Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Making a Difference

Several days ago I was reading an editorial by Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times. He was writing about the recent demonstrations and upheaval in Lebanon subsequent to the death of Rafik Hariri. One of the quotes used in his piece struck a chord with me. Speaking of the recent social unrest, he quoted Lebanese political analyst Nawaf Salam describing the revolution as "...not yet victory, but for the first time in a very long time, people are feeling, 'I can make change.' And there is a real sense of fraternity and unity."

Strangely enough, the last part of this sentiment reminds me of something I have tremendously appreciated about my experience as a young adult in the Church of God: the chance to contribute, and a sense of belonging. When Mr. Salam says "making change", I interpret that as the ability to be involved. To feel like you've given something of yourself, to make a difference, to play a part, however small, on the stage of events that shape the world as you know it. I'm thankful that we have many opportunities in the Church to play a part, however small, on the stage that matters most in our lives.

For me that does bring a "sense of fraternity and unity" that I think would be otherwise unachievable. Because of programs like camp, friendships across the country, and opportunities to serve and be involved locally, I feel like I'm a part of something much bigger than myself. I feel like I belong. Thinking about these blessings makes me wish that the Lebanese about whom Mr. Salam writes could experience them too. How long will the sense of solidarity from sharing space in the streets with hundreds of thousands of their countrymen last? What will follow for them, we all wonder? Something better? Worse? Either way, how long will it last?

Even though I can read all about events like this every day in the news, I can't possibly fathom what it would be like to live it. Even so, seeing it makes me thankful for my country, my Church, and for the chance to be a part of a group like this, with like-minded men sharing their lives and playing their parts, however small. It also makes me hope for the time in the future when the crowds in the streets halfway across the world, many of them probably about my age, will have the same opportunities to really make a difference, and for fraternity and unity that will last ... then it really will be a victory.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


I grew up in home where sometimes alcohol was overly consumed. Those who have grown up in the same environment know exactly what I am saying. I won’t go too deep into this right now. Many believe we inherit a gene that can make us alcoholic. Others feel it is an environmental matter. I know this, I could develop an alcohol problem just like anyone else. I am subject to the many pulls and stresses that cause some to go to the bottle as a crutch or an escape from real life. So I watch it carefully.

I have always enjoyed a drink. A glass of wine with dinner or a cold beer on a hot summer day seems to fit. When I am with friends a pint of lager or a dram of scotch adds to the experience and rounds off good conversation. I enjoy a good bourbon. A couple of years ago at the feast in Lexington a group of us visited the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky and met Jimmy Russell, the Master Distiller. It was ten years ago I was introduced to the pleasures of single malt scotch while visiting a friend in Boston.

It might seem strange that a minister would be hosting a group of men in his home for a scotch tasting. It shouldn’t. Even though many fundamentalist religions equate alcoholism with sin because of the huge cost in human dignity and worth, we know the Bible does not forbid the moderate use of alcohol as part of life and even worship. We drink a cup of wine each year to symbolize the shed blood of Christ for our sins. When we use alcohol as food or for enjoyment and pleasure we are taking part in something God created for use as a normal part of life. This is something God intended.

This Saturday night we have an opportunity to come together as friends, enjoy a meal, fellowship and taste the classic single malts of Scotland. Through the video we’ll learn how it is made and why each malt reflects the region in which it is made. We’ll swirl and sniff and quaff a few drams of good scotch. But why do this beyond the obvious? There is a larger reason. It is to learn respect for something so grand and potentially so destructive.

A few months ago I read an article in Men’s Journal. The writer had made a pilgrimage to Lynchburg, Tennessee to visit the Jack Daniels distillery. He was a life long drinker, sometimes to excess, of this good sour mash. He toured the grounds and learned how the whiskey is made. He visited with the master distiller, Jimmy Bedford. Seems Jimmy is a necessary name for master distillers. He asked Jimmy how he squared making whiskey with the knowledge that many people abuse the product and wreck their lives, and that of many others? Jimmy replied, “Well, I just say I make something that is shipped around the world and enjoyed. Whatever you do in life you have to be respectful”.

Respectful. That is the key thought. We have to be respectful of alcohol. Respect it’s potential to both enhance and destroy life.

If we take that approach we can go through life in control, and that is a pretty important thing. More than that, we can also pass on an example and a legacy to our children.

The author concluded his piece this way. “My son Zack is only 14, but I would like him to someday be a part of the things I feel, to drink whiskey with me, as a man, as a bond. It would be a gift from generation to generation”.

May the glow we share on this night be one worthy to pass on.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The House of Mourning...

This past Friday I had the always sobering experience of attending a funeral viewing, for a friend who passed away prematurely in this instance. His name was David Ratts, and he was my undergraduate academic advisor in the School of Informatics. I don't think I've ever had a more energetic, caring and helpful counselor at school; unfortunately he was several years from reaching his allotted years when he died at 56 last week.

One of the things that struck me was the breadth of his accomplishments in the arts before his work with the school. When I read his obituary it was clear that he had a life full of accomplishment and achievement, yet when his time came, it just came, as with all other men.

On the day I went to his viewing I thought of Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 and what it means:

"A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one's birth; Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

These verses are probably more difficult to understand for a younger person, but they certainly mean more to me now than they did five years ago. I'm really thankful that what believe gives us the ability to cast death, even a premature one such as this, in a light of hope and promise rather than in despair and hopelessness. My friends death and the verses in Ecclesiastes make me enjoy and appreciate life that much more, by being reminded that you never really know how long you'll have it.

I found this quote from Mark Twain at a site I stumbled onto and have really enjoyed, it's called Quote Garden: "The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time." I don't think you could say it much better... hopefully that's they way we can all feel when we've "finished our race".

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Cultural Views on Drinking

Mr. McNeely mentioned in his e-mail regarding the Taste of Scotland outing that he planned to write and talk about responsible drinking in conjunction with the event. I thought I'd pass on a couple of interesting articles that I read recently on the topic of alcohol use in Britain.

The first article is from the British news magazine The Economist. You have to pay to view the article on-line but I'd be glad to pass on my print copy to anyone interested. The article addressed drinking as one of the largest societal problems facing Britons, primarily at the hours when the pubs shut down.

Ironically enough, the government has been thinking of addressing this issue by liberalizing the current licensing laws and removing any restrictions on when alcohol can be sold. The theory is, if there is no set time when pubs have to close, it will ease the problem of turning masses of imbiber's out onto the streets at the same time following last call. Apparently there have been incidents where patrons have skirmished over taxis and the like, not to mention the ones who are driving... the article was subtitled "Vikings in the Piazza".

The second article is the latest UCG commentary from the Church's web site; Mr. Peter Hawkins, a UCG pastor in England, writes about the problem of binge drinking in European culture. It's very interesting, and talks about the progression from social drinking, where many begin, to full out alcoholism. Here's a link to the commentary:


As a final comment, I learned something interesting in one of my classes a couple of weeks ago. The class is called Digital Media and Pop Culture, and it explores the origins and societal impact of electronic media such as television and video games. In this class the teacher was discussing the very early history of what eventually led to the movie industry; at that time period in society (1890-1910), American cities were vastly increasing in size due to large numbers of European immigrants.

Many who lived within the cities were working whatever jobs were available, and many of those required very taxing and strenuous labor for 12 to 14 hours per day. In this environment, he said that most folks were looking for "pockets of ready-made instant gratification" to serve as entertainment and stress relief in lives otherwise filled with hard work and scrapping for a living. Interestingly, he mentioned as a side-note that in that environment, the major past-time of many was ... you guessed it: drinking.

In our current culture where long hours and hard, stressful weeks have once again become the norm, it would be interesting to know how much drinking has revived as a national pastime...

Friday, January 07, 2005

And a Cheer Goes Up

The disasters of recent weeks and months - War, Tsunami, Starvation and Suffering on global scale has no doubt brought many of us to the point of asking, "Where is God in all this?" For many, God never comes to their mind, unless it's in the form of vulgarity. For others, God occupies recesses of bias so thick that not even He can believe the anaroebic nature of its environment. Still, others have voiced their belief that this is God's judgment on a sinful world.

There is no doubt our society (the world we live in) is a sinful, wasteland - of which even Sodom & Gohmorrah would be embarassed and is seemingly sliding into a finality of moral oblivion. And few sane individuals will argue against the existance of a Superior Force - whether they will refer to God as being that Force, or not. But all continue to ask the question, "Where is God - if He/She is so benevolent and kind? How could He allow such unimaginable pain and suffering; and upon such impoverished peoples?"

Students of the Bible comb the scriptures with incredible scrutiny in an attempt to get a glimpse into God's own personal calendar for events. And, to date, no one - despite many attempts otherwise - has been able to, break-the-code, unravel-the-knot, reconstruct-the-timeline - or whatever word-picture you wish to employ - the WHEN element of events prophecied and promoted within the pages of the Bible.

Some promote the 'knowing of such' is not in man's power; others believe such knowledge is only for a 'select few'; and those who believe God and the Bible are 'works of fiction', just sneer at anyone who would be so 'unsophisticated' to believe the 'mythology'. Yet, all seem to ignore the obvious - stated in the very words of God, Jesus the Christ - the very Son of God: a rather 'direct link to the "know" ', in Matthew 24:36, (NKJV)

"But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only".

Why then are we so curious - even in the face of an obvious pronouncement telling us we cannot know what so many so desperately seek? Why then do so many continue the search?

I recently read a passage that just struck me as a very good 'word picture' for both WHY we seek and WHY we should not worry about being unable to know it. In fact, we should be thankful that we cannot know it.

In his third book, Fishing Lessons: Insights, Fun, and Philosophy from a Passionate Angler,
nationally known psychologist and award-winning writer, Paul Quinnett brings to us - a lesson from his observations while fishing - that paints a surprisingly clear picture - that offers a very simple answer, without bias or intent, this very quandary.
"Here were millions of dollars' worth of boats and tackle and guide fees at work in the estuary, and yet the salmon swam under us and past us and beyond us to the river's mouth, ignoring our offerings while taking one last herring in a final feast before mating and dying.

I mused to myself that while man has mastered the day and the hour of the salmon's return, and even the very stream a given salmon will climb to spawn, there remain these wonderful limits to our knowldege and skill, these knotted mysteries we have yet to untie. So long as we angle for sport alone, it is good that the fishes can still humble us.

Then I saw the eagle.

Others saw it too.

People in the boats near us craned their necks, pointing upward. Some stopped fishing to watch.

The eagle turned slowly in the sky.

The eagle turned slowly in the sky.

Then, suddenly, it folded its wings and dove.

Then it rose up again, a bright-silver salmon shivering in its talons.

From across the vast fleet, a great cheer went up."

It is interesting that Christ gathered most of those men who became the Apostles, from the fishing profession. He even told them all they would be, "... fishers of men...". So, maybe we should take a que from the words of Dr. Quinnett and note that even IF we DID, "... know the day and hour..." we'd still be lacking the proper 'lure' to attract the prize we seek. And yet, if we follow the simple principle of, 'let go and let God', we then allow God's plan to work ... as He planned it: not as we want it. Then, just as the eagle was able to catch - in the midst of all the 'knowledge' - what all the humans sought without success - we, too will be rewarded with a miraculous front-row observation/participation seat to the ultimate... "Cheer that Goes Up".

Uncle Garth