Wednesday, May 23, 2012

justice, mercy, and escalades?

Greetings What in the Cat Hair fans.  Denise Marie invited me to make a guest posting on her blog site.  I would have done it even if it wasn’t her birthday today.  But since it is her birthday: Happy birthday blog to my lovely wife. 


Curiously enough, I had one of those What in the Cat Hair moments on my way to work this morning.  I was driving along, minding my own business when a huge Escalade came up suddenly behind me.  The SUV was following me so closely that it looked like a giant chrome building in my rear view mirror. 


  He stayed a few feet off my rear bumper until finally passing against a solid yellow line.  Whereupon, he immediately began tailgating the next car in line.   I grumbled a brief prayer asking the Lord to bring judgment and wrath upon him....

  I was thinking minimally of a policeman coming along to pay him the just wages of his sin.   Interestingly, my petition for justice was barely out of my mouth when an oncoming car flashed its headlights.  Ordinarily, I would have welcomed this friendly heads-up warning of a police car ahead.  However, the jerky driver also got the message and started driving prudently.  He looked totally innocent and law abiding as he drove past the semi-concealed officer. 

 UGH!  My next prayer was, “Lord, What in the Cat Hair?  This evil doer is going unpunished. Where is the justice in this?  How long will the wicked prosper?  When will the righteous (like me) be vindicated?”  Or something like that.

 As you may have guessed, I love justice.  My favorite movies feature Chuck Norris and Steven Segal acting as God’s agents of vengeance against bad people.  My son thinks these movies are simplistic and clich├ęd.  I disagree.  I love revenge movies as much as Denise loves Lifetime movies about relationally impaired people finding true love on the prairie.  Good action flicks have all the essential ingredients of a well formulated storyline.  The plot involves bad powerful people getting away with mayhem until a hero steps forward.  A few good chase scenes later, the victimizing and exploiting villains are terminated by the righteous agent of payback.  I know you are all still inspired by the immortal words of Harry Callahan in the epic film, Dirty Harry

"I know what you're thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"   

The killer/rapist bad guy mistakenly felt lucky that day and was thus eliminated from the movie and further sequels.  Great ending.  Justice prevails.  I walk away with a warm happy What in the Cat Hair? feeling in my soul.

But just when it all seems so simple, I got an email from a missionary I counseled many years ago.  He wrote that he had a private meeting with the individual responsible for the greatest suffering of his life, when he was living in captivity.  I knew exactly who he was talking about- We had spent many hours in counseling dissecting and reconstructing the traumas perpetrated by this ruthless captor.

  I admired my client’s courage and faith during our months of working through the horrors of his experience.  He forgave those responsible but understood that he would take the painful memories of those events to his grave. 

 Meeting this former captor in prison was healing for him.  He gave the man a Bible and some clothing then prayed for him.  He said he felt no ill will toward this hard and lawless man.  His prayer was genuine and without malice.  I was sobered by the truth that mercy really does triumph over judgment. 

 Forgiveness is stronger than revenge.          

  And kindness is greater than cruelty. 

God’s Word says, 
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Matthew 5:44.  And, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”  Romans 12:17-21.  

 Really brings the whole justice thing into perspective, doesn’t it?  Well, that and my missionary friend’s final comment:  “I am so glad that guy is locked up.  I hope he never gets out of prison.”   

Mercy, forgiveness and kindness are right and virtuous…

  but definitely not stupid.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Edsels, Hoops, and tony campolo

FAILURE.  That is a big scary word.  When used in the verb form “fail’ I prefer to soften it up and say “mistake” or “whoopsie”:)  On Sunday, Tim’s SS lesson, and  our pastor’s message both centered on this topic.  So it got me thinking of failures in general.  

 “Failure to Success” are the great stories people like to tell about Michel Jordon or Abraham Lincoln. 


 But what about failure that has NO great and fun success story at the end where the company/person went on to become rich and famous?

 What about the “Edsel”?  Some of you remember this word.  If you are under 50 however, you may not know much about the “Edsel” or that it was the hugest failure of an automobile launch in history.  For those of us who are baby boomers, failure=edsel.  In the 60’s and 70’s anything that failed was called an “edsel”  It was the butt of jokes, anyone who owned one was a laughing stock.  While FORD was the father company of the Edsel, it was it’s own “division”.   Dad lost millions on this venture.  The exact cause is unknown, some blame marketing, some blame manufacturing, some blame the economy at the time.  To be sure, this was one of the biggest “mistakes” or “whoopsies” ever.  Admittedly, it was a pretty ugly car.  Have a look:

For me, my big ole fat failures have been many.  While some are still too tender and embarrassing to discuss, one from my 20something years still makes me say OUCH!  …In high school I was pretty good at basketball.  All conference, all state.  I lived and breathed hoops. 

Forget Coby or LeBron give me the freakin ball and I will score!                                             

Number 44 is SOOOOO all that!

I went to a small college on a BB scholarship and my freshman year of college did well, getting to start right off the bat. 
This was before Title 9,
So my little college in the Midwest played all of the big universities, and we beat many of them.  Since our team did so well my freshman year, we attracted some really good players the next year.....

 OUCH!  Guess who got benched?  WOW!  WHAT IN THE CAT HAIR?  How could this happen to cocky little me? How could I score 30 points a game from the bench??? What was the matter with my coach? 

  The EXCRUCIATING PAIN of sitting on the bench when my whole life so far I was used to being the star- was not fun, to say the least.  One game my whole extended family attended.  It was humiliating to ride the bench when 14 of them came to see me play.  

My dreams died that year, a slow and painful death.  The next year I transferred to the U of Iowa, and settled for intramurals.  No collegiate glory, no career in the WNBA.

  The cold hard truth was that I just was NOT good enough.  I was a big fat failure... extraordinaire. 

God taught me lots of truths about myself through that failure, and my others. Do you want to hear about it?  I thought you would never ask!

1.It’s not all about YOU, Denise- when we fail, God has in mind teaching us this truth and many others- as painful as it might be.

2.Have you ever heard of the “H” word? Anyone who fails gets a huge dose of humility.  It comes with the territory.  And it’s way good.

3.Life goes on.   A friend helped me figure that out as I was finishing my undergraduate years.  I never became rich or famous, but I did get a degree in Therapeutic Recreation and started working with folks with disabilities.  That was the start of something excellent.

Some of you have never had any big failures and I pity you.  You need it.  If you don’t have some substantial failures, you will not develop character, stamina, humility, or really know how to love well.

Many who do not believe, say that Jesus was the biggest failure of all.  After all, he claimed to be God, but died a criminal’s death.  On a rugged and dirty tree. 

 They don’t get that that was Friday, but Sunday Surely Came. 


Tony Campolo, the well known sociologist and University Professor said it well in his famous message “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin”.    I like Tony a lot, I have read many of his books, he is a colorful and charismatic character.  He has a heart for the poor and downtrodden, but mostly for his Jesus. If you have never heard “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin”, here is a short exerpt. MUST viewing and listening.

For those of us who feel we have failed in some ways in our lives- the great news is SUNDAY is comin.  I am as sure of this as I am each breath that I take.  Count on it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

gum, Holiness Codes and UNclean animals

Today my Brilliant and Beautiful oldest daughter guest  blogs for us about "holiness codes", culture and morality.  She is  finishing the 2nd year of her PhD at Baylor University in Old Testament, planning to be a University Professor someday.

  I remember our first day in Papua New Guinea. We arrived at the Port Moresby International Airport sometime in the evening. What does an airport in a developing country look like in 1990? Let’s just say that hygiene, trash removal, and bathing was not on the top of the list for these folks.Chickens roamed. People and bad smell were EVERYWHERE.

Wide-eyed and culture-shocked, mom and dad herded me and Ruth and our 16-24 suitcases to the side of the large untidy hallway.  I stood dutifully by the mountain of luggage while dad went to find a payphone. Ruth, on the other hand, always the free spirit, squatted down on the floor just out of mom’s line of vision. There she found several pieces of previously chewed bubble gum, placed them in her mouth, and began to chew with gusto.

 Ru was probably 3 or 4. I watched the whole event from my post and was a little sad that I had not found any bubble gum near me. Ru was having a great time. She would chew then take the gum out and play with it and then chew it again. When mom caught on, she freaked. Ru was in such big trouble. 

Ruth was a pistol in PNG-- sometimes way to curious! 

I remember being a little bit confused that day. What was the problem here? Mom would let us have gum on occasion and it was always a positive thing. What made this occasion different?

The answer is simple: HOLINESS CODES!!

We don’t know it when we are born but our culture has certain holiness codes that people are expected to understand and adhere to. One famous code is that gum in your mouth is good while gum outside of your mouth is bad.


 Nothing about the gum has changed—just its location. Ruthie was partaking in unholy gum because someone had already chewed it and then taken it out of their mouth. Ruth multiplied her sin by taking the gum out of her mouth and playing with it and then putting it back in. That is bad!

Another great one is hair. Hair on someone’s head is good. Trust me, Rogaine, hair plugs, and toupees, are indicators of this fact.


 Long luscious locks when they are attached to your head are good and beautiful. Hair that isn’t attached to your head (in hairballs on the floor or when you are cleaning out your hairbrush) is gross!

Holiness codes are built around categories. One of my holiness codes concerns animals. A lot of people have indoor pets. This is something I cannot understand. In my mind, there are these two unchangeable categories: People live in houses, animals live outside. When animals cross the threshold of my living space, I get super uncomfortable. My impulse screams, “This cannot be! That animal is not in its place! My world is falling apart!” 


Then I get mad. There is a lady in my apartment complex who has a dog. She thinks it’s just dandy to let it roam around the courtyard without a leash. One day, I had my door propped open to let in some fresh air. Without warning this dastardly hound comes bounding into MY apartment. I grab the dog and shoved it outside (where it belongs!).

I was fuming. My category for animals had been violated. What the H -E double hockey-sticks was wrong with this lady. She had committed a grave sin by letting that dog come traipsing into my sacred space! In my mind she was MORALLY at fault.

You are probably thinking by now that I am crazy. But, I bet if you think about it for a minute you have a holiness code or two. I bet you have some pretty interesting categories in your mind that if someone should violate them, you might cry

 “party foul,”… “morally questionable,” … “sinner.”


I study the people of the Old Testament and they had holiness codes too. In fact, holiness codes make a lot of sense out of the weird things they did. They had categories that informed them just like you and me.


 For instance, no one was allowed to eat pork because it didn’t fit into a proper category. There were two categories for mammals: those that chew the cud and have a cloven hoof and those that do not. Pigs were an anomaly. They had a cloven hoof but they didn’t chew the cud. This caused the ancient Israelites to say “WHAT IN THE CAT HAIR!!” 

They also couldn’t eat shellfish. For goodness sakes, shellfish live in the sea but they don’t swim like fish. Things that live in the sea are supposed to swim. Shellfish walk around like land animals on the sea floor, 


 YIKES!   Scratching their heads, I am sure they said, 


I like the ancient Israelites because they aren’t that different from us

As Americans, we have standards. Our categories don’t have to do with hoofs or scales but pets and livestock. As upstanding citizens, we do not eat dogs, cats, or horses. These animals are pets. Cows, chickens, and pigs, however, are fair game. Try explaining these categories to a New Guinean.  They will just shake their heads…and, maybe later, try to eat your dog.

So often, we transfer our holiness codes from a question of preferred categories to a question of morality.

 In our first year of marriage, Matt and I discovered we had plenty of holiness codes that the other person did not share.

 These holiness codes ranged from how many times one should change the sheets to the proper roles for a man or woman to fulfill while living in the same household. Sometimes we thought the other person was really bad and completely mislead for not adhering to our categories.

Holiness codes are a funny thing. They are good because they help maintain order. You have to have categories for your universe or else everything is just a jumbled mess. But, they can also hurt relationships—especially when you think that your holiness code speaks to a moral issue. 

 My mom and dad taught me to ask this question in cross-cultural situations, “is it a cultural thing or is it a moral thing?” 

I would probably do well to ask this question of my holiness codes as well. Was that lady really a sinner for letting her dog loose in the courtyard and then in my apartment? Well, maybe not. Are other people sinning when they don’t fit into my categories for how they should behave, what roles they should fulfill, or what they should put in their mouth? 

Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it is no. It takes wisdom to decide whether it’s a holiness code based on categories that don’t relate to morality or a moral code based on right and wrong. 

And this from Denise:
 Take a look today at your own "holiness codes"  Ask your self these questions:

1.  Is this a "rule'  of yours based in biblical/moral truths or culture?
2. If you are visiting or plan to visit another culture soon, especially in a developing country,  pay close attention to their "holiness codes"  Violating one may be a major mistake on your part.
3.  The holiness code Ruth violated by chewing that gum seems also to be a hygiene code. YUCK!  That one was pretty simple to decipher. Sometimes they are not so simple.  Sometimes culture, morality, and biblical truths can get jumbled up in our brains. The wisdom mentioned above should be peppered with diligent prayer,  searching scripture over and over, and a dose of good old fashioned common sense.

If you do this then you may not be 



the next time you give someone a gift and you receive an email or text as a thank you instead of a nicely hand-written and snail mailed note. Hmmmm..... has your "holiness code"  about this been violated? 

Might be time to re-think that one.:)