Monthly Archives: November 2011

Do Dogs Go to Heaven?

Hannah in her prime

While we were away for Thanksgiving with our two daughters who live in New York, our middle daughter, Erin, called with the drastic news that her 13 1/2 year old white lab, whom she named Hannah Marie Furr-Yeager (any other dogs with hyphenated names?), passed away from kidney failure.  Her husband just called her, , “Good Girl”.   She got Hannah as a pup when Erin was 19 years old.  Erin wrote on facebook,

“She was the “mascot” of our entire group of friends in our 20’s. She has been with me through college, roommates, first job, first love, heart break, job loss, first home, success, failure, marriage and all of life’s “in betweens”. .. Always there….always letting me know she was present. She was always waiting on us just to call her so she could be there. She got so much joy just from being with us.”

I have found myself quite moved by the depth of love my daughter has for Hannah, and for the intensity of grief that has followed.  It caused me to ask the old question, “Do dogs go to heaven?”  This is not a question I have spent time on before, and I must say, it indicates a deep deficiency in my theology.  As I read about this online I came upon a variety of opinions, one on a website that also had articles like, “Is Smoking Cigarettes A Sin?” ” What Do Christians Believe About Dinosaurs?” and “Does The Bible say What the Devil Looks Like?”  Not too promising, if you ask me.

I don’t intend to belabor the subject except to reflect that perhaps, “Do dogs go to heaven?” is the wrong question.  The right question is, “Does God the Creator love the creation?”  The answer is unequivocal.  God is not simply redeeming a handful of lifeboat survivors but is renewing creation itself (Romans 8 treats this in extended fashion).  The power of life that creates what we call “heaven” is in fact resurrection, the power of God to raise life from death and “re-create” creation.  So, it seems to me, that if heaven is not “a place way out there” separate from creation but is, instead, God’s merciful and loving Providence, then it is not impossible at all to imagine that God, who remembers all things, is able to bring all those joyful complexities of creation to new life.  The Bible talks about the end of “tooth and claw” nature, where Lion and Lamb lie together and the child plays safely near the adder.

These visionary imaginations of the prophets remind us to be respectful and humble about what the Creator can or will do at the end of all things.  God’s love and greatness are vast.  The answer to my question, “Does God love the creation?” is “Of course.”  Trust in the love of your Creator.

Arthur Hunnicutt

I love the old story on “The Twilight Zone,” called “The Hunt,” about an old man and his beloved hound who drown during a coon hunt and wind up on a road where they must choose heaven or hell.  The old man was played by Arthur Hunnicutt, the crusty Arkansas native who often played outdoorsy types.  The screenplay was written by Earl Hamner, later the creator of “The Waltons” series.  Ultimately, it is his dog Rip who helps him make the right choice.  My favorite line:  The angel says, “You see Mr. Simpson, a man, well, he’ll walk right into Hell with both eyes open. But even the Devil can’t fool a dog!”

For those of us who live so detached from nature, feeding from its bounty but unaware of the connection, it is a good reminder to us of our own creaturehood.  We are not so different from our pets and not so lofty in our uniqueness that we can act as though we are not sharing creaturehood with them.

Hannah Marie was a wonderful pet.  I told Erin, “I have buried a lot of humans who weren’t loved as much in life, missed so much in death or commemorated so deeply by her survivors, as Hannah.”  And I might add, “They hadn’t done nearly as much to offer loyalty, devotion and comfort to those in their life.”  I’d side with those who think dogs will be there, myself.   Given the way we treat one another, I’d think it would be the dogs who should be asking the question about us.  Given a choice of hanging out with Hannah or a lot of humans I’ve met through the years, it’s no contest who would be more fit for eternal happiness without a major overhaul.

A Case for Thanksgiving Eve

So it is Thanksgiving Eve.  If Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve) can be an elaborate anticipation of the solemnity of All Saints’ Day and Fat Tuesday a wild and wooly welcome to the austerity of Lent, there should be a similar welcome mat to Turkey Day, something to usher it in, not stomp it out a la “Black Friday.”

 Thanksgiving Eve should be something of an antonym to carry true to “Eve-ness” (Christmas Eve, naturally, being the all-time great, with it’s dark sense of Herodian murder plots, shivering shepherds, and wandering wise men).  It should be a day of shameful reminders of ingratitude, self-absorption and congratulations that can be followed with humble rejoicing and remembering the next day that nothing was deserved in the first place.

Any holiday that began with Europeans almost starving to death and depending on the kindness of the poor natives they would eventually wipe out or addict to alcohol on reservations should not be one in which the self-congratulating is mixed with feasts and football.  It just doesn’t seem right.  Better to blow out the egotism and delusions on the eve and then wake up to something like, “My gosh, we don’t have anything to eat.  How will we make it?”  Then have your neighbors bring something over and re-enact the whole helplessness.  How did it get to be, “Boy, are we ever BLESSED.”

There is something about powerlessness, helplessness, vulnerability and fear that drive you to important truths.  I think about the Greatest Generation of Tom Brokaw’s book, having endured a childhood in the Great Depression and Coming of Age on Iwo Jima or Omaha Beach.  No wonder they came home and were glad just to have a little house in a new suburb and work the same job for 45 years and retire still married to the same woman.  And maybe this same absence of profound deprivation has left us unable to genuinely “feel” Thanksgiving as it is meant to be.

Could be, of course, that the past few years are getting us a little closer to the truth.  9% unemployment has unleashed predictable politics–all we need is a new president, throw the bums out of congress, shoot lobbyists, and so on.  What I never hear is, “Life is hard.  We better pull together and help one another.  Hey, I don’t have to have my whole bonus this year.  Let’s figure out how to keep Jim employed–he’s got three kids at home.”

We’ve got a grand opportunity to remember something that we seem determined to forget. I think about this while I hold my nine-month-old granddaughter.  She is so precious and full of life, and I am terrified for the world she is growing up into, terrified into prayers and more prayers.  I am helpless to prevent that world or fix it, so I am humbled terribly on this day.  I won’t be here for her whole life, God willing, so it will go beyond me.  You love a grandbaby this much, and suddenly you feel this helplessness again, like you haven’t felt in forever.  It drives you to a different gratitude, one not rooted in your importance or competence or being the World’s Latest Big Deal.  It is purely, powerfully helplessness that does it.

So let’s consider the Wednesday Before Thanksgiving as Self-Reliance Day.  We can wear giant inflated heads and have Big Shot Parades, football games and overeating as though it was our destiny.  Then, as is appropriate, consider a day of forgiveness, humble gratitude, reconciliation and remembering that without the rest of us, none of us is worth a dime, and don’t forget it.  So while there are some hours left in Wednesday, put on you Big Head.  Thanksgiving is coming.  Act like a selfish jerk for a few more hours.  Then come to yourself and remember what your life is really about.

Bad Moon Rising–or, “Am I One of the 99%?”

I don’t understand the debates going on about wealth and taxes.  People aren’t asking THE question–am I one of the 1% and why not?  If you want a seriously disturbing thought about this, listen to the NPR story yesterday by Tim Dickinson.  If you want an unseriously disturbing thought, stay with me.

I don’twant to be one of the 99%, because even in the Bible, the only 99 mentioned is sheep left in the sheepfold.  And, as we know, all we like sheep have gone astray.  I want to be a 1% if they get all the good stuff.  But I have a sinking feeling–since my entire ancestry, W-2s and resume would indicate otherwise, I thought I would help us 99 per centers know when we’re about to get to THE worst place–the 1% on the BOTTOM.  Signs to look for:

  1. Your get Christmas cards from a local bail-bondsman, two social workers, a psychiatrist and a debt specialist.  You have never met any of them.
  2. Occupy Wall Street protesters create a new hand signal during your presentation to the group about your concerns that means, “Take down his tent and get him outta here–NOW!”
  3. You keep getting advance discount coupons from the local funeral home with a hand-penned note from the director that says, “Saw you at Rotary Club Monday and it reminded me I had meant to send these to you.”
  4. You walk into work and everyone turns and looks at you with their heads turned slightly sideways and sad smiles on their faces.  The last time you saw that look, your mom and dad came back from taking Old Yeller to the vet and didn’t bring him home.  Someone says, “The boss wants to see you.”
  5. Your neighbor stops telling you about his militia meetings, saying they have a certain image to maintain.
  6. Your string of investments are clipped up on the bulletin board at the investment firm next to the Dilbert cartoons.
  7. Your auto mechanic always talks to you like he’s your oncologist.  He always starts off by saying, “Gary, you just don’t know how much I hate to tell you this, but we tried replacing the fan belt.  We were sooo hoping that would do it.  But no.  I’m as upset to tell you this as you are to hear it…”
  8. The Tea Party returned your membership application, citing that your views are too far out of the mainstream.
  9. Steve Croft of 60 minutes leaves a message on your phone and asks if you happen to have the cell number of your mortgage broker for a story he’s doing on the foreclosure crisis.
  10. Your children were foreclosed and laid off so you offered to let them come back home to live and they declined, saying they already had a nice arrangement with the Salvation Army.

When Nothing Else Can Help, Love Builds a House

One of the most-read blog pieces on here was one I did on the Hardy family of Williams, Alabama called, “Following Jesus from Israel to Rural Alabama.”  As a follow up to that, I am happy to report that last Sunday evening, the Hardy family received the keys to their new home in a dedication ceremony led by Pastor Mike Oliver.

Times of crisis can certainly reveal our failings and weaknesses.  But it is also true that crisis reveals character and new possibilities.  one of God’s most mysterious works is bringing communion and healing from our disasters.  Such times can divide, but they can also invite new re-formulations of Christian fellowship.  Ordinary divisions become an unaffordable luxury in the moment of need.  We come together and leave lesser things to God.

home again

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, was a man of broad spirit and reconciling heart.  He sought Christian cooperation in every way possible.  He once preached a sermon[1] on 2 Kings 10:15, which says, “When [Jehu] left there, he met Jehonadab

son of Rechab coming to meet him; he greeted him, and said to him, “Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours?” Jehonadab answered, “It is.” Jehu said, “If it is, give me your hand.” So he gave him his hand. Jehu took him up with him into the chariot.”

Wesley said “But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

In other words, unity of heart, spirit and love can exist even though we must have differences that will take longer to resolve.  We begin with this willingness to know a fellow Christian’s heart and build upon the possibility of fellowship.  It does not mean give up our convictions.  But we must begin with the hardest and highest call Jesus gave to us—to love one another as He loved us.  That is not what we do once we have worked out all our disagreements, our differences or

our hurts with one another.  Forgiveness itself is born out of obedience to the Savior’s call to love one another.

 



 

The keys

 

The Penn State Scandal: Joe Paterno, Duty and Veteran’s Day

So who isn’t depressed about the whole situation at Penn State?  An icon’s image trashed, a scandal seems to get bigger

every day, and the story of the events themselves alleged against Jerry Sandusky is stomach-turning.  Anyone who has ever dealt with sexual abuse in any way knows how dangerous and emotionally perilous the whole situation can be.

The first abuse victim I ever knew about was a young woman who came to me more than twenty-five years ago.  I helped her leave her home with an abusive father who had molested her and took her to a shelter and reported the matter to rape crisis.  The laws were murkier and less helpful in those days.  After the father threatened to kill me, I called and reported the entire situation to the Sheriff’s department, where I was told that all I could do is swear out a restraining order.  “What will that do?” I asked.  “Well, if he kills you, we can arrest him for violating the order.”  So…I told my deacons to keep their shotguns at the door and come if I called since I didn’t have one.

Things have changed for the better.  But this has revealed just how we may not have come as far as we thought.  There are so many enormous questions—about out of control emphasis on college athletics, the corrupting power of money at universities, the conspiracy of silence in institutions devoted to higher ideals.  In short, not all that different from the implications of clergy abuse scandals.

There are questions about power and priority and value at stake here.  College athletics and its money and power on campuses of “higher learning” is a piece of this equation, too.  When a footbal coach and program bring $100 million per year to a college, danger of compromise is everywhere.  Taylor Branch prophetically has written about this entire sad mess in his book The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA  This moment is but a window on our collective soul, and not merely in our worship of collegiate athletics in a way that is out of control.

Coach Paterno

There is something larger I want to think about—beyond the sad image of Joe Paterno’s legacy, the disappointment with a university that had a great reputation, even the cases themselves.  It is this—what about our higher obligation to care for our young?  Preachers will rail about one more evidence of a culture that does not respect life, but I think of it a little differently.  In our addiction to pleasure, the momentary and money, we have sacrificed all notions of loyal obligation.

Oddly, today I was surfing news programs and listened for a while to “Morning Joe,’ which I enjoy.  The Penn State story got a lot of play and discussion, but it was followed by a Veteran’s Day conversation with Jack Jacobs.  According to the PBS “Stories of Valor” website, which did a story on Medal of Honor winners,

Colonel Jack Jacobs, who entered military service through Rutgers ROTC, earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam. He also holds three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.

Jacobs was an adviser to a Vietnamese infantry battalion when it came under a devastating fire that disabled the commander. Although bleeding from severe head wounds, then-First Lieutenant Jacobs took command, withdrew the unit to safety, and returned again and again under intense fire to rescue the wounded and perform life-saving first aid. He saved the lives of a U.S. adviser and 13 allied soldiers.

As the guests on the show talked about Veterans Day, Jacobs told a story about what motivates Medal of Honor winners

Medal of Honor winner Jack Jacobs

to be so modest.  They nearly always say, “I just did my job.”  The military drills into their soldiers that duty to one another and to their service is the highest necessity for survival and success.  Jacobs said that they know that absolute commitment to their duty is what all of their lives depend on.  He told of one soldier who was severly wounded in a battle.  A seargeant went through a hail of bullets to rescue the man, who later died.  The sergeant himself was badly wounded, but he said the young man looked up when he came and said, “I knew you would come for me.”

At the heart of military duty, it seems to me, is a profound loyalty to ones fellow soldiers.  It is that trust in each other on which lives depend.  Jacobs has written a book on these things and extended this virtue to civilian life.  Do we not need this same sense that life itself depends on our loyalty to one another and to duty and dependability?

If Not Now, When?

Duty is not always glamorous.  It never operates from the pleasure principle, fame, rewards or immediate gratification.  Perhaps that is why it has ebbed from view in our current world.  It’s all about the money, too often, for us.  Being true to ourselves, each other and our obligations has been cast aside.  We regularly break contracts, covenants and loyalty for some more urgent unhappiness.  We reap bitterly from this harvest.

Sex abuse is failure of the most basic of duties—to protect the most vulnerable.  Not only their lives, but our own and our collective life absolutely depend on it.  So do all our institutions, our financial life, and everything in this world that is worthwhile.  Without confidence that we will come for one another, we are utterly lost.

Bobby Horton, a musician buddy, is a Civil War buff and a musical expert on that era.  He contributed to many of Ken Burn’s series, including the “Civil War.”  His favorite quotation is from Robert E. Lee, who even in a lost and wrong cause, was a man admired by both sides.  He said, “Duty is the most sublime word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.”  This may be our greatest need on Veterans Day,  not the recovery of duty for our soldiers, but for the rest of us.  Without doing our duty, can we long survive?

 

The Right Stuff for Finding a Job–What Should I Major In?

A recent Huffington Post tweet cited a Wall Street Journal article that listed the eleven college majors with the highest levels of unemployment at present.   The list includes several fields of psychology, history, miscellaneous fine arts, military technology, library science, linguistics and comparative literature, and computer management and security. 

What are we to make of this?  Are we, when push comes to shove, a society of people who consider mental health a luxury, prefer our books unshelved, our literature uncompared and operate on the internet without updating our McAfee subscription?  Are  we doomed to repeat the lessons of history and have no art to look at to boot?  Will we turn into dullards who only program computers, build stuff, and administer drugs and care for each other in nursing homes?  What do we make of these trends?

An education is expensive.  The lack of one is even more expensive.  I would say that there are some other lists we need to get the whole picture.  Consider these two lists before picking your field

Ten most unemployable skills

  1. Ability to emit odors of all kinds
  2. Translator for imaginary creatures in the room
  3. Ability to project your whiney voice through walls and doors
  4. Photographic memory for others failings, past sins, and accounts of family members’ medical conditions and procedures, especially textures, colors and smells.
  5. Fiction writing, especially when filling out reports or explaining why you were late to work–AGAIN
  6. Ponzi scheme administrator
  7. Burnout prevention detector—formerly called, “Lazy.”
  8. Process Debater
  9. Work Thespians—trained in the art of appearing to work without ever actually doing anything.  Work Thespians are skilled in walking around, minimizing the Solitaire game  quickly, and being clear about what is not in their job description.
  10. Micromanagers.  For some reason, there is a profound oversupply of these folks who are highly skilled in knowing what everyone else needs to be doing

Ten majors that will get hired eventually in any economy

  1. Humanity
  2. Integrity
  3. Responsibility
  4. Hard-Worker
  5. Team Player
  6. Maturity
  7. Multiple major in Honesty, Fairness, Respect and Appreciation
  8. Insight into Oneself
  9. Compassion
  10. Transformers—especially with emphases on turning discussions into actions, competition into teamwork, and problems into solutions.

Happiness is a Clear PET Scan

Enjoying grandchildren is the best

I have a most wonderful father-in-law.  Our initial meeting was a rocky one, when my hair was longer and I lived in Ohio leading him to mistakenly think I was a Yankee, which is South Carolina, home of Fort Sumter, is still a live issue.  When I asked for the hand of his only daughter during our sophomore year of college, he balked and seemed to need to do due diligence on me with the CIA first.  But he came around and has embraced me as if I were another son.

I never understood in-law jokes.  Mine are terrific and supportive in the most healthy ways.  They’re not perfect, but I always know they are there for us no matter what.  I love them both.

Forrest is in his eighties now, and just returned with my wife and mother-in-law from his oncologist, where he got the report on his latest PT scan.  He was diagnosed with Stage IV esophageal cancer in the summer of 2009, one of the toughest you can have.  He has gone through two rounds of chemo and radiation, the first one six months long, which he called, “character building.”  It seemed to me more like living death.

Still, he has continued his life.  Except for the chemo, he has continued his routines—walking every day, reading, writing an autobiography for all of us in the family about his life, worked back up to play golf again, and continue his life.  He is the most incredibly outgoing and friendly man I have ever known.  He’s tough as nails in business, but would give you his last dollar if he knew you were in trouble.  I can’t tell you how many times they helped us during our long educational journey through student poverty with three children.

So, when this odyssey of the past two years came along, we all fell apart for about five weeks.  He is like a giant old oak tree in your yard that’s a couple hundred years old.  It’s always going to be there, right?  Giving shade, shelter, a place to play when you’re a kid and a place to sit when you’re old.   Then one day it changes.

But then, we all calmed down.  There was work to do, it wasn’t the end yet.  We could learn—and we have—to live one day at a time and treasure it.  Between his illness and the birth of my first grandchild, I have moved work back a few spaces on my priorities.  I still get it done, but family comes first, where it always should have been.

How can it be that cancer brought us blessings?  Healing, reconciling, reprioritizing, re-evaluating?  But it did.  We remembered the truth, as my old friend John Claypool always said, “Life is a gift.”  It is.

So, they came in today.  “No trace of cancer.  Come back in three months.”  We’ll never be completely free.  It did this before and came back.  But we got a year of high quality, happy life.  So, we are rejoicing today, just for today.  We’re happy, he’s back to his books and thinking and continuing to grow.  We are thankful.  We text each other after every report.  Withing 30 minutes, my children all had heard and answered with multiple exclamation points.

So the world is in trouble—protesters, Herman Cain has problems, Greece and Europe are a mess.  But we just got a good report and can breathe again for now.  Biggest news on the planet in our world.  We are grateful to God and Dr. Bridges.

Forrest wrote in his autobiography:

One of the humbling, but wonderful things that came from this illness was to see and feel the love and prayers from my family and friends. All of our children and grand children came from far and wide to offer help and support… Of all the magnificent blessings I’ve had in my life, I believe the three Fs are the crux of life. These three are: faith in Christ, a loving family, loving friends, there is nothing of greater value. If you have these in your life, you are wealthy.

A little perspective for me, on this day when markets are uncertain, the political atmosphere is polarized, and the job numbers stink again.  We still have each other, and that is the great gift of any family.  Not even death can take that from us, for what has already been given can never be taken back.

A Conservative Alabama Solution to Immigration: I Can Dream, Can’t I?

Governor Bentley (center)

So I went to a party for a friend recently and the Alabama immigration bill came up.  My friend, who is a business owner whose work is connected to the legal world, listened to the conversation, then said, “Look, there’s a simple solution to this.  If you’re an immigrant in this state and undocumented, you have six months to come forward and get registered, and after that we kick you out.”  But why would you do that, I asked, knowing you’d be thrown directly in jail, do not pass go or collect anything?

“Easy,” he said, “You give them a temporary worker status.  They pay taxes and social security and contribute to the economy.”  So it’s not citizenship?  “No, of course not.  You go to the back of the line for that.  You can’t vote, you’re just a guest worker, and it’s a temporary status.  But at least we know who you are and you contribute to the tax coffers.”  Well, that sounded pretty good to me.

Seems to me that the point of law is compliance, not just punishment.  If farmers need workers and immigrants can answer that need, that’s letting the marketplace and competition take care of it, not government quotas.  Alabama’s farms and employer determine the number of immigrants by who they hire, not by Washington telling them we can only have this or that number.  That’s conservative, and you have to announce that you’re conservative to even be elected dogcatcher in Alabama.

Furthermore, that’s smaller government.  We don’t spend more money on jails, police, and bureaucracy.  We keep the operation in Alabama rather than letting the federal government tell us what Alabama needs.  That’s conservative, seems to me.  More jails?  More agencies from Washington?

But what about national security?  Well, since 27 million people visit the US every year on a temporary basis for vacations, seems to me we can come up with a computerized fingerprinted criminal background check system.

Getting people registered lets us know who they are.  Hiding in the shadows is more dangerous, not less.  If they have a job, pay taxes, we have their fingerprints and know their name, we’re a lot safer than letting huge numbers of unknown people slink around unaccounted for.  And that’s just the Canadians.

Of course, I can imagine the conversation in the Legislature, but since it’s my dream, maybe it would go like this:

“Well, if we do this, it’ll look like we’re backing off our promise to kick all those people out of Alabama.  We’d look weak.”

“Yeah?  Well, it might keep our tomato farmers and construction companies from kicking us out of Montgomery.  Besides, the churches get off our backs, we calm the thing down and don’t look like hateful jerks to the world.”

“Hey, you know, you might have something there.  We’d get sued, though, this time by the Feds for usurping their power to regulate immigration.”

“Of course,  That’s our point.  They’re not doing their job.  Somebody needs to embarrass them into doing it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean forever, PR-wise, conservatives get painted as heartless, racist, uncaring and all of those other things that smear our state’s image.  They always go back to the sixties and the race issue.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is, here we are again, clobbering mostly helpless people with a law that makes us look mean, even if we’re just mirroring federal law.  What if we went BEYOND federal law, but this time in a positive direction?  We wouldn’t be giving them citizenship, we’d be granting temporary status.  It could be based on having a job and references from our citizens.  Local counties could administer the records, they pay a reasonable fee for the annual guest worker license, which we use to hire people to run those offices.  They come out of the shadows and register.  They pay taxes on their cars, income, and possessions like everybody else.  They rent our apartments and houses, they work.  They buy things.”

“Look, the Attorney General is going to sue us that this isn’t our right as a state.”

“Don’t you see the brilliance of this?  Alabama gets sued by the Federal Government for being too compassionate and sane toward immigrants?  When is the last time THAT happened?”

“Wow.  Didn’t see that one coming.  Brilliant!”

**********

Not likely, I know.  But it’s my dream.  It COULD happen.  I had never lived in Alabama until 18 years ago.  The people are generous, kind, good to their neighbors, hard-working and always willing to do the  right thing.  They are conservative, but most are not the stereotypical meanies in the movies.  Yes, we have our racists and plenty of them.  And we have our fears.  But mostly we just want things to be fair.  So when my Senator said in the paper recently that they were going to tweak the bill and fix some things, I hoped once more.  Alabama could do it.  We could show the rest of the nation how polite, religious, caring neighbors treat strangers and fix a broken system.  Let Eric Holder sue us for that.  It would be a delight.