Friday, October 31, 2014


Where is your jar to draw with,
A promised flow of water
To never thirst again?

This dry soul's not pretty
My life is as I wear it
Filthy rags
Mark not my pity
But my shame.

One among a brood of vipers
What I made and did not make
Whence, and from whom, I'm come;
Criminals die upon the rack
So justice ends the game.

As a slug dissolves in salt
So ants will come to feast,
Tease me not with deals for mercy
Or bribes for God
That hold no succor 
From Law's campaign.

God's fury my future,
A payment for my past.
Sir, give me this water
Springing up or falling down
Like everlasting rain!

No papal indulgences
This Reformation Day
No clerics script
To cover existential guilt
No hair cloth on skin
Appeases God for sin,
Masochistic self-flagellation
A waste of  pain.

"If you asked of me," you said
That gives life to the dead,
The penitent's proper sacrament
A simple faith to ask.
I need the belt of Truth to grasp
A righteousness not my own
Which is all there ever could be, for sinners such as me.
The Lamb's propitious pain suffices for my gain.

Randy Nabors,
Oct. 31, 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


   Our present mental health policies and practice are both complicated, confusing, and too often tragically consequential. For those who have suffered with mental illness and those who must take medication to keep it under some kind of control, and retain stability, there are many challenges.  For those who live with a family member who is mentally ill there are other kind of challenges.  For those in law enforcement, those in emergency medicine, and those in mental health clinics and hospitals there are still more challenges.

    This is at one and the same time a very personal issue, a family issue, a church issue, a community issue, and a political one.  It becomes political because dealing with those who have mental problems costs money, and the decisions about where that money will come from, and how it will best be spent require diligence and sacrifice from the community.  Not only that, the wisdom, or lack of it, in how that money is applied will make an impact on the entire community.  It is complicated because the very science of helping those with mental illness often begs the desired end of being healed as therapies, drugs, and regimens are too often hit or miss and unsettled.

    The idea that if no one you personally know has a mental problem then this doesn't concern you is a fantasy.  It might affect one you some day soon by a homeless person who accosts you on a street corner, it might affect you by someone deciding to fixate on you, obsess over you, and decide he or she needs to kill you.  It might affect you by having one of your own family members be diagnosed as Bi-polar or schizophrenic, or a neighbor, or a church member, or by one of your children's classmates deciding he or she needs to start shooting at your son or daughter.

   Once those things happen you will begin wondering how come we haven't spent more money on this problem, how come we don't have better solutions, how come the police seem to have such few options, how come the prison system has become our largerst mental health care facility?  You will wonder, and  you will ask questions, but most likely unless you start a national movement nothing will change, and you will be one more sad story in a contiuing line of tragedy.

    This is not to suggest that the millions of people with mental problems are all potential murderers.  Thank God that is not the case.  Millions of people suffer, take medicine, live with supporting families or in group homes, take part in community services where their behavior in monitored, attend churches, schools, and social activites like the rest of us, and are loved.   

    However, the reality is that those with very aggressive tendencies, those who isolate themselves in paranoia and fantasy, those who sometimes create grievance out of thin air, and those who stop taking prescribed medication because no one has the authority to monitor and insure that they take it, can be suddenly explosive; if not a constant sense of dread and threat to those they have decided to harrass.

    Not everyone who is mentally ill has been diagnosed, not everyone who has been diagnosed had medicine to take, or takes the right kind or right amount.  Not everyone who has decided on their own to stop taking what has given them some state of normality is observed until things get out of hand.  Not everyone who is conscientious about taking their medicine can predict what will happen if they have other medical conditions that force them to stop taking what had heretofor controlled their thinking, moods, or behavior.

    I hurt for families who have tried to love family members but have seen their own children or siblings become a threat to them. I hurt for those families who have been forced to have family members become homeless because they could no longer contain or constrain them.  I hurt for those who have made call after call to get help for someone only to be told there is nothing that can be done, except maybe for a 72 hour mental health observation period, if they are a threat to themselves or others.  Of course, sometimes, this just makes someone really mad once they get out.

    I hurt for those who feel they have to arm themselves and get ready for what seems to be a showdown as their lives and families have been threatened.  I hurt for police officers who risk their lives as they have to sometimes confront and subdue such individuals who normally would never have disrespected authority or sought to hurt anyone.  I hurt for those in such despair over their behavior they seek to end their own lives.

    I am a Christian, and I believe in showing compassion.  I am a Christian and I believe Christians need to pray for healing.  I am a Christian and I believe churches have to have more ministries and training in how to help and serve the mentally ill.  I am also a brother who was raised with a mentally ill sister who was a constant physical threat to me and my family.  I have been a pastor and seen people I dearly loved, and who once loved me, become a terror to the church and their own families.

    I am an American, and I am sometimes ashamed that we seem to have given our best mental health care to those with "cadillac" insurance policies, while warehousing a lot of others in the prison system, and leaving thousands of families and communities to their fate in not knowing how to adequately deal with someone they would love to see healed, but now fear.

Friday, October 24, 2014


Proverbs 18: An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends...  That's the NIV, and the ESV says...."Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment."  I don't think this is a condemnation of people who think of themselves as introverts, only those who use their introversion as an excuse to be selfish.  Extroverts who are selfish are selfish in extroverted ways.

    When I was a teen-ager one of the Elders in my church gave me a small part time job in his retail men's clothing store.  One day they even allowed me to serve on the floor and wait on customers.  Now, I had met mean people before, had some street smarts from living in Newark, NJ, and had been in enough fights to have a certain wariness.  I had never been mistreated, that I remember, by people I was trying to help.  I sympathize with people in retail, because on that particular day my ignorance in being able to respond accurately and quickly to a customer got me cussed out royally, by the customer.

    All of my senses told me to get ready to fight, but I am sure the customer thought it his right to verbally abuse me.  I was supposed to be there to serve him and I wasn't doing it well because I just didn't know the answers to all of his questions.  I still didn't like it, and it is obvious I still remember it.

    As a pastor most people are nice to me, at least once they find out I am a pastor, and then of course once my identity is revealed I have to be nice to them too.  We both know they have to be nice to me or else they will be struck by lightning.  Well, not really, but sometimes I like to think that would or should be the case.

   God has spent years training me about my selfishness, and the Holy Spirit has worked many hours, days, and years on my tendency toward resentment, bitterness, and desire for revenge.  Sometimes my unfriendliness is a symptom of my moodiness, as in, I am in a bad mood and therefore justified in being brusk, officious, silent, and giving off an aura of latent hostility.  Mess with me at your peril!

    Evidently God feels free to mess with me, he never seems to get intimidated by my surliness, and actually seems to take pleasure in humiliating me in just those moments.  At the moment of my impending violence, the moments of my revenge fantasies playing out in my mind are often complicated by an inept ability to walk, talk, think, drive, eat, put on clothes, fix mechanical objects, use tools, or remember where I put my keys and wallet, et cetera.  People are more forgiving of a clutz who is friendly than one who seems threatening, for him there is only mocking laughter and disdain.

    Unfriendliness is related to being selfish.  I am too busy for you, don't take up my time, don't interrupt me, don't delay me, and please don't need me.  I hate it when people need me, I only want them to be consistently available when I need them, and I expect them to be able to actually do something about my need, not just sympathize.  I don't really empathize with other people, I have to work hard at faking sympathy, but God made me a pastor so what else can I do?

   He must have done this because He knows how selfish I am.  It is apparent that He thought marriage would expose a lot of my selfishness, and having children really smacked the truth of my selfishness in my face.  No one really told me I would have to share things with my kids.  Is it wrong to eat ice cream in the pantry so they won't see it, since there isn't enough for everyone?  My wife thought so, who is the evil exposer of much of my selfishness.

    Upon joining a gym I found out that some people use gyms because they don't really like people, but sort of pretend they are sociable by working out in proximity to others.  Some men walk around butt naked in the locker room without a trace of vulnerabilty.  These are the kind of guys who, when you say, "good morning!"  They say, "what's good about it?"  Guys who when you try to start a conversation look right through you as if you were something they just rubbed off their shoe.

    "Man," I think, "he is pretty unfriendly and selfish."   One day when riding an exercise bike beside one particular man who was probably one of the sourest people I have ever been around just blurted out how he wished he were dead.  I realized how deep the saddness went inside a man that seemed a hollow shell and I realized my own self-protectiveness prevented me from seeing his pain.

   Hard exteriors and crusty shells, unfriendly and selfish attitudes, often hide a moaning heart.  Sinful yes, as my selfishness has been.  Crafted by pride, mortared by spite, sustained by defensiveness, and explained and justified to ourselves by our fears.  We break out against all sound judgment.

    Friendliness in itself is not holiness, it is sometimes a mask for hidden agendas and a palliative for a conscience that hides other iniquities.  "I may be a monster, but at least I am nice to strangers and puppies," the hedonist and serial killer might say.  However, in the kingdom of Christ selfishness is not allowed, it is a sin.  Unfriendliness as an expression of that selfishness is anti-Christ, it is a putting off of people not a welcome to them.  It is a symptom of a wretched and nasty heart.  It is an embarrassing thing to realize that if Jesus treated us as we treat others, at times, he would never have heard our desperate cry for mercy, for forgiveness, for love.  He has always listened, always stops on his way to somewhere else to heal the blind, the deaf, the cripple, and the broken when they cry.  As he listens now, for those of us who cry to be rescued from our selfish and unfriendly hearts and ways.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


  Why do we have to have a choice between reconciliation and justice?  Actually, in my opinion, you can't have reconciliation in its truest sense without justice.  

   There can be different levels of justice, and thus different levels of reconciliation.  Starting with the lowest and worse would simply be silence and acquiescence.  This would be when the victims accept their plight, and for the sake of "peace," or the sake of survival, simply keep quiet and refuse to confront the abuser or oppressor.  To the oppressor this may feel like "peace" or reconciliation, since the act or system that defines the oppression is not threatened, nor the oppressor made to feel guilty.  The victim may or may not harbor bitterness, hatred, or feelings of shame, but the objective reality is that their acquiescence is not in fact justice.

    By contrast there can be the very spiritual and amazing act of forgiveness without any reason to give it except love, or grace, and this is most magnificently demonstrated in the crucifixion of Jesus.  This is where one suffers injustice, does not mentally or morally acquiesce to it, but instead carries the suffering while knowing full well its evil, but forgives the tormentor.  To some who witness such love it may seem no different than the silent sufferer, but in fact it is completely opposite.  It is a brave and courageous act, and so sublime as to seem a miracle. 

   The forgiveness to an unrepentant oppressor is an act of justice because the victim decides to bear the evil.  This is what forgiveness is when there has been no confession, repentance, or recompense.  Forgiveness is the kind of justice that knows full well how evil the oppression has been, but refuses to let it define itself as victim, suffers the wounds and chooses not to strike back. 

    This does not excuse the oppressor before God or morality.  Ultimate justice will still be played and distributed, at least according to the Bible.  "Justice is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Temporarily however, the oppressor is saved from retribution.  What the oppressor is not saved from is his bondage to his own evil, racism, brutality, arrogance, and self-deception.  He is not saved from his alienation towards those he has oppressed.  This is to some degree justice delayed by the choice of the oppressed, but it is not reconciliation.

    Then there is a partial justice, which can be admission of fault, admission of historical oppression or recent injustice, and a willingness to tell and own the truth.  For many oppressors and victims of injustice this is a liberating moment.  Finally, for the afflicted to hear the oppressor tell the truth, to stop denying and hiding, to begin to bear some of the shame and pain of the past for themselves can be the beginning of a road to healing for both sides.

    Even here those who were oppressed may choose to carry the results of oppression and forgive the oppressor.  In this there is possible some reconciliation, some peace based on truth.  It still requires the price be paid by the victim, and if they choose to do so, then to some degree justice has been requited.   Again, forgiveness is miraculous, and healing.   For those who were at one time oppressors to truly receive such forgiveness, and to understand its price, is devastatingly humbling. 

    If the oppressed choose not to forgive, then there is no reconciliation, though the oppressor may feel emotionally relieved of their burden.  In many ways this makes the victim twice the victim.  Hurt is now coupled with bitterness and hate.  Though an outside prison may have been opened it is replaced with one on the inside of the soul.

    When truth is told by abusers and oppressors, and they pursue acts of restitution and recompense, they put flesh on words and bring proof of repentance; it cannot change the past, but it can change the course of the present toward an equitable future. This also can bring great liberation in the souls of both oppressor and oppressed.  It can bring about meaningful reconciliation as not just emotional healing takes place but social, legal, and economic restoration take shape. 

    Unfortunately there are some victims who cannot recover, or who will not.  Their bitterness has become their identity, it has become the way they navigate life, and they seem to have no tools by which to disconnect it from their souls.  This is the continual tragedy of injustice, but the repentant former oppressor no longer fully owns it because there is nothing they can do about it except to keep loving.  It now lies solely in the heart of those who cannot give up the pain to find a way out, and this we believe Jesus offers them through his power. In this world some things seem impossible to forgive, except by the grace and power of God.

    The pursuit of justice should never simply be acquiescence.  It may sometimes have to be forgiveness in the face of an abuser's refusal to admit, tell, or seek the truth.  We recognize peacemaking then to be one sided, and not fully realized, and quite apt to erupt in more oppression.  Truth in that case must continually and courageously be told to power, and for the Christian pursued always with a heart ready to forgive and reconcile.  Truth may not be kind, but believers must be.

    Forgiveness does not mean leaving the helpless undefended, and the refusal to call power to the acknowledgement of truth and justice is an abandonment of the very ones God calls us to champion.  Oppression hides behind self-justification, excuses, rules, systems, etc.  Truth must dismantle everything that allows unjust outcomes and love must bridge the breach to justice.