Saturday, June 28, 2008

When Time Is Of The Essence

As a Christian, I believe that the scriptures (also known as the Bible, also known as the Word of God) are the preeminent and authoritative guide to how Christians ought to live their lives. But the scriptures do not consist of a dry list of rules (with rare exceptions, such as the Ten Commandments). The scriptures consist largely of stories. Even the epistles of people such as St. Paul occur in the context of true stories and real relationships between people. None of this is to say that the Bible is any less authoritative on account of its nature. But it does sometimes create challenges in terms of knowing how particular verses of scripture ought to be applied to our own lives. Some scriptures are prescriptive (meaning that they tell us what we ought to do). Some are proscriptive (meaning that they tell us what we ought not to do). And some scriptures fail to fall into either one of those categories. People can fall into error when they make the mistake of reading the Bible in a manner which does not take the context of each scripture into account. And the scriptures themselves make it clear that Satan delights in taking God's Word and twisting it to suit his own purposes. He even attempted to tempt Jesus by misquoting scriptures.

Sometimes Christians have misquoted scriptures in order to attempt to justify their own sinful impulses. Men have misquoted scriptures pertaining to the submission of wives to their husbands in an attempt to justify spousal abuse. Parents of both genders have misquoted the verse about sparing the rod and spoiling the child in an attempt to justify child abuse. Slave owners have misquoted verses about the proper Christian attitude of slaves towards their masters in an attempt to justify slavery itself. Powerful political leaders have misquoted verses about war in order to justify the desire to make war.

Sadly, the misuse of scriptures has caused some folks to conclude that the scriptures are useless (or worse), and to conclude (as Richard Dawkins and others of his ilk have done) that Christianity is a force of evil in the world.

One example of a scripture which lends itself to abuse and misinterpretation is Isaiah 40:31, which advises people to "wait on the Lord" so that their strength can be renewed. There are undoubtedly situations in which that's the best advice that one can offer. But the verse has been used, by some, to justify inertia, even in the face of crisis situations where waiting is not a legitimate or compassionate option.

It was precisely because FEMA waited too long to respond to the crisis in New Orleans, after Katrina, that the Bush Administration was subjected to some very harsh criticism. Imagine the outrage if Bush had responded by saying, "Your problem, folks, is that you're too impatient! You've got to learn to wait on the Lord!" Such outrage would have been totally justified. Some things just won't wait.

The same thing could be said about any situation which could be characterized as a crisis or an emergency. When people call 9-1-1, they expect an immediate response. They don't expect or deserve to be told to wait. Only a jerk would imply that their unwillingness to wait while the police department or fire department took its sweet time was an indication of their lack of spiritual maturity.

Of course, not everything is an emergency of that magnitude, but there are many situations which, to a greater or lesser degree, are time-sensitive. Patience is a virtue, to be sure, but our time on earth is limited, so it's imperative that we make the most of that limited time rather than putting off things which badly need to be done. I say this as a person who is hardly blameless when it comes to the matter of procrastination. My natural tendency is to want to put things off until tomorrow. But contrary to what I've sometimes heard, there are times when delay is indeed tantamount to denial. So if I sometimes seem a little bit "pushy," it's because I understand the urgency of addressing certain needs. In some cases, that understanding is the result of the fact that other people are poking and prodding me to respond quickly. Even if I wanted to be patient, they would not be willing to be equally patient with me. So I have no choice but to try to impress others with the urgency of the situation.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

When Twisted Logic Inhibits Compassion

Years ago, I was in a crisis situation. I asked a man for help. I'd previously considered him to be a good friend and a solid Christian, so I thought there was a chance that he would care enough about me to help me in my time of need.

His mother also considered herself to be a Christian. She and I had interacted with one another on a few occasions in the past. For some reason, she took it upon herself to write to me in response to the aforementioned request, even though the request had not been addressed to her. It was not a nice letter. Nor did it make any sense to me.

She said, "I've heard that a lifeguard can't rescue a drowning man unless and until the man stops struggling and thrashing about and crying out for help." She strongly implied that the mere fact that I was crying out for help meant that I didn't deserve such help.

Of course, it was a Catch 22. If I'd failed to cry out for help, then she could legitimately say that she and her son could not be expected to know about my need if I didn't communicate that need with them. Any way that one looked at things, she had a convenient excuse for apathy and indifference to my plight.

Yes, there's a time to stop thrashing around and crying out for help. That time is after the lifeguard has swum to one's side and assured one that he or she is there to help. But it would be ridiculous to assert that the best way to attract the lifeguard's attention, when the lifeguard is still sitting far away on his perch on the beach, would be to passively float out in the middle of the ocean and do nothing as one's lungs fill up with water, causing one to lose consciousness and to drown! How is the lifeguard supposed to know that one needs help if one doesn't cry out for help and flail one's arms around in order to capture the person's attention? Beats me.

It's bad enough to be denied the help that one needs. What makes it even worse is when self-righteous individuals speciously and presumptuously imply that the reason for their lack of compassion is that one does not deserve help!

It's people like my ex-friend's mother that give Christians a bad name. Fortunately, I've been around long enough to know that Christians are not all like that.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Partial List Of My Current Needs

This morning I met with a man I'd met at a nearby Christian church. In an earlier e-mail message to me, he had expressed an interest in my well-being. That was greatly appreciated, since I'd been going through some very difficult circumstances, as a result of a prolonged period of unemployment.

Later today, I sent him a followup e-mail in order to summarize and clarify some of the things I'd told him with regard to issues and needs which I was facing. I'd been meaning to post a blog article listing those items anyway, so that I could send links to the article when endeavoring to communicate with others who might conceivably help me to address those needs. Therefore, it was a simple matter of copying the relevant passages of text from that e-mail reply into this blog post, and then modifying the text slightly in order to eliminate the parts which specifically pertained to the original recipient of the letter.

Here's the modified excerpt from that letter:


In terms of my immediate future, I need an infusion of sufficient money to prevent my eviction from Lawson House YMCA. (Currently, I owe more than $1,100.) It doesn't have to be in the form of a gift. I'm more than willing to do whatever work I can do in order to earn the money. I have abundant abilities and talents with which I could do so.

While it would be great to be able to earn the money by doing work which I particularly enjoy (such as creating one or more pen & ink portraits for a client who was capable of recognizing the quality of my artistry), I am not too proud to do more mundane physical labor. Part of the reason I was able to survive during the past year without being evicted was that a couple of good Christian friends offered me the opportunity to earn some money by helping me to paint rooms in their homes. I don't claim to be a professional house painter, but I can say that I made a strong effort to work hard and to do a quality job.

If worse comes to worst and I am evicted, I need assurance that I will have someplace to move other than a homeless shelter. Even sleeping on the couch or a pallet on the floor in someone's living room would be preferable to that! But I also suspect that there are Christians in the Chicago area who have spare bedrooms which aren't being used. Some of those Christians may even attend your church.

If I am evicted, I will very likely need to put my things into storage on a temporary basis. If that becomes a necessity, I may need help moving my things to the storage facility, since I have no car or van or truck of my own. (Of course, I'd do a substantial amount of the physical work involved in the move.)

Regarding storage, there may also be an issue with my ability to rent such a facility. Not in terms of the finances. I get a monthly check for $281, and that's more than enough to enable me to pay the monthly storage fees (even though it isn't enough to enable me to fully pay my rent at the Lawson House YMCA). But I lost a storage facility last year (and all of the things within it) because I was unable to pay that storage fee at the time (since the $281 was being applied to rent at Lawson House). I'm not sure, but it's possible that credit problems (related to the loss of the previous storage facility, and to my eviction from Lawson House) might make it hard or impossible for me to get another storage facility in the future on my own. If that's the case, I may need a co-signer in order to rent another facility.

Losing possessions for which one has paid a lot of money can be heartbreaking, especially if one has never really had the chance to make the most of those possessions the way one had planned to do. (For example, when the storage company sold off the items I'd been storing there last year, I lost a perfectly good Nikon film scanner for which I'd paid almost $2,000! The worst part was that I'd never had the opportunity to use the scanner, so it felt like bad stewardship to me for me to have to part with it.)

Nevertheless, that isn't the main issue. If it was merely a matter of wanting to hold onto items which could easily be replaced, that would be one thing. But losing irreplaceable items which represent a substantial amount of work and creativity on my part would be far worse.

I speak from hard experience. During the early 90's, I lost the typewritten lyric sheets for roughly 80 Christian songs I'd written, during the process of being shuttled from one place to the next as a result of the traumatic financial difficulties I was experiencing. I still remember the lyrics to a tiny number of those songs, but most of them were lost forever to me. I don't want that kind of thing to ever happen to me again.

Even if I were to get a temporary gift or payment for a side job so that I could avoid eviction in the immediate future, it would not address the issue in the long term. The problem is likely to continue to come up again and again until I can once more get a steady income. I won't claim that my effort to get a job has been perfect, but I can sincerely say that I've been making a strong effort to find a job, and I will continue to do so until I achieve success, no matter how incredibly discouraging the process may be. Any help which anyone might offer in terms of finding work will be greatly appreciated.

Even if you aren't personally in a position to address all of the above needs, I suspect that you know others (whether or not you're aware of it) who would be in such a position.

That also pertains to assistance which folks might wish to offer in terms of helping me to begin to make some money with my artistic creations and skills. That's why I'd like to develop fund raising programs, in cooperation with local churches and/or nonprofit organizations, which would be mutually beneficial for all concerned. Using Photoshop and other applicable software programs, I would design a variety of products (books, posters, greeting cards, etc.) which would be sold online, in a manner which would generate income both for myself and for the sponsoring organization or ministry. I've given a great deal of thought to how this might be accomplished, and I've already done the research in order to locate companies which would not only produce the products and process the orders online, but which would also fulfill the orders by shipping them directly to customers. In short, the amount of time and money which sponsoring organizations would need to invest would be minimal in comparison with the potential benefits of such projects.


If you're reading this and you want to get involved in practical ways which will enable me to get back on my feet again, please feel free to contact me as soon as possible.


Mark W. Pettigrew
30 W. Chicago Avenue
Room 1212
Chicago, IL 60654 (Note the new zip code, effective as of 7/1/2008. Prior to that date, the zip code was 60610.)

or mwp1212[AT]

Voice Mailbox: 773-509-8126
NOTE: Current phone problems make this the least desirable way for people to contact me. Hopefully, those issues will be resolved soon, once I get back on track financially. More on that in future blog posts.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Talk of The Town

A while back, I wrote a poem which (as far as I can recall) I haven't yet posted to this blog. So I thought I'd offer it up here now.

By way of explanation, I decided to write the poem from the perspective of someone living during the time of Christ, prior to the crucifixion.


The Talk of The Town
© Mark Pettigrew

There's a man I know about.
He's the talk of the town!
When you do the things he does,
well, the word gets around.

They say he heals the sick,
and the blind people, too.
Perhaps he'll even do
something special for you.

He's not just a healer.
He's a teacher as well.
He talks about heaven
and he talks about hell.
He talks about justice
and he talks about love
and he says that we should pray
to the Father above.

There are men in the town
who are stirring up strife
and the things they say about him
make me fear for his life.
Well, I don't know what's coming,
but of this, I'm sure:
The things he's said and done
will forever endure.


NOTE: To download additional Christ-centered poems I've written (stored online in the form of PDF files which can be downloaded from a public SkyDrive folder), visit this link, then select the poem in which you have an interest, and then click the Download button.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sloppy Journalism

Years ago, in my hometown, I read a news story in the local paper. It said that a decapitated corpse had been found on the roadside just north of town. It then went on to say that there were "no signs of trauma" to the body.

No signs of trauma? How about decapitation? If that isn't a sign of trauma, I'm not quite sure what is!

I was reminded of that just now when I opened today's edition of RedEye, published by the Chicago Tribune. An article on page 8 of today's paper, entitled "Metra mashup", was about how the Metra trains had become so busy that they lacked adequate seating, leading people to sit in the staircase on the stairs between the lower and upper levels. The article was accompanied by a photo of a man doing just that. There was just one teensy little problem with the photo: To the left side of the picture, clearly visible in the background, one could see an empty seat. So the man was clearly sitting in the stairwell for illustrative purposes only, not for reasons having anything to do with necessity. Instead of reinforcing the news story, the photograph undercut the point the story was trying to make.

Frankly, I didn't buy the claim being made in the story to begin with. I don't commute on the Metra on a daily basis, but I've used it several times during the past year to visit suburban friends, and I can't recall that it was ever so crowded that people had to sit in the stairwells because all of the seats were full. It's possible that overcrowding is a problem on inbound trains during rush hour in the mornings, but I'm dubious about that as well. I did in fact commute into the city on a Metra train in the early 90's, and even though the trains were usually quite full, I don't recall ever seeing anyone sitting in the stairwells.

If they're so keen on writing stories about overcrowded trains, they should focus on the El trains run by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) in the city of Chicago itself. There are no stairwells to sit in on those trains, but it's not uncommon to see at least half of the riders standing up and holding precariously onto the hand grips built into the backs of the seats. (For some reason, the overhead grips offered on subways in Boston and New York haven't been incorporated into the design of most CTA trains. I lived in Boston for 7 years in the 80's, and I personally think that the omission of overhead grips is a serious design flaw, but it's one I've learned to live with.)

Whether one is talking about the story about the decapitated man who showed "no signs of trauma" or the photograph which contradicted the point it was trying to make, the thing that these stories have in common is that they illustrate sloppiness on the part of the editors and journalists in charge of those stories. Such obvious examples of sloppiness lead one to wonder how many of the things we've read and assumed to be true because they were in major newspapers and magazines have been attributable to similar sloppiness.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Thunderstorm

The other day, I awakened to the sound of a serious thunderstorm outside of my window. For some reason, I felt a poetic urge, so I wrote the following poem, which I naturally entitled "The Thunderstorm".

© Mark W. Pettigrew

Like a mighty bomb, the thunder
wakes me with ferocity.
Rain and wind fill me with wonder
at their great velocity.
Darkened skies and flashing lightning
greet my eyes at every turn.
Thinking about calmer weather
makes me long for its return.

Soon the storm's tempestuous fury
starts to lose its awful power.
Rain refreshes field and mountain
bringing life to tree and flower.
Air is cleansed of dust and pollen.
Breathing it, I feel renewed.
As the storm becomes a memory,
time improves my attitude.

For the just and for the unjust,
skies will sometimes fill with rain.
But it's only temporary.
Soon the sun will shine again.


The last four lines obviously represent my attempt to bring philosophical and spiritual insight to what is otherwise a description of a purely physical event. It's particularly applicable to my life at this time, because I'm going through some serious storms in my life.


NOTE: To download additional Christ-centered poems I've written (stored online in the form of PDF files which can be downloaded from a public SkyDrive folder), visit this link, then select the poem in which you have an interest, and then click the Download button.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thoughts About Getting Older

I was at the bookstore yesterday, and there was a special edition of U.S. News and World Report, dedicated to the Civil War. There was a photo of Abraham Lincoln on the cover, and it was one of the photos, taken late in his life, which made him look particularly old and haggard. There was another, somewhat similar photo inside the magazine.

I was looking at the dates when they said Lincoln was born and when they said he'd died, and I realized with a bit of a start that he'd only been a few years older than I am now when he was assasinated. Specifically, he was 56 years, two months and four days old; whereas I'm almost 52 years old.

Now, I won't claim that time hasn't taken a toll on me physically. I went bald a long time ago. Financial problems have contributed to the inability to afford the kind of medical and dental care I would have preferred, so I'm missing several teeth, and I have some other medical issues which still haven't been properly addressed. Earlier this year, I had a patch of skin cancer removed by a dermatologist, and it left a slight bump on my head which wasn't there previously. I'm now taking a number of medications for hypertension, which was never an issue for me (to my knowledge) until just this past year.

Nevertheless, all things considered, I think I've aged fairly well. My skin still looks fairly youthful. I've only recently started to see a few gray hairs on my head and in my beard and moustache (although I'm "clean shaven" at the moment). I can still climb the stairs to my apartment on the 12th floor, although I do sometimes have to stop and rest for a minute or so, on the way up, to catch my breath.

Based on outward appearances, I think I've aged in a manner which is somewhat similar to how "Meet The Press" reporter Tim Russert aged. He still looked fairly youthful even during his final year on earth.

Nevertheless, looks can be deceiving. Tim Russert died just last week of a heart attack, at the age of 58. The intensity of the tributes now being paid to him is obviously a reflection of the affection people felt for him, largely on account of the fair and professional manner with which he dealt with the guests on his show. But it's likely that people were also a bit shocked that someone who seemed as vigorous as he seemed to be would die so soon of natural causes.

Another person I looked up to for many years was Christian rock musician Larry Norman. He was about three years older than Tim Russert when he died earlier this year. That death wasn't so much of a shock, because Larry had been in ill health for a number of years.

Obviously, one reason why Lincoln looked so old prior to his death was that he'd had a hard and stressful life, and no part of it was harder or more stressful than the years when he served as the president. And of course, medical care back then wasn't what it is now. Generally, people just didn't live quite as long. Lincoln obviously didn't die of natural causes, but it seems unlikely that he would have lived very many more years, even if there had been no John Wilkes Booth.

More and more, I find myself comparing my age to the age of other people at the times of their deaths, perhaps because of my awareness that I'm only about 13 years away from the age of 65, when my father died, and when my maternal grandfather died as well.

When I look back at my life and think about how quickly 12 or 13 years can fly by, it makes me deeply aware of my own mortality. It makes me sadly aware of how little I've really accomplished, in comparison with my goals, and how little time remains in which to make a real difference. Of course, there's no way to know for sure how long my own life span will be. But if one were to assume that I was destined to die at the age of 65, that would mean that I had already lived 80% of my total lifespan.

Then again, nothing is guaranteed to anyone in terms of longevity. I just read an article about a 14-year-old kid in Chicago who was murdered in a foolish dispute involving a bicycle. Compared with that kid, I've been abundantly blessed already with a long life.

Comparing one's life to the lives of others can be a futile enterprise, and somewhat pointless. Every human life is unique, and the circumstances with which each person has to deal are also somewhat unique. People do have free will, but they sometimes fail to achieve their full potential for reasons which are largely beyond their control. I think that God understands that.

Jesus Christ only lived 33 years on this earth (according to most scholars), but he accomplished more during that brief time span than other men can ever hope to accomplish.

The true value of a person's life is something which no man or woman or child can really accurately assess. Only God really knows that value.

In any event, life isn't really a competition with other people (even though that may seem to be the case in the short term), because God doesn't grade on the curve. His standard is nothing less than perfection. We all fall short of God's standards. It's only a question of how much we fall short. Thank God for His mercy and grace. We'll all be judged when we die, but our ultimate focus should not be on ourselves or our accomplishments, except to the degree that those things indicate whether or not we did our best to serve God and to make the most of the time we were given. Ultimately, our focus should be on God.

It would be nice, when I die, to receive the commendations of men. But that may or may not happen. In any event, I know that God knows and sees all, so I'll be happy, when I die, if I can hear the words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

It Takes All Kinds

Yesterday I was taking the Clark Street bus north when I passed by a Chicago business (3415 N. Clark Street) going by the name of Purgatory Pizza.

As a Christian, I found the restaurant's sign to be really offensive. Believe it or not, the sign said, "Don't like our pizza? Go to hell." Classy, really classy. Not.

With that kind of attitude, it's a wonder they have any customers whatsoever, no matter how good their pizza may taste. Only a moron would insult a potential customer before the customer even walks in the door for the first time!

I don't know whether or not I'd like their pizza. And I have no wish to find out.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hassles When Using Public Computers

Recently, thanks to the fact that my notebook PC crashed, and thanks to the fact that I haven't had the money with which to pay to have it repaired or replaced, I've been forced to use public computers. It's been better than nothing, but only marginally better.

For one thing, public computers don't usually have all of the software which I had on my own computer. For another thing, the system administrators in charge of such computers typically place restrictions which prevent users from being able to do things they would be able to do with their own computers. As an example, the computer I'm using right now is at the Harold Washington Library. One can only access programs via the Desktop, not via the Start menu. That means that simple programs which come standard with Windows, such as the Calculator, are not available. (Presumably, they're afraid that people will mess with advanced aspects of the computers' setups and create technical problems for them. Unfortunately, that fear isn't completely unwarranted, so I think that it makes sense to restrict access to certain functions and programs, such as the Windows Registry. But I wish they'd do it on a program by program basis, rather than just making it so that people couldn't use the Start menu at all.) Another annoying thing is that one can't right click on or in folders, when viewing their contents, in order to create subfolders or perform other needed functions. Fortunately, I found that it was still possible to create a new subfolder from within Microsoft Word.

I also discovered, to my great irritation, that their version of Microsoft Word doesn't allow one to insert pictures into one's word processed documents. Or not pictures from one's own files (such as JPG photo files), at any rate. It does seem to allow one to insert clip art, but that's not the same thing at all.

One day not long ago, I was able to get a substantial amount of valuable work done by going to Screenz Computing Center on Clark Street. But even their computers have certain restrictions (in terms of access to certain folders on the hard drive), and workarounds are necessary in some cases. Also, they charge $22 for a daily pass. That wouldn't be a big deal if I was working steadily. Then again, if I was working steadily, I could probably afford to fix my own computer, so trips to Screenz would seldom be necessary.

For quite a while, I was using the Mac computers over at the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue, in order to send and receive e-mails, post blog articles, do research and do other things which didn't require the use of peripherals such as a printer or scanner or external drive. It meant having to deal with certain annoying aspects of the Mac operating system, and it meant having to stand up for prolonged periods of time (since they have no seating for those computers), but it saved me the long trip to the library. And they didn't seem to have a problem with the fact that I would sometimes come into the store and spend many hours doing such computer work. That ended this past weekend. A salesman (who, as it turned out, was also the manager of the store) came and asked me to relinquish the Mac I was on so that it could be used for a sales presentation. I was slightly annoyed by the impatient manner in which he made this request, since I was in the middle of an e-mail or a blog post and I needed a minute or two to save everything prior to exiting the system so that I wouldn't lose what I'd been working on, but I did the best I could to comply without complaining, because I understood that the primary function of those computers was to enable sales people to demonstrate the computers to prospective customers. At no point did the salesman/manager say, however, that I couldn't switch to another computer as soon as one became available, in order to do additional work. And my prior experiences in the store had all led me to believe that it was permissible for me to do so. (There was no sign stating that they had any kind of time limit.) So I waited until an additional computer was available, and then resumed my work, using that computer. It happened to be one of the more powerful ones on display, with a really big screen, but the main reason I chose that one was that the keyboard was sufficiently high that I could type onto it without getting carpal tunnel syndrome from an inappropriate positioning of my hands.

The manager came along and asked me to not only leave that workstation, but to leave the store, saying that the computers there were not for personal use (in spite of the fact that tons of people seem to use them for that purpose, and in spite of the fact that they'd known for a long time that I'd been using them for things such as e-mails, and they'd never seemed to have a problem with that before). What bothered me was the hostile tone of voice with which he did so, as if he'd previously asked me to do something and I'd ignored his request. But that wasn't the case. I'd given up my spot on the previous computer, just as he'd asked me to do. So I told him that I didn't understand why he was being so hostile, and he replied by telling me that I was being hostile. That made no sense to me. I wasn't the one who initiated the confrontation, he was. I was just standing there trying to post an innocent article on this blog when he showed up and demanded that I leave.

What was worst, though, was that I got the impression from him that I was now "persona non grata" in the store. He had a security guy show me to the door! One would think that I'd been spitting on the computers or swearing at the customers, to see the way that he treated me. It was a very unpleasant experience, and totally unlike anything I'd experienced in that store in the past.

So it's obvious that my choices, until I'm able to get my computer fixed, are now pretty much limited to what can be done with the computers here at the library, or (on the rare occasions when I can afford the $20 fee) at Screenz. And that stinks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

After Gun Control, What's Next?

Today's issue of RedEye (published by the Chicago Tribune) features a brief article about how someone stuffed a pipe bomb into a raw roasting chicken and placed it on the side of the road in Connecticut. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed, but that could have been the outcome.

The June 9 issue of that paper featured an article about how a 25-year-old Japanese man named Tomohiro Kato stabbed 17 people (killing at least 7 of them) after running them down with his truck in Tokyo.

In neither case was there any indication in the news accounts that guns had been involved.

In the wake of tragic school shootings and other similar crimes in recent years, many people have looked for easy solutions. Every time such an event occurs, it's pretty predictable that there will be a substantial number of people blaming the easy availability of guns for the problem, and calling for tighter gun control laws. Never mind that that "solution" has been tried already, and it hasn't worked.

I understand why people would want to do something to end the problem of gun violence, but blaming the tools with which people commit crimes for those crimes is just plain stupid. The fact is that people have been murdering one another for millenia. Murder was not a phenomenon which suddenly sprang into existence when guns were invented. If people are deprived of one tool with which to fulfill their murderous impulses, they will simply find other tools with which to do the job. Knives, rocks, trucks, agricultural fertilizer, baseball bats, bricks, even roasting chickens. All have legitimate purposes. All are also capable of being used to kill people. Some people are even capable of killing with their bare hands! Unless we're prepared to illegalize every possible lethal weapon, we need to spend less time thinking about eliminating the tools with which people commit murder, and a whole lot more time thinking about ways to eliminate the murderous impulses which cause them to want to kill others in the first place. I say this as someone who has never owned a gun of my own (other than a BB gun I owned as a child), and who probably never will own one. I am no "gun nut". I just get peeved when I hear illogical arguments which actually serve to distract people's attention away from the real solutions to the problems they claim they want to solve.

(UPDATE: Apparently, Asian men who kill other people with knives aren't all that uncommon. Vince Weiguang Li, from China, recently committed murder and then beheaded his victim on a Canadian bus. Then he proceeded to cut off parts of the body and to eat them. Here's a link to the Wikipedia article about that incident. Here's a link to a CBS News article about the incident. And here's a link to first person account of the incident.)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Wise Words Concerning Forgiveness

One of these days, I'm going to get around to writing a book or booklet entitled "Ten Sins of The Modern Church". (Or maybe another number. The number "ten" sounds good in a title, but it's rather arbitrary. There are so many sins which could be listed in such a book that it could conceivably grow considerably before the project is completed!)

One of the sins which I would list and discuss in the book consists of the teaching of the heresy which says that God's forgiveness, like God's love for mankind, is unconditional. That teaching, in my view, owes more to self-centered wishful thinking than it owes to the scriptures.

The best book which I've read on that subject would have to be a book, by Jay Adams, entitled From Forgiven to Forgiving. I highly recommend that you buy and read that book if you really care about dealing with the sins which others have committed against you (and with the sins which you have committed against others) in a godly and biblical manner.

Jay Adams is not the only one who took a strong stand against the aforementioned heresy. The 15th chapter of the book All of Grace by the famous evangelist Charles Spurgeon was entitled "Repentance Must Go With Forgiveness". In that chapter, he wrote the following:

Repentance must go with remission, and you will see that it is so if you think a little upon the matter. It cannot be that pardon of sin should be given to an impenitent sinner; this were to confirm him in his evil ways, and to teach him to think little of evil. If the Lord were to say, "You love sin, and live in it, and you are going on from bad to worse, but, all the same, I forgive you," this were to proclaim a horrible license for iniquity. The foundations of social order would be removed, and moral anarchy would follow. I cannot tell what innumerable mischiefs would certainly occur if you could divide repentance and forgiveness, and pass by the sin while the sinner remained as fond of it as ever. In the very nature of things, if we believe in the holiness of God, it must be so, that if we continue in our sin, and will not repent of it, we cannot be forgiven, but must reap the consequence of our obstinacy. According to the infinite goodness of God, we are promised that if we will forsake our sins, confessing them, and will, by faith, accept the grace which is provided in Christ Jesus, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. But, so long as God lives, there can be no promise of mercy to those who continue in their evil ways, and refuse to acknowledge their wrongdoing. Surely no rebel can expect the King to pardon his treason while he remains in open revolt. No one can be so foolish as to imagine that the Judge of all the earth will put away our sins if we refuse to put them away ourselves.
As Spurgeon points out, the biggest problem with the teaching of the heresy of unconditional forgiveness is that it removes the primary disincentive which would otherwise inhibit people from committing sin.

Ironically, forgiving unrepentant sinners is very similar to a refusal to forgive those who choose to repent, in terms of how the two approaches affect the future actions of those who have sinned.
If we refuse to forgive those who repent, then they are likely to conclude that there is no point in repenting (since there are no conceivable benefits associated with repentance), and they are therefore likely to keep right on sinning.

If we forgive people regardless of whether they repent or not, then they are likewise extremely likely to conclude that there is no point in repenting (since they can obtain the benefits of repentance without actually repenting), and once again, they are likely to go right on sinning.

Therefore, either extreme serves the interests of the enemy (also known as Satan), not God. By definition, any approach to sin which encourages people to keep sinning and which discourages them from ceasing to do so is contrary to the moral will of God, and is therefore a form of sin in itself.

The scriptural pattern (which Jay Adams discusses at length) is that we are supposed to hold people accountable for the sins which they commit. But that's impossible if one defines forgiveness and our related obligations in such a way that the only appropriate response to sins is to sweep them under the rug and pretend they never occurred.

That's exactly how the Catholic church responded when it was made aware of the egregiously sinful sexual abuses committed by numerous Catholic priests. The hierarchy was more concerned with public relations than with restoring the purity and integrity of the priesthood, so bishops and cardinals swept those sins under the rug and hoped that they'd never be discovered. Of course, they were discovered anyway, and the public relations disaster was far more immense than anything which would have occurred if they'd simply taken their moral responsibilities seriously right from the beginning.

Have you ever wondered why the Mafia seems to be strongest in cultures (specifically, Italian and Irish cultures) where Catholicism is the dominant form of Christianity? There is very little doubt in my mind that there is a connection between the practices of the Catholic church and organized crime, in terms of how the Catholic church tends to handle sin. In the Catholic church, sins are confessed to a priest in a private confessional booth. Regardless of the gravity of the sins being confessed, they are never brought into the light of day so that those who have committed those sins are held accountable by the larger church community. Requiring that people say their "Hail Marys" after sinning is hardly a strong disincentive to commit similar sins in the future. When absolution from sins as egregious as murder is available to all who would perform the simple rituals prescribed by their priests, it should hardly be a surprise that lawlessness prevails.

I am by no means saying that all Catholics are gangsters, or even that all Catholics support criminal activity. What I'm saying, though, is that I think that there's something about the Catholic confessional which, rather than encouraging people to strive to live holy lives, inadvertently gives those who fear genuine repentance a good excuse for continuing to sin.

What I think is particularly telling is the number of Mafia lords who have continued to regularly attend mass and to act as if they think they're good Catholics. For example, "My Jesus Mercy" is the phrase engraved on Al Capone's headstone. Al Capone had better hope that Jesus shows him a lot of mercy on Judgment Day, because Capone certainly didn't show much mercy to his enemies here on earth! Nor did his lifestyle even remotely qualify as a Christian lifestyle. Of course, I'm not discounting the possibility that he might have genuinely repented at some late stage in his life. However, there doesn't seem to be any serious historical evidence to suggest that he did so.

Catholics are hardly the only people who are guilty of promoting the heresy of unconditional forgiveness. In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out forcefully against what he called "cheap grace". Wikipedia contains the following summary of his arguments:

One of the most important parts of the book deals with the distinction which Bonhoeffer makes between "cheap" and "costly" grace. But what is "cheap" grace? In Bonhoeffer's words: "cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ." Or, to put it even more clearly, it is to hear the gospel preached as follows: "Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness." The main defect of such a proclamation is that it contains no demand for discipleship.

In contrast to this is costly grace: "costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." "

Bonhoeffer argues that as Christianity spread, the Church became more "secularized", accommodating the demands of obedience to Jesus to the requirements of society. In this way, "the world was Christianized, and grace became its common property." But the hazard of this was that the gospel was cheapened, and obedience to the living Christ was gradually lost beneath formula and ritual, so that in the end, grace could literally be sold for monetary gain.
"Accommodating the demands of obedience to Jesus to the requirements of society" could be described as "syncretism" (defined as "the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion"). Syncretism can be seen in its extreme forms in the blending of Christianity and pagan religions, creating weird and unbiblical hybrid religions such as Santeria. I distinctly remember the news headlines pertaining to ritual human sacrifices, committed in the eighties by the devotees of an offshoot of Santeria. (Buried Secrets is the title of a book which discusses those murders, committed by Adolfo Costanzo and his followers.)

Costanzo's murders were committed in the Spring of 1989. A year later, I attended the Music In The Rockies, sponsored by the GMA (Gospel Music Association). I'd looked forward to that event with great anticipation, but it ended up being one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life as a Christian.

One of the people I met at that seminar was an overrated Christian musician named Don Francisco. During the seminar, I attended one of Don's classes. During that class, Don talked about the negative aspects of the Christian music industry, saying that a lot of Christian musicians had been hurt and burned as a result of their experiences with that industry (and, by implication, with the Church).

Naturally, I thought that this meant that Don would be somewhat sympathetic when I told him about some of my own negative experiences, specifically in relation to a pastor who had slandered me from the pulpit and falsely accused me of just being involved in music ministry for the money. (At some later time, I will very likely post an article which will discuss that incident in greater detail, but doing so in the context of this article would only be a distraction.)

When I spoke with Don Francisco about the matter, my intention was not to engage in unbiblical and destructive gossip. My intention was simply to share my perspective with regard to a problem which Don had acknowledged and addressed earlier that day.

The reaction I got from him was nothing like what I'd expected to get. Don looked at me and pronounced, "You've got a problem with forgiveness!" Did he say this in a calm, gentle and loving manner? Not on your life! I've seldom seen someone whose eyes burned with such anger --- one might even say hate --- as he spoke to me.

Now, maybe it's just me, but it seems to me that the whole point of being a forgiving person is to love others as Christ has loved us. Therefore, preaching forgiveness with hatred burning from one's eyes strikes me as a contradiction, to put it mildly. I wanted to reply, "Maybe, but you clearly have a problem with loving your brothers and sisters in Christ, among whom I am one."

Do I have a problem with forgiveness? It depends on whether or not one agrees with the proposition that Christians are obligated for forgive people unconditionally, even though it's clear from the scriptures that Christ does not forgive us unconditionally.

The Lord's Prayer says, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Now, to me, that word "as" means "in the same manner, and to the same extent, as".

In other words, God will only forgive us when we ask for God's forgiveness if we are equally willing to forgive all of those who ask for our forgiveness.

If I unconditionally forgive everyone who has ever sinned against me, will that obligate God to forgive me even though I remain equally unrepentant of my own sins? Of course not.

The scriptures make it clear that God's forgiveness is conditional. There are no exceptions to that principle. If there were exceptions, then that would mean that heaven would be populated, in part, by unrepentant and therefore rebellious sinners.

If God's forgiveness was unconditional, your next door neighbor in the afterlife might conceivably be an unrepentant Adolph Hitler, an unrepentant Pol Pot, an unrepentant Josef Stalin. I don't know about you, but that sounds more like hell than heaven to me.

Some people have naively asked how a loving God could send anyone to hell. I ask how a loving God could do otherwise. To refrain from punishing evil people would be to spit in the faces of all who have suffered unfairly as a result of the evil acts of such people. It would make a mockery of justice. Yes, God is a loving God, but He is also a just God. The two qualities are not at odds with each other. On the contrary, true love (for the victims of injustice) demands true justice.

The truth is that God is under no obligation to forgive any of us. The fact that God offers forgiveness to those who are willing to repent is a testimony to God's generous spirit.

God's conditions for forgiveness are very easy to meet, and can in no way be considered to be tantamount to earning one's salvation by means of good works, but that doesn't change the fact that there are conditions. We must humble ourselves, acknowledge our unworthiness, and ask for God's forgiveness! If feasible, we must demonstrate that our contrition is genuine by making restitution, and by doing everything we can to abstain from such sins in the future. That's not a whole lot for God to ask of us.

There is a clear parallel between the manner in which God forgives us and the manner in which he expects us to forgive those who have sinned against us.

God is always ready and willing to forgive all of those who ask for His forgiveness, so we should likewise be ready and willing to forgive all of those who ask us for forgiveness. But it seems both unreasonable and unscriptural to argue that we are obligated to do what even God himself is unwilling to do. If God himself refuses to forgive those who do not repent, then why should we feel an obligation to do so?

In fact, the end result of such unconditional forgiveness would be to condone the very sins which have caused us harm (and, in the process, to maximize the likelihood that others will be harmed in a similar manner by those who have not been held accountable for their actions). To effectively condone sin in the name of fulfilling our scriptural obligations would be to pervert and distort the gospel beyond recognition.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Links to KromaKard Portfolio Pages

This link will take you to a PDF file containing links to 18 additional PDF files, each of which contains a full page of full-color business card designs which I created in Adobe Photoshop. Until now, I wasn't able to upload these files to the Web, because I'd originally consolidated them into a single, massive 18-page document which was almost 100MB in size! (Originally, I'd used Photoshop to create the PDF files as well. They looked terrific when printed, but the drawback was that they weren't optimized for the Web.)

Fortunately, I was subsequently able to separate that document into individual pages, each of which was then optimized for the Web so that I could upload the files even to my free Geocities web host (which doesn't allow one to upload very big files).

When I get around to it, I'll very likely update this blog post with additional notes regarding the designs contained in the aforementioned 18 PDF files.

Since all of these files are PDF files, you'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader or some other program capable of opening and viewing

Twenty Original Christian Poems

This link will take you to a PDF file which I just created. (Or you can click the title of this blog post. Either way, you'll be taken to the same file.)

The file combines 20 of my original Christian poems into a single document which you can read if you open the file in Adobe Acrobat Reader or the Viewer program which comes with new Mac computers.


NOTE: To download additional Christ-centered poems I've written (stored online in the form of PDF files which can be downloaded from a public SkyDrive folder), visit this link, then select the poem in which you have an interest, and then click the Download button.

Some Notes About eBooks

Publishing a book is always a demanding project. But there are a lot more options these days than there used to be. And some of the newest options can substantially lower the costs of publication, thereby making it feasible to publish books and documents which previously could not have been published without the backing of a major publishing company.

One interesting option is to publish a book as an eBook. The website offers more information on this web page. If you browse that website, you'll see that a lot of major book publishers are now offering their books in the form of eBooks. The most universal format is probably the PDF format which can be read with Adobe Acrobat Reader. However, one of the chief benefits of that format in certain situations can be a drawback in other situations. The benefit is that authors have complete control over formatting. The device which is used to open the file won't change the fonts or the margins or any of the other things about the document which can be important. The problem, though, is that a document which is formatted for printing on a standard letter-size printer, and for viewing on a standard computer monitor, may require constant scrolling when it's being viewed on one of the new portable document reading devices or on a PDA.

Hence, there are various document formats, including:

Adobe Reader
Microsoft Reader
Mobipocket Reader
Palm Reader
Gemstar eBook
Instant eBook
Microsoft Word
Plain Text

It helps to know what format one's eBook reader needs to see prior to buying or downloading an eBook. For example, one of the hottest new eBook reading devices is known as the Amazon Kindle. Amazon (which has an obvious advantage when marketing eBooks, due to its enormous name recognition) uses a format known as Digital Text Platform. As it turns out, the process of publishing in Kindle format involves uploading one of the supported formats and then having Amazon convert the document to Digital Text Platform format. They publish a great deal of information to guide one through the process. Suffice it to say, though, that they recommend that you create the original document in HTML format (the same as a normal Web page), or in the form of a compressed .ZIP file if one is using multiple HTML files as well as image files and things of that nature.

You can send them Microsoft Word files and then have the files converted to HTML files by Amazon. Until fairly recently, creating HTML files from within MS Word was problematic because of the extraneous Word-specific codes which made it possible to re-open such files later in Word for subsequent editing. Those codes created absurdly bloated files which took forever to open in one's browser once they'd been uploaded to a web host. Dreamweaver (the most popular and powerful web design program for professionals) actually had a function for stripping extraneous codes out of HTML files created with Word. Fortunately, Microsoft learned from its mistakes, and Word 2007 now has the ability to save a finalized web page in the form of an HTML file which has no Word-specific codes. Of course, one should wait until the page is almost ready for publication before saving in that format, since it can't be opened and edited again in Word once that's been done. But that doesn't mean that it can't be edited. One can open it in web design software such as Dreamweaver or in an HTML editing program such as CoffeeCup (or, if one is really feeling adventurous, in a standard text editor such as Microsoft Notepad). Personally, I recommend CoffeeCup for those who don't want to spend a fortune but who still want a very solid web design program. They even offer a free version, which is fine as long as one doesn't need all of the features of the full program. Go to this page if you want to download the program for free. Be aware, though, that it helps to know something about HTML if you want to get the most out of the free version. The regular version ($49) is more powerful, and a bit more intuitive, too.

The savvy publisher will take individual readers' needs into account, and will often offer a single book title in multiple eBook formats. Of course, that works better for some types of books than for others. Novels, short stories and other types of books which are primarily comprised of simple text can be easily adapted to a wide variety of formats, because such books work well regardless of how the margins are set and regardless of the fonts or font sizes which are used. Other types of books may be more limited in terms of how easily they can be adapted to different formats.

One of the advantages of eBooks is that there is no printing cost for the publisher, unless the same book is also offered in the form of a traditional printed and bound book. If an eBook gets printed, it gets printed by the buyer or recipient of that book (assuming that the file isn't digitally protected in a manner which prevents printing). So there are obviously no warehousing costs for preprinted books.

Of course, that's also true of "print on demand" books, but "print on demand" books still need to be printed and shipped once customers have ordered them online. With an eBook, there's instant gratification for the customer, who can have a document in his or hands (or, to be more accurate, stored digitally on the receiving device) within just a few minutes of ordering the document online.

Speed is also a major benefit when it comes to the revision of books and documents which need to be updated frequently. For that reason, eBook may very well be the perfect format for creative directories, resource directories, specialized phone directories and other documents of that nature.

While it is possible to make good money by publishing eBooks and selling them online, eBooks are also great as a means of publishing books when one's objective is to offer such books for free. For instance, publishing a beautiful full-color printed catalog can be a major expense (which may or may not pay off in the form of sales), but that same catalog can be offered online, as a PDF file, for next to nothing.

One particularly good option, when publishing eBooks, is offered by That company allows one to publish such eBooks for profit, or to distribute them online for free. (This link will take you to a web page with more information about that option. This link will take you to a page with additional technical information.) If you charge for your eBook, then takes a 25% commission on your royalty (or "creator revenue"), but there's no setup charge and no production cost, so if you choose not to charge customers for your eBook, there is no cost! Naturally, you'll need to promote your eBook by linking to it (e.g., from e-mail messages, blog posts and so forth), but that's no big deal.

Whereas it's typically far more expensive to print documents in color than to print them in black and white, the inclusion of color doesn't increase the cost of publishing an eBook. It does increase the file size (and download time) somewhat, so it definitely helps to learn something about how to optimize file sizes for viewing color graphics on the Web. You should also remember that some eBook viewing devices (such as the Kindle) can't display full-color graphics. But an eBook in PDF format is probably intended for viewing on actual computers, anyway, so that can be a great way to distribute photographic portfolios or full-color catalogs.

Now, let's say that you decide to offer a full-color catalog of products (such as fine art prints or paintings) in the form of a free downloadable eBook from You could include a price list in that eBook, along with an order form and instructions to those who want to order your products. They could print out the order form, fill it out and then mail it to you along with payment, thereby enabling you to conduct business which involves payments with checks or money orders.

But what if they want to pay with a credit card or debit card, and they don't want to do so by means of an online e-commerce store? Or what if you don't want to go through the hassle of programming e-commerce functions into your website? What if you're marketing your products by means of a blog or some other type of site where e-commerce programming isn't really an option?

PayPal has always been a good option for people who wanted to add e-commerce functions to their websites even though they didn't qualify for standard merchant accounts. But now the PayPal Virtual Terminal feature allows sellers to accept credit card or debit card payments via phone, fax, snail mail or face-to-face transactions! The seller still needs to be able to access the Internet (to process the payment), but the buyer doesn't need to be able to do so. In conjunction with an eBook catalog, the new PayPal Virtual Terminal feature would enable a seller to easily sell to anyone who was able to download that catalog and print the order form therein, regardless of how that person wanted to pay. Of course, distribution of printed flyers, brochures and catalogs to people who couldn't access the Web would enable one to make credit card or debit card sales to those people as well.

Whenever possible, it's ideal to sell via an e-commerce website, preferably with the help of a company (such as or or which will not only process the order, but also produce the product and ship it directly to one's customer. But that isn't possible with all products, so it's great to be aware of all of one's options. Whether one is selling eBooks via (and/or or distributing free eBook catalogs for the purpose of selling products using the order forms included in those catalogs, eBooks offer a lot of options to would-be entrepreneurs with far more vision than money!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

New PayPal Payment Options

A few years ago, I worked as an administrative assistant for an attorney. She was a little bit paranoid when it came to the Internet. Her fear of things such as identity theft caused her to tell me that she'd never buy anything online.

Thankfully, those who feel the way that she felt have other options when purchasing things from merchants who have accounts with PayPal. PayPal's new Virtual Terminal feature allows one to accept credit card or debit card payments via phone, fax, "post" (mail) or face-to-face transactions. That way, customers don't even need to have the ability to access the Internet.

Of course, anyone who knows anything about the modern world of finance knows that personally abstaining from e-commerce transactions doesn't guarantee that one's financial information won't be floating around in cyberspace. Most banks these days conduct business via the Internet. Merely having a bank account can make one vulnerable. Unless one is a total Luddite who buries one's money in a tin can in the back yard, and who never uses credit cards or debit cards, it's delusional to think that avoidance of e-commerce transactions offers any ironclad guarantees.

Consequently, my personal opinion is that one might just as well join the 21st Century and take advantage of the ability to buy things online, taking care to exercise reasonable caution when doing so. (For example, it's generally better, when buying things online, to check to make sure that there is real-world contact information for the seller, so that it's easier to prosecute the offender if a fraudulent transaction should take place.)

Even so, it's great that PayPal now enables one to offer other options to customers who want to pay with credit cards or debit cards. It isn't hard to think of situations where that could make the difference between making the sale or not making the sale.

It's Always Darkest Before The Dawn

The past couple of years have been strange for me. That time period has had its high points, but it's had its low points as well.

On the one hand, I've made some excellent contacts in connection with my desire to launch a Christian ministry of the arts known as the Christian Arts Initiative. (For a PDF document pertaining to that vision for ministry, click the sidebar link entitled Christian Arts Initiative, or click here. For information about one of the contacts I made in connection with that vision, click here.) I've also made a lot of progress towards that goal in some other respects.

On the flip side, my life has been going downhill faster than a Soapbox Derby racer, in terms of my financial situation. My efforts to find a job have been fruitless for the most part. I have done a few side jobs and received a few charitable donations which have kept a roof over my head, but my housing situation is still very, very shaky on account of back rent which I owe. My job search is made more difficult by the fact that I no longer have a phone of my own, so I am forced to use pay phones (which are getting harder and harder to find in this age of cell phones) just to contact potential employers and check my voice mail messages. And there are other ways in which my lack of a substantial income is really hurting me.

The question, therefore, is whether or not my ambitious plans for ministry will be derailed by practical considerations. If I end up sleeping on the streets or in homeless shelters, it's highly likely that a lot of the progress I've already made will be nullified. That would break my heart.

I'm trying to be a man of faith and believe that the best is yet to come, but it isn't easy. So I could use your prayers (if you're a believing Christian), and I could also use any tangible help which you might feel led to offer.

Mark Pettigrew
30 W. Chicago Avenue
Room 1212
Chicago, IL 60610

773-509-8126 (Voice Mail)