Refusing to Stand for the Pledge…

pledge

I approached fourth grade with dread.  Everyone knew the meanest teacher in the school was Mrs. Hendon, and I was assigned to her class.  That first day began as all school days did: the bell would ring, the principal would come on the PA system, and intone: “Please stand for the pledge of allegiance to the Flag.”  We all stood in Mrs. Hendon’s class, all except a one little girl named Audrey.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag…”  Why isn’t Audrey standing?  Doesn’t she realize that Mrs. Hendon is her teacher and Mrs. Hendon eats disobedient children for breakfast?

“… of the United States of America.  And to the republic…”  We glanced at each other.  What was about to happen?  Why wasn’t Mrs. Hendon exploding?  Maybe she had a time delay fuse!

“… for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible…” Surely any moment now, Mrs. Hendon would jerk Audrey up out of her seat by ear and cause her to grow two inches.

“…with liberty and justice for all.”

Then we all sat down.  No Mrs. Hendon explosion.  No explanation.

At recess, the boys got together and decided Audrey didn’t stand for the pledge because she was a communist.  We also decided that Mrs. Hendon was a communist, too, but she was faking it better than Audrey.

I don’t really remember how many days passed, but I know every day when we stood for the pledge, Audrey would stay seated.  We all thought in our hearts, “Communist!”

I think it was Charles Brown who said it out loud one day.  We had finished, taken our seats, and were ready to hear the announcements when he said, “Audrey’s a communist!”  Audrey put her head down on her desk and began to cry.

Then we saw the full wrath of Mrs. Hendon.  She turned toward us with clenched teeth, and scowl that made our crew cuts stand up straight.  If the wrath of God is anything like the wrath of Mrs. Hendon, I don’t want to ever experience the wrath of God.

“Be quiet!” she hissed.  Then she turned to Audrey and with great gentleness told her to go to the Sick Room.  This made no sense at all.  Though we knew communists were sick, we thought they belonged in jail.

Then Mrs. Hendon, slightly calmed, turned back to us.  Audrey, she explained, was a Jehovah’s Witness.  I raised my hand to ask what in the world was a Jehovah’s Witness.  I knew only of Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Catholics.  Mrs. Hendon said Jehovah’s Witnesses were taught it was wrong to say the pledge of allegiance.  They loved their country, she said, but they believe you should only make a pledge to God.

We were all thoroughly confused.  Mrs. Hendon saw our puzzlement, and went on to explain that liberty for all, which we had just pledged, meant that people like Audrey had the liberty not to say the pledge. Being an American, she said, meant you were free to worship God the way you saw fit; and if your religion said not to say the pledge, that was okay.

She must have realized she was not getting through to us.  Being free to disagree was not big among fourth graders in 1969.  Mrs. Hendon decided to put it in terms we could understand: “If I hear one of you making fun of Audrey again, I will spank you with my board of education.”  That we understood.

The rest of the year passed.  While we stood for the pledge every morning, Audrey stayed seated.  We did not call her a communist; in fact, we learned she was a lot of fun at recess and could clean your clock playing dodgeball.

The refusal of NFL players to stand for the National Anthem made me think about this.  I’m proud to be an American.  I stand for the pledge and say it loudly.  But I’m also proud that liberty for all means Audrey got to stay seated.  I’m also embarrassed, that I called her a communist, just because she wasn’t like me.

Jesus said, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”  Whenever I judge someone, it says a lot more about me than it does about them.

To Think It is to Do It – Sometimes…

41-BYF-BLACK-WIDOW-GERMAN-LUGER-RIG_100753465_42464_C563E329246D7FD2

I was taught to think something is to do it.  No doubt Mama taught me this so I could learn to control my thoughts.  It didn’t quite work that way.  Too often I would think something, and then decide since I already thought it, I might as well do it.  This explains the failure of many diets.

I went to Florida to celebrate my brother Steve’s 65th birthday.  To celebrate, we went to a gun show, one of his favorite leisure activities.  I collect books; Steve collects guns (I have more books than he has guns, but he is closing the gap).

We went our separate ways, for we have different speeds.  My approach is to do a quick circle, then go back to what I find interesting (I found a booth that had books on guns!).  Steve, much like our father, makes a new friend at every booth.  I mean, every booth.

We crossed paths after a couple of hours and he told me he found a gun he wanted: a 41 German Luger pistol.  I walked back to the booth with him (it was his birthday after all).  The seller, Steve’s new best friend), had just sold the pistol.  Steve missed out on his gun.

Being the compassionate brother I am, I reminded him of what Mama taught us: “You know Steve, Mama also said to think it is to do it.  So I thought about buying you that gun for your birthday.  In fact, I my mind I bought it and I have given it to you.  Now the least you could do would be to say ‘Thank you.’”

Without missing a beat, Steve replied, “I’ve already thought about writing you a thank you note.  It’s in the mail.”

We had a good laugh and teased each other about the gift and the thank you note the rest of the weekend.

But maybe this is one time when Mama’s teaching was incomplete.  Whatever action we take first forms in our mind, so we need to monitor our thoughts.  As I monitor my thoughts, I can reject destructive and unhealthy thoughts.  Every time I reject destructive and negative thoughts, every time I do not allow them to control my actions, I win.  I can think about eating a candy bar, but if I reject that thought, thinking is not the same as doing.

I wish I was the kind of person who never had destructive, unhealthy, negative thoughts enter my mind.  That’s why Paul called us to “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind… (Romans 12:1).”  My mind has been under construction for a long time.  At least the process has started.

What remains important, however, is that I recognize the harm that comes to myself and others when I allow the unhealthy, destructive thoughts to become actions.  Stopping those thoughts gives me a better life.

Pay attention to your thoughts.  Turn away from the destructive ones.  Don’t allow the harmful thoughts to become actions.  To think it is not the same as doing it.

Although, I still wish Steve would send me a thank you note for gun I thought about buying him.

Hef’s Answers

Hugh_Hefner_Glamourcon_2010.jpg

Dallas Willard, philosopher and Jesus follower, said all people are trying to find the answers to four questions:

  1. What is reality?
  2. Who is well off?
  3. Who is a good person?
  4. How do you become a good person?

Hugh Hefner died last week.  Founder of Playboy, he sought to redefine “what is a good life?”  How did Hef answer Dallas’s questions?

What is reality?  Hefner said reality is what is here and now.  Yet, there is a contradiction between his words and his life.  The Playboy brand above all stands for fantasy.  Beautiful women stared at you from a glossy page promising pleasure without commitment or complication.   That’s not reality.  Every human being needs love, acceptance, and security.  Playboy could never quite offer these in its pages.

Who is well off? According to Hefner, you were well off if you had the resources to live as you wanted.  Hef wanted to live where he made the rules.  Granted, his lifestyle was the envy of many.  Money poured in.  There were always potential partners for intimacy.  Hef repeatedly said of himself, “I am a lucky guy.”  “Lucky” is our culture’s word for “blessed.”  Yet his lifestyle did not age well.  Hedonism seems to suit the young and fit.  At some point, Hef’s life seemed creepy.  A man in his eighties having seven girlfriends in their twenties makes you wonder who was being exploited.  Maybe it was mutual exploitation: “Hey old man, pay our bills and we will give you a thrill.”  This falls short of “being well off.”  Where is the center of the soul in a bargain like this?

Who is a good person?  Hef saw himself as a moral person.  He said to live a moral life you need to make sure you do not harm someone else.  Before you rush to condemn him, realize we all have our own definitions of what makes a good person.  I fail at my definition every day.  Did Hef do better than me?  He certainly baited the hook for pornography addiction.  By making the sexual experience the pinnacle of human existence, other parts of the soul were ignored.

My brother Bob dated a girl in high school, Debbie, who became a Playmate of the month.  She died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at age 53.  Her body was not discovered for two weeks after her death.  Was there a connection?  Only God knows.  It does seem to me, however, that Debbie neglected parts of her soul.  She never made the connection that she was so much more than a body.

When any person is objectified, they are harmed.  Hef failed to a moral person by his own definition.

How do you become a good person?  Honestly, Hef was a little fuzzy on that.  He offered a life model that said, “Live as you wish, do not harm, and be admired.”  Though Hef would claim his life was dedicated to sexual freedom, the complete picture seems to be a life dedicate to yourself.  A life dedicated to yourself is a cul-de-sac.  You chase a pleasure dream around a circle.  If you catch it, you soon see something you like better, and start a new pursuit.  How many times around the circle before the thrill is gone?  A former playmate shared her experience of being one of Hef’s many partners.  She described the experience as surreal, because ultimately Hef would need to watch pornography to satisfy himself, while in a room of women.    This doesn’t seem to be the way to be a good person.

You may sense I am building up to a condemnation of Hefner.  I’m not.  What shames me is how much my life has been influenced by his answers.  Thought I am follower of Jesus, too much of my life is controlled by Hef’s values.  It is easier to entertain fantasy than work reality.  I find myself admiring the man who “has it all.”  I want to believe living a good life is about not doing things, instead of doing things.  How many times have I chased a dream, only to catch it and find out it didn’t reward what it promised?

Hugh Hefner’s life and death remind me to check my own soul.  Maybe the good life requires more than just looking out for yourself.  Didn’t Jesus say, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Which road was Hefner on?  Which road am I on?  Which road are you on?

What Happens in Vegas

(NY Times photo)

I could have been there.

I like country music.  If I had been in Vegas Sunday night, I might have bought a ticket and gone to the show in the shadow of the Mandalay Bay Hotel.  I could have listened to the music, swayed a little, and lived in a moment of joy.

I also could have been a target.  Stephen Paddock fired from his perch on the 32nd floor, killing 59 people and wounding over 500 more.  Authorities are still trying to figure out his motives, if insanity can have rational motive.

Shootings like this happen with alarming frequency.  Listening to news coverage, the question I heard most often was, “How do we stop this kind of thing from happening?”  Sherriff Joseph Lombardo replied with an answer we don’t want to hear: “Nothing.”

We live in world where evil seizes the soul and then seeks to destroy.  The destruction is sometimes towards self.  Sometimes it is toward others.  You see evil reaching out of a soul to destroy a career, a family, a marriage, a life.  Evil’s tools are addiction, fear, jealousy, neglect, denial, anger, and craving.

The evil that controlled Stephen Paddock can control you; it can control me.  Yet, we want to deny the reality of evil.

We’d like to make the world safe.  We’d like to have enough laws to stop this sort of thing.  Technology has given us the illusion we can build a world where nothing can threaten us.  We’re happy in that delusion until the next shooter opens fire.

Even if we acknowledge the world is dangerous, we try to convince ourselves we can respond.  I have no way of knowing this, but since it was a country music concert, I figure someone had a concealed weapon – legal or not.  There were police and security forces right there.  But a .38 pistol is no match for scoped rifle firing on automatic 400 yards away.  No matter how big your gun is, someone, somewhere, has a bigger gun.

Jesus told us things like this would happen.  This text is seldom taught or preached on, but it rings true: “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish (Luke 13:1-5).”

We don’t like Jesus telling us the harsh truth.  Pilate was evil and didn’t care if he had to kill some people to stay in power.  Some unknown government official never took responsibility for tower maintenance in Siloam and eighteen people died (neglect is a form of evil, too).

Jesus’s message?  “Repent, or you will perish.”  I think Jesus was saying to us that it’s a dangerous world.  The only way for evil not to overtake you is for you to turn around and do life God’s way.  When you do life God’s way, evil does not control you inside or out.  You are not the person controlled by evil; when evil is done to you, even if you die , you know God has the last word on your life.  You can die in hope.

What happened in Vegas does not stay in Vegas.  It can happen wherever people are.  It’s an evil world.  When you are with God, however, evil does not win over you.  Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.