Filling in the Gap Tuesday, Nov 28 2006 

There comes a time in every person’s life when a little assistance is required. When they encounter a gap in the road, no way around, no way across the chasm they are confronted with. Poised on a precipice which separates who they are from who they could be if simply given the chance to reach the other side. The distance may appear to them impossible to traverse, but the canyon they face may in actually be quite small and crossed fairly easily with just a bit of help from another.

Recently while having dinner with a few friends I was relating a seemingly insignificant incident which occurred this year involving a couple of members of my family and was quite shocked at one friends response to it. A little background is required to get a clear picture of the situation. My sister has only two biological children, but has “adopted” dozens of others simply by opening up her heart and her home to them. They come to her when they need a bed to sleep in, a shoulder to cry on, or a prayer said on their behalf. As a result my parents are also now considered “grandparents” by dozens of hard-core, tattooed and pierced teenagers. My mom delights in cooking them special vegan and vegetarian dishes, not an easy task when you grew up on southern cooking. But she’s quite creative and the kids are always surprised and appreciative when she makes them something they can enjoy with the rest of us. She prepared her first “Tofurkey” this Thanksgiving to the delight of many who had not been able to find suitable sustenance at their own family’s celebrations.

The story I told my friend was this. Last March Dawn and I were in Nashville visiting some friends but not all of the kids in her small town knew that we were not in California that weekend. About 4 AM Dawns cell phone rang. It wasn’t one of her two kids or even one of the other four who were living with her at the time; it was Adam, Josh and Joseph. It had been snowing in the local mountains all day and always up for an adventure they decided to take a drive to check it out. They brought with them no chains, no snow tires, just excitement and the ignorance of youth.

It continued to snow all day and late that night as the boys tried to make it up and over the last hill before freedom was theirs, the reality of the situation smacked them square in the face. They ended up sliding into a snow bank and armed with nothing but their wits could not get themselves out of it.

These boys are from San Bernardino, where it rarely gets below 50 degrees so they weren’t exactly dressed for 25-degree weather and 10 inches of snow. Being in the mountains they also found themselves without cell phone service. So there they sit at two o’clock in the morning dressed, well – like teenagers from Southern California. Luckily the people who live on this particular stretch of road are used to stranded motorists and actually sit on their porches when it snows to watch the “lowlanders” slide down the hill into each other. My mother and I were rescued in the exact same spot, by several teenagers who lived on this street not one week earlier. Not only did they bring shovels to dig us out, but also their mom took my kids inside her home and gave them hot chocolate while her heroic children rescued us. So when these boys walked up to a house at two am, knocked on the door and asked to use the phone, they were welcomed in with open arms.

At four am in Nashville Dawn gets a call, “HELP!” She explained to Josh the she was two thousand miles away but that she would call her dad who lived near by in the mountains to see if he could help. So, at 2 am my 66 year old father, drags himself out of bed, puts the chains on his truck, loads up some coats, more chains and ropes and he’s off to rescue some teenagers he’s never even met. He couldn’t pull their car out that night so instead he loaded them into his truck and brought them home for the night. The next day he took them back to their car and called a tow truck, which managed to pull their car out of the snow bank. You would think when talking to these boys now about their little adventure that night, that they had been lost at sea for a week with no food or water and that my father had come steaming to the rescue bringing the entire US Navy with him.

When I related this story quite casually, to my friend Steve his first question was to inquire which of Dawn’s kids it was. “It wasn’t one of her kids” I said “it was friends of her kids”. “Why were they calling her then?” he asked indignantly. I just sat there and stared at him confused. “Because they knew she would help.” I said. He couldn’t believe it. “They’re not her kids she shouldn’t be helping them, they should be calling their own parents.”

This little story tends to makes Steve sound like a jerk but in truth he really isn’t. Which is exactly the reason I guess that I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from him. I argued, to no avail, that they were after all somebody’s children and human beings deserving of help no matter how foolish their actions may appear. He was unwavering. They should not be rescued. In his opinion they should have been taught a lesson. I tend to disagree that being left in a car overnight in below freezing weather is an appropriate response to a teenager’s reckless need for adventure; after all, it’s exactly the type of thing my father would have done at 16 – or 66 for that matter.

It may not seem like something very significant, it wasn’t to Dawn or to my dad, they have rescued people out of much more dire circumstances I assure you and on occasion have been in need of some rescuing themselves. They are always there when someone needs help, even at two am when it’s snowing – it’s just their nature to help someone when asked.

Upon hearing Steve’s reaction I began to wonder why it is such a difficult concept for so many in this day and age to understand, the simple idea of being a helping hand.
I do not understand the argument that a teenager in crisis is not my problem. If I don’t take action when no one else does that teenager may fall through a gap and become everyone’s problem. Prisons today are filled with good people who were left to fend for themselves when no one showed up to help bridge the distance. Stranded on the wrong side, I have often wondered who they may have become if they had managed somehow to reach the other side.

I have heard many people question the worth of not only my parents life spent dedicated to other peoples children, but now Dawn’s tireless efforts on behalf of these kids. She works a full time job, which is over an hours drive from her home, yet she sees her real work, her purpose in life when she walks through her front door.

She has tried to bring others in to help on occasion, but they usually want signed releases from parents saying it’s ok to feed their kids, or take them to church or to a concert. One person even mentioned getting liability insurance! Perhaps a prudent coarse of actions considering the wild and crazy Tuesday nights they all spend at Bible Study in her living room. These kids don’t come with disclaimers, they come with broken hearts.

Most people just stand in awe of her – as do I. Many have given not only praise and prayers for Dawn’s home, but furnishing, food and occasionally a little financial help. But it’s the few who never give, but seem overly concerned with the details, not having any understanding of why she does it; she gets no grants no subsidies after all. It’s those few people asking the value in it, the purpose of it that confounds me.

Numerous people have asked me why she does it. Because they are there, they just show up needing her. Does she get financial help? No. What about the parents of these kids? That is a question I do not have an answer for. Some come from wonderful homes, some have survived home-lives I cannot begin to relate to. But here they find complete acceptance of their music, their tattoos, the searching for their own identities.

My sister has on her wall the lyrics to a song entitled “Mercy Live Here”. She practices it and simply put that is the answer to why these kids keep showing up on her doorstep.

Mercy Lives Here
Words and Music by Derri Daugherty
From The Choir album:
Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen

An empty street in Ohio
Lookin’ to kill some time
We stumbled into Cairo
Egypt must be divine
And the jukebox plays
While a little clown sways
Hey it’s two songs for a dime

Mercy lives here
Oh mercy lives here
At home with the saints and the sinners
Mercy lives here

A girl in the corner is crying
The silver haired lady’s alone
And the queen of the boulevard’s trying
To hustle somebody home
The smokin’ man shakes
While the broken girl aches
And the clown starts to sing his song

He sings mercy lives here
Oh Mercy lives here
At home with the saints and the sinners
Mercy lives here

Mercy, oh mercy
Mercy, oh mercy

Dawn’s cupboards are always bare. Several rooms in her house smell like “teen-age boy”. She gets very little sleep. But she would never turn her back on someone in need. My parents and I help out as much as we can; however we can. Most of the time it’s just prayers, hugs and a shoulder to cry on, but sometimes it’s a snowy midnight rescue at five thousand feet.

Occasionally Dawn will find herself rescuing a child on the edge of that precipice, most often not even aware that they are about to fall in. It is those times, that we can look back and see days, weeks, even months later, a clear picture of the broken road they were on, patched like quilt work, every stitch directed by the hand of God. It is in those moments that I truly understand how a simple gesture, an outstretched hand, can not only mend a heart but fill the gap as well.


Not to get all political but… Tuesday, Nov 7 2006 

Seeing that today is Election Day here I go. I have in the past enthusiastically encouraged everyone I know to get themselves to the polls and vote. I’ve stopped doing this recently not only because it seems hopeless, but because I realized those who I took so much time convincing to vote were voting exactly the opposite of myself.

What seems so hopeless to me is that no matter what the outcome of an election, there will be it seems very little if any change to the welfare of those oppressed around the world.

I recently read “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau. I don’t remember ever reading anything by him before and only think of Waldon Pond upon hearing his name. But I saw it at a garage sale and remembered I had just been told by a nineteen year old less than twenty-four hours earlier, “How do you expect to become a better writer if you don’t read”. Ok he’s apparently smarter than I am.

So I read it, only 48 pages, but that’s all he needed. I never knew Thoreau was such a rebel. Well I knew he was a rebel, but not THAT kind of a rebel, you know the kind that agrees with me. He obviously must be right.

First take into consideration the context of how he came about writing this declaration. Thoreau wrote “Civil Disobedience” when he began practicing it, he wasn’t all talk no action as most of us are. In 1849 he had been arrested and spent the night in jail for refusing to pay a “poll tax” in protest of the Mexican-American war and slavery. Upon his release he went home and wrote ‘Civil Disobedience”.

I think Lincoln must have read “Civil Disobedience” before he said, “Government should ONLY do for the people what they cannot do as well for themselves.” Perhaps he hadn’t read it, perhaps, just maybe less than 100 years after our nations birth, the ideas this country was founded on, the ideals of Payne, Jefferson and Franklin were still very clear to thinking Americans. It was a pleasant surprise to read Thoreau referring to States rights versus the Federal Government just as Jefferson did 100 years before him, which tells me the idea of it had not yet been lost. I was taught in school, and quite wrongly, that when America was founded the overriding, accepted principle was a strong centralized Federal government lording over the people. The concept of States governing themselves without much intervention or interference from the Federal is barely ever mentioned in today’s textbooks, although the debate for a less intrusive limited government actually won the day.* Our children are taught, as if it were truth, that the Founding Fathers believed in very limiting States rights. I have to wonder when we lost the notion of people governing themselves. I guess it must have been during the Great Depression. The idea that “We the People” are not in actuality capable of solving our own problems, that we must look to the government to step in and govern to protect us from ourselves seems to have gained prominence then.

The “New Deal” did solve many problems, but it was a quick solution to serious problems many of which remain to this day. Look closely at those problems and you will see they were caused in great part, BY the government overstepping it’s bounds in some areas, and neglecting for political gain those areas for which they were responsible. A solution that stops the bleeding on the surface while the actual wound remains under the skin is not the healing of it, it only hides the wound and gives a false sense of well-being. So was the New Deal and yet it changed everything. It fostered a notion in the American psyche that the government not the people should be the solution to most problems, not only financial and legal, but social as well.

We as a nation have headed down this path of relying on the government to be the solution to our problems for three generations and I pray it stops, if not with mine than with my children’s. But the idea of individual responsibility, of a single person being able to effect change seems to have been somewhat misplaced even in Thoreau’s day.

“I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name—if ten honest men only—ay, if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this co-partnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefore, it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever. But we love better to talk about it: that we say is our mission.”
H.D. Thoreau
‘Civil Disobedience”

The idea Thoreau was trying to get across is a simple one. Do not expect the government to take action on your part. Voting does not dismiss your obligation to humanity to act on your principles. Go ahead and join Bono’s “One Campaign”, I have, but do not think that you have done your civic duty when you cast your ballot. You are required to act upon your ideals, not just vote for them.

Of voting Thoreau said, “All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote. “

The simplest way that I can put it is this. Get off your butt and DO something. If you think your hands are clean because you are not actively participating in injustice, or because you have gone to the poles and voted your conscience, you are wrong. If we do not get down in the muck, crawl through the dirt and fight tyranny face to face then we are dripping in the blood of the innocent. We cannot as our grandfathers did, say, “We didn’t know about the gas chambers how could we stop them.” Mass media has changed that; the oppressed are in front of us every day, there is no excuse any more for non-action. There are children being slaughter and victimized every day in Africa, listen to their screaming, their blood cries out, and it’s crying out to you and me.

It is not great thinkers who have changed our world; great men who took action have changed it. The ideas of Martin Luther were nothing, until he not only wrote them down, but also took a hammer and nailed them to the front door of the church. He saw injustice and tyranny in the form of religion and he knew it was wrong, so he took his life in his hands and acted.

In the same way Martin Luther King not only had a vision – a dream, but he formed a plan and carried it out forcing change through civil disobedience. He was a spark that helped instill in others the boldness to risk their safety and take action.

I am not a radical, I am not advocating sit-ins and peace rallies though those can be useful tools to bring about awareness and change. Risking a little physical comfort or your financial security seems like a small sacrifice compared to what others in the past risked to change the world for all of us. I am talking about actually becoming a participant in the solution. Not hoping for a solution to come from government or an impotent United Nations, but taking action and becoming the solution ourselves.

The probability of becoming a martyr is slight in this day in age. But the possibility of actually making a difference to the future of another human being by not only reacting to a situation but also responding with action is immense. One man’s vote may not make a difference, but one man’s actions always will.

• Read the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers

How Does God See You? Thursday, Nov 2 2006 

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed.”
by John Newton 1779

How does God see you? I think how we interpret the way God views us determines what OUR relationship is with Him, which in turn determines what kind of God we show the world. He is the same, though our response to His love, His mercy is often based on the relationships we’ve had with other people, especially our earthly fathers.

Unfortunately I have witnessed too many Christians use the dysfunctional aspects of their own relationships to justify the condemnation of others and do it in the name of God. We each seem to regard our relationship with God as the word-perfect gospel truth, the obvious way He meant it to be, then we attribute and assign our ideals to Him rather than to ourselves. The church has pushed so much the idea of a God who looks at us with anger and disdain, waiting quite happily in heaven to punish us, that it has become the complete representation the world has of Him. I think though the reality of our punishment actually breaks God’s heart, in fact I know it does.

Why did Jonah refuse to go to Ninevah? Because he viewed the Ninevites with absolute contempt. Sound familiar? They were dirty and unclean sinners, not worthy of Gods grace and love – according to Jonah. To really grasp a true understanding of why Jonah refused to go one should read the entire account, it’s only four chapters after all, less than two pages in my Bible.

God told Jonah he was to go and proclaim to the Ninevites that they were to repent or be destroyed. One might think Jonah would be elated to deliver to his enemies a message direct from God of their eminent demise. But Jonah knew something of the character of God. He knew a magnanimous God, one of truly abundant grace and mercy.

In the last chapter we see a clear picture of why Jonah was so adamant in his refusal to go – HE DID NOT WANT THEM SAVED! So angry was he at God’s mercy towards the Ninevites after their repentance that he actually begins yelling at God!

Jonah 4:1-3
“But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Oh Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now O Lord, take away my life for it is better for me to die than to live.’ ”

It seems that quite often we go about witnessing to others with the same attitude as Jonah had, not with love and the hope of their salvation, but with anger, seeking condemnation. Do we think we are fooling God when we do this? Can we honestly go to the lost, indignant, with animosity and bitterness, then say to God, “See, I told them of You and they refused to hear it.”

What of love and compassion. What of acceptance, not of the sin, but of the sinner even while they dwell in sin. The church has placed itself in the position as the oldest son in the Prodigal Son parable. When the prodigal son returns home and is not only accepted with open arms by the father, but also is given everything in the kingdom – do we rejoice? No. We are jealous, angry and resentful and at that moment at least, we look nothing like Christ.

What I have found in the New Testament is a Jesus sitting comfortably with sinners who were still in their sin. It’s God’s inexhaustible unconditional love that draws us to Him, not His condemnation. In your relationships with others do you seek out those who condemn you or those who love you no matter what your failings? If that is our nature then, to seek acceptance, why would anyone ever desire to be in the presence of a God who despises them? But that is exactly the picture of God that the church is giving to the world. When the world looks at Christians, condemnation is what they see. Until we can move beyond our hatred of the sinner, until we can separate the sin from the soul, we have no hope of bringing them to Christ. We are not showing them Christ, we are showing them us, and we are a very pale imitation of grace on our very best day.

My nephew handed me a track last week. He had visited a church youth group with a friend and was asked to pass out these tracks to total strangers on the street. I thought the days of the handing someone a piece of paper which told them they were good-for-nothing excrement that God could not possibly love in their sinful state was over twenty years ago. Unfortunately I was mistaken.

These tracts were made up to look like money. The same size, same color, a picture of a president on the front. It even had the texture of money. Christopher told me how they would hand people walking by these worthless pieces of paper, and watch them at first get a slight thrill, then when they realized it wasn’t real money, see disappointment and disgust wash over them. Should the initial introduction of Jesus to an individual be based on deception? Isn’t a true picture of Christ enough to cause someone to want a relationship with Him?

I was appalled to say the least. But I hadn’t even read the tract yet. I hope that most people who come across these things simply throw them away without reading the fine print. Because what it had to say, is the very reason the church has so miserably failed at having any kind of positive impact on the world.

It read in part: “The million-dollar question. Will you go to Heaven? Have you ever…..” It then proceeded to list some of the favorite sins of the church, the Ten Commandment ones. But the statement that followed the listing of sins so many of us have committed ourselves is what blew my mind. “If you have done any of those things, GOD SEES YOU AS A LYING, THIEVING, BLASPHEMOUS, ADULTERER-AT-HEART.”

I almost threw up.

Is that really the God we want the world to see?

I know I was blessed as a child. My parents are two of the greatest human beings to ever walk the earth, I say this knowing their faults and failings because I see the same failings in myself. But because of what they have shown me of themselves, I have a clear picture of God as a loving and compassionate father.

When my dad would punish us, before the punishment was soled out, he would take us into a room alone, set us down and talk to us one at a time. He was often angry, but always more quietly disappointed than anything. The talking was the worst part of being punished to me. I just wanted the spanking or the grounding or what ever else was going to come to be given out and for him to stop talking already. The reason was not because I felt unloved by him, quite the opposite in fact. I had done something that brought disappointment to my father, and I could always see it in his eyes. But instead of yelling at me, viciously, angrily telling me he could not bear to look at me because of what I had done, he sat there, loving me.

I had disappointed the man who loved me more than anyone on this earth, and knowing that would always be punishment enough. He quite often cried and always told me he didn’t want to punish me but it was necessary. No matter what the punishment, the fact that I was still loved and was always accepted, and given a second, third, fourth chance is what made me strive everyday to do everything in my power not to disappoint this man again. Because of his love I knew then and know now, that no matter what mistakes I have made and continue to make, he will always accept and love me unconditionally.

It I not a requirement to be without sin to come to God. It is not even necessary to clean yourself up to return to Him. Just as the prodigal son returned, smelling of pigs, broken and empty, so are we. Come in your filth, the smell of your transgressions still lingering. He will open His arms and comfort you. He will clothe you in His finest garments and prepare a feast of His best just for you. Because you are NOT seen by God as a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer-at-heart. You are seen as His child, and His love for you overwhelms any sin you could ever have committed. All you have to do, is come.

All who are thirsty
All who are weak,
Come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life.
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away,
In the waves of his mercy
As deep cries out to deep, we sing.
Come Lord Jesus come
Holy Spirit come
As deep cries out to deep

By Brenton Brown and Glenn Robertson

Psalms 42:7
Luke 15:11-32