A Plea for Healing and Tending to the Garden in the Middle

The political and social atmosphere in America is playing into the hands of the radical fringe.

The events unfolding, the things going on in the world right now, are troubling from many angles. Racial injustice, polarization, the centrifugal force of political fringes, rhetoric over substance, political violence, conspiracy theories, fake news, the increasing control of popular speech by private monopolies of information, the abandonment of all semblance of non-bias by most media, the ability to choose our own tailored news, the hatred people are developing for others who don’t think like them, the unwillingness to show respect, listen and engage in real dialogue – these are things that are deeply troubling in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

The political, cultural, sociological, and philosophical winds are swirling chaotically and mixing at all levels into a tornadic gale that is bordering on dangerous. These forces are not coming from outside us but from within. Even if our present chaos is influenced by outside sources, they are merely putting pressure on elements already within us. “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.”

For four years, people have been blaming Donald Trump for every evil under the sun. (Pardon the hyperbole.) People have been lumping all Trump supporters into one group and condemning them (or so the rhetoric often goes). People have had good reason to be critical. (No hyperbole or rhetoric there.) But let’s take a step back (it may need to be a giant step) and attempt a look at the bigger picture.

Trump gained support over more than a dozen career Republican politicians in 2016 and was elected president over a person, in Hillary Clinton, who, perhaps more than anyone else, represented the entrenched political machine in America. Bernie Sanders mounted a credible offense with broad support against that machine but could not prevail.

I believe people gravitated to Trump and Sanders for the same reasons: they are tired of politics as usual. They feel that our political system has broken down. It has become big business designed to perpetuate power and control, rather than serve the people. Congress would rather do nothing and let presidents wield executive orders on issues that need their attention and a compromise solution (like immigration, for instance) because they don’t want to jeopardize offending their bases.

They are seemingly more motivated by a desire to remain in office, maintain control and serve themselves than the people who elect them. There is no give and take (in the good and appropriate sense) anymore. At least, not on anything that hits the hot buttons of political platforms.

We only have two choices. Those two choices are becoming increasingly unpalatable for people on both sides of the aisle, but practical wisdom suggests that voting third party candidates means taking a knee as the real game plays on without you.

Polarization is a serious issue that can’t be ignored. It is exasperated by social media that is designed for quick, shallow and knee-jerk reactions that cater to our worst instincts. Almost 100% of political campaigning involves demonizing opponents and “the other party”. We have become a nation that accepts rhetoric over substance.

The extreme polarization has given rise to the voices of the radical fringes who threaten to pull us apart. In a “normal” world, those voices would seem like largely inconsequential and impotent shrills in the distance. Today, they sound like megaphones on the Capitol lawn, infiltrating into the very House of the People.

The Democratic party has always been more diverse (in my lifetime) and has always had its diverse, radical fringes. The conservative fringes have largely operated outside the fold until recently.

I dare say the conservative fringes are more dangerous, ultimately, than the liberal ones, perhaps because they are more unified by common principles. They also bear arms like political badges.

The fringes are pulling good people from the center because the center has largely been abandoned today. It’s a no-man’s land where no grass grows, and nothing happens. People in the center are labeled “other” by the people on either side and ignored by both.

We need a “radical” change. By radical, I don’t mean extreme or fanatical. I mean a different approach to politics and dialogue with each other. We need common sense and a commitment to a bigger picture than political partisanship. We need someone who can bridge the gaps that divide us. We need a voice that brings people together on the common ground that unites us, rather than forcing all conversations to the battle lines.

Continue reading “A Plea for Healing and Tending to the Garden in the Middle”

The Story of the Napalm Girl and the Healing Power of Jesus

Kim Phuc saw another plane coming in low, fast and loud. She saw the bombs drop, and she froze….


Kim Phuc is “the girl in the picture”, maybe the most iconic picture of the Vietnam War, and one of the most memorable wartime photos ever taken. She is the girl in the picture running from a napalm bomb that dropped on her village.

Kim grew up in a happy family that was well off and lived in a village that was far from the war, but the war came to them. The villagers had taken refuge in the local temple, as the South Vietnamese took up guard to protect them.

One day, however, planes flew overhead. The first plane dropped a marker at the temple. The soldiers, knowing what that meant, screamed for everyone to run. As Kim reached the exit of the temple, she saw another plane coming in low, fast and loud. She saw the bombs drop, and she froze.

Before she knew what was happening, she was surrounded by flames. When she saw her arm on fire, she ran in the panic and fear until she couldn’t run anymore.

When she stopped running, a soldier gave her water. She cried, “Too hot! Too hot!”, and the soldier poured water on her, thinking it would ease her pain. The water reacted with the napalm, though, and intensified the pain. She passed out. She suffered 3rd degree burns over a third of her body

The photographer who took the photo dropped his camera and took her to the hospital. They didn’t have enough room for her because of the number of patients that needed help. There wasn’t hope for her, so they moved her to a morgue. Her mother and brother found her and carried her back to the hospital. Her father arrived, and she was transferred to a burn clinic in Saigon.

Every morning the nurse took her to the “burn bath” to soften her dead skin to be removed. She cried through the excruciatingly painful process until she passed out. She had 18 surgeries, and almost a dozen laser treatments. She spent years in pain, physical and emotional, despairing that she would never live a without the physical and emotional scars she carried.

Her father spent all his waking hours tending to her with a broken heart. She was in so much pain, they prayed that she would die, fearing that something would happen to them, that would leave her alone.

She lived of course, but she was ashamed of her scars. Friends stopped wanting to be with her. Her family loved her, but she became very lonely. She was no longer the beautiful young girl she once was. She thought she was ugly.

She also lived with trauma and nightmares from her experience. She was filled with bitterness, hatred and anger. She kept asking, “Why me?!” She despaired of life. She felt like death would give her an end to the suffering and pain that she lived with.

The war continued for three years after the event that left Kim scarred for life. War continued around her village, and her family lost everything they had. When the Americans withdrew, leaving the North Vietnamese in control, her parents and family were broken up. The suffering continued.

The Vietnamese government discovered that Kim was the girl in the picture. Kim wanted to be a doctor. She enrolled in medical school, but the Vietnamese government found her. They took her away from school, and they began to use her as a propaganda tool.

At age 19, with her dreams and aspirations snuffed out, she was at the lowest point in her life. The questions intensified. Why me?!! Why did I have to be burned and suffer? “Why didn’t I die?” What is the purpose of it all?

“Deep down in my heart,” she said, “I was seeking.”

Continue reading “The Story of the Napalm Girl and the Healing Power of Jesus”

Of Miracles & Snake Oil


As I was listening to an interview of panelists and presenters from the last Unbelievable conference in the United States[1], I was struck by something AJ Roberts[2] said in a discussion about miracles. She opined that people do not believe in miracles in the West because of the western emphasis on rationality over experience.

When she said that, I questioned in my mind whether she was right. Not that I haven’t heard that before. I have even thought that before myself. But a thought occurred to me this time as she made this assertion in the context of a broader discussion about miracles by the thoughtful panelists.

We do live in a society in which education is valued and science and rationality is emphasized at the academic level. The United States of America was built on a foundation of free public education. This is why schoolhouses were built all across the frontier, and colleges followed as the frontier expanded.

As an aside, I note that most of colleges in the US that were established before the 20th century were religiously inspired and motivated. From the Ivy League schools and across the country, most colleges and universities in the US have religious roots, but that is a subject for another day.

As I think about that fact, I am reminded of another strain to the legacy of this country, a more popular influence. That is the strain of Americanism that gave rise to the snake oil salesman[3], the huckster, people searching for the legendary fountain of youth, circus sideshows and the market for elixirs that promise happiness, long life and improvement to the digestive system.

Interestingly, our American proclivity toward quackery may have grown out of a combination of pluralism and capitalism. Pluralism brought people from all parts of the world to the shores of the New World with Old World remedies that cowboy capitalist exploited with claims of false cures. Americans have been so taken by such false claims that regulatory industries have been spawned by our gullibility, yet the “snake oil claims” live on.

I think about all the people I have known and the silly, hairbrained things they have put their faith in. There is no end to the pyramid schemes that promise health and riches. We, in the west, have even developed variations of New Age, religious elixirs that promise to deliver all of the benefits of the old snake oils in shiny, metaphysical packages that boasts none of the sticky side effects of traditional Christianity, like the need to deal with personal sin and accountability to a creator God.

It occurs to me that, maybe, the apparent dearth of miracles in the US isn’t that we have an exalted idea of rationality. Maybe God doesn’t grant us many miracles as we will believe almost anything. What’s another miracle claim among many? We might be just a little bit too inclined to believe them and to focus too much on them.

When Jesus sent out 72 of his followers ahead of him to go town to town proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God and healing the sick, they came back excited that “even the demons are subject to us in your name!” But Jesus admonished them: “[D]o not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”[4] Jesus also warned that many people would do miracles in His name that are not His people.[5]

I have often wondered why missionaries report so many miracles that God does in other countries, why the average American seems to have never experienced or seen a miracle. Perhaps, it’s because we are too predisposed to believe anything, not that we are disposed not to believe. We have learned well the willing suspension of disbelief that we employ in our favorite forms of entertainment, and we have turned that practice into driving desire for our lives. (Thank about the Disney themes of love at first sight and living happily ever after.)

At the pedestrian level, outside the halls of academia, we have a history of being taken by extraordinary claims as long as they are smartly and provocatively packaged. Perhaps it isn’t that we are so grounded by rationality, but that we are willing to believe almost anything that comes down the road, as long as it promises something that we want and can access on our own without the bother of accountability to a God who can’t be manipulated.

We even have our own brand of Christianity in the US that caters to our preferences – the word of faith movement. Name it and claim it! Believe it and seize it! Deposit your prayers with holy confidence into the divine slot machine and out will come your healing, cash, whatever you want. All you have to do is believe.

I used to think often that Christians in the west don’t observe or experience miracles because we are more rationally minded, but I am not so sure of that as I write this. Maybe we are too easily fooled.

Continue reading “Of Miracles & Snake Oil”

Victims of Abuse Find Comfort and Healing in Christ


Unfortunately, the world today is full of people who have suffered abuse at the hands of other people. For reasons we may not fully understand, victims of abuse often become abusers, themselves. The abuse begets abuse, and the cycle may continue for generations.

The abuse may take the form of parent to child, spouse to spouse, boss to employee, slave owners to slaves, and even governments can wiled oppressive control over the people subject to their authority. People in positions of power abuse people in positions of vulnerability. We haven’t advanced all that much as beings for eons. In some ways, we might have become more sophisticated about the abuse, but the abuse continues, generation after generation.

The Jewish people of Judea, modern Israel and Palestine, were oppressed and abused by the Roman government in the First Century when Jesus walked the earth. Jesus began his public ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah,

“The Spirit of the LORD is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free….” (Luke 4:18, quoting from Isaiah 61:1)

But he certainly wasn’t concerned only with the oppressive rule of the Roman government. He was concerned about all people everywhere who suffer abuse. Continue reading “Victims of Abuse Find Comfort and Healing in Christ”