Monday, July 17, 2017

557 - The Objective Case

Spirituality Column No. 557
July 18, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

The Objective Case
By Bob Walters

My dad, John L. Walters, was a newspaper reporter and city editor at the Battle Creek (Mich.) Enquirer and News from 1955 until 1963.

That’s when he left journalism to take a corporate communications job at the Chrysler Transmission plant in Kokomo, Ind., beginning work there just a few weeks before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.  In February 1964 our family (dad, mom and four kids) moved to Indiana, as it turns out and for historical perspective, the same weekend the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.  So that was a while ago, and I’ve been a Hoosier ever since.

I was then in fourth grade and it wasn’t for another few years when I began to show some writing aptitude and made the high school newspaper staff as a freshman that I remember talking with dad about journalism.  He always had told newspaper stories but, prior to my teen years, all I really remembered was stopping into the Enquirer newsroom after church occasionally where they had this amazing new device called a “Xerox” machine.  It could copy the image of whatever you put under the flap cover.

I had no idea what dad actually did at the Enquirer – I was five or six years old at the time – but one Sunday he “copied” my plastic sunglasses on that Xerox machine.  That just seemed so … magical.  It wasn’t until later, in the years leading up to my own education and career in journalism, that I paid close attention to the way dad described what I am very sure was the golden era of American journalism; now long passed.

Dad told the story of weeping at his typewriter on April 12, 1955 – as the father of two young children (my sister Linda and me; younger siblings Joe and Debbie came along a little later) – while editing the wire story about the public release of Jonas Salk’s vaccine for polio, a disease Dad’s children would now not have to fear or endure.

Working as a stringer (part-timer) for Associated Press in Detroit, Dad, a non-golfer, was assigned to cover the U.S. Open being played in Michigan.  Grousing around the press tent about how he didn’t know anything about golf, legendary AP national sports columnist Will Grimsley looked up at Dad and said, “Y’know John, we have guys downtown writing about murders every day but they never committed one.”

And then one story that truly stuck in my mind was Dad’s coverage of a labor dispute at the Clark Equipment factory in Battle Creek.  Intent on finding facts, truth, and covering the disagreement fairly, Dad noted that when it was over, principals from both sides told him privately how angry they got at Dad’s writing, but admitted he never published an untruth.  To me, that is the core of journalistic objectivity and integrity.

How does this relate to Jesus?  Well, Dad for sure was no Bible thumping doctrinaire, but he was a traditional Episcopalian who knew that objective truth was a real thing and that a slanted, partisan agenda had no real place in hard news coverage.

I am sorry my father died (1991) before I found my faith in Christ (2001).  I would like to have known what he thought, objectively, with his humanity, humor and honor.

It would be quite a story.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) learned to type by fifth grade; a big deal in the 1960s.
Monday, July 10, 2017

556 - Covering the Truth

Spirituality Column No. 556
July 11, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary
 
Covering the Truth
By Bob Walters
 
There was that plainly anti-Muslim “The Perfect Man” billboard on Indianapolis’ east side last month that listed six pretty heinous deeds from 1,600 years ago.
 
It was a willful hack job on the Prophet Muhammad that I think was in poor taste, unnecessarily incendiary, definitely impolite, and for sure kicked up a short-lived ruckus.  In empathy, let me say there is plenty in my own life I’d rather not see on a billboard.
 
The media’s immediate reporting and follow-up of the religious kerfuffle was a routine, contemporary hue and cry of political incorrectness that was sadly predictable in its uniformly uninformed assertions and narrative.  I doubt anyone learned anything useful from either the billboard message or the general media’s misguided reaction to it.
 
But a deeply teachable moment it is.  Here’s why.
 
Religion is among the hardest things to cover because if a reporter is not a believer, he’ll not have empathy for the seriousness of any religious faith.  If the reporter is a believer, coverage will likely bear the tint of bias bent toward those beliefs and away from and probably askew to the doctrine being covered.  Even a solidly “objective” but inexpert reporter can easily miss the nuance of what a religious story truly means.
 
So coverage of the billboard went Internet viral for a few days with declamations of Islamophobia and venom for the “bigot” who posted it.  Indianapolis media rushed to cover a local ecumenical group-hug photo-op among religious leaders gathered to proclaim “solidarity” of all people of faith.  Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Protestant and Bible Christians, Muslims and maybe a few others affirmed, “Isn’t that billboard awful!
 
But to date, I’ve heard no one in the media ask the first question that should have been asked.  Nor has there been media mention of the billboard’s glaring non sequitur.
 
OK, maybe the first question legitimately is, “Who put up that sign?”  And yes, the media covered that one.  But the deeper, primal, slate-clearing question no media seemingly cared about, bothered with, or even knew how to ask is this: “Is it true?”
 
A further “tell” that the media “fix” was in came a few days later when an IUPUI liberal arts professor penned a guest editorial in the Indianapolis Star announcing his fight against “Islamophobia.”  Nothing about seeking truth or doctrinal clarity, just, “Don’t be an Islamophobe!” And my first clue that the good professor grasps no handle on the historical merits of the billboard was when his first explanation of it was “The Crusades.”
 
The “heinous deeds” credited to Muhammad were recorded by Muslim historians in the 7th and 8th centuries praising the Prophet’s life.  Yes, praising … some 300 years before the Crusades.  Muhammad is a different kind of “perfect” in the eyes of Islam, but not sinless.  There is in fact a perfect, sinless human claimed by Islam, but it is not Muhammad.  It is an earlier prophet in the Qur’an whom, you may be surprised to learn, Muslims revere as the only “sinless” man, who never died, and whom Muslims believe is alive in Paradise.  That prophet is Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians call Christ.
 
You can look it up (Holy Qur'an, Sura 3:55), but for God’s sake, at least ask if it is true.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) advises: seek truth, but try to be nice about it.
Monday, July 3, 2017

555 - Truth and Freedom

Spirituality Column No. 555
July 4, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Truth and Freedom
By Bob Walters

"But the fact being once established, that the press is impotent when it abandons itself to falsehood, I leave to others to restore it to its strength, by recalling it within the pale of truth." —Thomas Jefferson (1805)
 
I love freedom of the press.  I’ve studied it.  I get it.  I defend it.
 
Though I like to joke that my own journalism degree (Franklin College, 1976) was squandered by several years working as a newspaper sportswriter, I was never very far personally – in spirit or function – from the larger themes of public information and mass communications.  Perhaps it’s a career irony that most of my private reading and interests since college have centered on politics and history, not sports.  It was always the people in sports I found truly interesting anyway, not the sports themselves.
 
Since 2001 those intellectual interests have been considerably added to with the Bible and the enthusiastic study of nearly 2,000 years of Christian thought, religious philosophy, doctrinal development and church history.  I found faith in Christ at age 47 and suddenly a bevy of scholarly and preacherly companions appeared alongside me to help navigate my faith journey to a confident trust in Jesus Christ.  These folks – who I mention often in these weekly essays – revealed a deep, wonderful and mysterious ocean of Christian truth, peace, wisdom and purpose.  Question my discernment and discipline if you like – I do all the time – but Jesus is the solid rock of truth in this life.
 
Not “my” solid truth; “the” solid truth.  Not me, not my opinion, not church:  Jesus.
 
So going back to journalism as an issue within the context of truth, I find some solace in the fact that Thomas Jefferson who penned not only the American Declaration of Independence but also the Bill of Rights – freedom of the press, etc. – to have been confounded (see quote above) in his age by journalistic malfeasance.  Every time I see a dust-up in church or in the Christian community or among different religions, it is rare to see one that hasn’t happened multiple times over the centuries.  Similarly, in a free society journalists tend to push their own agendas.  That’s not cynicism or hate speech any more than studying the Great Schism of the 11th century is an indictment of the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches.  It’s just how it is. Agendas happen.
 
But there are times – and this is one of those times – that the American Experiment would be well served by earnest media truth-telling rather than hyperbolic obeisance to fashion and fancy.  Perhaps some of you also notice today a pervasive “backwardness” to how news stories are covered and social narratives are asserted.  Things we should probably worry about – domestic security and international terrorism come to mind – are pooh-poohed with claims of phobias.  Private preferences of sexuality that have  always been with us but, shall we say, will never propagate the species, are celebrated with specious huzzahs of courage and heroism.  Religion is covered with politically correct themes rather than academically rigorous investigation.  Truth suffers.
 
Freedom requires truth to realize human purpose, life’s desires and God’s glory.
 
I pray for American journalism to regain its strength by getting the message.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com), who understood tennis because he played it, will return to visit God’s truth and American journalism in the coming weeks. Happy 4th!
Fourth of July bonus reading ...


 
Monday, June 26, 2017

554 - Run to the Gunfire

Spirituality Column No. 554
June 27, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Run to the Gunfire
By Bob Walters

My friend Dale Collie made a good living for many years as a professional speaker.

He served in Viet Nam as a captain in the U.S. Army Rangers and later told the gripping story of his entire unit being surrounded and pinned down in the jungle by Viet Cong gunfire in what was surely a no-survivor situation. Though Dale ultimately lost part of his lower leg in the battle, he and others did survive because they courageously “ran toward the gunfire” in attack rather than either attempting retreat or staying put.

It is a truly spellbinding tale of courage and I heard Dale present it at a speakers’ convention here in Indianapolis nearly two decades ago.  Over the years Dale traveled worldwide with his “Courage Builders” message, and folks here in Indianapolis might remember Dale as president (1993-2002) of the downtown Christian “Lighthouse Mission”, a men’s shelter and neighborhood food pantry.  I made a point to get to know Dale and we wound up working together on his pitch to NASCAR to do food drives for local charities at its racing events nationwide.  It was a great idea that NASCAR eventually picked up on elsewhere, but my great benefit was getting to know Dale.

A couple of years later as a fresh-to-the-faith churchgoer in 2001, I walked into an East 91st Street Christian Church Sunday school class and there sat Dale and his wife.  They soon moved to a mountain home in the Carolinas, but through emails and later Facebook we stayed in touch.  In 2003 or so I caught wind of the astute Christian devotional Dale authors weekdays called “Sunrise Courage Builders.”

I still read it every day.

The “Sunrise Courage Builders” email arrives Monday-Friday around 5 a.m. and is simply one line of scripture and one “P.S.” comment or question from Dale.  It always elicits a few good minutes of reflection and prayer. I loved this recent “Courage Builder”:

"All the prophets testify about [Jesus] that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." Acts 10:43

P.S. What are all of the things you must do to receive forgiveness
                     of sins?

This query got me going because “all of the things we must do” forms a very Dale-like trick question.  The truth – if what Jesus tells us throughout the Gospels can be trusted (and I’m here to tell you it can) – is that “all of the things” is a pretty short list.

Your “all things” list may be different, but here is mine: Love, Trust, Believe.

You know: Have faith … in Jesus Christ.  That’s it.  That’s all we can do.

Jesus on the cross is our forgiveness.  It is one of those divine actions that happened – as the Bible repeatedly says – “once for all” but concurrently is an eternal action of the grace of Jesus Christ.  So, the correct answer?  There is nothing we can “do” for our forgiveness because Jesus already did it all.  Our single task and challenge is to accept the truth of Christ, not to keep asking for forgiveness that already is ours.

In Christ, we can run confidently toward the gunfire of life not bound up with guilt and inadequate apologies for our sin, but with boundless courage in His truth.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes that you can request the Sunrise Courage Builder daily devotional email at collie@couragebuilders.com.
Monday, June 19, 2017

553 - Best of Intentions


Spirituality Column No. 553
June 20, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary
 
Best of Intentions
By Bob Walters
 
I know it’s June but bear with me.  A couple of Christmases ago I sat in a Christmas Eve church service that led off with a fearsome video that featured a frantically voiced inventory of horrible world events and dreadful, life-deadening cultural trends. 
            We need Jesus now!” was the intended message – sure, a perfect sentiment to frame the celebration of the birth of Christ, the living God and Savior – but all I could think of was that scene early in the movie Scrooged where the airliner blows up.
            Scrooged is a send-up of Charles Dickens’ 19th century A Christmas Carol, with Tiny Tim, the three ghosts visiting the miser Scrooge, etc.  If you missed the1980s comedy, Bill Murray plays a heartless TV network president (ala Scrooge) who successfully, in his mind, causes public panic using terrifying images – an exploding airliner, terrorists, riots, etc. – in a promo spot for a Christmas Eve TV special.  It’s a small and silly part of that movie and at this moment it is summer not Christmas (I get it), but let’s entertain a few thoughts about our intentions as Christians and the dwindling expectations of the world around us.  The civic silliness is becoming ever more serious.
            And it’s always a good time to think about the coming of Jesus.
            We survey the modern, secular, out-of-control, alarming, worldly and human landscape, encountered whenever we dare to engage sleight-handed and disingenuous daily media that most of us grew up trusting, a trust now lost. Can we agree it has never been more important to pay attention to and guard our own Christian faith?  And to do it in intentional ways such as prayer, praise, good works, fellowship (church) and study?    
            What I do know is that Jesus is just fine and His promises are intact.  I know that the Bible defends itself and that the church – as Jesus intended it – will last.  God is the Father.  The Holy Spirit is as near and comforting as our sincere prayer, and I know that in the end it is Satan – not me – on that airliner that blows up.  I don’t worry about that.
But it is also obvious that the world-wide culture today is using the never-before-in-history-available tools of instant mass communication to promote the devil’s worldly bidding: to challenge every human heart against the plain, loving, righteous and glorious truth of Jesus, and instead invite the human chaos of truthless individualism, faithless communities, morally-vacant education and integrity-vanquished political “social justice.”
            Naturally, those same communication tools are available to Christians, but while the mass media reaches the masses en masse, it is Christ who can reach the individual human heart with the peaceful and saving message of God’s grace, kingdom and eternity.  We can worry ourselves to death about Satan’s activities, or we can – with the militancy, creativity and immediacy of our minds – intentionally choose to keep our minds on Godly things, our bodies away from Satan’s temptations, and our love of God and others unwavering and abiding in Jesus.  (Galatians 5:16-22 and Philippians 4:4-9)
            Intentionality’s downside invites legalistic rules and unforgiveness, but its saving upside is alertness of mind and focus on Christ, one strengthened heart at a time.  
            Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) notes June 25 this Sunday is halfway to Christmas.
Monday, June 12, 2017

552 - The Stuff of Truth

Spirituality Column No. 552
June 13, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary
 
The Stuff of Truth
By Bob Walters
“Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already …” – Jesus to Nicodemus, John 3:18
 
There is a lot of disturbing stuff in the Bible.  Unyielding stuff.  Condemning stuff.   Misunderstood stuff.  Harsh stuff.  Hopeful stuff.  Salvation stuff.  True stuff.
 
It’s that last one – true stuff – which society always seems to have the most trouble with.  Truth is so final; righteousness rarely sounds tolerant or understanding.  Opinions can be dismissed but truth can’t. Truth should be a dependable organizing principle.   Instead, throughout history man has devised horrific “truth” claims that bely real-world dictatorial tyranny.  Villains flaunt the inescapability of political power hiding the disingenuousness of stated purpose within the wickedness of an enslaving agenda.
 
So there sits the Bible on my table.  I do not doubt a word in it.  It describes God, man, sin, salvation, freedom, condemnation and eternal life.  And love.  And truth.  God’s truth, not “my” truth.  Through Jesus I am allowed – and overjoyed – to claim and live God’s truth, peace, mercy and permanence; to love God and others.
 
People far from Jesus – at least, they seem that way – desperately pursue truth of their own making but reject especially Christian truth because it has no wiggle room, i.e., “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)  That’s Jesus describing truth to “doubting” Thomas the disciple.  G.K. Chesterton made a truth point years ago: the nettlesome thing about Christianity is that if it is true, every other religion has to be false.  The great opening line from the current movie Wonder Woman poses: “What one does when faced with the truth, is more difficult than you would think.”  Pontius Pilate asked Jesus: “What is truth?” (John 18:38)
 
So, let’s discuss truth.  This past week socialist scold and political shooting star Bernie Sanders, a Jew, berated political nominee Russ Vought, a Christian, for a truth Vought wrote about Islam.  Vought described Islam as “a deficient religion” based on its denial of Jesus as the son of God.  John 3:18’s inescapable conclusion (above) is that if you believe as a Christian that Jesus is the only path to salvation (John 14:6, above), then if you don’t have Jesus, you deficiently don’t have a path to salvation.  Christians want everyone to be saved because Jesus, for God’s glory, came for everyone (John 3:16), not just Christians.  Note: There were no “Christians” when Jesus arrived.
 
I’m guessing Sanders wouldn’t berate a Muslim who wrote an Islamic doctrinal truth concerning Christianity – e.g., Christians are infidels (as is every non-Muslim) – but that misses this point: Sanders rebuked both Christian truth and Christian political fitness last week at a U.S. Senate hearing (see the humor there? “truth … in the Senate”).  While Sen. Sanders exhibits no doctrinal comprehension of his criticism, people foolishly buy into his PC nonsense rather than trust the truth of Jesus Christ.
 
Folks have to be wise when picking a savior.  This stuff matters.
 
Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) learned that the trick to trusting Jesus is in understanding the Bible as a description of God’s righteousness.
Monday, June 5, 2017

551 - Standards and Reason

Spirituality Column No. 551
June 6, 2017
Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary

Standards and Reason
By Bob Walters

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. – Psalm 19:14
 
My now nearly-10-years-deceased friend, pastor and Christian mentor Russ Blowers used to start his sermons with that gentle, humble scriptural meditation.
 
The preceding 13 verses of this truly beautiful psalm of David declare the “glory of the Lord” and describe how the heavens “pour forth speech” proclaiming the “work of His hands.” It is from this “speech spoken by the heavens” that David begs God to help him to hear and be warned of his own human errors and faults; that his own words (verse 14) would be pleasing in God’s sight.
 
Words, it would seem, matter.
 
Moving ahead to Jesus in Matthew 12:22-37, the Pharisees dismissively accuse Jesus of being the devil himself, driving out demons “as only Beelezbub” (sometimes understood as Satan, other times a conglomeration of evil spirits) could. Jesus fired back with great wisdom and reason about the Kingdom of God, how God handles blasphemy against him (Jesus) and against the Holy Spirit, and describes the evidence of good and evil contained in words. Jesus ends it in verse 37, telling the Pharisees “…by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
 
Words continue to matter.
 
There are hundreds of verses throughout the Bible about being careful with words (Matthew 12:36), being slow to speak (James 1:19), praying with considered patience and discernment before reacting or speaking (Proverbs 12:18), and the evil snares attendant to a loose tongue (Proverbs 13:3). Want to see more?  Just Google “What does the Bible say about the power of words.”
 
That will keep you busy for days.
 
But … let’s move past David and Jesus and on up to a modern fellow named Evan Williams.  Heard of him?  He invented Twitter, perhaps history’s greatest enabler and repository of un-careful, hasty, ill-considered and far-reaching words, reaction and speech.  The 43-year-old billionaire – considering Twitter’s unfiltered morass of human neural firings – lamented, “I think the Internet is broken,” to a New York Times reporter who opined that Twitter “is a hive of trolling and abuse that seems unable to stop.”
 
The hyper-progressive Williams predictably (and disparagingly) apologizes for the role Twitter played and is playing in recent politics (Trump, etc.), but recognizes that Twitter’s overall problem is bigger than that.  Williams originally – naively and errantly, it turns out – thought that if everyone could “speak freely,” the world would “automatically be a better place.”  What he has learned is that when gatekeepers of standards and reason are absent, as on Twitter, fallen human minds rapidly spew undiscerning words. Truth becomes a victim of faulty opinions, and life becomes worse, not better.

What I’m saying is: the Bible already told us so.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) credits Mark Bauerlein’s recent First Things article (link), "The Internet isn't Broken."  

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