Good Friday or Spring Holiday?

March 31, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

The Davenport, Iowa, Civil Rights Commission took it upon itself to change the name of Good Friday to Spring Holiday or some other equally bland moniker so it didn’t violate the Constitutional requirement for the separation of church and state. Davenport is my hometown and I still live near it, so this story had personal interest.

As far as anybody can tell, the Davenport Commission’s edict about the name change was an isolated, unsanctioned action quietly validated in a memo to the various city offices. The city council itself was not consulted. It might have been missed entirely or quietly ignored had it not been for concerns raised by several members of the local Police Department.

Before you shower blessings on them, which may be well deserved for lots of reasons, it is important to understand these specific concerns of the whistle-blowing cops. The contract between the police union and the city calls for a number of paid holidays. Obviously, some patrolmen have to work regardless, but if they work a holiday they either get premium pay or another day of in lieu of the holiday they had to work.

One of the paid holidays in the police union’s contract is Good Friday and it is specifically called that in the contract.  There is no paid holiday called Spring Holiday. The question then became whether police would be entitled to an in lieu of day or premium pay if the day in question  wasn’t on the contractual list of paid holidays.

I don’t know if the discussions ever got this far, but the arguments pro and con would no doubt go something like this:

There is no entitlement to special pay provisions for anything called Spring Holiday because it is not one of the specific holidays listed in the police union contract with the city. Therefore, all work performed on anything called by that name would be business as usual, and employees would be compensated just as they would be for any other normal day.

The contra argument is that no matter what the day is called by the local Commission in a decision backed by dubious authority, the employees are entitled to holiday pay considerations for the day the rest of the Christian world calls Good Friday. In other words, you can’t take away a holiday merely be changing its name. At the very least that would amount to a breach of contract or an unfair labor practice. It could also set a very dangerous precedent by allowing for similar actions by any government or quasi government agency in the future.

Ultimately, it appears that the name change will not be allowed or at least not recognized, and Good Friday will remain Good Friday. The rationale for doing this has little to do with the sacred nature of the day or even to principles of contract and labor law. The rationale went something as follows: Good Friday, like Christmas, has become a widely recognized generic term that really has no religious significance. It is merely the day two days before the Easter Bunny comes.

Let me make it clear that I am not advocating that Good Friday or any other specific day be a holiday with pay. I have mixed feelings about that. I don’t ever remember getting Good Friday off as a paid holiday and that didn’t affect my reverence for or observance of the day one way or the other.

I also think the city administrator had a valid point about the generic nature of most holidays that once had some sort of religious significance, even if he made his comment with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. However, it doesn’t make me feel any better that the new standard appears to be that it’s okay to pay people for holidays, even religious holidays, as long as they don’t mean anything to anyone anymore.

 That strikes me as rewarding people for religious apathy, and I think that’s sad.


A House Divided

March 31, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

As I told you on Tuesday, I’ve been reading “Forgiven Forever” (“Getting Past Guilt” is the revised title) by Joe Beam.  As I also told you, some of what led me to that particular book was trying to figure out the different paths my brother and I took.  Many of you know the story of my brother, but for those who don’t, my wonderful, awesome brother killed himself three years ago today (March 30).  While that is still really difficult to process, many pieces of the puzzle have become clear to me over the past three years.  Each one holds a facet of what happened.

Reading Forgiven Forever has given me more insights into what went wrong, and I want to share them with you in case you or someone you love is traveling down an equally dangerous path.

The part I am reading now discusses how we are three parts (I believe four).  Mr. Beam, the author, says that we are a body, a mind, and a spirit.  He folds our emotional selves into the mind part.  I tend to think our emotional selves are a distinct part.  There is good reason to believe this as the four Gospels are written as such with Mark being the physical Gospel (lots of action, little thought or emotion), Luke being the mind or intellectual Gospel (reason and logic are paramount here), Matthew being the emotional Gospel (emphasis on feelings), and John being the spiritual Gospel.

I will not quibble with that any more, but it bears pointing out.

What was fascinating to me, however, was how Mr. Beam explains that guilt eats away not just at our spirit, but at our mind, body and presumably emotions as well.  It is not a static concept but an animated reality that will take over everything if left unhealed.

For me, this was easy to see with my brother.  I believe much of his trouble started in his mind when he realized that life was life no matter what he did.  He always held certain things to be true:  You’re responsible for yourself and those around you.  Working hard is the way to a “good” life.  Success is attainable and once you get there, life gets easy or at least easier.  The problem with most people is they just don’t work hard enough.

One of the things I find most fascinating about the study of guilt is how incredibly perfect it dovetails with other things I’ve read in putting this puzzle together.  It’s as if all of the pieces are there just waiting for me to snap them together.  Let me see if I can explain.

My brother’s belief in hard work was seen as a good thing to the outside world, and it took him as far as it could have.  The problem was that he did not understand that there was a limit to hard work.  Hard work means it all depends on YOU.  Many who put their trust in hard work never come to an understanding of God’s power in their lives because they will not give up control long enough to let God do anything.  Worse, they believe that God WANTS us to do it on our own, that He requires such.  Nothing could be further from the truth, but it’s where many come at life.

So, he believed in hard work and that he could “hard work” himself to success.

These two things were like sandcastles at high tide.  He simply couldn’t work hard enough, long enough to keep that sandcastle up.

And when it began to fall, guilt tromped its way through his door.

As his ability to work hard got more and more difficult to hold onto, he began to lose that which he thought gave him his worth.  Much like my grades in school, he believed that working hard and being a success made him worth something.  When those fell away, so did his ability to value himself.  As that value fell away, guilt flooded in because now not only was he not a “success,” but his family was suffering BECAUSE of him.

More guilt.  More guilt.  More guilt.

As the guilt took over, it began to eat away his physical ability to work, which spiraled into more guilt.  The guilt pushed him farther and farther away from God.  I know this because I tried one night to talk with him about God.  He said that he had asked for forgiveness but God felt very far away… which is exactly what Mr. Beam talks about.

Do I think there was a physical/mental component of all of this that kicked it off?  Yes.  I most assuredly do.

But I also know that I was traveling much the same path my brother was for a lot of years.  I believed in my ability to make my life be a success even as I sensed my inability to do so.  This led me into fear and very often into guilt when life took a particularly nasty turn.

How or why God’s love reached and healed me and did not heal him (though I still believe that God never let go and that God’s love is more powerful than those forces that thought they had my brother when he died),  I don’t know.  I can’t say.

What I can tell you is that if there are issues of depression or undo stress gnawing away at the edges of your life, if guilt is any part of who you believe you are, please… do yourself a favor and get this book.

Could it have made any difference with my brother?  I honestly don’t know, but I do know if my brother was here right now, I would be doing my level best to use these concepts to help him.

Then again, maybe his struggles can help you or someone you love to get out of this trap Satan has laid.

To me, it’s worth a try!

The People of Holy Week

March 30, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

We Christians live in the middle of Holy Week and too often we look through it.

Last Sunday we celebrated. We waved palm branches and sang or shouted hosanna to remember the triumphant entry Jesus made into Jerusalem. If your church is like mine, you may have had the children recreate that entry by marching in at the beginning of the service waving actual palm branches. The children love doing it in our service and the adults love watching it as they remember when they were one of the happy children waving the branches.

This next Sunday is Easter. We will celebrate again, this time the joy of the resurrection that gives us all hope and the promise of eternal life. The early Christians greeted each other in a special way on Easter. One person would say, “He is risen,” and the other would respond, “He is risen indeed!” My church carries on this early tradition.

Both Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday are happy, joyous occasions, even if it’s for completely different reasons. But as our Pastor pointed out last week, the two Sundays are like book ends to the events of Holy Week in the middle and that’s where we actually live most of the time. To be sure, we participate in the joy and lay claim to the promise. If we believe, we are forgiven and we are joint heirs with Christ inheriting all that he has.

However, even Jesus and His disciples lived through Holy Week, and, in a very real way lived in the middle of it. Peter denied Him, Judas betrayed Him, Pilate condemned Him and the women wept for Him as they buried Him. Holy Week, although necessary, was not a good week for the followers of Jesus.

Holy Week was a long week, a frightening week, a dark week. There were no championship basketball games, golf tournaments, gala parties with lots of laughter and rich food. The followers of Jesus hid while He was tried, beaten and ultimately murdered in one of the most vile and painful deaths any culture has ever invented.

That’s where we live, amidst all that. That is Holy Week, and too often we forget what it involved, skipping right from the triumphal entry to the glory of the resurrection. It didn’t happen that way, and neither do our lives. We have to live through Holy Week to get to the resurrection, and only after we do,  are we ready to realize the incredible gift of grace we have been given.

How can we appreciate the depth of His sacrifice if we close our eyes and our hearts to the depth of the pain He suffered while giving it. To us. The people of Holy Week. The heirs to the joy and certainty of the resurrection of Easter who live in the middle of Holy Week, but not forever.


Guilt Trip Christianity

March 29, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

I recently stumbled upon a book that was released some time ago.  It’s called “Forever Forgiven” by Joe Beam.

The book takes up the interesting question of the role guilt plays in our lives.  This has been a particularly fascinating concept for me since my brother and I took very different paths a few years ago.  About the time his life went off the rails, mine threatened to and then God snatched me from the jaws of the miserable spiral I was on. He literally saved me from myself. To be brief, I thought life was my responsibility, that God was my employer, and that He was watching every step to find a reason to send me to hell.  That’s hard to admit because it sounds so dramatic, but to be honest, it felt dramatic.

I remember back when I published my first book, “The Long Way Home,” there was a passage when the hero goes to church for the first time in a very long time, and there, he comes face-to-face with how empty and hopeless his life has become.  In the passage, I wrote something about him being in hell.  I very well remember my editor coming back and saying, “This is a little dramatic, don’t you think?  We should change it to something about him being miserable or something.  Hell is a little strong.”  I changed it, and I regret that change to this day.

Let me tell you, when you know your life is empty and no matter what you do or how hard you work, there is nothing you can do to change that, you’re in hell.  It might be different than drug hell or alcohol hell or divorce hell or gang hell, but it is hell.  And it gets harder and harder to push yourself, to get up and try again, to find motivation, to figure out what you’re even doing all of this for.  I know.  I’ve been there.

As God is wont to do, He sent me another piece of this puzzle today in the form of a newsletter from Grace Walk Ministries.  In it, Steve McVey talks about religion and how religion is the systematic dogma of right and wrong.  He discusses the two trees in the garden, which is something I speak on a lot to my Sunday School class.  That although there were two trees, we often overlook the fact that one of those trees has two components.  There was the Tree of Life, and there was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Notice it does not say, “The Tree of Evil.”  No, it is the Knowledge of GOOD and Evil.

Simply put, the second tree is the path of trying to do life yourself.  You push yourself to do good and not evil (or you just do evil).  A lot of Christians live here–trying to be good enough for God.  They work in the church, sign up for every organization, teach Sunday school, sing in the choir, work in the daycare, even pray out of duty because they believe that’s what God expects, and He’s just looking for a reason to toss them from His sight.  They are very busy Christians, and they are stressed out and tired of doing all of this for God.  God becomes hard, cold, and distant because they realize at some point that nothing they do is good enough.

One of the biggest lies of Satan I’m learning is the lie of guilt.  We guilt ourselves into running ourselves into the ground.  That’s what I was doing.

In “Forgiven Forever,” Beam zeros in on the concept of guilt.  He says that guilt is a gift from God, much like physical pain.  If you do not feel physical pain, you will hurt yourself far worse than if you do.  For example, if you put your hand on a hot burner, pain tells you it’s hot and you yank it back.  But what if you didn’t feel that pain?  You could easily severely burn your hand before you realized what was happening.

The same it true of guilt in the spiritual plain.  Guilt tells you, “Something is not right!  You’d better fix it!”

That’s great, but what if you have no way to fix it?  What if you have been taught learned helplessness (Martin Seligman) like a dog that is shocked with no way to get out of the shock.  When that dog is put into a box where all it has to do is jump over a small barrier to not be shocked, the dog instead lays down on the shocking device because it sees no way to get away from it, and IT WON’T EVEN TRY!

Guilt trip Christianity works the same way.  Christians who are convicted of their guilt but have not accepted that they are forgiven or taught they are forgiven by what Jesus did on the cross experience a form of learned helplessness.  Beam calls this being Guilt Caged.  This type of Christian, not understanding how to live on the Tree of Life, will do one of two things–either they will work harder and harder, or they will give up.  Living on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is exhausting and a very helpless, hopeless feeling.

However, living on the Tree of Life is a little scary too because you have to admit it’s not all up to you.  It’s all up to God.  And well, trusting Him can seem to some like shirking their responsibility and to others like losing control.  The Good News is, it’s not your responsibility to save your soul or to even be good (no, that’s not license to go do whatever you want… when you’re really trusting God, you won’t do bad, and doing good will be so much easier!).  Your responsibility is breathing and letting God so permeate your life that He lives for you and through you.  As St. Paul said, “It is not I that live but Christ that lives through me.”  That’s what he meant–I’m living off the Tree of Life, not trying to do it myself but letting God do it through me.

This is my first trip around this topic of guilt and forgiveness, and I know I’ve only scratched the surface, but I wanted to share it with you because I think it is the key to living victoriously instead of just desperately trying to get to a place where you’re not completely miserable.  Let’s face it, guilt trip Christianity is no place for God’s children to live.  Not only does He not want you to live there, He forbade it in the Garden.

Question is, are you still living there anyway?

Just Another Day in Paradise

March 26, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

Sometimes times are good not so much because they are thrilling or exciting or heart stopping.   Sometimes things are good just because they are.

The last week has kind of been like that for me.  Just good.  And I can’t even really say why.

I’ve been cleaning my house for one, and that always makes me feel good… though you probably wouldn’t guess that if you came for a visit.  I can see my kitchen counters (amazing!).  Most of the laundry is done (double amazing!).  I even got some of the bed clothes washed (now THAT’S heart stopping!).

The other day I was putting our bed back together after washing the sheets, and my husband was in the utility room trying to figure out why my washing machine was working so slowly.  I started thinking about this song that was popular a couple years ago.  It’s called, “Just Another Day in Paradise.”  The song is about a couple who are still in love but no longer in the gazing across the room at each other stage.

They are in “life.”  She’s trying to feed the kids and wash the dishes.  He’s trying to fix the washing machine because it’s broken again.  It’s such a slice of life song, and it captures what marriage becomes as life rolls on.

I started reading a book on marriage today, and the author talked about how important marriage is because the root of marriage is love.  Love is what binds us and holds us together even through incredible difficulties.  To many people “love” is that first euphoric feeling you get when you find “the one.”  It’s happiness and kisses and “can’t stand to be apart.”  And it is.  to an extent.

But I think our society so glorifies that stage that people feel cheated and like something is wrong when they get into the real love stage, the lasting love stage, the one that sees you through kids’ earaches and soccer games, job stress and lawn mowing, changing sheets and fixing the washing machine.  All those things are where the majority of life is lived.

When you are with someone you can live through those times and see them as really good times–even if you aren’t being the life of the party and setting the world on fire, I think that’s where real love is.   It’s a lesson we can all learn a little deeper and one that would be very good to pass on to those little minds and hearts watching us too.

A Prayer for Lent

March 24, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

First, you have to understand that my small little Presbyterian church literally sits right across a dead-end street from a Catholic church. We almost share a parking lot. Second, we often have members from that church attend our social events and vice versa. In addition, some of our members regularly attend services over there and some of theirs have actually joined our ranks

Still, centuries old prejudices and misunderstandings mixed with very few real differences keep us the church over there and the church over here. It doesn’t matter which side of the street you sit on when you say that, which in its own special way is more than ironic.

Every now and then, however, I see a break through. I wouldn’t exactly call them ecumenical movements or anything like that, but I continue to pray that some of them are small steps that can begin journeys.

For example, I am excited by a Wednesday night Lenten series on prayer at my tiny, totally imperfect Presbyterian Church. We’re trying to get back to basics, and that includes putting some holiness back into the entire season of Lent. That’s almost a novel concept for Protestants, at least the Protestants I’ve grown up with.

Sure we pay some attention to the final week before Easter, and acknowledge Ash Wednesday, but little else. Lent comes from a Roman Catholic tradition, don’t you know, and they’re the church over there.

Maybe, maybe not.

This year we have held Wednesday night services each week in Lent. We begin with a celebration of the Eucharist, which right there sounds a little Roman for those of us who usually call it Communion. The origin of the word is actually Greek, but never mind. We also have a liturgy that doesn’t vary from week to week and has the distinct feeling of a Mass. Oh my!

Perhaps we should erect barricades in the street so we can stay over here and they can stay over there. Of course, we’ll have to put a gate in the barricades so we can go back and forth for the soup suppers and summer picnics, but that shouldn’t be too hard.

I’m going to say this next part in a whisper, just in case. Many of our studies have included concepts and practices from both Calvin and Catholic orders like the Benedictines. And we have meditated on early Church prayers like the Jesus prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

So far the lightning rods on both our small town churches have done their jobs. Of course, it’s still winter here. There haven’t been many lightning bolts from the sky yet, but I jest. Sort of.

I personally have noticed two things from our daring little experiment.

First, silent prayer and meditation can be extremely powerful. The Holy Spirit can speak to our souls without being interrupted when we’re quiet, and we can hear and feel His  power in our absolute silence.

Second, liturgy can help us focus our attention on God and His purposes, instead of merely closing our eyes and wondering about everything but God. Even if it’s repetitive, it’s repeating the right things, and that alone makes it worthwhile.

All in all, the services have been exciting and rewarding. I have already suggested that we do them all year long, not just during the season of Lent, but my suggestion has been met with curious looks, bordering on slight frowns. After all, that is what the church over there does. We aren’t like them.


Maybe we could both learn something. Wouldn’t that be an answer to prayer?

A Great Writers’ Conference

March 23, 2010

By: Dennis Bates

Welcome the robins, the daffodils and the tulips. They’re sure signs that the dreary Midwestern winter is losing its grip and spring is planning its grand appearance. It’s about time. Welcome also the annual Quad-Cities Christian Writers’ Conference, a concentrated dose of  Midwestern calm and friendliness shot directly into the soul.

Yes, it’s that good.

It isn’t the largest or the most heralded writers’ conference, but it has to be one of the best run and thoroughly enjoyable. Its manageable size and informality allow writers and faculty members to interact which each other and exchange ideas, something I find priceless and well worth my time and money.

Held April 19-20 this year at the Cornerstone Church in Eldridge, Iowa, it features a mixture of keynote presentations, panel discussions and elective workshops all designed to inspire and train writers of everything from fiction to daily devotionals to do whatever they do better. Over the years I have eaten with bestselling authors, serious wannabes like myself and youth pastors. All have been excited to share their experiences and I have never come away from the conference without learning something and having a new experience to build from.

I have no formal connection with the conference. I’ve just been sucked in by all the fun and have taken Conference Director Twila Belk’s personal email tagline to heart. I about what’s going on here. So I am. What else can I say? You don’t have to spend more than a few minutes around Twila to catch her enthusiasm.

This year’s faculty members include Cynthia Ruchti, who besides serving as Assistant Conference Director, also writes books and produces a daily radio broadcast. In her spare time she serves as president of the 2000-member American Christian Fiction Writers and maintains a significant enthusiasm level herself.

Other repeat conference faculty members include Michelle Rayburn, Kathy Carlton Willis and Frank Ball. Rounding out the faculty list are authors and speakers Virginia Smith, Jim Pence, Jim Rubart, Mona Hodgson, Lin Johnson, Larry Leech and Tim Shoemaker.

Quite literally, there is something for everyone who writes or wants to know more about why people do. More details about the speakers, registration for the conference and available nearby accommodations are available at

Eldridge is located near Davenport in eastern Iowa and accessible by car via Interstate 80 or the Quad Cities Airport in Moline, Ill., which is just across the river. This conference works for new writers, seasoned writers, or some of us wallowing in the middle between those two extremes. I recommend it highly.