“It’s Like They’re Throwaways”

(Above: Bret Brennan, with Gail Sacco)
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BRET BRENNAN, 48, DIED LAST MONTH—one of the 42 homeless in my city (Las Vegas, Nevada) who so far this year have not survived. Suffering from cancer, he’d been living on the street until homeless activist Gail Sacco got him into a home she owns. Bret died November 17 in a hospice Gail arranged for him.

“I’ve had homeless friends who have died on the street,” Gail says. “It’s like they’re throwaways.”

Earlier this year, outreach workers from Straight From the Streets came across 61-year-old Willie Danielson, sleeping on the ground and suffering from advanced untreated lung cancer. Straight’s director, Linda Lera Randle-El, said the homeless organization arranged for housing and some medical care, but Willie’s health continued to decline, and he died in early November.

“He didn’t die lying out on the street,” Linda says. “We wanted to give him some quality of life, someone to talk to, someone to call out for.”

Of the 42 homeless who died (39 men, three women), eight accidentally overdosed on drugs. Four were beaten or shot to death. Two died for lack of food. Five died of exposure to the elements (summer temps can reach 120; winters go below freezing).  Most of them died alone, along the side of the road, in alleys, vacant lots, or on the concrete floor of a drainage tunnel.

Homeless outreach workers here hold an annual December vigil to memorialize those who died with few or no one to mourn or remember them. Similar events are taking place nationwide this month.

Like many American cities hard-hit by the current economic downturn, homelessness here has spiked, as hundreds of the formerly employed run out of jobs and benefits and are forced to live in their cars or on the streets. Our local county has an estimated 14,00o homeless, including 7,000 homeless children and 4,300 homeless veterans. But though Las Vegas has the nation’s highest rates of  homelessness, ,unemployment, and home foreclosures, this is not a friendly place toward those who are down on their luck.

  • City leaders, including the police, mayor, and local business leaders, continually support rousting the homeless from their makeshift cardboard box or tent “homes” and send them scattering to find some other area of town to “live” in. It’s not good for tourism to have the homeless anywhere in public view.
  • The city’s mayor even proposed busing  all homeless in the city to a former prison 25 miles south of the city, so the sight of them wouldn’t disturb the high rollers here to enrich the casinos.
  • In July, the city passed an ordinance making it illegal to feed the homeless in any public place, such as a city park, or on the streets or in homeless shantytowns. This includes portable soup kitchens that had been providing food. So feeding the homeless outdoors, even on the part of churches and other charitable organizations, is now criminalized in the city. In The Palms—one of the city’s upscale hotel/casinos—a suite can go for $25,000 a night. But in the same city, it’s illegal to feed the homeless—even if they are such because of the ravages of military service, mental illness, or losing one’s job.
  • In the local newspaper, some letters rail against the homeless, blaming them as lazy parasites on society who should do what others do and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

As a Christian, I am convinced that those of us who follow Jesus have a clear obligation to do all we can for those who are down on their luck. Some, of course, are in that position through no fault of their own. Weeks ago, they may have held down a paying job and been paying on a mortgage. But the economy has made paupers out of many who were not long ago “productive” members of society—people who would give anything to still be in that position.

But what about those who are on the streets because of their own bad choices—their addictions of drugs or alcohol? Aren’t we justified in letting them reap what they’ve sown, even if that means dying in an alley in 120-degree heat? If I read my Bible correctly and focus on the example of Jesus, I see no precedent for ignoring the suffering of those who are in pain because of their own bad decisions. Which ones of us, after all, even if we still have a home, have made only perfect choices all our lives?

As time closes in on the end, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Even here in America. Those who have care less and less for those who have not. It’s only going to get worse.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t do all I can to follow what I am convinced is the example Jesus left me. I can volunteer some time to help those in my area who are reaching out to the homeless. I can choose not to be the priest or the Levite, but to emulate instead the Good Samaritan and be moved with compassion by the plight of the man lying at the side of the road.

The priest and the Levite could probably advance all kinds of logical-sounding arguments for their lack of action. But something tells me those arguments matter little to the One who unfailingly helped the down-and-out—even if they were there in part because of their own bad choices.

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Agnew’s Apt Alliterations

HE HAD HIS OWN PROBLEMS with living on the minus side of life’s ledger, but one-time U.S. vice president Spiro T. Agnew once gave a speech that propelled a four-word phrase into the national lexicon—words apt enough to apply just as fully now as they did then.

On September 11, 1970, Vice President Agnew (who would three years later be forced to resign, pleading no contest to various corruption charges), gave a speech to the California Republican state convention.

The media were quick to pick up on the first of two alliterative phrases he used in his address:

“In the United States today,” Agnew said, “we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club: the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.

Though spoken by Agnew, the alliterations were actually written for him by the late William Safire, at the time a speechwriter for both Agnew and President Richard Nixon. Safire would go on to become a legendary columnist for The New York Times.

Nattering refers to nonstop, empty, purposeless chatter. A nabob is a member of the privileged or influential elite. Agnew’s intended target seemed to be the national media.

Going on 40 years later, Agnew’s broadside against negativism still resonates with me and seems more timely than ever. Increasingly, we live in a society that seems to have abandoned itself to negativity.

For Christians, this has very real implications. Until sin arrived, the universe operated entirely in the realm of the positive. God Himself—and His fundamental nature of love—are all-positive. The essence of sin, of selfishness, is negative. The great battle between good and evil is in a real sense the contest between the positive and the negative.

The shouting pundits—the stunningly rude talking heads—of TV…the revolting purveyors of hate and fear and racial division on so-called “talk radio”…the “us versus them” mentality that has invaded even Christian churches…all these are symptomatic of a tragic and alarming rise in negativity.

I’m saddened when I read the savage, hate-filled comments on various blogs or social networking sites. Bile, venom, and rage flow in word-rivers down the pages.

But I’m even more saddened when I see Christians attacking not only other Christians with whom they disagree, but even non-believers—as if condemning them is the road to winning them.

Can we not still see the wisdom in a better way of witnessing?

“The people of the world are worshiping false gods. They are to be turned from their false worship, not by hearing denunciation of their idols, but by beholding something better. God’s goodness is to be made known.”—Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 299.

Perhaps it’s too much for which to hope for a reversal of negativity. But regrettably, as this earth enters its final wrap-up, I’m quite certain things will get worse rather than better. The influence of God’s Spirit is being withdrawn and an insane and enraged enemy is holding nothing back in his last desperate ploy to eke out a doomed victory to control this planet.

So yes, soon negativity will be forever gone. But as the darkness of negativity closes in around us more every day, we don’t have to become part of it. We can choose to be relentlessly positive people—to stay firmly and constantly connected to the Source of all positivity—and to put forth the daily effort to light candles instead of cursing—or worse, joining—the darkness.

Deadlier Than H1N1

SEEMS EVERYWHERE YOU TURN these days, you run into a free-floating rage. TV “news” has degenerated into a nonstop series of shoutfests, talking heads shrieking over each other to create utter cacophany. Road ragers pack heat and all too often, use it. It’s as if nearly everyone everywhere is ticked, angry, mad, and some other synonyms I’d rather not use.

Today I found a new and mostly satirical Facebook group that mobilizes the seething masses of the “Had it up to here” crowd: AN ARBITRARY NUMBER OF PEOPLE DEMANDING THAT SOME SORT OF ACTION BE TAKEN.

Yeah. Like the crazed Howard Beale in “Network,” multitudes seem to be shouting “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore!” So this new Facebook group should have wide appeal.

The Rage Pandemic is potentially deadlier than H1N1 is ever likely to become. For one thing, it’s spreading, becoming more virulent, and shows no signs of ever abating. The world is becoming increasingly a dangerous and deadly place, as too many people no longer feel normal societal restraints and vent their hostility on whoever gets in the way. The daily evidence is appalling in every day’s news.

Civility in discourse, courtesy, being polite, tolerance of other viewpoints and opinions—these are no longer modeled in the worlds of politics and broadcast news as much as name-calling, bullying, and threatening. Even too many religious leaders join in to sling mud and fuel the flames of intolerance.

What’s the cause? What’s the solution?

Perhaps the answers aren’t easy. But if I had to speculate, I’d say that we’re in a world on its last legs and that the battle between good and evil is in its final ugly showdown. The Rage Pandemic is only likely to get worse. So bad, in fact, that the way things are could soon look like “the good old days.”

Until…in the midst of all the raging and shouting, the Prince of Peace steps in to end the pandemic once and for all.

Another New Beginning

THANK GOODNESS FOR fresh starts—new beginnings. They’re not just for New Year’s Day. Every new day is a great chance to just start all over. Cut loose from the past—at least the parts best left behind. Chart a new course.

As Paul the apostle said: “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize.” Philippians 3:13, 14, NLT.

It’s been more than three months since I’ve posted here on my blog. The reason is that affliction common to us all: too much to do and not enough time to do it.

So I’ve had to decide whether to follow the path taken by other bloggers in the same predicament and shut down the blog entirely—or try again to continue, but with some changes. I’m going to attempt the latter. What stays the same is the blog title, and I’m also preserving all previous posts and comments.

But I’m also making some changes:

  • I’ve chosen a new theme called “Spring Loaded,” to give the blog a fresh look.
  • I’ve eliminated a page I had called “Blog Potluck”—an occasional round-up of interesting items I’d found on other blogs in my blogroll.
  • Till now, I’ve featured what I called “The Largest Adventist Blogroll on the Net”—some 300 or more blogs. I’ll no longer attempt to locate and add new blogs. In fact, I’ve pared my list to just the few that I personally visit on a regular basis.
  • I may post less frequently but will try not to let months pass between posts.
  • I’m intentionally re-slanting my topics to speak not so primarily to Adventists but to any interested Christian readers—or non-Christian ones, for that matter.

With these changes, I’m hoping for a new blog-beginning and to trim off some add-ons that were making the time investment to maintain this site  impossible.

In this age of blogging and Facebook and Twitter and Skype and email and a thousand other ways to link up and communicate, some time discipline is absolutely essential. Hope now to preserve this avenue, stay sane, get my work done, and stay active in the blogosphere. We shall see!

The Tragic Power of One Wrong Choice

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

THE MUSEUM GUARD POLITELY held the door open for the old man approaching. But as the elderly gentleman arrived at the door, he pulled out a gun and shot the guard in the face at point-blank range.

James Von Brunn, now 88, seemed to have it all when a young man. The grandson of German immigrants, he excelled in his university years. A talented commercial artist, he also played football, spoke French, served as president of his fraternity, and was on the staff of the college literary publication.

But one day in college, James borrowed a classmate’s car and totaled it. The father of his classmate, a Jewish man, demanded compensation for his son’s car. After this episode, James complained that Jewish students on the campus gave him the cold shoulder. “Word got around,” he wrote later, “that I was a Nazi.

So James made a choice. A choice of hate. A choice of seething resentment.

His anger apparently continued to smolder during his military service in World War II, during which he served as a PT boat captain, decorated for his service with a Navy commendation and three battle stars.  Returning from the war, he married into a well-connected, pedigreed family in the Chesapeake Bay area. His future looked bright—he seemed to have it all.

But the choice to hate and resent fueled a growing anti-Semitism and paranoia. He found New York after the war to be “the largest Jew city in the world.” His life descended into a black hole of obsessive anti-Semitism, white supremacy, denying of the Holocaust, run-ins with the law, and fomenting hatred for the Jewish and black races through his actions and writings. He would write a book entitled Kill the Best Gentiles, praising Hitler.

His marriage crumbled. His alienated first son dropped out of his life. He remarried, but because of his abuse and alcoholism and toxic hatred, his second wife lived in her own private hell till their divorce.  His second son said his father’s beliefs “have been a constant source of verbal and mental abuse my family has had to suffer with for many years. His views consumed him, and in doing so, not only destroyed his life, but destroyed our family and ruined our lives as well.”

His divorced wife said that his twisted hatred “ate him like a cancer”—and that “it’s all he would talk about.”

After spewing hatred most of his adult life, James Von Brunn on June 10, 2009, walked toward the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., apparently intent on mowing down as many people as possible. But after shooting guard Stephen Tyrone Johns  in the face, who died of his injuries, Von Brunn was taken into custody before he could wreak more violence. He awaits trial.

Such a waste. A promising life derailed early on by one tragic wrong choice. A cautionary example to us all of the enormous influence our own choices have—on ourselves, on those we love, and on who know how many others.

A Christian “New Ager”?

New Age

I’M A CHRISTIAN. BUT THAT doesn’t mean that I live in a peapod, all shut off from the world (see my past post on the Three Peas in a Pod). I truly believe that we can be both “in the world” and “not of the world”—and that too often we repeat the mistake of Old Israel in being rigidly exclusive and intolerant of anything outside our Christian “cocoon.”

Is it possible that we lose much by walling ourselves off from other ways of believing and behaving? Can we learn and even benefit from those we often reflexively dismiss or even spend energy condemning? I’m not advocating that we abandon our personal or church belief system or our lifestyle convictions and choices. But I would suggest that we sometimes risk throwing out “the baby with the bathwater” when it comes to how we relate to other ways of believing and living.

Today, in connection with a project I’m working on, I needed to research the background of a certain New Age teacher. As I am wont to do in this Age of the Net, I went to Wickipedia as one of my first stops. In the article, I found the following list of key New Age themes:

Age of Aquarius · Alternative medicine · Angels · Astral projection · Astrology · Atlantis · Aura · Channelling · Charmstone · Conspiracy theories · Cosmic ordering · Earth mysteries · Environmentalism · Feng shui · Gaia hypothesis · Goddess worship · Indigo children · Intuition · Karma · Law of Attraction · Meditation · New Age communities · New Age music · Odic force · Parapsychology · Pantheism · Perception · Quantum mysticism · Qi · Religious pluralism · Reincarnation · Spiritual healing · Wellness · UFOs.

Now, I’ve bolded in this list a few of the themes that—though I may define them somewhat differently than the committed New Ager—I have personally found of value. It simply reminds me that even my own chosen “home faith” is not 100 flawless and that other belief systems are not 100 flawed.

Perhaps if we Christians focused more on the bridges of agreement that link us to others instead of condemning and warning against the areas where we disagree with them, we’d enjoy greater success in getting out the Good News.

Of course, perhaps one great reason we may sometimes wall ourselves off from “the world” around us is fear that it will win us over, rather than the other way around. But if our own faith is built not on sand but on the Rock, it should be secure enough to venture into the world beyond our comfortable borders and be exposed to other ways of believing and living. We should be able to distinguish between what is truth and what is error.

Am I a New Ager? Well, maybe partly! As a Protestant Christian, I may also (horror of horrors) be partly a Buddhist, Atheist (see another post on this), Muslim, or Roman Catholic. Without denying that these other belief systems contain much that I consider error and with which I cannot agree, I may also accept that Jesus said He was the “Light of the World…that lights every man who comes into the world”—and that therefore even the most error-riddled belief systems may contain some truth and light.

And my own personal conviction is that I’m better served, as is my faith, by focusing on what unites me to others, than on what divides me from them. Now, back to work, with soaring, transporting New Age music playing in the background!

Blogroll, Anyone?

SINCE THE COUPLE OF YEARS that have elapsed following my launching of this blog, I’ve invested quite some time in assembling what—in the absence of any challenge to the contrary—I believe to be the largest Adventist blogroll on the Net.

Unfortunately, that’s time I no longer have to invest. So with this post, I’m inviting any Adventist readers who would like to offer taking it over and further developing it, to do so.

It’s in need at present of a review and update, to be sure all information is current. Sometimes blogs disappear. Other times, they change their names or URL addresses.

What I’m looking for is someone who would be willing to:

  • Do the review/update just mentioned.
  • Keep the blogroll current (with a suggested review of each entry at least once a month).
  • Engage in an ongoing search for new blogs to add (I can suggest how I’ve done this).

Now, I have my own chosen guidelines as to which blogs I include in the roll. I avoid church institutional blogs or those primarily with something to sell. I try to avoid the “MySpace, Facebook”–type blogs that are primarily personal “chat” forums. And I include primarily blogs by Adventists, though I have a few by former members in my roll.

Finally, I’ve periodically posted a “Blog Potluck”—a roundup of interesting items from the blogroll. Whether to continue this would be a decision left to the new “Blog Tender.”

If you are interested in taking on this project, leave a comment here with your name and email address. If I receive several offers, I’ll need to make a choice. Thanks in advance if you respond.