Saturday, May 29, 2010

A New Declaration

Memorial Day weekend causes most of us to pause for at least a few moments to remember and honor those who fought to provide us our freedom, and indeed those who continue to stand vigil for that freedom to endure. But what exactly is it those who fought and died actually secured for us? And how have we preserved what they provided us?

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – those familiar words from that awesome and precious document sum up the American experience. And yet, that document, and indeed the seemingly enduring truths spoken therein; that manuscript for which so many gave their lives… has been rewritten! Rewritten? Yes it has - at least in the hearts and minds of many.

...where along the way did the “right to pursue happiness” become the “right to happiness”?

Do you remember Don Corleone, the Godfather? He summed up the spirit of America in one short statement. The scene was a meeting with a man who wanted to corner the cocaine market. The Godfather refused to be involved in the drug trade (what an honorable man, huh?), but then he said something profound; something that in a sentence defines America - “I wish you well in your new business, so long as your interests don’t conflict with mine.”

Of course, we don’t wish drug dealers well in their endeavors, but get the point - “… so long as your interests don’t conflict with mine.” THAT, my friend, is America.

America was formed and forged by men who yearned to be free. They weren’t asking for a hand out; just the opportunity to make it on their own… the right to pursue their own brand of happiness. And for a time it was working fine. The West was won, fortunes were made, and anybody that was willing to apply the gifts the Good Lord gave them could spend a lifetime pursuing happiness.

So tell me – where along the way did the “right to pursue happiness” become the “right to happiness”? Perhaps it was the McDonald's commercial that told us that we deserve a break today. That mindset took off like wildfire so that now we are told we deserve a good night’s sleep, and we deserve a vacation in the Bahamas.

Tell me, does every kid in the local soccer league deserve a trophy, even if their team didn’t win a single game? Does every teen deserve a free college education even if his parents sat on their lazy duffs, because they deserved to? And now, if I haven’t dug a deep enough hole for myself, is someone entitled to a new house at the government’s expense because the house they bought a couple of miles from the ocean and 5 FEET BELOW SEA LEVEL was destroyed in a hurricane?

So what do we deserve? Well, first we deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And if we work hard we deserve a paycheck. And if we use that money wisely (or what’s left of it after the government takes a cut for all those that deserve it), perhaps we will find that happiness we have the right to pursue.

So on this Memorial Day weekend get out there and start living the dream. I wish you well in your endeavors, so long as your interests don’t conflict with mine.

Photo Statue of Liberty used by permission.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Relative Prosperity

You may be familiar with a teaching prevalent in charismatic churches known as the “prosperity message”. I have referred to it in previous writings as the Name it and Claim It, the Blab It and Grab It, and my all time favorite, the Call It and Haul It message. The prosperity message basically teaches that God’s will is for you to be prosperous and not poverty stricken. Purveyors of this doctrine find ample scriptural basis to support their contention that we have been redeemed from the “curse” of poverty, and God wants the best for his children.

The image of “prosperity” looks vastly different from one continent to another… sometimes even from one part of town to another...

Sounds cool, huh! And yet this casts an awkward shadow for those who serve God by a vow of poverty. Far be it from me to even speculate, much less opinionate on the discrepancies of these two mindsets. And yet, even a smidgen of pondering brings the realization that the image of “prosperity” looks vastly different from one continent to another… sometimes even from one part of town to another.

A pair of hand-me-down shoes acquired by the average citizen of a village in the African interior might catapult him into the realm of the elite, looking down his nose at the bare-of-foot. But on the other side of the world, driving last year’s sports car may diminish a man’s social status in the eyes of his upper middle class buddies.

Now, while I do recognize a certain responsibility to reach out with help to those less fortunate, I also remember that it was by hard work, sacrifice and perseverance that this experiment in democracy known as the Unites States of America became the nation to which the whole world stretches out an open hand for aid. And I feel no shame for the relative prosperity with which my nation, and indeed I have been blessed.

In light of this conversation I pray, “God, forgive me for my grumblings that I have to mow my own lawn in this time of “financial hardship”, and thank you for the riding mower you have provided… oh yeah, and the house that came with this scraggly yard!” Amen

This “prosperity message” mindset soon spilled over into other, more non-financial areas of life. When we were expecting my firstborn I determined it would be a boy. I thought I wanted a boy, so I foolishly prayed and asked God for a boy. Then I started “claiming” it. I came up with a name; Samuel Levi Kepler. (You would think I would be smarter than to give a kid the initials SLK, but then I gave my second born the initials JRK… sorry John!) And I told everybody we were having a son. I even enrolled Samuel in an NFL fan club and he got some really cool stickers in the mail. He never got the chance to play with them because he never existed, so I played with them for him.

So finally that day came - I remember it like it was yesterday. When Rebekah was born the doctor said, “Congratulations, it’s a girl!” I was so caught off guard that I had to look for myself to confirm it. Yep, that’s a girl alright. Confused, I decided to keep her anyway. And I soon learned that God knew best – this Rebekah kid was the most awesome kid a man could ever want! I’m sure Samuel could not have compared to Rebekah in cool-factor!

So, the doctrine of Blab It and Grab It notwithstanding, I have learned that it’s always best to seek out and go with God’s plan rather than dreaming up my own. See, I did get that son after all – the second time around. And John actually tied Rebekah on that cool-factor scale I mentioned earlier. Now that’s what I call Relative Prosperity (your kids are your relatives aren’t they?)!

And by the way Rebekah, I owe you some football stickers!

Photo: Sneakers used by permission

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fear and Atmosphere

My brother used to have a funny illustration he offered when somebody jokingly threatened him with bodily harm, as guys often do. He would boldly declare, “There’s nothing between us but fear and atmosphere!” Then he would make a grand and animated sucking gesture, as if to draw in all the air between him and his antagonist. What followed next was the joke’s grand finale’ - “Now there’s just fear!” Sometimes I will double up my fist and threaten him with a big ole' pop-knot just to see him do his grand sucking gesture.

When you visit a far away state and people hear you are from Oklahoma, they always say the same thing, “How can you live there with all those tornadoes?”

But as spring approaches, the phrase “Fear and Atmosphere” is something with which Oklahomans are all too familiar. Right down the middle of America is a pathway known as Tornado Alley. It starts in Texas and runs up though the entire Midwest, spreading wider as it goes. And with Oklahoma at ground zero, we have more tornadoes per whatever measure you chose to use, than all the rest.

Usually the season starts in early spring and doesn’t taper off until the heat of summer arrives. But, with very little activity so far, this year appeared as if it might be an exception to the fearful times brought on by tornado season. But alas, this evening ended that pipe dream. We were forewarned that this would be an “active” day, and active it was. I left work a bit early and hurried home, listening to the radio as a guy described a tornado headed right toward me. Just as I pulled into my driveway that tornado touched down at an intersection I had passed just a few minutes before – another bullet dodged.

And then, from the safety of my home I watched on television as tornadoes, one after another, destroyed homes and businesses as they tore through the middle of our fair state. The casualty count is just starting to be reported, and it appears that, while some have died the loss of life and limb may be relatively light considering the awesomeness of the storms. For that we thank God, and offer prayers for those that were not so fortunate.

When you visit a far away state and people hear you are from Oklahoma, they always say the same thing, “How can you live there with all those tornadoes?” I considered moving to Florida or the eastern seaboard, but I can’t imagine having to dodge those hurricanes. California seems like a great place to live until you get caught in a mudslide… or worse, an earthquake. It seems safe up north, but I’m way too claustrophobic to live under several feet of snow. I could move to Chicago, but I drove through Chicago once. No thank You!

So I’ll just stay right here in Oklahoma where I’ve learned to trust in the good Lord and the local weather men. Oh, it takes courage, as they are now reporting that the next couple of days could be a repeat of what we saw today. But we Okies are a courageous lot.

But courage can be a fleeting thing. Sometimes you have to practice it. I don’t know how other Okies practice their courage, but I like to double up my fist and threaten my brother with a big ole’ pop-knot!