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 haynescolumn@hotmail.com. Go to www.haynescolumn.blogspot.com 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 rogerebert.com) 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 haynescolumn@hotmail.com. Go to www.haynescolumn.blogspot.com 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 http://amarillo.com/lifestyle/faith/2015-01-23/if-amarillo-brings-women-together.)
            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 haynescolumn@hotmail.com. Go to www.haynescolumn.blogspot.com for other recent columns.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Jan. 3, 2015, column
Christmas Eve offers special message
By Mike Haynes
            The cold nights of Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 both radiated warmth for me and my wife, Kathy, and those around us.
            On the eve of Christmas Eve, we joined my mother-in-law, Peggy, in the center of Hillside Christian Church’s modern auditorium, which holds 2,000-plus people, for one of multiple candlelight services on Hillside’s West Campus. Close to that many people were given little white candles as they entered, and we kept them handy as the 19 musicians – singers, guitarists, drummers and a small group of orchestral players – filled the room with high-decibel sound, most of it in the form of rocked-up Christmas music.
Hillside Christian Church West Campus - Amarillo, Texas
            The colorfully lighted stage included 13 drums stacked in three rows eight feet high, with a drummer pounding them to thunderous effect.
            Communion juice and wafers were passed around, and the hour ended with one candle from the stage lighting another, which lighted another, and within a minute or two, we were surrounded by a soft glow.
            I had to glance around to see what the spots of light and the faces looked like. That survey of the faithful made my eyes glisten with moisture.
            The next night, we were in my hometown for the communion service at the Methodist Church. The sanctuary, its walls adorned with stained glass windows that Charles Goodnight brought to the Texas Panhandle more than 100 years ago, welcomed fewer than 100 McLean residents and visitors. Around 25 of them were my extended family.  
            The congregation sang “Joy to the World” with piano accompaniment before some standard responsive readings. Erin Shaw delivered a heartfelt rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” song with Christmas lyrics.
            Communion on Christmas Eve had the small-town worshippers shuffling up the middle aisle with an option: to go left for a piece of bread to dip in a cup of juice or right for a wafer and small cup.

First United Methodist Church - McLean, Texas
           The services both nights concluded with that calmest of songs, “Silent Night.” The second time around, I teared up the same as the night before, this time thinking of the close family and community bonds represented in the pews around me.
            At Hillside, we blew out our candles before exiting to the wintry air. At McLean, some of us knelt at the altar before going home to gifts and Christmas trees.
            It was a megachurch on the 23rd and a country church on the 24th, and I’m sure some people would prefer one to the other. I like both even though the music and worship styles swerve in different directions.
            You would expect similar messages, but I was pleased to hear on both nights a slightly different take on the Christmas story. On Tuesday, Hillside associate senior pastor Johnathan Mast read from Luke 2 about the baby Jesus coming to Earth 2,000 years ago. But he expanded the theme to talk about the other bookend of history, the anticipated second time that Christ will descend to the planet.
            In his low-key way, Johnathan reminded us of the reason, not so much for the season, but for Jesus coming to save us and how that process continues until his return.
            On Wednesday, I’m sure I saw tears welling up in the eyes of my cousin Thacker Haynes, pastor of the Methodist Church, as he recounted the love God had for us in sending Christ on that same mission that Johnathan had outlined. Thacker told us about a man who, just that week, had been desperate for personal help and how the local church happened to have a program for just such a need.
            Along with that example of God’s love and provision, Thacker also mentioned that promised second coming of Christ. In both of those services, the pastors urged us to look back but also ahead.
            Christians too often get caught up in differences – praise music and electric guitars vs. traditional hymns and organs, casual worship vs. ritual, wafers vs. chunks of bread, big churches vs. little churches.

            At Christmas and all year, maybe we could try to focus instead on the story that began in a manger but will climax with a triumphant return. 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Dec. 6, 2014, column:
Things change despite traditions
By Mike Haynes
            Various thoughts between Thanksgiving and Christmas, some weightier than others:
* * *
            My family tried to keep Thanksgiving as close as possible to the way it’s been for many decades despite my mother’s death last Dec. 21. Last year, during Mom’s five-week hospital stay, the family had Thanksgiving dinner at Furr’s.
            This year, back at the home place, we just carried on without much mention of our loss. My wife, who had called Dad to get the recipe, tried to approximate the cornbread dressing the way Mom used to do it.
  
Thanksgiving dressing
          My sister whipped up pecan pies the way Mom had taught her, but – at least this time – she didn’t attempt the chocolate pie that’s famous around our hometown of McLean.
            The games of Catch Phrase went on with three generations laughing around the kitchen table, but a voice was missing. The circle of 22 holding hands as Dad said grace was one short of normal.
            But I suppose it wouldn’t be normal if everything stayed the same. We had a marriage in the family last summer, another one is coming up next summer, and a niece’s new boyfriend joined us in playing pool and taking out the trash. Another niece’s young husband, who only a couple of years ago was shy and finding his way in our family, seemed like he’d been with us for years.
            The Ecclesiastes writer was right. “There is a time for everything, … a time to be born and a time to die, … a time to mourn and a time to dance…”
            As much as I’d like things to stay the same, they don’t.
* * *
            Keynote speaker Ken Starr’s words at the 25th Community Prayer Breakfast in Amarillo Nov. 25 were inspiring, but even more moving to me was the fact that believers from all over the city and area joined together at the event.
            The choir represented high schools in every part of town. The audience included pastors and church members of every denomination. Custodians and cowboys shared scrambled eggs with insurance agents and college regents.
            The 1,500 people were white, black and other colors, if you happened to notice. Race didn’t matter, because all were focused on their common Creator.   
            * * *
            I wrote not long ago that I don’t pay much attention to contemporary Christian music on the radio. After a second Thanksgiving dinner with my wife’s family, our sister-in-law – who lives in Oklahoma – mentioned that between songs on K-Love, Jud Wilhite of Central Christian Church in Las Vegas is one of a few pastors who offer inspiring words on the national radio network.
            Wilhite grew up in Amarillo and preaches at Hillside Christian Church when he’s in town. Maybe I’ll tune into K-Love more often.
            * * *
            My brother gave me a cool birthday present last month: a widow’s mite.
            If that term sounds vaguely familiar, it’s the coin mentioned in Mark 12 and Luke 21. The King James version of the Bible reports a “poor widow” putting “two mites,” or small coins, into the temple treasury. Jesus said her offering was worth more than the larger amounts given by the wealthy.
            My mite comes from the reign of Alexander Jannaeus of Judea, 103 to 76 B.C. Yes, it’s around 2,100 years old. Luckily for me, a lot of them were minted, so they aren’t worth that much money today and it was within the birthday spending limit.

            But having something that was circulating the same time Jesus’ sandals were kicking up dust is more than cool. Things have changed in 2,100 years, but this coin remains, and it reminds me of the unchanging Christ.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Nov. 8, 2014, column
Readership book not preachy
By Mike Haynes
            Joy Jordan-Lake may or may not have intended for feet to be symbolic, but they are kind of obvious on the covers of two of her books.
            The paperback of her 2008 novel, “Blue Hole Back Home,” shows two sets of bare feet dangling down from a dock over a swimming hole. One set of feet and shins is shiny white, while the other is a little darker.
            That photograph illustrates a theme of the book that is Amarillo College’s Common Reader this year, a story that won the 2009 Christy Award for best first novel. The Christy Awards go to books written from a Christian worldview, but don’t even think of “Blue Hole” as anything preachy.
            Like the teenage character Jimbo, who’s a preacher’s kid in the story, Jordan-Lake’s beautifully written work presents any spiritual concepts subtly. Jimbo is part of a handful of southern white teens who, some less reluctantly than others, welcome newcomer Farsanna into their group of friends in the summer of 1979.
            Farsanna, whose skin is darker than theirs, has moved to their rural community with her family from Sri Lanka.
            Showing his church background – as Jordan-Lake reveals her own – Jimbo says things like, “Gotta go barefoot on holy ground,” when the teens make their first visit with Farsanna to their beloved swimming hole, the Blue Hole of the title.
            Beyond throwaway lines like that, Jimbo hints at real spiritual insight with comments such as “Ain’t none of us harmless.” I suspect Jimbo had heard his dad preach on Romans 3:23.
              The book, based on various real incidents in the author’s growing-up time in the South, makes it clear that racial hatred still was flaring up in the late 1970s, years after civil rights supposedly had been achieved. The word “Ferguson” reminds us that there still are lessons we haven’t learned.
            The main character is Shelby Lenoir, nicknamed Turtle, a tomboyish girl who first invites Farsanna into the back of the group’s pickup. Turtle has genuine empathy for “the new girl” but admits to herself that she hesitates to get involved when some nasty things happen.
            In Jordan-Lake’s other book with feet on the cover, she also admits that she likes to avoid conflict.
            “Why Jesus Makes Me Nervous” was published in 2007. Its cover shows two feet with red nail polish, their toes on the end of a diving board. In a personal, again skillfully written book, Jordan-Lake digs into “Ten Alarming Words of Faith” that Christians throw back and forth every day but that might require more of us than we want to acknowledge.
            She writes, “This book attempts to explore just how uncomfortable Jesus can make things.”
            For each of the concepts – “resurrection,” “peace,” “worship,” “hope” and more – she uses her own experiences to illustrate how Christianity requires more than nice words; it means getting your hands dirty and helping people.
            Jordan-Lake’s background gives her a rich trove of knowledge and experience to write about. She grew up in Tennessee and worked in Boston. She has a seminary degree and a doctorate in English literature. She has talked about writing at a C.S. Lewis seminar in England and to the Panhandle Professional Writers in Amarillo.
Joy Jordan-Lake
            At 6 p.m. Monday (Nov. 10), she will discuss the creative process in the College Union Building on AC’s Washington Street Campus, and at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 11), she will talk about “Moral Courage,” AC’s theme for this year, at the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts. Both events are free and open to the public.
            Moral courage certainly is at the forefront of “Blue Hole Back Home” as young people cope with prejudice, from a high school kid spitting tobacco juice at the new girl’s feet to adults donning white cloaks and hoods. Jordan-Lake manages to weave in wisdom from the 1600s – John Donne’s poetry – to the 1960s – the Beatles: “I was alone, I took a ride, I didn’t know what I would find there.”

            That lyric certainly fits the teenage Turtle, and Jordan-Lake’s writing inspires us to put our feet on the ground and follow Jesus’ example. 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Oct. 11, 2014, column:
McCartney brings fun performance

By Mike Haynes
            There aren’t many groups of four people in the history of the world who have for more than 50 years had people asking, “Who’s your favorite?”
            From 1964 on, Paul McCartney has been my favorite Beatle, and I lucked into marrying someone who agrees. Long before he was Sir Paul, he was “the cute one.” I suppose what influenced me was that the left-handed bass player had the happiest face as he, George and John shook their moptops as they followed “yeah, yeah, yeah” with “oooooh” while Ringo nodded his head behind them.
Sir Paul McCartney sings and plays his Hofner bass
in Lubbock Oct. 12. (Photo by Kathy Haynes)

            Kathy and I were about 40 feet from Paul on a recent night in Lubbock, sitting by coincidence next to a couple from our Amarillo church. For almost three hours, the former Beatle kept 15,000 people enraptured with music that for most of us is as familiar as a spouse and almost as beloved.
            I know, Paul makes big bucks off our infatuation, but the fact that he’s 72 and still plucking that Hofner bass, still crooning “Yesterday” and still truly rockin’ tells me he loves doing it. He doesn’t need our money, but I think he still craves our affection.
            The deep bond that many still feel for the Beatles and this half of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team was evident in people who arrived at United Supermarkets Arena three hours early. We talked to a 70ish woman from Big Spring who had driven up by herself just to see Paul.
            A Hispanic couple – maybe 50 years old – was in line because the wife is a huge Beatles fan and the husband a musician whose family band plays gigs in the area. The man appreciates the musical influence of the Beatles. The wife knows details such as how Paul met John at a St. Peter’s Church fete in 1957 and how the Fab Four cut their rock ’n’ roll teeth in sweaty Liverpool and Hamburg clubs.
   
Sir Paul McCartney and two band members wave Texas, U.S.
and British flags in Lubbock Oct. 2 (Photo by Mike Haynes)
         The crowd included a fair number of middle-aged fans who appeared to have their children with them – some of the kids wearing Beatles shirts – and a huge contingent of what I have to call senior citizens. I saw a man carrying an oxygen tank and at least two people using canes. Of course it makes sense that those screaming girls at the Ed Sullivan Show are in their 60s and 70s now, and this concert was as much a return to their youth as it was a performance by a man who released a new album (called “New”) this year.
            In addition to the creative magic that Lennon and McCartney generated, I think people still flock to see Paul just because he’s fun. Millions of serious words have been written about the Beatles’ cultural influence, but it was pure energy and joy that got them started. Paul continues that.
            He began one of two encores by running onto the stage with a huge Texas flag. Two band members followed with American and British flags, and the three waved them around for a minute before picking up their instruments. The cynical would say Paul was pandering to the Lone Star crowd, but I don’t care. It was an amazing moment, and I don’t say “amazing” often.
            Equally impressive was his seemingly sincere praise of Lubbock’s Buddy Holly, who along with Elvis, Chuck Berry and others heavily influenced the Beatles. Paul sang Buddy’s “It’s So Easy” in front of a massive video screen showing images of Holly and the Crickets. 
            McCartney’s mostly upbeat approach appeals to me just like positivity does in other areas of life. I’m a Christian who would rather attract people with love than scare them with hell, although I believe spirituality is a serious business. Jesus certainly warned people about sin, but Paul (St. Paul, not Sir Paul) also wrote about the Philippians’ “encouragement from being united with Christ” and their “comfort from his love.” (Phil. 2:1)
            The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” is a little too simplistic, but McCartney was right when he wrote, “In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

            He ended the second encore with those words, and Kathy and I walked to our car with big smiles.   

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sept. 12, 2014, column:
Faith is more than music
By Mike Haynes
            I don’t listen to Christian music.
            It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the radio stations and bands and singers of all music styles that present the message of Jesus in song. It just doesn’t keep my attention. And I’m not bored easily.
            A lot of the contemporary Christian music that I hear sounds the same: kind of whiney with no real tune. The words are meaningful, but they just go up and down the musical scale and up and down again. It’s similar to the modern country music that I try to avoid.
            Spiritual music does inspire people. I’ve experienced Christian inspiration, often in conjunction with music. I suppose I just feel like I’m convinced of the truth and majesty of God and don’t need regular reminders coming through my car speakers or my smartphone.
            That’s a little cynical, like occasional thoughts that I don’t need to hear sermons because the pastor is “preaching to the choir.” Listening to the gospel from the pulpit never should get old, but I’ll admit I sometimes get complacent and think I’ve heard it all before.
            I should get past that attitude about hearing sermons, but I don’t feel so guilty about not putting my radio on K-Love. I love the message, but I get more inspiration from reading. The Bible first, and writers such as C.S. Lewis, Philip Yancey, Joy Jordan-Lake. Christianity Today magazine. I know more about Christian writers than about Third Day or TobyMac. (I had to Google “Christian musicians” to recall those names.)
            I do like selected praise music, having gotten involved in the Walk to Emmaus in the 1990s. Some of that inspiration I mentioned has come from songs such as David Ruis’ “We Will Dance” and “Shine, Jesus, Shine,” written, surprisingly, by 1960s British rocker Cliff Richard.
            Kathy and I both love to hear “He Reigns” by Newsboys, “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig and Dean and “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe. But day to day, I’m listening to news and talk radio, the satellite ’60s station or classic rock on the Eagle.
            In worship, I like a mix. We shouldn’t jettison old hymns such as “Blessed Assurance” by blind Fanny Crosby, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Methodist Charles Wesley or, of course, “Amazing Grace,” but some loud guitars and drums are OK, too. Throw in Bill Gaither’s “He Touched Me” and a little “I’ll Fly Away.”
            In the car, though, I’m more likely to get a Beatles or Bon Jovi fix.
            So when Sunday school classmates get excited about seeing Casting Crowns at the civic center next month, I’ll quietly be glad for them – and thankful for my Paul McCartney tickets.        
                                                  * * *

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

Aug. 16, 2014, column:
Talking about sex isn't easy
By Mike Haynes      
   It isn’t easy for Christian leaders to talk about sex.
            Youth ministers sometimes tackle it, as do singles leaders and marriage counselors. An occasional courageous preacher uses the three-letter word from the pulpit.
            But a local Baptist pastor, pointing out that we live in a “sex-saturated culture,” believes “we are all compromised in our sexual ethics.” So for the past four years, starting with a summer course at England’s Oxford University, he has researched the biblical view of sex, surveyed college students about it and taught a prototype class seeking to guide young people toward the biblical model.
            Dr. Roger Smith, 36, pastor of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church and my distant cousin, wrote his
Dr. Roger Smith
dissertation for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City on that topic. His work, which capped his doctorate this May, doesn’t paint sex as evil, like some in the church have done for centuries, or as an inconsequential, physical act that only requires consent. It treats it an important, intimate part of marriage but points out that scripture intends sex to be practiced in that marriage context.
            “Assessing and achieving sexual purity requires that the church stop stigmatizing sexual sin as somehow special,” wrote Smith, a guitar-playing husband with young children. “Whether it is pornography, homosexuality or simply trying to help marriages that struggle with sexual intimacy, the church must start approaching this area of life as it would any other: with biblical love, wisdom and truth.
“As long as people who struggle with sexual sins are treated as though they are somehow more sinful or simply freaks when compared to everyone else, the church will continue to lose ground.”
            Smith had Amarillo College students – some associated with Baptist Student Ministries and others in secular classes – complete anonymous surveys with questions ranging from “My spiritual beliefs influence my sexual decisions” to “Premarital sex is OK if a man and a woman are truly in love” to “Pornography can be a part of a healthy fantasy life and can help enhance sex.”
            The surveys showed that the “churched” students knew a little more of the Bible’s sexual ethic than the other students but that the two groups’ sexual lifestyle was about the same. In an eight-week class, Smith then refuted the “secular lies” about sex of men such as Sigmund Freud, Alfred Kinsey and Hugh Hefner.
            He also showed how the sexual prudishness of early Christian leaders such as Augustine went to the opposite extreme compared to what the Bible actually says.
            “Through the study of the scriptures,” Smith wrote, “we came to the conclusion that sex is a good part of God's good creation that is often used in destructive ways. Sex is a vital part of the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman.”
            It is corrupted in many ways, as described in Romans 1:24-25: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator....”
            Turn on a TV reality show for five minutes, and you’ll see proof of that truth. But it isn’t just the hollow values of pop culture; it’s us, too. Who can say that Jesus’ warning against “adultery in the heart” (Matt. 5:28) doesn’t apply to them?
             Smith showed fallacies in the romantic myth, which says sex is “all about love and affection;” the pornography myth, which says it’s “all about fun and personal fulfillment;” and the therapeutic myth, which views sex “as a means to wholeness.”
            He saw shifts in the thinking of students who took the class seriously by writing regular journal entries. He said several “claimed a sense of freedom and control over their lives.”
            Smith hopes his research can help Christian leaders guide young people starting at about age 14. He wrote:
            “No generation, no church, no demographic, no denomination will ever be free from this battle, but that does not mean that the church is free to ignore the problem because it is too big.”
                                      * * *

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