Kipling on Books

Kipling once wrote, “If we pay no attention to words whatever, we may become like the isolated gentleman who invents a new perpetual-motion machine on old lines in ignorance of all previous plans, and then is surprised that it doesn’t work. If we confine our attention entirely to the slang of the day-that is to say, if we devote ourselves exclusively to modern literature-we get to think the world is progressing when it is only repeating itself. It is only when one reads what men wrote long ago that one realizes how absolutely modern the best of the old things are.”

Some older books I have thoroughly enjoyed:

The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
1984, by George Orwell
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck
The Stranger, by Albert Camus
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote
The World According to Garp, by John Irving
Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh
The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck
The Magus, by John Fowles

Rowers on the Schuykill

Let us be early medieval or late Renaissance,
spike-featured Norman Christ
or bone-faced Dureresque peasant,
skeleton staining the flesh.

Let us descend the granite steps
and gather at at the river’s edge
for today is an Eakin’s day on the Schuykill:
boat races, festive crowds, spontaneous celebration.
See the strong young men lift their sculls
from the racks and carry them overhead
like slender varnished beetles
to the murky and opaque waterway.
See the girls sleek and oiled cheer them on,
the losers as well as the winners.
See the geese that summer and winter here
spring up over the island. See them sport
with one another in raucous feathery
gaggles and announce to the daily horde
the absence of human frailty.

For all seems well under the cutting sun:
Joan of Arc is heroically bronzed
though even she cannot halt traffic along the drive
and Mad Anthony Wayne rears on his horse
with the famed golden testicles.
How miraculous we seem to ourselves on this fair mountain
as cyclists weave round us, in and out
of joggers and skater and strawberry mansions.

There is more: deep in the earth
an orchestra plays something lush,
romantic, called back and tempered
by the limping Hungarian.
And there on the bank I see
an old black man-
fishing for catfish, stepped from a genre painting.

But remember, we have come to watch the boat races-
the crews in their sculls on the Schuykill,
2-man, 4-man, 8-man and coxswain,
barking his rubbery lips stretched
over a frightening oracular beak:
Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!
And the coach puttering around
effortlessly in his motor boat,
looping lazy figure-eights about them
as they rain sweat, snap ligaments, and groan.
But this is only practice,
the race is soon to run.
Only then will these young oarsmen show
an old and tired Charon the ropes-
how to run his ferry faster
on this one of many rivers,
stroke by stroke by stroke.

By Leonard Kress (1987)
From the anthology Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania


“I Need to Get High”

I stopped at my local Christian bookstore this evening to say hello. The owner knows I am a Christian in recovery and that I am preparing for a career as an addictions counselor, so she handed me a photocopy of “I Need to Get High,” by an anonymous drug addict. I find it to be sad, haunting, and very revealing. As you read it, think of how easy it can be for a loved one to enable the addict. The two become enmeshed.

I am not your child or spouse or friend. I’ve changed. I don’t belong to you anymore. I don’t care about you. Not in the way you want me to. I care only about getting high. I want to get high. I will do anything to get high. I love getting high. I need to get high, and I will step over you to do it. When I look at you, I don’t see you. I see a means to an end. You have money. I want it. End of story. I don’t care if you can’t pay the rent. I don’t care if you need groceries. I don’t care if you promised you wouldn’t give me money again. I don’t care if you lie to Dad. I don’t care if you’re broke. Sell your rings, take a loan, sell your electronics, max out your credit cards, borrow the money from someone else. If you don’t, I will steal it. I will find a way to get high.

You think you can change me or save me. You are wrong! Something cold and dead slithers within me. I no longer respond to love or truth. You can cry all you want. I don’t care. I have no integrity or values. My morals are a thing of the past. I will say anything, do anything, and hurt anyone to get my next fix. Although I may play the game with you, make no mistake. I don’t play it because I love you. I play it because I want my dope. I will say whatever you want to hear. I will promise you the world. I will look you in the eye and I will break your heart. Over and over again. I don’t have a heart anymore.

I have a hunger. It’s calculating and manipulative, and it owns me. In a strange way I am thankful for this hunger, because when I feel it coming on I find you quick. Then, when I’ve gotten what I want from you, I leave. You’re anxious without me. You offer to buy my food and pay my rent. I can’t stay sick without you. You can’t breathe without me. You think you’re helping me. You believe you’re making a difference, but what you’re really helping is my addiction.

I won’t tell you this, but you know it deep down. If we keep going like this, one or both of us will die; me from an overdose which you paid for, and you from a heart attack or stroke. You’ll wait years for me to change, or, you’ll see the light, and I will take full advantage of this for as long as possible. You keep my secrets and protect my lies. You clean up my messes and bail me out. You love me to the exclusion of everyone else. You are bitter and resentful. You hide from your friends and isolate. You hate. Your world revolves around one thing only. Me.

But will your love ever become greater than your fear? Will you be strong enough to reach out for help? Will you learn to say no? Will you allow me to experience the consequences of my actions? Will you love me enough to feel your own discomfort and stop enabling my addiction? I lay trapped within the confines of this cold, dark addiction, and I am dying.

Monarch Butterfly

I unwittingly published this post before final editing. I should know better. Here is the final draft. I hope you enjoy it. I had fun writing it.

The Accidental Poet

I am a Monarch Butterfly. I was a mere larvae a few days ago. Just hatched from my chrysalis this morning. I looked up toward the tree top and started climbing.
I climbed and climbed, finally reaching the top of the giant tree.
The sunlight was bright and overwhelming.

When I first saw the others, there were more than a dozen, and my enthusiasm grew with their numbers. It took a few minutes to realize the extent of what I was seeing. One hundred of my fellow cousins fluttering against a blue sky, wing tips touching. Simply breathtaking.

Seeing one million Monarchs swerving and soaring above me,
Realizing there were more in the trees waiting for the right moment
to open their wings and join us,
Felt like nothing short of a miracle.

I looked below as a woman cocked her head to the sky, cupping her hands
behind her…

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The Forgiveness and Compassion Exercise

In addition to completing my undergraduate degree in Psychology online at Colorado Christian University, I am also working diligently to prepare myself for work as an addictions counselor. Part of that work includes increasing my acceptance of others, increasing my level of compassion, and improving my spiritual condition. That also includes letting go of hurts, disappointments and offenses.

I picked up a photocopy today of something called The Forgiveness and Compassion Exercise by Harry Palmer. This exercise can be done with someone in mind whom you resent, or for anyone anywhere. It should be done in a way where no one notices.

Try to do all five steps (listed below) on the same person. Concentrate on that person and repeat each of the following to yourself:

  1. Just like me, this person is seeking some happiness in their life.
  2. Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in their life.
  3. Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.
  4. Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfill their needs.
  5. Just like me, this person is learning about life.

Substance Abuse Concerns: Heroin and Prescription Drug Use on the Rise Among Teens

Curriculum Review,  Jan. 2016, Vol. 55 Issue 5, p6-7. 2p.

It seems as though some teenagers have always dabbled in drugs, but with increasing access to dangerous prescription opioids and cheap heroin, the problem is especially acute. For some students, drug experimentation will lead to addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), after marijuana and alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter drugs are the most commonly abused drugs for Americans aged 14 years and older. In 2012, nearly 20 percent of American 12th graders said they had abused prescription pills at some point in their lives.

NIDA reports that heroin use has been rising since 2007. Though use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders is at less than one percent, NIDA emphasizes that heroin use is reported as the biggest drug abuse issue in rural and urban areas. The rate of teens using heroin soared by 80 percent between 1999 and 2009. Twenty-three percent of those who try heroin will become addicted. The New York Times collected statistics about the heroin epidemic that has garnering attention from concerned citizens, politicians, and the media. There has been a 39% increase in heroin related deaths from 2012 to 2013. Ninety percent of first-time users are white. Increasing numbers of first-time users are middle or upper class. Seventy-five percent of heroin users used prescription painkillers before using heroin, with 40 percent of those individuals abusing opioid painkillers.

NIDA has found that some teenagers start taking heroin because it is much cheaper than prescription pills. Serious health problems involved with heroin include infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis, collapsed veins and infection of the heart lining and valves, death by overdose, and liver and kidney disease. Signs that a teen could be addicted to heroin include acting slow and sedated, then intensely hyperactive, extreme sleepiness, cold and clammy skin, runny nose, pin-sized pupils, disinterest in extracurricular activities and academics, inattention to cleanliness, nausea, unexplained changes in friends, hangouts, and hobbies, weight loss, and an inability to pay attention or problem solve.

Drug overdoses cause more deaths every day than car accidents. Forty-four people per day die of opioid medication overdose. Approximately 1,600 teens begin abusing prescription drugs each day. Children and teens age 1 2 to 1 7 abuse prescription pills more than ecstasy, heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamines combined. Twenty percent of teens who abuse prescription pills did so before they turned 14. These statistics are obviously very alarming.

Does Your Life Reflect What You Say You Believe?

Many of us call ourselves Christians (which by definition means “Christ followers”). Sometimes, when we honestly evaluate our relationship with Jesus, we realize we are not following Him. We are more like “fans” than followers. Though I believe in the assurance of our salvation, I also believe that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Phil. 2:12) When it comes to where we will spend eternity, we can’t be afraid to ask the hard questions and take an honest look at the answers that our lives offer. Is it possible that when asked, “Are you a follower of Jesus?” you quickly respond, “Yes,” only to be exposed as nothing more than a fan on that final day when we face the Lord.

Many people take the wrong road in life. Only few find the narrow path. If that’s true, then wouldn’t it make sense for us to slow down? Shouldn’t we hit the brakes, pull over to the side, and make sure that we are on the road that leads to life? This teaching of Jesus is the conclusion of his sermon known as “The Sermon on the Mount,” which is a message about raising the bar of the commitment for those who would follow Him. It’s a narrow road, but it’s a road that leads to life.

I can’t help but wonder if it’s possible to think we’re on the narrow road when we’re actually on the broad road. What if we’ve set the cruise control, turned up the volume on our favorite Christian radio station, and are traveling down the road of destruction with a Jesus fish on our bumper and a small wooden cross hanging from the rear view mirror. Perhaps we should slow down and look at some of the signs and ask ourselves what road we’re on. Is it possible that we can be wrong about being right with God?

Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

It would not have surprised me if Jesus said a few will stand before God on judgment day convinced that everything is fine only to find out otherwise. But He doesn’t say few. He doesn’t say some, He says many. Many who assumed they were on the path to heaven will find out that heaven is not their destination. I know this sounds harsh, but it is an extremely important matter.

So, does your life reflect what you say you believe? For many Christians the concept of denying themselves was not considered part of the deal. They grew up with the message that such a radical decision really isn’t necessary. So they signed up to follow Jesus, but if denying themselves was part of  following the Lord it was definitely in the fine print. This seems especially true of Christians in the United States. I might get some negative feedback for this, but I believe it has a lot to do with the collision of  Christianity with American capitalism.

Many churches have become companies that measure success by the number of customers they have attracted. And how do we get more customers? By trying to make the customers feel comfortable, important and happy. We want the product (in this case following Jesus) to come off as appealing and as comfortable as possible. So when someone comes in “church shopping,” we try to show them what we have to offer. This actually undermines the invitation of Jesus to deny ourselves. The church sends the message, “Whatever you want you can get it here.” The invitation of Jesus is, “Give up everything.” The message of the church sounds less like “Deny yourself,” and more like Burger King’s slogan, “Have it your way.” This is what creates a church full of raving fans, but not many followers.

The obvious superstar in the so-called prosperity Gospel is Joel Osteen. As of 2012, Osteen’s net worth was reportedly $56,508,500. He lives with his family in a $10,500,000 home. He tells his congregation that God is a loving and giving God who rewards believers with wealth and happiness. It’s the centerpiece of all of his sermons. Osteen says he chooses to focus more on the goodness of God and on living an obedient life rather than on sin. He says that he tries to teach Biblical principles in a simple way, emphasizing the power of love and a positive attitude. This sounds a lot like do good things and God will reward you. During an interview on Larry King Live, Osteen said, “I don’t come at it from a theological point of view, and I think that’s part of my success in that I’m not trying to just explain Scriptures.” Osteen said a lot of what he teaches is simply how to live a great life. He avoids Scriptures like Romans 6:23, which says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Many Christians are being deceived today by charismatic and theatrical preaching because it tickles the ear and satisfies their desire to be entertained. They don’t want to be corrected, admonished, or be told they are living a life of sin. If your pastor relies on theatrics, philosophical illustrations, or the Holy Spirit to “fall” during service to the point where he can’t even preach because the glory is so heavy, then he is not preaching or teaching. Rather, he is entertaining his congregation. Many people are deceived by the easy going and welcoming demeanor of Rick Warren and Joel Osteen. These guys barely ruffle a feather when they preach, but they sure do reel you in by motivating you to live your best life now or to be driven by your purpose. They often quote a Bible verse to use as a basis for promoting their personal philosophy.

Motivational speakers need to have personal charisma. They typically have huge egos. Biblical preachers should be humble in order to be anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit. They are a conduit through which God delivers His message. Charisma influences emotions in the direction of self-actualization. The Holy Spirit influences the soul in the direction of godliness. Biblical preaching lifts up Jesus Christ. Motivational speaking tends to exalt man’s ability to fix his own issues. Biblical preaching proclaims the Gospel message of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. It talks about salvation. It does not steer the congregation away from the existence of Hell. We must repent. Turn away from our former sin-filled life. We are sanctified by the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. This is something I never hear Osteen talk about in his sermons or in his books. Motivational speaking might tack on the sinner’s prayer at the end of a how-to message, but that’s as close as they get. They display no real evidence that they are followers of Christ. Quite the opposite, they are marketing Jesus for profit. Osteen’s church averages $32 million in tithes every year.

Self-esteem is sought by those who have not yet “died to self” and risen to live for Christ. Healthy believers, on the other hand, hunger for God’s Word like a baby hungers for food. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2,3) Jesus never seeks to build up a person’s self-esteem. That is a dead end street as far as God is concerned. Paul said it best in Galatians 2:20, which states, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” That experience is a far cry from a life of self-esteem that needs to be constantly propped up by a motivational speaker. Such a person needs constant validation and ego stroking.

As humans, we tend to attribute worldly success, good works, ministry size, popularity, and number of followers with godly success. Therefore, the bigger the church, the more popular or successful a preacher, the more success we think a person or organization has. We even credit these successes to God’s blessings. This is particularly true with Osteen, who repeatedly tells his congregation that God wants to bless them richly. But worldly success, good works, the size of your church building, or even a large number of followers, is not necessarily the measure of godly success. A person can have all these, yet not be godly. This is what creates a church full of raving fans, but not many followers. Christ tells us to follow Him. Serve Him. Be His hands. Minister to His children from the Word of God. Only when a pastor does this can members of his congregation become true followers of Christ.