Archive for February, 2013

Guts and Butts

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

FSATAT is looking beyond the present and investing in the future. We desire to fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith.

I belong to a weight reduction, health accountability group at my YMCA called Guts and Butts (G&B). (I am not making this up!) I am the youngest member (58). Our group is the main competitor of the YMCA perennial favorites, Silver Sneakers (SSs) who are fortunate enough to have Medicare and Blue Cross and Blue Shield Insurance with no deductible. We G&B have hybrid high deductible insurance plans of dubious quality.  We have periodic contests with the Silver Sneakers. So far they have beat us every time. Last Christmas we had a contest to see how many pounds each group could lose between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The SS champs lost 150 pounds. We gained a net 9 pounds. They received gift certificates for Subway. We gave ourselves a party.

Last Easter we competed in the swim-the-most miles contest. Each person was on an honor code and wrote his daily mileage on a poster board behind the life guard, who very carefully scrutinized both pool performance and log in totals. Once I logged a mile. The life guard scowled at me. Well, if you consider the back strokes, it was a mile,” I sheepishly offered. Of course it took me about half the life span of the teenage life guard sitting on his exalted lifeguard throne, to accomplish it, but I did it. Really.  The G&Bs logged 150 miles. The SSs soared at 350. They got free coupons to the local Subway. We had a party.

Well, another contest is in the works this year. We are led by a fairly aggressive 75-year-old Amazon, Margaret. “This is our year,” she prophesies. The SSs all have little red roses embroidered on their swimming suits. Wheezing B&G High Pockets — we call him that because that is how he breaths after even the most moderate exercise and he wears his pants up too high above his ample stomach — has a USMC symbol on his left forearm. That is the best swimming motif we can sport.

The SSs have the newest rental lockers sporting top-of-the-line master combination locks. The G&Bs can’t be sure we can remember or combinations, so we try another approach. We put our stuff in the broken lockers hoping that potential brigands will ignore our depositories.

I am an inveterate G&B. I like to swim my laps and pray and take my time. I have no destination, no pressure to perform. I love my swimming and I love my God. And in that pool, with other G&Bs, I find my way again to the sublime perpendicular line that tells me again, for one more Christmas, good and faithful servant, you have reached the end and need to turn around. I don’t know how to flip over like the SSs, but I know how to turn around and go back in the other direction when I meet the wall. And that is enough.

Not that I will win any coupons to Wendy’s this Christmas. But this I know

I will enjoy my time with brothers and sisters, old and infirm, faithful and unpretentious, who, if we can’t win a contest, still have fun along the way. And sometimes, when I am in that surreal pool lap “life,” I just enjoy my God so much. I can feel His presence. I can feel His pleasure. And that, is enough winning for me.

And I know, no matter what happens, at the end of the great swim I am going to party with my brothers and sisters — and no doubt a few SSs too — at the end of the long swim. The God of history is faithful and true.“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” ~ 2 Timothy 4:7

I Loved My Old Spring Beds

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

I loved my old rusty spring bed with a tight fitted sheet bed in my little room that I shared with my brother Bill. Out our window was an apple tree and an in ground pond that housed overfed, over weight, luminous orange carp. This room remains, even in my memory, even after the room and its house is gone, even in my 58 year, a place of safety, comfort, and domicility. It was the place I came when I was a child and I left as a young man. It was the place I met my oldest brother. Two-year-old Bill met me when I came from Chicot County Memorial Hospital and, I suppose, my care was transferred from Chicot Memorial to my brother’s tutelage. I learned so much in the eight years that we lived in that room.

One vital fact was manifestly evident from the moment I could walk. Our ancient beds, if they were decrepit and old, were to me, the defining moment of my young life. I had my own bed and my own brother. Our little brother, John Hugh, was to come some day, but that was a half a decade away.

The old beds, too, were wonderful creations. They could stand almost any abuse. For one thing, I loved to jump on them. I never remember Bill doing that. It may have felt too risky to his three year old universe for his savvy and composure were already becoming evident. There was no hyperbole in my beloved big brother.

When my big brother was away I would bounce from bed to bed. It seemed like I could bounce to the stars! As fate would have it, his bed facilitated higher jumps that made his divan much more springy than mine. I suspected that my bed, allegedly my dad’s bed, had already been shamelessly broken in by my dad’s mischievousness decades before. Perhaps there was limited spring in every bed and my bed had exhausted much of its quota.

I was you see, preparing for the circus. This was not play to me. I was preparing for the circus.

Last Saturday, after I saved six RC Cola bottle tops—it was easy to do—my Daddy Bobby had a coke machine at his Laundry Dry Cleaning business and reckless employees who obviously did not appreciate the value of a metal RC Cola top—deposited hundreds behind the Laundry. I was able to get enough discarded RC tops to gift Craig, Pip, and almost everyone on South Highway with a free movie pass. My largesse in RC Cola distribution extended even to Dubby Towles, who, I confess, threatened to beat the crap out of me if I did not give him 12.

Dubby Towles’s mind, however, was no match to my brother’s business acumen. Bill could sell anything, negotiate any deal. Bill once negotiated two scooter rides for me from Hershel Parent, and, in another transaction with Dubby Towles, who had threatened to castrate me and his little brother Craig if we did not bring 48 acorns to the school bus stop every morning, somehow persuaded Dubby to desist from pernicious behavior toward Craig and me. Dubby never threatened us again—but I could not help noticing that Dubby sported a new green John Deere hat with a golden tractor on the visor. I remain forever in depth to my dear old brother who in his 8th year saved my manhood!

My friends and I, notwithstanding Dubby Towles, deposited our RC Cola caps with a frowning ticket lady standing behind a glass enclosed station and saw the Saturday morning Malco Theater matinee Walt Disney Toby Tyler. The doorman, the appointed conductor on the amazing imaginary dream train that was the esoteric Malco Theater, opened the door and invited us into the tinsel cathedral that was the Malco Theater. The Malco brought us lands and stories that could never be or happen in quiet, halcyon McGehee, Arkansas.

On this particular Saturday there was a plethora of cinematic offerings. Beside Toby Tyler, a Bugs Bunny and a Popeye the Sailor Man cartoon was showing. I could hear “Whatssss up doc!” as I walked into the cavernous Malco.

Next we were delighted by, my personal favorite, a Three Stooges short feature. And all for 6 RC metal bottle caps!

All of these unexpected gifts were sincerely appreciated. But, truthfully, we bought our 5 cent sour pickles and sat in the sticky, dark Malco theater to see Toby Tyler impress us with his obvious ability to do any trick connected to circus life. Everything else was ancillary if appreciated.

Toby Tyler runs away to the circus—something I fervently wished to do–where he soon befriends Mr. Stubbs, the hilarious chimpanzee. However, the circus isn’t all fun and games when the evil candy vendor, Harry Tupper, convinces Toby that his Aunt Olive and Uncle Daniel don’t love him or want him back. Toby resigns himself to circus life even scoring a much bigger role at the circus. When Toby realizes (with the help of Mr. Stubbs) that Tupper lied to him, and that his aunt and uncle truly love him, Toby leaves the circus to go home. On the way, however, he finds that Mr. Stubbs has followed him. Deciding to take Mr. Stubbs home with him (to keep him safe,) Mr. Stubbs is chased by a hunter’s dog. The hunter accidentally shoots Mr. Stubbs as Harry Tupper hauls Toby back to the circus. This precipitated my second animal rights crisis—only to be rivaled by Bambi when I was reminded that no doubt Uncle Brian murdered Bambi’s mother when he killed a doe the previous winter. It was all I could do to eat the rich, dark venison loins that were diurnally deposited on our supper table.

Toby discovers his Aunt and Uncle are at the circus, with hugs all around. Just before Toby’s big performance for his family, he discovers, surprise, Mr. Stubbs is still alive and well after all, having been brought back to the circus by the hunter. Toby performs on horseback, only to have Mr. Stubbs join him, creating a great new act for the circus.

Along the way I feel in love with Mademoiselle Jeanette and I just knew that I would someday marry a circus queen who sailed through the air with the greatest of ease on trapeze poles. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered my wife of 35 years had never worked at the circus! I married her anyway.

So I jumped from bed to bed like Toby Tyler, listening attentively to make sure I ended my circus practice before my mother, Bill, or, worst of all, Mammy Lee came into my room. I was Toby Tyler. Like George Samsa in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis I went to the movie theater, saw Toby Tyler, and woke up the next morning a circus rider—I remain a circus rider—you might think I am an author. But, no I am a circus rider. If only the world could grasp the import of this metamorphosis.

Mammaw, who owned these beds, and this house, before my parents did, told me, like I said that I was sleeping in my dad’s bed and Bill was sleeping in Uncle Bobby’s bed. I don’t know how she could tell—they looked the same to me—but I was very glad to hear this. Uncle Bobby was a professor at Harvard, or would be soon, and my brother Bill had already purposed to go to Harvard, even when he was 6 1/2 years old. That boy said he was going to Harvard. And he meant it. And he did just that.

I knew he was on his way when he gave his 5 year old brother a quarter and told me to buy 10 McGehee Times. I was to sell them for 50 cents and return 35 cents to him. What a deal! I made 15 cents. That sort of thinking has gotten me in big trouble over the years, but that is another story. Bill gave me the South Second Street paper route that was full of lugubrious widows who inevitably invited me into their homes and plied me with white divinity candy and purple cool aid. I often forgot to charge for the paper. Bill was always patient with me though.

I on the other hand slept in my Dad’s bed whose ambitious extended no farther than King Tut Lake whose cypress knees hid four pound black bass who were the apex of his salutatory magnificent ambition. In fact, in my young life, I had heard so many stories about Buddy Berle, Dad’s hero and fishing buddy, that Mr. Berle had assumed epic proportions in my life. Apparently, Dad had spent 90% of his youth, and 75 % of his adulthood catching bass and crappie with Buddy. He was fond of saying that he would only take an old quilt provided by his Mammy Louise on fishing trips and he and Buddy would take everything else from the land. Except Vienna Sausages and Louisiana Hot Sauce. Dad had a definite weakness for Vienna Sausages and Louisiana Hot Sauce.

I am 59 today and I still wonder what happened. I never became a circus rider, never married the lovely Mademoiselle Jeanette. 6 year old Bill is right. I am hopelessly floundering in credit card debt—Bill once warned me, “You are like Dad. You should stay away from credit cards.” I have no clue how I will pay for my health insurance most days—and my toxic living habits pretty well make that important. Life is that way I suppose. In my weak moments I still ride those ponies with Toby Tyler. But in my more lucid moments I thank God for the life He has given me. If my life doesn’t have much cotton candy it provides other things, more nutritious, and as time has passed more wonderful. Even than the circus. Really.

When I Hurried Downstairs to Enjoy the Cool

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I grew up in a house that demanded more gentility, income, and poise than my self-effacing family could muster. My dad’s vocation was hunting, fishing, and playing baseball with the neighborhood boys—to whom he contributed three. His hobby was running the family business, a mistress who demanded more than his convenient effort. Thus, our house, my grandmother’s house, oozed more elegance and munificence than its creature inhabitants. In short, like a blue blooded thoroughbred, rode by an amateur jockey, our house was more than we could handle. We were outclassed, so to speak, by our domicile and we all knew it.

The kitchen, in our awe-inspiring house beautiful that could have no doubt appeared in Southern Living was strategically placed close enough to the dining room to make food presentation quick and efficient. But it was far enough away to keep the heat from the kitchen, so to speak, literarily and figuratively, from the dining room.  

As the ceiling fans gently shook the cut glass crystal chandeliers, Mammy brought fried eggs, grits, and biscuits to our bountiful, olfactory Shangri La dining room table.

The adults never ate on a small table in the kitchen, like we do in all the houses in which I have lived in my adult life.  It must be a Yankee thing.  The adults always ate their meals—no matter how simple and unpretentious—in the dining room—with starched  1000 count Egyptian white cotton napkins and table cloth  (why not—we owned a laundry after all!).

We kids, though, were only allowed to eat dinner (lunch) on rare occasions but never breakfast.  We ate breakfast in the kitchen.

I loved those times.  The kitchen floor was made of New Orleans street cobblestones, as I mentioned previously, smelled like horse urine when they were warmed.  But the cobblestones, shiny and bright with floor wax generously bestowed by Mammy, felt awfully good on little boy feet.  The cobblestone kitchen floor was only second in line to the veranda blue tile floor.

No one every worried about dropping food on the kitchen floor.  Either Mammy would sweep it up, or another helper or what my mother called “a girl” who twice a week helped Mammy clean, would clean it.  Besides, Mammy had a habit of dropping wet sticky wax on whatever was on the floor so I distinctly saw traces of previous culinary masterpieces on the floor.  Like shellacked pictures on Christmas pictures to Mammaw, Mammy Lee carelessly preserved previous meal excesses by putting generous portions of commercial wax on previous floor messes.  Thus, in effect, our kitchen floor was a museum collage of previous meals we had eaten in the last ten years, or at least all the meals since Mammy Lee ruled our household.

In the right corner under the mixer was a stain from a memorable chili dinner last December.  Mammy’s chili was legendary.  The best in Southeast Arkansas. Carefully preserved by Mammy’s exuberance and wax, the remaining chili still felt good when I saw it. On the other hand, the green English peas under the right edge of the ice box, were a nightmare I would gladly forget.  Somehow Mammy spilled a few peas on the floor and forgot, or chose, to leave it there, even when she waxed the very same corner.  Those green peas were from the same genus and species, from the same meal, as the one I secretly deposited my requisite supply of English peas into my right front jean pocket. “No thank you,” I told my mom. “I am quite satisfied with the English peas I had already received.”  And I was.  The darn things had filled up my pocket!  Unfortunately, though, before I could deposit my treasure in the commode, I forgot about it.  The little rascals resurfaced in Mammy Lee’s Wednesday wash and I must tell you she was not amused.  Yes, I did not enjoy looking at the English pea shrine under our ice box.

Every morning Little Bill had two fried eggs—yolks broken—grizzled edges.  I had two over easy, with running yolk eggs.  We both loved thick bacon with heavy rind.  My big brother Bill was so good to me—he sometimes shared his precious treasure with his little brother—he would yank that sucker out and give it to me to chew.  He is still a generous soul.  John Hugh, on the other hand, inevitable preferred left over cornbread, buttermilk, and copious amounts of sugar.  To top things off Mammy would top everything off with fresh squeezed orange juice—I didn’t know they make it any other way until I went to college.

I don’t know what breakfast was like in the dining room but in the kitchen it was a veritable cornucopia of joy.  We were polite to one another.  We shared our homemade preserves and bacon.  There was a surplus of good feelings and good.  And, by the way, we did not worry about dropping things on the floor—in fact, to assure later good memories, we purposely deposited a few memorable items.  I wonder if that bacon rind is still where I dropped it?

The kitchen was not the dining room.  It taught us that life had limits and ceremony.  But we did not mind.  Life is that way too.  Sometimes the kitchen is not the dining room with crystal chandeliers but it is comfortable and it doesn’t matter much if you drop something on the floor.  Perhaps the price that one pays for pompous circumstance is too much and we should all be happy in the kitchen.  Think about it.

Elisha’s Tears – Part II

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

“I weep because I see what you will do to Israel . . .”

–2 Kings 8

2 Kings 8:7-29



To a large degree, we are to do nothing.  We are to wait.  The Hebrew  understanding of “waiting” is “to stand firmly and actively watch God’s will be revealed.”  The Greeks and the Romans and some of us today tried to build society upon their gods.  But these gods will not be big enough because they are finite, limited.  Even mighty Rome, with all its power, did not have satisfactory answers to the questions plaguing humankind.  So they fell.  They are finished.  They were Hazael.

But we serve a God who never slumbers or sleeps.  A God who in a blink of an eye created the universe.  A God who has no beginning nor an ending.  A God, also, who loves us enough to send His only begotten Son to die for us . . . that is one response to Hazael–embrace the Son of God as our Savior–do not rewrite the rules of the game–play another game!

When the three young students refused to worship mighty Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar they were thrown into the fiery furnace (see Daniel).  “We believe God will deliver us,” they said.  “But even if we die, we shall not worship you.”

Home schoolers, are we willing to stand firm in our faith no matter what the cost?  If we are, then Hazael shall not have our souls . . . even if someday he takes our lives.

Will we stand with Joshua on the edge of the Promised Land and proclaim: “You may follow whom you will but as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord!”

As Elisha weeps, he stands with saints of all ages–he stands on Carmel with Elijah–with Moses on Horeb–with Abraham on Moriah–and he asks us again, “If Baal is god then worship him; if God is God worship Him! But choose ye this day . . .”

I know that it seems that we are looking into the face of Hazael . .  . and we are.  But let us stand–as countless saints before us stood–let us stand firm and choose life this year. . . eternal life!  If the present home school movement does nothing else let us call our nation to be hopeful in the face of Hazael because . . . our Redeemer liveth!

References include: New International Version Study BibleHow Should We Then Live? by Francis A. Schaeffer, and Pulpit Digest.

Elisha’s Tears – Part I

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

“I weep because I see what you will do to Israel . . .”

–2 Kings 8

2 Kings 8:7-29


At times we  are called on to deliver messages we do not want to deliver.  When Elisha was sent to Syria By God, he met Hazael.  As he looked into the face of this future rule of Syria, Elisha saw how much Israel would suffer at Hazael’s hand in the future.  No wonder the prophet, who loved his people, wept.  It is always good news to hear that a sick man will be well . . . unless the man who gets well will kill your children.

Elisha wept . . .

After September 11, 2001,  we in America are especially somber.  I am not in anyway mitigating the horrendous crime that was committed on September 11, 2001.  It was a great disaster.  However, may I suggest, that we have looked into the face of Hazael.  We are both the perpetrators and the victim in our present situation.

In our own country, at the beginning of the millennium, in spite of unprecedented prosperity, we see the seeds of our destruction everywhere.  Increased crime, poverty, and unemployment.  Hopelessness and domestic violence. Some of us wonder whether our American covenant is being recklessly compromised by some leaders who are choosing to condone practices that we see as immoral. We see Hazael.  He will survive . . . but will we?  Will the American dream survive?

Edward Gibbon in his seminal work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire says that the following five attributes marked Rome at its end.  First, a mounting love of affluence.  Second, a widening gap between the very rich and the very poor.  Third, an obsession with sex.  Fourth, freakishness in the arts, masquerading as originality, and enthusiasms pretending to be creativity.  Fifth, an increased desire to live on welfare.  Sound familiar?  Are we looking at Hazael?

That must have been the way the disciples felt.  Only three years with Him.  Three short years.  And while his work seemed to fall on deaf ears, the evil Romans prospered.  Caiphas prospered.  Herod prospered.  Evil would win after all . . . and Elisha wept.

Jesus wept too.  In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus spent the last night of His life. Alone.  He had to die.  He knew it.  And He was so afraid that He wept blood.  Sometimes I think we make the cross into something less than it was.  It was a horrible death.  To wear a cross, for instance, in Jesus’ day, around one’s neck was like wearing an electric chair around our neck today.  No, Hazael will live.  Jesus will die.  And Elisha wept. . .

Elisha began his ministry during the last half of the ninth century B.C.  Leaving his parents’ farm in the upper Jordan valley, he trained under Elijah for several years, then served in the northern kingdom for over fifty years.

Elisha was not isolated and unpredictable as Elijah often was.  Instead, he spent time with people, sharing meals and staying in their homes.  He traveled throughout the kingdom on a donkey, visiting villages and the communities.  Elisha’s miracles among these people reflected a deep compassion for the poor and needy.

Despite his loyalty to Israel, Elisha relentlessly fought against the idol worship of her kings.  Obedience to God’s instructions took him as far north as Damascus, where he appointed the Syrian king who would eventually oppress Israel.  A similar mission in Israel brought the downfall of her evil kings and a massacre of the prophets.

But, Elisha knew all too well, that Hazael would live and someday he would destroy his nation.  The rich and the poor alike would suffer.  They would suffer because the nation was evil. . .  was unfaithful to God.  And Elisha wept . . .

Harvard and Heaven: Prospering in the Secular University – Part II

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

The university, if it has any value, must be involved in the communication of immutable, metaphysical truth.   The American secular university is not about to accept such limits. It recognizes no citadel of orthodoxy, no limits to its knowledge.  But, like Jesus reminds Thomas in John 14, our hope lies not in what we know, but most assuredly whom we know.

Most secular universities have concluded that abstract concepts like grace, hope, and especially faith are indefinable, immeasurable, and above all unreasonable.  Not that God or the uniqueness of Jesus Christ can be proved, or disproved.  There are certain issues which the order of the intellect simply cannot address, so we must rise above that to the order of the heart.    Faith is our consent to receive the good that God would have for us.  Evangelicals believe that God can and does act in our world and in our lives.  Human needs are greater than this world can satisfy and therefore it is reasonable to look elsewhere.  The university has forgotten or ignores this fact.

That is all changing—and partly due to the popularity of the American home schooling movement.  In massive numbers the American home school movement—initially and presently primarily an evangelical Christian movement—is depositing some of the brightest, capable students in our country into the old, august institutions like Harvard.  And, what is more exciting, the flashpoint of cultural change is changing from Harvard, Princeton, Darmouth, and Stanford to Wheaton, Grove City, Calvin, and Liberty (all evangelical universities).  Before long the new wave of elite culture creators will be graduating from American secular universities and Christian universities and they shall be a great deal different from the elite of which I was a part in the middle 1970s.   I am not saying the secular university will change quickly—intellectual naturalistic reductionism makes that extremely difficult.  However, I do see the whole complexion of university graduates to change significantly in the next twenty years.  Never in the history of the world has such a thing happened.

Young people, make sure that you know who you are and who your God is.   “By faith, Moses, when he had grown up refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” (Hebs.  11:24) Theologian Walter Brueggemann calls American believers to “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”

Refuse to be absorbed into the world but choose to be a part of God’s kingdom. There is no moderate position anymore in American society–either we are taking a stand for Christ in this inhospitable culture or we are not.

You are special and peculiar generation.  Much loved.  But you live among a people who do not know who they are.  A people without hope.   You need to know who you are—children of the Living God—and then you must live a hopeful life. Quoting C.S. Lewis, we “are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”

Take responsibility for your life. Moses accepted responsibility for his life.  “He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.” (Hebs. 11: 25)  If you don’t make decisions for your life, someone else will.

Get a cause worth dying for.  Moses accepted necessary suffering even unto death.  You need a cause worth dying for (as well as living for). “He [Moses] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Hebs. 11: 26).  We are crucified with Christ, yet it is not we who live but Christ who lives in us (Gals 2:20).

Finally, never take your eyes off the goal.  “By faith, he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw Him who is invisible.” (Hebs. 11:27).  What is your threshold of obedience?

Young people, if you are part of this new evangelical elite, you have immense opportunities ahead of you.  A new Godly generation is arising.  You will be called to guide this nation into another unprecedented revival.  We shall see.

Harvard and Heaven: Prospering in the Secular University – Part I

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

I once heard a home school convention speaker ask, “Do you want Harvard or do you want Heaven?” The implication is that if we chose Harvard we were choosing Hell.  Well, I think that we can have Harvard and Heaven!

Who could imagine that a movement that began so quietly in the 19970s and 1980s would someday generate so vital and an anointed generation that is emerging at the beginning of this century?  It is a time to celebrate and to reflect.

In 2013 it is an uncontested fact:  home schoolers are dominating college admission test scores, and, it is growing more evident each day that they are highly qualified and successful college students when they are admitted.  When I was growing up, eons ago, elite prep schools dominated the college admission classes.  Today, the new “elite” are home schooled graduates.  They are the most highly recruited, most highly valued freshmen at secular and Christian schools alike.  I am privy to a Harvard University online chat room, and recently I saw this statement posted.  “If Harvard wants to be the best, the most relevant institution in the years ahead, it must recruit and admit home schoolers.”  Indeed.

And Harvard has reason to worry.  I spoke to a Yale recruiter and she told me that, while Yale wants home schoolers, home schoolers do not seem to want Yale.  They are not applying to Yale.  Likewise, I have two distance learning students who were heavily recruited by Ivy League schools.  They both chose local alternatives (a state school and a Christian school).

It is not the purpose of this article to lobby for any particular post-graduate choice, although I found my wife at Harvard—and Intervarsity Fellowship on Thursday night in Cambridge is larger than the entire student body at Gordon College (a Christian College) in South Hamilton. Mostly for fiscal reasons, the majority of Christian home schoolers go to secular colleges.  That is an uncontested fact.  We home schoolers, for whatever reason, usually attend secular colleges.

Therefore, this article is about the secular colleges we will attend—how they got to be the way they are and how we can prosper in such a place.

First, to most evangelical Christians, the modern, secular, university is a hostile place.  It was not always so.

In fact, the American university was built solidly on evangelical principles.   There were no so-called “official” “secular” colleges until the rise of the land grant colleges in the middle of the 19th century.  An early brochure, published in 1643, stated that the purpose of Harvard University (the oldest American university) was “To advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches.”   Harvard’s motto for 300 years was “Christo et Ecclesiae.” In fact, most of the U. S. universities founded before the 20th century had a strongly religious, usually Protestant Evangelical Christian character.  Yale, Princeton, Chicago, Stanford, Duke, William and Mary, Boston University, Michigan, and the University of California had a decidedly evangelical Christian character in the early years of their existence but abandoned it by the 20th century. By 1920s, the American university had stepped completely back from its evangelical roots.  This was true of almost every American university founded in the first 200 years of our existence.

Readers would be surprised to see how evangelical, Christ-centered early universities were. They had pastors as presidents.  These men closely tied the identity of their university to a strong Christian world view.  The core curriculum included Bible courses and Christian theology.  These were mandatory Bible courses.  All American universities insisted on a doctrinally sound content for sensitive courses and often required that faculty be born again Christians!  Imagine this: the famous historian Frederick Jackson Turner was refused a professorship at Princeton because he was a Unitarian!   Chapel attendance was required at Harvard and Yale!  It is more than coincidental that the architects who designed early universities designed them to look like churches.  At the University of Pittsburgh, for instance, the most prominent building on campus is the Cathedral of Learning.

Universities were founded because early Americans earnestly believed that American society should be governed by evangelical Christian people.  They believed that American industry should be run by evangelical Christian entrepreneurs.  They believed that American culture should be created by evangelical artists.  The early American university was committed to making sure that that happened.

The marriage of spiritual maturity and elite education is a potent combination and to a large degree assured the success of the American experiment.  Its divorce may presage its demise.

Today the university is not even loosely a Christian institution.  Religion in the university and in public life is relegated to the private experience.  So-called “academic freedom” has become a sacrosanct concept and precludes anything that smacks of religiosity–especially orthodoxy that evangelicals so enthusiastically embrace.  Religion is represented on campus in sanitary denominational ministries and token chapel ministries (that were hardly more than counseling centers).

To a large degree, then, the American university abandoned the evangelical and the evangelical abandoned the American university.

This created a crisis in the American university and in the evangelical community.  The secular American university compromised its “soul” for naturalistic; evangelicalism compromised its epistemological hegemony for ontological supremacy.  In other words, the secular university became a sort of an academic hothouse for pompous rationalism.  Evangelicals abandoned the secular university, and, until recently, more or less compromised their academic base.  Evangelicals even founded their own universities but they were poor academic substitutes for secular offerings.  Even as I write article, this is changing.

The Days of Obadiah Are Over

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

I believe that the days of Obadiah are over.  The days of Elijah have come.

Obadiah, pious, Godly has saved thousands of believers.  In order to do that Obadiah had to be anonymous, quiet.  Oh he was privately advancing the cause of YHWH.  And it must be said that he was a pious, Godly effective man in his day, to his people.

But the days of Obadiah are ending. . . the days of Elijah are coming.

Peter Berger, a secular sociologists, reminds us that the social structures we call “culture” are no longer sustaining our society, that, in effect, things are falling apart.  Our problems are much deeper than the economic crisis, there is a crisis of cultural authority. Or, as my old friend Professor Harvey Cox, at Harvard, coyly observed, “Once Americans had dreams and no technology to fulfill those dreams.  Now Americans have tons of technology, but they have no dreams left.”

The first strophe of William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” begins:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre,

The falcon cannot hear the falconer.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

The blood-dimmed tide is tossed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

American in the beginning of the 21st century is spinning out of control.  We are stretching our wings adventurously, but drifting farther away from our God. We are in trouble.

The days of Obadiah are ending and the days of Elijah are coming!

The fact is, and numerous theologians and social annalists echo this, America is in a post- Christian era.  Ergo, for the first time in American history, Evangelical, born-again Christians, are most definitely a minority element in America.  Writers like William Willimon, Thomas Sine, David Wells, Os Guinness, and others echo this theme of “resident aliens” throughout America.  Increasingly we who proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior are finding ourselves in a minority culture.

It seems, at times that Americans are lost.  “The sense of being lost, displaced, and homeless is pervasive in contemporary culture,” Walter Brueggemann writes. “The yearning to belong somewhere, to have a home, to be in a safe place, is a deep and moving pursuit.”  I am a pastor, and in spite of our hedonistic bravado, I generally find most of my congregation members–who generally are not living a life centered on Jesus Christ–are in fact desperately unhappy.  And no wonder.  This world does not provide what we need.  No, it really doesn’t.  It once thought it did.

I can remember being seduced by the august institution that was HarvardUniversity.  In 1976, I really believed my university chaplain who told the incoming Harvard class, “You are the next history makers of America.” I wanted to believe it.  I needed to believe it. My acquaintance and colleague from Harvard Divinity School, Dr. Forrest Church, now pastor in a Unitarian Church in New York City, was fond of saying, “In our faith God is not a given, God is a question . . . God is defined by us.  Our views are shaped and changed by our experiences. We create a faith in which we can live and struggle to live up to it . . . compared to love a distant God had no allure.”  Indeed.  This thinking has gotten us into quite a mess.

Oh, but, my friends, the days of Obadiah are ending and Elijah is coming!

Elijah with his bravado and choleric melancholy.  Elijah with his intrepidness and eccentricity.  Elijah the prophet. Choleric Elijah is coming home—and no one wants him to come home.  He is crossing his Rubicon.  After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.”   King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, of course, hate him.  But even, Obadiah, a faithful follower of God and trusted advisor to the king and queen, who had learned so well to survive in this hostile land, who has done so much good for God’s people—Obadiah was not too thrilled to see him either.   In fact, no one welcomed Elijah—not the hostile king and queen nor the pious evangelical Obadiah. Even though Elijah brings good news—it is finally going to rain—no one welcomes him.  Elijah’s fish-or-cut-bait prophetic messages are irritating the life out of the status quo.  That is bad enough.  But what really scares the dickens out of everyone is the fact that Elijah has come home to Zion, to the City of God, to challenge the gods of the age to a duel.

In one sense, like Obadiah, we resist the coming of Elijah.  The anonymity that we evangelicals have so enjoyed over the last few years has caused us to prosper.  But there is no middle ground left to us evangelicals.

On the other hand, as Os Guinness reminds us, there needs to be a great falling away, perhaps a great persecution before there is great revival.  Bring it on, Lord!

Elijah is coming to town!

One of the most disturbing essays I have ever read is an essay by Thomas Merton entitled “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann.”  “One of the most disturbing facts,” Merton begins, “that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane.”  The fact is, given our world, we can no longer assume that because a person is “sane” or “adjusted” that he/she is ok.  Merton reminds us that such people can be well adjusted even in hell itself! “The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless (p. 47).”

Obadiahs, spread forth your grandeur!  Proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord!  For Elijah is coming!

Be the best you can be.  Speak, act, work with excellence!  Ask for no quarter, give no quarter, but go to the Mt.Carmels of our society, tear down the Asherath Poles, and confront the Gods of this age!!!!

1Walter Brueggemann, The Land (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977),  p. 1.

What is the difference between the SAT and ACT?

Friday, February 1st, 2013

FSATAT is dedicated to helping students prepare for the next calling in their lives; specifically the ACT and SAT.

When I was growing up, the ACT was a second rate exam which only Midwest and southern colleges accepted.  Not so anymore.  Most if not colleges accept it.

The ACT test assesses high school students’ general educational development and their ability to complete college-level work.  It does this by assessing students’ performance in high school and, therefore, it is more a measure of college readiness than it is a prediction of college performance.

The converse is true for the SAT.  The SAT is a critical thinking, skill based test.  It is very much like the IQ test.

The ACT is an achievement verses IQ aptitude test. An achievement test is based upon a corpus of information. The multiple-choice tests cover four skill areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science. If students are competent in these areas, if they know enough information related to these disciplines, and can apply this information to cognitive challenges,

In that sense, the ACT is of the same genre as an Iowa Basic or Stanford Achievement test.

The SAT,  as I said, is an IQ type test. It is not based upon epistemology; it is based upon critical thinking. In other words, the SAT measures students’  ability to problem solve. The ACT measures students’ knowledge acquisition. Therefore, the SAT preparation ideally needs a commitment of one to three years.

Students cannot raise their IQ scores nor improve critical thinking skills overnight, or even in two months. But students can raise ACT scores in 50 days.

The single best preparation event for the SAT & the ACT is active reading of challenging literary works. Students should read about one book per week.  I have included a free college prep reading list.

What Is It?

Like the SAT, the ACT is a standardized test. With the exception of the optional writing section, all of the questions are multiple choice. There are 215 questions in all, and the exam takes about three hours to complete. The questions focus on four core academic subject areas: math, English, reading, and science, and scores range between 1 and 36.

What does the ACT measure?

ACT questions focus upon academic knowledge that high school and therefore an unfair assessment tool.

How Are ACT Scores used by Colleges?

Exactly how students’ ACT scores will be used by a college varies from school to school. In some schools, a student’s ACT score, along with their GPA, is the chief criteria upon which acceptance decisions are made. At other schools, ACT scores play only a minor role in determining acceptance, and applicants’ GPA, class rank, and cultural backgrounds may be viewed as more important.

Here is some special information about preparing for the ACT and SAT:

Mathematics — Students are tested on mathematical concepts and practices endemic to 11th grade goals. The test is designed to check for mathematical reasoning and basic computational skills, so no complex formulas or elaborate computations will be included in the exam. Calculators are allowed, although there are restrictions.

For a long time, the SAT was by far the most popular college entrance exam in the United States. Even though a high percentage of high school students who hope to go on to a university still rely on the SAT to show their academic prowess, the ACT has gained a lot of ground over the years. The ACT is divided into four individual subject examinations, each one covering a separate subject area. The material includes:

Reading — Students are tested on direct reading comprehension and inference based on the material presented. Similar to the English exam, the test consists of several different literary genre passages from multiple disciplines, which are followed by several questions on the passage. Since reading skills such as determining the main idea and understanding causal relationships are being tested, rote fact checking is not included in the exam.

Writing — The writing test, which is an optional test on the ACT (but not on the SAT), measures skill in planning and writing a short essay.  Colleges compare the ACT essay with student college admission essays. If there are marked differences, the ACT essay can hurt student admission chances. On the other hand, if the ACT essay is better than the college admission essay, then students have a much better chance to be admitted and receive a scholarship at aforementioned colleges.

English — Students are tested on grammar rules and rhetorical skills. Rhetoric requires students to discern the writing strategy of a passage. The exam consists of several literary passages, which are followed by several questions on the passage or selected parts.

Science — Students are tested on critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Students should have had courses in biology, earth sciences, and the physical sciences by the 11th grade. The test consists of several data sets presented as data representation (graphs, charts, etc.) and research expressions of conflicting hypotheses, which are followed by several questions after each set. Calculators are not allowed during the science exam.

More than ever before America is hungry for new, talented leaders. The ACT and the SAT are gates that must be opened for students to enter that path.  Can you imagine what America will look like with 1 to 2 million new, sprit-filled, evangelical leaders? FSATAT is committed to making that happen!




1. The SAT is unimportant; Colleges only look at GPA and transcripts.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  In this age of unequal public and private high schools, the SAT is the great equalizing factor. It is the penultimate and most preferred college admission credential.

2. The PSAT is a good indicator of SAT performance.

According to CollegeBoard, There is absolutely no data to support this statement.  On the contrary, students usually do much better on the SAT than they do in the PSAT.

3. The PSAT is necessary for college scholarships.

This is absolutely untrue!  Colleges could care less about PSAT.  They are only interested in SAT scores.  The PSAT is only important if it leads to a National Merit Scholarship.

4. I don’t need to prepare.  All I need to do is take a few tests and my score will go up.

There is no correlation between frequency of taking this aptitude/IQ test and increased scores.  Students score + or – 8 points every time that they take it.

5. The writing portion of the SAT is unimportant.  College do not use it.

Most colleges do examine the SAT Writing score; 100% prefer it.  Colleges compare the Writing Exam essay to the college application essay that most students submit.  My SAT Preparation book provides a free College Admission Section.