Thursday, September 29, 2005

Some Thoughts About Bound Journals

During my free time, I enjoy visiting the Border's bookstore and the Barnes and Noble bookstore. Easy proximity to those stores is one benefit of living where I live.

Usually, when I'm in such a bookstore, I'll go through the magazine section of the store, as well as several book sections (particularly the sections containing books about art, photography, music and computers). After grabbing a handful of books and magazines which interest me, I'll sit down in the coffee shop (after buying a drink or some food, or both) and I'll spend several hours writing down book titles (plus information regarding the author, publisher, ISBN, copyright date, price, binding method and related notes), as well as useful information I find in various magazines.

I don't always carry my notebook computer with me. Therefore, I generally prefer to record the aforementioned information on the inexpensive 3x5-inch index cards I always carry for that purpose. I have thousands of these index cards at home, containing a lot of very useful information (which I periodically sort and organize according to topic). I guess you could say that I'm an "information junkie", which is why I find the Web to be so useful. As addictions go, I can think of addictions which are far more harmful, and far less useful, than an addiction to information.

Both of the aforementioned bookstores have a nice selection of beautiful blank journals (in a wide range of prices), with covers made from leather, wood, fabric and/or other materials. For a person who enjoys writing, as I do, these can be tempting.

Several years ago, I resolved that I would finally spend some serious time writing my thoughts down, in a beautiful leather-bound Cavallini journal I'd bought at Border's. I poured my heart and soul into that journal. As pretentious as it might sound, I think I had visions of being the next Anne Frank. I wouldn't want to go through the horrors she and her family experienced in Nazi Germany, but I had always thought that it would be wonderful to be able to write a journal which would eventually be published as a book and read by millions of people.

Alas, it was not to be. I mailed the completed journal to a close relative of mine, intending to share my thoughts with that person. That turned out to be a huge mistake. It turned out that the person to whom I sent the journal had no appreciation whatsoever of the fact that I had spent hundreds of hours writing in that journal. In fact, it seems in hindsight that the recipient must have resented the fact that I had found the time to record my thoughts in a journal. What else can explain the fact that she maliciously destroyed the journal by tearing it into pieces? (I never saw the torn-up journal. She voluntarily told me that she had destroyed it! Talk about cruel!) Destroying my journal must have taken a fair amount of effort on her part, since the book had such a tough leather cover.

When I was told that my journal had been deliberately destroyed, I felt as if someone had ripped my heart out, grilled it over an open flame, and eaten it with toast. I was already under a lot of stress to begin with, on account of severe financial problems caused by a prolonged period of unemployment. The news about my journal's destruction only made things worse.

A couple of years have passed since that time, and while I can't say that my memories are free of pain, I have survived.

Now that I've discovered the joys of "blogging", I can't help but notice that it offers some distinct advantages, compared with old-fashioned bound journals with paper pages. Specifically, one can instantly share one's thoughts with the world, without the expense of traditional publication or distribution, and without the need to persuade a publishing company that it's economically viable to publish and distribute the book. Unlike that Cavallini journal, there is little or no chance that anyone can maliciously destroy one's only copy of a blog. Yes, a hacker could theoretically destroy or alter the digital files residing on the file servers owned by the blog hosting company, but that's what backup copies (and occasional printouts) are for.

Still, I admit that there is a certain visceral pleasure associated with the act of writing one's thoughts down in a beautiful bound journal. Therefore, I may do so periodically in the future.

However, I have learned my lessons well. If I ever share such a handwritten journal with anyone again, I will photocopy or scan all of the pages first, just as a precaution. In some cases, I may also upload blog posts consisting of thoughts which were previously recorded in the handwritten journal. That way, I won't need to send the physical journal through the mail in order to share it with others.

Most importantly, I will never again send such a precious, irreplaceable thing to any person who has proved to be unworthy of my trust.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

River North Community Church

Sunday night, I decided to visit River North Community Church (a/k/a River North Baptist Church), a brand new fellowship which meets at 30 W. Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60610 at 4:00 p.m. Pastor Bill Branks and his wife were there, as were two other people in addition to myself. It was more of a Bible study than a formal worship service, but I left with a positive impression of Pastor Branks. Later, I visited his website, at It's a nice website.

I see positive things in this new church's future.

UPDATE: I subsequently stopped going to this church for reasons pertaining to a narrow-minded attitude on the part of the pastor with regard to the types of music which were suitable for worship services, inasmuch as that attitudes directly affected my ability to use my own musical talents as a means of expressing my love for God. What a shame. Up until that point, I was very enthusiastic about what Branks was doing in the River North area.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

My Prayer: To See Through Holy Eyes

Some Christians equate holiness with ignorance of what is going on in the world outside of the influence of the church. If they think that a magazine, book, TV show or movie is likely to contain materials which contradict their own beliefs and values, they shun such materials, thinking that in doing so, they are somehow insuring their own moral purity. It is this impulse which explains why so many Christians (particularly conservative Christians such as myself) see censorship as a valid way to enhance respect for Christian moral values.

Unfortunately, the end result of such insular thinking is that the church is incapable of adequately responding, from a Biblical perspective, to societal change. On a more individual level, such thinking leads to the unfortunate perception, among unbelievers, that Christians are ignorant people. This can dilute or negate the moral influence of Christians on unbelievers.

If God is indeed omniscient (meaning that he is fully aware of everything, both good and bad), then how is it that he is not tainted by his exhaustive knowledge of evil? The answer, of course, is that he sees the world through holy eyes. Christian singer Amy Grant acknowledged this when she sang “My Father’s Eyes”, a song in which she prayed that she would see the world as God saw the world. That is the meaning of discernment.

Jesus said that if one’s eye causes offense, it is better to pluck out that eye than for the entire body to burn in Hell. It is interesting to me that he didn’t say that the offense came from unholy things which were perceived, but rather, from the impure eyes with which those things were perceived. In other words, if what you see corrupts your soul, it is because you are not looking through holy eyes.

If necessary, it would indeed be better to pluck your eyes out than to lose your eternal soul. But it is doubtful that Christ, who frequently gave sight to the blind, would wish for more blindness in the world. When seeking to become holy, a better and far less painful solution is to pray that God will grant you his perspective on the world, so that you can see all, and yet remain pure. Then familiarize yourself with the Bible so that you can evaluate everything you see in the light of God’s word.

Certainly, the Bible is correct when it advises Christians to flee from temptation. Part of discernment is knowing one's own personal limitations, and avoiding situations in which one is particularly vulnerable to temptation to sin. (For example, if a Christian is struggling to overcome an addiction to alcohol, it’s a very good idea for that person to stay away from bars and liquor stores!)

However, different Christians are at different stages in their moral development. It is absurd to treat a person who has served the Lord for many decades the same as one would treat a brand new convert to the faith.

Furthermore, different Christians are vulnerable to different temptations. A sin which holds great allure for one Christian may be of little or no interest to another. One Christian may have a problem with lust and sexual sin; another, with pride; another, with the desire to steal other people’s possessions; and yet another, with a love of gossip.

Since some Christians are more mature than others, and since sins which afflict some Christians do not necessarily afflict all other Christians, it does not necessarily follow from the fact that a particular Christian needs to avoid certain situations that all other Christians need to avoid such situations. However, it is certainly every Christian's right and responsibility to urge other Christians to abstain from sin, and to avoid situations in which they are likely to yield to temptation. There is nothing wrong with offering advice which seems to be pertinent to a particular person’s situation, as long as one does so in a spirit of humility, keeping in mind that only God is infallible.

In the short term, running from temptation is sometimes a necessary strategy for new believers. In the long term, however, all Christians should aspire to reach the point where they are so firmly grounded in God's word that no amount of temptation can sway them from their commitment to a lifestyle of obedience to God. The most effective spiritual warriors are those who are making substantial progress in their quest for this ideal. Conversely, it’s hard to defeat an enemy (in this case, the Devil) if you’re afraid to venture into enemy territory. To fear exposure to ideas contrary to one’s own beliefs is not a sign of faith. It is a sign of insecurity and weakness, and it is a poor testimony to unbelievers.

Jesus was heavily criticized for associating with sinners. But he made it clear that his critics had missed the point of holiness. To retreat into an artificially sheltered environment consisting only of like-minded people is not holiness. It is an evasion of one’s responsibilities to a dying world.

Christians are compared, in the Bible, to salt (which preserves) and to light (which reveals). As a preservative, salt does little good in the shaker. It only serves its purpose when you sprinkle it onto meat which needs to be preserved. Likewise, turning on an additional light in a room which is already brightly lit serves little purpose. When light is taken into a dark room, it fulfills its reason for being.

Too many Christians spend their lives as if they are just marking time until they are released from this evil world. But God has a purpose here on earth for each one of us. We have a mission to a world which desperately hungers and thirsts for truth. To disengage from culture is to abdicate our spiritual responsibilities.

Francis Schaeffer, the influential and highly admired Christian writer, made it clear in his books that he had read the works of many of the world’s most influential philosophers, many of whom taught things which were directly opposed to the teachings of Christ. But rather than running in fear whenever he encountered such ideas, Schaeffer read secular philosophy books with the perspective of a fully committed Christian who was grounded in God’s word. As a result, he was able to critique the false ideas of such philosophers from the perspective of a Christian who knew what and who he believed.

Censorship is not the answer to the lies of the world. The answer is to seek, believe and proclaim the truth.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Some Thoughts About Bullies

I’m 6'3" tall, and weigh more than 220 lbs. To look at me, you might think that I’d be the last guy who would have had problems with bullies when I was growing up. But the old saying is true: Looks can be deceiving.

In grade school, I made some friends, but I also encountered some children who inexplicably seemed to take pleasure in causing pain to others. Much to their delight, they discovered that I had a “thin skin”.

Most of my classmates were relatively decent people. But it only takes a few outspoken bullies to make life miserable, particularly for someone who is compelled (as virtually all public school students are) to share space with such people.

Most of the bullying to which I was subjected came in the form of verbal insults. The nicknames I acquired for a number of years sound pretty childish today, but it was obvious from their behavior that the children who called me by those names were deliberately trying to hurt me. I could not fathom what I had done to deserve such treatment. More than four decades later, I still can’t.

Sometimes, I would come home at the end of the day and pour out my pain and frustration during tearful conversations with my mother. It was clear that she had a measure of sympathy for me, but she seemed impotent to do anything about the torment. The most she could say was that I should ignore the bullies. That, of course, was much easier said than done.

Occasionally, the bullying to which I was subjected became physical. For example, I remember an encounter, one day after school, with a fellow grade school student named Todd. He was standing next to the flag pole. “Come here, Pettigrew,” he said. I didn’t know what he wanted, but I hadn’t previously had any encounters with him which might have caused me to be suspicious, so I walked over to see what he wanted. The next thing I knew, he had punched me, very hard, in the stomach. I was struggling to breathe, and he was standing there looking at me with a big, stupid grin on his face, as if nothing could please him more than to attack a fellow student for no apparent reason. As far as I recall, I never did get a coherent explanation from him for the attack. The only explanation I can think of is that he was emotionally and morally retarded.

In hindsight, I find it especially bizarre that he would have chosen that spot for his unprovoked attack against me. After all, the flag pole was located right outside of the principal’s office. If the principal had looked out the window, he would have witnessed the attack. He was a kind man, and I suspect that he would have punished Todd. But that never happened.

In recent years, people have begun to pay serious public attention to the problem of classroom bullying, largely because of tragedies such as the mass murders at Columbine and other schools. I would never argue that murder was justified, but I confess that I felt a good deal of sympathy for the shooters, nevertheless, when I read about those events. Being bullied can be emotionally devastating.

Parents and teachers are not gods. It's unreasonable to expect them to watch their children every second of every day. Children with a prediliction for abusive, bullying behavior can be very good at doing so when no adults are looking. Nevertheless, I feel that parents and teachers deserve a measure of the blame when the children over which they have authority repeatedly bully other children. It is their job to protect all of those children, not only from things which would cause them physical harm, but also from the kind of psychological harm which can come from repeated episodes of bullying behavior.

When I was young, my parents had my I.Q. tested. My I.Q. score was 140. In hindsight, I feel that jealousy of my intelligence may have been one factor which motivated the bullies who tormented me. Another factor may be the fact that there’s a general perception among students that “bookworms” are “losers”, despite the fact that people who excel academically are far more likely to achieve career success later in life.

My parents understandably had high hopes for me in terms of my potential for academic achievement, especially after they got the results of my I.Q. test. But natural ability is only one factor which influences achievement. Never underestimate the importance of a peaceful environment which is suitable for learning. Thanks to the bullies, and thanks to my teachers’ inability or unwillingness to control them, I began to hate school with a passion. I never played “hooky”, but I did occasionally beg my mother to let me stay home under the pretense that I was sick. Even when I wasn’t physically sick, there was a measure of truth to that claim. I was sick of being targeted by boneheaded bullies.

When I was eleven years old, my father bought a more expensive house, located in a different school district. For about a year, I had something of a respite from the harassment. The kids in my sixth grade class didn’t know me, for the most part, and consequently, my reputation as an easy target didn’t follow me there. Until I entered seventh grade, that is. Then I learned, much to my dismay, that the school districts were drawn up in such a way that many of the kids with whom I’d gone to grade school were in the same junior high school as I. They hadn’t forgotten me, and it didn’t take long before the bullying began again.

I was never extremely overweight, but I was never much of an athlete, either. Consequently, when picking teams during gym class, I was usually chosen last, or pretty close to last, and the people who ended up with me on their team made no secret of the fact that they felt disappointed that they had ended up with me on their team. Maybe I would have been able to devote more time to sports if I had not been working hard on my classical piano lessons (which I began when I was 10 years old). Maybe, if my classmates had been taught that different children have different talents which are all worthy of appreciation, they would have made more of an effort to make me feel wanted, instead of choosing teams in such a way as to make me painfully aware of my shortcomings. But that never happened.

Memories of those humiliating experiences definitely have a lot to do with the fact that even now, I have little interest in sports. As a general rule, the sports I like to watch on TV tend to be individual sports (such as skiing, the “gravity games”, and so forth), versus sports (particularly football and basketball) where there is peer pressure to excel for the sake of the team. Advocates of such sports claim that they teach teamwork. If “teamwork” is their term for an environment where the value of individuals is measured solely by whether or not they are naturally gifted athletes and for an environment where people who do not fit that description are treated as if they are lower than dirt, then I would agree. But these are not lessons which should be taught to any child, regardless of the level of that child’s talent.

As a result of my unhappiness in junior high school, my grades began to slip badly. I did pay attention during class time, and I actually learned quite a bit (although I struggled, for a period of time, with math). The fact that I was learning was reflected in my test scores. However, homework was another story. Homework was a substantial part of every quarter’s grade, and I did so little homework in junior high that I started bringing home a lot of D’s and F’s. The only reason the school didn’t hold me back a year was that they knew, from my test scores, that the problem wasn’t a lack of knowledge or intelligence on my part. I give them credit for recognizing that I was suffering from severe emotional problems. If they had held me back, it would only have made things worse (especially since I was somewhat large for my age to begin with).

Part of my problem was that I had developed a negative attitude about homework as a result of the absurdly easy homework assignments I’d received in grade school. Those assignments didn’t challenge me. They bored me to tears. Our assignments involved things such as going through lists of words and memorizing the spellings. For the most part, I already knew how to spell those words, so I didn’t see the point. Thanks to their “one size fits all” approach to homework, I began to feel that homework was something teachers assigned just so that they could extend their dominance of my life into the hours when I wasn’t in school. That didn’t change much when I was in junior high.

To this day, I still resent work when I perceive that it falls into the category of “busy work” — in other words, work which is assigned solely for its own sake, not because it really needs to be done.

In retrospect, I think that the other factor influencing my strong aversion to homework was that I felt that it was more than enough for people to expect me to endure what seemed like hell during the hours when classes were in session. When I got home from school, it seemed to me that that was my time. I saw time away from school as my escape from an experience I loathed.

Ironically, when I was not practicing the piano or watching TV, I spent quite a bit of “my time” reading. One would think that my teachers would have been pleased by the knowledge that I was so good at reading and writing. But I learned that that is not how the “system” works. Contrary to the rhetoric, I came to realize that learning was never really the point of school. Learning to play by the rules was the point.

This is not to say that my teachers did not want me to learn. But even greater than their desire for me to learn was their desire for me to learn in the prescribed way. Everything was done according to formula, and if the the formula was inappropriate for a particular child (possibly because that child was extraordinarily gifted), that was just too bad.

I realize that public education system has changed, to some extent, since I was in grade school. Contemporary teachers seem to make a greater effort to show individual attention to their students. Yet, the very nature of public school is that it is mass-produced education. The high student-to-teacher ratios typical of most public schools virtually guarantee that students who fall outside the norm will often fall through the cracks.

(This is one definite benefit of home schooling, in my opinion. Another obvious benefit, for Christians, is that classroom content is determined by the values of the parents who are teaching their own children, not by the dictates of court decisions based on the activism of rabidly anti-Christian groups such as the ACLU.)

Anyway, as a result of the various factors cited above (as well as other factors I haven't mentioned), I lost all motivation for doing my homework. In terms of short-term consequences, I learned that I could go for long periods of time without doing any homework at all. Yes, it was embarrassing when teachers called on me in class and I had to reply that I had not done the assigned work. But I learned to live with the embarrassment. It felt as if I had nothing to lose. After all, the bullies had started treating me like garbage long before I had begun to neglect the homework. In fact, looking back, I wonder if I didn’t start neglecting the homework, in part, out of the hope that they would leave me alone if they perceived that I was struggling with school just as they were. (If that was my motivation, I wasn’t conscious of it at the time; but then, not all motivations are conscious motivations.) If that was my subconscious plan, it didn’t work. It only made things worse. Now, in terms of the way that I was perceived by my fellow students, I had become a “loser” in every sense of the word. Paradoxically, I was a bookworm who nevertheless got bad grades because I didn’t do my homework!

In terms of long-term consequences, of course, things tended to get ugly in our house when report cards came out. The typical scenario was this: I would go home and get into a verbal argument with my mother over the problem with my grades. She made it sound as if my poor grades were the result of deliberate acts of disobedience on my part. I really felt, all evidence to the contrary, as if I was trying my best. (It was only much later that I began to understand why I had found it so difficult to get motivated in terms of homework.) So I would argue with her, feeling that she was being very unfair to me.

When my father would get home, my mother would complain to him about my “bad attitude”. He would then take me into his bedroom. We would sit down together on his bed, and he would explain that my mother had reported to him that I’d been giving her “back talk”. (Funny, I always thought that it was called dialogue. Like many people with whom I’ve had to deal in life, my father was under the illusion that I had some kind of obligation to stay silent even when I felt that I was being falsely accused.)

I would sit and listen to him quietly, knowing (from experience) that he had already made his mind up and there was no point in arguing with him. Then he would repeat that old-as-dirt cliché --- “This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you, son” --- and out would come his belt. (If I could go back in time, I’d like to say this to my father: “O.K., here’s a suggestion, Dad: Since the object of this punishment is obviously to hurt me, why don’t we turn the tables and allow me to hit you, so I can claim that I’m the one being hurt the most!” But of course, I wouldn’t have dared to say such a thing at the time.) He had a thin belt, and he would hit me as hard as he could with it. To say that it was extremely painful would be a mild understatement.

Of course, he was smart enough to hit me on the posterior, where it left no incriminating marks. Not that he had any reason to fear recrimination. After all, this took place during the late sixties, at a time when corporal punishment was common in most households in my region of the country. Even if it had occurred to me to report it to the authorities, I suspect that the only result would have been that he would have beaten me even harder the next time. Of course, if the same thing were to happen today, I suspect that a parent who treated a child as my father treated me would be charged with child abuse.

Admittedly, some parents have treated their children far worse than my father treated me, but that, in my mind, is a lame excuse for what he did to me.

Some conservative Christians cite the Bible verse which says, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”, as evidence that corporal punishment is endorsed by God. Conversely, many modern child-rearing experts, such as Dr. Phil McGraw, argue that corporal punishment should never be used under any circumstances. My own feeling is that the Bible is correct, but I also believe that the aforementioned verse has often been abused by parents in order to justify their abusive behavior.

It does not follow from the fact that corporal punishment is sometimes appropriate that it is the right type of punishment in most situations. Punishment, whether it comes from one’s parents or the judicial system, should always be proportionate to the offense. And what was the offense which most often led my father to beat me? Was I smoking dope? Had I been arrested for shoplifting? Was I going out with my friends and getting drunk? Was I provoking fights with other kids in school? No, no, no and no. (I did eventually fight, a few times, in self-defense against some of the bullies I encountered, but I was not a quarrelsome, mean child.) Was it appropriate for my father to beat me for no better reason than the fact that I attempted to verbally defend myself when I felt unjustly accused by my mother? NO! Even if “back talk” was an offense (and I still question that premise), it certainly did not merit a beating. Unfortunately, beating me with his belt was just about the only form of discipline (with one or two very rare exceptions) my father ever used. The idea that a punishment should be proportionate to the offense seemed completely alien to his simplistic thought process.

As for the idea that my father would try to hear both sides of the story before deciding to respond to a report about an incident he had not personally witnessed, well, that was out of the question. If my mother’s version of an incident differed from mine, it was obvious who Dad would believe and who he would not believe. In order for punishment to be effective, a child has to feel that the punishment is just. A system in which the accused is automatically presumed to be guilty is inherently unjust, and a child intuitively understands this. Hence, any punishment which is meted out without giving the accused a real voice is virtually guaranteed to fail in its intended objective, and to lead to a loss of respect for the person doling out the punishment.

When I think of all the bullies I had to deal with in school, I find myself thinking that in some respects, my father was one of the biggest bullies of them all. This is not to say that he never treated me with love and affection. I do have some good memories of my father (who died in 1999) as well. But my memories of him will always be tainted (at least in this life) by memories of that belt, and of his violent temper. (In another entry, perhaps I’ll share my memory of the time he violently threw me up against the wall, all because I had ostensibly left a football out in the yard instead of bringing it inside!)

It was during junior high that I developed a severe case of Tourette’s Syndrome, which manifested itself as a series of involuntary tics involving blinking and grunting. I didn’t know, at the time, that there was a name for what I was experiencing. I just knew that it made me miserable. Undoubtedly, the symptoms made my social problems at school worse than they would have otherwise been, even though I did my best to suppress those symptoms. The Tourette’s symptoms increased the stress between me and my parents, too, since they tried without success to shame me into stopping (when the reality was that I wanted desperately to stop)! In hindsight, I feel that one of the reasons I developed those symptoms was that I had become accustomed to flinching a lot whenever my father would beat me or threaten to do so.

Fortunately, things gradually began to get better, in some ways, once I entered high school. I attribute a substantial portion of that improvement to the fact that I accepted Christ as Savior in 1969, at the end of my 8th grade year.

However, my increased involvement with churches and church-related groups became a source of friction in my home, which shouldn’t be completely surprising when you consider some of the things Jesus said about how families would be torn apart as a result of different levels of commitment to his teachings. The fact that my father had begun an illicit and adulterous affair --- and the fact that I criticized him severely for that affair when I learned about it --- was undoubtedly one of the main reasons why he resented my increasing commitment to Christ and to biblical teachings.

I found this particularly strange, because my father had spent six years serving as a Methodist “lay minister” at two consecutive country churches (Elwood and Oakland) in the Springfield, Missouri area. (In the United Methodist church, a “lay minister” was generally someone who served a church part-time when they could not afford to pay the salary of a full-time pastor. My father’s primary profession was that of an optometrist. As a result, he had the prestige which came from being called “Dr. Pettigrew”.) At one time in my life, I had looked up to my father as an inspiring leader worthy of emulation. He forfeited the right to expect my respect when he abandoned his moral principles for a lifestyle of licentiousness.

When I became a Christian in 1969, it enabled me to see many things from a new perspective. It was liberating to realize, for the first time, that it didn't matter whether or not my parents approved of me, as long as God approved of me and loved me. During my miserable years in junior high, my self-esteem had been very low. (It's hard to feel motivated to work hard, when your self-esteem is low! In fact, one often feels that effort is futile, since it seems that some people are impossible to please.) But after I became a Christian, and after I discovered what it felt like to help others (as a result of the summer I spent working as a counselor at Teen Challenge, during the summer prior to my Freshman year in high school), I began to feel that maybe I wasn't such a despicable person after all. This gave me optimism and hope, and with that optimism and hope, I began to feel as if it might be worthwhile to spend time studying. I felt empowered to turn over a new leaf, in terms of my schoolwork. I won't pretend that I was at the top of my class, but by the time I graduated from high school in 1974, I had achieved a fairly respectable grade point average.

At the end of my sophomore year in high school, my father sat me down on the couch and announced that he and my mother were getting a divorce. He told me that he no longer loved my mother, but he would always love me and my brother. He seemed oblivious to the fact that when a parent demonstrates that love for his or her spouse is conditional and finite, it inevitably leads to insecurity on the part of all the children, who no longer have any logical reason to believe that that parent’s love for them might not likewise end at some unknown point in the future. (And in fact, despite all of the bogus assurances to the contrary, my father’s commitment to me and my brother waned noticeably after the divorce.)

Modern sociological and psychological studies have shown, numerous times, that divorce can be emotionally devastating to the children of the divorcing or divorced parents. I can attest to that fact from personal experience. It is a pathetic sign of the moral degeneracy of our self-centered culture that divorce has become commonplace, even among many who call themselves Christians. Marriage should be regarded as an inviolable covenant. When people pledge to love and cherish one another “’til death do us part”, they should take those words seriously. There may be extreme conditions (specifically, adultery) in which divorce is biblically acceptable, but God’s word makes it plain that divorce is never less than a tragedy and an abomination.

Subsequent to the announcement of my parents' impending divorce, I began to regard my father as someone who was spiritually deluded. Yet, I also regarded him as someone who might conceivably repent of his sins against his family and return to the God he had once served. I therefore prayed for him on many occasions, although in all honesty, I probably could have done so far more often than I did. I spoke with my father, on a number of occasions, in an attempt to persuade him to turn back to God. But he’d never much respected me or my opinions, and my appeals seemingly fell on deaf ears. He remained obstinate until the day he died in 1999. Even after his life had become a mockery of his former life as a result of his alcohol addiction (to the point that I once saw him so drunk that he couldn’t put his own pants on when I went to visit him), he continued to maintain that he had been justified in making the choices he made, and he continued to treat me as if I was his inferior --- never mind that I had successfully resisted the temptation to repeat his mistakes in terms of the sexual sins and the alcoholism.

My mother believes that God has shown her that my father eventually experienced a “deathbed conversion”, similar to that experienced by one of the two thieves which died on a cross alongside Jesus. I don’t know whether that’s the truth, or just wishful thinking.

In the Bible (I Corinthians, Chapter 13), it says that love “hopes all things”. That, to my mind, means that we are morally obliged to give people the benefit of the doubt whenever it's feasible to do so.

Even though I said some pretty harsh things to my father on a few occasions when he was alive, I did love him. Therefore, I would like to think that he got saved and went to Heaven when he died. I never really saw any evidence of such a conversion, but anything is possible. One thing I do know: If I see Dad in Heaven, I hope that he will be a radically different man from the father I remember. I have no desire to repeat the painful episodes of the past.

When I became a Christian, it definitely made a positive difference in my life. Nevertheless, the years of abuse I suffered at the hands of fellow students and my own father left their mark on my personality. To this day, I strongly resent people who treat me in a manner reminiscent of the bullies of my childhood.

I try not to walk around with a chip on my shoulder. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. However, it has become abundantly clear to me over the years that people who were bullies when they were children typically remain bullies as adults, unless something radically changes their way of thinking. Some former schoolyard bullies go on to commit serious crimes, landing them in prison or worse. Most simply find a way to bully other people in a more socially acceptable way. Many of these people become authority figures (such as police officers, bosses, teachers, politicians, military leaders and even pastors) because doing so enables them to delude themselves into thinking that they are entitled to treat other human beings with contempt. I would not wish to be in their shoes on Judgment Day.

How should a Christian respond when subjected to verbal abuse? Ideally, he or she should respond as Christ did when he was arrested, falsely accused and crucified; namely, by accepting such abuse as a necessary aspect of a life of obedience and discipleship. But I have not achieved that level of perfection in my life. I am still capable of anger when I feel that I am not being treated fairly.

It bears mentioning that even though God is longsuffering (meaning that he endures our rebellious ways even though he has no obligation to do so), and even though his love for mankind is infinite, his patience is not infinite. If God’s patience were infinite, there would be no final Day of Judgment. The Bible makes it clear that Judgment Day will come. It may be unpopular to say so, in this age of moral relativism, but Hell is real.

Therefore, just as God’s patience is finite (even though his love is unlimited), so also my patience with those who would abuse me is finite. I am not in rebellion against all human authority, but I do rebel against people who act as if the fact that they are currently in positions of authority over me entitles them to disregard my feelings and needs, and to level accusations against me which have no merit.

Dr. Phil McGraw has stated, on his very successful TV show, that you teach other people how to treat you, by the way that you respond to their treatment. If there are no negative repercussions attached to the abuse of others, then that abuse will most likely continue --- and that is not acceptable.

Because God loved me so much that he sent Jesus to die on the cross for me, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my life has value. I will not allow others to treat me as if that is not the case.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Visit My First Web Gallery

In 2002, I enrolled in the Web Design certificate program at Truman College. My final project was to create a site which showcased my photos of flowers and gardens.

Click here to visit my Gallery Page.

Keep in mind that the site was the first website I'd ever created, and I haven't updated it since 2002 when I finished the course. Also, since it's hosted by a free web hosting service, there are some slightly annoying pop-up ads which appear with every page (although you may be able to set your browser to block those ads). For those reasons, I definitely plan to create a new site (now that I've signed up for a paid web hosting plan from which will hopefully be better in a number of respects. I'm also seriously considering selling my photos and related products via sites such as

Meanwhile, visiting the aforementioned site is definitely better than nothing, and it should at least give you an idea of what my images look like.

UPDATE: You can now download two PDF files showing more of my flower and garden photos, by visiting and clicking the links for those files at the beginning of the article on that page. Another option (in case you can't access the preceding web page) is to download those same PDF files by visiting this page (in a public SkyDrive folder) and then clicking the icon for the document you want and clicking the download link.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

More Thoughts About New Orleans

In my earlier 8/31/2005 blog post, "Some Thoughts About New Orleans", I suggested that it made no economic sens to rebuild New Orleans in its historic location (which is below sea level), due to the extreme vulnerability of that location to future catastrophic events.

I was pleased to subsequently learn that I was not the only one who thought that way. Dennis Hastert, Republican House Speaker, recently made a similar observation. However, he didn't go quite as far as I would prefer. His press secretary said that Hastert wasn't suggesting that the city should be abandoned or relocated.

I agree that New Orleans should not be abandoned, but relocation is another matter. The only way I can think of that the current location could be made reasonably viable would be if the area was filled with enough soil to raise the entire city substantially above sea level, so that levees were no longer as crucial to the survival of the city. Even if that could be done in a cost-effective manner (and that's doubtful), its close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico would still make it extremely vulnerable to future hurricanes. It seems to me that moving the city further inland, onto higher ground which was further from damaging winds, would cost a lot less than rebuilding the city in its current location. And such a plan would protect the city more effectively from future catastrophes.

An Illusion of Freedom

When I was a child, I envied adults and their freedom. Now that I'm older, though, I know that much of what I envied was an illusion. While some adults do seem to call the shots with regard to most of the things which happen in their lives, there are many more who do not.

All kinds of external factors can rob people of full control over their lives. As we have recently been reminded by the tragic events in the Gulf of Mexico, natural disasters can destroy peoples' lives, and rob them of the things for which they have worked hard for decades. Natural disasters do not play favorites. No one is immune to such disasters, and the knowledge of that fact can make even the most successful person feel vulnerable and insecure.

However, there are other factors which can affect some individuals a lot more than others. In particular, economic factors can play a huge role in determining the extent of a person's independence, particularly for those who are employed by others. In an ideal world, no one would ever work at a job in which he or she was unhappy. But this is not an ideal world, and the struggle to find a suitable job, which is often a matter of trial and error, can be long and hard, particularly because the drawbacks of some jobs only become apparent after one has accepted such positions and worked there for a while. Even if employers do not blatantly misrepresent the jobs they offer to applicants, they are unlikely to volunteer information which might make them look bad. Moreover, things can change for the worse even at jobs which started out on a high note. Hence, it's almost impossible to have any total assurance that a job for which one is applying will not turn out, at some point, to be a nightmare.

Of course, in an ideal world, every employee would have a lot of money to fall back on, so that in the event that a job turned out to be a real "dud", the employee would find it relatively painless to quit the job and look for a better job. But people who aren't paid a whole lot to begin with seldom have such resources.

Employees are vulnerable to the irrational whims of the employers and managers for whom they work. Such people are sometimes called their "superiors", but often, they are superior in name only.

Far too many people seem to think, when they become bosses, that their positions of authority constitute entitlement to needlessly belittle, harass and bully their employees. Never mind that those employees may be far more competent than their employers in some respects.

There is a verse in the Bible which says something to this effect: "To whom much is given, much will be required." In other words, people who have been granted material wealth, positions of authority and other assets will be held accountable by God for how they have used those assets. As Peter Parker's uncle told him in one of the Spiderman movies, "With power comes responsibility." Too many people act as if they are completely oblivious to that fundamental principle, and the result is needless job dissatisfaction and friction in the workplace. On some occasions, that friction has resulted in tragedies which could have been prevented if the people in authority had simply taken time to remind themselves that employees are human beings with real needs, including the need to feel appreciated and respected.

None of this is to say that bosses are not entitled to speak critically to their employees when the situation truly warrants it. But lower-level employees should not be made scapegoats for all of the problems which might arise in the course of a normal business day. Too often, they are.

I speak from personal experience. As for the specifics of those experiences, suffice it to say that while I could certainly cite specific situations from the relatively distant past, since the particular people involved no longer have any power over me, there are other situations, of more recent vintage, which I am not yet free to discuss in detail. But I am praying that God will deliver me from the circumstances in which I currently find myself, in a manner which will not jeopardize my ability to support myself.