We Walk by Faith

November 30, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

There are times in life that things make sense, that we have a good idea that things are going well, that the people in our life are happy and healthy and things will be all right.  Then there are the other times.

The other times have been on the increase in my life over the past couple of years.  Before that, I could go months with no major crisis.  Oh, I supposed there were small crises along the way–a big test to study for, a friend who needed to talk about a big life decision.  Recently, however, the crises have multiplied in size and volume.  Part of it is that my circle of influence has increased exponentially since I was in college.

I have more friends and a much bigger family.  Along with all of those people come issues, and sometimes the issues are really, really big.

This morning my wonderful husband was stressing about work, specifically about something that is completely beyond his control.  I knew because he was walking around the house… step, step, step, stop, big sigh.  That’s my cue.  He’s worried.  Time to do something about it.  But if he can’t do anything about it, I SURE can’t!

So I told him about “especially now.”  You know, those times in life when you say to God, “Am I supposed to trust You even now?”  And He says, “No, not even now… especially now.”  Maybe you know those moments, when all looks bleak and hopeless, when you really can’t even see the next step in front of you, and the steps you see lead nowhere that you want to go.

My wonderful husband said, “I guess He’s testing me to see how much I trust Him.”

That’s the way I used to think too.  Not anymore.  So I said, “No, He’s letting this happen not to test you, but to teach you that you CAN trust Him.  So you can see that He’s already there, where it’s okay, and you don’t have to worry about how He’s going to get you there.  See, when it’s a test, it’s all up to you.  When it’s a lesson, it’s all up to the teacher to show you.”

Later this morning I got a call about a young man whom I love dearly.  He is having some health issues.  It’s tempting to worry, to fret, to get panicked.  But those will do no good.  Instead, just like my husband and work, I am walking on faith.

Do I know at this moment that it will turn out perfectly fine?  No.

Can I trust God to know exactly what He’s doing even if I don’t see it?  Yes.

Is that easy?  Um… no.  It’s not.  Even though I know it.  Even though I’ve seen it.

When you hit “especially now,” it’s the very definition of “walking by faith not by sight.”  And the older I get, the more I find the wisdom and comfort in those words.

Through all the trials and tribulations, through all of the crises big and small, through all of those things I cannot see how this will turn out… I walk by faith, not by sight.

It’s amazing how often that lesson is needed in this life, and it never gets easier.  It is always a choice.  But it is, thank God, always an option because we have an awesome, loving God teaching us ever deeper to rest in Him, to lean on Him, to trust Him.

Maybe, in the end, that’s what this whole life is here to teach us.

Mean Spirited?

November 18, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

I’ve gotten to this a little later than I usually do because I got caught up in one of the endless discussions on a Christian writer’s loop about the virtues of traditional publishing verses self publishing. I hate it when I do that. The pointlessness of it is almost overwhelming.

In the interests of full disclosure, I will state right up front that both Staci and I are self published at this point for all practical purposes. Both of us have dabbled  on the dark side previously, but ended up where we are. So view my comments with a grain of salt, maybe even a shaker full.

Try as I might, sometimes I just can’t ignore discussions like the one I’ve been involved in all morning. Sometimes the Internet is a curse. I would never have seen this discussion if it weren’t for cyberspace.  I would never have thought about jumping into it, if tilting windmills wasn’t something I can’t resist. Believe it or not, we have real windmills dotting the Iowa landscape these days. I applaud the attempt to find an alternative energy source, but I have to fight the urge to sing “The Impossible Dream” at the top of my lungs as I drive down the Interstates any more.

It struck me as I read many of the comments that nothing much has changed when it comes to the pros and cons of self publishing verses the  “true and noble” traditional method. All writing needs to be vetted so the inferior products don’t get into print. That would be all self published books according to some, just so you know. Self published books are poorly edited and most “just aren’t ready” whatever that means.

For the record, I am not the greatest proofreader in the world, as Staci could tell you. Some of my typos are legendary and been both the source of great pain and raucous laughter for her. However, proofreading and editing are two different things entirely, and I would defy any traditionally published author to show me that they have written and rewritten their stories any more than I have. That is editing. For me, the key is knowing when to stop.

What bothers me the most about discussions like this, especially those that appear on discussions sites with Christian in their name, is how mean spirited they are at times. In a way the spirit is not any different from the foul stench that has invaded so much of our world these days. Television advertising delights is making fun of people. All women are sex objects and air heads; all men are thoughtless and slightly clueless.

Political talking heads make everything evil if their opponents do it and everything  good and understandable if their side does it. That isn’t totally new, but it seems more vicious than ever before.

Christians aren’t supposed to be that way either to themselves or to others that don’t agree with them. The Bible tells us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, but it  commands us to love our enemies as well, whether they be Democrat or Republican, believers or nonbelievers, Christian or Jew, or even Arab. That love isn’t conditioned on the other person loving us in return.

Jesus Himself died on the cross for all of us, and the only group he had harsh words for were the religious leaders of the day because they should have known better.

Shouldn’t we who are Christian writers, or Christian anything, for that matter, do the same? Paul said love does not insist on having its own way. The Bible also tells us people will know we are Christians by our love. How do we demonstrate that love when we insist on having everything our way or no way at all?

Do I really need to answer that?

Different is Good

November 17, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

My wife and I get our hair cut at the same place from the same person. Actually, she calls it getting her hair done and I call it getting my hair cut. In her case “done” includes “cut” most of the time, but it also includes considerably more. For one thing, my hair is gray. Prudence dictates that I stop there.

My point is this: Much as I hate to hear this kind of thing, men and women are different in so many ways. The above paragraph is only one of them. As with any broad statement that smacks of stereotype, everything doesn’t always apply to everybody, but there are some bases for the broad brush references.

One of the more classic examples of this is asking for directions. Women will ask just about anyone where they are when they get lost. In fact, their first instinct whenever they are even slightly disoriented is to ask somebody where they are and how to get to where they want to go. Men, on the other hand, would rather starve to death in the wilderness than to admit they are lost and ask somebody how to get somewhere. It’s just an unmanly thing to do no matter how much sense it might make at the time.

Women insist on wearing “outfits;” men simply wear clothes. Outfits are carefully coordinated and match according to some set of ever changing guidelines dictated by fashion experts. Men are confused even by the term “coordinated” and matching is a sign of weakness. Blue jeans go with anything, as do khaki pants, and who says plaids and checks don’t go together?

Women eat salads and skinless chicken breasts; men could survive on pizza and peanut butter. Bread is optional and a spoon or even a finger works just as well.

Even when we like the same things, which we often do, we may see them differently. A lot of women I know like football, but many of them like it because the quarterback is cute and he reminds them of the guy they always wanted to go to the Prom with. Man love football because they like to watch the big, heavy muscled linemen crash into each other. Plus a lot of the linemen have bellies some of us can relate to. I know I can.

Cuddling is another thing both men and women like, but from different perspectives. Women like to cuddle because it makes them feel warm and protected. Men like to cuddle because it makes them feel warm and hopeful. Just being honest.

Personally, I find the differences exciting and interesting. I feel strongly that there is a reason why in the very beginning God created us male and female. Vive la difference! But even though we are different, God made us this way so that we would be united and no longer be two, but one. We have to remember that part also.

So, today my wife will have her hair done this morning, and I will have mine cut this afternoon by the same person in the same shop. It will be different, but tonight we will both have shorter hair.


Thanksgiving’s Only 10 Days Away…

November 16, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

For several years now Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday.  Every year we go to my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving, and I just love that day.  My aunt is my mom’s sister, and she has been having Thanksgiving for a LONG time, since I was about 10 or 12 (and that’s all I’m going to say on that point).  At first, it was just my mom’s family (5 of us) and my aunt’s family (4 of them).  But then we added inlaws and then we added grandkids.  In a few years we may start adding grandinlaws and great grandkids.  Suffice it to say, the party has grown.

However, the cool thing about this party is that everyone is just… well… family.  The kids all play together, and except for the time the bunkbeds collapsed, we seldom even hear from them all day.  The baby, whomever that happens to be, plays in the living room.  The others play in the basement or they go down to the local football field to play a little catch.  The adults watch the Cowboys play (wink to Dennis!).  Most of all, we just hang out and talk.

This family is not real big on games, so there’s not much competition or gamesmenship during the day.  It’s just a day to get together and enjoy each other.

I love that about Thanksgiving.  There is no overriding toy frenzy going on.  You don’t have to fret over if whatever you got is going to fit or if they will like it.  You can even ride comfortably in the van without presents and suitcases and hanging bags everywhere.  For one day, you just get to be together all day with nothing else to do, nowhere else to be, and just have fun.

The funny thing is, my seven-year-old already has this figured out.  We were two weeks to Halloween when he started asking when Thanksgiving was.  “Are we going to go to (aunt’s) house?”  “Yes.”  To which he would start bouncing. “I can’t WAAAAAIT!”

I can’t either.

So ten days out, I’m going to tell you this:  I am thankful for being in a family that just likes to hang out together, no fights, no trying to impress or condescend, no pressure.  Just be together.  For that, I believe I am very, VERY blessed.

Confuse, Exhaust, Defeat

November 12, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the three words of a villain (or evil):  Deceive, Dominate, Eliminate.  Today I want to examine three more.  The three previous words seem to me to be more about external power.  The three today are more the playground of Satan on a individual core being.  In short, the first three you will deal with if you’re in the world.  The new three you will deal with every day on a very personal basis.

I’m not even sure where these three came from directly–it was no television program or anything I read.  I’ve just been thinking about how depressed people seem to be not even at an external way, but at a core level.  It’s like their life force has been spiraling down the drain for a long time to the point that just moving is work.  Forget joy or freedom or vibrancy.  All they are focused on is to get through the next five minutes, and sometimes it takes everything they have to do that.

A few years ago, I heard someone say that “Satan doesn’t have to conquer us, all he has to do is to confuse us.”  That’s stayed with me–especially in my times of greatest confusion.  Confusion is when we find ourselves unable to focus, unable to make a decision, a not knowing coupled with fear.  It is being scattered, frantic, not at peace.  Confusion comes when we don’t know what to do and we can’t make a decision.  Sometimes it is the result of too many options.  Sometimes it is the result of too few options–none of which are acceptable.

Confusion paralyzes a person.  Often we feel in our confusion that it is better to do nothing at all than to make a move and do something wrong.  Therefore, Satan uses our confusion to tip us off-center, not to dominate but to diffuse our thoughts so much that focus is impossible.  For example, let’s say we are worried about our child who is having trouble in school.  There are several things that can compound that difficult situation.  The child may refuse to cooperate.  The teacher may not be cooperating either.  We may have other children who also need our attention.  Our lives, marriages, work, etc. may also need our attention.  The problem becomes exacerbated in the confusion of trying to do it all and failing at everything.

That’s Satan’s first weapon against us.  In confusion, we are lost in a fog, and we will inevitably make mistakes–sometimes disasterous ones.

As the confusion swirls in our lives and as we see ourselves failing at more and more things, exhaustion begins to set in.  This is not like normal tired, where you go to bed and sleep for ten hours and wake up better.  This is a deep, bone-numbing exhaustion.   Where life becomes a dull grind.  There are just too many problems, too many issues, too much stuff to deal with, and it exhausts our ability to cope, to focus, and to find workable solutions.

In the story I’m writing right now, the young man has been a diligent worker for 18 years.  He has tried to make his father proud of him, but his father pays no attention.  As this section of the book hits its peak with him demanding his father pay attention and his father rebuffing him yet again, I see over and over again how tired he is.  He has fought and fought.  He has done everything he can think of to get his father’s attention and love, and nothing has worked.  Now, he’s just tired.  He’s tired of trying.  He’s tired of busting his butt only to end up right back where he was to begin with.

Exhaustion can be a deadly place to be–physically and spiritually.  It can literally be hell.  A slow, torturous hell of lowered expectations and “oh, just forget it.”

In a video I have of Father Robert Barron, he shows a picture that was drawn of Satan at the bottom of hell, trapped in a block of ice.  Evil is being paralyzed, with fear, with fatigue, with exhaustion.  Exhaustion, I can guarantee you, is not of God.  It points either to you doing too much or to you trying to do it all on your own–neither of which is healthy and neither of which is conducive to living an abundant life with God.

Finally, in Satan’s master plan is defeat.  When the failures pile up and confusion reigns, when you’re exhausted to the point even thinking is impossible, your defeat is almost assured.  A better word here might be “destroyed.”  Satan wants you out of the game–permanently.  He wants to destroy you, and I’m telling you, if he can get you confused and keep you there long enough, you will become exhausted and from there it’s a short trip to defeat and destruction.

So what do you do if you are battling confusion or exhaustion or even feel close to complete defeat.  First, realize these are not of God.  God does not will your defeat.  He wants you to be victorious.  But you cannot do that on your own power.  In the story with the young man, he is now faced with the possibility of getting help.  At first, he denies he even needs help.  Then he says the help won’t help anyway.  But you cannot escape from these destructive forces on your own.  You need help.

God can and will help you if you will let Him.  Go to Him in prayer, fall at His feet and confess that you have no power in the face of these forces, and plead with Him to help you.  I told my husband the other day I have come to the point where I don’t have any desire to be on God’s right hand or left hand, give me the floor at His feet!  I’m there constantly saying, “God, I can’t do this.  Please help.  I need You to come in here in a powerful way.  If You don’t show up, I’m sunk.”

Really, it’s the best place I’ve ever been, and it’s a great weapon against confusion, exhaustion, and defeat.  God’s got the answer.  The question is, will you go to Him for it or keep trying to do it on your own?  It’s your choice.  Make it wisely.

What Was I Thinking? Who Cares?

November 11, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

A popular TV personality who counsels troubled people on his show frequently asks them the following question: “What were you thinking?” If you’ve watched Oprah or his spin off show you know who I’m talking about. Let me make it clear from the beginning that I am not necessarily a fan of this individual nor the shallow pop psychology he often offers to the masses. However, at times he can be very insightful, and this question is often valid, as far as it goes.

Think about it. How many times have you asked yourself just that? What was I thinking when I did this or that, thought this or that, or didn’t do something that I knew even at the time I should have done? Why do I do the things I do and refrain from doing the things I ought to do.

Maybe we will never understand our motivations all that clearly and just maybe we aren’t supposed to. The question itself is not new. The Apostle Paul raises the same issues in the book of Romans at the end of Chapter 7. He sounds almost like one of the guests on the self help talk shows when he says:

            “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do….For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing….When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”

            That last line in particular gets my attention every time I read it, no matter how many times that is. In short, Paul tells us that even when we try to do the right thing, the wrong thing is sitting right next to us trying to change our mind. I can relate to that, just as I can his frustration in the sentences before it.

            I certainly don’t understand what I was thinking when I do some of the crazy things I have done. Most aren’t major things, but, trust me, they are enough. Besides, if you stack up enough little things, pretty soon you have a major thing and I am a pretty good stacker at times.

            But that isn’t the worst of it. Paul tells us that even when we try to do the right thing, we do the wrong thing. Why, because we’re weak and the evil we hate loves us and snuggles up close so it can influence us especially at times when we want to do better. Evil is clever that way, and far too often successful, at least when it hangs around me.

I’m weak, or as Paul puts it, “Oh what a wretched man I am!” Not all the time, but more than I care to admit to anyone other than a Pastor or a Priest. The beauty of that weakness, however,  is that it forces me to look elsewhere for my strength, it forces me to look to the person who came in the form of a sinful man like me, but had no sin himself.

You see, evil is clever, but not clever enough. Paul knew that, and it allowed him to state boldly in Romans chapter 8, verses 1-2:

            “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

What was I thinking, why did I do that? Who knows and furthermore who cares? I will continue to try to do better, and, most likely, I will continue to fail, but I am not condemned for those failures because Christ Jesus is in me and I am in Him.


Leaves of Hope

November 10, 2009

By: Dennis Bates


This time of the year they are everywhere in the Midwest, except on the trees. Those of you who live in parts of the country where there are no trees to speak of have no leaves. You’ll have to look at pictures of use your imaginations.

The Mommas and the Pappas performed a song in the late 60′s that begins with the words “All the leaves are brown.” An older  melancholy song called “Autumn Leaves” talks about them drifting by the window panes as they fall to the ground. I personally used a combination of those two songs to  set the tone for my next novel, “Except for the Eagles.”

Metaphorically, leaves capture the stages of  life so well at this time of year. Green all summer as they provide nourishment to the trees and other plants, most burst briefly into brilliant colors of red, orange and yellow sometime in the middle of October. In one last display they paint the Midwestern landscapes , and they save their very best for last.

I can’t imagine living somewhere where there were no leaves to turn colors in the fall. But their last hurrah is relatively short lived, and after they show their most breathtaking side, they turn brown,  fall to the ground and die. It’s almost sad. Life’s cycle is finished for another year, and the corpses being raked into piles and burned or turned into mulch are proof that the short, cold days of winter are just around the corner.

I do not happen to be one of the lunatic fringe that looks forward to cold, dark, icy days. I hate them. I like being warm. I also like being somewhere where flowers or other vegetation still grows, even if it’s in a semi dormant state. At least vegetation is there.

I know that’s just a slight bit whiny. I get that way sometimes, and I shouldn’t. Looking ahead, spring follows winter just as surely as winter follows fall. In a sense the autumn leaves merely complete God’s rhythm that the April flowers begin. Without the leaves falling to the ground and dying, there would be no new life in the spring. No tulips, no daffodils, no green leaves for the wind to play with when it blows.

I’d miss that too, so autumn is just one of those things that must occur. It’s spent leaves are only temporary in the big scheme of things. Yes, the individual leaves live for a short time and then die, but life itself goes on. The leaves of the season were privileged to be part of the greater, eternal whole called life.

When it comes right down to it,

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22.

If it hadn’t been for the death of Adam, there would have been no need for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What could be a more sure and certain reminder  of that hope of the Resurrection and that eternal life than the autumn leaves of red, gold, and brown?

Seeing Excited

November 9, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

Have you ever seen excited?  Have you ever watched someone “get it”?  You know, that moment, shining in the vastness of eternity, when the moment before how to do it, what it was, understanding it was a mystery, and then suddenly… it’s… not.

This weekend I got to see excited twice, and both times I have to say it was the coolest thing ever!

The first was at Sunday School.  Now, for the record, I’m a weird teacher.  Nobody teaches like me.  It is rare that I lecture, and even when I do, I can’t help but ask questions, lots of them.  I don’t want to tell you.  I want you to learn to think for yourself.  So I’m going to say something like, “Satan was smart to go against God, right?”  “No.”  “No?  Why not?  What did he need God for…?”  You get the picture.  I challenge, I cajole, I tease, I test.

And the kids respond like crazy.

Last weekend, we had a sparse class–only about 13 showed up.  This week the floodgates opened.  We were scrambling for chairs!  It just so happened that this weekend was my favorite class of all (though it might have helped if we’d had a few more show up for the note-taking part of the lesson last weekend).  The lesson was on the saints.  Last weekend, we took notes–lots of notes about different saints, feast days, patronages, their stories, etc.  This weekend, we took those notes (and a whole bunch of papers I had made), and we played faith football.

Now, faith football is pretty much what it sounds like.  I break the kids into two teams.  We play 4, 10 minute quarters.  We have a kick returner (only one who can answer that question) and a quarterback (only one who can answer the other questions–with the help of all the other team members).  The quarterback chooses a “play” of 5 yards, 10 yards, or 20 yards (20 yard play questions are you really have to think type questions; 5 yards are pretty simple).  Kick returner fields the ball at the 20 and the team has to answer enough questions to get all the way down the field to make a touchdown.  If they miss a question, it’s a fumble and the other team gets the chance to recover.

It’s a blast!

Well, because so few had taken notes last weekend, I had a lot of kids who looked at me like they had no clue what was going on.  St. Cecilia?  Never heard of her.  But then the game took over, and WOW! did they get excited.  Both teams were scrambling to find the answers.  “I got it! I got it!” they would exclaim and race to the quarterback to give them the answer.  They answered so many questions, I ran out of questions to ask and finally had to start asking random things from my own set of saint papers.

Now in my class, I give stickers.  Grades are out because no one cares, and it’s too hard because I might have a kid come one week and then skip three.  Stickers, however, work.  They get stickers in their notebooks for all kinds of things like bringing their Bible and writing the Bible verse of the day, answering review questions, etc.  Well, Sunday, the deal was the winning team would get 10 stickers (they get a prize when they get 20, 40, 60 stickers).  Several students were within 10 of getting a prize, so they were serious about this game.  They wanted to win!

Questions and answers, and answers and questions flew back and forth.  It was like being in a Saint Tilt-a-Whirl!  And then we got down to the last few minutes of the last quarter.  The Cowboys were behind the Steelers 14-21, and they were racking up 10-yard plays like you wouldn’t believe.  I had long-since run out of questions, and it was taking me forever to find new ones.  “Hurry!  Hurry!  Hurry!” the kids were jumping up and down.  Then miracle of miracles… the made the touchdown with 30 seconds to go in the game and with only 5 minutes left in class.  And what did 25 kids start yelling at me?  “Overtime!  We have to play overtime!”

Haha!  Now, I’ve done faith football with all 4 classes I’ve done.  Never have we come up with a tie, and never has any class scored so many points!  Overtime?  We didn’t have time for overtime.  “That’s okay,” they said, “We’ll stay!”  I laughed.  “We’ll break the tie next time.”  I laughed again.  Finally, I said, “How about if I just give everyone 10 stickers.”  You may have heard the rejoicing from wherever you are now.  Talk about excited!

After Sunday School, we went to my daughter’s volleyball game.  There was a young girl on her team that has not played before (she didn’t have a team so she came to play on ours).  Like most young volleyball players, she didn’t grasp the concept of moving toward the ball on the first game the day before.  It was more move out of the way of the ball.  On Sunday, she got a little special coaching about serving, and I watched her confidence increase.

And then that moment…  It’s like you just live for those moments sometimes.

She was playing and had tried to bump the ball a couple of times to no great avail.  And then…

She was playing left front, and the ball came over at an odd angle.  I still am not sure how she made that play, but she double-side-armed it sideways back over to the front left of the other side where the player missed it.  I wish you could have seen her face, and the faces of her new teammates.  You would have thought they all just won the lottery.  The confidence that she could do it shone on her face, just like it had on the faces of my kids in Sunday School.

I love those moments.  Seeing excited is the coolest thing in the world!

Satan Plays Mahjong

November 4, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

            Okay, so there I was, minding my own business in the church parking lot when a big, black limo rolls in and Satan himself gets out.

            I tried to scrunch down behind my steering wheel and hide, but he must have seen me. I have to say he didn’t look as menacing as I thought he might. In fact, he looked pretty ordinary and almost friendly. Still, I was quite certain I didn’t want to be his friend. My mother warned me about such things from the time I was old enough to understand warnings.

            The first thing he did was walk completely around the outside of the church building apparently counting off the steps and making notes in a little black notebook he pulled out of his vest pocket. He nodded and smiled. Then he tried to peer in through the windows to see what was inside. He put his hands around his eyes and leaned on the glass, pressing his nose to the window panes while he looked.

            I slid lower in the front seat of my pickup truck, but every time I moved, he turned around and winked my way. Like I said, he must have seen me, but I have no idea how he did. I thought I had hidden pretty well. Guess not.

Satan walked straight to my vehicle, holding his black note book in one arm against his chest like many church members hold their Bibles. The closer he got, the less menacing he seemed to be, but that didn’t stop me from sweating bullets when he stopped less than a foot away from me.

            “Excuse me,” he said, tapping on my half opened window, “I hate to bother you, but do you know anything about this church?”

            He ducked his head so he could look in my side window at me. I didn’t want to look back, but for some reason I had to. Curiosity, I guess. That and a friendly stare that froze me in place.

            He handed me his business card. It read: S.A. Tan, consultant and entrepreneur. Isn’t everybody these days, I thought to myself.

            “I’ve gone to that little church all my life,” I finally said. “What would you like to know?”

            Satan shrugged. “Is the property for sale? I’m trying to acquire property in the area. This one interests me in particular.”

            “Why?” I asked. “It’s in the middle of nowhere and it’s always been a church. What would you do with it?”

            “Mahjong parlors,” he whispered, covering his mouth with his hand as he looked around. “They’re the latest rage.” He smiled and chuckled, “At least they will be.”

            I scratched my head. “Never heard of such a thing,” I said.

            “I like being on the cutting edge,” he said, winking at me. “You know what I mean? I’ll be looking for partners at some point. You have my number on my card. Give me a call if you’re interested. No experience necessary; we have an extensive training program. ”

            I nodded my head as I looked at the card, but I had no intention of calling the number. In fact, I had no plans to keep the card.

            “Just don’t wait too long to decide,” Satan said. “From the looks of things, most of these smaller churches won’t last much longer. There are too many empty spaces inside. So, if they don’t want to sell, I’ll wait.” He clasped my shoulder with his hand and his grip was a lot firmer than I would have suspected from his appearance. “Once I take over, things will heat up in a hurry,” he said. “Just some friendly advice. It’s best to be in on the ground floor.”

            “I’ll keep that in mind,” I said.

            “Good,” he said. “That’s all I ask.”

            He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Well, I’d better get going. If I don’t get back to the office, there will be you know what to pay.” He laughed at his own words.

            “Uh huh,” I said, watching him back away from my truck.

            He saluted with two fingers. “I’ll be waiting to hear from you. Nice talking with you.”

            The black limo pulled away and my wife came out of the church building. She slid into her side of the truck and let out a sigh.

            “How was the meeting?” I asked.

            “Same old, same old,” she answered. “You been waiting long?”

            “Long enough,” I responded. “Dear, if it’s all the same to you, I’m going to wait for you inside the next time.”

            “Whatever,” she said, smiling.

            “And I’m thinking we need to start inviting more people from the neighborhood to come to church.  There’s just too many empty seats in there.”

            Now I had her attention. She turned to me and raised her right eyebrow. “What’s gotten into you?”

            “You ever play mahjong?” I asked.

            “No, why?”

            “Neither have I and I have a strong feeling I don’t want to learn.”



Shakespeare and Monkeys

November 3, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

Most of us have heard some variation of the Infinite Monkey Theorem at some time in our life. It suggests that if 100 monkeys are put in a room in front of typewriters for an infinite amount of time they would produce the complete works of Shakespeare.

If you have ever visited a monkey house in a zoo you know the kinds of noises that come from screeching monkeys jumping from one limb to another and I have yet to hear anything that sounds remotely like “To be or not to be; that is the question.” The monkey-bard suggestion would be laughable if so many people hadn’t taken it seriously for so long, at least metaphorically as validation of the Darwinian theory of evolution.

Perhaps those who take this suggestion seriously know different monkeys than I do. Just a thought.

 I offer Congress as proof to the contrary. It is supposed to be peopled with beings superior to monkeys by virtue of evolution, and yet I defy even the most intelligent among us to decipher what the bills it produces mean. I doubt that anyone would compare them to a summer’s day in iambic or any other pentameter, and there is no way that Congress could say anything in a mere 14 lines. Shakespeare did. Maybe even a few monkeys, who knows?

On the other hand, I’ve never heard of the Infinite Congressman Theorem, so perhaps I’m just expecting too much from our legislative body. It certainly doesn’t appear to have the same potential as the Bard, but that’s understandable. What worries me more is that Congress doesn’t seem to have the same potential as a room full of monkeys. Maybe Congress just needs more time, infinity being what it is.

But I digress.

I have a basic, gut level problem with any theory that bases itself on the mysticism of the purely random. That’s what the Infinite Monkey Theorem really is. It suggests that everything comes from an endless string of random and unconnected acts. Given enough time, what we call art and even life itself magically appears and evolves from there. Natural selection, survival of the fittest, if you will: that’s how we got to where we are.

Brighter minds than mine have argued for and against Darwin’s theory, so I won’t even attempt to jump into the middle of that. I haven’t evolved enough to make a significant contribution, and I’m not certain that even an infinite amount of time would change that in my case.

A friend of mine says he accepts Darwin’s theory because it is scientific and he can’t believe in anything that isn’t based upon a scientific analysis. My counter to that is why?  Science is the process of attempting to reach conclusions by systematically eliminating one erroneous assumption after another. And these assumptions are based upon the biased personal observations of imperfect beings who often see the same things differently.

I could almost accept his reliance on the scientific method for finding facts within the narrow definition of the word which suggests that a fact is a conclusion that cannot be disproved. I could also accept with some reservations that facts are the byproducts of a system that demonstrates what happens more often than it doesn’t happen.

What I cannot accept is the suggestion that facts are the one and only source of truth. In fact I categorically reject the tie between fact and truth insisting that it’s  a comparison of apples and oranges. Facts are the inferences drawn at the conclusion of a process. Truth, on the other hand, is a moral imperative that begins the process and allows it to continue.

As such, truth never changes. It is always the same. Facts, on the other hand, never quit changing. In some ways it seems to me that it takes a lot more faith to believe in something that constantly changes and is, by definition imperfect, than it does to believe in something perfect that never changes from beginning to end.

But maybe, that’s just me. Still, to suggest that the complexity and orderliness of any one of Shakespeare’s plays or sonnets can be replicated by a room full of primates with typewriters takes more faith than I have. I chose a simpler explanation: the writer of those pieces was driven by a Divine creative spark to write what he did, a spark that is truth, a spark that all the monkeys in the world could never duplicate.





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