Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Archive for March, 2008

What Does “Aloha” Mean?

img_0658.jpgWhat does “Aloha” mean?  According to To-Hawaii.com, “aloha” can mean hello, goodbye, love and affection.  But its meaning goes well beyond any definition you can find in dictionaries.  In Hawaii, you hear aloha all the time and you are treated with aloha everywhere.  (Hawaii is called the Aloha State, and for good reason.)  Aloha express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii’s people.  It was the working philosophy of Native Hawaiians; they felt it was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaii by one of their ancient gods.

The literal meaning of aloha is “the presence of breath” or “the breath of life.”  (It’s interesting that in the Bible, in the book of Genesis, when God created Adam He “breathed into him the breath of life,” and Adam “became a living being.”)  The word “aloha” comes from “Alo,” meaning presence, front and face, and “ha,” meaning breath.  

According to the old kahunas (priests), being able to live the Spirit of Aloha was a way of sending and receiving positive energy, or living in harmony.  Aloha was and still is a way of living and treating each other with love and respect.  

Inspired by the philosophy and the wisdom of the Spirit of Aloha, nowadays many institutions and businesses in Hawaii carry its name:  Aloha Tower, Aloha Stadium and Aloha Airlines.  Many Hawaiian singers write and perform songs about aloha as well.

 

Believe it or not, Aloha Spirit is considered a state “law.”  Although the word law sounds too strong and strict, Aloha Spirit is not a type of law that will get you in trouble if you break it.  Having “the Law of Aloha Spirit” on the books serves as a reminder to government officials (while they perform their duties) to treat people with deep care and respect, just like their ancestors did.   Aloha Spirit is more a lesson than a law.   By learning and applying this lesson to real life, government officials can contribute to a better world, a world filled with aloha.

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So by now you may understand that “Aloha” is more than a word of greeting or farewell, or a salutation.  Aloha means mutual regard and affection, and is a reminder to extend warmth and caring for others with no obligation (payback) in return.  Furthermore, aloha is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person.

Queen Lili‘uokalani said, “Aloha is to learn what is not said, to see what cannot be seen, and to know the unknowable.”

I greet you in the Spirit of Aloha, and pray that you will discover the “breath of life” found in the Person of Jesus Christ. [Both pictures by Lowell Qualls, Maui – 2008 (c)] 

St. Bernard Ain’t No Dog!

st-bernard.jpgBernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the charismatic Catholic abbot of 12th Century France, is credited with inspiring the domestication of a breed of dog that would emulate his loving personality – the St. Bernard.  The abbot was such a lover of men and God that his influence on human history is considered extraordinary.  He wasn’t perfect by any means, confessing later in life that he was immeasurably wrong in preaching the necessity of the Second Crusade – a war that had disastrous consequences still being felt today, but such was his influence.

 

John Michael Talbot, in The Way of the Mystics (with Steve Rabey; San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2005), wrote that Bernard often “condemned churches that were too big, too wealthy, and decorated too elaborately.”  On one occasion the abbot wrote:  “I will overlook the immense heights of places of prayer, their immoderate lengths, their superfluous widths, the costly refinements, and the painstaking representations which deflect the attention … and thus hinder devotion … I, however, say, ‘Tell me, poor man, if indeed you are poor men, what is gold doing in the holy place.’”

If Bernard had lived in my day, he would have fit right in with the rest of us living out the “Jesus Movement” of the late 60s and early 70s.  He would have been a hero.

I would want to be known and then remembered as a man who loved men and God.  I would rather be known as a lover than a preacher or a holy man.  I would rather share the sweet honey of God’s love than the vinegar so many associate with the purveyors of “the good news” (which sounds more like bad news in the ears of many).

St. Bernard wrote on another occasion about “spiritual maturity” (and again I quote Talbot), that quality of life that we Christ-followers are supposed to be aspiring to.  He was describing spiritual maturity by contrasting reservoirs and canals.  He said it “would be best if people resembled reservoirs, opening their souls to be filled with God’s spirit and then allowing the overflow to empower their ministry to others.  But instead, too many people resemble canals.  The water of the Holy Spirit flows through their lives, but it disappears as soon as it arrives.  ‘The want to pour it forth before they have been filled.  They are more ready to speak than to listen, impatient to teach what they have not grasped, and full of presumption to govern others while they know not how to govern themselves.’”

“And unlike vinegar-stlyle preachers who try to keep people in line with threats of fire and brimstone, Bernard believed divine love could inspire ever-deeper devotion.”

I don’t think LOVE is so weak, so non-confrontational, or so flexible or adaptable that the lover holds nothing precious, and avoids holding to principles that might offend some.  I say that because Jesus was the consummate Lover, and yet He never shied away from sharing His thoughts about politics and politicians (see His reference to Herod, “that fox”), or religious bigots (the “hypocrites” and “snakes” that consistently opposed His ministry to those they thought unworthy of God’s love, acceptance and forgiveness).  On the contrary, I believe that LOVE is, first and foremost, when it is its most powerful and most influential, having as its object God, and then Man.  And because the Lover of God loves God’s ways, His thoughts and His take on life, such a Lover will take a stand for God.

But, here’s the rub.  Many (and some most of the) times, God’s ways/thoughts/etc., are opposed to our ways, thoughts, etc.  Hmmm.  What’s a Lover to do?  Be quiet?  Be sarcastic and vinegary?  Or be brave, wise, and always LOVING of humankind, those wonderful creatures made in “God’s Image?”

Think about it.

Resurrection On Maui

maui-sunset-small.jpg Joy!

This morning I was in the ohana (a Hawaiian name for “family room”) getting a cup of coffee, this cozy and welcoming little room being located close to our condominium.   Every morning Rick – our host – makes Kona.  The smell of the coffee was wonderful, deep and rich.

A minute or two later I was returning to our place, walking past the pool, and just luxuriating in the warm, fragrant air, listening to the Mina birds chirping and turtle doves cooing.  The sun was just peeking over the West Maui mountains, causing the clouds to glow light yellows and oranges.  Almost heaven.

A man I had never met came up the path leading to the ohana, heading for the coffee pot I had just left, and he greeted me.  “Happy Easter.”  I replied, “He is risen!”

I’m back in our place, sitting on our lanai, and my son just pointed toward the ocean.  “Rainbow,” was all he said.

This joy that is welling up within me is so pleasurable, so intense.  And I wonder, “Why do we concentrate so much on the problem of pain, and never wrestle with the problem of pleasure?” 

Philip Yancey asks, “If atheists insist there is no God because of all the pain and suffering in this world, why aren’t they held accountable for the ‘problem of pleasure?’” 

“Should not atheists have an equal obligation to explain the origin of pleasure in a world of randomness and meaninglessness?” he writes, meaning that if Christians must defend the existence of God because there are so many painful experiences in life, shouldn’t atheists have to defend their beliefs because there are so many pleasurable experiences, too?

Why is sex fun?  “Reproduction surely doesn’t require pleasure,” Yancey goes on.  “Some animals simply split in half to reproduce … and … why is eating enjoyable?  Plants and animals manage to obtain their quota of nutrients without the luxury of taste buds.  Why are there colors?”  All good questions.

Back to Easter morning on Maui.  As I look around, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the earth itself puts God’s creative genius on display,” says David, the song writer of ancient Israel. (Psalm 19)  I get to enjoy all that I see and taste and feel because there is a God in heaven who created me to enjoy creation.

I’m a happy camper, and a joy-filled human being today!

Jesus is risen indeed.

Think about it.

(By the way, I took the picture above last night … looking out of the Pacific, toward Lanai.  Wow!)

The Spiritual Journey – Belief

Sheldon Vanauken wrote that when he and his wife were studying at Oxford they were rubbing shoulders with “nuclear physicists, historians, and able scholars in other fields.”  What struck them was that these fellow scholars “believed” in Christ, and for that reason “… we must, at least, weigh it (Christianity) very seriously.”  Both he and his wife had assumed that anyone who took Christianity as true must be ignorant, but these brilliant souls who had put their faith in Jesus were anything but ignorant.

Soon the Vanaukens arrived at this conclusion:  “Christianity was a faith.”

“By now,” Sheldon wrote,” we knew that it was important.  If true – and we admitted to each other the possibility that it was – it was, very simply, the only really important truth in the world.  And if untrue, it was false.  No halfway house.  First or nothing.  I wrote (to C. S. Lewis), ‘It is not possible to be “incidentally a Christian.”  The fact of Christianity must be overwhelmingly first or nothing.  This suggests a reason for the dislike of Christians by nominal or non-Christians:  their lives contain no overwhelming firsts but many balances.’”

Once someone believes that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God, that belief must translate into a living faith – faith being the expression of belief in hard, practical terms.  The Bible says, “Faith without action is meaningless, or dead.”

True.  Faith is belief becoming actionable, and expressed through a changed life.

Think about it.

The Spiritual Journey – Rationale

One of my favorite books is A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 1977).  This former atheist wrote:

“The best argument for Christianity is Christians:  their joy, their certainty, their completeness.  But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians – when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.  But, though it is just to condemn some Christians for these things, perhaps, after all, it is not just, though very easy, to condemn Christianity itself for them.  Indeed, there are impressive indications that the positive quality of joy is in Christianity – and possibly nowhere else.  If that were certain, it would be proof of a very high order.” (page 85)

I will put it another way.  The reason many people do not believe that Christianity is true is because so many Christians are false.  There are people in this world who claim to be Christians, and call themselves Christians because they attend church … or because they might pastor a church. 

I am in no position to say who is and who isn’t a Christian … that is, a true follower of Jesus Christ.  I don’t know what is in anyone’s heart … not even my own, at times.

But I would like to offer up for discussion what I believe a true Christ-follower looks and sounds like, hoping my thoughts will lend something positive to the current debate about the impact of religion in the marketplace of human ideas and human institutions.

At this time I will not offer up a defense for the existence of God.  And at this time I will pose that Jesus Christ was not a liar or a lunatic; that He was who He claimed to be.  That is my starting point.

For one thing, I think a Christ-follower is rational.  To follow anyone, even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, blindly or carelessly or ignorantly is nothing short of ludicrous.  It is also dangerous.  That kind of followership invites cultist results.  God, the most supreme and extreme Intellect in the Universe, would not expect, much less demand, such a followership.  Committing intellectual suicide in order to “believe” in Him was never part of the deal.  In fact, Jesus Himself invited honest inquiry.  He entered into conversation with the intellectuals of His day, and challenged them with His claims.

Think about that.

Dallas-Fort Worth Airport – Tornados Cancel Flights

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ANABELLE GARAY, an Associated Press Writer, made this report (© 2008 The Associated Press):

DALLAS — A series of storms packing strong winds and heavy rains hit North Texas on Tuesday, grounding hundreds of flights, forcing an airport control tower to evacuate briefly and sending floodwaters spilling into Dallas-area streets.  Winds of more than 100 mph briefly were reported at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where lightning struck a ramp earlier Tuesday.  Airport officials said the strongest winds occurred in microbursts and caused no damage.  More than half of the 950 flights for all airlines scheduled to depart DFW on Tuesday were canceled, airport officials said.  More than 100 incoming flights were diverted.

“This is one of the most vicious thunderstorms DFW has seen in quite some time, especially its ongoing intensity,” said airport spokesman Ken Capps.  “We know it can be frustrating for passengers, but everyone’s top priority is their safety.”

It’s unclear how many travelers were affected by the cancellations, but airport officials estimate about 160,000 passengers pass through DFW each day.

Federal Aviation Administration officials evacuated DFW’s west tower for about 15 minutes after seeing a funnel cloud over a highway.  A funnel cloud was also spotted over Lake Lewisville, just north of the airport.

South Dallas had around 4 1/2 to 5 inches of rain by late afternoon, said Ted Ryan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

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I was on one of those “100 incoming flights” that was diverted away from the dangerous storms that struck the Dallas/Fort Worth area today.  American Airlines flight 343 out of Richmond, Virginia, ended up going to Houston instead of Dallas, and we – the passengers and me – stayed in Houston for six hours before finally arriving at our intended destination.  I missed my connecting flight.img_0537.jpg

Big deal!

Being safe was a lot more important than being on time today.  For me, I think I had my priorities straight in my own mind.  And while sleeping on a cot in DFW International is not as comfortable as my own bed, I’

d much rather be on a cot than in a body bag.  Perspective.

There were a few boneheads complaining about the weather, and cancelled flights … but very, very few.  Most of the people (99.99%) that ended up at DFW this evening didn’t make life miserable for themselves and others.  And I’

m choosing not to focus on that .01% that make you scratch your head and wonder where they were when common sense img_0532.jpgwas being handed out.

As I lay my head down tonight in Terminal D – DFW, I’m reminded of this Psalm:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 

He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.  (Psalm 91, NIV, selected verses)

Thank You, God, for protecting me today.

Pray for Eliot Spitzer

12spitzer_600.jpgEliot Spitzer, 48, the Democratic governor of New York, a married father of three teenage daughters, and “Client #9” in a prostitution ring, made clear that his political career is over.  He is quitting as governor effective Monday.

“In the past few days, I’ve begun to atone for my private failings to my wife, Silda, my children and my entire family,” he said.  “The remorse I feel will always be with me.”

Let’s no throw stones, but pray for Spitzer instead!  “There, but for the grace of God …”

His wife and girls need our prayers, too. 

(Photo by Narayan Mahon for The New York Times)

Money and Power – Power and Money

teens-smiling.jpgFrom the Washington Post this morning:

CHICAGO — At least one in four teenage girls in the United States has a sexually transmitted disease, suggests a first-of-its-kind federal study that startled some adolescent-health experts.

The overall STD rate among the 838 girls in the study was 26 percent, researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/) found. They released the results at a Tuesday conference.

Disease rates were significantly higher among black girls — nearly half had at least one STD, vs. 20 percent among both whites and Mexican Americans.

Some doctors said the numbers might be a reflection of both abstinence-only sex education and the teenagers’ own sense of invulnerability.  Because some sexually transmitted infections can cause infertility and cancer, U.S. health officials called for better screening, vaccination and prevention.

Only about half of the girls in the study acknowledged having sex.

 

Now … let me get this straight.  If a girl practices abstinence, then she has a 26% chance of contracting an STD?

I know that’s not what the article is saying.  What it is saying is that abstinence-based sex education sets a girl up for failure because (1) she won’t have protection (condom) or be on the pill when she’s out on a date, and (2) even though she might hope to avoid sex – wishing to wait until marriage – having sex is unavoidable because no girl can just say, “No.”  Intercourse is inevitable according to abstinence opponents.

I served on the Chesterfield County (Virginia) Community Involvement Team for Family Life Education curriculum development in the early 90’s.  The CIT was heavily weighted with Chesterfield County school system representatives, and along with a powerful ally they fought with all their might to keep abstinence-based information from students.  They didn’t even want abstinence to be mentioned as an option, much less promoted as a viable alternative to “safe sex.”

Their ally?  The Virginia division of Planned Parenthood.  The chairman of VPP, Ben Greenberg, sat on our CIT. 

No vested interest there, right?

Planned Parenthood will say that their motives for engaging in Family Life Education in our school systems are all noble.  They will say they want to provide information to teenagers so that they will NOT get pregnant.  They are proponents of the philosophy that all teenagers and twenty-somethings will have sex at some point in their pre-marriage, adolescent life.  They say they just want our young people to be “safe” from an STD or they want our kids to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.  PP will advocate that these young people should be adequately “protected” from the consequences of the choice to be sexually active.

Researching for this blog, I went to the Chesterfield County Health and P.E. instruction web link and discovered that the FLE “opt out” and instructional guidelines PDF file for Family Life Education no longer exists.  Why?  Why is it so hard for a parent to opt their child out of FLE?  Just asking.

Planned Parenthood has a vested interest – a HUGE financial stake – in making sex-before-marriage appear safe.  They get multi-million dollar subsidies from manufacturers of birth control pills.  They are supported by a wide range of politically liberal entities because it serves the social agenda (read “power base”) of such entities.  It’s all about power and money folks!  Making sex-before-marriage attractive serves a twisted end – to stay politically powerful because money follows power.

That Planned Parenthood is the leading provider of surgical abortions in America also smacks of questionable motives for providing information on “safe sex” because there’s really such thing as completely safe sex.  Completely “safe sex” requires abstaining from sex.  Abstaining means no STDs, and no unwanted pregnancy.  

I googled “Planned Parenthood” on Dogpile (http://www.dogpile.com/) and up came “Need An Abortion?”  Hmm.

Abstinence is not being fairly debated today in the public square because “choice” advocates refuse to do so.  People in the American media (Rush Limbaugh’s “drive-by mainstream media”) long ago bought into the liberal “sexual freedom” agenda because they, too, believe their power to shape our society and culture would be at risk were they not to.  Hollywood has a vested interest in seeing that sexual promiscuity sells, too.  Look at the “video-on-demand” offerings on cable and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s all about promoting “Porky’s” (1982) all the way to “Good Luck Chuck” (2007).  It can’t be about art, can it?  No.  It’s about money … and money buys power … and power buys money.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases?  Liberals and their allies see STDs as the unfortunate but acceptable consequence for holding on to power.  So, if 26 out of 100 girls get the clap/gonorrhea/syphilis/HIV/genital herpes or warts, so be it.  (Liberals can’t sell their ideas of how our culture should look in the public square except by deception.  So, on school campuses of every ilk, from public school [elementary, middle, and high schools] to university campuses, dishonest and power/tenure-driven people spread the lie of “safe sex.”)

Money and power.  Power and money.

The Spirituality of Imperfection #2

Lowell @ Keyboard img_0525.jpg     In a section of the book, The Spirituality of Imperfection, the authors explain that spirituality is NOT religion.  Kurtz and Ketcham acknowledge that “… some people equate the two, assuming that only religious people can lay claim to the title ‘spiritual.’”

Here are a few of my observations with regard to spiritual and religious people. 

I’ve noticed that religious people tend to lead ordered lives (the order coming either from within – intrinsic, or from without – extrinsic), and are comfortable with boundaries, doctrine, dogma and precision. 

On the other hand, I’ve seen that “spiritual” people tend to be flexible and accepting, … and … prideful because they are so accepting (with tolerance being a sacred word).  (Hmmm.  Unfortunately, their tolerance doesn’t extend to the religious because spiritual people consider themselves to be “believers,” and they are comfortable with the idea that it’s not important what you believe as long as you believe something.  To them, religious people are narrow and judgmental.  Yuck.)

In my opinion, both groups are “imperfect.” 

I think the biggest weakness of the religious crowd is a certain severity (that can become meanness) that comes from their felt-obligation to “guard the truth.” 

I believe the biggest weakness of the spiritual is gullibility, and a predisposition to deception.

Jesus says to the religious man or woman, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21).”  To this day, hypocrites and legalists drive Him up the wall!

But Jesus would say to the “spiritual” person, “… many will come in My name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many,” “… and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people,” … and false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible (Matthew 24:5, 11, and 24).”

Jesus was as concerned about deception as He was hypocrisy.

And so I beg the question, “Does a deceived person know they are deceived?” 

The Apostle Paul wrote, “ Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient (Ephesians 5:6), and “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments (Colossians 2:14).”

Anyone care to comment on which group – the religious or the spiritual – are the most in danger, and/or in the most danger?

Think about it.  With love.

What Do Prostitutes, Policemen, Painters, Pastors and P-Taxi Drivers Have In Common?

images.jpegWhat Do Prostitutes, Policemen, Painters, Pastors and P-Taxi Drivers Have In Common?  What a weird question.

I was talking to a car salesman not too long ago, and he asked me if I had ever heard of “The Four P’s,” and I said, “No.”  He told me that the four P’s stood for prostitutes, policemen, painters and pastors.  Then he added, “And really, if the truth be known, there’s actually five P’s … p-taxi drivers.”  I told him I was stumped but that I was really curious because I’m one of the Four P’s.  I’m a retired pastor now called to another ministry.  I’ve become a writer, blogger, ministry consultant, and speaker, but just two years ago I was in my thirty-fourth year of pastoral ministry.  I’m now fifty-four.

prostitute.jpgHe said, “Those are the people that car salesmen don’t hate to see come into a dealership … but when they do come in red flags go up because, on average, those five people-groups have the worst credit. 

My friend explained that, generally speaking, each person in those groups tended to live way too close to the precipice of financial ruin.  When it came to spending the usual MO was to max out credit cards and home equity loans in order to have what they want, when they want it. 

I was intrigued.  He went on to say that usually their paychecks (or in the case of prostitutes, their earnings) were spent on luxuries they couldn’t afford – for example, things like plasma TV’s, expensive cars, fancy clothes, and dining at expensive restaurants.  When they should have been paying down debt they were in a new car dealership.  These folks tended to delay, delay, delay paying creditors until the last minute or beyond, or they’d just pay “the minimum payment.”  Before they knew it, they’d be so far over their heads in debt that they’d begin to sink under its weight.

My question was, “So … what are they doing at a dealership?”

With a frown he replied, “I guess they’re coming in to keep up appearances, keep up with the Joneses, or satisfy a lust for ‘more’.”I’m not blogging to be mean, throw stones, or appear to be “holier than thou.”  I’m in no position to judge anyone.  But I feel I just speak up.  I’m hoping that some pastors will get this message. 

You see, what this salesman had shared was relevant to me.  Until I was forty-one years old, and I had been pastoring for twenty years, I constantly wrestled with credit card debt, and living beyond my means.  It wasn’t until what Jesus demanded of anyone following Him sunk in that I began the arduous process of breaking bad spending habits, and working toward being debt-free.  My heart had to change.

Jesus said in Mark 8:34-36, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  (This is found in the New Testament portion of the Bible.)

Think about it.

If you’re a Christ-follower, and you’re trying to live beyond your means, you might want to change directions … sooner rather than later.

With love!