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Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Times That Try Mens' Souls

My husband and I have been watching a series on Netflix called "Into the West." I highly recommend it, but it can be pretty depressing. It covers the expansion of white people from the east to the west throughout the nineteenth century. It focuses on the conflict between the whites and Native Americans as the inexorable tsunami of wagons crossed the plains. Indian wars, broken treaties, the near extinction of the buffalo, stolen lands . . . For the whites, the 1800's were a time of prosperity and gain. Inventions made life easier, the railroad brought the coasts together, while gold mines, industry, banking made some people millionaires. Huge cattle ranches and drives were the stuff of legend. Literature, politics, education, entertainment, journalism . . . There was nothing withheld from the irrepressible, enterprising whites of eighteenth century America.

For the Indians, it was a time, with a few exceptions, of humiliation and loss. They fought bravely for what they felt was theirs, but it was a lost cause from the start. Radical change for them was coming, no matter what they said or did. It is heartbreaking to see how they were treated, but the alien, white culture invaded their space in such overwhelming numbers that it was a matter of join them or perish. As I watch the series, my heart breaks and I'm ashamed, but the series is careful to end each segment with the point that the westward movement changed and challenged everyone. We brutally murdered plenty of Native Americans, blacks, Chinese, and other minorities in our greed and prejudice, but the West chewed up plenty of Caucasian lives and spit them out as well.

Later it dawned on me that the challenge to change or be exploited forever was not just a Native American problem. Women fought long and hard for an entire generation to gain the right to be educated and to vote. Then it took WW II to push us into the job market where we learned what we could really do. Black citizens were emancipated after the Civil War, but the Jim Crow laws weren't far behind, and the non-violent Civil Rights movement fomented a holocaust of hatred that stuns me every time I see the documentaries on TV. The Jews weren't just hated in Germany. At the beginning of WW II there were parks, careers, and clubs in America that Jews could not enter. Catholics and Protestants anathematized each other in their theology. Poles, Hungarians, Armenians, etc., each ethnic group has a story of persecution almost to the point of extinction.

Once the Nazi madness was crushed, a new political beast arose from the masses. It was called Communism. It's zealots caused trouble all over the globe for decades. In the late eighties, Communism imploded. One day, the iron curtain fell, as did the Berlin Wall, and Germans walked from East to West to embrace their relatives. However, dictators have continued to rape and pillage their nations. One day a really frustrated, thwarted, abused merchant in Tunisia decided he couldn't live life under the caprice of a selfish, useless, exploitative government. He set himself on fire, and there has been chaos in the Middle East ever since. Could it be that the era of unresponsive, self-serving, nepotistic dictators is coming to an end? Could it be that people are tired of being abused and they know they deserve a better life? I pray that it is so.

There is a key to maintaining freedom and equality once it is gained. One has to then offer it to all others. If the pursuit of happiness and self-realization is not available to all, it will profit no one for long. As for nurturing vengeance and hatred against the groups that exploited us in the past, we should let that go and see that era of our history as a time of testing to strengthen us and force us to grow. After all, the other key to freedom and equality is that it has to be earned.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Debi's story: Fire of God in the Church

Debi Smith and I were in the same church in San Jose during the '70's. I had just graduated from San Jose State College when I joined. Debi had little education and came from a dysfunctional, economically poor, uneducated family. Nevertheless, we became friends and have been ever since. I can verify that when Debi says below that she had a demon in her, you can take that to the bank. Having dabbled in drugs and the occult, she did indeed have a severe need of deliverance. She also suffered from raging migraines, epileptic fits, and addiction to pain meds. She was the kind of person that the church mentors passed around because she was too much for any one person to deal with for an extended period of time. But when she was feeling good and walking with God, she loved to study the Old Testament with me. She played the guitar, sang, wrote soulful Scripture songs, and enjoyed a good laugh. She could be fun. Below is her story in her own words with minimal fixing by me.

"The night I got delivered.. at the end of the meeting they stood to sing. I thought I can't raise my hands and sing.. I have a demon inside of me. Then I thought I want to be doing this when they pray for me when we get home tonight. Then I thought.. No.. he has caused me so much trouble in my life.. I will cause him trouble and make him suffer and shot my hands up.

Then I opened my eyes and looked at the ceiling... I saw Flames.... I looked to the back by the doors that was near the nursery... and the entire room what filled with those flames. Not one area that wasn't fully engulfed... and it scared me, so I closed my eyes and bowed my head. But then I got to wondering... did I just see what I think I saw? And after some time passed I just had to look up again.. just in case I was just seeing things.

And SURE Nuff... the whole room was filled with this visible-to-me fire.. no smell of smoke or difference in heat. I stared at it in wonder. I knew what it was, and it was so massive, and no one else saw it. I was awed and bowed my head, then the next thing I remember I was sitting on the bench. Sister Dropko lookin at me... my shoes were off... gum in my hair... and I didn't know where I was or what had just happened to me. Karen E. and another nurse had been there... they said my heart stopped beating and I wasn't breathing..."

This is the second first-hand story I have heard of Holy Ghost fire appearing on a church. The other is referenced in another of my blogs. A blog search for "Linette" or "roof" will bring up the story of the fire department occasionally being called to douse the flames of an old fashioned Pentecostal church in Oklahoma. The story was shared in Sunday School by the church pastor's daughter, who was a senior citizen by the time she recounted the story.

In his letter to the first century Hebrews, the Apostle Paul (quoting Psalm 104:4 from the Old Testament) writes (Hebrews 1:7) - "And about the angels He says: He makes His angels winds, and his servants a fiery flame." Apparently, the ancient Israelite prophet who wrote that Psalms passage had the same kind of visions that we do today.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The King's Speech -- Classic God-At-Work

Ted and I went to see the movie, The King's Speech. The entire movie laid a foundation so that the viewer could understand the historical importance of George VI ascending to the throne of England and making an all important speech on the eve of WW II. The problem was that the man stuttered so badly that he could not even read a simple speech written by another. Thus, His Majesty (Bertie) had to rely on the skill of a "Dr." who had no training or credentials. He was also a stage reject, in spite of the fact that he had all of Shakespeare's plays memorized. In the meantime, Hitler was mesmerizing Germany with long, enchanting rants. One of the most important lines in the movie was when George's daughter asked what Hitler was saying in one of his speeches. George answered, "I don't know, but he seems to be saying it rather well." If Hitler's spies had informed him that the new King of England couldn't even read a speech, he would have laughed and been convinced that fate had arranged for a pathetic loser to lead Britain to its doom. That contrast was pretty much the thrust of the movie.

So many Christians today could roll their eyes and say, "That is so like God!" First of all, He loves to wait until the last minute to come through for us. For example, when Christ's friend Lazarus died, the family expected Jesus to come running in right away to raise him up. They all knew He could do it, so of course He would. But he didn't. He waited four agonizing days to show up, after the body was in the tomb, after it had begun to stink. He waited too long. It was too late. But we know from the story in the Gospel of John (ch. 11) that it wasn't too late because the family, as familiar as they were with Jesus's ability to heal, still underestimated the power of God to re-create the decaying body of Lazarus.

The second frustrating principal by our human standards is that God loves to reveal His strength through our weakness. Paul the Apostle begged God to relieve him of a distressful condition that he would only call "a thorn in the flesh." He wrote, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'"(2 Cor. 12:9). In the Old Testament the barren wife Hannah endures ridicule and judgment from her husband's other wife. Hannah was barren, but God answered her prayer and gave her a son who became a prophet. That prophet anointed the shepherd boy David to be Israel's second king. Hannah wrote a psalm and put into words a classic principal: "The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more. She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away...He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor" (1 Sam. 2:4-8).

Even the writer of the script of the movie had to wait on God's timing. Decades ago he approached the queen, wife of George IV, about writing the story of Lionel and Bertie. She answered, "Not while I'm alive." The chivalrous author agreed to wait. So she died around age 100 and he finally wrote late in life. Very late. But not too late. It was a delightful script, and a delightful way to learn history, and it surely deserved the award it received, best film of the year.