Advice Please

Calling on my blogging friends to advise me. Several years ago, I posted a picture on a post which I found googling. The photographer has contacted me, demanding that I remove it. He has sent an invoice and claims that I infringed on copyright.

He has begun to harrass me, sending several emails a day, threatening to report me for copyright infringement, and listing the penalties.

I deleted the photos after his first request.

Is this a scam or an unhinged harrasser?

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Validation-Psalm 51

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

I imagine someone immersed in instant communication and transitory exchange, in shallow feels and binging drama–opening a Bible to this passage. Upon reading it, he or she realizes there are words for the vague despair he has experienced, the sometimes private terror he tries to suppress.

Someone else has known his feelings..and his experience is validated. Someone else has realized the depth and weight of his troubles. Finding that there is a remedy.

Finding that there is Someone who cares about his problem and is ready to help.

God is not the fault-finding Judge but the one who hopes for me, and who wants to make me guiltless.

What he wants for me is guiltlessness, purity, and the obliteration of obstacles which divide me from His love. He wants my true relationship and worship. Praise the Lord.

Love, Edited.

Love is you need. All you need is love. Love, love, love.

Well it turns out, according to vast consensus, that there’s a better ideal. It’s hate.

Hate, unabashed, unembarrassed. The purer the better. To proudly hate is all the rage.

I have to turn away from my social media. The contempt, the revulsion, the hatred freely expressed toward one person is so great, it’s like a celebration of it.

Yet it’s not directed toward only one person. Everyone who ever supported, ever voted for, ever spoke a single sentence well of, all hated too. Proudly.

It’s the shiniest virtue signal. And it makes me despair. How can normal people, who think they are kind, just, fair, not see how ugly they’ve made themselves?

It gets so much worse. Believers in Jesus Christ not just comfortable, but rushing to be noticed, spewing hate. Forgetting this:

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

Hatred stirs up conflict,
but love covers over all wrongs.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

The People Who Walked in Darkness Have Seen a Great Light

The world is dark.

Picture that the world is in utter darkness everywhere, but there is one light.

The one light is very conspicuous. It is the only thing visible anywhere you look. If you position yourself near that light, you can see. If you hide from the one light you stumble about in blindness and danger.

God’s Word says the world is in darkness, save for one light. But the darkness cannot dispel that light. In fact, the light pushes darkness away wherever it reaches.

C.S. Lewis, in his Space Trilogy, suggested that our world is silent in a universe which everywhere else sings praises to its Creator. In his sci-fi novel Out of the Silent Planet, he imagined a universe in which each planet has a representative-steward angel in the service of God. Earth’s angel–Satan–betrayed his Lord and temporarily keeps his planet under his illegitimate rule. Inhabitants of other planets regard Earth as silent and isolated.

The world we live in is silent and dark.

But Jesus said,

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Light and life are joined somehow. In John 1, there is this:

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  John 1:4

I am sure any theologian can tell you much more about the affinity of the ideas of light with life than I. But I can tell you that the God of the Bible is the author and only original Source of both light and life.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5

I did not see a temple in the city,
because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.
On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.

Revelation 21: 22-25

Our world is dark. The world refrains from praising our Creator and that silence is opressive. Without the Light of Jesus Christ, the only light, we are in darkness.

As Christmas Advent becomes Christmas Day, we honor a light in the darkness. A baby born in the night. A lone bright star and the glory of angels singing praises in the night sky.

Thank God for the Light of Christmas to all people who will rejoice in it. Let us keep the Light of Christmas before us every day of the year.

The Reason Young People Stop Church

We become alarmed when our teens or young twenties stop going to church. We often assume some drastic reasons are behind their choice to stop.

But I think we are succumbing to alarmism and giving our kids too much credit. Their decision is usually a non decision.

The world is coming at them relentlessly from all directions. They are overwhelmed but a young person’s response to that is sleep or distraction. Their distraction often looks energetic so we olders don’t recognize it as an attempt to rest. They aren’t old or overwhelmed enough to long for a peaceful respite. That comes later.

Relevance is the issue: they know all that stuff; it’s old news. They have questions but they’re not interested enough to find out. They’re distracted by a lot of new experiences and there are a lot of demands on their time. If there are a couple of uncommitted hours they’re going to veg out or sleep.

I don’t have to go now that I’m an adult (or a teen given some prerogative) and I just dont really want to think about this right now. It seems like more work and it’s just not relevant to me now.

In a nutshell: they’re not interested and they just don’t really want to deal with it right now.

When challenged, they must assume some sort of credible stance, so they adopt one, even though it hasn’t been vetted or examined yet. I’m a Skeptic. I’m an Atheist.

The second reason is of more concern.

I have discoved that I love to X and I assume that my church family wouldn’t approve. I have decided X is ok. I have a right to X. My parent’s friends at church must be robots or bigots. So I turn my back on them. For X.

A principled reason is of concern and anyone who loves the young person declaring it must be ready for the long haul of loving him/her through whatever comes, and preparing to gently persevere in reasoning with her over her issue.

But in the long run, the disengaged reason is more dangerous. Unchallenged, it becomes the default, the lifestyle.

Our job as parents and teachers is to close off that option. How?

By teaching them from early on:

You are a human being designed to think! Make decisions and have convictions about them. Prove ALL things. Examine every thought, every premise, every assumption that comes your way. Think it through. Dont let others do your thinking for you.

The truth stands up to scrutiny. We must all be skeptics, examining every thought that we encounter with reason and an honest search for truth. Then we must hold on to the truth we find like our life depends on it. It does.

Our children who have the habit of honest skepticism and intentional thinking will better handle what comes their way. Even though they may wander and experiment, they will be equipped to examine the paths they’re on. Hopefully they choose to stay honest and embrace the truth.

What I Found in the Nursing Home

I wrote this a few years ago, when my Mom was still alive.

I suspect we most clearly demonstrate who we are when we respond to the weakest, the most vulnerable, the least pretty, the unwanted. I think I am beginning to learn who we are via the modern geriatric facility.

There are certainly all kinds of people to be found at work there. There are people who do their jobs and go along to get along with the culture they’re plunked in; and there are people who go about their jobs with objective integrity, beholden to no one but the source of the highest truth they recognize.

Thank God for those people. I think the culture in which they work is making them swim upstream.

My mother is in her upper 90’s. Until three years ago, she lived alone. She needed no medication until she was over 90. She has lived a life of determined independence and no nonsense.

At the same time it was a life of willing service and self-sacrifice. Her one marriage was no picnic and she usually worked alone. She raised six children and helped cared part-time for several of her grandchildren. Her direct descendants number over forty. It has been a self-determined life of solid accomplishment.

The mind of this housewife was more sharp and active, her judgements on current events more insightful than many much younger, who would think themselves much more in-the-know.

Then, mini-strokes, a stroke. Dementia. There is no short-term memory. She is helpless against emotional vicissitudes.

We cared for her 24/7 in her home for three years. My siblings and I and three aides divided the time. She used a walker and got around in her home. She ate well, was healthy, and watched a lot of TV. When this lady who never went to bed caught a bug and ended up there nevertheless, she recovered but still couldn’t sit up in bed. We couldn’t do for her what she needed, she wasn’t going to get up, and she was developing a pressure wound.

At the same time, she was finally running low on the money my Dad left her thirty years ago. In a little while she would not be able to pay her bills or hire the aides. So it was time. Time to go to a home. They would take all she had, and care for her for the rest of her life. She would have rehab, treatment for the wound, and a home til the end. That, to my understanding, was the deal.

Unfortunately my siblings and I were under a misapprehension that a place which operates for the stated purpose of caring for elderly people is prepared to care for elderly people. That such a place should not be surprised when elderly people are people: that they are imperfect, retain their personalities and independent thoughts; nor when they are elderly: that they are cranky, ill, difficult or have dementia. When they are not entirely in control of their feelings or their actions, when they are not entirely compliant.

My mother couldn’t remember where she was or why she was there. When we weren’t there to answer her questions she filled in the blanks with invented content. The content was invariably paranoid. She reacted to her invented narratives–she was angry and difficult. She became belligerent. She tried to escape; she was going home.

She was not being a jerk. Her brain was wearing out. She couldn’t remember.

First they tried two medications. They didn’t work. The last few days, she was so heavily drugged she could hardly stay awake. But she never moved off topic: going home.

So they kicked this 96-year-old wheelchair-bound woman with dementia out of their place. Take her somewhere else. How quickly can you place her?

In other words, they took her in because she had dementia, and they kicked her out because she had dementia.

This private facility has a long waiting list. They could easily fill her half-room. And that’s what matters: all beds filled with people who aren’t much trouble.

We move on to Home #2. It is a state facility and for her it’s the last option. She does not know this, of course. What she knows is that she’s in another unfamiliar place, she can’t remember why she’s there, and I keep telling her she can’t go home just now. It’s bare and impersonal, and there are men with dementia who are permitted to roam into her room, mess with her stuff, and roam back out. When we arrive she usually has been looking for me all day. She’s fretting that someone told her I was on another floor and I had to go out. Or I’m finally there to pick her up from the store; she forgot to bring money. Or they arrested her and she wants to know how much she needs to get out.

The other home was homey. We personalized her space and everything stayed put. In Home #2 we cannot personalize the room. Her belongings have a way of wandering off.

One evening in week two, I am in the open bathroom washing my hands. I hear an aide telling my mother, disrespectfully and forcefully, that she must go to the bathroom and get on her nightgown now, as though she is an defiant child and the aide is an exasperated parent. I come around the doorway to find the aide standing over my mother behind her chair, with her hands on my mother’s arms, struggling with her. I still don’t understand what the aide was trying to accomplish.

Involuntarily I make WHOA-what-the-heck-are-you-doing sounds. The aide gradually backs off her manhandling but seems irked that we aren’t backing her up. She thought we would be cooperative in getting my Mom changed for the night. (By the way it is 7 pm.) She leaves the room.

I report this to the charge nurse and I am approached by an ascending order of supervisors to recount the incident. Every one is focused on the necessity for my mom to be toileted according to schedule. (I should have pointed out that my Mom is mostly continent; she will tell them if she needs to go.) Two days later, we meet with a higher supervisor and recount again. She agrees that the aide’s attitude and actions were all wrong. But my mother needs to be toileted at a minimum of every eight hours or all sorts of bad things will occur.

I point out that a young, fit person wrestling with a 96 year old woman in a wheelchair might cause bad things to occur as well. I am quietly puzzled that she seems to be more concerned with charges of neglect than charges of abuse. I press the point politely: what happens in the case of a non-compliant patient refusing to be toileted after eight hours? The answer: we must, and do, force them.

My mother was not compliant and would stay that way. It was the core of her being. She was old and weak but she thought she could take anyone. Doesn’t anyone else see the potential for harm?

Let’s be honest: the staff, the family, the culture– we see the nursing home as a waiting room for eternity. It is unspoken, but we actually perceive some human beings as unwanted.

Should it be that a good person who’s lived almost 100 years faithfully devoted to others, at the time when she is most vulnerable, weakest, most helpless, should suddenly have to adjust herself to other people’s priorities? Shouldn’t someone with 40 descendants be able to count on as much reciprocity as she needs? Is it countercultural to expect that someone in the most dependent part of her life should find that her world responds with that which she requires?

I contrast what I see every day with another scenario. My Mom surrounded by family, people she remembers and trusts. Feeling secure in the center of someone’s home. Her needs tended patiently for as long as she needs.

We did just this as long as we could. My mom had physically deteriorated so much that we could not adequately care for her. Even accompanying her in the shower resulted in mini-strokes. Soon after entering the home, it became clear that she needed medical expertise close at hand. The goal became: someone visting every day to orient and reassure her.

But institutions promote accomodation. Our default is the warehouse for people who are not easy, not pretty, not fun, not independent.

My Mom is so dependent, and yet she is very independent. Her current context responds unfavorably to her independent attitude, even while they resentfully suffer her dependence. One spends a lot of time staring at the ceiling in the dark, trying out plans for a better situation. But I’m afraid such plans are made difficult by the status quo and the desire we have to get on with our own lives, uninterrupted by someone else’s needs.

The real question: what does each of us do when the context tells us a given level of care is good enough, when the environment requires and expects a given level of care? How many of us decide our actions are adequate–or even good–because we have met the standard expected by the culture in which we work? And how many of us have a higher independent standard which requires a higher standard of care?

Won’t most people accommodate the context in which they work? And what if that context does not address the patients’ needs but some institutional self-interest?

I don’t want to suggest it’s all bad. By far most of the workers I have observed are doing their jobs with integrity and care. They try to relate to my mother kindly and she receives good care. Recently, they found a med which keeps her calm and un-agitated without making her druggy. They’re only people after all–trying to accommodate someone who is belligerent is just about impossible, and dealing with a pleasant patient is much better. So my mother gets along with her caregivers now, much of the time.

But I have seen what we human beings tend to do when we perceive the context we’re in as a settled given: we accommodate. And if the given expectations we’ve accepted are being challenged, the challenger too must be caused to accommodate. Only the few will put the needs of the challengers, like my Mom, before the institution’s expectations, because they act according to an overriding law.

Memories of Hard Times

I was standing in my grandmother’s living room, full of summer afternoon light. I heard Nana in the next room, her bedroom, talking on the phone to a friend. I remember clearly what she said: “Those kids are between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

Glib, dramatic, I thought. I was surprised at her summation of my circumstances. I didn’t feel myself to be in such a predicament. “Between the devil and the deep blue sea” is an archaic expression now. If you are in that place, you are trapped between two very bad things. There’s no good option. 

I was 12. My mother and I had just moved from our big old suburban house to my grandmother’s apartment for what would be about three months. One late spring Sunday morning a couple of weeks earlier, my mother woke me with the news that we were going to stay at Nana’s. That is all she told me. My mother and older sisters spent the morning packing up some of our necessities while I wondered what was happening. I did not ask any questions. While I went out through the front door I remember looking through the dining room at my father, standing in the kitchen with his back to us. I remember thinking: “I’ll be back soon.”

We left my father and my two older brothers back in the only home I had ever known. We were gone for three years.

In my family, we didn’t talk about things. I was the youngest of six children, shy and quiet. That day, nothing was explained to me but I was not totally in the dark. Though I would never have conceived of such an upheaval in our lives, my parents’ separation was not much of a surprise. 

In my earliest memories, my parents barely spoke. There were no smiles, no pleasant relaxed moments. Occasionally there was fighting–verbally. It might be late at night, after I was in bed, on a school night, or just before a swim meet.

I hurry to add that both my parents cared for us and did not direct that negativity toward us. My mother was particularly warm and maternal toward me. But the effects of their own strife upon us was perhaps a blind spot.

I was a child who went with the flow, a good and compliant child. The people around me were the ones with power. This is how I perceived the world. I went along for the ride and kept a tight lid on my reactions.

Looking back as an adult, I can see how terribly anxious I was. I was afraid of everything. I was extremely quiet and easily overwhelmed. I never felt free to express myself. Once, in elementary school, I asked permission to go to the bathroom and was told to wait. I peed on the floor sitting right there at my desk. I was not a toddler; I was in third grade. I didn’t have a clue that I was carrying around a metric ton of stress. My anxiety needed an outlet somewhere.

I could not see myself. I was not self-aware; I couldnt evaluate my situation nor my own reaction to it. I didn’t know I was stressed.

I took whatever came my way. I was adjusting to living in Nana’s apartment, and to the idea of looking for an apartment for my mom and I, and my older sister, who was away at college most of time. Of starting next fall to a new school, still painfully shy, where I knew no one.

I was fine, I thought. What’s Nana talking about?

I Wonder

Here is a lovely rendition of this song by the amazing Voces8. This song asks a question and leaves its hearers to answer.

Collected by John Jacob Niles in Murphy, NC in July 1933 from a young traveling evangelist Annie Morgan. According to Niles, he asked her to sing the song repeatedly until he had memorized it. It was published in his 1934 Songs of the Hill-Folk. Written in a minor key, it’s qualities of pensiveness make it one of today’s most popular carols. — from Wikipedia

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I…
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I…
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

Jesus’ beginnings seemed humble. He was born in a barn, humble and unknown, but for the rare ones who were attuned to Almighty God’s announcement of His birth.

In the third stanza comes the point: If Jesus had wanted to command all the angels of heaven to sing, he could have done so, and the whole heavens-full must have obeyed.

He was The King.

Then the singer returns to wondering. I love that the singer challenges the hearers to answer the question for themselves!

Why would the King of the Universe have to die? Why did He do that?

How will you answer that question?

A Small Lesson from the History of Plundered Art

In The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and The Second World War, we read of the Nazis’ treatment of their most hated conquered peoples. Poland was not only occupied but deliberately humiliated. Treasured emblems of its Slavic history were gleefully destroyed in attempts to erase its culture and its history.

In contrast, French art, wine and culture was appropriated. Nazi officials upon occupation of Paris quickly morphed into the bon vivants of the café and erudite collectors of the gallery.

Yet the culture purveyors of France themselves fared hardly better than the Poles.

There is an important lesson here: the arts will not protect you.

Paris and Berlin between the wars had become the ultimate home of the the European intelligentsia, the cultural elites, movers and shakers. Wealthy old family cuture-guards lived in the most desired locations in the most fashionable streets, for the purpose of lives centered on the arts. They were art dealers and hunters, art collectors and worshippers.

Their families enjoyed all the perks and comforts to be had by the top teirs of society anywhere. Their lives were cushioned from harsh reality. These families marinated in the arts; their parlors were showplaces for cutting edge newcomers and favored collections. The finest artists of the day painted their portraits.

But for these elite Europeans who happened to be Jews, reality would harshly intrude. German soldiers would march into their parlors, steal their art, and take them away. Some were killed, some escaped capture and left their countries for good; none were restored to their homes or their fortunes.

Hitler’s personal favored project focused upon restoring all Germanic art to the Fatherland. Whole bureaus and dedicated units were tasked with systematically locating and repossessing each and every work which Hitler judged to be in less than worthy hands.

Art did not protect the European Jews who had reached the pinnacle of all that high culture meant. On the contrary, art made them showy and vulnerable targets.

The Way of Absolutes

Absolutes are not popular. We condemn extremism from all directions. Balance and compromise are more soothing.

But there is a context where absolutes are perfect.

I am comforted by absolutes. Where the language is all and every, no  and none, there is no doubt. It is the language of completeness.

There is no human being who cannot let you down, eventually. Even my most beloved have little power to make everything perfect for me. We do try, but we cannot be absolutely faithful to anyone.

Absolutes are the language of assurance. God’s love is absolute. Jesus was the perfect demonstration of God’s complete love in every second of his life, his death, and his resurrection.

This is one of my favorite passages.:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Here are a few more absolutes:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

See? No doubt, no shadow, no maybe. No quibbling or parsing. No worry.

What is your favorite “absolute” passage?