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Side by Side

Seeking Simple Truth

January 30, 2015


 

                                                                                                                                             


                          Side-By-Side: Seeking Simple Truth 

                                                          By

                               Linda M. Downing



“Is the Church Relevant?”


 

            A few generations ago in the U. S., the churches of Christians were the center of community life—at least, in small towns and close-knit neighborhoods. The social, civic, educational, and business worlds honored timeworn traditions, scheduling events to not conflict with church meetings. Perhaps people were no better in those bygone days, but immorality was held in check, if not by conscience, by public pressure. That was so yesterday. 


            Baby boomers, the post-WWII group born 1946-1964, began the counterculture movement. The generations that followed, reared by parents who believed that guidance of their young amounts to tyranny, let them go their own way. That way produced the American citizens of today, increasingly un-churched and non-voting, but nevertheless outspoken and ready-to-fight on the subjects of religion and politics.


            If the church is no longer our center—that which helps us find our way—what is?


            Is it family? Writer and researcher Mitch Pearlstein, author of “Broken Bonds: What Family Fragmentation Means for America’s Future,” says this division is “the biggest domestic problem facing the country.” Statistics on family breakups, not to mention fluctuating definitions of family to match changing morality, bear him out.


            President Obama sees family fragmentation as a consequence of economic inequality. Certainly, money problems put pressure on most of us, but is that the root of families falling apart? Pearlstein says experts agree that the crumbling of families is weakening America, but no

expert believes he has “the” answer.


            Is education our center? If so, we are in trouble. Recent statistics say one high school student drops out every 26 seconds; 93 million American adults have almost no reading or math skills. David Jackson of the Living Today Educational Consortium, reacting to the State of the Union speech, describes American education as “broken, busted, and bankrupt…we must depend on other nations to provide us with the creative scientific minds of the 21st century.” 


            Is government our center? There is no better illustration of divisive party rancor than Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation—an affront to the White House—to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint Congress in February. Deb Riechmann of The Associated Press called it defiance of the president and part of a “collision course.”  


            A cosmopolitan world view has not stopped escalating world violence. On January 22 the scientists who monitor the famous “Doomsday Clock” moved its hands to three minutes from a manmade, catastrophic midnight. In a January column, Michael Gerson wrote that “after centuries of [scientific] inquiry…everything…balances precariously on the head of a pin.”   


             In the first century Jesus warned that “a house divided against itself shall not stand” (Matthew 12:25). In the 20th century Billy Graham warned that “we are trying to run the Space Age with horse-and-buggy moral and spiritual equipment.” In the 21st century, in-house church honesty reveals less than 20 percent—not the 40 percent reported by Gallup—of Americans regularly attend church. Even if the church is relevant, it is no longer our center. Is God?       


Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together—side-by-side.


Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com. 




January 23, 2015

 

 

                                                                                                                                               

                          Side-By-Side: Seeking Simple Truth 

                                                               By

                                            Linda M. Downing                                                       

 

“Light vs. Darkness: the Real War”

 

 

            The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) may have assigned 2015 the most ironic title in history: “Year of Light.” The full title is the “United Nations International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies.” Considering January’s beginnings, how ironic that the Year of Light, planned since 2013, should be based in Paris, the City of Light, and kick off on January 19 in the aftermath of an Islamic terrorist attack that has shaken the world. What light could possibly shine into this darkness?

             Further irony is that Islam’s contributions to education and science will be highlighted. In an early January article for the Chicago Tribune, Dennis Byrne speaks of “Islam’s Golden Age,” a time from the 7th to the 13th centuries. He then asks: “What happened?” After wondering if Christianity polluted Islam, he ends by blaming modern Islam’s problems on internal conflict.

             Perhaps “internal conflict” sums up all problems: within individuals, religions, governments, and nations. Talking is not solving the disturbances; without enlightenment, it only makes noise. Noise with purpose—the other-worldly jarring of a shofar to call to meeting or battle, the deep bass of a New England foghorn to activate to wariness when fog inhibits vision at sea—can help deactivate danger only if we listen.

             Traditional voices of light are now discounted as outmoded and, in truth, are in short supply: voices of parents, clergy, church; voices of discipline, education, gentility; voices of thought, originality, and morality. If we have not gleaned the wisdom of the old, our incorporation of the new will be faulty. The Coast Guard plans to phase out the venerated foghorns and replace them with newer gadgets, an unpopular plan among those who describe the haunting sound of foghorns as “lights” along the coast. Those tired of the foghorns’ blasts prefer more infrequent intrusions into the darkness. 

             Does our War on Terrorism boil down to “radical” Islam (darkness) vs. everything else? If it does, why isn’t the “everything else” winning?  Is “everything else” the light?

            Among the December 31Tampa Tribune’s “50 things we know now that we didn’t last year,” here is number eight: “The Pentagon has a plan in place for a zombie apocalypse.” It was revealed this past May by CNN, which claimed access to an unclassified Defense Department document. Although the Pentagon’s response was that this was an imaginary training tool used as an in-house exercise, we might ask ourselves if today’s fiction has so skewed our ability to seek and grasp truth that we have acquired characteristics of the “living dead.”   

            Silence is not popular; but to fight pain at its worst or an enemy at its strongest, it is a disarming weapon. Eric Felten, writing “The Road to Wellville” for the December/January National Geographic Traveler, says of his grandmother’s refusal to speak of the disease killing her: “Yet over time I begin to appreciate her reticence, however prim it may seem in our age of (over) sharing.” Her silence spoke like a foghorn into the darkness and strengthened all.   

             We do well to speak of light and not allow darkness into the spotlight. We do well to recognize: “…God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). That spells victory.

Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together—side-by-side.

 

Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com. 








January 16, 2015


                                                                                                                                            

                               Side-By-Side: Seeking Simple Truth 

                                                             By

                                            Linda M. Downing

 


“The Time Is Now”


 

            No one has ever made this point more clearly than King Solomon: “To everything there is a season and a time…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7). It has been echoed from Elvis—“a little less conversation, a little more action, please”—to Toby Keith—“a little less talk and a lot more action.” The problem is not with the thought; the problem lies with knowing when to do what—the timing.


            In the terrorists’ attack in Paris this past week, as in our own 9/11 catastrophe, the world was caught off guard. In general, we all see it coming—this looming cloud of threat to our freedoms, our human dignity, and our very lives. In specific, we hear voices crying out from the dark. Unlike the watchmen on ancient city walls, yelling only when they actually saw something, world leaders have entered a non-stop talk-a-thon where making noise is all that counts.


            A lot of people will gather where there is a lot of noise. Intentions may be good, as we witnessed in the Paris’ “cry for freedom” or “unity” rally. In the U.S. we were temporarily distracted with wondering why our president was not there. We were represented by our Ambassador to France, Jane Hartley. Others of our notables will be involved in the aftermath.


           The real question now is not the collection of who’s who but the decisions made. There must be more than a war of words over silly movies like “The Interview,” a comedy musing over the assassination of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un. There must be more than cartoon satire and signs bearing slogans, such as, “Je suis Charlie.” By Tuesday, January 13, the Charlie Hebdo newspaper was sending out a new cartoon of the prophet Mohammed, carrying the slogan and weeping under a headline that read: “All is forgiven.” That act will be lauded as bravery by those who are living under death threats, but will it change anything or is it just tit-for-tat?   


            Those bent on murder in the name of Allah will not be deterred by freedom-of-speech arguments or any other freedom plea. Separation of religion and state is Western democratic thinking. In Islam everything is about Allah and his prophet Mohammed. Part of the reason they call us “infidels” is because, as they see it, we claim to be Christians or followers of Judaism or whatever but do not live it.


            Abraham Lincoln’s thinking is as current today as it was in the 1800’s: “In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.” 


           If the leaders of the world want to stomp out radical Islamic terrorism, they must recognize Israel with more than words. In close-ups of the unity walk, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stands arm-in-arm with other leaders. After years of harassment which continues to this day, Israel gave up the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. It has not brought peace; it strengthens the major goal of all Islamic terrorists—to annihilate Israel.            


            If the United States and other nations are really serious, then we must take a stronger stand for Israel. More impact than a walk through Paris would be to move embassies out of Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. Then link arms and march in solidarity in Jerusalem’s streets.       

     

Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together—side-by-side.


Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com. 




January 9, 2015

                                                                                                                                   


                             Side-By-Side: Seeking Simple Truth 

                                                               By

                                   Linda M. Downing

         


“Yearning for Change in 2015”


 

            At the end of a manmade calendar lies a desire for transition, a yearning for change. This is normal; this is human; this is God-given. It is the “new” in New Year. 


            We need not look for new in 2014’s closing headlines. Politically speaking—and politics seem to be the center of everything—we hit a wall. That is well illustrated in a December 28 Associated Press article by Julie Pace and Nancy Benac entitled, “President’s twilight fraught with skepticism.” If we summarize their take on Obama’s final two years in office, we get comedian Stephen Colbert’s joke of a few weeks before: “Are you still president?”


            Here is the Pace/Benac outlook: no change in Washington (hence, the rest of the country). Democrats and Republicans, and whoever else enters the next fray, will basically bypass 2015-2016, symbolically wrangling while blanking it all out with selective amnesia.


            Will Pace and Benac and other newscasters sum us up as they have Obama? “The Yes-We-Can man is entering a twilight of maybes, his presidency still driven by high ambitions but his power to achieve them running out.” This Obama is a man concentrating on his bucket list, imagining a freer life outside the White House. Is that us? Is that good or bad?  

 

           Mark Jenkins, in “A Winter’s Tale,” written for National Geographic Traveler’s December/January issue, reduces survival in China’s Altay Mountains to this: “…we must keep moving…Nothing more. Acceptance of this soon will liberate me.”


            Moving is good—if we’re going in the right direction. In a New Year’s Eve crush of bodies—some going up while others came down—36 people were killed and 49 injured in a stampede on Shanghai’s riverfront. While one news article featured the people’s disillusionment with the authorities’ preparedness, another just below it announced that the Russians, despite the ruble’s sinking and ongoing political turmoil, entered 2015 as a “nation of optimists” filled with a “surge in national pride.”     


            National pride is leaving us, timing itself to our own leaving of national principles based on our national God. We have watered down what we know is right and kowtowed to what we know is wrong until we can no longer define either—until we closed 2014 afraid to say “Merry Christmas” during a holiday whose only real purpose is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In Tallahassee our “authorities” groveled before a group called the Satanic Temple, allowing them to desecrate a holiday that has nothing to do with them or their beliefs—a holiday that represents the beliefs of 77 percent of the U.S. adult population, according to a 2012 Gallup poll.            


            When a woman entered Florida’s Capitol, reached out and ripped apart the Satanists’ display, its spokesman said to leave its remains as a “testament to the intolerance of some people.” A few days later someone in Massachusetts stole a baby Jesus statue from a church’s Nativity scene and replaced it with a pig’s head. 


            These types of expressions simply reinforce our own pigheadedness. Newness in the Greek New Testament refers to a quality change occurring “in Christ.” Then, “all things become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Only that newness is behind the true yearning for change in 2015.


            Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together—side-by-side.

 

Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com. 




January 2, 2015

 

 

                                                                                                                                               

                          Side-By-Side: Seeking Simple Truth 

                                                          By

                                           Linda M. Downing

                                                                                     



             “Realistic Optimism Is Possible”

 

 

            After the end-of-2014 overviews, the wild celebrations on New Year’s Eve, the 2015 prognostications, the resolutions to learn from it all, January 2 dawns upon the overactive and tired. It is even worse if behind it all is fašade or fear or both. We need realistic optimism.

            If we can trust the December 12-14 Times Square poll—questioning 1,017 adults supposedly representative of the U.S. population—conducted by the Associated Press—then nearly half of Americans ended 2014 hopeful that 2015 will be better. Yet, the top 2014 stories in the minds of those polled were the rise of the Islamic State, the killings of black men by police officers, the Ebola outbreak, and Robin Williams’ suicide. 

            Is that optimism or desperation? Polls in recent years, including a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll updated in August 2014, found record anxiety levels about the younger generations’ opportunities and pessimism about the nation’s long-term prospects. Those findings went beyond wealth, gender, race, region, age, and ideology.      

            Richard Mullins, writing for The Tribune’s December 28 issue, listed “authenticity” first among his top trends for 2015. That’s hopeful, especially in view of an MSN posting the same day, showing hairy, female armpits dyed in psychedelic hues, one of the biggest trends on the Internet in 2014, along with how-to instructions. Then again, that might be what Mullins has in mind in his tongue-in-cheek examples of getting away from a “pre-packaged” life back to the more natural in “food, clothing, movies, books, and lifestyle.”

            Somehow our authenticity tends to turn us into clones, an observation made some 4,000 years ago by someone who called himself “The Preacher”: “…there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Then again, he was only a preacher—or perhaps a king named Solomon.

            Thus far, no one has outdone Pope Francis’ expectation for 2015. His cry for authenticity took the form of—in the words of Nicole Winfield, writing for The Associated Press on December 23—“a public dressing down of the Curia, the central administration of the Holy See which governs the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church.” Calling them hypocrites who use their Vatican status for power and wealth, the Pope’s words were a verbal picture of Jesus’ famous overturning of the moneychangers’ tables in the temple. Like John the Baptist, the Pope called for repentance in a “powerful, violent speech.”       

             The European Union court that removed Hamas from the list of terrorist groups on December 17 deserves a dressing down. Their explanation—that their decision was based on a “technicality”—is as weak as the Curia’s sullen silence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in what now could be called Pope-like righteous indignation, issued the same prophetic cry for change: “…We expect it (EU) to put Hamas back on the list forthwith.”             

            Broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow, once defined an optimist as “someone who tells you to cheer up when things are going his way.” That may be true on a natural level. On a higher level, neither the Pope nor Netanyahu sound optimistic but their authenticity, coupled with the power of moral right behind them, calls forth an entirely possible and realistic optimism.  

Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together—side-by-side.

 

Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com. 

 

 

 
















































"The Truth is heavy; therefore few care to carry it."  Anonymous