My Red Face

I have two goals for today:  1. Wash my clothes in preparation for my return travel Monday; and 2. Keep my face out of the sun.

I have a minor case of sunburn.  That’s rare for me.  So rare that it’s not something I think about when preparing for a trip.  I have one of those complexions that darkens more than reddens, unlike my fair-skinned wife who could burn walking to the mailbox.  So, though I don’t bask in the sun because of other health risks, I just don’t ever think about sunburn.  Perhaps that’s how this happened.

Or it could have been lots of exposure over the course of ten days on the Equator, one of those cases that builds up gradually, unnoticed until that telltale sting sets in.

Or it might have been yesterday’s siesta.  I crawled into a hammock, closed my eyes, and enjoyed the cool ocean breeze blowing across my face.  An hour or more later, I woke to a different facial sensation entirely.  Perhaps that’s it.  I just fell asleep.

As I gingerly babied my face this morning, it occurred to me.  I have been sunburned relatively few times in my life.  But I have been sin-burned more times than I care to admit to myself, much less to you.  And as I thought about it, that happens in exactly the same ways.

Sometimes I simply think I’m resistant due to my complexion. I’ve been a Christian so long now, surely I should have built up some immunity. That presumption has reddened my face about as often as I was arrogant enough to think it.  At other times, I simply suffered repeated and prolonged exposure. You know what I mean. We see incivility and coarseness, language and immodesty, etc. day after day after day, until those vices cease to horrify us.  They become the new normal, and we don’t even consider the long-term effects of repeated exposure.  And then there are those times—those ridiculously, maddeningly frequent times—when I just fall asleep.

Thank God for the balm of Jesus, to heal the burn of sin and take away its sting.

A Lesson on the Playground

I mentioned in my last post that I was Ecuador bound.  I am now in that sweet sanctuary, enjoying the beauty, the culture, and really everything about the experience.  I haven’t written about it before now, for a couple of reasons.  First, I have been intentionally, seriously resting.  I have felt since at least last summer as if I have a 40-year sleep deficit, and I gave myself permission to sleep a lot on this trip.  So far, so good!  Also, I’ve been “a bit puny,” as my mother used to say.  I came with a slight but consistent cough, which I have not shaken.  Then, a few nights ago, my digestive system objected to something, maybe nothing more than the heat and sun exposure.  None of these things has been a major obstacle to my overall enjoyment of the trip, but I haven’t pressured myself to write, or photograph, or … well, I haven’t pressured myself to do anything at all.

But I write now to record something wonderful I just saw.  I was walking the beach, which I find every bit as nourishing and restorative as you do.  I try to walk along the water line created by the current tide level.  That way, I can wet just my feet in the outer edges of the incoming waves.  But twice in the last few days that strategy has backfired on me.  As I walked peacefully along that perceived boundary, suddenly a maverick wave engulfed me up to my waist.  Of course, there was nothing to do but look toward heaven and chuckle, knowing my Father was having a little fun with me.

Then today something different happened.  I had paused to watch two hermit crabs.  They were scurrying about, pausing here and there to look into a sand cave.  Fascinating creatures.  Then all of a sudden Bernie and Bernadette shot like rockets toward the shore, going three feet into completely dry sand.  I was both amused and puzzled.  Was some predator close by?  Not that I could detect.  Had they just then noticed me?  Was I the disturbance in the force?  To check that theory, I moved toward them, but they seemed as oblivious to me as they had been previously.  Then, some fifteen seconds after their 20-yard dash, one of those maverick waves crashed ashore.  It was 10 feet beyond the previous high-water mark.  And it stopped only a foot from Bernie and Bernadette.  That was it!  They headed to higher ground, reading some unseen, unheard telegraph that you and I may never understand.

As I walked home, in my happily dry and sand-free shorts, it occurred to me that if it had not been for the waist-high waves of yesterday, I would never have picked up on the lesson from two little beach creatures today.  My Father was indeed playing with me. But as we all do with our children, He was teaching me something even during playtime.

My Cup Runneth Over

Last month, Steve, a fellow pilgrim whom I consider a good friend though we’ve never met in person, dropped me a text: “Keith, I’ll be in Ecuador in January.  Spirit Air has ridiculously low tickets.  You’ve got a room if you want to join me.”  Want to join him?!?  I love Ecuador!  I definitely want to sit down face to face with my friend!  But, I just didn’t know about the logistics.  I was serving an interim pastorate for a nearby church, plus I already had a trip to PA planned for late January to meet my new grandson Eli.  The church had voted to call a new pastor, but I had no idea how long to expect before he would be on site.  So I asked.  Happily, the new pastor wanted his tenure to begin with the new year.  So I would be free to roam about the country … or even to roam outside the country.  Overjoyed, I booked the trip.

This trip was a kindness from God for so many reasons.  It scratched my seemingly perpetual itch for adventure.  I’d get to return to a place I absolutely love.  I’d get to meet my friend face to face.  And it would help me start a new year with my head on straight.  You see, one thing I really didn’t anticipate about the interim pastorate was how much I would come to love those people.  It’s a lot like foster parenting.  Just when I had come to love them so deeply, I had to release them.  I know it’s the right thing, of course.  A permanent pastor is in their best interest, it has to be this way, etc.  I know all that.  But that doesn’t make it any easier emotionally.  So, I immediately recognized a trip to EC as the kind providence of a loving Father, an opportunity to put my heart back in order before I slipped into a quiet funk.

Then came Dec. 30.  I had preached my last service that evening, so I was a bit, shall we say, mellow.  Late into the night, I felt the need to look forward.  So I did an internet search for “Travel to Ecuador” to find out what the weather would be like, to garner helpful travel hints from others, etc.  The top hit was “Everything You Need to Know to Travel to Ecuador.”  Perfect!  I called up the site and saw Item #1: “Be sure your passport is valid for 6 months beyond your intended stay.”  Wait … what?  As I reread that line, my brain was whirring.  I knew my passport expired in April 2019.  I felt a one-two punch–the immediate uppercut of shock followed by the body-blow of reality setting in.  The trip to Ecuador was in sudden and serious jeopardy!

Frantic research for a solution yielded a ray of hope.  I could make a personal appointment at the Regional Passport Office in Atlanta.  But that hope was mixed.  Was the office even open, or were they affected by the partial government shutdown?  Even if they were open, could they renew my passport within a week?  What if they returned it by UPS, and it got lost like my last two packages from that carrier? Then, in the midst of that panicked moment, I was calmed by two realizations. First, there was not a blessed thing I could do about any of it.  I had no control over the government shutdown, the passport office, UPS … none!  This was in God’s hands.  The second realization was a natural extension of the first: This is in God’s hands, and that’s perfect.  If He wants me to go to Ecuador, that’s perfect.  If He wants me to stay home, that’s perfect, too.  So, riding a tide of peace, I booked the earliest possible online appointment for Jan. 2.

On Jan. 1, I drove to Atlanta to spend the night with friends Bill and Sheila.  These are completely and utterly incredible people, genuine followers of Jesus in thought, in word, in deed, in life.  Every time I’m with them, I’m reminded of how blessed I am just to know them, how kind God has been to let my path intersect with theirs.  And this visit was especially rich.  They were also hosting friends Bill had made while serving God in Guam.  After an incredible meal and the joy of meeting these new friends, I thought to myself, “Even if God’s purpose in all of this were to bring me to Atlanta only for this experience, it would be enough.”

The next morning, I left early for my 10 a.m. appointment.  I didn’t know if the office would be open.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I certainly did not expect what came next.  The office was open.  That was good!  The people who staffed that open office?  Well, they were great!!  The receptionist in the lobby simply beamed as she directed me to the 10th Floor.  The security guards were notably friendly.  I told them I had been worried that the office would be closed by the shutdown.  One guard said, “No, we’re open, but I have a lot of friends affected by it.  You know, if they so much as miss one mortgage payment, they’ll lose security clearance and be out of their job.”  It cast a whole new light on things for me.  While I might lose a trip to Ecuador, hundreds of thousands of people are in danger of losing much, much more.  I moved through to the intake agent, who listened with genuine concern to my problem.  She said with a pleasant smile and hopeful air, “I think we’ll be able to help you.”  She entered my info on a computer, and asked me to take a seat.  Fifteen minutes later, I was called to Window No. 2, where a young man sat behind a bullet-proof shield.  “How are you today,” he asked.  “Nervous,” I said.  “Why’s that?”  I explained my eleventh hour discovery and my concern that the trip was now off .  “What time is your flight?” he asked. I was a bit surprised by the question.  Not “what day,” but “what time.”  “I have an evening flight next Wednesday,” I answered.  “Wait, your flight isn’t today?”  “No, next Wednesday.”  He chuckled. Heartily.  “Keith,” he said, “that’s not last minute around here.  Some of these people in this room have flights this afternoon.  And we’re going to be sure they make them.  Getting you on board next Wednesday might be the easiest case we handle today.”  He looked over my papers, then said, “This is all perfect.  Now, I don’t want you freaking out about delivery (how did he know?), so if you can come back at 12:30, I’ll hand you your new passport personally.”  I gushed like a schoolgirl, “You are now my favorite super hero!”

I then had a bit over two hours to kill.  I looked down the road and saw The Hurt Building, where I had worked as an attorney.  I’ve always loved that building, where Matlock fictionally practiced law but where I actually did so.  I thought I’d just go see how it had changed in 25 years.  As I stood out front, I sent a text to a friend who was a colleague at that time, just to say I was standing in front of our old workplace.  She was in CA for the happy occasion of her son’s wedding … or so I thought.  The answer came back, “You’re in ATL?”  “Yes, I really am in front of The Hurt Building.”  “I’m in The Equitable Building!” she said.  We were a three-minute walk apart.  So I made the trek over to her office.  We spent the next hour and a half catching up and sharing happy memories.  We were both a bit stunned to realize it had been almost 9 years since we last saw each other.  She’s now a partner in an amazing up-and-coming business that provides specialized data to law firms.  I could not be prouder of her nor happier for her.  We compared notes on our families and talked about the ups and downs of our past decades.  Internally, I exulted in the richness of my life and of hers.  And I thought to myself, “What a kind providence that my Father made me come to Atlanta!  First I get this enriching visit with Bill and Sheila.  Then this amazing personal service from the Passport Agency.  Now I get the unexpected joy of reconnecting with Kim.  All of this would have been worth the trip to Atlanta even if nothing could have been done about the passport!”

Today, just when my life could not possibly get any better, I walked to lunch with my daughter Amber.  I am reminded of how special it is that she calls me “Dad.”  On our way home, we stop at a local thrift store, where I’m keeping my eye on a suit jacket, waiting for it to go on sale.  It’s still there.  As I rehang it on the rack, I notice something else.  Something I’ve always wanted but have been too cheap to buy for myself.  A seersucker jacket.  In my size.  Brand new.  With tags.  I was so stunned that I paid the full $6.  Even though it was full asking price at the thrift store, it was still considerably less than the $125 price tag still attached to the sleeve.

So … my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.  And (when all the days of my life have run) I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

My life is good beyond the telling of it.  And the beckoning future better still.

Red Blood in the Blue Water

Three big stories hang over the Republican party after last week.  The first is the sentencing of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer.”  He once said he would “take a bullet,” for the President.  Now he says he will not pay for the President’s crimes.  The second story is the showdown between President Trump and the Democrats over funding to build a wall on our southern border.  President Trump has asserted that he will allow a partial government shutdown unless $5B is allocated, while Democrats are offering less than one-third of that.  And finally, a Federal Judge in Texas has ruled Obamacare unconstitutional after the individual mandate was stripped from the ACA.

My thoughts and predictions:

Regarding Cohen, this is just another brick in the wall.  Robert Mueller has no intention of indicting President Trump.  He will drag his investigation into the 2020 elections and let the people turn Pres. Trump out of office.  He will use his office to uncover ancillary information, assisting federal District Attorneys in NY to bring charges having to do with the business dealings of the Trump empire, to ensure that result.  It’s a bit of an irony, since his original commission was to investigate outside interference in our election process.

I see no way for President Trump to win reelection in 2020.  He won the 2016 election by running as a populist, flipping three “rust belt” states (PA, OH and WI).  Without that trifecta, he cannot win, and I don’t see a replay of those 2016 results.  While the economy boomed during the first two years of his presidency, it reversed course in October 2018 when it became apparent that Democrats would retake the House of Representatives.  And while new jobs are being created, the President has so far been unable to deliver on the populist proposals to bring jobs back to the U.S.

This ties into the Obamacare ruling.  Immense pressure now exists for the Republicans to not just “repeal” but to “replace.”  I believe that will prove impossible with a Democrat-controlled House, for they would much rather have the healthcare issue hanging over the Republicans in 2020 than to work with Republicans for a replacement measure.  The Republicans will be cast as the party who takes from the poor to give to the rich.  Obamacare will be Exhibit 1.  The Trump tax cuts will be Exhibit 2.

On the government shutdown.  For the first time in my memory, the Republicans won the last shutdown showdown.  They were successfully able to cast it as the “Schumer Shutdown” because the Democrats linked passage of a budget to DACA.  Most Americans saw this as looking out for the interests of illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of the American people.  Since DACA was an issue largely identified with the Democrats, that party took the hit despite every attempt to pin it on President Trump.  I don’t think the same dynamics will be in play this time.  The border wall is seen as a Republican issue, and a majority will blame Republicans if the government shuts down.

If Republicans don’t pull out of this tailspin, look for a rout in 2020.  And in the meantime, don’t look for an assist from the liberal media or the Democrats.  They smell blood in the water.

Our Budget (for Politicians and Other Math-Challenged People)

President Trump has now signed a two-year spending bill for the U.S.  Some thoughts:

On President Trump:

  1. He did not campaign as a fiscal conservative, and is not governing as a fiscal conservative.  He’s shown no interest in reducing deficit spending, merely in spending money elsewhere than his predecessors.
  2. Signing this $1.3 trillion spending bill will alienate true conservatives.  I hesitate to speculate about President Trump’s “base,” for I truly do not understand them.  But I know they voted for two things, other than his gregarious megalomania – they voted to “drain the swamp,” disrupt business as usual, and build a border wall.  Massive overspending IS “business as usual.” The bill, which includes funds for Planned Parenthood but not for his promised border wall. merely to avoid a government shutdown, will be (or at least should be) seen as capitulation. Or the whim du jour of a capricious President whose only governing principle seems to be personal popularity.
  3. If the President alienates enough true conservatives, Congress could flip to the Democrats in November.  This will have serious repercussions.  Robert Mueller will extend his investigation into Trump campaign collusion into the next election. A Democrat-controlled Congress will almost surely impeach President Trump. In signing this instrument of surrender, President Trump may have unwittingly signed his own articles of impeachment.

Deficit Spending:

  1. The deficit for the last year of the Obama administration was $587 Billion.
  2. The deficit for the first year of the Trump administration was $666 Billion.
  3. In Forbes magazine, financial analyst Chuck Jones estimates the federal deficit “could come close to if not exceed $1 trillion in fiscal 2019 and will likely exceed $1 trillion in fiscal 2020 and beyond. And this is before the additional deficits created by the tax reform bill and the just passed two year budget.”
  4. Our government actually operated with a surplus in 1998 ($70B), 1999 ($76B), 2000 ($236B), and 2001 ($128B). The politics of this is a subject of great debate.  Democrats point out that Bill Clinton was President.  Republicans counter that President Clinton was forced to conservative fiscal policies when the “Republican Revolution” of 1994 which gave Republicans control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, and that President Bush had to spend more money in the aftermath of 9/11.

National Debt:

Our national debt now stands at $21 Trillion. Just to put that into perspective:

  1. 21 Trillion seconds = 665,450 years.
  2. Our population is 325.7 million (adults and children). So our national debt equals c. $65,000 per person.
  3. Roughly 140 million people pay taxes. So our national debt equals c. $150,000 per taxpayer.
  4. If we miraculously started paying off our debt today, here’s how long it would take (not including interest):
    1. If we paid back $1 million per minute, it would take 40 years.
    2. If we paid back at the 2000 surplus rate of $236B, we would pay our debt in 89 years.
    3. If we paid back at the 1998-2001 average surplus rate, it would take 165 years.

Final Thoughts:

  1. This is more than immoral and unwise – it is completely and utterly ungodly.
  2. We collapsed the USSR by making them spend themselves out of existence.

 

The Nunes Memo

Yesterday, President Trump authorized the public release of the “Nunes Memo,” a 3½ page document prepared by the chair of the House Intelligence Committee summarizing actions related to the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Here are my random thoughts.

The memo alleges:

  1. Members of the FBI and DOJ sought a wiretap warrant from a FISA Court against an American citizen (Carter Page) based on a dossier produced by Christopher Steele.
  2. Steele’s work, undertaken by a group called Fusion GPS, was paid for by the Clinton campaign and DNC, so that it was essentially political “opposition research”;
  3. As “corroboration” for obtaining the warrant, those officials used a Yahoo!News story, which had been based on an interview of Steele himself, so that he was essentially his own corroborating witness;
  4. The FISA court was never told that the “info” originated as political opposition research and would not have issued the warrant had that fact been disclosed.

My first thought … IF those things are true (and I mean IF, because we do not know that currently), those DOJ and FBI officials should not only be terminated, they should be prosecuted.

In the course of this investigation into collusion with the Russians, I have heard many allusions to the Watergate scandal which brought down President Nixon.  I don’t think that is a valid comparison for these reasons:

  1. The Watergate break-in was orchestrated and paid for by the RNC. There was direct involvement by the Republican party, and it seems probable by Richard Nixon himself. Again, we don’t know all of the facts yet from Robert Mueller’s investigation, but a year into this investigation, I have seen absolutely nothing to indicate such high-level involvement. If there was collusion, it was from a low-level  advisor who was with the campaign for a short time.
  2. Richard Nixon was a political genius and mastermind behind the cover-up of Watergate. Despite Donald Trump’s claim to being a “stable genius,” I have seen no evidence whatsoever of that level of political savvy. That doesn’t mean I think the President is stupid, as presented in the media.  That’s simply media bias, and it’s nothing new.  President Reagan was a doddering old fool, George H. W. Bush was aloof and detached from reality, George W. Bush was an idiot despite his degrees from Harvard and Yale and his turnaround of the Texas Rangers, and now Donald Trump is a 70-year old adolescent. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton was a political wunderkind, Barack Obama was always the smartest man in the room, etc.  I get it.  But here’s the bottom line concerning President Trump: morons don’t build $4 Billion empires. What I’m saying is that I don’t think his business acumen translates into political genius.

If there is a Watergate comparison to be made, it seems to me to relate to the Clintons, who have built a political machine that now seems to have operatives even within the halls of government. How in the world does President Clinton meet privately with the Attorney General while his wife is under investigation by the DOJ?  How in the world does the team investigating Secretary Clinton’s use of a private server indicate that she was “grossly negligent” (which is the standard used for criminality) but FBI Director Jim Comey changes that language to say she was “extremely careless” (which has no legal consequence whatsoever)?  How does Secretary Clinton authorize the purchase of a 25% stake in US uranium to a state-run Russian firm, then Russia donates millions to The Clinton Foundation and pays Bill Clinton $500,000 for a single speech in Moscow? How is the Clinton Foundation a “charity” and not the Clintons’ personal Political Action Committee?  I think there are plenty of comparisons to be made to Watergate – just not to Donald Trump.

So I don’t think the Watergate comparisons hold.  But I do think back to that era in the 60’s and 70’s when the political climate was similar to that of today, and I remember a figure other than Richard Nixon.  I think of J. Edgar Hoover.  As head of the FBI, Hoover seized and maintained power by using the FBI to obtain dirt on virtually every political figure in the U.S. and then blackmailing those politicians to maintain his personal power, funding for the FBI, etc.  Hoover is known to have prevented John Kennedy from firing him by threatening Bobby Kennedy (the President’s brother AND Attorney General) with the release of info about JFK’s sexual misconduct. It was the textbook definition of political corruption … and it was centered in the FBI.  When I look at the current political crisis, this is the easiest comparison for me.

The response to the release of the Nunes Memo has also been typical. Democrats are screaming that it undermines public confidence in our government in general and in the FBI and DOJ in particular.  A few thoughts on this point:

  1. Distrust in government is one of the founding principles of our republic. Our founding fathers believed (rightly, I think) that, unless constrained, government accumulates more and more power until it devolves into the very tyranny which they were seeking to escape. Distrust of government is what led to building in the “checks and balances” of three branches of government.
  2. I referred earlier to a political climate in the 60’s and 70’s that seems similar to that of today. We survived that. We will survive this.
  3. In reality, it is not the release of the memo that increases my distrust of government, it is the substance of the memo. Was our FBI and Department of Justice truly weaponized against one presidential candidate? If so, none of us should sleep tonight. That has to be rooted out, exposed and repaired.  Immediately.  I tell my children that they can never earn my love, for they always have had it and always will.  But they must earn my trust, and once broken, it is hard to repair.  The same is true for my government.  I will always love my country.  But my government is not entitled to blind trust.  That they must earn.

One final word.  Dismiss me as a partisan supporter of Donald Trump if you wish.  That would be mistaken on both counts.  Firstly, I did not support candidate Trump.  I dislike both his personal demeanor and his governing style.  To lay all my cards on the table, I simply dislike him less than I dislike Hillary Clinton, who strikes me as the poster child of political corruption and crass opportunism.  But I do believe, as I have argued for Presidents Reagan through Obama, that we ought to be deferential to the President of the United States. Secondly, though I am a conservative, I am an independent conservative.  I tend to resonate more with the Republican party because they tend to be conservative and the Democrats seem to want to run off one of the cliffs on the left coast.  But with that said, I utterly despise party politics.  I detest what President Clinton deemed “the politics of personal destruction.” I have no great affinity for the Republican party, and no allegiance to it whatsoever.  My thoughts are not those of a partisan supporter of President Trump.  They are, I hope, the thoughts of a seeker of truth, a lover of the good, and an American who wants to hand off to my posterity a better country than I inherited.

We Have the Money for Zipporah’s House!

I am simply ecstatic to report that, in less than 30 days, the $5,000 needed to build Zipporah a permanent house has been raised. (If you don’t know the story, please read my blog posts from Oct. 16-17).  Ecstasy is my first emotion, but it is overtaken very quickly by a sense of deep and humbling gratitude- to you for your extraordinary generosity, of course, but even more for our heavenly Father, who knows how to move the hearts of His people to provide for the least of these and moved on so many hearts on behalf of Zipporah.

I have to offer some specific thanks.

First, I want to thank Betty, who cared for and cried for Zipporah, and when God presented the opportunity, she is the one who introduced us.  Pastor Moses Odhiambo of Echoes of Mercy Mission heard, too, and knew immediately that her need could be met.  And Skip Ferron, the Director of GRASP International, gave an immediate “Yes” to the request to oversee and provide accountability for the donations.  The Scriptures tell us, “As often as you have opportunity to do good, do it, especially for those of the household of faith.”  Every one of these people live by that injunction, and helping Zipporah was as natural as breathing to them in this instance.

For individual donors, I will tell their stories anonymously.

I knew this was the work of God when I got a Facebook message from a former Clarion University student who read Zipporah’s story.  She told me that she and her husband look for a special cause every so often, as God leads them.  She purposed in her heart to tell her husband about Zipporah that evening.  Before she had the chance, her husband asked said at the dinner table that very evening, “It’s about time for us to give to a special cause again. Has God put anything in particular on your heart?”  That YOUNG couple donated $1,000.  Immediately.  On Day One.  That was the full amount needed to build Zipporah a mud house, so she told me, “Tell Zipporah she will have her new house.”

Inspired to the point of tears, I knew then God was not going to stop at $1,000 for a mud house.  He would raise $5,000 for a permanent house.

Then the floodgates opened.

I’ve pastored three churches.  Each one of them was represented on the donor list.

My Band of Brothers came through in a huge way.  Three of them donated personally a total of $900.  Others encouraged their churches to give.  The youth ministry of First Baptist Church in Grove City, Ohio,  spontaneously gave $115.98.  A group of young couples from First Baptist Church of Bamberg gave $1,300 – which officially put us over the finish line. Those gifts were the “bookends” of this effort, and I’m grateful beyond words.

A pastor friend in PA asked his church to help – and they collected $613.50 with no notice whatsoever. Thank you, Center Hill Community Church.

The donor list is full of seniors on fixed incomes. And people who gave when their own finances are tight.  People who cared for Zipporah’s welfare more than their own comfort.  Some even gave out of their own poverty.  Just today, Skip Ferron sent me an email.  He just returned from Ukraine, where GRASP International is doing a wonderful work.  He told me of Benjamin M., a young man trying to establish a heat pump business.  He is supporting his family on an average of $400-450 per month.  When he heard Zipporah’s story, he gave $100.  I know God will reward them from the treasures of His grace.

I was completely surprised by a $600 gift by neighbors from 20-25 years ago.  They always did have generous hearts.  I just had no idea their generosity would extend so long and so far.

And then there were those people who didn’t surprise me one bit.  They are generous to the core of their beings, and have been ever since I’ve known them.  Their default answer is yes, and it takes something extraordinary to move them off that answer.  You know who you are.  I love you.  I admire you.  I am honored that you would call me a friend.

I wrote notes of thanks as the gifts came in.  The response was always the same.  It was some variation of, “We’re so happy to help,” or “We feel honored to take part,” or just plain, “God laid it on our hearts, so how could we say no?”  I get that.  But I’ve seen many times when God laid something on someone’s heart, and they were not obedient to His prompting.  So it speaks volumes to me that these people don’t hesitate.  Obedience is reflexive for them.

So to each and every one of you, I wish I had the words to say how wonderful you are to me, but those words just don’t exist.  So even though it’s wholly inadequate, let me say “Thank you” for now.  I hope to be there as a witness when our Father tells you, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Sadness and Seething

I am deeply saddened by the Texas shooting.  I am also seething.

The knee-jerk response of some is “stricter gun laws,” as if that would solve the issue entirely, or as if we had mysteriously repealed the Second Amendment.

Others wave that Second Amendment as though it were absolute, or written in contemplation of AK-47s.  They reply, “You can’t stop a nut job with a law,” as if we should helplessly shrug Texas off. And Las Vegas. And Orlando.  And Sandy Hook. And Columbine.  And …

Others call for more mental health treatment as if our three-generation obsession with mental health has actually improved this issue.  They continue to refer to “senseless” violence, as if these mass murderers gave no forethought whatsoever to their misanthropy.

So, as far as I can see, our response to this insanity is more insanity!

If we’re going to address this, we have to come to some basic realizations:

  1. At its heart, this is a spiritual crisis.  I know we want to label it otherwise, because confronting this reality is both awkward and out of vogue in our society.  But here is the reality – no one who is personally at peace with God has ever gone on a murderous rampage.
  2. We have to stop ignoring the toxic cocktail we are allowing (even forcing?) our children to drink.  We tell them they are the center of their own universe.  We teach them that they are not here by any design or purpose, but rather some cosmic accident of time and space and chance. Uncreated, they are also unaccountable to anyone other than themselves.  So it is really meaningless to ask any questions about life, like “How did I get here?” or “Why am I here?”  They have certain inalienable rights, and among these are the right for no one to judge them in this life or in the next (which is not cherished as the wisdom of millennia, but belittled as the fairy tale of all those religious people who aren’t intelligent enough to know better). They get to determine for themselves what is truth.  They get to determine for themselves what is right and what is wrong.  They get to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but they will not surely die.  Ignore the fact that the pathway of their life is strewn with despair and chaos and death and disintegration – if they just keep going in the same direction, they can reach Nirvana, the bliss of their own nothingness.
  3. We cannot treat “gun violence” in a vacuum.  We are a violent society in a thousand different ways.  We cannot continue to eat this steady diet of violence in our movies, our music, our video games, our recreation, our politics, etc., and then act stunned when someone with a gun gets violent.  In this technological age, we accept the computer programming axiom “garbage in, garbage out.” Are we really so naive as to think this doesn’t also apply to the human soul?  The Scripture articulates this in a slightly different way: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Gal. 6:7-8.  I believe this applies to nations as well as to individuals.  We’re now so accustomed to violence that we are anesthetized to it.  We watch a few minutes of news coverage of the latest shooting, then move on to watch yet another episode of “Law and Order: SVU.”  Can I simply point out God’s expressed reason for the flood in Noah’s day?   “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.'” Gen. 6:11-13
  4. We have to address the meltdown of the most basic building block of our society – the nuclear family.  At the very least, we have to stop subsidizing, even sponsoring, it. But we can do so much more than the very least. And I’m not referring to the culturally redefined family, so hybridized that it is now an annual instead of a perennial.  I mean we have to get serious about what we know in our hearts actually works and what all evidence says actually makes us better – a mom and a dad committed to one another for better or for worse raising children and grandchildren who know they are loved and safe.   The reality is, when we split that atom, we blow things up.

There’s more to say about all of this, and maybe I’ll say some of it in a subsequent post.  Right now, I need to go work in my yard shoulder to shoulder with my son, whose world is simpler than mine.  And better in almost every respect.  He’s seldom sad, and he never seethes.

Random Thoughts on Rest Day

When I wrote yesterday’s blog, I did not mean it to be prophetic. But so it turned out to be. Today we had an itinerary that included a visit to an orphanage and lunch with the lady who administers it. But the long day yesterday seems to have taken a toll on both Pastor Moses (stomach troubles) and Betty (headache). So all plans are cancelled and we will use today to rest before the return trip home begins tomorrow.

We are not going to drive to Nairobi, where my departure is scheduled near midnight. It is impractical because of the massive election demonstrations. Even driving to Kisumu an hour away carries risks, but that is certainly less risky. So the plan is to leave at 5 a.m. and arrive at Kisumu airport before sunup to avoid demonstrations there. We will then fly to Nairobi. The airports are safe because they are so heavily secured, so we should be able to bypass any troubles. Thinking through such issues is so new to me. I’ve not felt unsafe, but I feel as though I’ve been in Kenya during an unsafe time. Several demonstrators have been killed, even more injured in skirmishes with police. The leader of the Election Commission today resigned and fled to the U.S. saying she feared for her life. It is absolute pandemonium. And I thought the 2016 U.S. election was raucous! Depending on the outcome of the elections here, I may be telling my grandchildren that I was in Kenya during an historic time.

Since I’ve had a down day, I’ve written down some random thoughts:

KEITH – In Kenya, “ei” is pronounced as a long “a” (neighbor), and “th” comes out as a hard “t.” Thus, after introducing myself, I am typically referred to as “Pastor Kate.” Just a bit unsettling.

STAIRS – As with many things in Kenya, stairs are done by eye, not by precise measurement. The first step may be 12” high and deep, step 2 may be 8” high and 10” deep, and the third may be 4” high, 8” deep, and sloped slightly downhill. Watch that first step! Watch that last step! Just watch all the steps!

STREETS – It occurred to me yesterday that I did not even notice the menagerie in the streets of Kenya. City or country, it matters not. There will be some assortment of people, goats, cows, dogs, bota-botas (small motorcycle taxis) and chub-chubs (3-wheel covered motorcycle taxis) doing a rhythmic dance in the streets, and it falls to anyone driving a car to weave through. It was nerve-wracking on my first visit. Now … meh.

SPEEDBUMPS – Speedbumps occur frequently on every paved road including the four-lane “highways”, because of the above. They are big, too, about a foot high and 4 or 5 feet wide. I would worry that a Miata could get stuck on one, perched like a see-saw. For the most part, I think they’re unnecessary. The potholes are sufficient to keep traffic from gaining any real speed. The Miata would simply disappear in one of these. And that’s just the paved roads. Unpaved dirt roads? Not only would we not classify them as roads, we wouldn’t even call them cow paths. At times, when discussing how to reach someone’s house, the discussion turns to a calculation of where you have to leave your car and how far you then have to walk. We were driving on one yesterday when we came to a boulder in the middle of the intersection of two such roads. I called it a Kenyan roundabout. I guess I understand why they don’t scrape such roads as we do—they simply don’t have the grading equipment. But I do not understand why they don’t shovel the high spots down and use them to fill in the crevices that threaten to grab your tire and pin your car. No, that’s not true, I do understand. I’m an American, so roads matter to me. This is Kenya, so …. In my view, as long as roads remain a first-world concern, Kenya will remain a third-world country.

IMPROVISING – Africans improvise. They can build a ladder out of anything. They catch rain in anything. They fix anything broken, repurpose anything used up. I have tendencies in that direction myself, and so it is a trait I greatly admire. But I realized a few minutes ago that I was crossing the line. It is pouring rain. That’s a blessing for Pastor Moses, who is outside with a rag washing his car. It is a problem for me, though, because I had washed socks and cannot hang them out to dry. Solution: clothespin them to a ceiling fan! I’m either morphing into a Kenyan or I’ve seen too much Mr. Bean.

This Is Africa

Last night as we went to bed, Pastor Moses told me the agenda for today. We are to go to a nearby village, visit another pastor, and he will show me his ministry. We are to leave by 9 a.m.

But This Is Africa. I’ve done this dance enough to know the steps.

In America, if you were my visitor in Barnwell and I wanted to take you to Blackville to introduce you to my friend Pastor Ken Frederick, we might rise at 7, eat breakfast at 7:30, and leave by 8:30 or 9 to pay our visit. We might even share lunch with Pastor Ken. A long lunch. But we would be home by 2 p.m.

But This Is Africa.

Here, we rose by 7 and ate breakfast until 8, and that is where everything in the agenda changes. It is par for the course. We wait for this person to return from the bank. The person who will accompany us has not arrived, but we expect him shortly. We sent the car to do something else while we are waiting for everything else. It drives most Americans batty, but after a while you adapt and learn …

This Is Africa.

Now, when the moment arrives and all the tumblers fall into place, you had better be ready. If you were lulled into thinking the wait was permanent, you learn abruptly that you were mistaken. There is no time to use the bathroom before your trip, or freshen up, or grab that item from your room. The moment is NOW, and people will let you know. “Chop chop!” “We go!” In the U.S. we have a saying, “Hurry up and wait.” It is almost exactly the reverse in Africa … wait and hurry up!

So we pulled out just before noon. We drove a couple of hours to Koru Bible College. It has a magnificent and idyllic hilltop campus, but the roads (I’m using that term generously) are impassible for anything but a large 4-wheel-drive. Established in 1960, the school flourished for a time, but is now down to only a handful of students. Still they labor on, faithfully trying to keep their motto of 2 Tim. 2:2, “Entrust these things to reliable men who will then be qualified to teach others.”

Then we traveled to Kisumu. We took an early supper there on the shore of Lake Victoria. Then it was on to the house of Pastor Maurice. We visited him because of the death of a colleague. We sat together in his home (a very simple home, the kind I hope we can build for Zipporah), with two men who may have been family members, church assistants, or both, and were served tea and bread. One of the fellows intrigued me by taking two slices of bread and eating them together though there was nothing between the slices – a nothing sandwich.

After an hour or so, we went to visit the widows of the colleague. He had two wives, not unheard of in Kenya. One wife lived nearby, and we went to her home in the village of President Obama’s grandfather. The home was also a simple structure, but I noticed two things. Her walls were not exposed concrete. Instead, the room was “wrapped” with a woven fabric much like our cotton throws. Also, there was a hodgepodge of large laminated posters, all of which would strike us as peculiar. Some had Roman Catholic images of Jesus. One was a large 2017 calendar produced by a Kenyan tool distributor. The one closest to me was a poster of “Ten Commandments of Marriage,” like “I will always respect your individuality,” or “I will give you freedom to be yourself.” All ten seemed odd to me. Perhaps it requires some African context that I’m missing. But that would not explain the giant image in the corner of the poster, of Prince William and Kate on their wedding day.

Everyone was concerned for this wife, because under tribal customs, she would now be inherited by someone related to her late husband. She would fall under intense pressure to marry him, and if she refused, she could be harmed, even killed. She is completely vulnerable. Pastors will do their best to help her withstand these pressures, but they cannot surround her with security. So she faces a bleak future. I’ll spare you a second rant about traditions.

When we had prayed for her, we left for the long ride home. We had to pass through Kisumu. As it was late into the night, we had little concern of encountering demonstrations. So we faced a moment of alarm when we found ourselves in the sudden commotion of stalled traffic with people running everywhere in the streets and shouting. It turned out to be a traffic accident. Quite a serious accident, I think. The man had struck a large rock in the middle of the road. Demonstrators had put it there earlier. It would require lots of people to move it, and the people are not inclined to do so for two reasons. First, the people generally side with the demonstrators. Second, removing the stones could prove dangerous to one’s health.

We crawled back into the compound just before midnight. I had only a moment of internet access, so I tried to check on any developments concerning Zipporah. Nothing substantive yet.

I used my last minute to wish Debi a happy 37th Anniversary at precisely midnight. Not much of a present, huh? So let me take this occasion to say, “Honey, I love you. I’m honored to be your husband. Thank you for being the kind of wife who understands rather than complains because your husband is half a world away on our anniversary. ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’”