Gay Marriage Debate

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LETTER: Gay marriage debate continues

Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 10:37 am

For the better part of the past two decades, the debate over the definition of marriage has steadily intensified. Numerous states have undergone public referendums banning homosexual arrangements or, contrarily, allowing civil unions. Recently, our president came out in favor of gay marriage, offering his personal support. As a pastor, I have had to ask, "How should the church of God respond?"

I believe the answer is twofold. As Christians, we must decide if we desire to be obedient to the culture or to be obedient to the scriptures. The Bible makes clear that marriage is not simply a legal contract, but rather a covenantal union between one man and one woman, an earthly portrayal and representation of Christ and his bride, the church. Believers must stand firm in their convictions about a relationship that defines the very core of family identity and the continuation of society through procreation. The definition of marriage has remained unaltered for thousands of years, and it seems unwise for our civilization to disengage from that historical pattern.

Yet, believers cannot simply end the conversation there. We must learn to love our neighbors as ourselves, for every person on this planet has been created in the image of God, including those with whom we disagree. While we cannot endorse homosexuality as a marital union, neither can we promote homophobia nor behave as if those who engage in homosexual acts are somehow less valued by the God who loves his creation. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I was in college at Western Kentucky University, I had the privilege of competing for the forensic (speech and debate) team. Within that community, I developed friendships with many individuals who identified themselves as gay or lesbian. I learned that the vast majority of these folks were upstanding citizens and most of them were kinder than many Christians I know. I discovered that they needed the message of Jesus Christ just as much as I did and our differences did not hinder our friendships. We must speak the truth, but we must speak that truth in love.

Let us endeavor to unapologetically declare God's word to a generation in need, and let us commit to a sacrifical love embodied by a carpenter from Nazareth who gave his life for those who disagreed with him. Speak the truth, in love.

Barry E. Fields

Pastor

Mount Tabor Baptist Church

Buffalo

Not My Brother, Not My Sister, But Me, O Lord...

Mt. Tabor Family,

So far this week, we've been greeted with the news that former California governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar fathered a child out of wedlock with the family housekeeper a decade ago. Until just a few days ago, the movie star neglected to tell his wife and children, as well as the voting public. Over the weekend, International Monetary Fund (IMF) President Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a man who has had a successful track record with this financial institution and who many considered to be a viable presidential candidate in his native France, was arrested and charged with raping a maid at the hotel where he was staying in New York City. These stories are not uncommon. How often have we learned of politicians, entertainers, athletes, and business tycoons who appear to have it all, only to throw it away for seemingly nothing? It seems that the more powerful one is or the more successful one becomes, the easier it is to fall.

Yet, underneath these scandalous headlines lies something far more common: the depravity of the human heart; the desire to turn away from the face of God. While we may not have the name recognition or run in the same influential circles as those mentioned above, the truth is that you and I face the same temptations every single day. We are constantly confronted with opportunities to be unfaithful to our spouses, dishonest with our families, or arrogant with our co-workers. In the Bible, Paul warns believers that anyone who thinks they stand better take heed lest they fall. Solomon lets us know in Proverbs that pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

It's not just the tabloid sins that get us in trouble. Every time we neglect prayer before making a major decision, place other priorities ahead of worshiping and serving the Lord, or value our comfort and entertainment over loving our neighbor, we are saying exactly the same phrase as these public figures in our hearts: "God, I don't need you. I can make it on my own." Even if the vices you are enjoying appear to be kept under the radar, rest assured that "the secret things of the heart will one day be revealed." Only through a careful and consistent dependence on the Spirit of God to work in our lives and a total saturation of his word can we have hope that the same fate met by these individuals does not also meet us.

God help us to stay close to and dependent on the Lord who sees and knows all.


See you Sunday,

Bro. Barry - Psalm 19:14

Tribute To Andrew Singh

My friend’s getting married. This is the day in which my dear brother, Andrew Singh, is pledging himself to another. Surely, it is the biggest day of his 27 year life thus far. When he came to the United States for the first time over a decade ago, I know that he did not expect to be here for this moment. God certainly works in mysterious ways. For the past three years, I have watched a pastor who knows how to care for the souls of his flock, observed an international come into a rural area and embrace this community with his whole heart, and learned what it really means to walk with the Lord, day in and day out. Together, we have formed an unofficial duo, the “Bachelors of Buffalo.” Today, the plural becomes singular.


Andrew and I have had many experiences during our friendship. For starters, “Ghandi” (my affectionate nickname bestowed on him) is always singing to himself, and I have learned many Southern Gospel songs from an Indian. Then there’s the cell phone, which is constantly plugged to his ear: “How are you doing, my frieennnddd?!” There’s the Hindi / Southern accent, which is incredibly difficult to place. One day Andrew said to me, “Brother, people always know who I am when I call them. I don’t even have to say my name!” I wonder why, Reverend Singh! There’s the mispronounced syllables, wherein my foreign friend often replaces a “v” with a “w”. Andrew’s conversation with the minister yesterday at the rehearsal: “Pastor Carl, when I do remove her “whale”? (he meant to say “veil”). Perhaps Jonah will show up today, big fish in tow. Since he is an avowed Methodist and I am firmly Southern Baptist (missions AND potlucks), we often have theological “conversations.” We finally just settled on an introduction whenever we meet new people: “He sprinkles. I dunk. We’re still friends.” The looks we’ve received from folks have been priceless.


Then there’s the other, more serious side of my friend. Whenever I’ve had a tough day or a difficult situation at church, there’s always one person who is going to call and ask how things are going. When people are sick or feeble, you can bet there will be a man of God visiting them in the hospital or singing to them in the nursing home. Whenever our folks have surgery, I try to go the hospital and pray with them, then return later on to see how they’re doing. I thought that was pretty good until I observed my Methodist brother. Andrew will ride with them to the hospital, stay all day, and take them home that night. When two of his fellow seminary students were tragically killed in a car accident 18 months ago, Andrew preached their funeral and wrote a song commemorating their lives, telling everyone present that “Jesus is Lord.” I have met many people that have a heart after God, but most of the time they are older and have more experience. With Andrew Singh, though, you can sense the presence of the Lord just by being around him. That is unusual for someone his age.


Around two years ago, he began conversing on the phone with Arpita, his future bride. I could tell something was up by the way his face brightened when he spoke of her. Through providence, Arpita was able to come to Kentucky (the “Promised Land”) this past summer. She enrolled at Asbury and is working on her master’s in counseling. She’ll need it living with my absent-minded friend. Andrew’s mother was responsible for setting up the relationship (in Indian tradition, the parents often pick spouses for their children). As we were coming back from Elizabethtown one day, Andrew looked over my way and said, “Brother, I am going to find you a wife.” We all laughed, then Arpita stared back at him and responded, “Yeah, call your mom!” I think he’s met his match (we are currently in the bargaining stages for naming their future firstborn son ‘Barry’. It has a great ring to it, in my opinion).


Seeing them together the past few months, I believe the Lord most definitely has his hand on these two. Andrew’s first name is actually Arpan (Andrew is his middle name). In the Hindi language, Arpan and Arpita are the masculine and feminine words for the same meaning: “offering to God.” Today, they offer themselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12) to God’s kingdom work. The two become one.


My friend’s getting married. And I couldn’t be happier for him.

Pandora for Palin?

Recently, Sarah Palin, Alaska's well-known governor and former Republican vice presidential candidate, announced that not only would she not seek re-election in 2010, but she would not in fact even finish her term, telling the world that her resignation would be effective at the end of the month. Maureen Dowd, the ever-opinionated columnist for the New York Times (hey, opinions are what she gets paid for), just wrote an editorial on the bizarreness of this whole scenario. By far, the most humorous line of the column, whether you agree with Dowd's assessment or not, occurs about midway through the article in reference to the governor's speech:

After...burbling about how “progressing our state” and serving Alaska “is the greatest honor that I could imagine,” and raving about how much she loves her job, she abruptly announced that she was making the ultimate sacrifice: dumping the state on her lieutenant.

Wow. I'll admit, I'm not quite sure what Governor Palin is trying to accomplish here. Maybe she's not trying to accomplish anything, and that's the whole point. Perhaps she's had enough. Personally, I didn't feel that the governor had the necessary qualifications to serve as vice president should John McCain have won the election, but in a year in which Republicans had EVERYTHING going wrong for them, maybe he felt he had to gamble, hoping that her star power and political talent would be enough to galvanize the base and attract independent voters. At any rate, Sarah Palin's year in the national spotlight serves as a warning to anyone seeking power or position: be prepared to get hit hard, have a purpose that is greater than yourself, and pray for endurance to make it to the finish line. Godspeed, Mrs. Palin.

Too Quick To Blame?

In America, the Bill of Rights provides citizens with several constitutional guarantees, one of which is the right of Habeas Corpus (innocent until proven guilty). However, in today's society, it's often reversed, as individuals accused of wrongdoing are typically considered guilty until proven innocent. Here's an interesting take on the Kentucky Men's Basketball Coach John Calipari situation at UK from ESPN commentator Jay Bilas:


So far, the biggest target in this saga has been Calipari. Because we have this ridiculous notion that the head coach is responsible for everything that goes on in his program, Calipari is taking the blame even though his name is not even mentioned in the Notice of Allegations. Remember, the Notice mentioned the name of a representative of Memphis’ athletic interests over a single phone call. If the NCAA had anything on Calipari, it would have unloaded it in the Notice. It does not.

And later…

Call me old-fashioned, but I require established facts and evidence before I call someone a cheater. I am not naive about the way things work in basketball, because I see it every day. But there is a difference between the problems with the culture in the game and making specific allegations of academic fraud against an individual. We all share the blame collectively for what is going on in the game, but we should require more evidence and hard facts before we indict any individual.
So far, the only “evidence” against Calipari is that he was the head coach, and the head coach is responsible for everything that happens on his watch, that he was the head coach at UMass when Marcus Camby accepted money from an agent and the head coach is responsible for everything that happens on his watch, and he’s at Memphis and he lets Worldwide Wes and the FedEx CEO hang around his program.

And later…

And to continue to discredit Calipari with references to wrongdoing he played no part in is simply wrong. If there is evidence that Calipari knew about or participated in the alleged academic fraud, then bring it forward. Just mentioning Camby and a vacated Final Four appearance does not tell us anything about the current situation.
Maybe Calipari and Memphis had a part in this alleged wrongdoing. But maybe, just maybe, they did not. As reasonable people, we should establish the facts first. Just because the NCAA alleges something doesn’t make it true.
Until then, a deep breath and some perspective wouldn’t hurt.



Anyway, thought he had some thoughtful points. As always, GO BIG BLUE!

Reason for the Season?

In describing the modern trends of Holiday shopping in our culture, author Donald Deffner tells this story:

A television interviewer was walking streets of Tokyo at Christmas time. Much as in America, Christmas shopping is a big commercial success in Japan. The interviewer stopped one young woman on the sidewalk, and asked, "What is the meaning of Christmas?"

Laughing, she responded, "I don't know. Is that the day that Jesus died?"

There was some truth in her answer.


Too often, we have a tendency to celebrate Christmas as simply a season filled with Christmas trees, candy canes, and Santa Clause. We live in an age where Christmas is typically more about receiving gifts than it is about giving. Although there's nothing wrong with any of these activities, sometimes it's pretty easy to lose perspective on the real meaning of Christmas. History really hasn't changed a whole lot. 2000 years ago when Jesus was born, taxation was the news of the day. Contrary to popular imagination, there probably weren't hundreds of people gathered around the stable that night anticipating the birth of the long awaited Messiah. More than likely, it was just Mary and Joseph, that couple who had gotten to Bethlehem too late to find a room at the local hotel. The Jewish prophets and priests were looking for a conquering king of noble royalty, one who would defeat the empire and usher in an age of peace unlike any Israel had ever seen. And yet, Jesus wasn't found in a mansion, but in a manger. He came down from the throne to be crowned with thorns. The one who was born in a cradle was destined to die on a cross. Why? Because of love. One commentary puts it well: "Jesus paid a debt he didn't owe because we owed a debt we couldn't pay." In a season of presents and cards, there is a gift that should never be forgotten, there is a debt that has been paid, and there is a spirit of Christmas found not in one day, but over thousands of years and through all eternity, the story of a king who is coming to reign. Even Santa Clause can't beat that.



The Dynamic Inventor of Dynamite

Some time back, I came across this compelling story about Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite. The article below was written by Dr. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. Since reading this, I've used Nobel's example several times in sermons and speeches. Hope you enjoy it!

Alfred Nobel:

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish Chemist who invented dynamite and other powerful explosives used for weapons. When his brother died, one newspaper accidentally printed Alfred’s obituary instead of his brothers. It described Alfred as one who became rich by enabling people to kill each other in unprecedented numbers.

Shaken by that assessment of his life, Alfred stared at his own mistaken obituary, and resolved that the fortune he had made from his accomplishments would thereby be used for the benefit of all humanity, and thus began the Nobel Peace Prize. Nobel came to a defining moment in his life. He had the opportunity to look at his life and start over.

A Different Kind of Bird Brain

There is a wonderful story in the Times today about Alex the parrot, the bird whom scientists have used for the past 30 years in judging animals' cognitive abilities. Alex had a vocabulary of more than 100 words and could recognize colors, shapes, and my personal favorite, he could even tell what materials certain objects were made of simply by picking them up! Sadly, Alex died this week. However, his life is a fascinating story, and one that can lighten up an otherwise heavy day.

Way to go, Alex!

Pastor's 50th Anniversary

I've written this article to several newspapers...thought it might be interesting.

In a couple of weeks, Glendale is planning on having a dinner to honor our pastor, Bro. Richard Oldham, who is celebrating his 50th anniversary at the church this month. Most pastors don't make it 50 years in ministry, much less fifty years at the same church! I wanted to provide you with a brief background of his life.

Bro. Richard grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, during some of the darkest days of the depression. He was a member of the Walnut Street Baptist Church, where Dr. Finley Gibson was pastor. After graduating from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, at the age of 21, Bro. Richard was offered a full scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. in English at Auburn University, but turned it down because he felt God had called him to pastor a church. He would serve churches in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Michigan before coming to Glendale in 1957. His first trip to Bowling Green was by passenger train down at the old depot!

Through the years, Bro. Richard has led the church to open several ministries to our city. When he first came to Glendale, our church family consisted of just 19 members and still met at a house on Jones Avenue, a couple of blocks from the present location on Roselawn Way. Since the church had no money, Bro. Richard suggested selling $25,000 worth of bonds in order to construct a building. The only place they could find with that little money was an abandoned sink pit on the edge of town, where the Smallhouse neighborhood sits today. They constructed what became known as the "flat-room" auditorium, which is now part of the East Wing of the church complex.

After he came to Glendale, Bro. Richard began spending many hours visiting throughout Bowling Green and the surrounding community, and the church began to grow, so much so that by 1962, the church had completed construction of a 700 seat auditorium. The church would continue to grow, peaking in the 1970s, with attendance sometimes reaching 1500. One of the earliest ministries of the church was the Bus Ministry, which was used to go into the inner cities and surrounding areas of Bowling Green and Warren County to pick up children and adults who didn't have transportation to church. In 1962, a local youth radio broadcast known as Teentime was started in the auditorium after church on Sunday evenings, and that broadcast still continues today. In 1972,the church began construction of the Day Care and Child Development Center, the West Wing of the church. Also in 1972, the Anchored Christian School began inside the church with a small kindergarten class of 5. Today, the school has a pre-12th enrollment of more than 180. In 1993, we purchased the Cave Mill property, and in late 2003, construction was finally completed on the Anchored Christian School building, which also functions as a church Family Life Center.

But Bro. Richard has made a much bigger impact on this community than simply brick and mortar. To date, over 7000 individuals have made professions of faith in Christ at Glendale, and over 4000 of these have been baptized. Our pastor has especially had an impact on influencing young people to serve in the ministry. Over 250 individuals have gone out from Glendale to serve as pastors, evangelists, teachers, and missionaries. They are collectively known as "Swordsmen." Several of these now pastor churches numbering in the thousands, so Bro. Richard's scope reaches far beyond the walls of Glendale. In fact, if I'm counting correctly, about 10-15 of these individuals have named one of their children after him! The church has also been instrumental in starting various community centers around the city, including a service for several years at Beech Bend Park; the Oak Forest Chapel, which still continues in Riverside, KY, under the direction of assistant pastor Johnny Deakins; the Glendale Chapel, now known as the Victory Baptist Church, pastored by R.B. Adamson, who was a swordsman at Glendale. Others who are currently pastoring and have come from Glendale include Kevin Hamm, pastor of Gardendale's First Baptist Church in Gardendale, Alabama; Hollie Miller, pastor of Sevier Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee; Bill Ricketts, pastor of Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia; and Mike Routt, pastor of Circle Drive Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. These are just some of the individuals . There are many more if you want the full list!

But Bro. Richard's real legacy is far more personal. He has tremendously impacted this community by conducting thousands of weddings and funeral services in this area, all at no charge. Many of the funerals he conducts are for people who aren't from our church, but they have asked him to be their honorary pastor. Many times the funeral directors will call him if there is no one to conduct the funeral, and he is always ready to help. In addition, Bro. Richard makes daily hospital visits to encourage those who have gone through medical problems. He will visit anyone if someone asks him to. He has never been married, often telling people that he feels "married to the Lord." Several times he has received offers to pastor bigger churches with much better salaries and benefits, but he has felt committed to the work at Glendale and Bowling Green. Whenever finances have become tight, he has increasingly reduced his own salary. He could easily be making 20 times as much as he does today. He consistently sacrifices for those who have no money, and if the church benevolent fund is low, I've personally seen him many times reach into his own wallet and give what little he makes away.

I know I'm biased, and I also know he's not perfect, but Bro. Richard's legacy is something that deserves to be remembered and appreciated. On Friday, July 13th, at 6:00 PM at the Carroll Knicely Center on Western Kentucky's South Campus in Bowling Green, Kentucky, we will be having a celebration in his honor. Currently, about 100 of the Swordsmen are planning on coming from out of town to be at this event. Bro. Richard has a lot of humility, and he probably wouldn't allow this event if he knew about, so it's supposed to be a surprise. Thought you guys might be interested in hearing about it.

The Times They Are A Changin'

Hello Friends,

Today is my last full day in the states for the next week or so (hopefully). Some of us from the speech and debate team are leaving tomorrow afternoon for the Republic of Argentina (not really sure if it's a republic, makes the writing flow better), where we will be competing in Buenos Aires for the International Forensics (speech/debate) Tournament. Currently, there is a huge anti-American rally going on in downtown Buenos Aires, led by none other than my favorite world leader to harass in extemp, Hugo Chavez. While at the tournament, I'm supposed to give a speech on an historical element of Argentina, so right now that looks like it's going to be the research paper from last semester's Latin American class. When in doubt, use stuff that's already been graded...at least it provides some feedback. I've never been to a serious anti-American rally before...maybe I could pass for being Canadian!

I'm really worried about losing my passport while down there...so much so that it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. My Spanish is about as good as President Bush's English, which may not help me in tight spots. Should I not make it back for some reason, I'll be sure to let someone know (though I don't really see how that would be possible). The country of Argentina is definitely worth visiting, it's just their track record of government over the past fifty years is a little intimidating, and the collapse of their currency in 2001 certainly doesn't escape one's mind easily. We're traveling to the land of Juan Peron, Domingo Sarmiento, Julia Rosas....I just hope our hotel is close to the U.S. Embassy!

On a lighter note, I don't know if it's the weather or the season, but everybody and their brother (well, sometimes their sister too, if you live in Butler County) is getting married! I think I've touched on this topic before, but I've counted five weddings that I would like to go to within the next few months, and all of constituents involved are close to my age. Sadly, to the chagrin of American Idol hopefuls everywhere, I wasn't invited to sing at any of these ceremonies. It's really the oddest thing....I always sing at funerals, but never at weddings. There's some twisted form of irony in people not wanting to hear you until after they're gone, but alas, we must move forward.

Graduation is in two months....and the world isn't stopping. I don't know for sure what's going to happen after Seminary next year. I just want to do something that makes a difference. Guess that goes for all of us :0)

Mayberry Anyone???

At the writing of this post, I find myself in the middle of nowhere, which roughly translates into a place called Seward, Nebraska, which has an odd, cow-like smell in the air that gives a lot of credence to its name. We are at what I assume has to be the only hotel around, the local Seward Super 8, and let me tell you, should this hotel burn down, yours truly is gonna be mighty cold tonight, because there's absolutely no place else to go! (There's a Wal-Mart off in the distance, but I've heard of people who've gotten kicked out for trying to temporarily live there, so that won't be attempted should anything go wrong). The town claims to have a population of six thousand, but I'm having trouble finding the other 5, 880...(maybe they've gone off to get an early start for the Fourth of July Parade, which apparently is a pretty big deal in this town, judging by the local signs).

The only (and I do mean ONLY) reason we are here is for a speech and debate tournament this weekend at Concordia University, which is supposed to be a few miles up the road. Judging from the looks of things, that may be misleading information. There is absolutely nothing around here except cornfields and country roads. There's a restaurant in the vicinity called Vallentino's which claims to serve Italian food, but out here in the Midwest, and especially here in the Midwest, I'm not taking any chances! I'm sort of afraid to wander too far off for fear of getting lost...there's a very good chance you may never be heard from again (I'm not entirely joking).

Well, I guess I'd better sign off for now...Once again I have procrastinated as far as memorizing my speeches (a habit that has oddly gotten stronger as the years go by), and I must now attempt to get them ready for the tournament. I don't know what it is...I always do better when I don't have the speech memorized until the final round...oh well, no sense tempting fate!

By the way, I would just like to go on the record by saying that I love global warming right now...it is absolutely freezing out here!!!

Memory Lane

About a week ago I was asked to speak at the chapel service of my old high school, Anchored Christian School in Bowling Green, KY. I just finished speaking this morning, and it was really good to be back. Many of the faces were easy to recognize ( there are some who will probably never leave, much less graduate!), and there were quite a few I didn't know, as well. It sure is strange how our worlds can change over four years...high school seems so long ago! For those of you that don't know, Anchored is a small, Christian school (100 or so grades K-12 when I was there), and I tend to embellish the fact that I graduated seventh in my class...the only problem with that, of course, was that there were only eight, but hey, that's beside the point!

At last count, one of those in my class has already married, and two are engaged (we'll see if that holds up...I'm pulling for them!!). Three or four people I went to school with in different classes are also engaged, and a couple of them have asked me to marry them...of all things! I told both couples that the only legal power I possess to marry them is about the same as Michael Jackson has to adopt children right now, but it was nice of them to ask. I'm ordained as a deacon at church, but not as a preacher (I just preach as a layman, which means that I don't have a certificate or official license).

I really enjoy the place where I'm at right now, and I feel like God is guiding my path, but at the same time, it's hard not to feel a nostalgia for things gone by. Sometimes I miss having to go to school with the same people, seven hours a day, five days a week, with basketball games and church services on the weekends...it just really gives you an opportunity to get to know and enjoy people in a different atmosphere. College is great, but you don't always get to see the same people every day (which can be a blessing in some cases!), and some of the people you would like to see, you almost never run into...But no complaints here! Shakespeare, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle...they're all gone. This is our place and our time, and that's exciting.

For Grace

Out of the 25,000 days I'm supposed to live (the average male lifespan is estimated at 72 in the US), this one was pretty busy. I'm working on getting my CRIT (rhetorical criticism) up for the George Mason Speech Tournament next weekend, and the coaches had to start cutting it because it was too long...I hate that part!!! In fact, it got to the point where they even took out the word 'recently'. Honestly, how am I supposed to give a speech without 'recently' in it? You can sat it with a really dramatic effect with just a slight pause and serious tone, and it just fills the room; but alas, 'recently' is no more in the CRIT.

In other news from the world of Barry, there's a really great book out called Stumbling On Happiness by Harvard Pysychologist Daniel Gilbert. In it, he tells us that humans really can't predict what makes them happy, and it is often when we're in the middle of tough situations that we learn to make the best of life's circumstances. One of the examples he uses describes going out on a date versus being married. If you were just going out on a date and a guys picks his nose, you probably wouldn't date the guy again; but if you're married and the guy picks his nose, you tend to be able to overlook it! That kind of oversimplifies his work, but anyways, take a look at it if your interested. It's a great read. Here's his website:

http://www.danielgilbert.com/

Finally, I want to close this out on a positive event. Tonight I went on hospital visitation with my pastor and younger brother and our friend Matt. Instead of going to visit sick people like we usually do, however, we went to see a brand new baby! The baby was born while we were in the waiting area, and the lullaby theme started playing over the loudspeakers, and then we got to peek through the windows to see the nurses giving the baby its shot and bath...I made a bet that the baby would be born at 8:19, but instead it was born at 8:13, so I lost five bucks, but it was worth it! The little girl's name is Aleshia Jewell. I'm kind of fond of the deeper meaning of life and all that sentimental stuff, but tonight it really stuck with me that in the midst of a world where violence is common and no one can agree and where people needlessly suffer, there's still hope as new life comes into the world. I thought about all the great joys that baby is going to have over her lifetime. It was a great experience.

Lincoln - Part 3

Lincoln’s compassion also helped him to keep a proper perspective and to recognize the gravity of the war. There were times during his Presidency that the White House was simply too much of a burden for him to live in, and he would often seek refuge outside the mansion to compose himself and focus his mind. In his 2005 book on presidential retreats, From Mount Vernon to Crawford, Kenneth Walsh writes that Lincoln spent almost one-fourth of his Presidency at the Soldiers’ Home, located in a military compound just outside Washington.[i] On the way there, Lincoln would sometimes stop by the “contrabands,” or camps that contained former slaves. He would speak with them and listen to the Negro spirituals such as “Nobody Knows What Trouble I See, but Jesus” and “Every Time I Feel The Spirit.” These stops may have moved Lincoln closer to abolition and sometimes moved him to tears.[ii] At other times, he would stop by the soldiers’ encampment and talk with the troops, sometimes having coffee and eating beans with them. He always seemed to express concern over the soldiers, and he was genuinely interested in their lives. One soldier remarked, “We always felt that the President took a personal interest in us. He never spoke absent-mindedly, but talked to the men as if he were thinking of them.”[iii] Lincoln’s compassion for his fellow man always kept him mindful of the situation at hand, and he realized the importance of ending the war for the survival of all.

Lincoln’s compassion may have been his greatest strength, but it was his humor that probably helped this President keep his sanity. As has been noted by many historians, Lincoln suffered with severe bouts of depression and a prolonged sadness over his lifetime. Part of this may have stemmed from his childhood: he lost his mother and two sisters before he was nineteen, and later nearly became suicidal over the death of his fiancé, Ann Rutledge.[iv] He lost one of his sons during his Presidency, and going through the bloodiest war in American history certainly did not help anything and caused Lincoln no end of anguish and grief. But to his credit, Lincoln understood his depression, which he referred to as “the hypo.”[v] He may have used humor to relieve these moods. He would sometimes joke about life, perhaps in an effort to shine some light in the otherwise dark universe of his mind. Usually, these jokes were self-deprecating: Lincoln once told the story of riding along his law circuit and being stopped by a stranger. “Excuse me, sir,” the stranger had said, “but I have an article in my possession which belongs to you.” “How is that?” Lincoln had replied. The stranger reached for a jackknife in his pocket. “This knife was placed in my hands some years ago, with the injunction that I was to keep it until I had found a man uglier than myself. I have carried it from that time to this. Allow me to say, sir, that I think you are fairly entitled to the property.”[vi] Lincoln got a laugh out of this story and always enjoyed telling jokes on himself.

However, Lincoln did not simply use his personality for his own entertainment; he utilized it to win friends and diffuse tough situations. Once, Lincoln was walking down the street and looked up to see a man with a gun pointed at him. Trying to analyze the situation and be as calm as possible, he asked the man, “What seems to be the matter?” The stranger replied, “Well, some years ago I swore an oath that if I ever came across an uglier man than myself I’d shoot him on the spot.” Realizing that this would be the perfect time to ease the tension, Lincoln replied, “Shoot me, for if I am an uglier man than you I don’t want to live.”[vii] His humor often helped him survive tough situations. He could also use humor to illustrate a point. During his law days, Lincoln was once pleading a case and was losing the argument. The other lawyer had all the advantages and was beating him on many points. It was a hot day, and Lincoln’s opponent had taken off his coat and vest and wrapped it behind him. Knowing that this would be the perfect opportunity to get the attention of the crowd, he appealed to the standards of the day. “Gentlemen of the jury,” he began, “having justice on my side, I don’t think you will be at all influenced by the gentleman’s pretended knowledge of the law, when you see he does not even know which side of his shirt should be in front.”[viii] Lincoln got a huge laugh and promptly won the case. He was able to use laughter to break down barriers and win people over to his arguments, a trait that would become extremely handy later in life.

Bibliography

[i] Kenneth Walsh, From Mount Vernon To Crawford (New York: Hyperion, 2005), 55.

[ii] Walsh, 57.

[iii] Walsh, 59-60.

[iv] Ewers, 68.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] McClure, 361.

[vii] McClure, 20.

[viii] McClure, 21.

Lincoln - Part 2

Although Lincoln led his life with integrity, it was his compassion that allowed him to serve others. Lincoln had a natural sense of empathy and could connect with his fellow citizens in a way that many of his predecessors could not. He needed this emotional strength in order to win over others. In a soon to be published book, Team of Rivals (excerpts of which were published in Time magazine), author Doris Kearns Goodwin notes that while Lincoln was certainly a good speaker and an above-average lawyer, hardly anything was known about him when he was elected President and took the train to Washington.[i] He needed a voice that would enable him to connect with those who did not know him. Lincoln was able to effectively put himself in the place of others, to understand their ideas and concerns, to advise without being judgmental, to admonish without condemning, and to listen with an open mind. For example, Lincoln’s role as the rescuer for the slaves is largely misunderstood. He was not always planning to free them, but rather wanted to attempt to stop slavery from spreading or maybe purchase their freedom. Although personally against slavery, he fully understood the South’s argument that slavery was necessary for their lifestyle and refused to condemn them for it because he knew it would not advance the cause of freedom.[ii] He argued that instead of condemning the slave owners, we should try to understand their position. He once explained, “They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist among us, we should not instantly give it up.”[iii] Instead of condemning one another, Lincoln believed that men should aim for the hearts of their opponents, appealing to their humanity and desire for good will. He was able to bring both sides into the conversation and was admired and respected for it. With the ability to sense the attitudes and mindsets of his fellow Americans, Lincoln was able to choose the best time and place for progress to be made.

Lincoln’s compassion also helped him to keep a proper perspective and to recognize the gravity of the war. There were times during his Presidency that the White House was simply too much of a burden for him to live in, and he would often seek refuge outside the mansion to compose himself and focus his mind. In his 2005 book on presidential retreats, From Mount Vernon to Crawford, Kenneth Walsh writes that Lincoln spent almost one-fourth of his Presidency at the Soldiers’ Home, located in a military compound just outside Washington.[iv] On the way there, Lincoln would sometimes stop by the “contrabands,” or camps that contained former slaves. He would speak with them and listen to the Negro spirituals such as “Nobody Knows What Trouble I See, but Jesus” and “Every Time I Feel The Spirit.” These stops may have moved Lincoln closer to abolition and sometimes moved him to tears.[v] At other times, he would stop by the soldiers’ encampment and talk with the troops, sometimes having coffee and eating beans with them. He always seemed to express concern over the soldiers, and he was genuinely interested in their lives. One soldier remarked, “We always felt that the President took a personal interest in us. He never spoke absent-mindedly, but talked to the men as if he were thinking of them.”[vi] Lincoln’s compassion for his fellow man always kept him mindful of the situation at hand, and he realized the importance of ending the war for the survival of all.

Bibliography

[i] Goodwin, 48.

[ii] Goodwin, 49.

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Kenneth Walsh, From Mount Vernon To Crawford (New York: Hyperion, 2005), 55.

[v] Walsh, 57.

[vi] Walsh, 59-60.

Abraham Lincoln - Part 1

“Four score and seven years ago…” On a chilly fall day in November 1863, the President of the United States, in a bloody field of a small farm town in southern Pennsylvania, began his two-minute speech with these words. But it wasn’t just Abraham Lincoln’s words that made the Gettysburg Address one of the greatest orations in American history. It was the man behind those words. Revered by many, despised by some, overrated by others, Abraham Lincoln remains one of the most famous icons the United States has ever produced, and historians consider him to be one of our most influential Presidents. But what was it that made Lincoln thrive? After all, the only history he had on his national political resume when elected to the White House was two years in Congress (a term ended almost twelve years beforehand) and not one but two failed senate races.[i] With almost no formal education, the sixteenth Commander-in-Chief is largely credited with abolishing slavery and keeping our country unified, but what made him so successful was not the position he held or the power he possessed, but rather some personal qualities that he developed over his lifetime. Although the man was completely human, several character traits can be claimed that enabled this master politician and natural leader to work to keep our nation united. We will look at a few of these qualities to find the secret to his success: Integrity, Compassion, Humor, and Resolve.

Born near Hodgenville, Kentucky in 1809, Lincoln grew up dirt-poor with little formal education. From a young age, he learned the value of integrity through hard work and was proficient with an ax.[ii] The family would move several times before finally landing in Illinois. When asked about his early childhood, he gave this response: “The short and simple annals of the poor. That’s my life, and that’s all you or anybody else can make of it.”[iii] With little encouragement from his father, Lincoln educated himself through reading. In fact, Lincoln was so driven to educate himself that he would often ask questions invoking the smallest details and would become irritated when adults talked down to him. Biographer Stephen B. Oates notes that as a boy, Lincoln would insist on understanding every part of a subject, and once he had found the answers he would repeat them to himself over and over again, memorizing the information as best he could.[iv] Believing that education was the key to success, Lincoln learned integrity by being industrious, a trait that would serve him the rest of his life.

Lincoln also learned the honor with which integrity leads. Although the popular concept of “Honest Abe” may or may not have historical merits, Lincoln’s honor came through experience. As a young lawyer/congressman from Illinois, Lincoln often wrote anonymous articles on behalf of his Whig party that exposed the Democratic position. Sometimes, though, Lincoln could cross the line and engage in low-life politics.[v]

However, an interesting event taught Lincoln a valuable lesson. Lincoln once wrote a disparaging article about the Democratic state auditor, a Mr. Shields, and along with other things, reportedly wrote that this man was “a fool as well as a liar.”[vi] Mr. Shields found out that Lincoln was responsible for the letter and promptly challenged him to a duel. Alexander McClure recounts that Lincoln accepted the challenge, and the two men, along with their respective witnesses, went across the state line to Missouri, since dueling was prohibited in Illinois. Along the way, however, their friends talked them out of fighting, and the duel was called off. Lincoln told Shields’ friends that nothing personal was intended, and the two men went about their business.[vii] Lincoln’s personal thoughts on this event are not extensive, but it apparently had a significant impact on him. Lincoln rarely wrote another disparaging article, and never again would he delve into those kinds of politics. As President, he deplored anyone who tried to engage in this kind of mudslinging. When asked about this event later in his life, Lincoln replied, “I do not deny it, but if you desire my friendship, you will never mention it again.”[viii] He learned to preserve the honor of the individual. Integrity would become a character trait that his political friends and foes alike admired in him.

Bibliography

[i] Doris Goodwin, “The Master of the Game,” Time Special Issue, July 4, 2005, 48-54.

[ii] Justin Ewers, “The Real Lincoln,” U.S. News & World Report 6 (2005): 66-74. www.epnet.com/ (accessed July 14, 2005)

[iii] Ewers, 66.

[iv] Stephen Oates, With Malice Toward None (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 10.

[v] Ewers, 71.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Alexander McClure, Lincoln’s Own Yarns and Stories (Chicago: John C. Winston Company, 1901), 19-20.

[viii] Ewers, 71.

Standing For Principle

Two weeks after his surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Robert E. Lee found himself in an Episcopalian church one Sunday morning, a service that he rarely failed to attend. During the service, an African-American walked in and sat down toward the back of the church. The congregation murmured among themselves, wondering what to do. This had never happened before, and many of the people were in shock. Toward the end of the service, as is tradition in the Episcopal church, the rector called the people forward for communion. The African-American was the first to go forward. The people had no idea what to do. This was an entirely new situation for them, and most certainly went against their pompous tradition. As the rector finished his prayer, the people looked up, and there, kneeling with the African-American, was none other than Robert E. Lee. One of the elders came forward after the service and asked the famous general, “Mr. Lee? What are you doing kneeling with that black man?” Lee stood up in his erect posture, looked the man in the eye, and in that rich Southern drawl responded, “Sir, at the foot of the cross, there’s equal ground.”

This story perfectly represents the Robert E. Lee that biographer Emory Thomas presents, the man who, forced to fight on the side of his homeland, nevertheless goes forward and proudly stands up for what he believes.

Robert E. Lee faced conflicts, as all of us do. He had a father who wasn’t there, a wife who was an invalid, children that didn't obey, and a country that rejected him at the end of his life; yet his legacy endures. What made him so successful was not that he managed to free himself from all troubles, but the fact that he found out how to endure them. In a letter to a friend, Thomas records Lee’s words: “Live in the world you inhabit…When a thing is done we ought always make the best of it…We make a great deal of our own happiness and misery in this world…turn your affliction to your benefit.”[i] The advice still rings true today.

Bibliography

Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee: A Biography. New York: Norton, 1995.

[i] Thomas, 171.

Introduction

Greetings!

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Tell Me A Story, a site dedicated to preserving the tradition of narrative storytelling. The purpose of this weblog is threefold: 1. to present true, inspiring stories that aren't necessarily well-known; 2. to publish timely commentary on issues affecting our world (or sometimes just mine!); and 3. to post ideas or insights that may be of encouraging value to those who read them. The author does not in any way, shape, or form claim to be the all-knowing, all-seeing blogger, as some citizen journalists tend to view their postings; rather, consider this site a break from a society that sometimes enjoys tearing people down; this is a place to build people up :0)

Check back soon for posts!