One of Those Days

December 17, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

I hate winter!


We had our first measurable snow fall here in Iowa November 30. We’ve had snow on the ground ever since then. So far we’ve accumulated nearly 20 inches of snow, which is already ahead of last year’s unusually high amount of snow.


I hate winter; I hate snow.


Okay, it’s pretty for an hour or two, but after that it gets old, and it doesn’t just snow here. Frequently there is an ice storm, sleet, and freezing rain that introduce the snow. We’ve had two of those already and already have a winter weather advisory out for tomorrow which forecasts an inch of ice followed by 2-5 additional inches of snow. So hiding under the layer of fresh snow will be a substantial layer of ice, making driving and walking even slipperier and more treacherous.


I hate winter; I hate snow; I hate ice.


Two years ago an ice storm accompanied by strong winds of up to 60 miles per hour broke tree limbs, knocked down entire trees, snapped power lines and kept our area without power for nearly three days. No power, no heat, no lights, no nothing. I had to unfasten the garage doors so I could open them manually. Fortunately my daughter has a one bedroom apartment only 15 miles from here and she had heat, but we had to get there first. We stayed in our house until the temperature dropped to 41 inside; then, we shut off the water so the pipes wouldn’t freeze and took a small suitcase to live with my daughter until we got heat.


I hate winter; I hate snow; I hate ice: I hate wind.


Not only does the wind do bad things to trees and power lines already weighed down with hundreds of extra pounds of ice; it also makes temperatures a lot colder, driving the cold through you instead of merely surrounding you with it. Two nights ago the actual air temperature was two degrees below zero. Add the 40 mile per hour wind gusts and the temperature with wind chill approached 20 degrees below zero, and let me assure you; that is cold!


I hate winter; I hate snow; I hate ice; I hate wind; and boy, do I hate cold.


The trouble is–well at least one of the troubles, anyway–winter doesn’t start for a few more days yet. It is still technically fall. When winter comes officially, it will get worse, and who knows how much worse? Where is all that global warming, and do you suppose Al Gore would send me some of it? Or would that ruin his movie, not to mention his Nobel Prize?


One of my friends told me I should just quit whining, make a fire and drink some hot cocoa. First of all whining is a Constitutional right, as far as I’m concerned, and I reserve the right to exercise it to the fullest extent possible. A fire in the fireplace sounds inviting, and I may actually give that a try as soon as I find the wood under all the snow. But, please don’t make me drink hot cocoa of hot chocolate, or anything like that.


I hate hot chocolate!


By His Stripes

December 16, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

Sometimes no matter how many times you have read or heard something, truth you never noticed before jumps out at you from the most unexpected places. That happened to me  Sunday as I was fortunate enough to attend the annual presentation of Handel’s “Messiah.” at Augustana College, a well respected local college with Lutheran roots.


If nothing else, Lutheran schools are famous for their music programs and Augustana is no exception. The college choir is supplemented by volunteers from the surrounding area, some of whom drive considerable distances just to sing this magnificent piece of music only twice. The group this year had more than 80 basses alone, which literally blew me away having spent decades in small church choirs where a single bass and a tenor was a large men’s section.


When the choir sang the line from the first chorus “And the glory of the Lord” I literally got shivers. The sound was so overwhelming and rich you knew from the opening chords that the Holy Spirit Himself had a front row seat. The decent sized performance hall with its massive pipe organ and live orchestra, as good as they were, were instantly dwarfed.


As I looked around I saw so many members of the audience mouthing the words of the choruses. Some followed the performance word by word in their own personal choral books, which are almost an inch thick for the two-hour plus presentation. As is the tradition, everyone stood for the Hallelujah chorus, which is not the final piece in the program as many people think it is. Believe it or not, there is an even bigger and more compelling piece at the end of the chorus “Worthy is the Lamb.” It just hasn’t had the exposure the world famous Hallelujah Chorus has received.


But as stunning as all of this was, the moment that blindsided me came midway through the presentation of the two back to back choruses taken from Isaiah 53: 5-6. The verses read as follows:

            “But he was pierced for our


            he was crushed for our iniquities;

            the punishment that brought us

                        peace was upon him,

            and by his wounds (stripes) we are healed.

            We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

            each of us turned to his own


            and the Lord has laid on him

                        the iniquity of us all.


I don’t know why for sure, but the words of those two verses mingled with the music as they were sung gripped my heart and squeezing it…hard.  I have heard those verses many times before, sung them even, but I have never felt them like I did at that moment…teary eyed, gasping for breath, as I realized the enormity of what they described.


Our Savior, the Son of God himself, was born in a common manger, raised by humble, ordinary people, so that he could be beaten with a cruel whip and by those stripes we areall  healed. Even though we are no better than sheep who wandered off, by the stripes on the back of our Lord, we were forgiven of all…not just part, but all…of our iniquities and pardoned.


I could hear the whip crack, feel it tear the flesh, and see the quiet loving smile of Jesus as He looked at me with soft eyes and forgave even the soldier wielding the instrument of brutality. By His stripes, I am healed…and so are you because a babe was born so long ago in Bethlehem and laid in a manger, and that baby was Christ the Lord.

Is Fiction Untrue?

December 10, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

My wife has always had trouble remembering the difference between fiction and nonfiction. There are so many possible jokes there that I will do the wise thing and pass on all of them. What I mean is that she has always thought nonfiction and fiction are both unreal, much like flammable and inflammable are the same. I used to try to explain the difference, thinking it was odd that she could confuse the two terms: fiction and nonfiction. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that to some degree or other we all confuse them.


Writers and philosophers throughout the ages have said that all fiction is a lie, although some few have argued to the contrary. If they mean fiction is the product of putting glimpses of emotion and feeling woven together using characters that may or may not really exist in their totality, then perhaps they have a point. Most short stories and novels involve events that may or may not have happened exactly the way they appear in print.


But that doesn’t necessarily make the stories a lie or the characters into apparitions of the mind. To do so would be to confuse fiction with untruth. That’s what a lie is: untruth. It’s meant to deceive the listener and make him or her believe something that simply isn’t true. Frequently the teller of the lie stands to gain something from the deception. A criminal lies so he won’t be found guilty. An unscrupulous salesman lies so you’ll believe his fabricated claims and buy his product. Politicians lie to get elected (and because most don’t know any better.) In short, a lie has no regard for truth and doesn’t even try to reveal it, often taking great pains to hide it.


Fiction, on the other hand, has just the opposite goal. It seeks to reveal the truth but tell it creatively as the author sees it. It is to the writer of novels what the empirical method is to the scientist, and it is no less valid. In fact, it is based upon the same premise: observation and testing can lead to a greater understanding of the world we live in. Therefore, fiction is just another way to view the world and search for the truth in it. Fiction doesn’t try to cover up that truth; it seeks to reveal it in some small way. It tries to take the reader deeper into an understanding of something using settings, events and characters that are often imaginary but on some level truth as the author understands it.


One of the best Biblical examples are the parables of Jesus. Did the events he described actually happen? Was there a Good Samaritan, a Prodigal Son, a widow who searched for her lost coin? Maybe and maybe not, but it doesn’t really matter. The parables were word pictures to help the listener understand the points Jesus was trying to make. Stories were often used in those times to make a point. That didn’t make them lies; it just made them another way to tell the truth.


Fiction is only a lie if it is untrue and seeks to deceive. Similarly, nonfiction is not necessarily true just because it is based upon fact. If those facts are structured so they deceive and result in untruth, they aren’t as reliable as fiction is.


Maybe my wife had a good point.








Christmas Shopping

December 9, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

My wife and I were supposed to go Christmas shopping today. It is one of the annual rituals I really don’t look forward to.


First, I hate to shop. I have been known to  buy new clothes only when the old ones literally fall off of me. One year at our annual office Christmas party my suit pants split right up the seam just as we were sitting down to eat. I could tell by the draft. A good friend of mine literally covered me by walking close behind me as I snuck out of the party to go home and change. As I put the coat of my only other suit on I heard an ominous tearing, and I looked back to see that the sleeve had rent itself asunder and hung by only a few threads. And there I stood with my garments torn appropriately in Old Testament fashion but I was fresh out of ashes.


So, I put the coat from my first suit on and wore it with the pants of the second suit. It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, but the first suit was a basic charcoal color leaning toward the blue gray shades and the second was a brownish color accenting lighter tan tones…with a dark brown vertical stripe. I won’t even talk about how they looked with the soft pink shirt. Hey, that color was in the year I bought it; I just don’t remember which year (or decade) that was for sure.


Second, I really hate to shop at Christmas time. There is never any place to park, the crowds are too large and they are full of rude people. I might even be one of them after about a half hour of being jostled to and fro. And for what? To buy some useless present for somebody who will look at it for exactly what it is: some useless present.


I know that there are lots of people who love to shop and love to buy things for people at Christmas. I am simply not one of them. I prefer sitting in front of the fire, listening to classic Christmas music with an occasional playing of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” I love the cookies, the smells of hot mulled cider, the laughter of good friends and family as we embellish stories of Christmas past. I can do without the presents if I have those things..


I look forward to the candles lit around the perimeter of the small town church I attend on Christmas Eve as we sing “Silent Night” and for a few moments at least, there is true Peace on Earth and good will toward all men and women. You can almost hear the angels themselves join in. They don’t perform it as much anymore, but I loved the Christmas pageants put on by all the small children as they reenacted the Biblical Christmas story. What could be more genuine and pure than watching a six or seven year old Mary rock the Baby Jesus in her arms as the rest of the children who are shepherds, wise men and Joseph sing “Away in the Manger?”


That’s Christmas to me, and if we skipped all the presents and especially the shopping for them, I would still love this time of the year, maybe even more than I do now. So today, when my wife and I woke up and the second day of an ice storm kept us from going to the mall, I was happy and thankful. What’s even better is that the freezing rain is supposed to turn to snow this afternoon, so I guess we’re stuck inside where it’s warm, shopping on the Internet. At least virtual shopping avoids the crowds and I don’t have to worry about finding a parking place.


December 4, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings


If you’ve been in church any length of time, you’ve no doubt heard the word “repent.”  I’ll be you even know what it means.  To feel  sorry or contrite for something you have done.  When we confess our sins, we repent or say we’re sorry and will not do that thing again.




But there’s another way to look at the word “repent.”  The prefix “re” means to do again.  Some words that use re include:  redo, rework, rewire, reread.  It means to do whatever it is again.  For example, I could rewrite this message if when I’m finished it makes no sense (which is always a possibility!).


So the word “repent” begins with re.  To do over.  But then the question becomes, “To do WHAT over?”  This is where the story gets interesting.


I remember from way back in my English teaching days, my kids had to learn long lists of Latin and Greek root words.  The idea was that if they learned the root words, they could put them together and decode words that used those root words.  It was a very effective way to learn a lot of vocabulary words very quickly.


One of those root words was “pent.”  I went to and had to go the long way to find this.  The Latin root pent comes from the Latin word pensar, which means “to think.”


Ah-ha.  That was my first thought when I was listening to someone talk about this word.  Wait, pen/pent means “to think.”  So RE-pent would mean “to think again.”


For one moment let’s put aside what we normally think the word repent means, and let’s consider the possibility that it means to re-think.


When Jesus says, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  Consider what that means.  Yes, it means to be sorry for the junk you’ve done and are doing, but it ALSO means, “Rethink your life!  Rethink what you are doing, how you are living!  Rethink this moment for you are no longer under the world’s dominion.  The KINGDOM of GOD is here!”


Let me ask you.  Are you saying you’re part of the Kingdom but living according to the world.  Rethink that position.  Do you get up and go to a job you hate because it pays the bills?  Rethink that attitude.  Maybe you need a different job, or maybe you need to start being the Kingdom where you work.


Is your household peaceful?  If not, maybe it’s time to “rethink” some things about how you’ve set up your world.  Is your marriage in harmony?  If not, maybe it’s time to “rethink” how you are treating your spouse and what you’re allowing to be in your lives that is not conducive to harmony.


To be honest, I love this concept because the truth is I am sorry for my sins, but sometimes it’s not the outright sin that’s holding me back.  Sometimes it’s my way of thinking that is stopping God’s Life from flowing in mine.  I need on many occasions to “Repent!”  to “Rethink!”  what I’m doing and why.


I invite you today to look at your life.  What areas could use some “repenting”?  Where might it be a good idea to rethink what you’re doing and why?


What are you waiting for?

Missing the Cleavers

December 3, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

When I was a kid I always envied Wally and the Beaver. Actually, the Beaver’s real name for television purposes was Theodore and he was the focal point for “Leave it to Beaver,” which is still one of my favorite television shows of all time. He and his older brother Wally lived in a tidy little house in a tidy little neighborhood  much like the house and neighborhood where I grew up..


What I envied most was the fact that their parents, Ward and June Cleaver, were as tidy as the house and the neighborhood they all lived in. Ward went off to work every day in his modest coat and tie, carrying his brief case to some sort of important office job. He was almost always soft spoke and even tempered and left home and came back on a fairly regular schedule.


Multi tasking was still a plague of the future, minivans had not been invented, cell phones weren’t de rigueur for every precocious First Grader who aspired to get into the “right” schools, and in short, life was simpler, almost sane. At least that’s the way I remember it.


But mostly I envied the fact that June was always there waiting for Beaver when he got home from school. His first words were often, “Gee, Mom, something sure smells good.” Sometimes it was a plate of cookies just for him, sometimes it was the pot roast for the family dinner, but no matter what it was, his mother was there with a cheery smile to tell him about it, and she always looked happy to see him.


Even in those days the show was a middle class fantasy, but I loved embracing it for a half hour each week. My mother taught school and my father worked for the government. When I came home at night, nobody was there. I always wanted my mother to be there like June Cleaver was, and frankly, I resented the fact that she wasn’t.


I know, that’s the first definition of male chauvinism, and maybe it isn’t fair. After all, women have a right to pursue careers and personal interests too, and my mother did. I never really had trouble intellectually with the concept of women working because my mother set the example before working was cool. She even enlisted in the Navy during WWII and did lots of jobs that men traditionally did. I’ve always been impressed with that and proud of her because of it, but that doesn’t alter the fact that I missed having my mother there when I got home to give me a bowl of hot soup on a subzero day and ask me how school went.


Was that selfish of me? You bet it was; I know that. I had a great mother who spent lots of time taking care of her three children and my father. We were her pride and joy and no grandmother anywhere loved her grandchildren more than she did. So I wasn’t neglected by any means. Far from it. I was one of the fortunate ones, even if I had to learn to open the can and heat up my own bowl of soup…without a microwave.


Today, we make time for almost every kind of event to make our children better athletes, better students, or better at something. Couldn’t we set aside one night a week, a month, or even a year, so that part of the Cleaver fantasy survives, so that children can have the opportunity to come home and simply meet the open, loving arms of their mother and say in wide-eyed innocence, “Gee, Mom, something sure smells good.”


The Trouble with Santa Claus

December 2, 2008

By: Dennis Bates

An eight-year-old girl named Virginia sent a letter to a New York City newspaper shortly before the turn of the 20th Century. She asked a simple question: “Please tell me the truth; is there a Sana Claus?” The unsigned editorial that followed has become one of the most quoted and reprinted editorials of all time. It has been used in movies, several of which have become film classics on their own terms, and it has been translated into dozens of foreign languages.


No one can argue that its sentiments are heartfelt and that its writing is expertly crafted even by today’s standards. It would hard to dispute the fact that in some ways the world would be a better place if more people saw it as the editorial writer sees it.


“The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see….Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world….Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.”


Of course the most famous lines follow:


“Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy….No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”


The trouble I have with Santa Claus is he’s a lie, not a myth, but a lie; not fiction, but untruth, and there is a difference. In spite of the sentiments and the fine writing in the portions from the now famous response, they explicitly invoke hints of the eternal while implicitly suggesting that the temporal is in complete control.


The newsman who wrote this response suggests that somehow we will extinguish or destroy the eternal if we don’t believe in Santa Claus and those unseen qualities he attributes to him. If Christmas were the season to celebrate Santa Claus, if it were Clausmas or Santamas we celebrate (and perhaps for far too many, it is), then his observations would be profound.


But to say that Santa Claus exists and the love and generosity he evokes gives life its highest beauty and joy, to pile on saying that the jolly red faced fat man in the funny suit somehow represents the eternal and that there is nothing else that is real and abiding…I’m sorry, that’s just a lie that needs to be set straight.


This is the Christmas season, which is the season that celebrates the coming of the Christ, as in Christmas. That is short for Christ’s Mass, a celebration of the coming of eternity to man. Belief in Santa Claus and his love, no matter how sweetly it is described is NOT the only thing in the world that is real and abiding. Belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who has come to man is the only thing that is real and abiding.


I’m not sure that the editorial writer meant to suggest anything to the contrary, but I do know that it appears the world has taken it that way. I used to worry sometimes that teaching children about Santa Claus was more than teaching them a harmless, childhood story. We all remember how smart we felt we were when we found out the truth about Santa Claus. A lot of us learned from a sister, a brother or a good friend, and somehow after we acquired that bit of “adult” knowledge we never believed anything quite as readily again.


My concern is that children will have the same reaction to the story of the Babe in the manger. After all, Santa Claus was a childhood story and once we were old enough, we learned the truth. The birth of the Christ child comes at the same time. Why isn’t it the same kind of myth, a childhood story that gives us something to build church Christmas programs around?


That’s the real trouble I have with Santa Claus. We mix him up with the Christ child and when we find out that Santa’s a myth, a worldly stand in for the Babe in the manger, he takes both himself and the Babe down at the same time, and that perpetuates the biggest lie of all.