Friday, October 11, 2013

Angels & Demons

In the Depression-era movie "The Grapes of Wrath," there was a scene where the Joad family, day after dusty day of driving their barely running truck from Oklahoma to the new "promised land" of California, arrive at the government-sponsored camp.  The workers at the camp, government workers, wore very clean, white clothes.  To the Joad's, they glowed like angels - government agents coming to help them from the decimation of the Dust Bowl, death on the road, near starvation and the other real-life horrors of that time.  My wife's father-in-law, Elmo made that trip several times as a young man with his parents and brothers.  The helpful hand of the government was appreciated and needed.

That image of the "angels of government" have filled my mind the last couple of weeks as the so-called government shutdown continues (although since 83% of the government is still at work isn't it better called a government slowdown?).  I have been horrified at the quick transition of government agents, especially in the National Park Service, from angels to demons.  How is it that, literally, one day, the Park Police/Rangers are helpfully talking to people from around the world, encouraging them to explore the wonders of the monuments and parks around the US and the next day are drawing weapons on the same people, barricading them from accessing otherwise open spaces?  How can they transform from patient guides to police-state enforcers with the simple command of an unelected bureaucrat?  In a day?

What is even more unsettling, to me, is that the workers in the National Parks are willing to accept the orders.  From the October 4, 2013 Washington Times:
The Park Service appears to be closing streets on mere whim and caprice. The rangers even closed the parking lot at Mount Vernon, where the plantation home of George Washington is a favorite tourist destination. That was after they barred the new World War II Memorial on the Mall to veterans of World War II. But the government does not own Mount Vernon; it is privately owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. The ladies bought it years ago to preserve it as a national memorial. The feds closed access to the parking lots this week, even though the lots are jointly owned with the Mount Vernon ladies. The rangers are from the government, and they’re only here to help. “It’s a cheap way to deal with the situation,” an angry Park Service ranger in Washington says of the harassment. “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.”

Armed Park Service guard blocks access to the Lincoln National Memorial

With all due respect to the Ranger who was willing to speak out, why are you obeying a disgusting and punitive order?  At what point would a Ranger (or other government employee) disobey an order like this?  They were willing to turn away World War II veterans from an open-air monument, arrest Vietnam veterans who visited "their" Wall, they even tried closing access to the ocean!

Two points stand out most clearly in all of this that contradict much of what we have come to believe about our institutions:

1.  We have been told that the National Lands are held by the Government for the benefit of all of the people.  That is not true.  In the past few weeks a claim is being made on national monuments and parks that it is the property of the government - and even at that it is used at the whim of the Administration (allowing immigration rally on the "closed" National Mall vs. closing all other areas to the public).  Has there been a fundamental transformation, as the President promised, in the relationship between publicly held lands/monuments/parks and the American people?  I think so and it is a transformation which must be reversed.

2.  We often use the old joke to make fun of government employees that "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you."  Today, there is no humor in that idea.  The swiftness with which the "angels" from the Park Service became "demons" who held elderly tourists inside a Yellowstone hotel at gunpoint, who terrorized foreign tourists who believed they were being arrested is more than frightening.  The full story is here.  In the news story, the phrase "Gestapo tactics" is used.  I'm not one to throw around Nazi-themed slurs but I do believe history offers us a window into our future. When Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) occurred to begin the persecution of Jews in Germany, Jews were shocked when their friends and neighbors turned on them.  The kind store-keeper was now an enemy, the dressmaker would no longer allow them in, they were considered vermin.  Likewise, I believe average Americans have been shocked at the image above and of elderly veterans in wheelchairs being treated like criminals.  Also comes news that IRS workers, contrary to "official" reports, were sharing personal data for political purposes.  Even in the worst days of backroom politics, this has been considered off-limits.  No more.  Has some fundamental transformation, as the President promised, occurred in relationship between citizens and government authorities? 

If, with a mere word, the kind Park Rangers become police-state agents, how can we ever have the same relationship with them when all of this passes?  If, with a simple email request personal tax information is shared for political purposes, how can we trust any information we give?  Most important, why haven't any stood up and refused to give in to such blatant, disgusting orders?

Will their response be "we were just following orders?" 

If so, that excuse has been used before too.  And when clear-headed minds prevailed, that excuse was found disgusting.  And invalid.  And wrong.

I'm not sure how we can restore the right relationship in regards to the national lands and government workers.  But it must begin to happen.  It will begin, I believe, when enough of us say "enough."  When we assert our right to the freedoms those old men fought for and for which the government used to defend.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Touched by the Desperation of the Desperate

It's an iconic photo of the days of the Great Depression. 

Mother, huddled with her children, under a crude tarp with not much to eat.

For generations we have seen this picture and connected with it because it is real.  The worn, hungry look is evident.  I suppose we even read despair into the eyes of the child and mom. 

It strikes me as curious that they are not looking into the camera.  Just like today.  When we see someone like her, next to the street holding a sign, asking for help, we look away just as they begin to make eye contact.  In a talk with someone who works with homeless people regularly, I am told that one of the interactions they miss most is eye contact.  There once was a time when the person asking would not look you in the eye.  Now, it's the person who could offer help that won't make contact.

As if making that human connection would touch us too much.  It might make us take an action that we had not planned. 

IF we connected, then . . . what?

We might be able to lift her burden?
We might be committed to finding out about HOW someone like her got to where she is?

We might find that, instead of her being very unlike me, I am very, very close to being like her?

I was recently in Elk City, Oklahoma, visiting at a non-profit that was hosting our MobileSmiles Oklahoma program.  The Western Oklahoma Family Care Center (www.westokfcc.come) is working intently and intentionally to address the needs of so many in less populated parts of the state.  WOFCC is a faith-based program which puts together resources so that a family can come to just one location and be offered the help they need.

And more.

Tim Ball, the Executive Director of WOFCC and I had a great discussion about what they do and it is so much more than just providing a hand-out to someone in need.  Their work is about creating a community which finds those who are in need and helps connect them with churches and other groups to build skills, if skills are needed, educate, when this provides an answer, connect to jobs, housing and the resources necessary to get back on their feet - with a chance to stay there. 

Even better, they connect them to a church that works to find more permanent solutions for the problems the person or family is experiencing. 

Tim and I talked about what he called the "desperation of the desperate" and explained that every one of us is touched by it. 

We see it when we pass through an intersection and people are asking for handouts. 
We see it when we go into "those" areas of town and see people laying under bridges, against buildings, in parks.
We smell it when we walk past those who are "homeless" as we have come to define it.

A few Saturdays ago, I was going into the downtown Oklahoma City Library at opening time (9:00 a.m.).  The homeless heading into the library looked like a line of ants heading from all over the downtown area to the one door at the entry.  Their faces reminded me of the woman in the picture above.  Limited expression.  Determined to get by one more day.  For them, it seemed, just getting in was the drive that propelled them onward.

The biggest issue that we discussed about all of this, however, is that we can offer help and hope IF we can create community.  Community which reaches out to lift up those around us from the despair of poverty and being alone.

Tim raised an interesting point:
"Darkness is driving people - all of us - into isolation; away from community.  Segments of our societies have become desperate - their fault, my fault, nobody's fault.  They are resorting to desperate means to resolve their desperation, and our society is responding with isolation rather than community.  Isolation increases darkness - while community drives it away.  We can build taller, more secure fences around ourselves and install generators for our homes , but we still have to drive through the desperation to get to work and the grocery store.  What if we focused on restoring community instead of promoting isolation?  What if we no longer felt the need to isolate ourselves from the desperation of others?"
Can churches and non-profits work together to become community builders?  If we have the light within us, can we reach out and help someone else - light their candle?  Help them to recognize their natural worth as a human being.  Not someone to be shunned.  To be avoided.  To be looked away from. 

If we can help restore the idea of community around us, then each of us can extend our hand to help a person who has stumbled along the way.  And offer them the light that Jesus calls to shine through in each of our lives.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sanitized Reality

It's been a very difficult and sad time in Oklahoma the last 14 days.

We have had the eyes of the world turned to look at us - again - because of the disaster that comes from the sky in our part of the world.  Tornado damage is much worse than the television pictures can relate.  The destruction is impossible to believe until you see it with your own eyes.  As you take in the power of an EF-5 tornado, you also smell the aroma of devastation. 

This never comes across to you, sitting safely in a protected home or office.  It's a sanitized reality through the tv screen.

Gas, dust, dead animals, lumber, something burned, moldy and wet items that once had value - all ruined and worth nothing in the blink of an eye - and all contributing to an odor that is not forgettable.  If you don't live in the television coverage area then you are not likely to keep seeing the on-going challenges of recovery.  It is easy to move on the next catastrophe, become consumed by it for a few days and then move on the next.  And so on and so on . . ..

The world sees these images, absent the smells, feels badly for a time and wonders why people continue to live in Oklahoma.  It is a question actually posed on chat sites, blogs, news articles.  It is heard in conversations with people from "outside" with whom we do business or have other connections. 

I suppose even old Oklahoma storm-season veterans think about that question sometimes - although few would ever admit it.  We stay for a lot of reasons.  For some, it's where home has always been.  Others, moved here and found it a good place for business.  Oklahoma is a place where neighbors pitch in to help.  Frankly, if you ever have a serious problem where you just need a helping hand, Oklahoma is a good place for you to be. 

It gets me thinking, though, about whether it is worth it to stay?

You know, even as clean up was starting, more storms hit.  Hail.  Rain.  Lightening.  More tornado threats.  Just a few days ago another series of awful tornadoes hit - coupled with flooding rains.  Taking more lives.  Destroying more.  Wearing us down with warnings, watches and threats.  There is a storm fatigue taking over in many places.  There is more on tap for us this week. 

And we don't even have the last one cleaned up yet.

So why do we stay?  What is here?

Could it be the fact that before the tornadoes were even finished in their destruction, there were churches mobilizing to help.  First they called for prayer.  Then they called for action.  Churches of all backgrounds - all faiths - working alongside each other in an effort of . . . relief.

I think it is and, perhaps, that is what I have been inspired about more than anything in the face of disaster.  It's the faith that people put in God and in each other. 

We hear a lot, from people outside of Oklahoma, a lot of ridiculing the faith that inspires us.  Ricky Gervais, the creator of "The Office," tweeted:
Praying for something but not doing anything to make it happen has the same effect as writing to Santa & not letting mummy read the letter.
He even pushed a thought in his Twitter account:  #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma

I don't know anything about the man except that I have enjoyed his tv show over the years.  I can't tell you what he sees or knows.  Not even if he has ever been to Oklahoma to feel the palpable sense that here - prayer, churches, faith - does become real action.  Maybe he knows this passage from the Book of James and maybe he doesn't.  But it fits his idea - one that has sparked controversy because it is being read as "hating" those who say they are "praying for Oklahoma."  But he is right:
14-17 Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
18 I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.”
Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.
19-20 Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands? (James 2:14-20, The Message).

We don't have churches that just meet on Sundays to lift prayers that God may help us and consider that "good."  In Oklahoma, our faith drives us to show compassion, to give a helping hand, to give blood and money and food and water, to take time off from paid work because fellow Oklahomans need help.  Right now.  Not when it is convenient.

Most interestingly, for someone, like Gervais, who sees us from an outside perspective, all kinds of churches and beliefs (which might disagree in some theological way) are working side-by-side.  Churches of Christ, Baptists, Mennonites, Methodists, atheists - all can be found working with each other in the common bond of helping our hurting neighbors.  We know, all too truthfully, that we could be next in needing that same coming together.

That's the reality on the ground in Oklahoma.  From the time weather forecasters begin to warn us to be "weather aware," we take action.  We check in with our family and neighbors to be sure they know it could be rough.  We pray that the damage might be slight or that the storm might not be as bad as believed.  We pray for strength to overcome the reality of disaster - that we might know how to help - that our prayers may become the actions of our hands.

TV makes the disasters look cleaner than they are.  It allows people to make judgments that they are in no position to make.  To criticize and to demonize those who are doing the best they can in a hard and tough situation. 

The sanitized reality gives those people the clean conscious to say whatever they like about us.

Those of us living in the disaster zones know the truth - the faith of our neighbors and the actions caused by that faith make this a great place to live.  Because we know we are not going through all of this alone.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Empowering or Enabling?

Pretty awful, isn't it?  It is hard to believe that parents actually believe that, since their children lose their baby teeth, this is the way it happens. 

This is NOT what children's teeth are supposed to look like.  Ever.

Yet, this is a typical occurrence across Oklahoma.  We see this nearly every single day.

Let me step back.

I serve as the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Dental Foundation.  The ODF is a great non-profit that works to eliminate barriers to oral health care for Oklahomans.  Literally traveling the state in mobile dental units, our program, MobileSmiles Oklahoma, is in partnership with Delta Dental of Oklahoma Oral Health Foundation. 

We try to get to as many communities, schools, churches, other non-profits - sometimes even the middle of a field - to make sure that we are reaching out to people who need oral health care and, for a variety of reasons, can't see a dentist.  We try to find a way to get to as many people as we can, offer them care and education, then move on to the next place.

MobileSmiles serving patients in Grandfield, Oklahoma

We are truly helping people, especially children, who are at the mercy of their parents taking them to a dentist.  I use the term mercy carefully.  Because what we see is that parents, many who suffer with oral health pain themselves, believe decay and pain are just the way they have to live.  So, until we demonstrate to parents and caregivers that mouths should not look like the picture above and that mouths should not hurt, we are reliant on parents to decide that a dental visit is important. 

We also have programs to help those with mental health and substance abuse problems (but are on their way to recovery) and women who are trying to get their lives back in order after being incarcerated.  MobileSmiles Oklahoma is trying to get to every part of the state where there are people with oral health needs.  And we take care of them at no charge to the patient.  Ever.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with many non-profits.  Some are focused on health issues, some education, others nutrition, still more on safety and raising healthy children.  Over all of this time, I've seen something that really gets me thinking. 

Is the work of non-profits helping the people that we intend to help or is it creating a circumstance where we enable people to continually make poor choices?

It is a difficult, but important, question for non-profits and churches. 

For instance, several years ago, I was the Executive Director of a statewide non-profit called Safe Kids Oklahoma.  Safe Kids was the only non-profit in the state which worked to prevent the number one killer of Oklahoma's children - unintentional injury.  Safe Kids Oklahoma provided cars seats to those who needed them, bike helmets for kids who went through rider safety programs, smoke detectors for houses with children in them. 

This idea of enabling bad choices hit hard at Safe Kids.  We advertised that we would distribute and install car seats on a first-come-first-served basis.  Cars would line up hours in advance.  The car seats we distributed cost Safe Kids approximately $59 per seat (at the time) and were provided at no cost to the family.  Many times, we were in the parking lot of a WalMart (a store which reportedly sells car seats) for the distribution event.  As we got to a car and prepared to properly install a new car seat for the child, we would be forced to move $100 or more worth of beer and cigarettes (just purchased from WalMart - which is also reported to sell car seats for less than $59) out of the way so that the child could be made safe.

We just had to get comfortable with the realization that the caregiver was at least willing to give the child a chance at safety by going through the Safe Kids process of installing the seat. 

But the question is burning to be answered - were we simply encouraging the parent to NOT spend money in keeping their own child safe by giving away the seat?  They had enough disposable income for "vices," in fact, far in excess of the cost of keeping their child safe.  Yet they chose not to do that and instead use their money to intoxicate themselves. 

Did we empower a family to be proactively safer for their child or did we enable them to keep making bad decisions (like not having a child safety seat in the first place)?

We wrestle with that question for MobileSmiles as well.

Many days we pull the MobileSmiles unit up to a school parking lot and treat children who have not seen a dentist and who have a dental need.  All that we ask is for the parent to fill out a permission to treat form and our volunteer dentist will help their child.  Amazingly, that is often too much to ask.  There are days were we have to cancel a visit to a location because not enough parents have returned the permission to treat form. 

We are told that someone needs to call the family and remind them to fill out the form.  In some communities (even in Tulsa and Oklahoma City) the only way to get the forms returned is for someone to literally go door-to-door to get the permission.  Permission for a child to receive necessary - and free - care.  It seems absurd to me that dentists are ready to provide free care, the MobileSmiles facility is on-site with staff and support ready to treat but someone actually has to go knock on the door of a hurting child to get a caregiver to respond to the offer of help.

This raises a question that we have to work our way through.  Are we making it so that a parent does not even need to take responsibility for getting needed dental care by pulling into the school to provide that care? 

They don't have to take off of work.  They don't have any cost. 

Are we empowering the child to be free of dental pain or the parent who wants their child to be cared for or are we enabling the caregiver to ignore the obvious needs of the child and wait until someone shows up at school to "fix" the problem?

I believe these are vital questions for non-profits and churches to ask of their programs.  Do we really help our clients "be better" or do we create an environment in which they come to realize that someone else will provide the solution to their problem?

With MobileSmiles Oklahoma, we are helping the children who we see.  Because of what we do, fewer children miss school, more children live without pain and they begin to know what oral health means for them.  For those other groups that we help - we see that we are making a difference in their lives, too.  Women who have been in prison already have many strikes against them in getting a job and keeping out of a situation that would return them to state custody.  With proper oral health care: cleanings, extractions, in some cases dentures, we can positively affect them and get them a chance at a better life. 

For all of those patients who can't get to a dentist on their own - what are we creating?
Empowerment or are we creating a situation where people only wait to be treated?

It's a non-profit and church dilemma.  Let's hope we answer it right.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What Would You Do If . . .?

Is the love of money the root of all evil or is money a tool that helps us accomplish many good things?  Is it both?

I would like to find a way to engage in genuine discussion.  So, if this gets you thinking, please respond.  I won't let it get (too) personal if you participate. 

If I had a million dollars (I'd be rich - according to the Bare Naked Ladies) - what is your answer?

What would you do if . . . you were given a $100 bill?

You know, a Benjamin.  A C-Note.

Very often, I see situations where I think "if I only had the money to help, then I would . . .."  Do what?  Would I give money?  Would I use the money to purchase something and give it away?  Would I find a way to help that does not involve cash at all?

I think that, as Americans, we see a need and we desire to fix it.  Often times, to our surprise, the people we are trying to help didn't know that they needed any.  They don't see a problem at all.  This is especially the case, I have seen, in other cultures when North Americans enter the picture because we desire to make things "better."

Better usually means more like the United States.

Does that make me sound unpatriotic?

I hope not.  I believe the US has been a great example to the rest of the world of the hope that comes from principles of human rights being derived, not from man or government, but from our Creator.  While we are not perfect, our striving to fulfill the belief that "all men are created equal" is a powerful force for good in the world.

So, we try to make things "better" by making them like us.

To our surprise, that doesn't always improve things.  It results in loss of culture, of a singular vision of the world which is not (always) healthy.  If we are honest, the American way is not the only, best way. 

Which gets me to my question. 

If I gave you $100 in response to my question, just handed you a C-note, told you that you had to use it to help someone else, how would you use the money? 

Would you limit yourself to only the $100? 

Would you involve others in your decision?

Is there already something, someone or someplace that you have in mind you would like to see benefit from the money?

Would you use the money for another purpose that ends up helping?

I ask this for a specific reason.  In a recent meeting, this was a topic of discussion and several in the group said that they didn't really know anyone they could help with $100.  I was kind of surprised that there weren't many ideas popping into the heads of those around the table about how it could be used for good.  After all, the people I was talking with are very kindhearted and generous - when they are presented an opportunity to help.

What happens if we have to be on the lookout for ways to help other people?

Do we actually keep our eyes open to those in need or do we wait to hear about some need and then respond?  Is there, essentially, any difference?  I'm not sure.

What I am sure is this - there are those in need everywhere we look.  There are non-profits delivering care all around us.  There are churches that are reaching way beyond their walls to help hurting people.

On mornings when we realize that we have run out of breakfast material at our house, I will make a quick drive to the nearby McDonalds.  I am, every time, amazed at the number of children standing in front of rather sketchy motels, with their backpacks, waiting for the bus.  The motel is their home, for now.  There is a deep sadness that seeps into me - realizing these children come home to this reality.

I have worked with a church that actually meets in a park because that is where the homeless men and women of that part of town gather.  They have a sermon, they sing songs, they pray.  They provide food and warm(er) clothes for those who arrive.  A friend who works within the church tells me that he no longer averts his eyes when he sees a person on the street - but looks them in the eye and tells them about the church services - and gives them a hope for salvation from the life they are living. 

The challenge of what to do with money, how we use it, how we hang on to, whether it is friend or foe, has long been an issue.  Jesus spoke openly and often about money.  The Bible is clear that money can build up and tear down - all in the same person.  

I thought I would let Johnny Cash give you a quick thought of the power of money with the song, "A Satisfied Mind."  Lyrics are powerful and listed below.

 So tell me.  You've just been given $100 to do good.

What do you do with it?

I hope you'll share your ideas.

A Satisfied Mind"                                                            
(originally by Porter Wagoner) 
How many times have
You heard someone say
If I had his money
I could do things my way

But little they know
That it's so hard to find
One rich man in ten
With a satisfied mind

Once I was winning
In fortune and fame
Everything that I dreamed for
To get a start in life's game

Then suddenly it happened
I lost every dime
But I'm richer by far
With a satisfied mind

Money can't buy back
Your youth when you're old
Or a friend when you're lonely
Or a love that's grown cold

The wealthiest person
Is a pauper at times
Compared to the man
With a satisfied mind

When my life has ended
And my time has run out
My friends and my loved ones
I'll leave there's no doubt

But one thing's for certain
When it comes my time
I'll leave this old world
With a satisfied mind

How many times have
You heard someone say
If I had his money
I could do things my way

But little they know
That it's so hard to find
One rich man in ten
With a satisfied mind

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Charity by Force or $7,190?

The last few weeks, I have been trying hard to work through a couple of conflicting and difficult thoughts.

On one hand, I believe that, in the United States, no one should do without.  As a nation, we are rich beyond measure.  Even our "poor" are rich by the standards of the rest of the world.

On the other hand, I don't believe that government programs are the best answer for those in need - that higher tax rates and more government-taking of an individual's earnings will somehow solve our societal ills.  One of the great, false, arguments that is made today is that all American's need to pay their "fair share."  What is a "fair share" and who gets to decide?

We are told that the "rich," whoever they are (and I most assuredly am not), need to pay just a little more to cover all of our national financial woes. 

I just want you to remember the amount $7,190.

I'll get back to that amount in a minute.  It is important, I think, because of what it symbolizes for all Americans.

We are an incredibly generous nation.  There is not a  disaster that we do not respond to.  I am amazed at the number of young people in the US who made a contribution to help the Red Cross respond to Indian Ocean tsunami victims in 2004 and again in Japan just a couple of years ago.  Frankly, most of those youngsters with smart phones cannot spell the word "tsunami" but they knew there was a need and they had a burning desire to help fix a problem they saw. 

At my son's school, one that we might have called a country school years ago, there is a specific program for the 8th-graders which gets them into the community, volunteering to help with those in need, learning to raise money to alleviate a specific problem. 

They learn that they are part of a bigger community.
They learn that they are expected, as a part of their citizenship, to give back to those who are less fortunate.
They know that this expectation is a foundational truth of how we live with our neighbors - looking around for ways to help, seeking out opportunities to make a difference with what we have.

Sometimes, the kids see, there is a chance to make a difference with money.
Sometimes, the kids make a difference with their hands by actively helping.
Sometimes, the kids find that they make a difference by simply reading to other children. 

That is how we build expectations of upcoming generations that we are responsible to look out for one another.  Not expect that someone else will solve the problem.

Now, for me, my faith helps guide this sense of responsibility.  Because I believe that I have been given the greatest gift of all - the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on a cross for my sins and for my eternal life, I want more people to have that experience.  As a result, I try to find opportunities to help others and to do so because I have been given that gift.  My faith drives me to do the work that will show others that there is goodness and rightness in a world that is, most days, horrible.

As most of you know, our daughter has been very sick for a number of years. 

I think that a big part of my drive to make a difference for other people comes, also, from my inability to help her.  I can't get her well - so I need to keep finding a way to help other people.  Maybe it's a na├»ve belief that by pushing hard to help those who can't help themselves, God will grant a positive answer to my on-going prayer to heal Victoria.  So I work, through the Oklahoma Dental Foundation to help end oral health pain for children and women leaving prison and people with mental health issues.  We bring an end to suffering for a lot of people.

And we do it because dentists volunteer their time.  They give their money.  They help make a difference. 

There is no government program that is doing anything like what we do.  It was created by "the rich" as defined by politician's views of doctors, to help those who would never, ever see a dentist.  They gain nothing from it except the knowledge that they are helping.

Remember the amount $7,190.

Now, politicians tell us that, in order to help our neighbors, we need more government programs, more money for existing programs and more tax dollars from those who can afford "just a little more" to make it all happen. 


Non-profits are funded by the voluntary contributions of individuals from all faiths, all colors, all backgrounds. 

All financial means.

Now, if we follow and believe the thinking that "just a little bit more" for government programs assures that all people get taken care of then we would have to assume that the "more" has no impact on other giving.  I happen to live around a lot of people who give generously and don't, generally, wait for the government to deliver some service. 

But, by increasing taxes (fairness if you will), a person's ability to continue to provide support to non-profits decrease.  At the same time, President Obama has recommended that charitable donations have a lower tax deductible "cap," thereby putting more money into taxes and less into the non-profits that are doing so much.

We are told that the government programs are, in fact, charitable.  That, by their very existence, government programs are the best way to solve our problems.  So, forced charity - taking tax dollars (because no one is yet ready to willingly pay extra for taxes) and putting them into government programs that are not on par with non-profit programs (in terms of administrative costs vs. direct benefit to the recipient, etc.) makes some people feel good because they are not - frankly - very generous.

Vice President Joe Biden is a huge proponent of increased taxes to build these "safety net" programs.  His huge annual income is supplemented by an additional payment from the taxpayers for a house on his property.  A house the Secret Service uses to help protect him.  He charges the Secret Service (read you and me) $2,200 per month (annually $26,400) to stay on his property to protect him.

He would tell us that we need to be more generous.

In fact, he makes speeches to that effect all the time. 

His charitable contributions in 2012?

$7,190 - Approximately 1.8% of his income. 

It's 3 times less than he makes in rent from us - while telling us to be generous. 

Current political leaders like to tell us that we need to increase our taxes to be "fair and generous."

I look at non-profits all around me and see the generosity of people who give their time, their money, their talent, their property - all in order to help. 

Charity, forced by the government in the form of higher taxes creates a false sense of comfort.  It is the small business that helps the little league, the preacher who performs a funeral for free, the businessperson who serves on a board to assure good management.

The dentist who takes time away from their office to perform care on someone who would not be able to afford care otherwise.

Those are the generous people among us.

It is not my place to criticize Joe Biden's charitable giving.  That is between he and his wife - and his God. 

He, likewise, needs to lay off of those who are helping well beyond 2% of their income to make this a better nation.  And those people are all around us.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


My daughter, Victoria, took this picture a couple of nights ago from the back yard at our house.  She didn't touch it up with any of the "photography tools" that are out there. 

Just her telephone. 

Her eye. 

And God's touch.

Sunsets in Oklahoma tend to be exceptionally beautiful.  From a scientific perspective, I understand it has to do with the wind kicking up the dust and the clouds. upon which the light reflects an assortment of colors.

From a spiritual sense, God shows us amazing things, doesn't He?

I look forward to sunset when I am at home.  After the stresses of the day I am always dazzled at God's hand literally unfolding in front of my eyes.  Some evenings, it is possible for us to anticipate that the sunset will be picture perfect.  We can see it as the clouds settle just right or the clarity of the sky appears just perfect to create a color of blue that is usually only seen painted on canvas by great artists.  The colors come alive as the owls hoot in trees behind the house.  The coyotes and their pups start yapping away.  Our dogs, Tucker and Charli, get into their protective mode and patrol the outskirts of the yard to keep those outsiders out.

It becomes a time of reflection and one when, hopefully, we never hesitate to say out loud "God made an amazing sunset tonight, didn't He?"

As we have raised our children, my wife and I have tried to keep in front of them the beauty of the world and the realization that without God, none of this would exist.  Even though I tell myself that I am saying the words for the kids and their friends about the wonders of God, in reality, I suppose I am reminding myself of the same thing.

I really get to thinking.  How much credit do I claim for the good things in my life?  How often do I seek out someone else to blame for the myriad of bad things?  In all of the difficulties we have experienced over the past years, do I blame God?  When He sees us through the hard times, do I credit Him or try to say that I steered us through the turbulence?

My faith is, at the same time, both fragile and durable.  I see the Oklahoma sunsets and realize His handiwork in front of me.  No one could convince me otherwise of the overwhelming power of God. 

And yet, during a recent overseas trip on behalf of our church, our daughter texted at 1:30 in the morning (Croatia time) to tell us some difficult news about her health - another trip to the ER, another problem that is painful, worrisome and unfair for her.  And my confidence in God's handiwork started to crumble - even in the midst of seeing great things happening in churches in eastern Europe. 

Fragile faith.  Durable faith.  All wrapped up in one frail person. 

So I look in awe at the beauty He creates.  I cry at the destruction that surrounds us.  And I live with the amazement that God holds it all. 

I wonder, when I see all of that, what is the right perspective? 


My feeble answer is all of the above.  Often at the same time.

Sunsets draw people to consider the end of something.  When I am sitting in our back yard, watching the colors, listening to the sounds and being protected by Tucker and Charli, I am drawn to the idea of being refreshed. 

I've done all that I can today.  You created an amazing view, Lord.
God, what do You have in store for tomorrow?