What Others Say

Just a note to thank you for your wonderful weekly columns in the Galveston Paper.
To open a newspaper and see references to God, Scriptures, Kindness, Peace, Loving one another is what our whole world needs now more than ever. -John D. Galveston, Texas

Monday, February 25, 2013

White Space


For most of us, life starts out fairly simple.  When my wife and I married we could, quite literally, pack all our possessions in the back seat of our car.  But along the way, we picked up clutter.  The closets and attic overflow. Periodically I move boxes around in the garage so she can get her car in.   Stuff seems to multiply to fill every nook and cranny.  It is hard to throw it away.  Even what looks like trash is somehow attached to memories.  Every scrap of paper, baby shoe and broken toy represents a part of my life.

The calendar is the same.  Business, or “busy-ness,” expands to claim every minute. Every day millions start their day with a swig of coffee while they maneuver their cars onto the freeway munching a breakfast burrito.  Memos, phone calls and meetings  and long hours on your feet are followed by a weary commute home to pick up kids and head off to practice sessions.  No wonder we are exhausted. 

Christians may be especially vulnerable. Richard Foster wrote, “We are trapped in a rat race, not just of acquiring money, but also of meeting family and business obligations. We pant through an endless series of appointments and duties. This problem is especially acute for those who want to do what is right. With frantic fidelity we respond to all calls to service, distressingly unable to distinguish the voice of Christ from that of human manipulators."

We need white space!

Look at Google's homepage.  Someone discovered that the greatest impact is made when there is plenty of white space.  Google keeps it simple.  We need to learn how to live Google lives, with plenty of white space, space in our lives that gives us freedom.  We need deliverance from crammed calendars and cluttered closets. 

It takes discipline to create white space, room for flexibility and freedom, margins in which to breathe.  Jesus knew how to order life with “white space.”  He took time to listen to children, to help a desperate woman who risked touching his garment, to heal a paralytic passed over by the crowd.  He had time for people, and, when he died, his robe was his only possession.  He never punched a time clock.  He did not wear a watch. He was never rushed or in a hurry. 

It is entirely possible that, with our break neck race to “get somewhere” that we might end up “nowhere.”   This might be the reason Jesus said, “… you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” When we simplify our lives with fewer “things” and build “white spaces” for others we discover life itself.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Learning from Lincoln: Dealing with Depression

The sesquicentennial anniversary of the American Civil War is apparently reviving interest in our sixteenth President. Thirteen new books about Lincoln were published in 2012. In spite of the achievements that made him the most intriguing President in U.S. history, all of his biographers agree that Lincoln suffered from periodic bouts with depression. His law partner, William Herndon observed, “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.”

Depression is widespread. It can be debilitating and, in its most severe form, can even lead to suicide. For most of us it is temporary and seldom. For some, it is a lifelong and constant companion. For a few, like Lincoln, it is so devastating that life seems no longer worth living.

According to Mayo Clinic, “Depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” We all know it when we feel it: the heavy weight that seems to bear down upon us, sapping our energy, dragging us down, emotional shackles that reduce our steps to a shuffle, the thief that robs us of creativity and destroys our dreams.

Here are a few proven steps to combat depression, some from Lincoln himself.

Make conscious decisions that refuse to surrender to depression’s emotions. Lincoln learned this discipline and encouraged others to follow it. In 1842, he wrote, “Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again.” Later, in his famous letter to Fanny McCollough, he said, “You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say.” Get up, and get out. Exercise, walk, run, play. Exercise of the body somehow releases a wind within that can blow away the dark clouds that close in on us.

Get with people. Loneliness is depression’s partner. When I was a teenager I read a little known book by a Christian psychiatrist named Henry C. Link entitled Return to Religion. Basically the book said that church is good for the human psyche. After reading the book, I started singing in the youth choir at church and started attending the Sunday evening youth group. It was one small step that led me toward a lifetime in Christian ministry. Going to church is good for us.

Do something good. Guilt and depression are common companions. The acts that make us feel guilty often become the seeds of depression. Acts of altruism will punch holes in the darkness and let in the liberating light. Look for someone you can help. Accept God’s forgiveness for you sins, and then go out of your way to do something for others. Do it privately without seeking any credit. Jesus said, “Your Father who sees in secret, will reward you.”

If the depression persists, seek professional medical assistance. We are complex creatures with a complex chemical balance that affects our moods. Proper medication, administered under the careful supervision of a doctor can help. Speaking of his own depression, Lincoln said, “Melancholy is a misfortune. It is not a fault.”

Trust in God who cares for you. When his father was dying, Lincoln sent him this message, “Tell him to remember to call upon and confide in our great and good and merciful Maker, who will not turn away from him in any extremity. He notes the fall of a sparrow and numbers the hairs of our heads …”

Monday, February 11, 2013

I Dreamed A Dream

Most of us know the song because of Susan Boyle’s appearance on Britain’s Got Talent.  April 11, 2009, Susan stood on the stage in her frumpy dress and outdated hairdo. The audience and judges snickered and laughed during her interview, enjoying the misery of this out-of-touch want-a-be in an out-of-place position. But, when she opened her mouth and began to sing, everyone sat stunned. In a clear voice that was perfectly on pitch, she sang. “I dreamed a dream of time gone by, when hope was high and life worth living. I dreamed that love would never die. I dreamed that God would be forgiving. Then I was young and unafraid, and dreams were made, and used and wasted …”

It seemed that Susan Boyle was singing her own song, a dream of youth faded and gone. After a moment of stunned silence, the crowd leaped to their feet in a standing ovation for this obscure Scottish woman who lived alone with her cat. In November of 2009 she released her first album. It immediately became the number one best selling album in the world.

The song Susan chose to sing that night comes from the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables. It is the song sung by Fantine, an unwed mother ostracized in nineteenth century France for her “moral failure” and forced into prostitution in order to support her child. Anne Hathaway was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Golden Globe for her performance of the song in the recent movie version of the musical.

In 1862, commenting on Fantine, the character in his novel, Victor Hugo wrote, “What is this history of Fantine? It is society purchasing a slave. From whom? From misery. From hunger, cold, isolation, destitution. A dolorous bargain. A soul for a morsel of bread. Misery offers; society accepts. The sacred law of Jesus Christ governs our civilization, but it does not yet permeate it; it is said that slavery has disappeared from European civilization. This is a mistake. It still exists; but it weights only upon the woman, and it is called prostitution.”

Most of us think that slavery ended with the Civil War but, according to International Justice Mission, “More children, women and men are held in slavery right now than over the course of the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade…. Trafficking in humans generates profits in excess of 32 billion dollars a year for those who, by force and deception, sell human lives into slavery and sexual bondage.” According to the U.S. Department of State, “There are approximately 600,000 to 800,000 childen, women and men trafficked across international borders annually.” 80% of these are women and girls. Up to 50% are minors.

International Justice Mission (IJM) was founded in 1997 by Gary Haugen after an international study disclosed widespread global abuse of the poor. Today IJM has over 500 lawyers, investigators, social workers and other staff working in Asia, Africa and South America to confront abuse and rescue victims. More than 95% are nationals in the countries where they serve. (for more information visit http://www.ijm.org)

God gives every generation the responsibility to help others experience dignity, freedom, respect, opportunity and faith. What am I doing today to help others dream their dream?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Faith That Can Change the World

My wife and I finally made it to the new production of Les Miserables with Hugh Jackmon, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, a cinematic version of the longest running musical on Broadway. In 1998 Liam Neeson starred as Jean Valjean in a dramatic movie version. Having read Victor Hugo’s book, written in 1862, I have long believed it is one of the greatest stories ever written.

If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s the gist. Jean Valjean, recently released from a French prison after serving nineteen years for stealing bread, is a hardened, bitter and desperate convict. But, his life is transformed when a priest gives him the silver he has stolen from him. This act of kindness sets his feet on a path of grace and mercy with a heart devoted to God. Valjean changes his identity, invests the silver and becomes a wealthy factory owner who transforms his village with fairness and generosity. He is eventually elected mayor. But, he is hunted by the law and his past catches up with him. Fleeing as a fugitive, he rescues the orphan child of a prostitute whom he has previously saved from the streets.

The story reveals the power of living out Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. ... Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:39-42,44).

When I turned fifty, I set two goals that I wanted to pursue for the rest of the life. The first was to encourage the younger generation to do greater things than I ever dreamed or imagined. Many of them are doing that. The second was to memorize the Sermon on the Mount and live it out. Memorizing it is not that difficult, though I keep forgetting. But living it out is a life-long challenge and I continue to fall far short.

But I am in good company. Victor Hugo brought to life the characters of Jean Valjean, Javert, Fontine, Cosette and Marius to help us see what living out Jesus’ teaching could look like during the French Revolution. Leo Tolstoy, after writing Anna Karenina and War and Peace committed himself to a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount and wrote The Kingdom of God is Within You, a work that strongly influenced Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The reason many in our day believe Christianity and Christian churches are impotent and irrelevant is simple. Most professing Christians have never seriously sought to live by the instructions that Jesus gave us. Living out the Sermon on the Mount is a story any of us, and every one of us, can write every day by the choices we make.