Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Walls to Climb — Fences to Sit On"

By Tony Harriman  •

In a world without fences would be an interesting place to live, and I suppose we should include walls in the thought.  There are probably many more, but I can think of two sizable walls in our world: Hadrian's Wall in Great Britain, and the Great Wall of China.  The best theory put forth for the purpose of what was known as Hadrian's Wall was to keep out the barbarians — the Scots.  The Wall spans the entire width of the northern portion of England, and much of it survives to this day.  The vast Great Wall of China, so historians tell us, was designed to keep out various nomadic and warlike peoples seeking trouble wherever they went, most notably: the Mongolians.  Those who have been there tell us that the Great Wall of China can be seen from outer space; I'll have to take their word for that, but I'll be happy to check it out … as long as I don't have to pay the bill.

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Some walls, like the Berlin Wall, were designed to keep people in.  Although the Wall was constructed around free West Berlin, in effect the Wall prevented citizens of Soviet-controlled East Berlin and beyond from defecting into the West.  The Wall kept the people inside the Communist world behind the Iron Curtain.

Some fences keep bad dogs out; some keep bad dogs in.  And we're happy for both — mostly.  Some fences, like those found in zoos, keep the wild animals from tearing up the visiting public; while others are placed to protect the wildlife from poachers.  Most barriers have a purpose.

Walls and fences are constructed around prisons and detention centers to prevent inmates getting out and causing havoc among the rest of society.  I have sometimes found myself guilty of wishing there were walls and fences like these around some of the nations that spawn and engender hate groups bent on the destruction of anyone not believing the way they do.  But I have a hard time defending the concept, since there are many other people living in those nations that don't wish evil upon the rest of us in the free world.

Throughout all of Great Britain are dry stone walls made up of the rocks gathered from the land on which the walls themselves were built; they were built to keep valuable livestock from getting lost and wandering onto a neighbor's property.  The walls did a pretty decent job of keeping animals in, but did nothing to keep predators out, so if a wolf (once incredibly prevalent in Britain) or a fox got in among the sheep, the prey had no way of escape.  An interesting tidbit here is that a large number of the fields surrounded by the walls have a public right-of-way going through them, so that members of the public may enjoy almost all of the British countryside.  This concept is foreign to Americans, but very much missed by English people living in the USA.

In my short Christian walk, I have occasionally landed on the concept of the Law of God being a "hedge," or "wall" around those people who honor and keep that Law; a wall which keeps those within the wall safe from harm.  I'd like to take a moment and peel back some of the layers of that thought.

To dive right in, what harm might this "wall" or "hedge" keep someone safe from?  Surely the reference cannot be to anything physical.  The original "keepers" of the Law, the Israelites, suffered constant abuse at the hands of their oppressors.  "Only when they were disobedient," you say.  Really?  How will you demonstrate that?  Are we to believe that there were none in days of old who chose to honor the Law of God?  No Moses?  No Brother Job?  No nice young Joseph?  No Elijah?  All of these appeared to have been very special to God, wouldn't you say?  Half of the four were taken to Holy Heaven.  And shall we say that no physical harm befell them?  Even when the Israelites WERE obedient, shall we imagine that no one ever got sick, or died of old age?  Surely when Jesus was here it could have  been argued that if anyone could keep the Law properly, it was Him — No?  And did no evil befall the Son of God?  "He had to be sacrificed," you say.  Yes, but was it necessary for him to be slapped so hard that he should cry out, "If I've done evil, bear witness of that evil"?

Take a quick trip through the pages of time and see many of the faithful who have been fed to lions; burnt at the stake; crucified; slaughtered and burned in the Nazi ovens.  Will you be so self-righteous as to say that these had not the faith that "I" have.

So what shall we say that this Holy Law keeps us safe from?  Well, try this: it keeps us safe from self-inflicted pain; pain that comes from stealing, unfaithfulness, lying, cheating.  Add to the list that which perhaps brings the deepest heartache that a man can experience; that of trying to charge our batteries from a power source for which we are not fitted.  We were designed to be energized by the Breath of God — His Spirit.  This Spirit appears to be unlike any AC or DC we can imagine.  Trying to live any other way would be like trying to live solely on multi-vitamins.  This Spirit, which has neither name nor apparent origin, seems akin to that energy which emanates constantly from the sun; the same sun that is chased across the sky by mindless vegetation which has been programmed to feed off the free solar energy pouring down from the heavens.

No matter how much you dwell behind this wall, or fence, one day you are going to physically die.  Even now you are wasting away little by little.  Every year sees the loss of cell integrity throughout your physical frame, from your head to your feet.  But remember this: God cares less for your body than He does for your soul.  yes, you need your physical body to develop your soul, but in the world of the spirit, there is not so much need for a temple like the one you have now.

It seems, then, that the Law of God is designed to keep your soul safe behind the wall; but the wall will not keep you safe "physically" from your enemies.

Stories of God's protection are abundant on the lips of those who survive.  But what else do you expect?  What shall we say of the hundreds of thousands whose voices are silent, having been washed away by the tsunami?  What testimony has been borne by those buried and perished beneath the rubble of the Twin Towers?  Are we to believe that these many souls had not the faith to be saved?  Those who survive rarely attribute the saving of their lives to some act of faith on their part, and are often bewildered as to why they should have been spared in the first place.  The many records of those who did go down in faith have been sealed by their executioners, and shall we be brazen enough to suggest that such a fate awaits not my life?  There are people living today who have seen such inhumanity on the planet they believed they would never see.  Just because the pain hasn't yet come by your door is no cause for you to believe that it never will.

A little side turn here — sort of.  In past posts to this Blog I have mentioned one of our dogs, Lucy, who was a wanderer and a thief.  This was the dog that would return home from who-knows-where with a boot, a fluffy toy, a used diaper, a dead chicken — whatever.  We had no idea how far she wandered; certainly further than our immediate neighbors, because I tried on occasion to return the things she had stolen, without success.  Well, a week ago she returned home with a gunshot wound; it could have been something else, but to us it looked like what it was.  The wound was bad enough that it would have cost hundreds of dollars just to go through the first layer to find out what the real internal damage was.  The option we chose was to have her put to sleep.  Though the decision was painful, it was reasonable; patching her up would not have been a fix for her nature.  Lucy didn't care about fences; she could go over or under any obstacle in her quest to steal something that was not hers.  Sure, we could spend a fortune and build a fence that could keep in ANY animal, and keep out ANY predator, but Lucy's heart was always pining for that greener stuff on the other side.  We miss her, and try to think only of the things we loved about her.  But living outside the fence ultimately caused her death.

It doesn't appear to me that the Law of God is something designed to keep ANYTHING in or out.  A man or woman is free at any time to pass right through this invisible fence, either way.  The only thing the wall does is keep safe the soul of anyone WILLINGLY behind it.  That which cannot be seen or handled — our souls — will never be harmed by those who have no respect for the wall.  And don't be surprised when you see an intruder behind the fence.  Someone once said that churches are full of intruders, only seen properly when the light shines.

Though I really don't like them, I tolerate walls and fences — for now.  But I must admit, I am looking forward to a world which has no need for such divisions.  Bring it on.

And that's just my take on it ….

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"The Sound of Music"

By Tony Harriman  •  

Anyone who knows me even a little bit will realize that I am somewhat of a music-lover.  I enjoy music in my life; all kinds of music.  Well, perhaps not all kinds, but certainly a fair smattering of music from around the globe.  For many years, every time I have visited a foreign country, I have tried to bring back a CD containing some of the traditional local fare of music; not what's currently in the pop chart, but the kind of music the locals think of when they try to "picture" in their ears what their country's music sounds like.  In my collection I have music from, to name few, Greenland, Slovakia, Malta, India and the Caribbean.  Some of it I like better than others, but I appreciate it all.

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Growing up as a child in London, I and my little playground buddies were very familiar with the music of the Beatles, and many Beatle tunes and lyrics are still very familiar to me.  You have to imagine that, as a child, I had a very simple picture in my mind as to what the lyrics meant.  I didn't, for instance, paint any of the songs with a "Dark" paintbrush; that is to say that Eleanor Rigby was a song about the characters being named; Penny Lane was a song about a road in Liverpool (which I have actually visited), etc., etc.  So when these songs are played in my hearing today, my mind takes a quick journey through time and lands in a world where ALL of the people I have loved are still very much alive and well; things all of a sudden are painted with "simpler" brushes; any pain I might have to deal with can be fixed with a little antiseptic and a Band Aid.  These are the images that fill my head when the music plays.

Many of us have had the experience where we find ourselves singing along when the playing of a song floats into our ears.  It's almost impossible to not join in with a chorus that is familiar to us.  We might not know all the right words, but singing along, even in our heads, is something that can be easily done while we are also engaged in any number of other things.  That's interesting to me.

The appreciation, or distaste for, music is a very subjective emotion; and I think "emotion" would be the right word.  Not all music shares the same devotees, and that's okay; we don't all enjoy classical music, or folk music, pop, rap.  There are lots of different styles of music, and if the type you like doesn't exist — well, then, just create it; it's waiting for you to give it life.

This short writing is not meant to be a critique of the many different styles of music, or a condemnation of the lifestyles of many musicians, so if you're looking for information to use in a Pop-bashing Seminar, here would be a good spot to exit.

However, I would like to share an observation that I've thought about for a while.  It goes something like this: Music is everywhere — whether you want it or not.  Just about every public place is offering up some form of music or muzak.  Often times it's called elevator music, because it's even playing in the ….  Well, you get the idea.  Turn on the radio and you expect to hear music playing, but it's even playing behind the ads.  Turn on the TV and it's the same.  Next time you're watching the commercials, if you have such a notion, count how many commercials are advertising products without the use of music to carry them along.  Walk through the shopping mall with your ears open; Sit and listen in any one of a thousand waiting rooms.  Then I challenge you to look around and count how many people do NOT have some device plugged into their ears.

I don't for a minute think there is any dark intent on the part of the people who "manage" public trends, but, seriously, if someone in charge of "controlling" the masses hasn't recognized the potential of music for preventing people from "thinking," then they have missed a serious opportunity.  I have friends who see the inroads of Communism and Socialism in the agendas being put forth by various politicians around the world, but don't seem to have noticed that a potential exists of our own creating.  If the Communistic powers-that-be can simply stop the people from "thinking," then half the job of takeover is done.  I hate to hear myself saying this, because I really do enjoy the presence of music in my life, but from time to time I would like to hear a little more silence, so that I can take the time between my ears to sort out some of the bigger issues like how to keep my kids safe; how I can plan for the future.  Simply put, I'd like more space to think about things that matter.  I'm not so interested in a constant diet of boyfriend, girlfriend, party time, wife running off with the truck and the dog, drinking beer and going fishing, as important as these may be to the people affected.

All the while a song is playing with which we are familiar, we have very little choice but to sing or hum along.  Even if you know nothing about it, the spaced repetition of the song guarantees that you will at some point be familiar with the basic melody.  And once that happens, your thinking will be limited any time you are out in public.  I know it sounds radical, but a simple test you might consider applying to yourself is to try and calculate any math formula in your mind — not on paper — while you are exposed to music in public.

At the time of this writing, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl is lying unconscious in a hospital bed in Birmingham, England, having been shot in the head by people who are afraid of a blog she shares with anyone who cares to read it.  The blog criticizes the interference of the Taliban in the affairs of Pakistani public education, among other things.  The Taliban see no need for the education of young girls, and they are afraid of this brave youngster — because SHE … is not afraid of them.  Forgive my candor, but given the time to "think," any one of us might be stirred just enough to try to find a sensible, enduring way to put an end to this foolishness being dished out by emotionally insecure Middle Eastern and Asian males.  But for now our heads are full of our favorite sport, our favorite politician, our favorite country, our favorite music, and on and on and on.  As long as it doesn't really matter, THAT seems to be what we are being geared to think about.  The health of our minds, our bodies and our souls are given very little attention by most of us.  If we wait for the mainstream media to start looking out for the things that REALLY matter, we'll have to wait until the trend becomes profitable, because right now there appears to be very little profit in reporting on anything that amounts to more than a hill of beans.

Perhaps I should take a page out of my own criticism, and put into practice the advice above: if it doesn't exist — create it, just like making that music we want to hear.  Perhaps we shouldn't have to wait until someone gets off the couch and does something that matters.  Perhaps it can start with you — with me — whoever.  'Cause if someone doesn't wake up, we're all gonna drown in the sewage being pumped into our eyes and ears.

This short post started out as a piece on music, but has developed into what amounts to the possible exposure of a conspiracy to shut down the human mind from asking questions.  Not sure how I feel about all that.  That's not where I was headed at all.

The United Negro College Fund adopted a slogan a few years ago which ran like this: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," to which I say a hearty "Amen!"  Once it's gone, it's gone, and it will never come back.  One day we're all likely to get old and, in spite of our best efforts, feeble.  While we have a mind is clearly the best time to use it — right?

And that's just my take on it ….

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"Would You Like to Be Healed?"

By Tony Harriman  • 

"Would you like to be healed?"  Wouldn't that be a strange thing to ask a person?  I mean, who wouldn't want to be healed?  Picture some of the people in your own family orbit struggling with an ailment that just will not let them settle.  You know the afflictions, and you know the pain associated with them.  Can you think of any one of your family members who would be inclined to respond negatively to that question?  Can you hear a single one of them honestly saying, "Thanks, but no thanks."  I suppose there are some who are happily surviving off their meager welfare check; but I venture to guess that most people would leap at the opportunity (if I can put it that way) to renew a lease on a life which had been ripped from their grasp.

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The historic scene is played out beside the Pool of Bethesda.  Many, many sick and injured are lying on their rags waiting for the legendary stirring of the water when an angel should cause the healing of the first person into the pool.  Jesus happens upon a man who has lain thus for thirty-eight years — thirty-eight years!  Anonymously, Jesus walks through the crowd and singles out this seemingly hopeless case, who has not even a friend to help him into the water should the stirring begin.  Without showing even a business card of introduction, Jesus asks the man if he would like to be healed.  You remember how the story goes as the man explains that no one is there to help him should the angel show up:  "Get up.  Take your bed and go home," says Jesus.  And as Jesus slips away into the crowd, still unannounced, the man does exactly what he was told to do; he took up and walked, the story says.  He walked until he was spotted by the church police who couldn't help but notice he was illegally carrying his bed on the Sabbath day .  But that's another story ….

In the world of sales there comes a moment where the prospect must be "qualified."  Does he really want the product?  Is he able to actually perform that which is necessary for obtaining it?  The man indeed qualified in need, and his desire to be put into the pool illustrated his earnestness to receive that which he came for.  And Jesus knew this.  The story plays out that even though he had no clue who Jesus was, yet the transaction took place whereby the man's desire and hope were given wheels and a drive train.  In short, he was healed — in a single breath.

For many years it has been somewhat perplexing to me that we don't see this kind of healing from Jesus' followers like was seen in the early days of Christianity.  Oh, I know … go to the right church and pay the fee, and you'll leap out the church door with broken crutches.  Forgive my skepticism, but I would like to see some of these holy healers walk through the wards of any one of a thousand children's hospitals across the nation.  Let them visit the infants who have lost every hair on their bodies because of the administration of radiation and chemicals and who knows what other drugs.  Don't talk to me about paying for healing.  And don't talk to me about how only those with faith in Jesus can be healed.  The man in the story above had faith in the Pool; he didn't even know who Jesus was at first.  Lazarus was four days in the grave; what kind of faith was being exercised by Lazarus?  Even Lazarus' family chided Jesus for showing up "too late."  "Lazarus is stinking," they said.  Forgive my irritation.  I guess I'm just as ticked off with myself for having the same attitude.

Some years ago I was working at a restaurant in the West End of London.  The food was vegan/vegetarian served buffet style.  My responsibilities included greeting the customers as they came in and making sure they were charged accordingly for what they took from the buffet.  Over the five years I worked there I became acquainted with people from all walks of life that you might imagine living in and around the City of London.  There were rich people, poor people, and all classes in between.  And looking for some kind of cure came the sick people — some famous … some not.

One particular lunchtime saw the return of a young lady, a pretty little thing probably in her mid-twenties, who had been injured (brain damaged) in a car accident.  The restaurant was in the basement of the building, so her nurse, a slightly older lady, had to manoeuvre the girl's wheelchair down a flight of stairs.  I don't always let on, but I'm observant of things that interest me, and I had watched this couple a handful of times before as they tried to enjoy lunch.  The injured girl had very little control of her hands and had to be fed in small spoonfuls, and even these she sometimes choked on.  This one particular day I greeted both young ladies and respectfully held the hand of the girl in the wheelchair … and my heart literally broke for this awful fate that was hers.  The girl could sense the hurt behind my smile and would not let go of my hand.  She couldn't speak — ever, so she said nothing.  As if she were rising out of a deep sleep, her eyes drifted for those few moments, and then, as if with determination, her eyes fixed occasionally on mine.  The human connection wasn't awkward and I didn't try to pull away, but the nurse eventually loosened the girl's grip.  If I said anything to the young lady at the time, it wasn't memorable and wouldn't be worth repeating.  It was one of those moments in my life when I have felt absolutely helpless; like when the dog or the cat brings home some small animal which is still alive; you rescue the poor creature only to have it finish its life in your gently cupped hands.  All you can do is watch.  I cannot adequately put the experience of that day into words. 

I am a man of moderate faith in the things I cannot see, and I believe that God can do anything; but on that day in London I found myself convinced that God would not answer my prayer of healing for the young lady in the wheelchair.  I'll take a risk and bare my soul a little here: An incredibly loud voice in my head was yelling for me to put faith in God and wrench this girl from her condition, but the memories of many of the failures of others prevented me.  I pictured her bounding her way back up the stairs to a life returned, leaving the nurse and me to deal with the unneeded wheelchair.  But it wasn't to be.  Though that was the last time I saw either of them, I have thought about that visit many times.  I guarantee you this, if God should one day be looking for someone who would be willing to anonymously drift from town to town with the power of healing, I should like to volunteer for that job.  And I would track down that young lady, and others like her, and make many a wrong … right.

Can you actually imagine anyone responding to the call of Jesus with, "Uh, no thanks; I'm happy with the way I am."?  Surely no one who had an ounce of their right mind left would respond in such a way.  So why would Jesus ask such a question in the first place, "Would you like to be made whole?"?  Perhaps it was just out of plain old respect.  Jesus has never struck me as being someone Who would outstay His welcome, or barge in and perform some miracle without permission.  Hold on, though.  How about the demons being cast into the pigs, and those pigs throwing themselves off the cliff?  What was all that about?  I have no idea right now, except to say that's what they asked for.  Perhaps we'll dig into that some other day.

If someone should show up with a genuine power of healing, and should come by my door, he or she would not leave alone.  There are many folks I know who, for no fault of their own, are living a life of pain and despair — a life they don't deserve.  And I know right where they live.  So that healer had better buckle up; it'll be a busy week … or more.

Just my take on it ….

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