“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Matthew 18:20

IS THE CHURCH A NECESSITY OR A LUXURY?

A good friend of mine, Lou, called to discuss whether church is a necessity or a luxury. During our discussion we reached the conclusion that it is both. For our individual faith lives church serves as a propelling force to expand our faith. Through our association and camaraderie of being with fellow Christians we are strengthened. But it is also a luxury, a valuable part of our existence and life.

Lou is a pastor for the United Methodist church and serves three individual churches every Sunday. Each congregation Lou serves has a different makeup. In one, youth ministry is very important. In another, serving the community is an important ministry. But all share the same value of being faithful Christians.

It is hard for Lou to get to each church every Sunday, it means driving long distances and reflecting on how his weekly message will need to be modified for each church.

“Over the years God has chiseled away Lou’s edges and left intact a faith filled person, with a commitment to do the best.”

Lou is a local licensed pastor, a grass roots pastor that did not go to theological school and receive his training. He learned from others and watching other wonderful pastors. Prior to becoming a pastor, Lou worked in construction and was tough and hard-nosed. Another friend of ours says Lou’s heart is his greatest strength. But he had the leftover residue of a construction person. Over the years God has chiseled away Lou’s edges and left intact a faith filled person, with a commitment to do the best.

In fact, Lou was the head of construction for a non-profit called A Future With Hope during the Super Storm Sandy efforts. For a while Lou gave up being a pastor to help those in need. As you would guess, Lou’s homes were rebuilt at a very high level and the cost of rebuilding was a fraction of what other agencies and the state of New Jersey spent. Lou loved this work but loved helping people more.

After this assignment Lou returned to ministry and took on the assignment of pastoring these three churches. All are growing and responding.

“At its core, faith is one of the three most important states of the Christian mind, along with hope and love.”

Lou’s point about the church being a luxury was not that it was an optional item for Christians, but that it is a necessity that should be treated like a luxury. At its core, faith is one of the three most important states of the Christian mind, along with hope and love. Making it both a human necessity and a luxury. Luxury in that it should be treated well, nurtured and respected.

Lou asked me why Yankee Candle, where I worked as the CFO in my previous life, was so much more expensive than the candles bought in supermarkets. I explained, because of their quality. Hours were spent making sure every candle was perfect. Meetings were held to discuss any flaw. The employees knew that their brand was a luxury that had to be the best and it was. Yankee Candle has the highest customer approval of any brand in America.

“In every Sunday visit to church, individual faiths can be enhanced.”

Lou’s point was that our churches have to have this same dedication. In every Sunday visit to church, individual faiths can be enhanced. Each Sunday, not only the pastor, but also the members have to be committed to developing faith in themselves and others.

For the pastor, this task is an every day event. Each person they meet and talk with, expects this level of interaction. Most pastor’s rise to this occasion. For those who attend church, it is both a give and receive effort. We go because it helps round out our faith. We go because there is usually a “God moment” that reinforces our faith.

“Jesus is a sacred and valuable inclusion to every church service.”

Jesus tells us that wherever two or more are gathered, Jesus is present. Jesus is a sacred and valuable inclusion to every church service. Lifting up the importance of why we attend, to be with Jesus. Through Jesus’ presence we are given moments of illumination and insight. Perhaps in the sermon, but also perhaps through those who we meet. Perhaps when we help someone else. This is no ordinary necessity, but a refining of our Christian lives.

“As Christians we are always giving to make our world better, both inside and outside the church.”

But we also give when we are at church; we help when we say hello earnestly or lend a hand. Sometimes we give unknowingly, by saying something to a fellow attender that strengthens their faith. Perhaps someone in attendance needs our kind words that morning. Perhaps we give when we sing out loud and lift the congregation. Perhaps we give by reciting a verse that contains insight that helps someone else. As Christians we are always giving to make our world better, both inside and outside the church.

We go to church because we have learned it is a necessity. But it is also a luxury, faith is not earned cheaply, but with a riveted desire to grow. Like luxury items that are valuable, because of the care put in to produce them.

Faith is a necessity, but also a luxury.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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“ And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

John 8:32

IS THE NATIONAL PRESS POLARIZING AMERICA?

In a recent radio interview, I was asked, “Is the press polarizing America?” A quick and simple answer could be yes! It would be fashionable answer to state and easily supported by antidotal evidence. But the answer is much more complicated than a simple yes. The question gets to why do we have press and news outlets and how unbiased should they be. As well as, is our national press motivated by headlines that support their ratings?

I know some people who only listen to Fox news and others who only listen to CNN. What is remarkable is that they arrive at different conclusions on events of the day. Some will say that immigration is bad and others will say immigration is good. The real answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

“Freedom of the press, no matter where they stand is a cornerstone of any society that wants to be free.”

While both sides will make the claim that the media and national press is the root of our problems, it is a dangerous observation. Freedom of the press, no matter where they stand is a cornerstone of any society that wants to be free. In America, our forefathers felt so strongly about having  freedom of the press, they included it in the 1st amendment of the constitution.

“Societal movements on the paths to freedom would become stifled.”

Washington, Adams and Jefferson knew the downfall of any society that doesn’t have a free press. Without it, the powers to be could and would control what we hear. Societal movements on the paths to freedom would become stifled. Wrongs would be ignored, leaving those oppressed or victimized without a voice.

Any society that wants to be free needs the press. In the vast majority of my own radio interviews I never feel pressured to give a differing view than what I believe. Generally, those that conduct these interviews are similar to many of my neighbors, fair and even handed. However, I do hear a voice of frustration within the media and my neighbors that their country has become so polarized, civility in our discourse is now impossible.

“Part of the freedom of the press lies within each of us as to how we take in information.”

We as a society have to become better in interpreting what we hear and what we see. I had a wonderful theological professor, early in my studies at theological school, that cautioned each of us to know the agenda of what we were reading. To know the author’s point of view and then shape our understanding around this knowledge. In other words, give respect to what we were reading, but be careful with how we act and think about what we have read or heard. This process, all of us heard over and over, was to read and understand with a thoughtful perspective. Part of the freedom of the press lies within each of us as to how we take in information.

Critical thinking is a hallmark of the freedom of the press. Being able to decipher what we hear and what we read is part of freedom of the press. Assuming that those we follow or read or hear have a monopoly of the truth is dangerous. No one person or article can ever reveal the whole truth, because no one person has all the facts. We all approach each issue of the day different than our neighbors. Like snowflakes, we are all different. Each article we read is bent to our perspective and the author’s. But other perspectives have different influences.

“Without freedom of the press we will quickly fall into despotism.”

As a society that needs to have freedom of the press, we also need to respect what the function of the press is, to give us news about our lifestyles, major events and significant political trends. Without freedom of the press we will quickly fall into despotism.

“Journalism in itself is a mighty weapon that can do both harm and good.”

The press as well should honor their position created by the 1st amendment. A journalistic requirement of reducing their own agenda in what they report and to focus on obtaining the whole truth. This is often met with the temptation of producing the salacious, which in turn produces revenue and wealth. Journalism in itself is a mighty weapon that can do both harm and good. For the many I meet in the media, I see and feel this desire to get at the truth. Many truly believe what they write or say, but a few do not hold this central aspect of our freedoms with the same regard. Unfortunately we hear the latter views too often.

“Our press needs to constantly prowl through the corridors of their mind and publish that which is truthful and sanitized of agenda.”

I understand why so many are saddened by the polarization that has occurred. But it’s not the 1st amendment that is at fault. It lies within our own personal respect to how we hear and how we write. We need freedom of the press to protect all of our other freedoms. But we as listeners, need to be more critical with our thinking in what we hear and see. Not just accept, but go deeper in our evaluation. Our press needs to constantly prowl through the corridors of their mind and publish that which is truthful and sanitized of agenda.

The Gospel of John is correct in saying, “and the truth will make you free.” But ours is to decide what the truth is in an unbiased way and to write what the truth is in an unbiased way. Without this we threaten all our freedoms.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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“Who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

2 Corinthians 3:6

THE RISE OF THE NEW AGE CHURCH

In a classroom, while getting my doctorate degree, my fellow students began to grouse about the drop in attendance in their churches. All fine and wonderful ministers that represented most of the various institutional churches; Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and Lutherans. In particular, one student complained, “Parents would rather take their children to a soccer practice than attend church.” She was right, there are many other activities on Sunday morning that compete with church. A trend that started in the late sixties and has directly contributed to a chronic decline in church attendance for nearly five decades.

“ In fact, it is doubtful that institutional churches will stay intact past 2030 without making significant changes.”

But the belief in God has not abated over this time, today ninety percent still believe in God and Christian’s who pray, stands at sixty six percent. However, according to the Hartford research institute, regular church attendance has fallen to twenty percent and continues to drop every year. In fact, it is doubtful that institutional churches will stay intact past 2030 without making significant changes.

As a former business person, I learned it is never good to grouse about your customer’s unwillingness to buy your product. It is far easier to get better and sell products your customer is interested in buying. The young pastor who was complaining about parents taking their children to soccer games instead of church, was right about recognizing the decline in the church, but wrong about her point of view. Simply, the institutional church has to get better or it will continue to lose more attenders.

Despite these difficult statistics one form of church is growing, the new age church. It is a church that isn’t affiliated with any denominations. It is independent of human doctrine and non-affiliated. The new age church meets in unusual places, garages, old warehouses and even in schools. They don’t have bloated bureaucracy telling them what to do next. Their ministers are not encumbered with rules on what to say. Their overheads are low and they can spend more of their donations helping others. The music is more contemporary and draws out the Spirit of God in a different way.

“The institutional church is stuck in the fifties and has only made minor changes to its formats.”

The institutional church is stuck in the fifties and has only made minor changes to its formats. It is not the wonderful ministers that need to change, the structure is no longer relevant. Most institutional churches have massive overheads to support decades old buildings. Usually, by far the largest piece of their budget. In turn this debilitates their ability to serve their community and the needs of the attenders.

The institutional church has become embroiled in scandal and not fully addressed the solutions. Catholic priests for decades have abused children and leadership has not always been aggressive in solving the problem. It is not just the Catholic church that has been embroiled in scandal, recently in Houston a Methodist minister was arrested who took millions of dollars from his parishioners.

The church has also become a political church, opining on issues that can be polarizing to its members. Instead of focusing on the message of Christ to “Love thy God and love thy neighbor,” the institutional church has become caught up in politics. While the new age church has stayed focused on its purpose to minister to and adhere to the two basic tenets of the Gospel, Love thy God and love thy neighbor.

A close friend of mine, Rich, recently set up a church, with the help of loyal donors. In a few years the church has grown from a few sitting in a rented space to over a hundred that can now support community ministry and pay for its pastor. Not burdened by history, politics or the suffocating costs of over-sized buildings, the church is growing remarkably. Why? Because of its adherence to the foundations of the new covenant. One that serves and is not served.

It is not that the mainline ministers don’t know how to do this, they can’t. Hemmed in by rules and regulations that don’t allow them to seek other ways to compete with Sunday soccer. These wonderful contributors to our Christian faith must ask first before they act. Only in the new age church do they have the freedom to select the right songs, pray the right prayers and help the members serve.

There are seven things the institutional church can do to fix this trend. They are:

  1. Limit the budget for building costs to twenty percent of total giving.
  2. Select music that is more contemporary and inspiring. Lead the service off with music that is designed to raise the Spirit of God in those attending.
  3. Set up Small groups that fit the make-up of the members. Let and help lay people lead these groups, even from their homes.
  4. Set up ways for the members to help their community. Serving helps members satisfy their desire to give and serve.
  5. Limit leadership of committees to two years, and allow for fresh voices to be heard.
  6. Set up interactive prayer chains.
  7. Preach the Gospel in a way that is tailored to the demographics of the membership.

While these seven things may seem very hard to accomplish, they are being accomplished in the new age church!

The institutional church needs to loosen its grip on what they own, which ironically owns them.

Paul in 2 Corinthians warned the church to not get caught up in the letter of the law, or institutional bureaucracy and politics. Instead to spread the Gospel with a heart led by the Spirit. Not to stay encumbered by rules and the will of the past, but to reach out to its constituency with a heart for God and serving others. Only in this place can the old church survive. The institutional church needs to loosen its grip on what they own, which ironically owns them.  Which will allow for a greater focus on mercy within its community. The new age church is a responding church that adheres to the heart of the Gospel. A model for the institutional church.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ben White

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“The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

Exodus 34:6

WELCOME TO A YEAR WITH GOD

In Exodus, God passes by Moses and makes this powerful proclamation that He is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. For the next fifty two Sunday’s we will be posting images, verses and reflections following the church calendar that reflects this steadfast love and faithfulness. The posting will lead us on an immersive faith journey for fifty two weeks that tells the story of God and Jesus through the annual rhythm of the Christian’s church calendar.

This year long series will start on December 2nd, with the first week of advent. So get ready, have your Bible at hand and a notebook to start journaling. Find a space in your house or outdoors that is quiet and will help you be by yourself with our Lord. A place where  a simple few minutes alone will change your life.

We will move from the Advent period to Christmas and on into Lent and the Passion week. And we will follow along the seven weeks or fifty days of the Pentecost. Throughout this journey we will encounter and explore the verses that explain and help us reflect on the majesty of God and God’s gift to humankind, Jesus the Christ.

Each week we will post an image, verse and a reflection that will follow the church calendar. Each week is designed to lead us through a complete exploration of the Christian faith and a deeper understanding of our faith.

As a guide each week readers will be given an opportunity to answer three questions about their faith. Not designed to test our knowledge, but to encourage us to think about our faith. Over the year, we will present a way to fully see the Gospel and its meanings in our lives.

In our reflections we are not proposing how people should think, but merely asking to reflect on our life’s journey with our faith. No one person’s faith life is similar and every person has a different starting point. If in some small way we can add value to faith lives, we will consider ourselves successful.

For the reader we ask that prior to starting this journey, that a journal is created. The first entry should be a reflection on the following:

  • What is your understanding of faith and how it has become a part of your life?
  • How connected do you feel to God and Jesus?
  • What areas of your faith lives would you want to increase?

Over the course of the year, periodically refer back to this first writing and see what has changed.

Each week, at the start of the week, answer the three questions on Sunday. Try bringing the Holy Spirit into this time of reading and contemplation. Consider what the Spirit is telling you. Then throughout the week, reflect on the verse, the image or the reflection. Each day, take five minutes to review how it is affecting your daily life. On Saturday, write what has changed or what has been improved.

A simple journaling that is private to you and your life. Each week the journal will grow and so will your faith.

If you would like to help others, leave a comment on the blog for the week. A simple note of a special moment or new understanding. Through this sharing we help and inspire each other.

Don’t forget each day, say a prayer that includes an aspect of the verse for the week.

We hope, pray and trust that this journey with God will help your life and bring you closer to a God that is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ben White

We love giving credit to budding photographers to help them gain more exposure.

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Matthew 6:24

CRY BABY MILLIONAIRES

In the age of big money professional sports, we see professional athletes making millions of dollars a year, holding out for more money. We watch owners creating billion dollar enterprises. At the same time, we hear of players in their twenties complaining that they aren’t being treated properly and sometimes even refusing to play. All this while families of four can longer support the average price of close to five hundred dollars to go to a professional sporting event.

In the meantime, the TV ratings of the major sports have declined. In fact, at the last World Series viewership dropped by twenty-five percent. The NFL’s ratings have declined by double digits over the last two years. While there are many reasons for the declines, the two major reasons that stand out the most are the young millionaires complaining about their pay, when most American families struggle to pay their health care costs and wonder why these young millionaires complain about how much money they are making and social injustice.

The public relationship efforts by all the professional sports leagues has been abysmal and appears to be self-serving. These efforts miss that many of the millionaires and even the professional leagues do give back to the society that supports them. Not all the cry baby millionaires miss the point that they have been blessed. J.J. Watt, the all-star football player, doesn’t make headlines for misbehavior. Instead he raised tens of millions of dollars to help out hurricane victims. The NFL maintains a giving organization that contributes tens of millions to causes that help social justice and communities in need. Many players have their own foundations that pour money back to those in need.

These wonderful acts of service don’t make the news, good news stories don’t sell ads and as such don’t get told. People that give money prefer not to be in the spotlight. They would rather give quietly. Instead we see NFL running backs complaining they aren’t being treated properly or basketball players earning millions protesting they don’t get enough playing time. Or we see players, like Odell Beckham taking mini vacations while his team is in the middle of a playoff run.

Like all things in our society there are always two sides of the story. For professional sports, we will see the athlete’s and owners being selfish and petty with their complaints. That news we will hear about! But there are also many who give back a fair amount of their millions to society because they know they have a higher and moral need to give back.

Jesus explains this by saying we all have to decide, whom do we serve? Do we serve ourselves? Or do we serve humankind? The real answer to this question is on an individual by individual basis. Some live to be served and others live to serve. Perhaps more of our millionaires created by the their support, should consider this question harder.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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“So God created humankind in God’s image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”

Genesis 1:27

TALKING POLITICS AT THANKSGIVING

A friend of mine, Gary Goldman a radio talk host on WCRN in Boston, told me he would like to discuss politics during Thanksgiving day dinner. Wow, I said to myself, that’s very brave. At first, I wanted to counsel him out of trying this noble act. But earlier in the day, I had read an article about discussing politics at Thanksgiving day dinner on http://better-angels.org. The article gave a very clear and practical approach to how it could be done. An article largely focused on paying attention to other points of view and listening to learn. I passed this information on to Gary.

The article focused on being respectful as the primary attitude to the discussion. Not just waiting to reply with a pre-recorded narrative, but truly listening. Listening to hear the person’s background and why they came to their conclusion. Not to sit back and wait to pounce all over their point of view, but truly understand their perspective.

Such a bold thing to do, discuss politics at Thanksgiving. In listening to Gary, I heard in his voice a sincere desire to get at why Americans feel polarized, not to say what he thought, but to hear what others thought. Perhaps Gary will be successful. I will be most interested to hear.

I discovered the Better Angels website while doing research for an independent forum to get the whole news and hear differing opinions. Better Angels is a little known organization that has cropped up as part of a quiet movement to unify our country, since 2016. They are one of a handful of groups set up to give those looking for both sides of a story a forum to hear and to speak.

Like all swings in the societal pendulum, the current civil discord will swing back to a desire to hear all points of view. It is inevitable and makes me hopeful. Gone will be the day when politicians espouse violence against others. Gone will be the day when name calling dominates the news. These acts of civil discord will push the pendulum back to the center. My hopefulness is well supported by history, the only effect of extremism is to push society to the center. While polarization is the terrible state of our current national attitude, it is also the start of change. Americans will not allow discord to rule the day.

Perhaps the most famous speech, given at the dawn of our worst calamity as a country, was Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address. Lincoln was desperately trying to fend off the pending civil war and said;

“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

At the worst time in our country’s great experiment of freedom, we had a leader who sought to reconcile. At the same time understanding that all humankind has a better nature. Lincoln knew what lied ahead and appealed to the essence of humankind. Made in the image of God we all, man and woman have inherited the desire to do good. Sure there are examples when this didn’t appear to be the case, but Lincoln felt that all humankind had the nature of being better angels.

Lincoln’s appeal at a time when it would have been easy for him to take the tact of rushing in to war,  was that of seeking reconciliation.

The website Better Angels does the same. It taps into, not our weaknesses, but into the inherited gift from God of our desire for peace, freedom and civil discourse. A way to see the world through multiple lens, without acrimony or dissent. A true desire to reconcile our life’s path with others that have walked a different journey. An end to malicious gossip and debilitation caused by discord. A noble attempt that will probably not win the Nobel Peace, but should. A way of talking with others that is respectful of their life’s journey and open to changing points of view.

Perhaps, more than any other Thanksgiving, Gary is right, we need to be able to have civil discussions about our views. Not to win the argument but to find a connecting middle ground. I do believe that when we use the better angels of our nature, inherited through God we can reconcile.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Harli Marten

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

EACH DAY IS A DAY OF HOPE

Each morning we meet the dawn, we have a day of hope. Each morning follows a day of triumph or failure. In our triumphs we should proceed humbly and with our failures proceed hopefully. Each day gives another chance to do good and help others. Each day is a day to fix yesterday and each day is a day of hope.

 

In our hopefulness each morning we have a chance to walk the path of doing good. We have the chance to defy that which is wrong and chart a different course. Each new day is one filled with a desire to accomplish those things of good.

 

Along the way we will meet obstacles, some mighty and some painfully resistant. These obstacles are but tests of our hopefulness. Mere momentary things that exist as weeds, as we strive to become mighty oaks. They are not greater than hopefulness, but the burden of all lives. They are meant to be overcome.

 

After each rise we climb, we are afforded the opportunity to look back and see our triumph. In this triumph we should be encouraged by the knowledge that we can. With this encouragement we should be both humble and ready to climb a new mountain in life.

 

After each rise we fail to climb, we should look back to see the extraordinary lesson we learned. With this lesson, we should try again with a hope committed to succeed. In our lessons we receive hope.

 

In both our triumphs and failures we have God with us. In triumph we should pray thankfully and in failure we should petition hopefully. Each morning as we make our plans we should turn to God, not to receive a bounty, but insight. With each prayer we make we should be both hopeful and faithful to hear God’s desires.

 

Our God is not a condemning God, but a loving God. A God that hears our pleas, both in our desperation and our desires. A God that journeys with us and molds us. Through our life’s time span and in the daily bits of our lives. Our God is a God of Hope.

 

Each day we have a day of hope. A new day in which we can be humble in our victories and resilient in learning new ways. A new day to thank those who help. A day to console those who need compassion. A new day to right yesterday’s wrongs. A new day to live in God’s world with hope.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Parting Thoughts

  • What do you hope for today and tomorrow?
  • What life obstacles are blocking your future?
  • What is your morning prayer practice?

Photo by Lionello DelPiccolo

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“Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.”

Philippians 2:14-15

POLITICAL DISCORD IN AMERICA

During most of my radio interviews these days, I am asked by the host, “What can we do about the discord in American politics.” A frequent and simple question that only requires a simple answer, Love thy Neighbor. But this might be the hardest attitude to have in the face of unrelenting acrimony. Sure we all get hurt when someone violently disagrees with us and sure it is uncomfortable to have name calling directed at both yourself and what you believe. For me personally this is the hardest and most difficult attitude to maintain when being attacked. But we and myself must always remember that gasoline never put out a fire.

“Politics in America has settled into a state of angry discourse.”

We all want civility and our voice to be heard. We all want respectful debate. But that will not always happen. Politics in America has settled into a state of angry discourse. My publicist A.J. Rice recently sent me an article from the Washington Post that shows how deep this divide has become.

“What both sides are engaging in is repeating long standing pre-recorded narratives that doesn’t consider the act of listening to learn.”

In summary the article contains beliefs by both sides that the other side is in some way nefarious and full of misdeeds. But both sides feel they are right and have cornered the truth. In reality, neither side is close to the truth. What both sides are engaging in is repeating long standing pre-recorded narratives that doesn’t consider the act of listening to learn.

The Democratic party has long stood for helping the common person and those in need. They created the New Deal at a time it was desperately needed to shake off the debilitating societal effect of the Great Depression. The everyday person could look for the Democrats to patriotically stand up for them in the halls of our nations legislatures.

The Republican party has long stood for fighting back against government excess. For a long time questioning the spending of tax payers’ dollars on excess. They are the party that ended the abhorrent practice of slavery.

Both parties have in their history, acts of doing good. Both parties have a history of being in the right place at the right time. Both parties have produced great Americans that have served their country patriotically. Both parties have items in their platform that help America.

But today, it seems like both parties have forgotten their history of being leaders of this great country, mired in an unwinnable game mudslinging.

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians he provides the answer to how to unravel this mess. He says “Do all things without murmuring and arguing.” When we combine this with Jesus’ second commandment of Love thy Neighbor, we receive lessons from the Bible on how to proceed and end our country’s angry discourse.

I don’t believe Republicans as a group are racist any more than I believe that the Democrats are evil. What I do believe is neither side is listening to the other warmly, honestly and fairly. I also believe that if both sides approach each issue with love for their compatriots of the other party, a lot more would get done.

“I am sure Jesus would walk into this temple of discord and turn over all the tables.”

Our politicians have sunk into a morass of self-agenda and petty debate. No longer do the voices of reason patrol the great halls of freedom in our country. Talking over other people has become an accepted norm. Rancor has replaced cordiality as a accepted way of communicating. I am sure Jesus would walk into this temple of discord and turn over all the tables. Replacing the discourse with warm and loving patriots.

“Gasoline never puts out a fire and arguing robotically never helps.”

It is hard when we hear unfair things said about ourselves or our beliefs. It will keep us at night, questioning our own humanity. Life shouldn’t be this way, but sometimes it is. The solution is how we respond, we should not meet fire with fire. We should change the perspective to civility. Our civility and behavior should not be based on how we are treated, but based on our Christian attitude of civility. Gasoline never puts out a fire and arguing robotically never helps.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Mitchell McCleary

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“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

Ephesians 6:11

WHERE WOULD JESUS BE ON GUN CONTROL?

Early in my business career, I helped manage a store for a large national retailer that sold guns. This was in the seventies when gun control was much tougher. You couldn’t sell guns with extended magazines, assault rifles or have bumpers put on your gun stock. Occasionally I would have to man the gun desk to help out. During these times I got to see why people in this northern part of Maine bought guns. Essentially, there were two reasons the customer wanted to buy guns. The first was to hunt. For many in northern Maine it was both sport and to provide food for their family. While I never hunted, I understood their need, especially the need to get food. The second reason was for protection, in this part of the country, the police or state police could be far away from those living on the edge of communities and many felt they needed a little extra protection.

However, to buy a gun in the seventies, an application had to be filled out before the individual could take the gun home. First we would take the application and send it to the ATF. We would then tell the customer that they had to wait two weeks for the approval process. The ATF would review the application and either approve or reject. They would reject any application if there was a criminal record or history of mental illness. When we got the application back we would notify the customer of its status. Each night we were required by law to check the gun count and serial numbers, to ensure we knew where every gun stood.

The NRA was different in those days, not the huge politically based organization it is today. In those days the NRA would provide education classes and training on the proper use of guns.  They helped with gun safety for hunters and showed people how to protect themselves In fact they were proponents of gun control. For instance, after President Kennedy was assassinated, the NRA led the charge on gun control.

Our world is far different today. Today we can buy guns with many rounds in the chamber. You don’t always have to fill out a form to get a gun. Background checks are not always required.

This year alone we have had 367 deaths in mass shootings. Almost unheard of in the seventies. Prompting the rise of the “Enough” campaign sweeping our nation. But our gun manufacturer’s and the NRA aren’t hearing the cry for being sensible.

In fact the NRA declared in August of this year that they are almost bankrupt. Gun companies, likewise are teetering on bankruptcy. Remington, the oldest gun company filed bankruptcy in the spring of 2018.

The reason, Americans have grown tired of the lack of listening by the gun companies and the NRA. It is not that people don’t want guns, they want them under control. It is not an issue with the second amendment, it is the stretching of the boundaries that caused this uproar. Americans in mass are saddened by the senseless deaths of children, innocent people attending concerts and those visiting seemingly safe places like movie theaters.

There is room for both safety and guns. It is the polarizing debates that have stopped significant reform, an all or nothing approach to solving the problem. This loud and noisy rancor has caused our children to go to schools that have armed guards and gun companies to file bankruptcy. Ironically, not caused just by guns, but the lack of listening and common sense.

Jesus would not be opposed to letting a hunter provide for his family or to protect themselves with defensive weapons. Jesus would be opposed to guns that are intended to create mass harm. Certainly Jesus would tell a hunter that felt they needed a high capacity magazine, which can contain 60-100 bullets, to practice their marksmanship instead of needing this many bullets. Jesus would tell those wanting to buy a gun to wait until their application is approved. Jesus would be on the side of constructive debate, where all sides listened and searched for a sensible answer.

But on a broader front gun violence is also affected by seemingly unrelated subjects. Consider computer games our children play. Many show the use of extremely offensive weapons. Our children and even ourselves can sit down and kill hundreds of imaginary monsters or even other humans on their computer screens and even their television. Creating an illusion that it is okay to commit mass murder.

We send young men and women to battle grounds in far-away places. As a country we train them to kill and maim. Yet when they come home only one third of them are properly reintroduced to society. Nearly two thirds of our returning service people don’t seek or get help in transitioning back into society.

Mental illness isn’t always identified properly and these same people can buy a gun. Not just one, but many! We have mandatory reporting in our schools and hospitals for child abuse, why not extend this to mental illness for gun control?

Gun control is a complicated issue and Jesus would tell us to not just look at the gun companies or the NRA, but to look at our society as a whole. We have the largest gun death per capita in the world. This issue isn’t just about gun control, it is also about us as a society. We use pre-recorded narratives to defend our positions and defiantly argue without listening when we hear an opposing view.

The Bible tells us to put on the full armor of God to protect against evil. The Bible tells us to do God’s will. Jesus would support both of these views emphatically. As a society that is part of a great democratic experiment, we need to listen to our neighbors regardless of their political position and hear their voice. This is putting on the full armor of God. We need to dig deeper on difficult issues like gun control, with the full armor of God. Our first and most important step should be of love for our neighbor.

Our solution doesn’t lie in rhetoric that is a canned platitude, but with a Christian sense of reason and love. We have children and innocent victims at concerts to protect. But we also have to respect the hunter who provides for their family. Jesus wants us to hear with both ears and with the full armor of God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Derek Mack

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“Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.”

Matthew 9:22

SHOULD WOMEN BE IN POLITICS?

In the last election a record number of women won seats in the House of Representatives. As a result of this, a friend of mine asked me how many woman do I think should be in the house of representatives. My simple answer, “Two hundred-seventeen and a half.” Jokingly my friend said, “Who is going to be the half?” Then knowing my background in ministry, relayed to me that he had heard that Jesus didn’t want women in charge? And further he stated it says so in the Bible! How could I support women in politics?

My first answer, stating two hundred-seventeen and a half, was more of a reflection of what is fair. Surely every gender, race and walk in life should be fairly represented in our House of Representatives. For us to live into spirit of our wonderful constitution, no group should be denied unequal access to the bounty of freedom our great democracy provides. No one group should gain, while another is left behind. Certainly, I know there is no one half of a person, my answer was a little tongue in cheek to make a point.

In regards to answering the second about the equality of women in politics as not being Biblical. I told my friend I couldn’t agree that the Bible says women shouldn’t be in politics. Sure we can find isolated verses that might imply that women should not be in politics, but when these verses are taken out of context of the entire paragraph that surrounds them, their meanings change. My professors, while I was getting my Doctorate degree, would call this selective verse taking to make an argument, “Versification.” Simply It is a failure in creating a position on a subject based on one verse in a fourteen hundred page book. Simply finding a verse to support our life’s opinion is in error and potentially dangerous. Verse’s must be studied and put in the proper context. Each verse must be thought of in the entire context of the Bible and with God’s wishes.

Before we cast women out of politics,  we should consider the following:

  • The first gender to visit the tomb after the resurrection, was female.
  • The first mass evangelist in the Gospels was the Woman at the Well.
  • One of Jesus’ most famous statements is, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
  • Jesus ate with both women and men.

What is remarkable about these actions by Jesus, is how revolutionary they were in the first century. In that society, men ruled everything and women were never used as examples to look up to. For Jesus, he represented, both genders, in his stories, remarks and parables. This very act of including women in his stories in the first century was an extraordinarily radical change in direction.

Jesus’ most important healing lesson was with the bleeding woman, who had barged in amidst a man only event to touch Jesus’ cloak. Instead of being rebuked by Jesus, the woman was told, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. In the first century, it was a male dominated society, but Jesus spoke about women equally.

But what is far more important about Jesus’ treatment of gender, was not that he favored either gender. His service was for all humankind. Women should not be denied access because men should come first. Likewise, men should not be denied access because women should come first. Jesus saw all people as children of God

Jesus would support the attitude of let the best candidate win. In our current age it has become fashionable to assume all men are ill behaved. It has become fashionable to say all men oppress women. This is a very dangerous line of thinking as well, most men are not naturally bad or poorly behaved. To achieve gains at the expense with global assumptions about any group is not sustainable. We should not make enemies while we rise up in life, we should make allies. No gender, race or orientation has a corner or monopoly on bad behavior. All people are endemically good and born with the inheritance of being made in the image of God. Both men and women! When we think otherwise, we unfairly take rights away from a particular group.

I still think two hundred-seventeen and half is the right number of women to serve. Perhaps in one congressional district we could have a woman serve six months and a man serve the other six months each year.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Chris Leggat

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