How Big is the Number 315,000,000?

Thoughts on Mass Killings, Immigration, Sheep, and Bead Stores (I can string those things together!)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s population clock, the number of resident people in our country is right now just shy of 315 million. One person is born every eight seconds, though one dies every 12 seconds. Add an international migrant coming every 46 seconds, and the net gain is four people every minute of the day.

So, my question is: How big is the number 315,000,000?  Let me give you a bite-sized way of getting a grip on that number by the use of an illustration I’ve thought of in recent years.

Those of you who know our family well know that we own a beads jewelry craft store business in Mechanicsburg, PA that my wife manages. It is part of the franchise of such stores begun by our son and his wife – Potomac Bead Company – with locations in 12 different places in several states and Scotland.DSC_0074_01

Most years, I only ever see our store once – on New Year’s Day – the day when business people everywhere take inventory. Yep – inventory in a bead store! Instead of choosing to sell something like cars or refrigerators, my family sells little things – millions of them to be exact.

When you walk into our store, you are overwhelmed with a sea of colors flooding your eyes. I have always enjoyed the exclamations that come out of the mouths of people who walk in for the first time! The colors come from strands of thousands upon thousands, nay, millions of beads of all colors, materials, shapes, and sizes. The choices are so vast that it sometimes leaves folks with a paralysis of analysis as to what to choose to make something beautiful.

Most of the product is sold in strands of, say, 25-75 beads of the same material strung and hung on the wall. But there are tubes with hundreds of tiny little beads called “seed beads” that are also available. Pretty much anything you can put a hole through and hang on your person is available.

One year recently while doing New Year’s inventory, I did some math by estimation of how many beads were in the store – counting everything … strands, tubes, etc. – and I believe a good round number is about 6 million.

Now consider this:  It would take 52 stores the size of ours to represent the number of people that there are in the USA. Now imagine this:  Picture those 52 stores all on the same city block. Let it be known that in that mix of beads, every so often, one of them was going to be totally toxic to a wearer. How would you find which one it is … or which ones out of the millions were potentially harmful?

That is what it is like trying to figure out who is going to be the next killer in a school or mall.

I don’t see a solution that is an assured fix. It is a problem about 30 times worse than dealing with illegal immigrants. Saying that guns should be eliminated is about 30x more difficult than saying that all illegals should just be deported. Right … just do it. Actually, I probably exaggerated. It is only about 20x more difficult given the estimated number of guns in the country.  But you get the picture.

If we take the problem back to its most central core, the issue is one of sin and evil that exists in the world. We are all terminally affected by it physically. And through faith in the work of Christ, we are spiritually saved for eternity. Yet in this world we are hampered by its continuous presence and expressions, affecting us all in varied degrees, and affecting some in such extensive amount as to yield catastrophic consequences in their lives and the lives of others.

The spiritual issue is one of separation – especially from God and the perfect relationship we were meant to have with Him. That separation, that loneliness, that sense of loss and isolation … is felt more particularly by some people over others. We know that the world abounds with people who, while still having no eternal fix for their separation from God, have rather successfully compensated for it by filling their lives with all manner of temporary fixes and pleasures.

Yet there is another smaller population who never gets a fix of any sort … not spiritually, and not even temporarily here in this world. Due to one of a variety of reasons – many related to mental illness, which is a very real and pervasive problem – they do not fit in. Their daily lives are hour-to-hour reminders that they are isolated from what appears at least to them to be a normal life of relational happiness.

As a coach in a public high school, I see some of these people every day. For some reason, they don’t fit – be it physical defects of size or appearance, social awkwardness and insecurities, the gaping wounds of family dysfunction, or the effects of mental illness or some debilitating condition – they walk through the halls alone and in a sort of daze. This school experience is not fun; it is a daily hell on earth. Some days mocked; many days ignored; all days miserable.

So, for that one bead out of 315 million who has had enough of the pain of life; and when the combination of evil, pain, and mental illness combines into a stew of anger and frustration that overflows, what becomes a prime target for that outrage?  A school fits well at the top of a short list of such … as would a mall, certain work places, or other public places of gatherings of people – such as even a church.

So how to fix or prevent this? Well, only God can (and will) ultimately fix the basic root cause. Until then, removing guns from society or eliminating the tools or places of the expression of this anger appears wrongly directed in my view. It seems to me the need is to help people – seeking to reach to those who are most disenfranchised. Now, this argument could immediately be used to argue for more funding to promote mental health and social welfare programs … and yes, I’m one of those conservative Republican types who is a skeptic about fixing things by merely throwing more money at it. I recognize these programs have a cost, and I honor those who give their lives fully to work in such difficult fields of endeavor as mental health and social services.

My rant here is to direct the consideration of any reading it to a personal involvement where you are with those you know who fit into varied disenfranchised profiles. If you don’t know anyone like that, you must really be isolated. I certainly see them in school and have had them on my teams … but I can tell you that they are around churches too. They are everywhere. And though my job does indeed, yes, lend toward my responsibilities being involved with bolstering, encouraging, and discipling hurting people, I choose beyond it to have a handful of folks with whom I’m frequently engaged – people who are not especially lovely in their current composition, but who need human connection and encouragement.

Within the context of the church family, this is our primary duty of ministry. And just beyond the walls of our church, reaching lost people becomes the primary strategy. And down to the level of our individual lives, it is the expression of Christ within us: the Christ-like way of doing as he did, illustrated by the parable of the shepherd with the lost sheep … illustrated as well by the hosts of occasions where Christ saw the hurting individual when the disciples saw only the masses of the crowds.

There is a silent fulfillment of life in this undertaking. I will tell you though that at times, when you bring a sick puppy into your life, it bites you. But Christ came and died for us when we were sick dogs biting him (see Romans 5:8).

We can’t fix 315 million; nobody can, and no law is able to do so. But we can be an agent by God’s grace to help fix a handful of people around us.

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Living within the New Normal

How to live effectively as a despised minority

My conclusion in the wake of this election cycle is that there is a new normal that has arrived, walked in to our cultural house through the front door, hung up its coat in the hall closet, put on slippers and reclined in the prime seat of the family room, and claimed the master bedroom.

The “new normal” – This is a phrase we often use at the annual gathering I attend of lead pastors of Evangelical Free Churches of similar size as TSF, called “Team 500.”  There we are talking about the church culture trends of lower commitment to a local congregation, a lesser attendance pattern equaling the definition of faithfulness, consumerism driving worship choices, declining generosity, and an overall softer view of moral choices.

But a new normal has arrived for the entire culture and the entire country. I am sad that this is true, though to not acknowledge it is to be in denial. For a number of years, this question has been in the balance, but the tipping point has come and the country and the culture have gone over to a different place – to a new normal. This is not the end of the world, but it is the end of the world as we’ve known it.

There has been much written since Tuesday – some of it good, most of it horrible. Some of the worst has come from the pens of evangelicals – high-minded statements, though without substance.

Yes – substance. This is what is lost in the new norm. We now have entrenched symbolism as the replacement for substance, along with the preference for subjectivism over objective truth.

One of the most inane pieces I read was an evangelical saying that what needed to be learned from the election is that the winning candidate appears to care more than the loser – that it is all about caring and demonstrating such as God’s people. Though a stated bone was thrown in a participial phrase that indeed the caring needed to be genuine, the entire tone of the piece was to emphasize how we market ourselves.

I’m mindful of the old illustration about objective faith. All the well-intentioned faith placed in a weak object will not hold. A person with deep faith in thin ice will soon be very wet and cold, whereas minimal faith in thick ice leaves a person secure. We live in a day that emphasizes the marketing of the appearance of the ice rather than the examination of its depth and substance.

Even within my own denomination, a piece was written that said there is one political party which is successful for caring about diversity, whereas the other does not – that we should learn from this and model such an inclusive diversity theme. I am all for diversity and celebrating it; that is what heaven will look like – people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. But let us be thoughtful at the same time. Let us understand that in spite of their verbal bluster the alleged group to model has fewer examples of diversity in the upper ranks of government than does the alleged perpetrator. Let us be thoughtful that redistribution does not solve root causes of a lack of industry and individual responsibility – Scriptural themes. Let us, in Maryland, be more thoughtful so as to see that the alleged champions of diversity have an entrenched and unjust network of preventing the very opportunities they trumpet as their raison d’etre (congressional districts that protect white urban power over ethnic and rural constituencies).

The greatest loss is objective truth. It is increasingly gone from the decisions affecting marriage and family, or what constitute “legal” versus “illegal.” Forget clear Scriptural injunctions about same-sex immorality; replace it with squishy statements like I read in the Facebook posting, sadly, of a person who actually grew up attending TSF, “I’m so proud of my state for giving ALL couples equal protection under the law.”  Forget that those who are “illegal” aliens are … uh … illegal; replace it with provisions and opportunities beyond those who are “legal.”  I understand the emotions; I can even love the people involved and feel compassion for younger folks victimized by the choices of older generations. But we have taken the meaning away from words; we have replaced it with mere feelings and passions.

It is not like this sort of alien cultural environment has not happened around the church before. In more generations than not, the church has had to live in a rather hostile culture. I wish it were not so. Paul encourages prayer for those in authority toward the end of a peaceful context for the church to thrive. And there are historic instances of the true church best thriving in the most hostile of contexts.

But it is sort of like the old Woody Allen quote: “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  I’m not afraid to live in a hostile culture; I’m just said that it has to be much more that way. I’m sad for my kids and my grandkids.

So we need to learn to live in the new norm. But living there does not mean we jettison eternal values, truths, and admonitions. And to my evangelical brethren: As you salve your wounds with religiosity-based verbiage of “the last I checked, God is still on the throne” … remember … it is from that authoritative seat He decreed that His Word is a lamp to the feet and light to the path (not your feelings), that you are not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together in the community of the church which is His program for this age, and that the varied “one anothers” of the New Testament didactic corpus have little to do with consumer choices and your own personal preferences.

The sands have all shifted.

 

Memories of Elections Past

I was thinking today of what are my primary memories of election days in the past and of the emotions connected to them. I’m surprised at what most stands out to me year by year, and by how some of the oldest memories are the most vivid.

1960 – I was only five years old. I remember going to the polls with my parents and remember them saying that they did not see any Nixon signs. As I put out our Republican signs today at my assigned location – Williamsport High School – an activity that seems rather worthless to me, I do recall this memory and that people at least hope to see their guy’s sign nearby. My parents were historic Democrats – FDR types – though they became Republican in later years as the Democrat Party increasingly walked away from their historic values. However, my parents also were of a mindset common at that time that they could not vote for a Catholic.

1964 – My parents were not much for Goldwater – he creeped them out! Our voting location in NJ was at a firehouse just up the road and next to the school. The women’s auxiliary put on a fundraising dinner that my parents enjoyed, as it was the whole community coming together for the meal as well as to vote. I remember enjoying this much and being there with school friends.

1968 – This is actually one of my clearest Election Day memories, and some of you who know of my relative distaste for the sport of soccer will be so surprised. I was playing a soccer game on this day against a rival school. And this may take some imagination, but I was actually a very good front-line player and scorer. It was a close game. I had missed several shots and even hit the supports twice. With about 15 seconds left in a scoreless overtime I hit a shot off the crossbeam and it ricocheted back to another forward who easily put it in the goal. The midfield celebration was one who gave me the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat all in one moment. A backfield guy jumped on the pile and as his hand swung around it smacked the side of my head and broke my glasses. (This is before contacts – and I broke glasses in sports about once a month – to the frustration and anger of my parents.) So my memory is of eating dinner at the firehouse with busted glasses and angry parents about that … but happy that Nixon won. They really liked Nixon.

1972 – As a high school senior, I was totally involved in preparation for the state cross country meet – amazing how some things don’t change over the years. It was a runaway win for Nixon over McGovern, and was not actually that interesting

1976 – As a college senior, I was working the graveyard shift on building security. I was doing my rounds of the building every hour all night and watching the returns on the dorm’s foyer TV in the moments in between. We all mostly believed that Carter was more of an informed Christian than he turned out to be. What a disappointment!

1980 – Now married and living in Dallas and attending seminary, it was my first time to vote away from home. It was the big Reagan Revolution year, and Diana and I waited in long, long lines to vote in a high school in Garland, Texas. By the time we got home, it was all over and being announced, and was rather anti-climatic.

1984 – This was a total Reagan wipeout of Mondale, and I have few memories of it. I was now living back in NJ (and voting at the new firehouse in the same township) and more involved in making a first ministry work and dealing with two little children and a newly built home.

1988 – This begins the first of a series of Republican candidates that I deemed to be certainly better than Democrat alternatives, but not whom I’d particularly prefer. I don’t have that many memories of the Election Day itself … just that it seemed at the time that the Democrats were totally lost and devoid of ideas and viable candidates.

1992 – This was my final NJ election before moving to MD. It was my first memory of having a sad and sickening feeling about the results. I remember Rush Limbaugh putting the best spin on it the next day – declaring himself as the biggest winner, in that he now had four years of show material.

1996 – ah… make that eight years of show material. Now I was in MD. I remember spending a lot of the daytime hours eating lunch in the car and driving somewhere listening to the radio, and hoping against hope that somehow Dole could pull it out. Nope … not an inspiring guy.

2000 – Now I not only have five boys, but one of them had voted for the first time and was experiencing the election as a wee minority conservative at his collegiate stronghold of liberalism. The whole thing was thrown up in the air as the focus shifted to Florida and a discussion of “hanging chads.”

2004 – My primary memory of this election is my anger at Bush for being such a dreadful debater and a fellow who seemed capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory whenever he talked.

2008 – Totally sick and sad feelings like never before! How could the electorate possibly be this ignorant and gullible? I determined that night that I had to become involved somehow. I began to hang around with the Republican Club and the Republican Central Committee people – not even at the time knowing the distinction between them. A year later I was on the Committee to fill an unexpired term and two years later I was elected to the Committee, and then selected by the Committee to be the WCRCC chairman for 2011. And then there was a silly controversy, and I got to talk to the state prosecutor, etc., etc…. and it has been an interesting trip!

2012 – What would I write in this space if I had chosen to do this a day later? It is scary to consider. I don’t like over-dramatization of anything, but to those who say it is silly to call this “the most critical election of our lifetime” … OK … name what other election was more significant.  … Silence.

Occupy Buchmanville

My chickens have become a bit famous at church. Along with a manger scene appearance on Christmas Eve, they produce quite prolifically with the biggest and best brown eggs in the history of eggdom – Caleb thanks all his weekly customers – buy early, buy often! (The price of chicken feed increased $3.00 a bag in one week due to the drought.)

Well, there is a wrinkle in the henhouse right now. One of the hens has decided to stop laying and resort to sitting. In the world of poultry raising, this is called a “broody hen.” The latent natural desire to make a nest and sit on eggs until they hatch takes over the otherwise happy and content coop camper.

But here is the problem – along with no production or work on her part – she spends all of her time finding eggs in other chickens’ nests, claiming them as her own, and sitting on them until forcibly removed. She did not make those eggs, does not own them, has no right to sit on them, but squats there nonetheless. This a case of literally stealing someone else’s nest egg!

I’m calling this fowl activity “Occupy Buchmanville.”  It has many similar features as the other Occupy Movement – squatting, foul/fowl smells, pooping in the place you sleep, trespassing, stealing, arrogance, anger, squawking, and logic the size of a chicken brain. It does little good to evict her; she just waits until I walk away and goes back to occupy the same “spot n’ squat.”

There are some remedies that might work, and perhaps there could be some application for authorities beyond Buchmanville…

1.  I could cut her head off and eat her. This seems a bit like overkill, but would effect a permanent cure for the problem. But my few experiences with animal slaughtering revealed to me that I have little interest in beastly blood and guts. If I had to do such to have meat, well … I’d probably end up vegetarian. Though some authorities might like the human application of this technique, it is probably not especially legal, except maybe in parts of Texas.

2.  The poultry books say to take the broody hen and put her in an uncomfortable and isolated cage by herself, and she’ll soon lose interest in nesting. Well, I don’t readily have that, so, the solution is almost more trouble than the problem. The authorities actually use this technique quite a bit with the Occupy Movement – it is called “jail.”

3.  The poultry books also say that an old-timers solution to this problem is to take the hen and dunk her in a bucket of cold water. Apparently an elevated internal temperature stimulates and continues this problem. I would do this, except the neighbors might see me; and at least one set of them are liberals and may call the SPCA on me (like some church person did a few years ago when I gave a sermon illustration about my goat being tied by a rope … I’m not making this up!).  Actually, the police also use this wet technique with the Occupy Movement – I think the tool they employ is called a “water canon!”

I’m going to give Henrietta a few more days to fix her own problem before making a choice from the list above. But surely you have to agree with me that the similarities between Occupy Buchmanville and the Occupy Movement of other places are quite amazing!

Senate Candidate Dan Bongino

Today was the semi-annual meeting of the Maryland State Republican Party, and it was held in Solomons, Maryland. Though I’m midway through my elected term on the county Central Committee, this is not my crowd. Politically speaking it certainly is. But most of these folks are very ‘Type A’ personalities. They love the game of politics and all the aspects of campaigning: signs, stickers, buttons, “button-holing”, arguing, posturing … and dare I say sibling rivalry and in-fighting! I vacillate between finding it immensely amusing or inordinately irritating. But the role of political organization is an honorable and valuable part of American democracy, and so I do it as a calling that found me far more than I found it.

It has been interesting to meet a lot of people who sit in places of power – both in Annapolis and Washington. These are very, very mortal people. Some of them are very fine people, some of them are wannabes, and a few are very troubled people who have gained the world at the expense of their soul. I thought I’d be more impressed with a higher percentage of them than I have been.

But I will tell you that there is one guy I’m totally impressed by, and that is Dan Bongino who is the Republican nominee for United States Senate. He will be squaring off against the incumbent Ben Cardin. Bongino spoke at a luncheon I attended today, and he was amazing in his communication. His word pictures that describe the current situation in America – particularly in economics – are so colorfully illustrative in making complex situations understandable.  He walked through a variety of common sense and workable solutions to an entire host of problems facing America.

Bongino is a bundle of positive energy. He is invigorated by the challenges of problems and the belief that they can be overcome. Having personally grown up in a poor family in New York, and then working eventually with the secret service, he gave up this career at the great personal loss to take on this challenge of running for the Senate.

Actually, my son Jesse is working for the campaign in a volunteer capacity with a team of young guys who are doing research and writing for Dan.

So look for him on the national shows. There is no doubt that this is an uphill battle here in the most blue of states, but Bongino is an impressive fellow whom I think can at least make a race out of this – and so do many pundits around the country.

<As always with political narrative in this blog, I write to remind everyone and anyone that this blog is the opinion only of the author. It represents nothing of the viewpoint of Tri-State Fellowship – which takes no stand or viewpoint upon such matters. Furthermore, all costs associated with this blog are at the expense of the author without any connection to Tri-State Fellowship … not by registration costs or equipment costs, etc.  I have for many years bought my own computers and devices so as to be distanced from any connection.>

Hanging Out With Mitt

Mitt Romney was in nearby Greencastle, PA on Sunday evening for a campaign event hosted by the Franklin County Republican Party. (For those of you who read this from outside this area, Greencastle is about 20 miles north of where I live – just over the Mason-Dixon Line into PA.)

Diana and Jesse and I went to the dinner, having gotten tickets through the Washington County Republican Central Committee – where I am one of 9 members. I had great fun by posting on my Facebook status line: “Headed out to dinner with Mitt Romney and a few friends…”

OK… there were 600 friends there! And, we were seated back from the front in the third row of about 15 rows of tables!  (This is when you know you’ve arrived!…. or, maybe just been fortunate for some reason.)

As always surrounding these events, the security was rather tight to say the least. There were a lot of big dudes just standing around “watching” everything.

So … people have been asking me if I’m a big Romney guy now. Well, not sure how big I am, but it has grown on me. He certainly hit ALL of the right themes in his speech, and if he can be taken at his word and he is able to accomplish a number of these initiatives, we are going to be better off as a country. I truly believe the country we will have if President Obama is re-elected is one we will not recognize … and will be one that is significantly more hostile to the Gospel message and Christianity within the culture. God will not be undone if that happens, and His grace and sufficiency will prevail for whatever contingencies ensue, but so long as we still have a democratic process, I am going to participate in it in a way that I believe best serves the God-ordained principles of American exceptionalism that also provide the best context for the Gospel. Toward that end, I am not concerned about Romney’s Mormon faith; I am concerned about Obama’s radicalism and connections to some of the most anti-Christian elements to be found in the world today.

I would have much preferred Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, though he did not run. It is my understanding that he is on the short list of those being considered for Vice President. I recently met some very fine evangelical folks from Wisconsin and from Ryan’s district – people who know him and those close to him – and they tell me he is truly squared away with an evangelical faith.

I put together a little video from Sunday night, and if you’d like to see it, here is the link:

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150767858458430

I’ve read some local criticism of my committee and how, while the Franklin County folks are getting Karl Rove (2011) and Mitt Romney, we are featuring a defeated state senator (State Chairman Alex Mooney) and a relative unknown (a fellow who is a frontrunner for the next gubernatorial race). Well, we did have Representative Steve King of Iowa last year – a legit big dog in the House. But more than anything, Pennsylvania is a battleground state beyond what we are in Maryland, and Franklin County is seen as a pivotal area – hence the emphasis. I cannot explain that, but that is what is believed by Party activists who research these things.

Whatever, it was an interesting evening.

 

<As always with political narrative in this blog, I write to remind everyone and anyone that this blog is the opinion only of the author. It represents nothing of the viewpoint of Tri-State Fellowship – which takes no stand or viewpoint upon such matters. Furthermore, all costs associated with this blog are at the expense of the author without any connection to Tri-State Fellowship … not by registration costs or equipment costs, etc.  I have for many years bought my own computers and devices so as to be distanced from any connection.>

Chuck Colson is Gone

The news today is filled with the word that Chuck Colson has passed away at age 80. He was a great voice and thinker for the conservative evangelical movement. Over the years I’ve been much impacted by his speaking and writing.

Chuck had two halves of his life: a first half living for the power and things of this world – only to be imprisoned for his deep role in the Watergate scandal; and a second half living for Christ – having been truly transformed by grace, he was a completely different person in every way.

It will likely be that the world will remember him more for the first half, while the church will remember him for the latter. This alone is a display of grace.

Many of us who listen to Christian radio – such as our local WCRH – will most remember Colson for his morning commentaries called “BreakPoint.”

I get a regular email from Prison Fellowship, and this is what they had to say upon the death of Colson:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that Chuck Colson — our friend, founder, and brother in Christ — has passed away. Though we mourn the loss of a great leader, we rejoice knowing God has welcomed his humble and faithful servant home.

When Chuck Colson left prison, he promised to remember the men who remained behind bars. “I will never forget you guys!” he told them.

And for 36 years, Chuck faithfully kept that promise. In 1976, he founded Prison Fellowship, a ministry dedicated to living out Jesus’ command to remember the incarcerated and share the transformational love of Jesus Christ with them and their families.

“I could never, ever have left prison and accomplished what has been accomplished but for God doing it through me,” Chuck once said.