Friday, October 31, 2008

Random Friday Ramblings

Getting a house ready to sell is still a pain.

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With all due respect to the Ramblin’ Wreck over at Georgia Tech, the biggest game of the year for Georgia Bulldogs fans is the annual tilt with the Florida Gators down in Jacksonville. It may not be hyperbole to say that tomorrow’s contest is the most important one in the history of the storied series. Georgia is #6 in the BCS poll while Florida is #8. The winner of this game will have first place in the SEC East all to itself and will probably play Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and will thus have at least an outside chance at playing in the BCS Championship Game. In my preseason predictions I said that UGA would win 35-14. I still think that the Dawgs will win but that the score will be more like 45-38 because the offenses of both teams have been playing great while the defenses have been less than stellar. It should be a great game.

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The good news: the 2008 Presidential Election takes place on Tuesday.

The bad news: the 2012 race for the White House begins on Wednesday.

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I’m disappointed that no candidate has yet said what he or she was going to do for “Mike the Preacher.”

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This is the first presidential election in which both of our children were eligible to vote. I am pleased to report that all four members of our family have already exercised that most important American privilege. Our waits in line ranged from 30 to 90 minutes. It was time well spent.

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Andruw Jones was quoted this week as saying that he would like to end his career with the Atlanta Braves. A message for Braves’ General Manager Frank Wren: Please, no.

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Sunday’s coming. We will celebrate once again the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s the best news of all.

On the Jericho Road at EthicsDaily.com

My post about the mother of the sons of Zebedee appears today at EthicsDaily.com.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Stranger than (Science) Fiction


Seventy years ago tonight, on October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Radio Theatre on the Air presented their infamous broadcast of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Whereas Wells’ 1898 story about a Martian invasion of Earth was set in England, the radio broadcast had the events of the invasion occur at Grovers Mill, New Jersey.

The format of the radio presentation featured fictional news bulletins detailing the events of the invasion. Some people upon tuning in to the broadcast and not realizing it was a radio drama thought that a real invasion had taken place. A considerable amount of panic ensued. In 1975 I watched a made for television film about those events entitled The Night that Panicked America that depicted a pretty severe panic.

The Orson Welles broadcast also figured into the plot of one of the greatest and most under-appreciated movies ever made, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eighth Dimension. That 1984 film, which stars Peter Weller as brain surgeon/scientist/adventurer/rock & roller Buckaroo Banzai (if he were a preacher he’d be everything I’ve ever wanted to be!), asserts that aliens did in fact come to Grovers Mill in 1938 and that they brainwashed Orson Welles into presenting the radio broadcast so that people would think it was all a hoax. Like I said, it’s a great movie.

I don’t know how widespread the 1938 panic really was but it doesn’t surprise me that people did indeed become frightened. Some have speculated that people’s anxieties over the rising Nazi threat of that era fed into the fear that burst forth upon hearing the broadcast and that may be so. Even without the Nazi threat in the background, though, hearing a very legitimate sounding radio broadcast about an alien invasion or other threat would panic folks even today. Some similar panic was reported as recently as 1983 when NBC aired the television film Special Bulletin, which looked very much like a real newscast of a terrorist threat to explode a nuclear bomb in Charleston harbor, even though continual alerts were given that the movie was a dramatization. We were still in the midst of the Cold War so there were contextual fears in the background then, too.

Any way you look at it, though, the panic over the 1938 War of the Worlds radio show was irrational.

It is no more irrational, though, than some of the fears that people are feeling and expressing as we approach next Tuesday’s presidential election. Now, don’t misunderstand me—there are clear differences between the policies and approaches of the two candidates and so which candidate wins the election will certainly make a difference. I understand that someone can be so sure that a particular candidate or party represents her views about what America is and should be that she can’t help but be troubled to think of the other candidate winning and then leading in ways with which she will not agree.

What I cannot understand is a person giving in to panic over the thought of the “other” candidate winning, especially if the person giving in to that panic is a Christian who claims to trust in the Lord.

I have enough trouble grasping how any American who pays attention to the way this country operates could be overwhelmed by anxiety as they think about the upcoming election. While one person, particularly when that person is President, certainly can make a huge difference, we have considerable checks and balances, not the least of which is our ability to vote our leaders out if we believe they are leading us down a wrong path. I myself confess to having some concern about the divisions that are present in our country and I have been troubled at the ways in which this campaign has accentuated and played to those divisions. Still, I am always heartened when I remember how the vast majority of our citizens accepted President Bush as the legitimate President following the contested election of 2000. Let’s face it—many countries would have had blood in the streets under such circumstances. I have great faith in the resiliency of America.

But more to the point—I have even greater faith in God. We Christians are not supposed to put our ultimate trust in rulers or in countries or in governments or in economies or in armies or in missiles or in policies or in anything else of the earth. We are supposed to put our ultimate trust in the Ultimate One—in God Almighty. And God Almighty has revealed God’s self most fully in God’s Son Jesus Christ who exemplified God’s ways for us.

So…we who are Christians should live in these days as in all days—with great trust in God that shows itself in Christ-like lives, attitudes, words, and actions. We should have such great faith that we can exhibit grace, love, and hope in any and all circumstances. After all, to trust in less than God is idolatry and thus is sin.

For a Christian to panic in the face of something as fleeting as an election is to me something much stranger than (science) fiction. We should instead live in constant grace, love, and hope. After all, whether McCain or Obama ends up sitting in the Oval Office, what really matters is that God is still on the throne.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Redemption

It’s funny how you keep finding new things when you keep on reading the Bible. I noticed something this week that I had never noticed before. Some of you when you read this will say, “I can’t believe that you never noticed that” and perhaps I should be ashamed. But, it is what it is and it’s new to me. More important, it’s meaningful.

My story begins with the Synoptic Problem. I hope you’ll keep reading anyway.

As most of you will know, there are four gospels in the New Testament. The Fourth Gospel, the one according to John, is so obviously different from the other three even on a cursory reading that it is thought of as a more or less separate work. But the other three gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—are so similar in content that they are called the Synoptic Gospels, “synoptic” meaning “seeing together.”

So what’s the problem with the synoptics? The problem has to do with priority and use. That is, given that those three gospels share so much content, which came first and what use did some of them make of the others? The predominant but not unanimous scholarly opinion is that Mark is the earliest gospel and that both Matthew and Luke made use of Mark. It’s more complicated than that, of course. For instance, there are many sayings of Jesus that are present in both Matthew and Luke that are not present in Mark. Therefore, scholars posit the existence of a “sayings source” to which Matthew and Luke had access but to which Mark did not; they call this hypothetical source “Q” because the German word for “source” is Quelle. They explain the presence of material that is in Matthew but not in the other gospels or that is in Luke but not in the others by referring to a special source used in each gospel; those sources are designated by the letters M and L.

That is the solution to the Synoptic Problem that makes the most sense to me and I assume it in my study of the gospels.

Assuming then that Mark is the earliest gospel I assume that his telling of the story about the sons of Zebedee asking Jesus for special consideration is the first version of that story that we have. Mark says,

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:35-28)

So in Mark’s version James and John ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand.

But here is Matthew’s version of the story:

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” (Matthew 20:20-22)

So in Matthew’s version the mother of James and John ask that her sons sit at Jesus’ right and left hand.

Luke omits the story altogether.

There are various ways to explain all of this. One is to posit that Matthew included the mother of James and John in order to have the story reflect less negatively on the two apostles; in line with that way of thinking, Luke may have omitted it so as to remove the negative reflection altogether. Another is to propose that Matthew knew the detail about the mother while Mark did not. Another is to propose, counter to the solution to the Synoptic Problem that I summarized above, that Matthew’s gospel came first and that Mark abridged that gospel leaving the detail of the mother out. Yet another is to conclude that these are two separate events, but that seems unlikely since the context in both gospels is the same.

Whether you’re reading Matthew’s version or Mark’s version, though, the sons of Zebedee don’t come off looking too good. In Mark’s version they directly ask for honor; in Matthew’s version their mother asks for the favor but they are right there with her. Would Matthew have us think that they put her up to it or would he have us think that it was her idea?

As for me, I’ve always been hard on all three of them in the ways I have thought about the episode. All of them—James and John and their mother—were asking for honor with no understanding of the sacrifice that must come with being a follower of Jesus Christ. Their request is made all the worse by the fact that in both gospels Jesus had just finished telling his disciples that he was going to suffer and die. And in both versions Jesus responds to their request by telling them that they would indeed drink the cup he was going to drink; that is, they would suffer for their obedience to God, too.

Remember, now, that it is Matthew and only Matthew who says that the mother of James and John was involved in this episode. It is Matthew and only Matthew who has their mother make the request and who has her hear the words that Jesus spoke to her sons about their coming inevitable sacrifice.

That brings me to the thing I noticed this week that I had never noticed before.

Both Mark and Matthew tell us that when Jesus was crucified, there were women “looking on from a distance” (Luke does not). Mark identifies the women as Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome (Mark 15:40). But Matthew names Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and—are you ready?—the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew 27:56)! It’s possible that the “Salome” named by Mark is the same woman, but isn’t it interesting that Matthew is either the only one who tells us or is the only one who makes explicit that the mother of the sons of Zebedee was there at the cross?

When I noticed that detail this week it changed my entire attitude toward their mother. I had always thought of her as someone who wanted to grab power and honor for her sons, which, according to Matthew, she apparently was, but that’s where my evaluation ended.

Now, though, I see her standing at a distance from the cross watching Jesus die and I realize that I must number her among that group of women who loved Jesus enough to be there for him in his final hours. I see her standing there watching—and hearing the echo of the words that Jesus had spoken to her sons after she had made her request: “You will drink the cup that I will drink.” How could she help but think as she watched Jesus suffer and die—“They must—my boys must—drink the cup that he is drinking”? How could she help but remember, as she watched those two thieves dying on Jesus’ right hand and on his left, that she had asked—she, their mother, had asked—that her sons be in those positions?

That’s what dawned on me.

But what dawned on me is nothing compared to what dawned on her.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I'm Still Bugged

Did you watch World Series game four last night? It looks like the Phillies are going to win the Series and that's fine with me although I was pulling for the Rays for Cinderella reasons.

How long 'til Spring Training?

Anyway, I'm not bugged by the baseball. No, I'm back on one of my pet peeves: the way in which the National Anthem is treated.

I like Patti Labelle. She's a good singer. She's probably a fine human being. And she's from Philadelphia so I understand why she was invited to sing.

But nobody in that stadium could have possibly sung along with her rendition of our National Anthem.

I have written about this before and I haven't changed my mind.

The anthem should be a celebratory joint effort, not a performance.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Grieving with Hope

(The Hill Baptist Church holds an annual Memorial Service at which we remember those church members who died during the last year. This is the sermon I will deliver today, October 26, 2008, at that service. The text is 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.)

We all know about death.

Over the years a pastor has the blessed privilege of being present with people in the final stages of life, sometimes even at that moment when a person takes the step from this life to the next. All of us have dealt with the deaths of loved ones; some of us have had close brushes with death ourselves. When we think about grief we naturally think about the grief we feel when a loved one dies. What do we need to say about death from a Christian perspective?

The Cost of Death

A death in the family is surely a crisis, for after someone dies things will never be the same for a family. Grief is surely the human reaction to the crisis for there is a severe loss to which we must respond and adjust. The critical nature of death is underscored by the cost involved when someone dies. Death is very costly to us because of what we lose when someone we love dies.

Death Costs Us the Presence of Another

You have heard it said that “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but the saying assumes that the absence will be replaced with renewed presence so that the increased fondness can be expressed. Death creates a situation of absence which will not be replaced with renewed presence, at least not in this life. This absence makes the heart grow sad, and, if grief is not dealt with and worked through, it can make the heart grow sick. Death costs us a person, then, and that is a terrible loss.

It is a loss because people are loved. We do not live unless we love. There is no human relationship that can compete with the relationship based on love. Love is costly, though. Love necessitates the giving of ourselves to another person. There is the potential for great joy in that giving, but there is also the potential for great pain, particularly if the person we love dies.

“Grief is love’s inevitable price,” Chuck Poole has said [Don’t Cry Past Tuesday (Greenville: Smyth & Helwys, 1991), p. 68]. To truly know someone we must love someone, but human life being the temporary thing it is, we will lose those whom we love. Thus, to love is finally to grieve. Nicholas Wolterstorff lost his twenty-five-year-old son Eric to a mountain-climbing accident. He wrote a book entitled Lament for a Son that contained his reflections on his grief. In that book he contemplated the reality of suffering and concluded, “Suffering is for the loving” [Lament for a Son (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), p. 89]. Indeed. If we love we will suffer. If we love we will grieve. Death is a costly thing, for it deprives us of the people we love.

It is a loss because people are missed. As Christians we affirm the goodness of God’s gift of each other for whatever time we are together here. And we are thankful for the blessing of memories. But if we are honest we must agree with Wolterstorff who said, “The pain of the no more outweighs the gratitude of the once was” (p. 13). We miss the one who has died.

As Christians we also affirm the past resurrection of Jesus Christ and the future resurrection of those who believe in him. Therefore, when someone we love dies, we do not believe that we will never see him again. We believe that the messianic banquet will also be a family reunion dinner. Our problem is not vanquished, though, because even while we live in light of the “then” we live in the reality of the “now.” The one who has died is not with us right now. As Wolterstorff put it, “Though I shall indeed recall that death is being overcome, my grief is that death still stalks this world and one day knifed down my Eric” (p. 32). We miss the one who has died.

Death Costs Us the Illusion of Power

Death costs us the presence of another, and that loss is a very real, literal and physical loss. The person who has died is gone. Something else is lost in the death of a loved one, though, and its loss is perceived a little more subtly and not quite so literally, but it is just as real. This is the loss of the illusion of our own power.

The loss of the illusion of our ability to help another. Love is giving, and when we love someone, we expend much effort in helping the one loved. We want to protect her and we want to deliver her from harm. And we may have the illusion that our loving help will always be enough. But finally it will not be. Finally, all of our love and all of our help, even when combined with the best of medical technology, will not be enough. Death is finally unmanageable; it is beyond our control. It is a terribly frustrating experience to discover that we are ultimately powerless to help someone we love.

The loss of the illusion of our ability to help ourselves. The death of a loved one is a crisis event because we lose that person. But it is also a crisis event because it reminds us of the eventual loss of our own lives. Sometimes we manage to pretend that, as the saying asserts about diamonds, we are forever. Well, diamonds are not, and neither are we. The death of another hits us right in the face with the reality of our own mortality. We are not permanent, and we are not self-sufficient. “God helps those who help themselves,” we may have been taught and we may believe, but at the end we cannot help ourselves. It is frightening and it is frustrating.

Death really is the last enemy, and we cannot beat it.

The Christian Experience of Grief in the Face of Death

Therefore, the question is not do we grieve, for grieve we must. Death is too costly not to cause grief. The question for us is how do we grieve? We discover that we grieve as human beings do, so that there is a commonality with the whole of humanity in our grieving. But we also discover that we grieve as Christians do, so that there is a distinctive difference of progress which is potential in our grief.

We cling to the familiar and we journey into the unknown

When someone dies, it is a normal human reaction to cling to that person, refusing to let him go. We wish we could do so physically, but since we cannot, we do so emotionally. “I just cannot give her up,” we might say. When grief is processed in a healthy manner, one eventually moves beyond this stage of denial and of refusal to move on. It is possible to get hung up here, though, and to hold on to the past, even though the past is gone.

Then, grief is clung to even though it is painful. As William Oglesby has said, “However painful and distressing the present situation, at least it is familiar” [Biblical Themes for Pastoral Care (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), p. 150]. Our grief becomes what we know and we gain a kind of pained comfort from it, so we cling to it for all it is worth, which seems like a lot to us at the time.

Now, memories are good things. They are God’s gift to us to enable us always to have what we had. But they can become idols to us if we are not careful. As Christian families, we are little groups of believers. We must learn together to do things God’s way. We must not stay in Haran when God wants us to move on to Canaan (Gen. 11:32-12:1)! I do not take lightly the great difficulty in “letting go” (of a deceased love one or of an uncomfortably comfortable grief) and of “moving on” (to the assimilation of our memories and to living of a full life), but that is what we are called to do. It takes a lot of faith, which as Wolterstorff said, “is a footbridge that you don’t know will hold you until you’re forced to walk out onto it” (p. 76). As humans, we want to cling to the past and to the familiar. As Christians, we walk faithfully into the unknown, for such walking is a basic part of the biblical experience in which we share.

We feel alone and we feel the presence of others

There is an isolation in the human experience of death. We may have many other people who love and care for us, but somehow when we lose an important person, we feel all alone, at least for awhile. But we are not alone. We do have the others who love us and who thus stand with us, sit with us, and cry with us. Others share our particular grief, and the larger human population shares the overall experience of grief.

Again, though, we are Christians. We are a part of the community of Christian sufferers. All of us who believe in Christ are in this together. We understand that we are to bear one another’s burdens. We understand that somehow in Christ suffering is transformed. We understand that in the sharing of suffering we are bonded together in community and in love.

But we understand something else, too: God is with us in our suffering! Somehow, God took our suffering upon himself: “We cannot explain suffering, but we can say that God took it upon himself to follow this way,” according to Alister McGrath [Understanding Jesus: Who Jesus Christ Is and Why He Matters (Grand Rapids: Academie, 1987), p. 117]. As Wolterstorff put it, “Instead of explaining our suffering God shared it” (p. 81). And Wolterstorff, who obviously has spoken to me in profound ways, helps further: “God is appalled by death. My pain over my son’s death is shared by his pain over my son’s death. And, yes, I share in his pain over his son’s death” (pp. 66-67). Here is a great secret known by the Christian that must be learned by all in our Christian homes: somehow, we are all in this together, you, I, and God!

We experience insecurity and we trust in the final victory of God

Death is the crisis above all crises, because it brings change above all change. Never will a family experience more instability than when one of its members dies. When such instability comes, it is a threat to our security, and we react with fear. We fear the implications of the death for our immediate future: what happens to me now? But we also fear the implications of our death (which is implied in every death) for eternity: what happens to me then?

Christians need to celebrate the good news: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” This greatest of all those enemies which threaten us, this thing over which we finally have no control, will be wiped out by our Savior when he establishes his complete reign. Everything is being subjected to him; everything is in the process of being put in its proper place. And one day, one glorious day, the victory of God will be won through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We may rest now, even in the midst of our human insecurity, in God’s security.

Conclusion

Yes, you and I know about death. We know that it is costly. It costs us those we love, and it costs us our illusions about ourselves. And you and I know what it is to grieve, to cling to the familiar, to feel alone, and to know insecurity. But you and I also know what it is to walk into the unknown in faith, to have the comforting presence of suffering Christians and a suffering God, and to trust in the final victory of God over death. Even in death, we believe—and we live!

Georgia vs. LSU

Final score: Georgia 52, LSU 38

My preseason predicted score: Georgia 35, LSU 28

Summary: UGA's offense finally looked like we've expected it to--a combination of ball control and big plays featuring an attack with great balance between the running and passing games. The defense gave up a lot of yards but many of them were late when the Dawgs were basically sitting on a big lead. Georgia was more dominant than the score and the stats indicate. Meanwhile, the war in Jacksonville is on for this Saturday. The Dawgs will probably come in ranked #6 in the BCS standings while the Gators will likely be #9. The winner will have the inside track on winning the SEC East and playing in the SEC Championship game.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Random Friday Ramblings

Getting a house ready to sell is a pain.

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The politicians and pundits keep talking about "elitists." I can't decide if I've ever met one--maybe I have--or if I am one--I'm pretty sure not. On the other hand, I did graduate from Mercer....

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When a pastor is moving from one church to another, the exciting part is the new challenge you'll face and the new people you'll know; the hard part is leaving people you have grown to love.

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The Auburn and Tennessee football teams are having horrible seasons. I wonder when the last time was that both of those teams were this bad in the same year? Having said that, undefeated Alabama had better watch out for UT tomorrow. That's a bigger rivalry than lots of people realize.

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Speaking of football, we were reimmersed in the glories of South Georgia high school football last Friday when we attended the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane's victory over Early County. The Canes are 7-0 and ranked #2 in Georgia's AA classification. A good game, a huge crowd, and boiled peanuts--it can't get much better than that.

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At The Hill Baptist Church we're having more and more people come for our grocery distribution program and getting more and more calls from folks needing help with their utilities. I'm sure it's the same with most churches and I guess it's only going to get worse.

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Beverly Hills Chihuahua was the #1 movie in America for a couple of weeks recently. I wonder what that says about the state of American culture? On the other hand, harmless diversion in hard times is a good thing. But in these times, how can we who need a diversion afford a movie ticket?

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It was about this time twenty-two years ago that I assumed the pastorate of The First Baptist Church of Adel, GA, which was my first post-seminary position. Twenty-two years! Time really has flown.

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Speaking of football again, the Georgia Bulldogs play at LSU tomorrow. I still hold out hope that UGA might play in the BCS Championship game. The first goal, though, is to win the SEC East which the Dawgs will do if they win the rest of their conference games. No easy task, that one.

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The Lord's Day--Resurrection Day--another little Easter--is right around the corner. I can't wait.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Moving On

My parents moved into their house at 228 Memorial Drive in Barnesville, Georgia in 1955. When I was born in 1958 at the Lamar County Maternity Shelter just up the road and around the corner from the house, my parents brought me back to it and there we stayed. My father would make some noise every once in a while about moving the seventeen or so miles to Thomaston where he worked, but I knew he really didn’t mean it. Ruffins characteristically don’t cotton much to change.

My life has been different from the settled one that my parents lived.

Debra and I married in June of 1978. For the next 14 months, while Debra was finishing her degree at Mercer, we lived in an apartment that was part of an old house owned by the University; our address was 1548 Johnson (Johnson was Debra’s maiden name—it was destiny, my friends, it was destiny) Avenue, Apt. 2, Macon, GA. From there we moved to Louisville, Kentucky where I would attend seminary and moved into the seminary-owned apartment complex that was affectionately known as the Gospel Ghetto; our address was U-7 Seminary Village. After a couple of years we bought a house in which we lived for the next five years; it was located at 251 Saunders Avenue in Louisville.

When I was called to be the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Adel, Georgia in 1986 we moved into their very fine parsonage at 300 Bear Creek Road. Upon my appointment in 1993 as a professor at Belmont University we purchased a home at 5023 Marchant Drive in Nashville, Tennessee where we lived for six years. When I returned to Adel as pastor in 1999 we moved back into the parsonage on Bear Creek Road; we even moved back into the same bedrooms that we had occupied during my first tenure there. There were a few nights when I woke up and looked around and thought I was doing the Time Warp. I became pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia in January 2003 and soon we bought our present home at 2906 Sussex Road, a house that I have enjoyed very much.

So, my family and I have been pilgrims although I don’t really think we have been wandering. Every move has been purposeful; every move has been meaningful; in every move we have sensed the hand of God.

Now we are getting ready to move again. Last night I announced my resignation as pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in order to accept the pastorate of The First Baptist Church in Fitzgerald, Georgia, a position that I will assume in mid-December. So we are moving on.

“Journey” is one of the best and most enduring metaphors to describe the living of these lives of ours. Frederick Buechner calls it the sacred journey and so it is. God is in all of it—the good and the bad of it, the happy and sad of it, the mournful and glad of it—I truly believe that. The destination will be reached only when we get home where God is but all along the way every place is home because God is with us there, too.

So we are leaving our home in Augusta in order to move to our home in Fitzgerald—we just don’t know the address yet!

Right now we are thanking God for every step of the journey that has brought us to this place in our lives and we are thanking God for every step that will be taken in days to come. It’s been a wondrous journey so far.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Vanderbilt vs. Georgia

Final score: Georgia 24, Vanderbilt 14

My preseason predicted score: Georgia 21, Vanderbilt 14

Summary statement: Knowshon Moreno had a great day running the ball; now UGA runs the gauntlet of LSU, Florida, Kentucky, and Auburn all away from Athens before returning home to play Georgia Tech.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Brother I Almost Had

For all of my life I have referred to myself as an only child but that description is not literally true.

On October 15, 1960, just a little over two years from the day I was born, my parents welcomed their second son and last child, Stanley Abbott Ruffin, into the world. On that same day they saw him leave this world which he had so briefly visited. His life on earth lasted about twelve hours.

There is not much to mark Stan’s quick passage through this place: the marble marker on his grave that says “Asleep in Jesus”, the 8mm footage my father shot of the flower-covered grave on the day of the graveside service, and a stack of sympathy cards that we found in my parents’ cedar chest after they had both died. There was also the sense of grief and loss that my parents carried with them in their hearts until the days they died, but they never said too much about that.

While is not literally true that I was an only child, it is practically true.

I wonder how my life would have been different had Stan lived and had we grown up together in the little house on Memorial Drive.

I wonder if I would have developed differently. For instance, had I had a brother off of whom I could have bounced my thoughts and doubts, perhaps I would have become less introspective than I turned out to be. Had I had a brother with whom I could have shared my grief over my parents’ death, perhaps that grief would have been less of a burden to bear. This much I know: had I had a brother with whom I had to share my small bedroom, I would have developed much less of a sense of bashfulness than I ended up with!

I wonder if I would have learned earlier about the challenging nature of life. While I don’t know all the details about Stan’s birth and death, I do know that he was born with severe birth defects. Had those defects not been severe enough to take his life, he and we as his family members would have faced tremendous challenges from the moment of his birth—he would have been a “special needs” child. Perhaps his situation would have given me a different perspective on my buck teeth, my nearsightedness, and my scrawny frame, all of which I regarded as severe afflictions in my childhood. I assume I would have had some responsibility for his care and maybe that would have caused me not to focus so much on my trivial and by comparison grossly manageable difficulties.

No doubt I would have learned those amazing lessons that family members of special needs children seem to grasp—lessons about gifts and grace and love—that most people seem to struggle so much to learn. Maybe, armed with what I would have learned from Stan about the challenging nature of life, I would not have been so overwhelmed when I was confronted with other challenges later.

When both of my parents died by the time I was twenty, I would have assumed the primary responsibility for Stan. I wonder what that would have been like. Would I have learned the lessons that I know my parents would have taught me about unconditional love? Would I have been there for him as they would have been there for him? Now, thirty years after our parents died, would I still be caring for him? Or would I have learned that, in ways that matter most, he was always caring for me?

Maybe we would have shared laughter. Maybe we would have shared hobbies. Maybe we would have shared the Atlanta Braves. Maybe we would have shared church. Maybe we would have shared faith in Jesus Christ. Maybe we would have shared G.I. Joe and baseball cards and Star Wars and Indiana Jones and Doonesbury and Frederick Buechner.

Maybe we wouldn’t have gotten along at all. Maybe one or both of us would have proven a jerk in the relationship. Maybe we would have become estranged.

In other words, maybe our relationship would have proven subject to all the stresses and strains and risks and rewards and chances and opportunities and successes and failures to which all relationships are subject.

So here today, on the 48th anniversary of Stanley Abbott Ruffin’s birth and death, I confess that I think I missed something in not having him as a brother; I affirm that I miss the brother I almost had.

But at the same time, since what is matters infinitely more than what could have been, I confess that what matters most is how I have lived in the relationships that I have had; I affirm that much of my joy in life is found in embracing the people that I have had and that I do have in my life.

Yes, I am an only child; I never got to embrace my brother Stan. But along the way I have embraced many, many brothers and sisters. And I am grateful.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tennessee vs. Georgia

Final score: Georgia 26, Tennessee 14.

My preseason predicted score: Georgia 41, Tennessee 17.

Summary Statement: UT often beats UGA even when the Dawgs have a superior team, so any win against the Vols is most welcome. Still, this game should have been a blowout--Georgia dropped a potential touchdown pass and had two passes intercepted in the red zone. They're going to have to do better than that in upcoming games against Vandy, Florida, and LSU.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Divide and Conquer or Unite and Govern?


We have moved in the presidential election campaign from the silly season to the savage season. Personal attacks are becoming more numerous and more malicious. I am frankly disappointed because I had genuine hopes that campaigns of the high road would be waged by these two men. While I am disappointed, I am not surprised, since when you get right down to it the main thing that politicians want is to win and so when their backs are against the wall they will do whatever it takes to attain victory.

Methods matter, though, because the cost of those methods matters and the cost of a campaign that is designed to divide so as to conquer is a further divided nation.

Sen. McCain sincerely believes that he would be a better president that Sen. Obama; Sen. Obama sincerely believes that he would be a better president than Sen. McCain. If they didn’t believe that they would not put themselves through the rigors of a presidential campaign. I am sure that both men believe that they have the best interests of the nation at heart in their positions and in their policies. I am sure that both candidates love America and want what they believe is best for America.

But if Sens. Obama and McCain really love and want what is best for America they should agree to an absolute moratorium on personal attacks for the remainder of this presidential campaign. Not only should they refrain from such attacks themselves but they should instruct their campaign associates and surrogates, including their running mates and their advertising staffs, to immediately cease and desist from personal attacks and derogatory remarks. They should immediately fire anyone who violates that moratorium.

While the candidates could not control what PACs or other groups do in their ads, if any such ad contains a personal attack the candidate favored by the ad should as a matter of policy disavow it.

I’m not na├»ve; I realize that such attacks have always been a component of presidential politics. A few years ago I read John Ferling’s excellent book Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800; that campaign was vicious and had those rivals had television and the internet at their disposal there’s no telling what they would have done.

Still, the critical nature of these days necessitates a different approach. We are a seriously divided nation. The economic strain under which we are all living will only serve to exacerbate the social, racial, philosophical, and religious divides that already separate us from one another even within our states that the media so readily characterize as “blue” or “red.” We need our presidential candidates to run the kind of campaign that will move us toward greater unity and not drive a larger wedge between us. We are going through a very challenging time in our country and we will need all of the good will and cooperation that we can find.

My point is that one of these two candidates is going to be, come noon on January 20, 2009, the President of the United States. His job—his task—his responsibility—his calling—will be to govern the United States of America, not the red states of America or the blue states of American, not the conservatives of America or the liberals of America, not the religious folks of America or the non-religious folks of America, and not the poor folks of America or the rich folks of America. His task will be to govern this nation that includes all those folks and so many more.

We need more unity in these United States. How can a President govern in ways that promote unity and cooperation in overcoming the obstacles before us when he has campaigned in ways that promote disunity and antagonism among us?

How, you might ask, do personal attacks in a campaign foster the kind of disunity that will make it more difficult for the new president to govern?

Let’s face it—diehard Democrats are going to vote for Obama while diehard Republicans are going to vote for McCain, no matter what. When those folks hear a personal attack on the opposing candidate they smile and cheer and have their bias confirmed and when they hear one on their candidate they frown and jeer and have their bias confirmed. And most of those folks will not support the presidency of the other candidate should he win even should that person bring about peace in the Middle East, find a just and productive way to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, end poverty as we know it, and develop an endless replacement for oil, all during his first week in office.

But there are those of us who really and truly just want America to be the best country it can be. We will vote our convictions but we will, to the best of our ability, support the new president whoever it is and we will pray that he will lead us to deal with our problems creatively and with a desire for justice for all. But when such Americans hear continued and vicious attacks on the character and motives of the candidates, how can they help but have the seeds of distrust planted? And while we certainly all ought to keep our eyes open and not follow blindly the leadership of any person, how can it help our nation and the efforts of the new president if a huge portion of the population does not trust him?

In other words, the presidential candidates have a responsibility to this nation that goes far beyond winning or losing the election. They have the responsibility to campaign in such a way that they will promote the health and wellbeing of the nation; they have the responsibility to campaign in such a way that the other candidate, should he win, does not enter the White House crippled by the campaign; they have the responsibility to campaign in such a way that, whoever wins, the nation is poised to rally behind our new leader to work together to face what we must face.

Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama have a choice—will they campaign so as to divide and conquer or will they campaign so as to unite and govern?

Sad News


The last Opus comic strip will appear on November 2.

Article from On the Jericho Road at EthicsDaily.com

My post on reading and writing the Bible appears today at EthicsDaily.com. They unfortunately included a photograph of me, too.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Reading and Writing the Bible

A continuous reading of the Old and New Testaments by over 1,200 people is underway in Italy. The reading, which began with Pope Benedict XVI reading the first chapter of Genesis, will continue for seven days and six nights and will be broadcast on Italian television. Before his reading the Pope said, “If welcomed, this seed will not fail to bring abundant fruits.” The event, which is being called “The Bible Day and Night,” will feature readings by Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, and Jews.

Meanwhile, about a week ago the Christian publisher Zondervan launched the Bible Across America tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the New International Version of the Bible. Two couples will be touring the country in an RV asking people to copy a verse of the Bible twice onto special paper. When completed, one “original” will be offered to the Smithsonian and the other will be auctioned off to benefit the International Bible Society. Zondervan hopes to have photo facsimile copies ready for sale by Christmas 2009.

Do you think these two efforts are good things? My first reaction is to say that anything that gets the message of the Bible more in the public eye is positive.

Could we have a “read the Bible for a week on live television” event here in the U.S.A.? The Italian effort is being carried out on a state-owned television network. We don’t have a state-owned television network here in America and if we did, church-state separation concerns would prevent it from airing a continuous reading of the Bible unless, I suppose, equal time was given to the reading of texts of other tradition.

Perhaps a Christian network could be used, but such a network is mainly watched by Christians so not much outreach would result. Besides, from what I’ve seen of Christian television, the simple reading of the Word of God might be viewed as too low-key and even boring; I guess the readers could sit in a big gold chair or something. The major broadcast or cable channels would never sell that much time and the cost would be prohibitive, anyway.

Maybe we could do it on local access cable channel. But that would reach a very small audience and nobody takes seriously what they see on such a channel anyway. I once saw an interesting fellow offering “Christian teaching” on local access cable. One week he talked about how people weren’t taking him seriously because he was a male exotic dancer. Another week he wore a bunny costume while he talked about the resurrection. Like I said, we might want to be taken more seriously than that.

What about the “let’s get thousands of people to copy a verse of the Bible” effort? If they were letting people paraphrase their verse, that would be a real problem, since the last thing we need is a version of the Bible that amounts to a compendium of people’s opinions. Granted, the work even of trained and seasoned translators is subject to the influence of preconceived notions and even bias, but still, trained and seasoned translators are at least trained and seasoned. And granted, all of us go to the Bible out of our own experience and with our own needs and I certainly believe that in the moment of encounter between the text and the seeking reader the Holy Spirit can, will, and does illuminate us and grant us insight into our situation. But I wouldn’t want such a “personal” reading legitimized or universalized by putting it under a cover with the word “Bible” on it.

But that’s not what the Bible Across American project is doing; they’re having people simply copy the verses. It will be interesting to see what if any scribal errors exist in the text when it is finished. As most students of the Bible know, the ancient manuscripts that we have reflect the activity of the scribes in correcting mistakes that had been made in copying. Moreover, the remarkable work of the Masoretes, those Hebrew scholars who did such important work in the 6th-10th centuries C.E., indicates the rigorous scribal effort to insure the accuracy of the text. No one, so far as I know, is claiming any special inspiration for these modern copyists, which is good. The effort may nonetheless offer a bit of insight into the difficulty of producing hand-written copies of any text. Or, they may manage to produce a mistake-free manuscript.

So far as I know, I won’t be copying a verse for the project, which, as those of you have ever seen my handwriting know, is a good thing. The Bible needs to be read and understood and my script would be a barrier to that enterprise. Even when I try to be careful my writing can be a mess. Such will probably be the case with some of the copyists in the Bible Across America project. Certainly the discrepancy in handwriting styles from verse to verse is bound to be jarring to the reader.

That raises an interesting possibility. Imagine if you will that the bombs finally drop or the planet finally overheats or nanotechnology finally produces something that devours almost everything and everybody. Still, this is not “the end” and thus a remnant of humanity survives, albeit in primitive fashion. After many, many centuries humankind and civilization develop to the point that such sciences as archaeology and linguistics are resurrected. One day a team of archaeologists unearths fragments of a long-forgotten holy book. In trying to explain the different types of script in the holy book, scholars develop some interesting theories of language development. “Clearly,” one expert writes, “when this holy book was written down, it was the practice of the scribes to change their style of script every few lines.” “No,” another one writes, “what we have here is evidence of divine inspiration; under the ecstatic influence of some spirit, the prophets wrote with different hands.”

And if I had copied one of the fragments they found, they would argue over whether that part was written in a super-holy-and-thus-indecipherable-by-humans script or whether some ancient scribes were just uneducated.

Hey, it could happen.

Seriously, though, I think these two endeavors are noble. As for me, though, and maybe as for all of us, what really matters is that we read the Bible every day, that we pray for illumination, and that the words get written on our hearts in a way that accurately reflects the life and teachings of the living Word who is Christ our Lord.

After all, such efforts to get the Bible heard notwithstanding, we Christians really are the only Bible that some people will read.

Monday, October 6, 2008

On Cancer and Anger

Blake Harwell, who serves as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Clinton, SC, is my friend and was both my successor and predecessor as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Adel, GA (that's a long story). Blake's wife Dana has been undergoing treatment for cancer. Blake has been good to send email updates to friends about how Dana is doing. Recently, one of his friends asked Blake why he did not display more anger in his messages. What follows is Blake's answer, which I post with his permission. It merits reading.

Hey David,

Thank you for your frank and honest question. My answer? I don't know.

Maybe I'm not facing reality. Maybe I'm in denial. But I don’t think either of those is the case.

I choose to look and see what good things God is doing in my life. And, despite what Dana's going through, despite what my family is experiencing, I can't help but see the light of God's goodness shining through.

This picture just came into my head: I couldn't see the stars except for the blackness behind them. I can't see them during the day b/c there's TOO MUCH light. The only way they get highlighted is when the darkness is allowed to intrude. And, David, I LOVE the stars!

Dana's illness is dark, no doubt. The intrusion of such an insidious disease on the finest woman I know does strike me as unfair. It does make me want to ask the "why?" questions of God. Yet, in the midst of what has happened, goodness, LIGHT has been shown in places I never knew it existed before! People have responded with such wonderful caring. God has shown himself to be SO sufficient. I'm seeing more stars than I've ever seen before. And it's all because of the darkness.

One more thing: just b/c I'm not asking in my e-mails the question/s you're asking doesn't mean I don't ask them. It's just that there's a theme that is stronger, a more dominant melody playing. I think of those anthems in which a composer includes a strong melody line but, at the same time, there's a subordinate melody (maybe even a more familiar tune) played underneath all that is going on. In my life right now, the stronger melody is of God's goodness to us. That doesn't mean there's nothing else going on. It just means the minor chord "cancer melody" is not controlling the movement of the "piece" (my life).

I don't know if that makes any sense at all. I'm tearing up as I write it. Because David there is pain. More truthfully, there's fear. It's just not (thanks to Christ) where I live MOST of the time.

Why? Because God is so good.

Blake


Please pray for Dana and Blake and their two girls.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Giving Thanks for Each Other

(A sermon based on Ephesians 1:15-23 for Sunday, October 5, 2008)

I’ve seen this quote framed somewhere: “When I count my blessings I always count you twice.” That’s a nice sentiment to have for a friend. It’s the way that we ought to be toward each other in the church. Notice how I put that: it’s the way we ought to be toward each other, I said; I didn’t say it’s the way that we ought to feel about each other. A church that is becoming as healthy as God intends for it to be will know feelings are fleeting and are subject to many variables. Our relationships in the church are all about who we really are and what we are really becoming.

We share some things in common that cause us to give thanks for each other. We share a common faith. Paul said of the Ephesians, “Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus . . . I have not stopped giving thanks for you.” This is what binds us together: our common faith in Jesus Christ. Churches tend to coalesce around other factors: common ethnicity, common socio-economic status, common politics, or a common social life. But what really binds us together in the church and what really binds us together with the other Christians in the other churches is our common faith in Christ. Of the Ephesians Paul said,

You were also included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory (1:13-14).

The same is true of us. We have all been saved because we have trusted our lives totally and completely to the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks for each other because we are one body in Christ, bound by the realities that matter most. We have a unity that is real and that is brought about by God. As will be said later in the letter,

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (4:3-6).

I am so thankful for those Christian brothers and sisters with whom I can share a common faith that is based on our salvation in Christ.

We also share a common love. Paul also said, “Ever since I heard about . . . your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you.” Because we share a common faith we also share a common love. Faith in Christ simply must, by definition, lead to love for one another. Biblically speaking, love is not a feeling. Love is rather a covenant commitment that wants the good for the other person and that expresses itself in very practical ways. It is thus sacrificial, costly, and joyful. The kind of love that Christians are to have for each other requires a significant investment in each other’s lives. We are to help each other when we are in need; we are to be there for each other when we are hurting; we are to be concerned for each other when we fall or fail. Love requires that we really be involved with each other. Thomas Merton pointed out a vital distinction.

A distinction: to be “thought of” kindly by many and to “think of” them kindly is only a diluted benevolence, a collective illusion of friendship. Its function is not the sharing of love but complicity in a mutual reassurance that is based on nothing. Instead of cultivating this diffuse aura of benevolence, you should enter with trepidation into the deep and genuine concern for those few persons God has committed to your care—your family, your students, your employees, your parishioners. This concern is an involvement, a distraction, and it is vitally urgent. You are not allowed to evade it even though it may often disturb your “peace of mind.” It is good and right that your peace should be thus disturbed, that you should suffer and bear the small burden of these cares that cannot usually be told to anyone. There is no special glory in this, it is only duty. But in the long run it brings with it the best of all gifts: it gives life. [Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Image, 1968), p. 97]

Are there dangers in such living? Certainly. Fine lines exist between being concerned and being meddlesome, between being interested and being nosey, and between being constructive and being self-righteous. Still, love requires investment and involvement. I am so thankful for Christian brothers and sisters with whom I can share an honest and open relationship of care and concern. I am thankful for Christian brothers and sisters who want to share and who want to be shared with.

We want to be maturing in our faith and in our love so that we can more and more be the kinds of brothers and sisters who can be truly grateful for one another. The key to being able to have the kinds of relationships for which we can be thankful is to be accepting the challenge of growing more and more in love. We need to be open to the Spirit and love and grace of God working in our lives in ways that give us more and more integrity and that give us motives that are more and more selfless. As it is said later in Ephesians,

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ (4:14-15).

So let us be thankful for each other. But let us be becoming more and more the kinds of brothers and sisters in Christ for whom we can truly be thankful. Let us be growing and maturing in love. And, as Paul said he would do for the Ephesians, let us pray for each other. Pray that God will fill us all with all the wisdom, insight, hope, and power that we can possibly have. Then we will be equipped to be real friends to each other.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Wow

The Georgia Bulldogs are off this week.

Into that void I inject this great score: Vanderbilt 14, Auburn 13.

That's Vandy's first win over Auburn since 1955. In 1955, I was -3 years old.

It's the first time Vandy's been 5-0 since WWII.

Amazing.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Random Friday Ramblings

We watched the debate between the Vice-Presidential candidates last night. It was interesting. Biden had a little trouble getting his words straight a few times. Palin winked at me.

The whole experience vs. less experience back and forth is getting more and more ironic. At the top of the tickets we have Obama touting his emphasis on change as over against McCain’s purported identification with the outgoing Bush administration; in the second slots we have Palin touting her relative inexperience as a strength as over against Biden’s long participation in the Senate. The contrast at the top is between the older McCain and the younger Obama; the contrast between the VP candidates features the older Biden and the younger Palin. It’s just weird.

Also, I can’t decide when Palin talks about “Joe six-pack” if she’s talking to me or not. My Diet Cokes come in a twelve-pack. And as for this “maverick” business—which one’s Bart and which one’s Bret? (Note to my young readers—there was a Maverick TV show before there was the movie starring Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson. Note to my very young readers—if you have no idea what I’m talking about, there’s always Google.) Finally, how can we really know how many times a Senator voted for or against something and in what context those votes were cast unless we all read every word of every issue of Congressional Quarterly? Does anybody besides me feel like every vote we cast in every presidential election is something of a shot in the dark?

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Alzheimer’s disease is one of the great scourges of our time. I have worked with so many church members who have become less and less themselves and whose families have had to deal with that painful decline and with the trauma of trying to find an appropriate residence for their loved ones when they can no longer live at home. I believe that the grace of God is operative in such situations and I try to keep looking for it. I can’t help but be grateful, though, for senior adults who are blessed to maintain their own personality and identity until they pass on. We really need to pray for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. How can the church be more proactive in addressing the fact that it can be hard for many families to find good care for their loved ones who are stricken with that disease?

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A mystery I will ponder until the day I die: how could Brad Pitt give up Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie? Personally, though, I wouldn’t give up Debra Ruffin for either of them.

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Last week, a nice Disney employee was asking guests who their favorite princess was; she would then give them a sticker with that princess’s picture on it. When she asked me, I said “Marilyn Monroe.” She gave me a Stitch sticker.

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The Georgia Bulldogs are off this week, which is a good thing. They need to recover from the beating administered to them by the Crimson Tide. Next up for the Dawgs is the Tennessee Volunteers.

My move from Tennessee to Georgia in 1999 boded well for the Dawgs. During my six football seasons in Nashville (1993-1998), UT went 6-0 vs. Georgia. The Dawgs won four straight from 1999 until 2002.

The story is told of two inmates on death row who were to be executed on the same day. When the guard asked one of them for his last request, he replied, “I’d like to hear Rocky Top one more time.” When the guard asked the second inmate, who was from Georgia, for his last request, he answered, “Kill me first.”

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Fall is my favorite time of year for three reasons.

1. The weather turns cooler.
2. College football season is in full swing.
3. The Major League Baseball post-season is underway.

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Speaking of the MLB post-season, I had hoped for a Chicago Cubs vs. Tampa Bay Rays World Series. The Cubs are down 2-0 to the Dodgers in the three out of five series. The Rays are up 1-0 on the White Sox. I’d like to see the Cubs put their century-long dry spell behind them but it looks unlikely. The Rays are just a great story and a fine young ball team with a low, by MLB standards, payroll. It would be great to see them take down all the high-salaried teams.

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Another Lord’s Day is right around the corner. The thought of resurrection still makes me shudder.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

When Candidates Face the Judgment

As we all are painfully aware, this is debate season in presidential politics. Debra and I took time out of our Disney World trip last week to watch the first McCain/Obama debate (OK, the truth is that we fell on the bed exhausted after a day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios which included three rides each on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and didn’t have the strength to change the channel, but we watched it nonetheless). And tonight we plan to watch the most hyped and anticipated event since last season’s finals of American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance—the Vice-Presidential debate! That’s how weird things are this year—the VP debate is generating more buzz than the presidential debates and even more than the latest dust-up on The View.

Anyway, the debates got me to thinking. Specifically, I got to thinking about the kinds of questions that the candidates get asked and the kinds of answers they give. I began wondering—if, in the final judgment, candidates were given the opportunity to defend their lives in a debate format, how would they respond?

Imagine two candidates standing before the great judgment bench. Imagine…imagine…imagine…imagine….

Question: “Please describe your personal relationship with God.”

Candidate one: “I believe that the American people have the right to define for themselves who or what they mean by ‘God.’ As you know, America is a great nation because we celebrate the diversity of our people, including the diversity of their faith traditions. Personally, especially since I am standing where I am today, I believe in the God who is questioning me. But let me say this—any lack of personal relationship with God on the part of the American people is the fault of the previous administration.”

Candidate two: “I talked with God this morning. God complimented me on my voting record which is scored at nearly 100% by the groups that represent the kinds of religious folks to whom I must pander and whose language I must speak if I want to be President, which I desperately wanted to be before I found myself here. By the way, for what kind of office can I run up here? Is that ‘at your right hand’ or ‘at your left hand’ position still open? You know, really, it would be appropriate for each of us to stand at one of your hands with our exact position to be determined by our individual political stances. Just think what good such an eternal bipartisan effort might do! But getting back to my personal relationship with God—I support the nation of Israel."

Question: “Talk about how your economic policies were influenced by the clear teachings of Holy Scripture.”

Candidate one: “My economic plan would have given tax breaks to everyone that I believed had the slightest inclination to vote for me. Indeed, some economic experts said that my plan would have given tax breaks to more than—that’s right—more than 100% of the lower and middle class population. It’s a miracle! And there are miracles in the Bible. There’s that whole five loaves and two fishes deal—we could do that in America and have more than enough left over if we’ll just work hard and develop viable alternatives to imported oil.”

Candidate two: “In the story of Noah it rained for forty days and forty nights. By the time the deluge was over, that rain had trickled down over the whole earth. If we’ll extend enough tax breaks to corporations and the ridiculously wealthy, who have clearly been blessed by God, then eventually that wealth will trickle down to everybody in our great nation. Just like in the story of Noah.”

Question: “Please describe how your faith influenced your political discourse.”

Candidate one: “During our campaign my opponent misrepresented my record, at last count, 14,124,699 times. Everyone knows that he always distorts my statements and that I never misstate his positions. I always tell the truth. Any distortions or misrepresentations of my opponent’s positions come from my organization and not from me personally.”

Candidate two: “You’re a lying liar face. Now as to the question—my faith always influenced everything I said on the campaign trail. I believed with all my heart that I should be President and so I said whatever I needed to say to get elected.”

Question: “Heaven is just beyond those pearly gates. Did you ever think you’d get this close to the highest place in the universe?”

Candidate one: “Absolutely.”

Candidate two: “Only in America.”

Question: “Again, heaven is just beyond the gates. What will it take to get you the rest of the way?”

Candidate one: “The embrace of my narrative.”

Candidate two: “Ohio and Pennsylvania. Or Ohio and Florida. Or Pennsylvania and Florida.”

Question: “Look, what if I told you that heaven is for the poor in spirit who have experienced the grace of God and that you’ll get in by that grace and not by what you’ve accomplished—and not even by attaining 270 electoral votes or at least a favorable Supreme Court decision?”

Candidate one: “I’d say that’s a relief.”

Candidate two: “Ditto. I mean, Amen.”