American Christianity and Dementia

During the past couple of years, my family has walked the difficult journey of Dementia with my mother. She has moved rapidly from a healthy alert woman living by herself, to a senior living environment, to assisted living, to memory care, and now to nursing care. Perhaps the thing that is most difficult about the process is knowing that improvement is not going to happen.

I have often wondered what it must be like not knowing who you are or where you are. Forgetting your past and even your identity makes you do things that are totally out of character. A couple of times Mama has slapped one of her caregivers and even used inappropriate language. These are things that are completely unlike who she is and has been her entire life. Most of the time her caregivers speak about her kindness and sweet personality, but those ugly responses have appeared a few times.Dementia

I bring this up because Dementia seems to be an accurate metaphor for the American church. It seems as if the church is experiencing a similar debilitating disease, forgetting who it is and what it’s supposed to be. Let me clarify by stating I’m not referring to the church identified in the Bible as the body of Christ. I’m speaking of the American church—the church that embraced the notion that being a follower of Christ is equivalent to being an American.

It came on almost imperceptibly. For several years, Daddy talked about Mama losing her memory, but since none of us were with her every day we thought he was exaggerating. After he died, and we were more involved with her life, it was obvious she was struggling.

In like fashion, almost imperceptibility, the American church began to lose its identity and history. I’m certainly not qualified to write a history of the American church, but I can offer one example that suggests this might be the case—the issue of abortion.

It wasn’t that long ago, at least in my lifetime, evangelical Christians were not as singularly focused on the issue of abortion. The Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Decision allowing abortions was issued in 1973. Speaking about that decision, W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, spoke out in support of the ruling with these words: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” Continue reading

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Finally, An Idea by a Church that Has Potential

There’s a church just down the street from our house with a good-sized sign out front that reads, “Drive through prayer on Friday.” I didn’t especially feel the need for prayer at the moment, but who knows, by tomorrow I might just stop by. I hope the line at the drive-through isn’t like the line at Chick-fil-a. It probably won’t be that crowded since I suspect more people are interested in chicken than they are prayer.

But the sign got me to thinking—always a dangerous proposition.

I wonder if they have one of those typical drive-through speakers that are characterized by static and often unidentifiable noises? That could be discouraging if you request prayer for your Aunt Suzie’s sciatica and they end up giving you a prayer for Grandmother’s drinking problem. After a few minutes, you find yourself screaming, “NO! My Grandmother doesn’t have a drinking problem. It’s my Aunt Suzie’s pain in her butt.”chicken basket

Perhaps there’s a big menu board as you round the corner of the church and approach the speaker. Instead of photos of chicken baskets and cheeseburgers, there would be pictures of saints on their knees at the altar.

That got me to thinking once again.

What would be on the prayer order menu? Items one through ten could be combos for the Big Ten. That would be a prayer of forgiveness for the sin of…

  • Having another god, like working nights and weekends so you can have more money.
  • Making an idol, like your favorite political party.
  • Taking the Lord’s name in vain, like when your lottery ticket is a loser.
  • Neglecting the Sabbath because the Cowboy’s kickoff was scheduled before church was over.
  • Dishonoring a parent by telling your parents you were busy when they invited you for dinner last weekend.
  • Committing murder, well, hopefully not this one.
  • Committing adultery, it happens, apparently to a large percentage of us.
  • Stealing something, who doesn’t?
  • Lying about my neighbor, especially to the neighbor on the other side of my house.
  • Coveting something, but that doesn’t include the new I-Phone.

Since it’s a combo prayer, it comes with a side order of two lesser sins of your choosing.

Other items on the menu could include a prayer for sickness, yourself or a loved one, and if you’re willing to super-size this item, they might even throw in a hospital visit (probably not because I don’t think pastors do this any longer).

Perhaps you need a prayer for guidance. This combo prayer would come with an abridged version of John Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” In case you’re wondering, Calvinists have the opinion that God is operating this whole thing as He pleases, so you don’t need to worry yourself about finding His will.

Another combo prayer could be for the person seeking salvation. It would come with a side order of the Roman Road and a free mpg download of “Just As I Am” that continually repeats until you say “yes” to Jesus.

One other thing I need to note—it’s an Assembly of God church. Perhaps that means you can either get your combo prayer with or without speaking in tongues.

Wow, I’m excited. I’m going to work on my list tonight, so I’ll be ready for drive-through prayer tomorrow. That will be especially nice since it’s supposed to be much colder tomorrow. I won’t even need to get out of the car. Thank you Jesus!

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I’m Embarrassed to be a Christian

I was born a Christian. That’s not a theologically correct statement, but it is a reality. There was never a time in my life when I could not be identified as a Christian. My father was a preacher, and even though I don’t remember, obviously, it’s likely the first place I was taken after birth was to church. That was the only place my parents ever went in those days.

I grew up in the church. There was no such thing as a nursery or a children’s program. I went to “big church,” held in my mother’s arms until I could sit and then I was placed on the pew next to her side. I stayed there until I was old enough to get permission to sit with a friend and his mom, but it was always at church.Embarrassed

I was eight or nine years old when I was baptized into the Christian faith after I made a public profession of faith. However, that experience did nothing to change my life. I had always lived my life as a Christian, so the fact that I was now “official” made no difference.

I was taught, and I memorized scripture. It was pounded deep into my consciousness, and God’s word became the guiding moral code of my life. It continues to be my guide for living to this day.

All my friends were Christians. I had friends at school, of course, but in my younger days, even those school friends went to our church. We didn’t do extracurricular activities that interfered with church plans. I’m not complaining. I had many friends from church, and I still have contact with many of them. I have always been a Christian among Christians.

I’ve worked a few non-Christian jobs over the years, but none of them stuck. Most of my life has been spent working for the church or Christian organizations. Even now, as I’m self-employed, much of my work is focused on Christian stuff. I am most well-known in Christian circles, and most of my friends are Christian, even on Facebook. Continue reading

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Broken: The Life and Times of Erik Daniels

Every person is broken in some way. Most of us get repaired along the way and become functioning contributors to the world. Others are severely broken, and despite the best efforts of family and friends, never are entirely repaired. Erik is the only person I have ever known who was completely broken and never had anyone care enough to help him put his life back together.

I met Erik when he asked me to write a book for him, a “tell-all” book about his life. He was living in hiding, using a fake identity, and facing a death sentence from people who were out to kill him and the doctor who diagnosed him. The 39 years of his life were filled with tragedies and horrors that would have broken most of us.Broken FC

As he told me his story, so I could write his book for him, he provided vivid details of abuse, violence, murder, drugs, and prison sentences. Beginning with a mother who cared nothing for him, a father who abandoned him, a stepfather who abused him, and a grandfather who molested him he became a hardened criminal as a young teenager. In prison, he was mentored by a leader of a hate group and international drug dealer.

Out of prison, his young adult years were spent with drug trafficking and murder. He arrived at a point in his life where his only goal was survival. He became good at surviving, but along the way, he damaged many others.

Although Erik doesn’t sound like the kind of person you want to befriend, after spending hours listening to his story and re-listening to the recordings, we became friends. We never met in person, I have no idea what he looks like. If he were talking in the next room, I would recognize his voice, but I wouldn’t know his face.

His story was painful for him to tell and painful for me to hear. I have tried to tell it for him so you can understand him like I do. He is not a lovable person. But he is a person who can be and needs to be loved.

“Broken” is Erik’s story, but it is more than that. It is my story. Telling the story meant a lot to him. Hearing the story meant a lot to me. I hope that as you read the story, Erik Daniels will impact your life like he has mine.

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Thoughts and Prayers

There’s a phrase frequently heard in the aftermath of a tragedy, especially after a huge disaster like a massive hurricane, extensive flooding, or a mass shooting. We hear people say their “thoughts and prayers are with the people of…” and fill in the blank identifying those who are suffering. We hear it from television announcers, politicians, and almost everyone making any type of public remarks. It might be one of the dumbest things a person can say.

What exactly does it mean? I understand the “prayers” part. I’m all for praying for people in the midst of a storm. Personally, I have always been encouraged when people tell me that they are praying for me. I take them at their word. I’m a firm believer in prayer, and I try to remember to pray for those I know who are suffering. It is a good thing to tell people they are in our prayers.

However, what possible good does it do for someone to say to a suffering individual that my “thoughts” are with you? Huh? Ok, so what? Am I supposed to find comfort that in the midst of my suffering you are at least thinking about me?

Sometimes if a friend tells me he is going to a baseball game, I might say, “I’ll be thinking about you.” What I really mean is that I’m envious and wish I was going and I want him to know how fortunate he is to be at the game. He’s not going to have a better experience at a baseball game because I was thinking about him. I might even ask him where he’s sitting so I can catch a glimpse of him on television, but again, that’s not going to benefit him in any way.

If my house washed away in a flood or was blown away by a tornado, your thoughts are not very helpful. If a friend or family member was killed by a sniper, knowing that you are thinking about me does not provide a great deal of comfort. For some reason, we take great pride in telling suffering people they are in our thoughts and prayers.

I have an idea where this came from. Many people who don’t pray or believe that prayer makes any difference are not going to say, “I’m praying for you.” Why would they? But, they want to communicate something, so they offer nothing—their thoughts. For many people, thoughts are equally as effective as prayer. Now it has become the accepted response. The phrase allows everyone to say something and feel like they are contributing. “My thoughts and prayers are with you (even though I don’t believe either one is helpful).” So, those who believe in prayer and those who don’t believe in prayer can feel better about themselves.

I’m somewhat perplexed when anyone uses the phrase, but it is especially disconcerting when it is used by someone who has the ability to do more than offer “thoughts and prayers.” For example, to hear a politician send out “thoughts and prayers” to families of the victims of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas is not the least bit helpful when they have it in their power to do so much more. How about working to pass some laws or devise some better circumstances where this type of thing doesn’t happen again?

Or, the President telling the people of Puerto Rico that his “thoughts and prayers” are with them and then does very little to alleviate the actual suffering. I think if I were in Puerto Rico I would suggest he keep his thoughts to himself and send some real help.

Or, what about the NRA member who sends “thoughts and prayers” to those suffering in Las Vegas and then sends his membership dues to the NRA?

If you believe in prayer, when there are people in need, get on your knees in prayer. If you don’t believe in prayer, get off your butt and do something else that is helpful. Write a check, grab a carload of supplies and go help, lobby your Senator or Representative to do something. I hate to tell you this, but your thoughts are not really helpful to anyone if that is all they are—thoughts.

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The Myth of Tragedy

This week, a Congressman from Louisiana was shot by a deranged man (how else can you describe someone who did what he did). The heavily armed gunman stalked a group or Republicans practicing for a baseball game in an apparent attempt to make an obvious political comment. It was a tragedy in every sense of the word.

Shortly after the incident occurred, we began hearing that perhaps this tragedy will help bring us all together. A few thousand additional people showed up at the baseball game a few nights later, and a significant amount of money was raised, more than in the past. News stories were filled with calls for the need to come together.Tragedy

There has been a great deal of moaning about the dysfunction in politics and the sharp divide throughout the nation. Whenever a tragedy of any kind occurs, there is the notion that it will bring us back together.

That is a myth. Tragedies do not unify the country.

I realize you are going to remind me of the horrific tragedy of 9-11 and how the entire country came together. It appears we were united as a result, and all of us made the same commitment to make sure this never happens again.

However, I don’t think it was the tragedy that united us because that’s not what normally happens after a tragedy. Think about other tragedies that have occurred in the recent past.

  • Twenty young children were shot and killed at Sandy Hook.
  • A nightclub in Orlando was shot up, and forty-nine people died, and another fifty-eight were wounded.
  • Five police officers were killed and nine others wounded by a sniper in Dallas.

The full list is much longer. However, none of these events brought the country together. In fact, they did more to highlight our divide than they did to heal our separation. After each one of these incidents, people became more and more entrenched in their opinions about the causes and solutions for these events.

It seems to me that tragedies are ultimately divisive. When a tragedy occurs, it is important to assess blame, and we tend to place the blame on the basis of our preconceived notions. For example, when someone shoots and kills a group of people what do we do? We usually initiate a debate over gun control. When a police officer kills a young black man, what is the result? Often it is a race riot, and police supporters and minority spokespersons shout at each other while the rest of us pick sides.

If tragedies don’t unite us, what is the explanation for what happened after the horror of 9-11? We were united. We all agreed and were willing to accept tight restrictions on air travel. All of us were more watchful when we entered stadiums or gathered in large groups. We didn’t protest when they asked to search our bags. We all agreed that such measures were necessary.

However, it was not the tragedy that brought us together. It was the need for survival. We didn’t mind being searched before getting on a plane because we wanted to survive. Ok, go through my purse before allowing me into the stadium, because I don’t want to die.

The reason a heavily-armed crazy man shooting at a flock of congressmen doesn’t unite us is because it is not a threat to our survival. A police officer carelessly shooting a black teenager doesn’t unite us because most of us aren’t black, so we’re not worried about survival. It pains us to see dozens of deaths in a nightclub, but it doesn’t unite us because few of us will ever be seen in a gay nightclub. It’s not a threat to our survival.

We need to stop buying into the myth that someday a tragedy is going to unite our country. The sooner we accept this truth, the quicker we will get about the hard work, roll up our sleeves, sit down at the table with one another, and find the solutions to our divisions.

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When My Fist Meets Your Chin

I had a friend in High School named Rocco Bomareto. I’m not kidding, that was his real name. He was Italian, like many others in my high school, but I don’t think his family belonged to the Mafia even though it would have been a great name for a local mob boss. Rocco and I shared a locker for a couple of years, and we were an unlikely couple. I was a skinny kid in a wheelchair, and he was the state heavyweight champion wrestler for two years.

We had a new kid show up one year at school. You remember how it is with new kids—they have to make their way, so they often do strange things. This kid came in as a tough guy, wanting everyone to know he was not to be messed with. It only took a few days for us to realize the new kid needed to be put in his place, so Rocco took it upon himself to do so.

Rocco climbed on top of a covered walkway between two buildings. Three or four boys on the ground took the news kid’s motorcycle and lifted it up to Rocco who reached down with one arm and pulled it up to the roof. There it sat for the rest of the day. I don’t know how he got it down; we all went home after school.punch

Looking back now I can say that Rocco was wrong in putting the motorcycle on the roof. It was not a very caring thing to do, although it was kinda funny at the time. At the same time, the new kid should not have been surprised that something like this happened. After all, if you attend a school with the state heavyweight champion wrestler named Rocco, it is probably a terrible mistake to try and be the tough guy.

When I was in school, they taught us about the interconnectedness between freedom and responsibility. It was drilled into us that we could not continue to enjoy freedom if we were unwilling to accept responsibility. It seems that most of us understood that and we continued to enjoy the freedom of being an American.

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