Alive

Simple things should be celebrated; things like breathing. I am continually disappointed by how quickly I lose gratefulness for the mundane. I wake up. I stretch. I drink water without pain and think only of my thirst. I shuffle to my bathroom and manage to brush my teeth without fouling the sink with last night’s dinner and don’t give it a second thought. I met Jesus at my bathroom sink. He’s still there, I just forget to say hello far too often.

I celebrated my fifty-second birthday not long ago, marking another year in overtime since someone called the last quarter. Forty-seven has been the major mile marker on my road of life since I was thirteen. My father never made it to forty-eight. They carried him out of the house on a sheet twenty days before Christmas in 1978. It wasn’t until I reached 47 that I realized how young my father was when he passed away and began to sense a tinge of living on borrowed time. Then, in my forty-ninth year, I was informed that I had cancer already at Stage IV.

Beating dad’s longevity by two short years seemed a small accomplishment in the face of that diagnosis. My youngest hadn’t yet reached the age I was when I lost my father. I certainly didn’t want him or my other children to go through what I did as a child. I know firsthand what widowhood did to my mother. I couldn’t bear the thought of such a burden on my wife. So I decided to submit to the chemo and walk through the fires of radiation to see my way through. That’s when I met Jesus at my bathroom sink.

I’ve been a dedicate student of the Bible most of my life. In more than three decades of study, I had developed a fairly woven tapestry of theology. All of that went away at teeth brushing time. I would pray to the Lord not to throw up and then when I did, I would thank Him for carrying me through. I was especially thankful for the mornings I didn’t have to brush my teeth twice. When life is under that type of stress, one becomes thankful for the simple things in life. Each day is horrible, but you’re glad for it because it’s a day you’ve overcome. Redemption is another day closer. Sorrow only lasts for the night.

I get stressed out now. I worry. Will we triumph over the termites? Can I get my budget done on time? Will I parent well and help my children be successful? Are my brakes making noise, or is it just my imagination? Will folks at church get offended at me? Will we win that bid? What if I get fired? Silly stuff, really, because I’m alive. Every time I breathe without thankfulness, temporary pressures take on the form of titan troubles. He carried me through the fire, what is that in the face of a business budget or bad brakes? I am cancer free, thank God, but I need to remember the character that chemo taught me.

I do things now I wouldn’t have done three years ago; things like going to a hip-hop concert with my kids on St. Patrick’s Day. “Honey,” my wife asked, “you want to go to a Toby Mac concert with your kids?” Sure, why not? I’m alive, aren’t I? If they’re going to have fun, I’m going to join them in the experience. I hadn’t been to a pop music venue since 1979. Five minutes into the show, I remembered why. Hip hop isn’t really my thing. Through most of the sets, the visuals on the big screens were more a distraction from the music than they were an enhancement to the show. I say “most” because I was grateful for them when Matt Maher performed.

There I was, a recently minted fifty-two year old with his teenage and twenty something kids suffering through songs I didn’t know and words I couldn’t make out but glad my kids were enjoying themselves. Then, in the middle of the bedlam a worship service broke out. Matt Maher had taken the stage. Lyrics were on the screen and the songs had a melody I could follow. I came out to be with my children and have fun. I didn’t expect to wind up in tears.

“Amen, Amen
I’m alive, I’m alive
Because He lives
Amen, Amen
Let my song join the one that never ends

Because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
Every fear is gone
I know He holds my life my future in His hands”

(“I’m Alive Because He Lives” by Matt Maher)

As I sang this song, I was overwhelmed with thankfulness. I’m alive. I’ve marked another year. My children are not orphans, my wife not a widow. I am the wealthiest man I know. And I am so because He lives. Simple things should be celebrated; things like breathing, even at a hip hop concert.

My Top Ten Reads of 2016

I did a lot of writing in 2016, but by the looks of it not much made it on Larumland! Carlos de Leon, my favorite Gypsy, has been monopolizing most of my creative time. Even so, I did manage to get some reading done in 2016. Below are my top ten of the year in the order that I read them.

Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 by Benny Morris. Morris is an Israeli historian and is a professor of history in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. This masterful work on the establishment of the modern Israeli state and the resultant Zionist-Arab conflict tells a tale unlike what one hears from Evangelicals or Arabophiles. The righteous victims of the title could be either the Jews or the Arabs or neither depending on the incident or the era. It seems to me that current humanism believes any conquest to be immoral, regardless if it is accomplished through trade, war, or migration. But conquest is a reality of the human condition, a lesson that the Western Hemisphere teaches us well if we would but listen. Anyone desirous to understand the conflicts and talking points surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict owes it to themselves to read this book. Morris exposes both sides of the conflict in a highly objective history that documents the strength, perseverance, and atrocities of the clashing cultures. It is a very authoritative and highly approachable text. The reader will come away with a greater understanding of the challenges Israel, Jews, and Arabs face.

The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions by Andrew Hacker. Any book that challenges the status quo is bound to criticized. The Math Myth is no exception. Some reviewers go so far as to attack the author because he isn’t a mathematician. These attacks lend weight the author’s argument, in my opinion. I listen to colleagues recount their college days and their struggles in what their professors openly called “weeder classes” like advanced calculus and I have to agree that Hacker is on to something. The author’s thesis is that the continual push for higher mathematics is impinging on true talent development for the college bound as well as not offering real world solutions or delivering on its promise to make better critical thinkers. He exposes the influential role the mathematics “mandarins” have had in perpetuating this myth and imposing theoretical and abstract mathematics on a population in dire need of strong arithmetic skills and greater numeracy. In the last chapter, he provides great examples of how arithmetic alone is sufficient to provide deep insights into everyday problems and statistics. The Math Myth is a very enlightening and enjoyable read.

Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose. I was preparing for my pilgrimage to Arkansas this summer and grabbed this book as a fun read for the plane ride. I had watched AMC’s Turn and was curious how close to the “novel” the show was. First surprise: this book isn’t a novel; it’s a history – a very fascinating history. If you happen to be a fan of Turn, you may be disappointed in the facts presented in Washington’s Spies. But truth is stranger than fiction and ultimately more rewarding. Rose’s work is an eye-opening look into the factious society of revolutionary America. Not surprising that less than 100 years later, we managed to kill over half a million of ourselves in the Civil War! The early spy craft was fascinating and Washington’s role as our nation’s first spy master is a story every patriot should know. I had the opportunity to hear the author speak on 7/14/16. Mr. Rose is much younger than I had expected. He is a fascinating fellow and really knows his subject.

Gypsy Spy: The Cold War Files by Nikolas Larum. It may seem self-serving to put my own book on this list, but it is a ripping good yarn if I do say so myself. Through most of its gestation, the story lived under the working title The Long March Home. I never expected the path to publication to mirror the title. Twenty-five years after the completion of my first draft, I began the layout of my latest rewrite for publication through CreateSpace. The Long March Home gave way to Gypsy Spy and a fortnight later, I had my novel in book format for the very first time. Until that time, I had never read my story as a reader – someone sitting down with a novel for a bit of escape. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. After all, a story crafted over the course of a quarter century moves much faster when read in two weeks’ time. My estimation of the work is truly biased, so I thought you should get a review from one of my readers. This one comes from Karla Perry, who is an accomplished writer in her own right.

“Gypsy Spy by Nikolas Larum is an exciting read. Larum provides the perfect combination of Cold War history, thrilling adventure, mystery, intrigue, and biblical truth in this excellent novel. Larum brought the characters to life in a way that I would find myself wondering what Carlos was up to when I wasn’t reading. His writing style actively pulled me along from sentence to sentence drawing me into this engaging read. I would love to share more on my favorite moments in Carlos’s life, but I like to read blind without any idea of where I’m being led. In fact, anytime I felt I knew where the story was headed, I found myself pleasantly surprised to be taken in a different direction. The twists and turns of the story enhance the beautiful cohesion of the novel. I read a lot of Christian fiction and it is rare to find a Christian author who is able to weave biblical truth into a story without losing the art of telling a story. Larum successfully told an amazing story while also powerfully communicating grace, truth, and the power of God. I recommend Gypsy Spy for your reading pleasure! Enjoy!”

Scalia’s Court: A Legacy of Landmark Opinions and Dissents, Kevin A. Ring, editor. Scalia was brilliant. Progressives may certainly disagree with his opinions, but having read some of SCOTUS’s decisions, I don’t think any of them could seriously argue with his approach. His writing was exquisite. One aspect of my day job is slugging through the mind-numbing language of contract legalese.  Scalia’s writing is anything but. Insightful, Constitutional, and consistent, his opinions and dissents are human and humorous. I left a lot of red ink in this book, but below is a small sample of some of his genius.

From his concurring opinion in Glossip v. Gross where he argues against Justice Breyer’s call for the abolition of the death penalty: “[Justice Breyer’s] invocation of the resultant delay [between sentencing and execution] as grounds for abolishing the death penalty calls to mind the man sentenced to death for killing his parents, who pleads for mercy on the grounds that he is an orphan.”

From his concurrence in part and dissent in part in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey: “The emptiness of the ‘reasoned judgement’ that produced Roe is displayed in plain view by the fact that, after more than 19 years of effort by some of the brightest (and most determined) legal minds in the country, after more than 10 cases upholding abortion rights in this Court, and after dozens upon dozens of amicus briefs submitted in this and other cases, the best the Court can do to explain how it is that the word ‘liberty’ must be thought to include the right to destroy human fetuses is to rattle off a collection of adjectives that simply decorate a value judgment and conceal a political choice.”

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark. Clark is as enjoyable to read as he is a great help in writing. The numerous examples from different writers from various fields and times give great examples of the tools he expounds while showcasing great writing that can be emulated. And his own writing is insightful, entertaining, helpful, and encouraging. I am always inspired to write when I read Roy Peter Clark. The title promises 50 tools and the author delivers just that, fifty actual tools that writers not only can use, but neglect to their own peril. I underlined plenty of the text as I read, but offer this one jewel because I have found it to be tried and true.

“To test your writing voice, the most powerful tool on your workbench is oral reading. Read your story aloud to hear if it sounds like you.”

Back to the Future by Karla Perry is an insightful, thought-dense treatise on redeeming America through Kingdom mentality. Though informative to all, this book is addressed to the Church, the American Church specifically. Perry sets the stage of our current cultural decay through a concise review of the philosophers that seduced Western Civilization away from a biblical world view into the faith of secular humanism that has birthed our post-modern identity crisis. She builds on this exposure of the thought brokers in Chapter 1 to lead the reader into needed realm of reconstruction. This reconstruction, she argues, must be predicated on a rejection of the false antithesis of reason and faith. It must embrace a substantive faith that enlightens reason with truth.

“[The] faith spoken of in the Bible is not a matter of intellectual belief, but a matter of connecting experientially and substantively with the person of Truth, Jesus.” (p.26)

Throughout the book, she avoids the trap of cloistered Christianity and advocates a bold, public life of faith that brings salt and light to the culture. Well written, excellently documented with footnotes, bibliography, and suggested reading, Perry has loaded this 140 page book with gold. I highly recommend it.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Backman writes his novel. He writes like a sports commentator calls the game. Nikolas reads the story in a way surprised people taste new food and are unsure of the flavor or like a painter viewing a Picasso, sure for a moment that he can do better. Which of course, he cannot. Not quite in that way. A veritable treasure trove of similes, Backman breaks the rule of show-don’t-tell with wild abandon daring us to push past Ove’s brusqueness into a heart that is too large for the world it finds itself in.

The narrative of this novel is written mostly in the simple present. It is one of those literary devices you read about in writing books but seldom encounter in a full-length work. Since the author is Swedish and I was reading the English translation, I was unsure if this was an intentional device employed by the author or simply the way Swedes write. The coworker who turned me on to the story is Swedish. She has neither confirmed nor denied. Regardless, the style grew on me and charmed me into this marvelous story.

Backman invites us to dislike Ove, a man intent on suicide sabotaged by the lives around him, only to peel the layers back in a way that leaves us embracing this most lovable curmudgeon. I did indeed laugh and cry. My only regret in reading this book was that I had to do it in English. If it is this good translated, I can only imagine how great it is in its original language. Treat yourself. Read this book.

Self-Publishing for Profit: How to Get Your Book Out of Your Head and Into the Stores by Chris Kennedy. The author generously shares the methods he has used and the knowledge he has gained to be a successful independent author in this very practical guide. Clearly written and very encouraging, this one is going on my writer’s shelf for handy reference.

The Power of Understanding People by Dave Mitchell. Iconic personality type profiling has been with us for a while. From Hippocrates’s humors to Jung’s alphabet soup a la Myers-Briggs, these schemas have aided those interested in understanding people to classify them in general categories for greater ease of interaction. If you have spent any time in the corporate world or a modern mega-church, you have no doubt encountered this philosophy. From Humors to DISC to Jung to OCEAN, they all bear a consistent four part root that in spite of physiological evidence still leaves us nodding our heads in agreement. We know these types of personalities exist.

It is a testament to Dave Mitchell’s talent that he is able to pick up this well-known paradigm of psychology and breathe fresh life into it through humor, anecdotes, and fresh nameplates on old character types. Enter the Romantics, Warriors, Experts, and Masterminds (no spoilers here – you’ll have to read the book to find out who wins)! Mitchell outlines these basic personalities and then blends them into characters we all recognize: the best friend, the hired gun, the specialist, the adventurer. He then illustrates these roles through well-known Hollywood actors who portray them. I truly enjoyed this book, though I caution against eating while reading as you might choke on your food while laughing. Insightful and funny, this book is both enjoyable and helpful.

We the People

Once a glorious laboratory framed in robust Federalist rhetoric and purchased with Patriots’ blood, America sits now as a sick room, a critical care unit to a liberty nearly dead. The Republic wheezes as the SCOTUS tube drips its poisonous public policies into the network of our societal veins while the executives debate over how they plan to pull the plug. And We the People look up to them from the gurney: polarized, afraid, and caustically accusative. How did it happen? We forgot.

When memory fails, we fall for fallacies. Once the lies are believed, liberty bleeds out of us and feeds the despotism of deception. Think I overstate my case? Take the short quiz below:

President Barack Obama is responsible for the Affordable Care Act, which is why it is commonly called Obamacare, true or false?

A strong, conservative president can repeal the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, true or false?

The purpose of the Supreme Court is to decide on the constitutionality of the laws passed by Congress, true or false?

If you felt any of these were even partially true, you have contracted Despotic Deception Disorder (DDD). I mean no disrespect with my diagnosis. The disease is hard to avoid. DDD vectors are pervasive in the Republic and can be found in the very clinics that are intended to inoculate against the malady. The free press, politicians, parents, preachers, and teachers have transmitted the propaganda of the President being the most powerful person on the planet along with the myth of the mighty court.

The Chief Executive and the Supreme Court are both part of the machinery of governance. But they are not the seat of power. They only become so when we cower under their orders or opinions to the peril of our premier founding document, the Constitution. “We the People of the United States…do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” So long as we recall that we are a nation of laws established by the governed, we will retain the liberties those laws were instituted to protect.

Which is the most powerful branch of government? Constitutionally and logically it is the legislative branch. Congress, as the direct representation of the people’s will, far outweighs the executive and judicial privileges. If only we the people would hold them to it! I believe the cure for our current malady lies in a revitalized interest in our law-making bodies, from city councils to state legislatures to US Senators and Representatives. Is the reader aware of who represents their neighborhood, county, or district? If not, I beg of you to become aware. The increasing nationalization of our politics have sapped them of substance and turned them into a Survivor-type reality show.

Does anyone seriously believe that a Hillary Rodham would have been elected as the Senator from New York, appointed as Secretary of State, and now stand as the nominated candidate for the Democratic Party? Do even sycophants the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity believe in their heart of hearts that Donald Trump was ever qualified to run for President let alone be one? Without his brand recognition, Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP would have been impossible. The Reality Show Right refuses to admit it, just as the DNC will turn a blind eye to Mrs. Clinton’s corruption.

All this became possible because neither party is constitutionally minded; and we the people have suffered under their continual insults to our liberty for so long, I fear we have lost sight of constitutionalism ourselves. Both sides are banging the drum of the Executive to appoint the right Judiciary to reign over us. All Hail the Chief! All Hail SCOTUS!

Last I checked, Americans are supposed to elect our lawyers or hire them. Once we are in a place that the Lawyer must be appointed, our “free” phone call will be worthless.

Transtemporal Discrimination in America

While pundits and politicians fuel the media fire storm surrounding the bathroom rights of transgenders, another “trans” group sits neglected in the shadows. They have walked among us for decades – if not centuries – hidden in plain sight at battle reenactments, theme parks, and cosplay conventions. They frequent their preferred watering holes like That 70s Bar or Pirates’ Cove Tavern and eat at establishments like 25th Century, a trendy molecular gastronomy restaurant in Soho. Who are these people? They are the transtemporals and they sense that their time for equality has come.

“Most Americans are oblivious to our plight,” lamented Archibald Pruner, president of the Past|Utopic|Transtemporal|Retro|Instants|Dystopian+ Society (PURTID+S), an advocacy group for all transtemporal and time-challenged minorities. “While the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 made great strides in protecting Americans of a certain age[1], it did nothing to help those of us who do not identify with the generally agreed upon time frame.” Mr. Pruner is serious and it is difficult not to take him as such dressed as he is his impeccable Victorian schoolmaster’s garb. “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have this job,” he confessed. “I couldn’t degrade myself to wear the ridiculous clothing that sequentials call ‘business casual’. To me, it is the ultimate oxymoron. Why should business ever be casual?”

In case you missed it, “sequentials” is how those in the PUTRID+ community refer to those in the general public who maintain their ideals of straight timelines that flow from the past through the present to the future. What may seem obvious to most is not necessarily the reality accepted by transtemporals. Even their patron saint, Albert Einstein[2], appears to agree. He is often quoted as stating that “the distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”[3] This has become a mantra of sorts for many in the PUTRID+ community who feel that Einstein gives scientific gravitas to their temporal relativism.

“Frankly, we are tired of being made fun of,” confesses Cleve Zertron. We are sitting in Cleve’s basement apartment in his parent’s home. Cleve is a self-employed software developer who has been forced to freelance because no IT company will hire him, not even for a helpdesk position. “They love my résumé and my educational credentials are impeccable,” he tells me. “The phone interviews always go well. But the minute I walk in, it’s all snickers.” Zertron is dressed in a silver colored, reflective Zentai that covers him like a second skin from head to toe. “This is what we wear in 2215 se. I shouldn’t be denied employment because I’m from the future. You would think that IT companies would appreciate having a real futurist on their team. But they refuse to acknowledge my right to dress in accordance with my temporal identity.”

Mr. Zertron’s plight is unfortunately typical, especially for future transtemporals, or FTTs. While PTTs (past transtemporals) have been able to access public employment through historical theme parks like Colonial Williamsburg, FTTs are generally viewed as crazy even among many in the PUTRID+ community. “Were it not for the FTTs,” explains Ingrid Oldkirk, “our community would be referred to as PTRI [pronounced pee-tree, like the dish], which is much more clinical and less offensive. But FTTs come in two main varieties: Utopic and Dystopian. When they are not disagreeing with each other about what the future looks like, they are disagreeing with us about what the past was really like. Giving them the U and D in our society was the only way to make peace, even though most of us think it stinks.”

Dr. Malcolm Synclair is the H. G. Wells Professor of Transtemporal Ethics and Justice at Yale University. In 2014 he won a milestone concession from the trustees to provide time-appropriate restrooms for transtemporal students and staff. “For some PTTs, a flushing toilet is terrifying,” he tells me. “One should be able to have a bowel movement because one needs to, not when one is scared to.” A survey of the student body found that 65% of them were in favor of the outhouse installations popping up around campus, though only 5% said they would be willing to shake hands with a transtemporal exiting one. “It’s not just restrooms,” Dr. Synclair continues. “Our culture takes continual jabs at transtemporals. Why is it that in most movies, time travelers lose their clothes? From The Terminator to The Time Traveler’s Wife the unwritten rule seems to be that transtemporals must be stripped of their dignity and forced to scrounge for clothes appropriate to the sequential era.” His face is flushed and his gaze intent. Synclair feels the pain of the prejudices that transtemporals bear every day.

“It wasn’t easy coming out of the clock,” Sally tells me. Even now she is cautious, allowing me only to use her first name. “My mother was always offering to take me to the mall to go shopping for the latest styles. She was concerned that my closet had nothing but vintage clothing and claimed that all my friends were Goths pretending to be vampires. I finally had to tell her that I was a transtemporal, that I no longer identified with my assigned birthdate.” After that initial encounter, things were a little less tense in the household, but not by much. “They are convinced that I am delusional. One night in exasperation, my father pulled out my birth certificate and made me read it out loud. I told him it didn’t matter what sequential society thought I should be. What was important was that I identified as someone born in the 1880s, not the 1990s and that he should respect that.” She said that her father stormed out and remains a chronophobe to this day.

The recent monumental gains made by the LGBTQ+ community in redefining marriage and making the idea of sexually segregated public restrooms and locker rooms the icons of the new civil rights movement have given those in the PUTRID+ community hope. And progressive municipalities and religious organizations are starting to move in their direction.

The Portland, Oregon school board has ruled that the omnitemporal verbs iz, waz, and bilbe will replace the classic sequential verbs is, was, will be in all official documents to avoid transtemporal discrimination.

Ashville, North Carolina has enacted an ordinance that requires all restaurants to provide outhouses for PTTs and zero-gravity toilets for UFTTs. When City Council was asked about the financial burden this would place on restaurant owners, they replied that perhaps the owners should enlist the help of the Utopic Future Transtemporals for ways of building space toilets cheaper than the ones NASA currently builds. Regardless, if the restaurants don’t have the toilets in place by January 2018, they will be subject to punitive sanitation fees from the City. Ashville City Council plans to use the money to provide costume and housing subsidies to transtemporals.

Determined not to be left out of the progressive party, the 2nd Baptist Church of Mayberry, North Carolina is the first church in the country to ordain openly transtemporal ministers. Jamie Demple is the senior pastor at 2nd Baptist and he led his congregation’s move away from the Southern Baptist Convention soon after taking the pastorate there ten years ago. “The church should be about tolerance and inclusivity,” Demple says. “Our church is diverse enough for both old time religion and progressive relativistic messages.” Can I get an amen?

[1] The ADEA and several other facts in this post are real. I leave it to the reader to decide what is not.
[2] The great physicist was posthumously honored with the title Patron of PUTRID+ Relativism at the 3rd 5th Annual Beta PUTRID Convention in San Francisco in 2011 se. (I feel an explanation is necessary as the name of this convention might be confusing to the reader. It is referred to as the 3rd 5th Annual because that was the best consensus that the transtemporals at the convention could arrive to regarding which convention they were all actually participating in. SE is the transtemporal designation for the Sequential Era and corresponds to what is classically referred to as AD – anno Domini, “in the year of our Lord” – but has become in many militant secular environments CE, or “of the common era”.)
[3] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins148814.html, accessed 5/14/16.

The Wrong Side of the Gun

It has happened to me too many times, which is to say that it’s happened to me twice. I have jumped on the hood of an oncoming car, been threatened by a group of drunk rednecks embroiled in a romance rift, cleaned public restrooms which were defiled beyond description, sat under the disappointed glare of my father and across the table from IRS Inquisitors. None of these circumstances compares to the discomfiture I felt on the wrong side of a gun. No other place I’d rather not be.

I was only fifteen the first time. I grew up in a small town with little crime. It was the kind of place where people only locked their cars on accident and their houses hardly ever. I was walking home late at night with no sense of apprehension or concern. A car started up on the road across the field that ran parallel to mine. I watched as it made its way to the perpendicular street, drove up the hill to my road, turned right, and headed toward me. What, me worry? We lived in a safe place full of friendly people who were more apt to offer me a ride home than run me over. I didn’t slow my pace or change my course. The car, however, headed directly toward me and stopped as it pulled alongside.

Did I mention that our town was full of friendly people? I happened to be one of those people. Not only was I friendly, I also had the benefit of being young and naïve. The driver was a long hair, but I was partial to hippies so he didn’t bother me. His girlfriend looked nice enough. I bent down to the passenger side window to find out what they needed. That was when the driver stretched his arm across the back of the seat behind his girlfriend’s head and pointed his pistol at me. “Give me your money,” he said. For better or worse, I’m generally a logical person prone to truthful answers. Unfortunately, the robber found my truthful response of “I don’t have any money” less than believable. “Give me your money, [insert alliterative curse]!” His girlfriend looked more scared than I felt.

For a split second, I considered falling backward off the road as it sat on a short rise that marked the end of the field it ran beside. I would be out of his line of sight with a good chance of making my escape. I didn’t consider this option because I was particularly bold but because I was partially disbelieving. The revolver had to be a fake, I reasoned, a toy gun the hippie was using to make a fast score. Thankfully, an olfactory miracle saved me from my folly. Despite the wind at my back, I was still able to smell the oil of the gun in my face. I became a believer and tossed my wallet through the window. My assailant gunned the engine and roared away. I walked for about a minute after that then considered what he might do when he found that my wallet really was devoid of cash as I had said. I sprinted the next half mile home. My brother wouldn’t believe I was mugged until I called our mom at work. She gave me no rest until I called the police. They never caught the perpetrator nor recovered my property.

The second time was worse. I was nineteen working as a low-level manager in a fast food restaurant in Richmond, Virginia. Richmond isn’t huge; but compared to where I came from, it was Big Town. It is the kind of place where people lock their cars on purpose and deadbolt their doors even when they are home. Anyone offering you a ride is suspect. I was working the morning shift prepping the salad bar with ice in between taking orders and making breakfast croissants. Bucket full of ice, I headed out to the dining room just as one of my customers stormed past the serving line. I’ve dealt with my share of angry customers, but this took the cake. What on earth could I have gotten so wrong with her order that would cause her to cross the barrier line between customer and food server with a look that said she was ready to throttle me? I continued forward to intercept her, feeling certain that my chances were good against a lady in her sixties. That’s when she dropped the bomb.

“He’s got a gun,” she said as she passed me and went straight back to the kitchen. I looked up and sure enough, there he was shooing my customers to the kitchen with threatening waves of his nickel plated .357 magnum revolver. I should have been more alert. Had I noticed him before my customer told me that we were being robbed, I could have warned the crew in the kitchen to beat feet out the back door. But it was too late. He had us in his sights and though there were maybe fifteen of us and he had only six shots, none of us wanted to be his target. Coworkers and customers were herded into a bunch in the small kitchen. Only two of us were in managerial ties. He trained the gun on me. I absolutely hate being on the wrong side of a gun.

“Open the safe, [insert derogatory comment regarding inappropriate family relations]!” I had him. For better or worse, I’ve been blessed with a sense of humor that loves to express itself under pressure. Hands raised over my head, face before the open bore of his threat, I donned a slight smile and said, “I don’t have the combination.” Checkmate, Robber Man! My victory was short lived. “I do,” chimed in Jeremy, the assistant manager. I wanted to shoot him.

Robber Man ordered us into the walk-in freezer and refrigerator. I won the freezer lottery along with several of the customers and a couple of my coworkers. A lady holding her three-year-old daughter started chanting, “He’s going to kill us, he’s going to kill us, oh God, he’s going to kill us.” Fortunately, I already had a relationship with the Almighty through the auspices of His Son Jesus Christ and I felt assured by Him that we weren’t going to die that day. “Ma’am, he’s not going to kill us,” I told her. This seemed to allay her fears momentarily. But then she started chanting, “I’m going to be sick, I think I’m going to throw up.” This was serious. I got within inches of her face and made sure we had strong eye contact. “Ma’am, you are not going to throw up.” Her eyes went wide and she was trembling from fear and the cold. “You know why you aren’t going to throw up?” I asked her. No, her headshake said. “You aren’t going to throw up because this is my walk-in and if you throw up in it, I’ll have to clean it up. So you are not going to throw up.” I wasn’t a highly compassionate young man. Regardless, she managed to keep her croissant breakfast down. God bless her!

We turned the freezer fan off and my coworker and I began stacking the boxes of frozen roast beef in front of the door. I was confident we weren’t going to be killed, but there was no reason not to take precautions. Frozen roast beef makes for an awesome barricade. That didn’t stop us from jumping when the door was pulled open. “You can come out now,” Jeremy said to the wall of boxes in front of him, “he’s gone.”

Jeremy had his own tale of terror to tell. Our safe had two compartments. As a crew leader, I didn’t have the combination for either door. Assistant managers had the combination for the top safe. As the daily cash receipts mounted up, they would bundle the money with a report and put it through the slot in the back of the top safe to drop it down into the bottom one. Only our general manager had the combination to the bottom safe and she wasn’t working that morning. After the robber had put us all in cold storage, he directed Jeremy to open the safe. Jeremy complied, opening the top safe and giving the gunman all the cash. The robber then asked him to open the bottom safe. Jeremy was stuck. After volunteering his possession of the combination, he was forced to confess, “I don’t have it.” A tense moment transpired while the thief weighed his options. Thankfully, he settled for the top safe cash and the minimal amount in the registers and didn’t add murder to his crimes.

The police apprehended him and his wheelman within the hour. They brought him back to the store for an on-the-spot, single-perp line up. “Is this the man?” they asked me. Right build and race, I told them, but he had covered his face with a bandana while holding us up. All I had seen were his eyes and the gun.

That is exactly what I told the prosecutor on the day of the trial. He interviewed me for about a minute in the hallway outside of the courtroom. The case would be in front of the judge shortly. He thanked me and asked me stay close until the bailiff called me in. Then he and an attractive young lady engaged in a very cordial and lively discussion. “I am going to say this and so.” “Good, then I will respond with thus and such.” “Fantastic, then I can move for a whatchamacallit.” “I won’t object and we can be done with this one in less than half an hour.” It donned on me then that she was the public defender. They were both overworked young professionals in a taxed judicial system doing what they could to make their day smoother. For a country bumpkin like me, it was a real eye opener.

I can’t remember what sentence was handed down after the prosecutor secured his conviction. The main bone of contention from the defense was the impromptu, single-perp line up at the scene of the crime. The police had presented us with only one man to identify, no wonder several of us said he was the robber. In spite of her argument, the decision went against her appointed client. His gun and bandana certainly matched the description, as did the amount of cash found in the car.

In the weeks following the event, what surprised me most in recollection was my calmness in the encounter. I remember being glad the restaurant remained closed as the police worked the crime scene since it gave me time to have breakfast. It wasn’t until several months later that the true impact of the event started coming to light. I was in a convenience store happily looking for a snack when I found myself suddenly anxious and very uptight. I scanned the store and eyed the exit and wondered why I was on the verge of a panic attack. That is when I fully noticed him.

A worker had just come on shift and walked behind the counter without his store smock on. My peripheral vision had caught the action and my limbic system pushed the fright-and-flight hyperdrive button. I paid for my purchase and went to my car where I sat shaken, waiting for my body to metabolize the sudden influx of adrenaline. I was shocked by the realization of just how deeply the robbery had affected me.

One might think being victimized by armed robbers would make me a strong advocate for gun control. But the only gun control I advocate is a firm and steady grip on the firearm to improve aim. Having said this, the reader could be excused for believing me to be a Second Amendment proponent for personal self-defense. But self-defense is not the primary reason I own firearms. I enjoy hunting, but harvesting wild game isn’t the reason for my arsenal. I own guns because I am a student of history with a deep respect for our Founding Fathers who had a healthy distrust of human nature when vested with governmental authority.

As much as I dislike being robbed at gunpoint, the thought of living under the authority of elected officials who are on the wrong side of the gun disturbs me more. I remember the stories of Don Antonio’s father being pulled out his house in front of a Guardia Civil firing squad for making jokes about Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator. I remember him showing us the walls pockmarked by bullets where priests had been lined up and shot by the regime; lambs led to slaughter, losers of the Spanish Civil War. I think of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot and shake my head sadly at all those who believe it couldn’t happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Our Founders held no such delusions.

As I write this, there are five front runners in the 2016 Presidential Election race: Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump. I have studied each of their positions on the Second Amendment. Were I a single-issue voter (which I am not), following is how I would rank my choices from best to worst.

No.1 – Ted Cruz
Cruz would be my top pick of the pack for a politician that would work to uphold our right to keep and bear arms. Of the five, he is the one whose communication and actions on the subject indicate that he gets the true purpose and meaning of the Second Amendment.

”The Second Amendment to the Constitution isn’t for just protecting hunting rights, and it’s not only to safeguard your right to target practice. It is a constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny — for the protection of liberty.”[1]

Senator Cruz understands that the Founders enshrined in our Constitution the right of the people to keep and bear arms as a bulwark against the State’s abuse of the monopoly on violence. It is intended as a hedge against tyranny. The first purpose of an armed citizenry is to protect our liberties from threats domestic. Secondarily, being familiar with and in possession of firearms makes the citizenry more prepared to defend its liberties against foreign enemies. Target practice and hunting are meaningless without these two securities being in place. And in a nation where the citizenry is denied the right to defend its liberties from all governments, both foreign and domestic, the notion of using a firearm for self-defense is nothing more than an invitation to be prosecuted for such action by the state.

No. 2 – Marco Rubio
Rubio comes in second not for any lack of support for Second Amendment rights but because I could find no clear statement from him that compares to Senator Cruz’s crystal expression of the Founder’s intent in the Second Amendment. Aside from that, his focus on violence being the real problem while defending our right to keep and bear arms is commendable. An example of this can be seen in his delivery of the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in February of 2013.

“We were all heart broken by the recent [school shooting] tragedy in Connecticut. We must effectively deal with the rise of violence in our country. But unconstitutionally undermining the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans is not the way to do it.”[2]

When pressed about this during a CNN interview a couple of months later, Senator Rubio had this to say:

“My position on guns is pretty clear. I believe law-abiding people have a fundamental constitutional right to bear arms…I’m troubled this debate is about guns. It should be about violence. Violence is the problem, guns are what they’re using. We are missing a golden opportunity to have an open, honest and serious conversation about these horrific violent acts, because everyone’s focused on passing these laws that have proven ineffective.”[3]

As much as I like his answer and his efforts to correctly characterize the problem, the following policy statement from his web site is what put him in second place in my book:

“New gun laws will do nothing to deter criminals from obtaining firearms; they will simply be ignored by those who wish to do harm. Meanwhile, new restrictions will infringe on the rights of good, law-abiding Americans who wish to have a gun for hunting, sport, or, most important, the protection of their families.”[4]

Whenever a politician – right or left – puts hunting first in a list of gun rights, my radar goes up. I begin to fear that they don’t truly understand the Second Amendment; or, worse yet, they do but opted to pander to those who don’t anyway. At least he qualified the order of his list by claiming the protection of our families as the most important reason to have a gun. But it is couched in the context of deterring criminals. I assert that the Founders believed it was most important to deter tyrants. I happen to agree with them.

No. 3 – Bernie Sanders
Those who know me may be surprised that I place Bernie Sanders above the darling of the Reality Show Right, but I mean it. He would be my third pick in the current field in spite of statements like the following:

“This is what I do believe. I come from a state that has virtually no gun control. And yet, at political peril, I voted for an instant background check, which I want to see strengthened and expanded. I voted to ban certain types of assault weapons, which are designed only to kill people.”[5]

All due respect to Senator Sanders, but as a man who has harvested his fair share of game using firearms I can attest to the fact that my dove hunting shotgun is perfectly capable of killing a man. I am also fairly certain that given the opportunity, I could take a deer down with an AR-15; particularly if I had a magazine that held more than ten rounds of ammunition. So exactly, pray tell, is an “assault weapon” which is designed only to kill people? Personally, I wouldn’t own a firearm that was incapable of taking human life. Every tyrant I’ve ever studied or read about is human. They are the reason why I own guns.

So why do I place Senator Sanders third? Because with Bernie, you know what you’re buying. I dare say that of all the presidential candidates, he is the least ambiguous regarding his beliefs or positions. Besides, if he got elected I would expect there to be an upswing in gun sales and a true galvanization on the right.

No. 4 – Hillary Clinton
Clinton scores below Sanders because her gun control solution is to attack capitalism and free trade. The following is one of her positions statements from her web site:

“Hillary believes the gun industry must be held accountable for violence perpetrated with their guns. Hillary will lead the charge to repeal the so-called ‘Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,’ a dangerous law that prevents victims of gun violence from holding negligent manufacturers and dealers accountable for violence perpetrated with their guns.”[6]

The web site lists this as one of the ways Clinton plans to prioritize community safety over gun lobby profits.[7] A true socialist elite with a law degree, her solution to the nation’s violence problem is to criminalize manufactures and expose them to fiscal confiscation through the courts. Sanders at least had the sense to defend the manufactures by voting against such measures. It makes me think he understand at least a little bit about how commerce should work.

Last – Donald Trump
Trump is the loser when it comes to politicians whose positions on the Second Amendment I could trust. I use the term “politician” when it comes to the Donald loosely as I don’t consider him to be one. Many may consider this to be a good thing. Not me. Like it or not, the office of the President of the United States is a political office which requires political experience. That would make the Donald worse than an apprentice. He is simply not qualified for the post.

Note the following from the Reality Show Right darling that the likes of Shawn Hannity and Rush Limbaugh seem intent on fawning over as the potential savior of conservatism:

“I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”[8]

The statement comes from his book The America We Deserve published in 2000. It is essentially his initial résumé for the office he currently seeks. Generally oppose gun control? I don’t want a president that “generally” opposes gun control. Tell me clearly if you’ll fight for my right to keep them or if you intend to erode my liberty in some way. Support the ban on assault weapons? I refer you to my comments above regarding Senator Sanders.

In a display of his need to play to crowd and his savvy celebrity brand marketing, the following policy statement can be found on his campaign web site:

“Gun and magazine bans are a total failure. That’s been proven every time it’s been tried. Opponents of gun rights try to come up with scary sounding phrases like ‘assault weapons’, ‘military-style weapons’ and ‘high capacity magazines’ to confuse people…The government has no business dictating what types of firearms good, honest people are allowed to own.”[9]

Which Donald are we to believe, the supposedly serious and concerned citizen who took counsel with a group of White House experienced domestic and foreign policy advisers to write his book in 2000 or the crass and sophomoric midway carnival man of the 2016 Presidential campaign? Therein lies my dilemma. Not only do I not know where he truly stands, should he get elected I fear conservatives will fall asleep and the Donald will rob us all blind.

An armed America is a strong America. Vote your conscience and stock up on ammo just in case.

[1] Ted Cruz, “What the Times Doesn’t Get about the Second Amendment,” National Review (2015), accessed February 7, 2016, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/417149/second-amendment-history-lesson-times-ted-cruz.
[2] http://www.ontheissues.org/2016/Marco_Rubio_Gun_Control.htm, accessed February 7, 2016.
[3] Ibid.
[4] https://marcorubio.com/policy-for-you/marco-rubio-gun-owners-second-amendment/, accessed February 7, 2016.
[5]http://www.ontheissues.org/2016/Bernie_Sanders_Gun_Control.htm, accessed February 7, 2016.
[6]https://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/gun-violence-prevention/, accessed February 7, 2016.
[7] Ibid.
[8]http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Donald_Trump_Gun_Control.htm, accessed February 7, 2016.
[9]https://www.donaldjtrump.com/positions/second-amendment-rights, accessed February 7, 2016.

My Top Five Reads of 2015

 

Twenty-five books a year – roughly two a month – isn’t a lot of reading compared to some. I am part of a family of speed readers. My father devoured books. My brother turns the pages fast enough to burn his fingers. My wife reads faster than I can talk and my children appear to be following suit. I love to read, but it takes me a while to carve through the text. I usually put out a top ten list of my reading journey for the year, but in 2015 writing took as much of my attention (if not more) than reading. With two book projects, two blogs, weekly sermons, and reviewing some of my children’s writing I only managed to finish reading through seventeen books in 2015. I felt that the data set wasn’t large enough to warrant a top ten list and opted for a top five instead. Though I could easily list ten very good books, you deserve a true cream of the crop listing. So, without further ado, following are my top five reads of 2015 listed in the order I read them.

  1. hand in Hand: The Beauty of God’s Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice by Randy Alcorn. If you’ve never read any of Alcorn’s work, do yourself a favor and grab one – any one. Alcorn is a deep thinker who delves into the implications of the plain text of Scripture with a boldness I’ve seldom read elsewhere.[1] This book is his contribution to the Calvinism (God’s will saves and man has no choice in the matter) vs. Arminianism (God’s will saves and man has a choice in the matter) debate. Regardless of which theological camp you find yourself currently in, this book will challenge your presuppositions and give you some appreciation for the other side. Alcorn spent his first ten years in the faith as an Armenian and then slowly moved over to four-point Calvinism (which, to be fair, some would say is no Calvinism at all!). I found that much of my angst toward Calvinism was really a reaction to what could be more aptly termed hyper-Calvinism (which to me is nothing more than pagan fatalism wrapped in Christian terminology). After reading this book, I am still closer to Arminius than I am comfortable with Calvin. But the book helped me temper some of my hyper-Arminian assertions (which at times could be nothing more than secular humanism wrapped in Christian terminology). Alcorn’s book is a fine apologetic for two contrary views that remain orthodox. Not only is the text engaging and provocative, the book also includes great tables and informative diagrams. What’s not to like?
  1. The American House of Saud by Steven Emerson. Published in 1985, I consider this book a classic and a must read for anyone who really wants to understand our government’s response to 9/11, how we’ve prosecuted the War on Terror, and the real power of the petrodollar. My greatest regret in reading this book was that I hadn’t read it sooner – thirty years sooner! The influence of Saudi money in the US reaches beyond government to the business decisions that impact many middle class Americans living blissfully in fly-over country. If you’ve ever wondered why America went to war with Afghanistan and Iraq after 19 Saudi Arabian nationals killed nearly 3,000 US civilians, this book is for you.
  1. The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp by Marin Katusa. I ran into this book while researching the petrodollar undergirding of our financial system. What I found was a treasure: a venture capitalist and energy expert whose telling of the stranger-than-fiction tale of the rise of Vladimir Putin puts Tom Clancy to shame. Great books have great beginnings and I wish I had come up with this one: “I’m going to tell you a story you’ll wish weren’t true.” And he delivers. Katusa is a specialist in his field – he’s made millions at it – but he makes the subject matter accessible to the layman. Making the complex concise and comprehendible is a great talent; which Katusa displays in spades. He doesn’t allow the text to get bogged down in jargon and the statistics are given in great infographics. Though he has skin in the game in the sense that he advises educated speculation in the energy market as a hedge against the impending implosion of the petrodollar[2], he doesn’t say “invest with me and I’ll make you rich” as other authors on this subject do. Katusa’s sense of humor is salted throughout the text in numerous insightful and funny quips. Here is his observation on the succession of the Saudi throne: “Whenever a throne room is crowded with would-be successors, it’s easy for a brawl to break out, which favors the most ruthless over the best qualified. The chance that Prince Right will emerge the winner is remote.”[3]
  1. A Time to Betray by Reza Kahlili. When I was a young teenager, I had a mentor who was a missionary living in Iran when the Islamic Revolution took place. She was a courageous woman and her eye-witness accounts of how demonstrations and riots broke out did much to help me see through what I was watching on the evening news. Some years after the American hostages were released from Iran, I read Ken Follett’s On Wings of Eagles, the story of the two EDS employees that Ross Perot made sure got home. Kahlili’s book rivals Follett’s on multiple fronts. While both are non-fiction, Kahlili lived his. As a member of the Revolutionary Guard from the early days of the revolution, he was a spy for the United States. In America, we incarcerate spies. In Iran, they arrest them and their families, friends, and loved ones. The captured endure untold torture while their wives and daughters are raped before them and their loved ones are executed. Only after extracting its ten pounds of flesh does the regime decide to execute the traitor. Kahlili knew this before he became an agent for the US in the hopes of saving the Iran that once was. True spycraft is the ultimate confidence game. Kahlili walked that tight rope for years while providing vital intelligence to our government. As I read it, I wondered how many hundreds – if not thousands – of foreign agents our government has been able to recruit because the assets really believed in the American ideals of truth, liberty, and justice for all. Kahlili’s belief and honesty are palpable throughout the text. The manner of his handling by the US in light of American foreign policy would certainly justify a fair level of cynicism on his part. But his narrative never falls into it. His hope for his people and his pain in their suffering shines above it all. Any who agree with the Iran Nuclear Deal should be made to read this book.
  1. Agnes Sanford and Her Companions by William L. De Arteaga. This is a complimentary and updating work to Quenching the Spirit by the same author and contains great perspectives on the Charismatic Renewal from the Catholic and Anglican perspectives. They laid the groundwork in many ways for the growth of modern Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement. His explanation of experimentation and his understanding of the graces in sacraments and the energies of God are enlightening and refreshing. I’ve been a fan of De Arteaga’s since reading Quenching the Spirit over a decade ago. Through a series of divine appointments, we wound up being Facebook buddies and I recently attended a healing workshop he held in an Anglican church in North Carolina. De Arteaga is the real deal. He doesn’t just study, write, and teach. He walks the walk and preaches a full Gospel, ministering not only the revelation of the Scriptures but the grace of healing through the power of the Holy Spirit. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

All these titles can be found on Amazon and would make a worthy addition to any library. I certainly enjoyed them and found them enlightening. I trust you will too.

[1] In his book Heaven, he makes 21 brief jaw-dropping observations on the nature of existence in the intermediate Heaven from just three verses (Rev 6:9-11).
[2] The short story: The Saudi’s only sell oil in US dollars. This arrangement causes a demand on US currency that keeps it valued beyond its real worth. For this hedge, we provide the Saudi’s with just about anything they ask for. Russian energy development threatens to upset this paradigm. Should the Saudi’s abandon the dollar, the US economy would suffer greatly.
[3] Marin Katusa, The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp, (Hoboken: Wiley, Stowe: Casey Research, LLC 2015), 189. Since the publishing of the book, King Abdullah died and was succeeded by his half-brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. One of his first reforms was to reduce cabinet level positions, consolidating power in fewer hands. Portents of things to come?