts and surprises me. Do you really think that liberals are less personally judgmental than conservatives? Really? Have you ever heard of Michelle Bachman, or Sarah Palin, or George W. Bush. To say that liberals are into “Do not judge”, well, I don’t know what to do with that. And “More willing to suspend personal judgment in favor of God’s judgment” is a contradiction in terms. First, a true liberal does not recognize a moral authority higher than himself. That is why it is a misnomer to use the term Christian liberal, but I know that you and others like to make a distinction between a political liberal and a classic liberal, which can be Christian somehow. These Christian liberals like to say conservatives are being judgmental when they take a stand against obvious infractions against God’s moral law, but then give themselves a lot of slack when THEY judge people for being judgmental. And they are every bit as mean-spirited and unloving in so doing. I don’t buy the liberals are kind, conservatives are mean mantra. I have seen just the opposite, but I would be the last to crow about it. Which is another good point in itself: Why do liberals always make sure everyone knows how compassionate they are, while real compassionate people (like Mitt Romney) just do compassionate things without putting up billboards. True conservatives just DO IT, and don’t crow about it.

5) Believe that giving resources is more effective than withholding resources, that is the pattern that Jesus demonstrated.

Answer: I agree the giving resources in more effective that withholding. But how did that get into a discussion of liberal vs. conservative? If you are implying that liberals are more generous, have I got news for you! It has been demonstrated over and over, through polling data and IRS reporting, that on a personal basis, conservatives are far more generous than liberals. See item 1 above. By mentioning this here, (Name), I am sorry to draw the conclusion that you are accepting some very questionable stereotypes—stereotypes intentionally promoted by people with devious intentions. Liberals are NOT, by any reasonable standard, more generous than conservatives.

6) Christian liberals most definitely are pro-life and mostly do not want same-sex “marriages”, however the above beliefs and more outweigh these concerns. Most likely they see themselves as reformers in their party on these issues.

Answer: “Christian liberals are most definitely pro-life” ???? Ok, it is Missouri “show me” time. There is only one party that has abortion rights on its platform, and nearly at the TOP of its priority list, and its not the Tea Party or even the Republican party. It is the party that liberal Christians support hands down. There have been only two or three U.S. Senators in the history of our nation who have made speeches in support of third trimester abortions on demand, regardless of reason. When one of these senators ran for President, liberal Christians (boy, is it ever hard for me to use that term) endorsed and voted for him nearly unanimously. Pro-life liberal Christians? If they exist its time for them to come out of the weeds and show themselves. You cannot reform anything if you’re hiding under the bleachers at the convention.

Ditto gay marriage.

In conclusion, I do not really blame Christians who want to avoid the negative labels our culture puts on them. But I believe it is to take the easy way out to disassociate with your brothers and sisters in the Lord, in hopes that the same culture at large will give you a clean slate personally. You can reinvent yourself as many times as you like, but as soon as enemies of the Gospel catch a wiff of your allegiance to a supernatural God, one who has something to say about how you live, down in the soup you’ll go with the rest of us. Discipleship has never been easy. Labels recycle quite quickly.

I have found it is best to just ignore the labels put us.

For more information of the roots of liberalism, read, “Ten Men Who Rule the World from the Grave” by David Breese.

Posted in Faith and Church, Friends with an Impact | Leave a comment

Black Pride and the Cultural Elitists

I am a conservative. I believe that a man should protect his spouse and his children to the death and dismemberment. I am a conservative. I believe a loving father should spank his children at a young age when they are defiant in order to mold their character and to teach them the high value of deferring to those in legitimate authority. However, when unloving parents spank their children, I believe it can become child abuse. I am a conservative championing family values. I am against child abuse.

But, as a conservative, I also believe in judging a man on the content of his character, not the color of his skin,  though that is very difficult in today’s media overloaded society.  Therefore, I will not judge Adrian Peterson on the basis of the bruises on his son’s body. Mr. Peterson claims what he did is commonplace in the black community and an accepted form of of discipline. He says he is a better man because of his own whippings.  I have not lived in the black community so I will not judge that either.

I do know something about white liberal do-gooders, however. They are the ones who have been lecturing America for about forty years on its need to respect the black community for what it is in its own right, rather than what it looks like super imposed over white society.  This may be where the rubber meets the road.  If Mr. Peterson loves his son, and was disciplining him according to common practices of his community with the intent of making his child a better person, I will take his word for it.  I will give him the benefit of the doubt, though there are some unanswered questions to be sure.  It is time now to wait and let the zealous, liberal social activists show us how much black pride they really have.  If they condemn Peterson, they condemn themselves; for if they condemn Peterson for his disciplinary methods (which are apparently acceptable in the black community),  are they not saying that their own methods of discipline and societal views are superior to those of  the black community?  How judgmental is that?  Should not black leaders like Al Sharpton rise up and defend Peterson, and call his critics racists?  They must!

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Not to Decide is to Decide

People always say it is not right to score political points in the aftermath of a great tragedy. That is why the left constrained itself from blaming the Oklahoma City bombing on the right wing and why it didn’t blame Sarah Palin for the Gabby Gifford shooting. But I am going to break the tradition by saying that the ISIS crisis in Iraq is a watershed moment for US liberals. Do we really desire a world without a western superpower which can reach out and smash evil like what is going on in Iraq and Syria? Will the world be a better place without a US military complex that supports the ability of a free people to go anywhere in the world to keep the peace and defend the weak with military might? What has, in the end, been accomplished by Obama’s squandering the blood shed in Iraq by American and allied servicemen since 9/11? By walking away and abruptly changing US policy simply because he personally thought Iraq was “the wrong war,” has he made the world a safer place? Parents of beheaded children in Iraq will have the last word on this in my view. American liberals and libertarians need to spend some time, THIS WEEK, doing some deep soul searching.

Posted in Letters to the Editor | Leave a comment