|Have we forgotten?|
#010, June 1998
Wow! It seems like a long, long time since I've written to you. Actually it has been over six months. Which is longer than normal. Ever since about the beginning of lent, I have begun an across the board examination, or perhaps introspection, of where I'm at, what I believe, and what I'm doing. This newsletter will reflect somewhat that process. Along with six months of normal stuff to relate.
A couple of months back I heard a sermon by a visiting pastor while I was visiting a church in Petoskey, MI. He told a story about the building of the Taj Mahal in India. As you may, or may not, know the Taj Mahal was commissioned built by Shah Jahan. Apparently his beloved Arjumand Banu Begum, known by the title Mumtaz Mahal ("crown of the palace"), died in 1631. Well, the Shah was so distraught, he was apparently beside himself about what to do. That's when he decided to honor her and show his great love by building the greatest structure the world had ever seen as her final resting place (mausoleum). According to the story the Pastor was telling, the Shah had them start the construction right around the coffin of Mumtaz. He would come every day to mourn her and see how the building was progressing. Throughout the course of the 17 years it took to construct, the Shah's obsession with her death, switched to an obsession with the project, and the greatness of his structure. As the undertaking was coming to a close, the Shah and his builder were wandering through the edifice very late in the evening. In the great hall, the Shah stumbled over an old wooden box some workers had apparently left sitting around. He chastised the builder that he would be so lax as to allow his workers to leave such trash laying about in such a spectacular complex, as this he had built, and ordered it removed and thrown out immediately. The wooden box was, of course, the coffin and remains of Mumtaz Mahal. I suspect this story falls into the category of folklore, although the names, dates, and story of why the Taj Mahal was built are accurately told (Grolier's Encyclopedia).
It does create a clear point though for those of us who claim to be Christian. Our lives, our denominations, our churches, and the Church, are all supposed to be built around an old wooden cross. Have we become so caught up with what we're building that we've long since thrown out that old pile of wood "cluttering" up our grand plans. You might want to give some thought before answering.
While I was stopping on Teaching & Sharing Center business in Cherokee, NC, I had an opportunity to speak with a fellow who had been an elder in one of the churches down there, and apparently quite active. He has, however, returned to the old Cherokee religion. His statement was, "if you took away the threat of hell and the collection plate, Christianity would disappear." My response to him was, that indeed many churches calling themselves "Christian" would fall. But at the center of Christianity is Jesus, the Christ. His cross. His love. And wherever those truths are still at the center of a church, or an individual, they will endure.
I will leave it up to you to determine how many fall into that latter category.
In Native American circles it's not too difficult to understand why they aren't so enamored with this "Christian" culture that came to "rescue" them. I've heard it said, as justification, we didn't do anything to them that they weren't already doing to each other. Or, they fared better historically than other conquered peoples. Now there's an interesting perspective for a "Christian" people to take.
Anyway, this whole idea of whether
we've lost sight of Christ as a valid, impacting on what we do, how we
live, choices we make, center in our life, church, or business "building
plans" has become the central question of my own analysis of priorities
here. In every aspect of a touch of william. In truth it's all one.
(My poems "I Am A Christian" "The
Beginning Of Wisdom" and "More Or Less"
My son, Christopher, made the remark to me this spring, before heading back up to Mackinac Island for his work, that I donít always sound convinced myself when I am writing about something (we happened to be talking about the poetís circle at the time). I wondered if that was a negative for others of you, as it seemed somewhat for him? I hope not, since it is likely this may often be the case. Please understand, when I share with you, it is not like someone who has arrived at some distant destination, and is sending you a postcard saying what a perfect place this is. It is more like sending you a few pages of an ongoing journal, fairly current, and filled with the questions, doubts, and emotions of daily choices.
It has been three and a half years since I left my career in insurance to follow what I thought I was being asked to do. I was not handed a blueprint, or a corporate business plan, with detailed instructions for each step. Indeed, I have tested many, many options for all the aspects of a touch of william. Listening to many of you, as well as others around me, Iíve gone down roads I sometimes didnít agree with at all. Some have worked out, others have strengthened my conviction that my original choices were best. But, I did not want to simply "do it my way" without giving consideration to, and testing the suggestions of others.
One such area, where I have returned to the position I started at, is with those who admonished me that it was unrealistic to think that God did not expect me to come up with income sources to pay for whatever happens here. I listened. I tested. I opened up to handling products I never intended to be involved with. Iíve changed the poetís circle, and the keyholder program a time or two, testing possibilities. In each case I can usually see how God has forced me beyond my boundaries to add a dimension which has the potential to touch peoples lives in a positive fashion. But, in each case, where Iíve listened to those who saw the income potential as the primary objective, Iíve seen brick walls stop my movement in those directions. I donít think God called me from 20 years in a profession which had unlimited monetary potential, to pursue financial success in another arena. Or, even to focus on ways to just pay the bills. God gives freely. Jesus had no fee scale. As much as is possible I believe I must pattern what I do on His example. I donít know how it will all play out. I know the old piece of wood needs to stay in the middle of my programs and choices. Sometimes, like the Shah on the first page, Iíve lost sight of my original priority, as Iíve gotten caught up in the details of activity. Unlike the Shah, I probably also have a typical dose of fear of looking like a failure, or perhaps the fear is really of being treated like one.
A few people over the three years have offered that maybe leaving State Farm was the wrong choice. Or, that I should be looking elsewhere. I donít think so. Iíve given it some serious thought, and come to the conclusion there are three primary possibilities concerning that decision.
One is, of course, that Iím right where God has lead me, doing what it is He is asking me to do.
The second is that Iím totally off the beam, as crazy as I was in the middle of my stress collapse 13 years ago, and have basically just lost it altogether. Well, if thatís so, then this is likely the best place for me. It keeps me busy, and off the streets. Iím not out doing harm to society or myself.
The third is that God indeed called me out of my career, but Iím so ignorant I got His instructions all wrong. If that were the case, if Iím that ignorant, why would anyone want me someplace else where I could really muck things up.
Right where Iím supposed to be? Crazy? Ignorant? They all point to right here as the best place for me at this moment. So I guess Iíll stay the course. With a few adjustments, to reset the priorities back where they belong.
"There is a big difference between living and existing. Both are risky, only one is fulfilling."
Is There Contradiction and Inconsistency in the Bible?
This morning I was doing my Old Testament reading. It was Exodus chapter 34. After reading verse 7, I decided to include some thoughts about the Bible. Iím not sure how to formulate what I want to say, but it has to do with contradiction and confusion. The fundamentalists who visit the Center are always telling me there is no contradiction in Scripture. Iíve reprinted Exodus 34:7 for you below. For those of you who are not Christian, or not Bible readers, let me set the scene.
Just a few chapters earlier in Exodus. Moses has just come down from the mountain for the first time. One of the Ten Commandments he brought down says "You shall not kill" (NRSV says "murder"). Heís really ticked about what the people have been doing, and asks in Exodus 32:26, "who is on the Lordís side?" Then in verse 27 he tells those people that God is telling them to go kill "your brother, your friend, and your neighbor." Excuse me? But to my simple mind there seems to be contradiction here? Most of the Commandments were rather wordy. No such deal with this one. "Thou shalt not kill." Not, you shouldnít kill except when itís justified. Not even, you will not kill except when instructed to do so by God Himself. Just, "You shall not kill."
Ever been to a service where they donít let women speak? Neither have I. But, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:34 women should not be allowed to. And this is the New Testament. I have yet to meet anyone, in any denomination, who does not selectively decide which Bible admonitions apply to todayís world. Weíd go nuts if we tried to literally follow everything it says. But who gets to draw the lines? If God really gave the instructions in the first place, who decides they no longer apply. I know that Jesus explained some misinterpretations of Godís instruction in His day. But who qualifies for that role today?
Even with Jesus there are inconsistencies which crop up. I spend most of my time in the New Testament, specifically in the Gospels examining what Jesus said and did. Thereís a story about Jesus being hungry. When he went to a fig tree to get some fruit and found none, He got miffed and cursed the tree (it either promptly withered, or was found withered on the return trip, depending on which Gospel you read, but thatís not the point). Theologians say the tree was symbolic of the nation of Israel, but thatís not the point either. My problem is, in Mark 11:13 (one of the places this story appears) it says "... he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs." Not the season! If I went to an apple tree here in Michigan in February would I cut it down because I found no apples on it?" No way! It would be dumb to expect to find an apple on it. Inconsistent? Unfair? Unrealistic? Even symbolically such a statement doesnít seem to float. Do I just ignore it? If thatís the case, how do I decide which ones to ignore, and which ones to listen to? Is it Godís intent to be confusing? I read somewhere that "Jesus died to take away your sins, not your mind." I donít think itís a problem to look at Scripture with a discerning eye, and questioning heart. Some people seem to think anything to do with the Bible has to prove out flawless or itís going to invalidate God. Or, maybe just the Bible. But, there is no way for any of us to know the truth about whatís in the Bible except through the faith that is inside us. So what do I really believe? I think we need to give all the argument a rest. Thereís a lot of cool stories in Scripture. Thereís some really gross stuff too. There are some things that seem just plain dumb. Some unfair. And, yes, some contradictory. Yet, there is a whole lot that is incredibly relevant to our lives today even though it was written thousands of years ago. Wisdom that can help us to have better, happier lives. Maybe on Godís level itís all perfectly clear. But if Godís wisdom were represented by all the beaches and deserts in the world, my knowledge would be maybe the size of a single grain of sand by comparison. Still, I can only see from where Iím at, not where God is. I think trying to follow Jesusí basic examples is enough of a challenge for this life.
The Jehovahís Witnesses came by day before yesterday. I shared what I had written about the Bible with them. They had answers for several of my questions, but only one seemed plausible. On the "iniquity verses" (Exodus 34:7) they indicated it means God forgives but does not eliminate consequences. About women speaking, when I said everybody tends to ignore that one, they claim the actual translation is "teach", and though they allow women to comment in their meetings, they are not allowed to teach. Whenever they had no answer, their comments were about Satan actively encouraging people to nitpick about the details of Scripture. I donít mean to pick on the JWís, they just happened to show up. But why do some people think the Creator of the Universe needs them to "prove" or "defend" Him. Why not just work on your own relationship with God, as an example.
"It takes a rare person to want to hear what he doesnít want to hear."
- Dick Cavett
Back in March, the USA Weekend magazine had an article by Deborah Tannen, author of The Argument Culture: Moving From Debate to Dialogue. Thought it made some interesting points.
In part she says our competitive, argumentative societal ways:
- makes us distort the facts
- makes us waste valuable time
- limits our thinking
- encourages us to lie
There are frequently more than two sides to an issue which might be considered. "We need to find metaphors other than sports and war. Smashing heads does not open minds."
It seems related to some of what Iíve been talking about so far. Itís also consistent with my own statements that we need to be looking for the "Truth" together, rather than arguing over whoís "right". It doesnít do anybody any good for me to convince the whole world that Iím right, if it turns out not to be Truth. I said in one of my poems, ultimately, Truth proves itself.
1997 Financial Report Excerpts for Those Who Are Primarily "Left Brain" People
Cool title, huh? Means "facts and figures" as opposed to "words and emotions" if I have the brain sides correct. Anyway, operating income for all of a touch of william came from as follows: State Farm Termination Payments 47%; Enrich International (Solutions), 25%; Contributions, 16%; Miscellaneous Products, 12%. Contributions rose from $656 in 1996, to $2376 in 1997. Of those, 60% came from one individual; 22% from a husband and wife, and the remaining 18% from a mix of eight other members of the poetís circle. In addition to monetary contributions, three members sent stamps, one member paid the utilities downstairs (which would almost double the total if shown as a cash equivalent), and a few donated items directly to the lending library. Most of the $2376 was spent on christian life programs library materials ($1216). A tithe of 14% ($333) was spread among 34 non-profit organizations, and one individual. $130 was paid to someone needing cash (they did yard work around the Center), and the balance went for postage, library & prayer room supplies, and Center maintenance.
It was good to see the State Farm portion reduce from 75% in 1996 to 47% in 1997. That income runs out in 1999. Starting in April, I began weaning the operations here off from my State Farm income. Donna and I increased support out of our tithe money to ease the transition. The past three years Iíve used virtually all of my income to develop whatís here, and there are some repairs which have been put off at our personal residence which need to be attended to. So things may get a little tight around here for a while on the mission end of things as I learn to rely on product tithes, personal tithes, and contributions to handle the non-product expenses.
WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?)
The last page of this newsletter has some pictures of the Center. The one of the outside shows that the top bar on my sign asks "What would Jesus do?" This sign was put up before I even left State Farm, so several years before the WWJD craze. In spite of the sign, I do not handle WWJD products here.
Someone stopped in looking for them once, and I followed up by contacting the company that makes and distributes them. They were "less than helpful" to put it politely. I decided to pass on their wares.
Others have asked me what I think of all this WWJD stuff. Even before dealing with the company, I had mixed emotions about it. I took the "what would Jesus do" slogan from the book In His Steps, which I distribute for free here at the Center. In the book, it is a serious question, inviting a serious response. One of the best ways to water down such a question is to somehow popularize it. Make it "cool" or the "in" thing, and most likely the message will get lost in the process. I see that happening already. Since I donít like to be trendy myself, I was half tempted to take down my sign when all this WWJD business began. Still, if only even a few people are moved to take the question seriously, then WWJD has served its purpose.
Iíd like to talk a little bit about the Keyholder program. Many people seem to have their own concept of what the Center is, or is meant to be. Some seem to think it is like a retail store because there are products here. Others focus on the library and are confused that there are not regularly staffed open hours, like a public library would have. It was not designed to be either. It is not my "place of business" requiring me to be present in case someone wishes to call on me. Outside is my place of business. Wherever God asks me to go. Whatever He asks me to do. This is more like the "base" from which I operate. It so happens, that I usually come in to work here six days a week, for several hours each day. But the hours depend on what demands are being made on my time in any given day. I am almost always here at some mid-morning point, and also mid to late afternoon, because those are my prayer/meditation times. Unless I am far away from the Center, I try to do those in the prayer room, since I do Scripture readings (progressing through the New Testament) at both these times.
As I (through Godís guidance) designed the layout and systems of the Teaching & Sharing Center, I kept in mind that it would need to be self-accessible for those who wish to regularly use the resources it offers. That is how the Keyholder program came about. Keyholders actually have a key to the front door of the Center. They can gain entry to use the library materials, prayer room, or purchase Center products 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
So how does one obtain Keyholder status? Participation is the primary way itís now set up. By teaching a class, or holding meetings relating to the missions, or the nature-spirit-expression theme of a touch of william. Perhaps facilitating a bible study group, or if those are not your cup of tea, then maybe just helping with some of the work around the Center, such as cleaning, or yard work, etc. Committing to holding the Center open on a regular weekly basis for other tpc members, while processing materials for the library is another option. The minimum participation is 2 hours (average) per week to maintain Keyholder status. Not much, really. And if time absolutely prohibits participation, there is also a financial option for those willing to commit to a monthly contribution of at least $50. I get the impression that some people keep waiting for me to set up classes, programs, and meetings. Occasionally I do that, but thatís not my primary objective. It takes most of my efforts just to keep things organized and functioning on a day to day basis. The alternative is to make this available to you, and others, to help in whatever ways God is leading you. Itís taken all of three years, but I have the feeling things are pretty much set up now as they are supposed to be. Donít wait for me to make it all happen though. If God has been nudging you, now is a good time to explore the possibilities. Or, the Center might disappear for lack of use in a year or so, because you were waiting for me to do what God was actually asking you to do.
I was going to give a little history of how christian life programs became a primary aspect of a touch of william, but Iíve been working on Sharing for a week now. I suspect your getting as tired of reading as I am of writing. Hopefully, Iíll get to it next time. But there are still several "housekeeping" details which I need to address.
Since I do not have regular hours here, Iíve been trying to develop a way for you to get tpc prices (discounts) for items I have at the Mega Mall, and the Grapevine. And, I did it. In each of those booths you will now find a 5Ĺ x 8Ĺ white card titled "Wholesale & Discount Purchasing Guidelines for Ďresaleí purchasers and members of Ďthe poetís circleí" which you present with your tpc membership card. It explains your discount to the cashier.
On Herbal Products I Now Add Shipping
Up to now Iíve subsidized the shipping costs on Sportron and Enrich product purchases made at the Center. However, since I charge you (tpc)the same price I pay (wholesale), sometimes it ends up costing me money, after contributing to the missions. Then I donít have enough to replace the product, even after any rebates. So, effective immediately, I will add $1 per product to cover the shipping I pay (5% with $5 minimum at Enrich, $2.75 plus 4% at Sportron).
Since these products are health related they will be priced at wholesale for everyone. Retail will only be shown for trade purposes at Cherokee Billís Trade Center. Also, some are now in the booth at the Mega Mall.
Speaking of the Mega Mall, Iíve included a flyer that shows its location as well as that of the Grapevine. The Grapevine is limited to personal craft type items, but within the parameters of whatís allowed Iíve tried to stock each with a variety of items from the Center for those of you who have asked me to improve access to a touch of william products. Please keep in mind though, the primary purpose of the booths is evangelism. I cannot put everything in them.
The Way Things Look Financially
!!! IMPORTANT !!!
If your tpc# is listed below, you should have a membership renewal card included with this newsletter. You need to return this card to me, or phone, acknowledging your desire to continue membership, if your choice is to remain a member.
BB064 KR058 EC048 JR057 NF041 JS059
CH060 JT065 SJ069 KT029 LP056 DW063
I will wait until the end of July before deleting any names from the mailing list. Please respond before it slips your mind, if you wish to remain connected.
For Those Who Have Never Seen the Center
Iíve included photocopies of pictures I took of the Center not too long ago. On the side with the outside photo, you see the classroom, and prayer room (2 bottom). The other side has the library (top) and trade center.