Sunday, April 17, 2016

April 16, 2016, column:

Zacharias' message more pastoral than apologetic

By Mike Haynes
            All the time, people ask Ravi Zacharias questions such as, “Why does God allow suffering?” “Why does God allow disease?” Although the world-renown preacher and author has many philosophical answers, his brief response during a sermon at Hillside Christian Church was more speculative:
            “Cancer. Medical issues. How do we know God did not send someone to help us with all of this by the brilliance of their mind and their capability, and we aborted those individuals right in the womb?”
            Addressing the questions of doubters wasn’t his main intent in Hillside’s Saturday night service April 2. The native of India, head of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, is known as an apologist, which means he presents logical reasons for the truth of Christianity. But as Hillside pastor Tommy Politz noted, Zacharias’ message in Amarillo was more pastoral than
Ravi Zacharias at Hillside Christian Church April 2, 2016
apologetic.
            It also was inspirational. I had heard Ravi – in evangelical Christian circles, he almost has first-name status – on the radio and had seen the white-haired intellectual in online videos, but he was new to my wife, Kathy. Her reaction was, “Wow, I’d like to hear him again.”
            This message didn’t deal in sterile, hard argument but in informed kindheartedness. Zacharias recalled that his daughter, Naomi, couldn’t find her keys a few months ago and said, “I must be losing my mind.” His 3½-year-old grandson, Jude, replied, “Mommy, whatever you do, please don’t ever lose your heart, because I’m in there.”
            After an “awww” from the congregation, Zacharias made several pastoral points. Drawing from the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25, he cautioned parents not to favor one child over another. He urged communicating with family members whether it’s at a baseball game or a restaurant. And he warned that the way to succeed is not through deception.
            Zacharias said while the greatest strength of his native India is its brilliant minds in science and other fields, its greatest weakness is corruption, including in business and government. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the late D.D. Davis, an Ohio businessman who gave Zacharias a large donation to help start his ministry.
            When the evangelist asked Davis what he wanted in return, Davis said he wanted only one thing: integrity.
            “When you’re living a duplicitous life, you’re running” from God, Zacharias said.
            He recited a long passage from the 1893 poem by drug addict Francis Thompson, “The Hound of Heaven.” God pursues us even as we flee from him, Zacharias said.
            Yes, even poetry was compelling in that slightly hoarse but soothing voice, dramatic but genuine. And though Zacharias’ sermon was by no means academic, you left knowing he is both a fervent believer and a solid scholar. I later had to look up F.W. Boreham, who Zacharias called one of the greatest Christian essayists in part because of “The Sword of Solomon.” The visiting preacher, pointing out that “each individual is indivisible,” quoted Boreham on the laws of math: “The two halves of a baby make no baby at all. … No man who has once fallen in love will ever be persuaded that one and one are only two. He looks at her and feels that one plus one would be a million.”
            In addition to his overt message, Ravi Zacharias gives the impression that Christianity is so multi-faceted that all its glory can’t be experienced in a lifetime. Literature, family, struggle, joy, healing, humor, integrity, trust, scripture, transition – all those and much more bring meaning to lives touched by Christ.
            “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good,” he said. “Jesus came to make dead people live.”
                                                  * * *
            Ravi Zacharias’ Amarillo message is available online at http://hillsidewired.com/message/raised-to-run

Saturday, March 12, 2016

March 12, 2016, column:
Justice Scalia was not silent about his faith
By Mike Haynes
             You would think neither supporters nor detractors of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would be surprised at his views on religion and government.
            The devout Catholic talked about both in September 2013 at the massive Stone Chapel on the grounds of the Lanier Theological Library in Houston. The chapel, a replica of a 1,500-year-old church that once stood in Cappadocia, modern-day Turkey, has physical mass that was appropriate for the presence of a Supreme Court justice who had such influence on American society and whose
Stone Chapel at Lanier Theological Library
(Photo by Kathy Haynes)
death this February still hangs heavily over U.S. politics.
            Mark Lanier, the Lubbock native and Houston attorney who built the library and chapel, hosts several speakers a year, mostly Christian scholars. In 2013, he lured Scalia to Texas to address the question, “Is Capitalism or Socialism More Conducive to Christian Virtue?”
            I wasn’t there, but it feels like I was because my wife and I toured the chapel last summer, and video of the 48-minute lecture is available at http://www.laniertheologicallibrary.org/videos.
            Anyone slightly familiar with the justice knows his answer to the capitalism/socialism question, but some might be surprised at nuances of his reasoning.    
            “The first thing I wish to say about it is that I do not believe it is terribly relevant,” Scalia said. “I do not believe a Christian should choose his form of government on the basis of which would be most conducive to his faith any more than he ought to choose his toothpaste on that basis.”
            Those who think Scalia would have favored a theocracy would be wrong. “A Christian should not support a government that suppresses the faith or one that sanctions the taking of innocent human life,” he said. “But the test of good government … is assuredly not whether it helps you save your soul. Government is not meant for saving souls, but for protecting life and property and assuring the conditions for physical prosperity. Its responsibility is the here, not the hereafter.”
            Scalia pointed out Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:21: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (RSV)
            But he said socialism is not as conducive to Christianity as capitalism. “The churches of Europe are empty,” he said. “The most religious country in the West by all standards – belief in God, church membership, church attendance – is that bastion of capitalism least diluted by socialism, the United States.”

Justice Antonin Scalia portrait at Lanier
Theological Library in Houston
(Photo by Mike Haynes)
           Scalia distinguished between government aid and private charity. “No one, not even the most conservative American, argues that there should not be a safety net for our citizens,” he said. “The issue is not whether there should be provision for the poor, but rather the degree to which that provision should be made through the coercive power of the state.
            “Christ said, after all, that you should give YOUR goods to the poor, not that you should force someone else to give his.”
            Scalia said Jesus didn’t preach eliminating hunger, misery or misfortune, but “the need for each individual to love and help the hungry, the miserable and the unfortunate.” The judge believed that when government handles charity, “it deprives individuals of an opportunity for sanctification and deprives the body of Christ of an occasion for the interchange of love among its members.”
            He said the negative consequences extend to those receiving aid. “The governmentalization of charity affects not just the donor, but the recipient. What was once asked as a favor is now demanded as an entitlement,” he said, which “has produced donors without love and recipients without gratitude.”
            He contrasted 19th century charity, which included efforts for “moral uplift,” to modern social workers who legally can’t address a person’s virtue. He lamented the “coldly commercial terminology” in which people in need are called “clients.”
            Scalia said for capitalism to work, traditional Christian virtues are essential. Because people have more freedom under capitalism, they have more opportunity to do evil. “Without widespread practice of such Christian virtues as honesty, self-denial and charity toward others, a capitalist system will be intolerable,” he said.
            “The burden of my remarks is not that a government of the right is more Christlike, only that there is no reason to believe that a government of the left is. I do not think Jesus Christ cares very much what sort of economic or political system we live under.”
            Asked what is the greatest miscarriage of constitutional justice he has seen, Scalia said it’s the recent use of the First Amendment clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
            “It’s the clause that’s always invoked whenever people want to tear down a cross that’s been put up on public land or remove a crèche that’s in the city square or take down the Ten Commandments,” he said.
            Unless something hurts a person, he said, that person has no standing to complain to the
Justice Antonin Scalia signed the guest book Sept. 6, 2013,
at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston.
courts. He believed most lawsuits claiming establishment of religion do not involve actual harm and are “silly cases.” More logical to Scalia were cases in which someone’s free exercise of religion was restricted.
            He certainly exercised his religious rights, including singing in Catholic choirs. A lover of opera, he preferred the formal and traditional. After singing Mozart at Rockefeller Chapel in Chicago, he often would attend another service.
            “I would go down the street to Mass and hear some clown strum a guitar and sing, ‘God is love, kumbaya.’”
            This Supreme Court justice surely was not the touchy-feely type. But from his speech in Houston, it’s obvious he had a sense of humor and a hearty faith.
                                                

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Feb. 6, 2016, column:
There is no 'evangelical' vote
(That headline was on the column in the Amarillo Globe-News. It doesn't exactly reflect the column. --Mike H.)
By Mike Haynes
            With the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses behind us and the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary coming up, a term we’ve heard a lot is “the evangelical vote.”
            Most pundits said it was an important factor in the Republican race in religiously conservative Iowa but won’t be as crucial in New Hampshire.
            You hardly hear the term in relation to Democrats.
            I asked members of my Sunday school class last week what they think “evangelical” means, because I believe it’s thrown around a lot with a simplistic or hazy definition.
            Some replies: “Churchgoers.” “The Christian vote.” “Nondenominational, independent, Christian person” and “Born-again Christians who have a relationship with Jesus.”
            In a brief discussion before we dived into I Peter (amid jokes that Donald Trump would call it “One Peter”), we agreed that many people, educated or not, lack a clear understanding of the word, “evangelical.” One man pointed out that questions about the evangelical vote usually come from news people, many of whom have little first-hand involvement with religion.
            “They don’t know what they’re asking,” he said. “They think evangelicals are non-enlightened people.”
            Indeed, I contend that most Americans would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between “evangelical” and “fundamentalist.” The latter term often is used in a derogatory way, and I believe many journalists and political experts lump “evangelical” into the same category.
            One of my classmates said he believes fundamentalists are seen as “staunch, rigid, by-the-book, the people who don’t take their kids to the doctor.” If that’s a common perception, I think many outsiders would say the same about evangelicals.
            I dug up a 2004 column in which I quoted Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary defining “evangelical”:
“Member of a Bible-based Protestant church emphasizing personal salvation solely through being born again and through uncompromising commitment to the person of Jesus Christ. Emphasizing the doctrine of sin, repentance, grace, salvation and saving faith.”
Back then, I pointed out that a fundamentalist probably would agree with those positions and that the main difference is in practice, not belief.  Fundamentalists seem to preach more of the “don’t’s,” while evangelicals tend to focus on the “do’s” of the Christian faith. I proposed that in my view, Jerry Falwell was a fundamentalist while Billy Graham was an evangelical.
Last week, our Sunday school teacher said he had read that evangelicalism is a flexible middle ground between fundamentalism and mainstream churches, which tend to have a more liberal approach to Christianity.
So what do the definitions tell us about who will vote for whom? Not much, but they reveal that there may not be a solid evangelical voter block. When Jerry Falwell Jr. endorses Trump, who identifies with the mainline Presbyterian denomination and seems to mention religion only because he has to, who can predict which candidate “evangelicals” will support?
Someone in my class last Sunday guessed that half of our church membership will vote Republican and half Democratic. Our church is solidly evangelical (see definition above), so I’m not sure about that prediction. Not many Democrats call themselves evangelical, although some, such as Fox News’ Kirsten Powers, do.
However the election turns out, I like what a woman in our class said:
“I want us to be known as people who trust God, have faith in his Word and know that it’s real.”

I don’t know whether a president has to have those qualities, but for me, it would be a plus.     

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Jan. 2, 2016, column:
Pray to be less selfish
By Mike Haynes
            I know it’s naïve, but starting a new year, my prayer is that we would be a little less selfish and a little more forgiving of the things other people do that we don’t like. And as simplistic as it sounds, how about trying to find ways to achieve that peace on Earth and good will toward men?
            We can start by seeing people as individuals instead of as stereotypes. Traditional barriers do not have to keep us apart.
            Take sports. How many times have you seen black and white athletes hugging each other, laughing together, consoling each other? The intimacy between ethnic groups may lessen sometimes when they leave the locker room after the game, but those team-oriented moments tell us there is potential for lasting trust.
Kathy Haynes at Strokkur geyser in Iceland
            Residents of small-town Texas tend to be wary of fast-talking, big-city people. Catholics and Protestants sometimes hesitate to fully accept each other. From a distance, we’re wary of people who are different. One remedy is familiarity.
            In December, Kathy and I flew 4,100 miles to Reykjavik, Iceland, hoping to see the Northern Lights. It had been on Kathy’s bucket list for a long time, we found a discounted rate, so we joined a group for three nights in freezing weather in the North Atlantic.
            It was cloudy the whole time. No Aurora Borealis for us. But we saw a waterfall, a geyser that erupts every five minutes and the culture of Iceland.
            Plus, we met people. Three nights isn’t time to really get to know anyone, but our small group included fellow adventurers from California, Houston, Chicago, New York and New Jersey.
            Two young nurses from New Jersey were on the tour, one black and one white. They were friendly, and Kathy and I worried about them when we thought they might miss our tour bus.
            After we had witnessed the Strokkur geyser shooting 30 yards into the air a couple of times, I was walking toward our tour bus when I slipped on a layer of ice. Boom, I hit the ground but managed to keep my camera and limbs intact.
            The two nurses were at my side immediately, pulling me up. I made jokes to lessen the embarrassment, and they laughed more with me than at me.
            I still barely know those girls, but I now have a soft spot for two New Jersey nurses.
            On the way home, our flight from Dallas to Amarillo was canceled without warning, resulting in a five-hour delay on Dec. 23. A woman trying to get back to her family by Christmas Eve didn’t know what to do. But when we all had the option of flying to Lubbock, a couple from College Station offered her a car ride for the last 110 miles to Amarillo.
            Such instances of camaraderie usually are short-lived, I realize. But the key is everyone having a single focus. Football players work together for the sake of the team. People in tour groups have similar interests. Travelers sometimes have a common purpose, which may be sharing information on how to get home.
            For me, the ultimate purpose is the Good News that Christianity offers. Those who follow Jesus have a built-in team – or tour group – and a common goal, which is offering that Good News to others.
            Christians are human, so unfortunately, we allow ourselves to be divided. But that isn’t the plan. Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name … so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)
            I believe if allowed to grow, the Christian message can bring all groups together. The forgiving response of the survivors of the Charleston, S.C., church shooting is a prime example of healing that comes with true faith.
            Clouds covered up the Northern Lights while we were in Iceland. But the New Jersey nurses stayed one more night, and they let us know by email that they got to see the colorful display in the sky.
            If we couldn’t see the lights, I’m glad those Jersey girls did.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Dec. 5, 2015, column:
Show a better way to live
By Mike Haynes
            Listening to oldies radio in the car, Kathy and I saw “Love Child – 1968” pop up on the dashboard display and heard the familiar voice of Diana Ross singing, “Love child, never meant to be, love child, by society, love child, always second best, love child, diff’rent from the rest.”
            I told my wife that song would be unacceptable today with its theme of a woman who was born out of wedlock and doesn’t want to bring her own child into the world the same way:
            “No child of mine’ll be bearing the name of shame I’ve been wearin’…”
            Yes, with 40 percent of babies today born to unmarried mothers, it would be seen as
insensitive to imply that any woman should feel guilt or shame for having a child without a marriage license.
            But it’s just one of the societal changes in recent decades that have many Christians worried that our culture is sliding down in the proverbial handbasket. In the wake of possibly the most jolting blow to traditional values, the U.S. Supreme Court’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, two writers have suggested how orthodox Christians should respond to the changes.

       I use the word “orthodox” to indicate Christians who still hold an interpretation of the Bible that, midway through the 20    th century, most believers agreed upon: basic, traditional Christianity, the “Mere Christianity” that C.S. Lewis explained.
            Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, both newspaper columnists, wrote a cover story for the November “Christianity Today” magazine in which they admit that “By many accounts, orthodox Christians have lost the culture wars.” They describe three responses and endorse one they say can allow Christians to flourish “in a time of retreat.”
            One reaction is the knee-jerk one we see on Facebook. Lots of committed Christians are vocal about issues where social conservatives have lost ground over several decades. Gerson and Wehner list several: divorce, abortion, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, gender roles and same-sex marriage.
            While they don’t say Christians should retreat from the public square on every issue, they don’t believe a militant response will be helpful in the long run. They especially discourage too much emphasis on that recent court decision:
            “Making gay marriage the centerpiece of Christian opposition would be foolish because it would overshadow all the other priorities of the church.” Instead, they urge a focus on building up traditional marriage. In their eyes, most Americans still support historical marriage, and allowing the small percentage of people practicing gay marriage to set the agenda is a mistake.
            The writers say Christians should avoid being known primarily for defending their own institutions: “It would mean constantly fighting defensive battles on terrain chosen by others.”
            A second option, promoted by author Rod Dreher, is for Christians to pretty much withdraw and operate within their closed communities. Dreher calls it the Benedict Option after Benedict of Nursia, who organized a monastic withdrawal from the decadent society of Rome.
            Gerson and Wehner don’t think Christians should hide but become even more active – in a positive way. They call it the Wilberforce Option after William Wilberforce, the British activist who helped rid his country of the slave trade.
            They define their option as “the relentless defense of human dignity in the course of human events.” They point out that for 2,000 years, Christians have lived in societies that didn’t reflect their values but that they nevertheless have had great influence. Paul didn’t write his first-century letters to try to influence political leaders but to advise church members on how to cope with day-to-day challenges in light of Christ’s teachings.
            The Jews, Gerson and Wehner observe, always have been examples of how to be devoted to their beliefs but not expect everyone around them to share their values.
            Christians shouldn’t always give in, the writers say, but should pick their battles. Of course, they declare, “religious liberty is vital.” But they believe Christians who oppose gay marriage might be more effective for God’s kingdom working on a food bank project with a same-sex couple than they would protesting that couple’s relationship.
            The Wilberforce Option involves working with other Christians in areas of common ground.
            Historically, Christianity has attracted seekers because of its compassion and love. Jesus said in Matthew 22, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
            Gerson and Wehner put it like this:           
            “Rather than lecturing the world, we need to show a different and better way to live in the world.”

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Nov. 7, 2015, column:
Don't judge a book by its author
By Mike Haynes
When my wife, Kathy, and I decided to take a short vacation to Savannah, Georgia, last year, we did our usual Googling to find out what would be on our must-see list.
Having grown up Methodist, I was interested in the statue of John Wesley that commemorates his missionary work in Savannah in the 1730s. Wesley didn’t stay long, considered the effort a failure and returned to England to become known as the founder of the Methodist Church.
We wanted to see the southern mansions and the Spanish moss draped from trees around the history-drenched squares. Savannah was witness to Revolutionary War action. It was the end of Sherman’s devastating Civil War march to the sea.
John Wesley-Savannah, Ga.
And I ran across the name Flannery O’Connor, one I knew little about but had seen referred to as a “Christian author.” I thought we’d visit the now-public home where she lived from her birth in 1925 until age 13.
            The home on a leafy boulevard in the Savannah historic district was closed on the only day we had to visit it, but Flannery O’Connor books were front and center in the city’s bookstores. I bought her short story collection, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” published in 1954. She died in 1964 of lupus but had established a reputation as one of America’s finest writers.
            Based on her soft-sounding name and the fact she’s called a Christian writer, I expected some intelligent, perceptive, inspiring short stories when I opened the book in our historic district hotel. Man, did I get a shock.
            The title story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” starts with a nice family deciding to take a vacation to Florida despite news reports of an escaped killer in that state. The parents, grandmother and children pile into a car, the kids read comic books, and they stop for barbecue sandwiches. It’s like watching an episode of “The Waltons.”
            Then the car runs into a ditch, they’re stuck in the country, and the grandmother flags down a car with three men in it. One of the men eventually expresses his doubts to the grandmother about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, they talk about life, and … well, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but when I closed the book and turned off the light to go to bed, I told Kathy the story was “disturbing.”
Flannery O'Connor home-Savannah, Ga.
            The second story, “The River,” is about a preacher baptizing in one. Except … well, its ending was disturbing, too. By the time I had finished all 10 stories, I was not a Flannery O’Connor fan. She was a talented writer, insightful, with Christian themes lurking underneath, but I didn’t like her approach of showing the need for redemption by illustrating the dark side of humanity.
            Luckily, I also had picked up “A Prayer Journal,” which she wrote privately in 1946 and 1947 while in college in Iowa. It had been published in 2013, and it redeemed my estimation of this southern writer.
            Whatever seediness and evil O’Connor dispenses in her stories, her prayer journal makes it clear that she based her worldview on a holy God, specifically from a Catholic perspective.
            In her early 20s, she wrote, longhand, “My dear God, … Please let Christian principles permeate my writing and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate.”  
            A few pages later, after mentioning that she’s reading Franz Kafka, she prays that she won’t let “the psychologists” influence her away from faith: “Dear Lord please give the people like me who don’t have the brains to cope with that, please give us some

Flannery O'Connor
kind of weapon, not to defend us from them but to defend us from ourselves after they have got through with us. …
“Please give me the necessary grace, oh Lord.”
            The 40-page prayer journal abounds with humility from an ambitious writer who certainly was an intellectual. She writes to God about love, her disdain for romanticism and her belief that hell is easier for us to imagine than heaven because it’s closer to what we see on Earth.
            O’Connor uses the same prayer model that a Methodist pastor taught me: ACTS – adoration, contrition (I learned it as confession), thanksgiving and supplication. And as she never intended for it to be published, her journal seems to be a true picture of the struggle she was having with herself and with God.
            I still don’t like reading her sordid stories. But I’m glad I ran across her journal. I can identify with pleas such as, “If I could only hold God in my mind. If I could only always just think of him.”
                                         

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Oct. 10, 2015, column:
Author sheds light on harsh history
By Mike Haynes
            The bread keeps coming back to me. Dry bread, 300 grams. Eaten in a wooden shack on a dirt floor with freezing temperatures and blowing snow outside.
            The 300 grams was the amount of bread a 15-year-old girl would get for the day if she had done her work digging useless holes in the mud or drawing maps for Soviet officers. Same amount for her little brother, same for her mother, same for each of the Lithuanians living in their dirty Siberian hut.
            With any perceived idleness or failure to obey a command, the 300 grams was reduced. People who had been librarians and teachers and wives of college professors were starving.
            My empathy for these regular people in unbearable circumstances is stirred by a fictional story: “Between Shades of Gray,” by Ruta Sepetys. But the hell she describes, which includes the separation of families and executions of those who resist, really happened. Sepetys interviewed survivors of a little-known World War II tragedy to fill her novel with true-to-life incidents.
            The book is Amarillo College’s Common Reader for 2015-16. New students are given copies, some instructors use it in their classes, and the author will be in town Oct. 29 to speak on campus and to the public.
            Sepetys’ main purpose is to bring to light the extermination, mostly by shipping people to labor camps and starving them, of anyone Joseph Stalin considered “enemies of the state” after the USSR had annexed the Baltic countries between Poland and Russia. Those
Ruta Sepetys
“enemies” consisted primarily of local political leaders and anyone who was educated enough to possibly question Stalin’s policies.
            In the novel, Lina Vilkas, the 15-year-old getting ready to attend art school, falls prey to the NKVD – the Soviet secret police – because her father is a professor and her parents may have helped others escape the roundup of “undesirables.” In June 1941, her father is taken to prison while she, her mother, Elena, and her 10-year-old brother, Jonas, are loaded onto filthy railroad cars and transported across the Soviet Union, ultimately to the Laptev Sea north of the Arctic Circle.
            Those who survive do so through faith, ingenuity and bonding. Becky Easton, an assistant professor of English at Amarillo College, pointed out that Lina and the people she is thrown together with exemplify Ecclesiastes 4:12: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
            In the book many are broken, but not quickly. Elena keeps her children alive by giving up her own food, her body slowly deteriorating. Easton said this mother lives out John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” – and family.
            Other characters, even a young NKVD guard, put themselves in danger to help others, revealing some inner compassion even as they follow orders.
            We know about the tribulation that millions of Jews suffered under Hitler in the Holocaust. We’re not so familiar with what Stalin did. He starved millions of people, yes, but that’s just a statistic. Reading about a small group of townspeople toiling by day, eating scraps of food by night, hacking at frozen soil to bury their dead, we learn how Stalin’s crimes played out.
            One of the few moments of joy in the story is a sparse Christmas Eve celebration when a group of sufferers gathers in one shack. In a labor camp, a stolen potato, a few biscuits from a nearby village and a small package of chocolate are a feast. The captives sing carols and remember happier Christmases with family members who now are missing or dead.
            But on Christmas Day, Lina says, “They worked us hard.”
            Still, there is grace. Easton reminded me how, in Sepetys’ book, Elena puts “love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44) into practice by handing a potato to Ulyushka, a self-centered woman who has hoarded her own food. The mother also defends a Soviet guard when Lina wishes illness on him: “Lina, think of what your father would say. A wrongdoing doesn’t give us the right to do wrong. You know that.”
            Writer Sepetys is successfully uncovering a harsh period of modern history. The book has won prestigious awards, and the film version of her story will be released in 2016.
            She also reminds us that people can be strong even without their daily bread – especially when they join together in faith. Near the end, Lina says, “We’d been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean. I realized that if we boosted one another, maybe we’d get a little closer.” 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Sept. 12, 2015, column:
Coleman reinforces importance of prayer
By Mike Haynes
            “Hello. My name is Landon. I’m a pastor. And I struggle with prayer.”
            That’s how a man who grew up in Amarillo starts his book on the topic that he calls “by far the hardest spiritual discipline.”
            People have short attention spans. They don’t find time to pray. And then there’s the theological issue that God already knows everything, and we are small and know almost nothing, so why spend time talking to him when he’s going to do what he wants anyway?

            Those and other prayer problems are addressed in “Pray Better: Learn to Pray Biblically,” by Landon Coleman, teaching pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Odessa. Coleman, son of Bill and Karen Coleman, is a product of Belmar, Crockett and Amarillo High schools who grew up attending Trinity Baptist Church, and he doesn’t blame any prayer deficiency on his upbringing.
            He just knows from leading churches in Frankfort, Kentucky; Kingfisher, Oklahoma; and Odessa that Christians could use some guidance in their conversations with God. Instead of coming up with his own self-help suggestions, he went to the source.
            “Pray Better,” available at rainerpublishing.com and amazon.com, analyzes prayers from the Old and New Testaments to show what our creator intends. Twenty short chapters cover prayers by the big names, such as Abraham, Moses, Paul and John, and by other biblical men and women such as Ezra, Asaph and Hannah.
            Since his AHS graduation in 2000 and West Texas A&M degree in 2004, Coleman has earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The book reflects his deep understanding of scripture.
            Coleman points out that whether Abraham’s prayers to Yahweh (God) in Genesis were answered as he wished or not, the pleas were offered up not from a stranger asking for favors, but “in the context of relationship, faith and obedience.”
Landon Coleman
            The book also brings prayer into modern-day focus with snippets from the author’s pastoral experience. He recalls Oklahomans Tom and Karen, whose only child, Sam, was deployed three times to combat in the Middle East.
            Ten years later, Tom struggled with guilt because his prayers had been answered – his son had returned unscathed – while the prayers of other parents didn’t seem to work. He had a friend, Bill, whose son didn’t return from Afghanistan.
            By the end of “Pray Better,” we may not completely “get it” when confronted with seemingly unanswered prayer, but we will have a better grasp of the overall picture of God’s relationship with his people.
            After all, Jesus himself found in Gethsemane that his human pleas didn’t keep him from pain when they weren’t aligned with his Father’s will. Coleman examines that prayer of Christ as well as Jesus’ model prayer, which we know as the Lord’s Prayer.
            Read this book with a copy of the Bible handy, and you will pray better.
                                                                          * * *
            Speaking of outstanding books by Amarillo authors, “The Key Place,” by fellow AGN columnist Gene Shelburne, is 191 pages of brilliant writing that was published this summer. It takes the reader to the home place of Shelburne’s grandparents, where he and his siblings played as children, and offers, along with nostalgic stories, a wealth of spiritual insights.
            Go to YouTube and search for Gene Shelburne to see a 2-minute video of the author talking about the book. “The Key Place” is available at leafwoodpublishers.com and amazon.com or by calling 806-352-8769.
                                                                          * * *
            Many remember Dean Jones for “The Love Bug” and other Disney movies, but not everyone knows that the actor who died Sept. 1 at age 84 committed the latter part of his life to glorifying God.
            By the 1960s, Jones was a movie and TV star and lived the out-of-control life often associated with Hollywood. But he returned to the faith of his youth and promoted the Christian message by playing White House lawyer Chuck Colson in “Born Again” in 1978 and the apostle John in “St. John in Exile” in 1986, among other faith-based projects. In 2009 he appeared in the Christian story for children, “Mandie and the Secret Tunnel.”

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Sept. 5, 2015, front page story:

Lawyer with Texas Panhandle ties brings religious texts to the public

By Mike Haynes
                How many attorneys does it take to lead a successful $9 billion lawsuit against two pharmaceutical companies, appear in a movie with a Hollywood star, donate $6 million to a law school, talk on a TV business show, host Christmas parties for 10,000 people, build a miniature railroad and display a full-size
Lanier Theological Library
Doctor Who time machine on his property?
                Add being written about in Texas Techsan, The American Lawyer and Christianity Today magazines, publishing a Christian book, teaching an 800-person Sunday school class, building a chapel modeled after a 1,500-year-old church and a library with around 105,000 theological volumes and owning original artwork from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books and a piece of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
                It takes just one Texan: Mark Lanier.
                “I wanted to be a preacher,” said the graduate of Lubbock’s Mackenzie Junior High and Coronado High School, head of the Lanier Law Firm and creator of the Lanier Theological Library next to his house in a Houston suburb. But after earning a degree in biblical languages at David Lipscomb University in Nashville in 1981, he took the advice of a Lubbock preacher that “I should be a lawyer and still teach or preach on the side, and then I could always do it because I wanted to and not because I have to.”
                He’s handled both his law career and his spiritual work in a big way.
                A judge reduced that 2014, $9 billion courtroom verdict against the Takeda and Eli Lilly drug firms substantially, but it’s likely to remain in the many millions, and the case is only one of many Lanier and his firm have won since his first big one, a $473
Mark Lanier
million verdict in 1993 for a small oil company over a big oil firm. One of his firm’s attorneys who has contributed to the success is former Amarillo resident Kevin Parker, whose daughter, Amy, has worked on the library website.
                “I still practice law so I can preach and teach without charging for it,” Lanier said in a July Houston interview. “It’s just turned out to be a remunerative enough career that I can also build libraries,” he said with a laugh.
                Lanier is 54 but could pass for 34. Relaxing in his library office in an upholstered wingback chair, the multimillionaire appeared more at home in a red Lacoste polo shirt, jeans and Tom’s shoes with no socks than in his trial lawyer suit and tie. Draped over the back of the chair was an afghan his grandmother had knitted. He said the library resulted from his need for a place to research lessons for his weekly Sunday school class at Champion Forest Baptist Church. He had floated the idea with his wife, Becky, also an attorney and a Lubbock native.
                He recalled going to his pastor and saying, “‘I can’t talk my wife into this. If I build this, you’d use it, wouldn’t you?’ And he says, ‘Sure, I think a lot of people would.’” So in 2010, the research facility opened, a 17,000-square-foot building based on architectural features at Oxford University.
                To design the stone and wood library, Lanier started by calling his son, then teaching at the 900-year-old British institution, on a Tuesday and asking if he could fly over for a Friday Oxford tour. “I want you to figure out the seven prettiest libraries in Oxford, and I need to see them,” he told his son. “So he shows me the libraries. I’ve got pictures of him standing on a chair holding tape measures.”
                Lanier flew back Saturday so he could prepare for his Houston Sunday school class. “We started building on Monday,” he recalled.
Amos fragment of Dead Sea Scroll
                “We’ve got 17 seminaries and grad schools that use this as a principal research library,” he said.  The library has about 85,000 books and 20,000 journals. It’s open to the public; nationally known author and pastor Lee Strobel dropped in one day this July.
                The facility also displays Christian artifacts such as handwritten letters by author C.S. Lewis, artwork from Lewis’ Narnia book series, two copies of the original 1611 King James Bible and a rare fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
                “It’s the oldest copy of Amos in the world today,” Lanier said. “It dates from the time of Christ. I’d like to say I’ve got ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one,’ you know, the Shema out of Deuteronomy. No, mine is, ‘Your wife will be a prostitute in the city and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.’ But hey, it’s in the Bible.”
                Similar fragments have sold for up to $1.5 million.
The Stone Chapel
                Lanier’s property also includes the Stone Chapel, a 275-seat building with two-foot-thick walls and colorful ceiling art reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel. He modeled it after a Byzantine church built around 500 A.D. in Cappadocia, modern-day Turkey. A miniature train circles part of the 35 acres, and just outside the library are a full-size copy of TARDIS, the police box in which Doctor Who travels in the British TV science fiction series, made from specs from the show, plus a killer robot replica.
                For two decades, Lanier has hosted Christmas parties with live entertainment by celebrities from Bon Jovi to Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. He appeared in the film, “Puncture,” starring Chris Evans and based on one of his court victories. He gets Christian performer Phil Keaggy to do music for his Sunday school presentations. He’s on first-name terms with the host of Fox Business network’s “Varney & Co.”
                The Texas Tech law school includes the Mark and Becky Lanier Professional Development Center thanks to a $6 million donation.
But his first loves are his family and faith. He spends hours on his Sunday class, which started with a focus on biblical literacy and has covered church history and Old and New Testament surveys.
                In 2014, he published “Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith,” and he’s working on more books, including one tentatively called “Atheism on Trial” and a comparison of the teachings of Paul in light of modern science and knowledge.
                He’s spent a year putting together a sensible reorganization of the Bible. “You read through the Bible in a year, you don’t even meet Jesus until mid-October,” he explained. Lanier’s idea is to focus on the books of John, Acts and Revelation and include footnotes that guide the reader to the rest of scripture that supports those writings. He hopes to publish the reordered scripture in 2017.
                “I call it the Context Bible,” he said.
                And Lanier invites world scholars from varied backgrounds to lecture at the library or chapel. Past speakers have included British authors Alister McGrath and N.T. Wright and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
                Lanier flipped through the library’s big sign-in book to show a visitor the page where Scalia had written his name on Sept. 6, 2013. “I made him sign the book,” he said with a grin.
Mark Lanier shows Mike Haynes Antonin Scalia's signature.
  
Lanier Theological Library
14130 Hargrave Road
Houston, TX 77070
(281) 477-8400

www.laniertheologicallibrary.org
www.lanierlawfirm.com   

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Aug. 15, 2015, column:

'Watchman' challenges moral injustice

By Mike Haynes
            The only people in these parts who paid much attention to the unveiling of “To Kill A Mockingbird” writer Harper Lee’s second novel last month seem to have been English teachers, librarians and a few bookworms like me.
            As with the much-hyped publication of books about a certain young wizard, stores nationwide opened early to offer “Go Set A Watchman,” the so-called sequel to “Mockingbird” that the reclusive Alabama author had written before the 1960 classic and which had been “lost” for six decades. But when I dragged myself to a bookstore at 7:30 a.m., I was one of only three people snagging an early copy.
            “Not quite Harry Potter, is it?” I quipped to the two clerks as I exited.
             In “Watchman,” Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, the child who became a beloved literary figure in the first book, is in her 20s in the 1950s. She rides a train from her new home, New York City, back to the Maycomb, Ala., that we know from “Mockingbird.”
            The new novel did make headlines because of the change in her father, Atticus Finch, from the heroic attorney later played by Gregory Peck in the movie version to a less admirable man in his 70s. That racial issue has been analyzed to death, and while significant, my focus today is church.
            In Chapter 12 of “Mockingbird,” the Finch housekeeper, Calpurnia, takes the young Scout and her brother, Jem, to visit First Purchase African M.E. Church. One woman member criticizes Calpurnia for bringing white children to the service, but most of the black congregation welcomes Scout and Jem.
            It’s a poor, 1930s church, “with no sign of piano, organ, hymn-books, church programs” that the Finches are used to. Reverend Sykes, prominent in a later courtroom scene, preaches strongly about sin. And maybe the most telling aspect of the service is how the members support each other, especially as a collection is taken for Helen Robinson, whose husband Tom is in jail unjustly.
            “Watchman” gives us a glimpse of Scout’s own church, which she attends while on her visit from New York. Real-life Methodists certainly will recognize this 1950s southern service. In Chapter 7, Lee writes: “Immediately after collection, Maycomb Methodists sang what they called the Doxology … ‘Praise – God – from – whom – all – blessings – flow…’”
            Those who gnash their teeth over music styles in the 21st century should know that worship controversies are nothing new. Jean Louise describes her uncle accosting Herbert, the music director, after church because he had sped up the Doxology, causing confusion in the pews. The members were used to a slower version.
            The music leader explains that a New Jersey instructor had encouraged the change in a music course Herbert had taken at Camp Charles Wesley: “He said we ought to pep up the Doxology.” The instructor also had condemned traditional hymns, such as those by Fanny Crosby.
            The Finch uncle won’t stand for that: “Apparently our brethren in the Northland are not content merely with the Supreme Court’s activities. They are now trying to change our hymns on us. He tries to make us sing the Doxology like we were all in Westminster Abbey, does he?”
            The Doxology argument struck a minor chord with me. I grew up in a Texas Panhandle Methodist church hearing it sung at a fairly quick pace. Suddenly one Sunday, my mother, the organist, was dragging the notes at the end of lines, apparently the way it was written in a new, modern hymnal. I didn’t hear complaints, but I’m sure there were some.
            Author Lee seems to make a point about the triviality of a music disagreement compared to serious issues facing blacks and whites of the time. The uncle’s Supreme Court reference probably was to 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education, which did away with segregated schools.
            The new book’s title comes from this church service. The Rev. Stone preaches from Isaiah 21:6: “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.”
             Former Alabama United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon wrote last month that he believes the new novel is a Christian one, maybe even a Methodist one in the sense that his denomination historically has challenged moral injustice. And he suggests that in addition to other criticism, some of the negative response to the book may be because “Lee has written as a Christian.”

Saturday, July 18, 2015

July 18, 2015, column:
Movies headed in right direction
By Mike Haynes
            “You’re pretty good – for a girl.”
            Before the USA women thrilled the nation with their 2015 World Cup championship, that’s one of the backhanded compliments one of the American soccer stars said she wanted to put to rest.
            My sister played college basketball at the highest level and may be more talented than her four brothers, so I’ve never had that attitude about female athletes. And except for some hardcore male chauvinists, I think those paying attention were convinced of the USA women’s soccer skill by the 5-2 finals victory over Japan.
            I’m afraid I have to use one of those backhanded remarks, though, to describe the movie, “Faith of Our Fathers.” It’s pretty good – for a Christian film.

            Over the years, I’ve followed the advance of widely distributed movies that promote a biblical message, and the quality has improved. (Not that you could improve on the message.)
            In general, the acting has progressed. Some Christian movies have featured “name” performers such as Patricia Heaton in “Moms’ Night Out” and Greg Kinnear in “Heaven Is For Real.”
            Sometimes the writing is better, and upgraded production values are evident in some films. Of course, the amount of money available to the producers usually dictates the quality of cinematography and sound and whether a sequence looks real or fake.
            I hope lots of people see “Faith of Our Fathers,” because it presents the good news of Christianity in a way that could touch certain hearts that need to understand it. The story follows John Paul, a yuppie Christian, traveling with Wayne, an unbelieving backwoods hick, as they drive toward Washington, D.C., to find their fathers’ names on the Vietnam Wall.
            In flashbacks, we see their dads, under stressful battlefield conditions, discussing life and matters of faith.
            The well-known actor in this one is Stephen Baldwin, one of the celebrity brothers, who recently has focused on Christian films. He’s believable as an Army sergeant, and the lesser known actors also give credible performances, unlike in some previous faith films that used inexperienced church members in key roles.
            Kevin Downes, one of the writers and producers, plays John Paul as a slightly nerdy husband-to-be who is serious about his faith. Downes is in this because of the message, but he’s not a bad actor, either.
            Christian audiences might recognize Rebecca St. James, the Australian singer who has performed in Amarillo, but her part is short, and she seems inserted into the story just to get her name into the credits. The same goes for “Duck Dynasty” guy Si Robertson.
            David A.R. White, who plays Wayne, offers some moving moments but in other scenes overacts, giving us a redneck stereotype we’d expect to see in “Hee Haw.”
             My wife, mother-in-law and I enjoyed the movie and thoroughly endorse the good news that’s made clear: that humans are sinful, we need forgiveness, and if we believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead, he will redeem us for eternity.
            But Christian films made specifically to spread that message still have a ways to go. This one has too many “convenient” occurrences, such as a character from the Vietnam War suddenly showing up in the current day, and dialogue – especially in a convenience store – that sometimes is a little too silly.
            We did like one recurring joke, a Beatles reference. (There’s a hint about it a few paragraphs back.) And I believe Christ-themed movies are headed in the right direction.
            Years ago in this space, I paraphrased author Philip Yancey: “Artists must inject into our culture not only a good message, but a message presented in such a creative way that the public will be enticed to notice.”

            I hope Christian filmmakers will continue toward creating work that’s pretty good – period.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

June 20, 2015, column:

Paul Matney recalls city's evolution

By Mike Haynes
            An early morning visit to one of Amarillo’s historic churches turned out to include a nostalgic look at growing up in the city as well as a spiritual blessing.
Dr. Paul Matney
            If you’ve heard Dr. Paul Matney speak in any setting, you know he’s a master communicator who relates well to his audience. As he talked to one of Polk Street United Methodist Church’s two men’s groups a couple of Fridays ago, he touched not only on the role faith has played in his life but on some people and places that brought knowing looks and grins to the faces of many of the 35 guys who had just finished breakfast in the church’s Christian Life Center.
            The Double Dip drive-in, for starters.
            You may not know that Matney, who retired as Amarillo College president just a year ago,
skipped out of Sunday school with a friend one morning to hang out at the Double Dip just down the street from the Polk Street church. He was a teenager then, and as he entered the popular drive-in, he had an “oh, no” moment. His father, longtime educator and coach Carl Matney, was sitting at a booth with other men and raised a “come here” forefinger toward his son.
            The elder Matney’s instruction to the young Paul was, “Don’t breathe a word about this to your mother.”
            Paul Matney, who has attended another church for many years but grew up at Polk Street UMC, has a storehouse of Amarillo memories, whether it’s school, family, politics, sports or church. He recalled the impressive appearance of Dr. Eugene Slater, the Polk Street pastor in the 1950s, with his navy blue suit and “full, white, shock of hair.”
            He remembered playing a wise man in the Methodist Youth Fellowship’s live nativity scene outside the church. Standing “still as a statue,” he heard a young child ask, “Are they real?” The kid’s friend exclaimed, “They’re real! I saw the fat one move.”
            Matney’s family often sat in the balcony during church so they could exit quickly enough to “beat the Baptists to the Silver Grill,” the iconic Amarillo cafeteria.
            Leader Rodney Laubhan said most of the Methodist men’s group – which does projects such as building ramps for people with disabilities – attends PSUMC, but a few regulars are from other denominations. Matney certainly didn’t limit his recollections to one church, focusing on the downtown congregations, including Central Church of Christ, First Baptist and First Presbyterian.
            Of course he recalled the authoritative voice and presence of Dr. Winfred Moore, for decades the personification of First Baptist, who died May 8 at age 95. According to group member Ken Pirtle, Moore spoke a couple of years ago to the PSUMC men. Other than some funeral appearances, it was Moore’s last formal public address. “It was outstanding,” Pirtle said. “Meaningful, organized and powerful. And without notes. What an honor it was to have been his final speaking engagement.”
            Matney, who gave credit to his wife, Sandy, as perhaps the best Bible scholar in the family, reminded the group of some “guidepost” verses: the faith of Hebrews 11, the grace of Ephesians 2:8-10, the hope of Philippians 4 and the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12. And he commended the recent ecumenical efforts of those four downtown churches. As a group, “4 Amarillo” has collaborated the past two years on Thanksgiving and Easter services, Vacation Bible schools and other ministries.
            “I think this is genuine,” Matney said about 4 Amarillo. “It’s not one part contrived. It sends a tremendous message to the community that we can concentrate on the things we have in common instead of on the small things.”
            Judging by the Friday Methodist group, which includes at least one man representing Presbyterians, the Church of Christ, Mormons and Baptists, these guys are focusing on their shared faith.
            For information on the 6:30 a.m. Friday group or the PSUMC noon Tuesday men’s group, call the church at 374-2891.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

May 23, 2015, column: Point of view changes

For his 2014 book, “Christianity on Trial,” Mark Lanier drew this map of his view of the world when he was a teenager in Lubbock in 1976. (InterVarsity Press)
May 23, 2015, column:

Point of view changes

By Mike Haynes
            In 1976, when Mark Lanier was about 16 years old, he lived on 16th Street in the Hub City, otherwise known as Lubbock. His house was somewhere between Toledo and Utica avenues.
            It was just a couple of miles from the Texas Tech School of Law on 19th Street, but more about that later.
            In a book he published in 2014, Lanier drew a simple map showing what the world looked like to him as a teenager. Mimicking a famous 1976 New Yorker magazine cover by Saul Steinberg called “View of the World from 9th Avenue,” Lanier doodled his Lubbock house with his high school, his church and Texas Tech University represented as prominent buildings.
            He included a large Jones Stadium with a Double T in its center, a strip of land labeled “cotton fields,” and beyond that, small buildings called “NYC” and “D.C.” and an oil derrick marked “Houston.”
            Then came the Atlantic Ocean, about the same size as the cotton fields, and past that, the map ended with small labels for England, Europe and Africa.
             As Steinberg had illustrated the restricted focus of Manhattan residents, Lanier recalled how limited his view of the world had been at age 16.
            The 2014 book is “Christianity on Trial,” and in a chapter titled “Who Is God?” Lanier – now a nationally known trial lawyer, a Sunday school teacher and founder of Lanier Theological Library in Houston – argues that many people who believe in Christianity early in life fall away because their view of God doesn’t keep up with their view of the world.
            Just as this 1984 Tech law graduate – who the National Trial Lawyers named 2015 Trial Lawyer of the Year – has learned much more about history, science and human relationships than he understood at age 16, so have most of us grown in sophistication and in our knowledge of life on this planet.
            Lanier says many of us allow our view of God to stay where it was when we were young:
            “…over time my early views of God seemed, in some ways, childish. … Had my relationship with and my understanding of God not grown, as my mind expanded I would have associated God simply with what seemed to be the naïve, limited ideas of youth.”
            Certainly, that concept reminds Christians of the New Testament writers who, in Hebrews 5:11-14 and I Corinthians 3:1-3, stressed the importance of believers advancing from milk to solid food.
            In his book, Lanier takes on key objections to Christianity’s validity as though he were cross-examining witnesses. In chapters about science, he shows how the order and stability of the universe support belief in an all-powerful God who set it all in motion.
            He quotes a Cambridge physicist turned Anglican priest to support the idea that the universe is finely calibrated for the purpose of supporting human life – with the inference that God is the creator of everything from 100 sextillion stars to every hair on our heads.
            Lanier says some counter that “…it’s not that the universe is perfectly calibrated for human life; it’s rather that life developed in this universe as it was calibrated.” But he says physicist-priest Sir John Polkinghorne rejects that theory as untestable and “incredibly lazy.”
            Lanier’s entire book attempts to show that no matter how sophisticated human minds become, the traditional Christian view of God is up to the intellectual challenge. His day job has gotten him written up in such publications as Forbes magazine and has allowed his family to give $6 million toward the Mark and Becky Lanier Professional Development Center, an addition to that Tech law building on Lubbock’s 19th Street.
            His church work makes him familiar to the editors of Christianity Today, a publication that takes the intellect seriously.
             As for his map-drawing skills, he probably should leave that to the professionals.