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 and, 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 and 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   

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 na├»ve, 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.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

April 25, 2015, column:
This drawing from the Sept. 27, 1972, Amarillo Daily News by staff artist George Turner shows Mow-Way's camp and an ominous cloud of dust in the distance.
History provides different perspective
By Mike Haynes
            Sometimes a class can affect you beyond the grade you make, and today (April 25, 2015) the Texas History course I took in fall 1971 is resulting in my driving to Pampa.
            Dr. Ernest Wallace assigned us to write a book report in that Texas Tech University class. I chose “Ranald S. Mackenzie on the Texas Frontier” for two reasons: (1) Dr. Wallace was the author and (2) it was the shortest book on the list he gave us.
            Little did I know that Chapter 5 of the book about Col. Mackenzie’s exploits described a battle that took place a few miles from the house where I grew up – and possibly on my family’s ranch.
            In the half-hour Battle of the North Fork of the Red River on Sept. 29, 1872, the Fourth

Cavalry attacked a 262-tepee village of Chief Mow-Way, killing 52 Comanche Indians while losing four soldiers. Wallace wrote that the event in current Gray County “was not only Mackenzie’s greatest in a long career of Indian warfare but it also stands as one of the major Anglo-American triumphs over the Indians on the Southern Plains.”
            Inspired by the location of the attack, my grandfather, John C. Haynes, and I got two historical markers placed on highways between McLean and Lefors in 1972, a century after the battle. Dr. Wallace composed the inscription.
            Today, another historian who wrote a chapter on the battle will be at the First National Bank building in Pampa for a 6 p.m. program and 7:30 p.m. book signing hosted by the White Deer Land Museum. S.C. Gwynne of Austin will talk about his 2010 book, “Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.”
            Gwynne lives in Austin, where he has been a writer and editor for Texas Monthly magazine. He wrote 2014’s “Rebel Yell,” about Civil War Gen. Stonewall Jackson, and is working on a book about college football.
            He also is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. May 4 at Amarillo’s Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts, sponsored by the Amarillo Public Library.
            Chapter 17 of Gwynne’s Comanche book covers that same North Fork battle, although his volume, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, is more wide-ranging – thematically and geographically – than that of Wallace, who died in 1985.
            Gwynne says the various branches of the Comanche people were the main reason the Spanish and French halted their expansion into the New World and why the American West remained dangerous for Anglo settlers until the late 1870s. Comanche horsemen were considered the best in the world, and their response to Anglo trespassing on their tribal lands was vicious, as the author details.
            Most of us are more empathetic today to the native tribes’ loss of their land and heritage to the Manifest Destiny of the white population, and in this region we certainly place Quanah Parker on a pedestal based on his leadership after the 1874-75 Red River War that finally restricted the Indians to reservations. But I have to admit that Gwynne’s description of Comanche atrocities leaves me with little sympathy for those native warriors.
            Unlike the more peaceful southwestern tribes who were evangelized by Spanish priests, the Comanches allowed few outsiders onto the Plains, much less any effective influence of the Christian church. The most celebrated Protestant settlement in the Texas Panhandle was Clarendon, settled by Methodist minister the Rev. L.H. Carhart in 1878. The establishment of that Christian colony was possible only because the Comanches had been confined to such reservations as Fort Still, Okla.
            In Europe, Christianity has been around since St. Paul preached in Rome in the first century. In our Panhandle-Plains region, a completely different culture reigned until just 140 years ago. The current Bible Belt was the southern tip of a Comanche empire, visible now only in museums, in the giant steel arrows recently erected to mark the Quanah Parker Trail and in real arrowheads dug up in pastures and cotton fields.
            However unfair, that battle near my home was the beginning of the end for a powerful American society. It led to Charles Goodnight bringing cattle to the Panhandle in 1876, white settlements from Mobeetie to Tascosa and the planting of churches across the plains.
            Hearing S.C. Gwynne today might put a new perspective on how we got here.           
                                                              * * *

            Mike Haynes teaches journalism at Amarillo College. He can be reached at AC, the Amarillo Globe-News or Go to for other recent columns.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

March 28, 2015, column:
Not all change is progress

By Mike Haynes

Just wondering…
            * * *
            … why “change” is such a positive word for people in churches, businesses, schools and even families. A colleague of mine has this tag on the end of his emails:  “The seven last words of any organization: ‘But we’ve always done it that way.’”
            Not necessarily.
            With the NCAA Final Four coming up next weekend, I go to the late basketball coaching legend John Wooden for a rebuttal: “Although there is no progress without change, not all change is progress.”
            And according to the late writer C.S. Lewis, all progress is not forward. In “Mere Christianity,” Lewis wrote, “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”
            He obviously had repentance in mind, but also tradition.
            In his academic writing about literature, history and philosophy, Lewis was known as a defender of traditional, classical education. He frowned on scholars who were inclined to think just because an idea was “new,” it was better than “old” ideas. He even suggested that when learning from books, “you should at least read one old one for every three new ones.”
            Lewis didn’t want to lose the wisdom of the ages.
            * * *
            … whether movie reviewer Peter Sobczynski (at really wanted to give the new Christian film, “Do You Believe?” one-and-a-half stars out of four. His comments are more negative than that.
            He criticizes the movie as “subtle as a sledgehammer to the toes” and likes the scenes that are not so “overtly religious-minded.” I agree that many movies created with an evangelistic purpose are short on creativity and tend to push the message a little too hard. But what about this statement from Sobcznyski?:
            “‘Do You Believe’ will no doubt play well with viewers already predisposed toward liking it because it has been designed to reconfirm their already deeply felt beliefs rather than doing anything that might cause them to think about or challenge those beliefs in any meaningful way.”
            I could turn that sentence around to say, “‘Do You Believe?’ no doubt will not play well with certain reviewers already predisposed toward disliking it because it has been designed to challenge their already deeply felt beliefs.”
            Most Hollywood productions promote a non-Christian point of view without doing anything that might cause viewers to think about the Christian alternative in any meaningful way. While movies such as “Do You Believe?” might not reach the creative heights of some secular films, they are endorsing a singular world view – just as many “modern” movies do. They are an attempt to even things out. And they attract large audiences.
            * * *
            … how I went this long without ever hearing of Boney M or Daniel O’Donnell? Despite the name, the former is not a rap artist but a black singing group that’s been around since the disco era. Last Thanksgiving, my dad went to YouTube and showed me Boney M singing the moving “Rivers of Babylon.” Then he played for me the version of that song by O’Donnell, who apparently is a household name in Ireland and performs in Branson, Mo.
            I guess I won’t discover all good music just listening to classic rock stations.
            * * *
            … who’ll be the next full-time minister in my family. A few times, I’ve referred in this space to “my cousin the preacher.” That’s Thacker Haynes, the Methodist pastor in McLean for more than 20 years. I can’t use that description anymore, because now I have two more pastor cousins (that I know of).
            About three years ago, I met Roger Smith. Although a distant cousin, he organized a family reunion and has become a familiar face. He’s the pastor of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Amarillo.
            And for the past few months, my cousin Scott Raines, who recently entered the ministry, has been the congregational care pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Amarillo.
            If I need somebody to pray, I’m hooked up.
            * * *
            Have a blessed Easter.         
                                                              * * *

            Mike Haynes teaches journalism at Amarillo College. He can be reached at AC, the Amarillo Globe-News or Go to for other recent columns.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Feb. 28, 2015, column:
Practice what you preach
(That headline was on the column in the newspaper. It isn't really the point. Better: Apologetics conference focuses on people, not words.)

By Mike Haynes
            Entering the Hillside Christian Church chapel for a half-day of a Regional Apologetics Conference on a recent Saturday, I expected the three speakers to give the crowd some good reasons why Christianity is true.
            Margaret Manning Shull, Cameron McAllister and John Njoroge didn’t do that, but I wasn’t disappointed.
Margaret Manning Shull
            The trio from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries assumed most of us already were convinced of the truth of the gospel. They spent their time in Amarillo talking more about the culture we’re in and, as Shull said, “Why should anybody want to listen to us?”
            Ravi Zacharias has plenty of material that lays out intellectual and historical reasons for believing the claims of Jesus Christ. But the people from various churches attending this event left with a better understanding of 21st century attitudes and how best to approach non-Christians who may not see a need for this churchy stuff.
            “It’s not just words,” Shull told us. “It’s how we live our lives.”
            The term “apologetics” doesn’t mean apologizing, of course, but presenting reasons for believing. One of the biblical foundations for Christians doing that is 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…”
            As often happens when people quote the Bible, though, the rest of that passage may be overlooked. “…But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (I Peter 15-16, NIV)
            Practice what you preach, in other words, which we often fail to do. And like the apostle Paul did, we need to approach people in ways they understand.
Cameron McAllister
         McAllister, young enough to be in the millennial generation, pointed out how literature and even popular culture can be bridges to people.
            “Why are zombies so compelling?” he asked, referring to shows such as “The Walking Dead.” “A zombie is a slave to its body, its hunger and its desires. Isn’t that just like us?”
            But McAllister said that unlike zombies, humans don’t live on bread alone. Finding purpose and fulfillment just by feeding our desires or even by trusting solely in science leaves out a key ingredient: meaning.
            Teacher Thomas Gradgrind, a Charles Dickens character in “Hard Times,” was “a man of realities” and “a man of fact and calculations.” Gradgrind asked his students to define a horse, and the correct answer was a quadruped with 40 teeth and hard hooves, among other specifics.
            McAllister said that’s all true, but the facts don’t tell you everything about a horse, such as the elegance with which it runs or the majesty with which it holds its head.
            He cited the Oscar-winning movie, “American Beauty,” not a film that many Christians would recommend to their friends. But a simple scene in that movie has a character watching a video of a plastic bag blowing in the breeze. Watching the bag rise and fall and dance, the character’s imagination helps him realize there is meaning behind life.
            “Imagination is the organ of meaning,” McAllister said, quoting C.S. Lewis, and creative works can open conversations that lead to the author of meaning.
John Njoroge
            “Millennials are starting to recognize that they want real relationships,” McAllister said, “not just tweets.”
            The three speakers agreed that Christians should put people first, not in a manipulative way, but by being genuinely interested in their lives and their opinions.
            “When we look at people, we stereotype them,” Njoroge said. “And we’re almost always wrong about them. Distinguish the person from their ideology. We are called to love our neighbor, not humanity.
            “The Bible says people are made in the image of God. No other religion places humans in such high regard.”
            Christianity tells us that God values us highly but that humanity is corrupt without the salvation Jesus offers. McAllister noted that modern humanists operate on the theory that people are basically good but that pop culture seems to contradict that idea. Just on TV, examples are “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” and “Dexter,” in which the “heroes” are more flawed than admirable.
            “The arts tell us that we’re bad,” McAllister said.
             Christians’ challenge is to show each person around us there is a way to be   forgiven forever for our badness.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Jan. 31, 2015, column:

'Outside' gatherings help bond believers

By Mike Haynes
            One of the little Sunday school rooms in the basement of my hometown church holds no more than 15 people, and one night around 1970, six or eight church members, some high school age and some older, sat in a tight circle of metal folding chairs.
            A group of Methodists from Vega had come to McLean for the weekend – not for a basketball tournament or a rodeo, but to share their personal stories of commitment to God.
            I don’t remember details, but decades later, the overall message sticks with me. Those people who were just like us simply told us how they had begun living out the example of Jesus. Until then, I had heard only local pastors and visiting evangelists talking seriously about close encounters with Christ. Now, I saw a blond-haired young man about my age telling a small group in that basement room how his life had changed when he allowed God into his life every day.
            The people from Vega were participating in the Lay Witness Mission, at the time a ministry of the United Methodist Church that was active in the Texas Panhandle. It still exists as part of Aldersgate Renewal Ministries.
            A story by Eboni Graham in last Saturday’s newspaper brought that long-ago weekend to mind. She wrote about the IF organization, founded in 2013 in Austin, which will have an IF: Amarillo women’s gathering Feb. 6-7. (See
            IF was created to offer “a space for women to wrestle with essential questions of faith, to dream and to connect during a two-day gathering,” according to the story.
            Coincidentally, one of the local IF leaders is a woman from Vega.
            Through the years, my own faith has been strengthened and invigorated by such Christian groups, both church-sponsored and outside, or parachurch organizations. After the Lay Witness Mission faded in this area, it wasn’t long before the Walk to Emmaus, Methodist-sponsored but welcoming all denominations, became a huge influence in the Panhandle.
            Emmaus has touched men, women and teenagers from virtually every type of church, and I know of several people whose three-day Walks led them to full-time ministry.
            The Walk to Emmaus still is a vital movement in the region, though not quite as widespread as it was in the 1990s and 2000s. It has continued alongside other activities, some that light fires for a short time and others that last for decades.
            The Promise Keepers men’s ministry, based in Colorado, made better husbands and better Christians out of thousands in this area. Many denominations, including some Catholics, worked for weeks to prepare Amarillo for the Franklin Graham Festival in 2000, a football stadium event that attracted crowds from all over West Texas.
            The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a constant positive presence in area schools. The Navigators have for 80 years sought “to know Christ and make him known” on college campuses and military bases. Emmaus spawned Kairos, a highly effective prison ministry in which laymen share their faith stories with the “men in white.” The Catholic equivalent to Emmaus is Cursillo, which also builds individuals’ relationships with God.
            Such “outside” or “extra” Christian groups tend to excite people, sometimes because they’re the new kid on the block. It’s easy for even committed Christians to become complacent, even bored, if all they do is sit in a pew once or twice a week. Ministries such as Promise Keepers and IF can be valuable “add-ons” to keep Christians active.
            But parachurch groups and even church-sponsored activities are not meant to be the focus of faith. They only support the church that God created. They are a great addition, but a Christian’s home base should be his or her local church. 
            Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (RSV) Those gatherings can be in a sanctuary, in a house, in an arena, even in a coffee shop.
            I love it when Christians of different backgrounds get together. It’s even better when we open up and talk about our own experiences with God.
                                                              * * *

            Mike Haynes teaches journalism at Amarillo College. He can be reached at AC, the Amarillo Globe-News or Go to for other recent columns.