What's up with God?

Is there a God?

I do not arbitrarily accept the existence of God—nor, in fact, do I believe in a God—and I also am not compelled to attempt to figure out the mechanics of the spiritual universe. In fact, probably no such thing exists. I do not engage in discussions about the origin of matter, which is the primary argument true believers use to make the point that an everlasting God created it out of nothing—wherever nothing come from. I certainly have given up trying to figure out where this everlasting God—if he exists—got his start.

Oh, I believed in God and sins and punishment and a blistering eternity in hell when I was younger. But, I have to tell you, I’ve reached the conclusion that it is all a bunch of rationalization designed to give structure and comfort and hope to people’s lives. And hey, that’s great, “God” knows we need all of those things we can get. I may as well tell you I don’t believe in evil either. Oh, I am well aware there are people who are serially sadistic, unmercifully violent and malevolently dangerous to everyone with whom they come in contact. I don’t believe they are evil in the biblical sense of the word. I do believe that with a bit different hardwiring coupled with learning an alternate set of values early on in life, there but for the grace of “God” would go me.

I am like everyone else in that I hope to walk into the bright light to be greeted by my loved ones when I die. I would also, perhaps more than anything, like to be assured of retaining my own identity, my “me,” after I die.

I have no idea if the lights simply go out after death and that’s it, or if our life-energy is recycled and we are transformed into a newborn bird or green plant or a form of life on a different planet. No one knows and any theory is just as good as another.

I once read that the atoms of the entirety of our earth and what we observe of the trillions of planets we can see and imagine could all be contained in the head of a pin in a larger universe, and that larger universe in one larger still and so on and on. That theory, of course, boggles the mind and leads to insanity, impotence or at least insomnia if you don’t strangle it immediately.

Not to come off as new age, but I do believe in positive energy and negative energy since they are proven commodities in the universe. I believe constructive thoughts and actions benefit me and those around me and destructive thoughts and actions are detrimental to all concerned. I try to live by those standards.

Simply put, we don’t know enough to know anything. Maybe death will give us some answers but somehow I don’t think so.

Born Again

He acts on his beliefs

Diagnosed with cancer and facing immediate treatment that would be time consuming and produce noticeable physical changes, I notified my boss that I intended to continue working throughout the treatment. He expressed the company’s support and I began treatment. As my appearance changed it became public knowledge I was undergoing treatment for cancer. After some initial well-wishing by my colleagues, things settled down and it became business as usual.That is, except for one person, a born-again and devout Christian. John was a middle manager who, early in his career, played as hard in his personal life as he worked in his professional one. Eventually, after several divorces, legal problems and chronic alcoholism came close to destroying his life completely, John, as they say, got religion. Most people know someone—who, to one extent or the other—has become a believer. Some of these recent converts turn their lives around for the better while others simply talk a good game and attempt to impose their new religion on everyone in sight. In fact, the term “born again” has become almost one of derision.

John, on the other hand, did turn his life around. Granted, he was so far down in the gutter that he had to look up to see the bottom, but he could have easily stayed there and just quietly disappeared.

Instead, “something” or someone motivated him into a series of decisions that led to his being “born again.” He joined AA and while he experienced the same ups and downs as many others, he eventually stayed sober. He was influenced in particular by a devoutly religious supervisor in the company where we worked. For whatever combination of reasons, John “got religion” and he got it completely.

He did not make a big thing of it, but it was so obvious in his every action that his fellow workers did treat it with at least a degree of amusement.

As I mentioned earlier, I was taking cancer treatments and my physical appearance showed it. One day, John stopped by my office and asked if he could pray for me. I am not a religious person, but I liked John so I said yes and thanked him. Well, I had no idea he meant right then and there until he closed my door and pulled up a chair next to me. My window blinds were open giving everyone in the office a clear view. I was mildly embarrassed but bowed my head when John asked and allowed him to take my hands in his. He prayed fervently and out loud for maybe two minutes, at which point he stood up, thanked me and left. John stopped in regularly during my treatment and we prayed together. My office mates were sympathetic with my efforts to accommodate John’s prayer sessions, assuming I was simply “being nice.” In a way, I suppose I was.

However, I was also struck by the fact that for whatever reason, this man had managed to rescue himself—personally and professionally—from a situation that had doomed so many others.

Maybe it was God; I’m not religious and don’t have any idea.

However, John not only believed but he knew in his heart that it was God and that knowledge saved him. That was enough for him and became enough for me. I accepted John’s prayers without embarrassment and on some level believe they helped me as he intended.

The tent meeting

Old time religion

  From the age of nine, I stayed with my grandparents during most of the summer every year as I was growing up. They lived in Irving, Texas, a very small rural community outside of Dallas. They weren’t really farmers, but they had a huge truck garden and chicken house on their property. Much of the produce from the truck garden was meticulously chopped, seasoned, cooked and canned by my grandmother and put away into the canning closet for later consumption.

A good part of it was traded for goods or services between neighbors. The eggs and chickens from the chicken house were traded for fresh churned butter or cuts of pork from a local producer on the edge of town. Of course, we had eggs every morning for breakfast and chicken for dinner at least once or twice a week.

So, over all, summer life in Irving was about as different from that in Dallas as you can imagine. For that reason, I loved it.

One summer when I was eleven years old, my grandpa announced that we were going to take a drive outside of town after supper. I didn’t know why and didn’t ask, but I was pleasantly surprised when we pulled through the gates of a ranch, and after parking along with others in a field, walked over to a corral where a rodeo was in process. Of course, the rodeo was made up of neighboring ranchers who had brought their livestock over to put on a show.

The rodeo drew a huge crowd from around the county and when it was over, I thought it was time to go home. I was surprised when, along with everyone else, we tromped across the field to where a large tent was erected and an endless number of chairs were arranged in rows. Despite this, the chairs filled up quickly and many people crowded into the tent to stand in the back, along the sides and in the aisle.

I didn’t know it then, but the rodeo was the entertainment and part of the draw for the “tent meeting” that followed. The whole universe, as far as I knew, was of the Baptist faith. The traveling tent meeting was from somewhere down around Houston and the show started up immediately.

The music was loud, the hymns were energetic and both were accompanied by foot stomping and shouting worshippers. When everyone was worked up into a frenzy, a tall black-suited man ran out onto a small stage and began gesturing and shouting and thrusting a white-covered bible over his head.

I was caught up in everything going on around me and remember being a little frightened by it all. The fright didn’t last, however, as I quickly tired out and fell asleep with my head in my grandma’s lap.

Neighbors dropped by almost every evening as we sat in the yard or on the porch eating apples, which we sprinkled with salt before every bite.

The conversation for the rest of that summer centered round the “tent meeting” and every evening after I got tired eating apples and chasing lightening bugs, I went to sleep listening to the endless reviews of the “tent meeting.”


Comfort through God

Pastor Bishop's compassion

In 1951, I was eight-years-old. An incident occurred in the summer of that year that has stayed with me ever since. I was attending Vacation Bible School at my Baptist Church—a three week affair—where we studied the bible and performed activities designed to reinforce biblical teachings. Vacation Bible School was attended by boys only and the days were well-planned and organized with one event following the other. Every one of my friends thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.

The incident I mentioned that occurred in the summer of that year happened as lunch was being served. While I was sitting down at the picnic table and laughing and talking with several friends, I noticed a car speed up and park in front of the church. As soon as the car jerked to a stop, the front doors on each side popped open. Two women—one young and one older—erupted from the vehicle and took off at a half-lope on a direct line with the picnic tables where us boys were eating lunch.

I remember being immediately scared because of the obvious urgency of the women’s approach. Also, both women were in extreme agitation, crying and jerking their heads back and forth, frantically looking for Pastor Bishop. The Pastor was serving Kool-aid to several boys and didn’t see the ladies hurtling toward him. He barely had time to register their approach before both women were in his arms, their faces buried in his shoulders.

The boys around me went dead silent and I could immediately see that others were concerned if not outright afraid. There is something about adults losing control that upsets young kids. Pastor Bishop was a relatively young man and this was his first church. He was barely able to control the ladies much less console them, especially when the younger woman collapsed to her knees.

At this point, several of the younger boys started to cry and the older ones were riveted in position. Fortunately, the Pastor was able to lift the young woman to her knees and gently maneuver them into the church.

We boys were left to our own devices and after a few minutes resumed our lunch. Frankly, I don’t remember much about how the remainder of the day played out; I remember the part about the two ladies—and what occurred afterwards.

I remember getting home and telling my mother what happened. She immediately went to the telephone and after only a few moments identified the two ladies and the cause of their flight to the church. My mother told me that Mrs. Roberts’s husband was killed-in-action in Korea and that both her and her mother-in-law were seeking comfort in the Lord through Pastor Bishop.

Since I had observed what I did, my father thought it best for me to attend the funeral with him and mother. I barely remember the sermon other than everyone was crying. I do remember the two ladies were with their large families and were attended to throughout the ceremony by Pastor Bishop.

I will always remember viewing Corporal Roberts in his uniform lying in the coffin and I will always remember young Pastor Bishop shifting gears from conducting Vacation Bible School to comforting two bereaved women through God.

Preacher Riley's Sunday Circuit

He gave them what they needed

As a boy growing up in Dallas, Texas, I sometimes skipped my home church on Sunday and instead accompanied my friend and his father—a self-ordained preacher—to one of the small churches he made a circuit of on the Sabbath. Preacher Riley, as he was known, was welcome at the small “Hard Shell Baptist” and “Primitive Baptist” Churches because of the manner in which he was seized with the spirit when called upon to preach.

And he was a sight to behold, a regular force of nature behind the pulpit. Thunder issued from his throat and lightning crackled from his eyes. He danced around behind the pulpit while throwing his hands wildly in the air—one of which always clutched a large bible. At times he stopped dead and flipped frantically through the bible, concentrating mightily with his nose in the good book until finding an obscure reference to substantiate a point in his sermon; whereupon he then shouted out and waved the bible about like the jawbone of an ass; all the while looking heavenward, crying unabashedly and thanking the Lord profusely.

Preacher Riley would leap from the pulpit from time to time with his arms outstretched, striding manically down the aisle between the pews. Suddenly, like divining rods, one outstretched hand or the other would point at a congregant, who instantly cowered in the hard wooden pew.

Reverend Riley would then preach over the man or woman, drawing out the devil and entreating the wretched sinner to testify to their transgressions of the previous week. Seized with the spirit of the encounter and his status as the center of attention, the sinner would usually offer up all manner of thoughts and actions for which he was repentant. He and Preacher Riley would kneel and loudly pray together entreating the Lord for forgiveness. Eventually, the entire congregation joined in and prayed with them until the Lord heard and forgave.

Preacher Riley was always showered with invitations for Sunday dinner and I always ate great when I traveled with my friend and him. During the week, Riley Watson worked at a furniture company, had a real problem with the bottle and was regularly carted away by the Dallas police for charges of domestic violence. But on Sunday, Preacher Riley was sober, focused and filled with the spirit. He put everything he had into what he did and for one day a week was a man to be reckoned with.

Baptist Bible School--1940's and 50's

The Will of the Lord

In previous blogs I have described a great deal of the experiences I had growing up as a member of a “Hard Shell” Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. From “testifying” to “feeling the call”, I have talked about the different practices of the church. One of those practices still generates very fond memories for me. Every summer, in August, my church conducted a four week long vacation Bible School.

In Dallas, the month of August is hotter than a two dollar pistol at a shooting match, and except for an outdoor activity or two, vacation bible school was conducted in the church’s air-conditioned meeting rooms.

Every day for a month, we kids—boys only, no girls attended Bible School--walked to the church where we arrived at 10:00AM and stayed through 3:00PM. We got Kool-Aid twice a day and a sandwich and apple for lunch at noon. At that time kids didn’t simply walk to the refrigerator and casually grab a soft drink; the Kool-Aid was a real treat!

Even better was the delicious cold air in the classrooms. We had an evaporative water cooler in one window—it was called a “swamp cooler” back then—and in the muggy August heat it simply wouldn’t cool and so was not ever turned on.

We played outside twice during the day and were inside the remainder of the time. That wonderful refrigerated air was a luxury we loved and hated to give up every day at 3:00PM when Bible School let out.

The pastor, whom I remember perfectly to this day, taught us—our church was small—and he brought the bible to life as he extolled the virtues of good and evils of sin. It’s a good thing the rooms were air-conditioned because it helped keep us awake and on our toes when the pastor asked questions about his teachings and demanded answers. This was not a passive exercise like a sermon; he actually did his best to drive the will of the Lord into our souls.

I remember those summer days and the simple pleasures they brought us.


Spotlight on Francesca Battistelli

Christian artist Francesca Battisetelli has made quite a name for herself in a very short amount of time. In 2008 when she was only 19 years old she released her first solo album “My Paper Heart”. Since that time, she has released another record titled “Another Hundred Year.” Both of these albums produced singles that received a high amount of airplay on Christian radio stations, and Battistelli won Dove Awards in 2010 and 2011 as a result.

Francesca is married to another Christian artist-Matthew Godwin of Newsong. The two were married in August 2009, and Francesca gave birth to their son a little over a year later. She is currently expecting the couple’s second child.  The joy of motherhood led her to give an interview speaking about the first time she saw her son. It’s called “Every Life is Beautiful” and was recorded by the producer of “October Baby”. While the interview doesn’t specifically address abortion, it is nonetheless sends a positive message to women who may be concerned about an unwanted pregnancy.

Francesca was able to make the announcement about her first pregnancy at the Dove awards. When she was declared the winner in the female vocalist category, she and her husband went onstage together to accept the award and give her fans the good news.  She decided not to find out the sex of her child until he was born. It’s not certain if the same holds true for this baby, but if Francesca and Matthew do know the baby’s gender, for now they are keeping this fact a secret.

Right to Wear Crosses Being Challenged

A European court is scheduled to hear arguments concerning a Christian’s right to wear a cross at work. This case will be held by the European Court of Human Rights and will interpret Article 9 which deals with people’s thought, ideas, and religions. It is expected to be a landmark case with far-reaching effects.

The suit is being brought by two women who were separately discriminated against by their employers because they were wearing a cross at their workplace. Nadia Eweida is an employee of British Airways who was suspended in 2006 for refusing to take off a cross. Eweida refused because she claimed that members of other religious faiths were allowed to wear symbols of their beliefs. British Airways has since changed its dress code and no longer allows this.

Shirley Chaplin is a nurse who was asked to either take off her cross or hide it underneath her uniform. She refused, and was banned from working on hospital wards as a result. Since she was unable to work in these areas, her nursing career basically came to a halt as a result of her stand.

Many high officials are speaking out in favor of the Christians. Lord Carey has been very vocal about these women’s rights, claiming that the government is acting as a dictator when it comes to people expressing their Christian faith. Attorneys for the government are arguing that since wearing a cross is not a requirement of Christianity, the right to do so is therefore not protected under Article 9 of the European Court of Human Rights.

See You at the "Y"

Young Men's Christian Association

For over 150 years, American youths from many different socio or economic walks of life, different religions or none at all, regardless of their age, have sung out to friends as the school bell rang or the time clock approached 5:00PM; “See you at the Y”!

The YMCA or Young Men’s Christian Association has been a gathering place offering full facilities to socialize, play basketball, swim or participate in the sport or activity of choice. Young men and old have taken a room at the Y for one night or one month as they were passing through town, looking for a job or simply needed an inexpensive place to stay.

The Young Men’s Christian Association was founded on June 6, 1844 in London, England. The motto is: "Empowering young people." The goal is to put Christian Principals in place “by developing a healthy, spirit, mind and body.”

From this single location, the Y has grown to a worldwide organization—headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland—made up of local and national organizations in voluntary association. The Y boasts over 45 million members worldwide. There are 125 national federations in the World Alliance of YMCAs.

The Y, from the day it was founded has had “Muscular Christianity” as one of its primary tenets. Muscular Christianity simply stresses the need for good health, physical strength and vigorous masculinity to live an activist Christian life.

Over the years the Y has taught boys the art of self-defense as well as the art of playing and working together as a team. It has contributed to the strength of their bodies the growth of their Christian Spirit, especially at those times when no one else stepped forward to do so.

The plaque on the entrance to the Y states “Blessed Shall You Be When You Come In and Blessed Shall You Be When You Go Out” Deuteronomy 28:6

Getting to Know Some Creative Souls

One of the leading producers of contemporary Christian music is that of Creative Soul. Located in Nashville, Tennessee, this agency has more than two decades worth of experience in helping Christian music artists develop their talent and use it for God’s glory. Some of the staff here are involved in producing, songwriting, and musical arrangers and can also help advise artists on how to put different pieces together.

The mission statement of Creative Soul is a very simple one: “to imagine, create, and produce amazing things”. They are able to do this because the people involved in this production agency have a love for God and desire to help people serve him by using their musical talents.

 In addition to having a yearning to produce Christian music, they also have numerous contacts on the Nashville scene. As such, they can help aspiring artists with a variety of goals ranging from signing a major record deal to beginning a music ministry within their own church. They are experienced professionals who are able to work with musicians even when tight deadlines are required.

 Consultation services are available so that singers and musicians alike can discuss their goals with Creative Soul personnel. Those who are interested in meeting with production agents can call the studio at 615-400-3910 between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm Monday through Friday. They can also send them an email at firstcontact@creativesoulrecords.com, and in fact they claim this message may be faster using the telephone. For more information, visit the company’s website at http://www.creativesoulonline.com or check them out on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/creativesoulrecords.