Thursday, September 24, 2015


(February 1985)

While cleaning out my old files, I discovered this little paper that I had written over 30 years ago for a class I was taking.  Though the numbers and a few details have changed, I can't say my thoughts are much different today.  So I'm posting it as written.

(P.S.  I received an A-.)

An article in Parade Magazine caught my eye last week.  It was titled "A World Without Disease."  The article told us to "imagine a new world, a world in which disease no longer kills or maims, ... (where) there is ample food to feed all people because crops also resist disease."  It promised that this is no science fiction tale and that we are on our way to this because of the marvelous new science of genetic engineering.

We've all read stuff like this before, haven't we?  Is it possible?  Or is this somebody's utopian dream, a sugar pill for the problems of the world?  I believe that it is just a dream, impossible of fulfilling.  Not only that, but setting our hopes on a world without suffering through science may divert us from making real efforts to alleviate suffering in the world.

There are moral problems with this idea.  I'm not speaking of ethical implications of tampering with human life; I'm speaking of the moral implications of rich versus poor, of developed nations versus undeveloped.  The majority of funds spent on research in this area is being spent in the western world.  Cures are being found through genetic engineering and other research, people are being relieved from suffering, but who are these people?  Their number mainly includes those of the upper and middle classes of the richer nations.  Do we have any indication that their number will ever include those of the lower classes of the world - those who are really suffering?

The sheer mathematics of world population growth belies the idea that one day we will have cured the ills of the whole world.  The population of this planet now stands somewhere between 4.75 and 5 billion.  The World Bank estimates that by the year 2025, forty years from now, world population will be somewhere near 8.3 billion, almost double today's figure.  The greater number of these is, and will be, found in the under- developed nations.  Do we really believe that we will be able to cure the ills of all these?  We are unable even to feed them.  The images of starving Ethiopian children staring at us from our TV screens during the evening news are a reminder of that fact.  Can we cure their diseases without first relieving them of starvation?

Another problem with the elimination of disease in the world is the problem of administration.  Who is capable of initiating and carrying through a disease control program in any of the underdeveloped nations of the world?  Corrupt and inept govern-ments in many nations do not desire that larger nations dictate the use of foreign aid.  Who is going to convince them that they need to eliminate disease?

There have been successes in disease control in the underdeveloped nations.  A recent report on 20/20 centered on a medical team in Bangladesh which had virtually eliminated cholera deaths in a certain region at a cost of only a few cents per person.  Their problem, however, was that even for its low cost there were not enough funds available, though funds are being invested in medical research elsewhere.

Shall we then discontinue medical research and spend all our time, money and effort on other matters?  I'm not saying that.  I have a grandson with a congenital defect.  He would not be alive today if it were not for medical discoveries made in the recent past.  I hope too that someday a cure for his illness will be discovered.  Genetic research and engineering does hold promise.  But there are others with the same and other defects who will never be cured.  There ought to be a balance between the enormous amount spend on medical research for the few, and the relatively small amount spent on helping the many.

We are a rich nation.  Perhaps we can eliminate disease here.  But what about the rest of the world?  Are we to ignore their need?  Does our hope for the future only include ourselves?  Maybe we cannot find a solution for all the world's ills, but that does not mean that we ought not to put more money and effort into relieving the suffering of as many as we can.  The Bible says, "The poor will never cease to be in the land."  To let utopian thinking cause us to forget that, will also cause us to forget what follows, "You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to the needy and poor in the land" (Deuteronomy 15:11).  The great danger of false utopias is that we do not make an effort to relieve the sufferings of the poor in the world.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


In July Uni and I attended the 60 year reunion of my High School Class of 1955.  It was different than previous reunions - a bit slower and with a few more serious moments and a lot fewer in attendance.

A few weeks earlier I had been called by Shirley, one of the "girls" who were in charge of the festivities and asked if I would give the invocation.  I told her that I'd be honored to, but I wanted her to know that I'd be praying in Jesus' Name, as that's the only way I pray.  She said that would be fine.

Usually when I'm asked to pray at a public occasion I pray extemporaneously - off the cuff - though I usually give the prayer some thought beforehand.  However, Shirley and I had quite a lengthy phone conversation beforehand, so I knew that this occasion would be different than any other.  Many of my classmates had passed away in the five years since the previous reunion; most of those of us who are left are not as healthy physically, emotionally and memory wise.  So this prayer would not be just me in communication with God.  I would need to attempt to express some of the feelings and desires of all of us.  So I spend many hours writing out my thoughts and rewriting them.

At the Saturday evening dinner/dance, we sat with two of my classmates I had known since grade school, and their spouses.

My class has a reunion every five years and with each gathering our number decreases.  Many have passed on.  Many are unable to attend for health and other reasons.  And yet each gathering seems more open and intimate.  As someone observed, there are no more cliques.  We are no longer jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, wallpapers.  We're more and more like family.  We're glad to see each other.  Maybe it's simply that we are survivors.

Anyway, when it came time for me to pray I gave a brief introduction and then read the prayer that I had typed out, of course with ad-lib remarks.  The following is my introduction and prayer as I recall it:

We're told in the 90th Psalm that:  "As for the days of our life, they contain 70 years; Or if due to strength 80 years ..."  (Psalm 90:10a)  All of us here have passed that 70 year mark and we are now in what we might refer to as our extended warranty.

Heavenly Father:  We grieve for those classmates who are no longer with us, who have passed on.  We pray for the spouses and families of those who have passed - for comfort and for the assurance of seeing their loved ones again.  We recognize too that our time for joining them is drawing nearer.

But Father, we thank you for those who are still here, for those who have gathered here - to renew old acquaintances and friendships, to retell tales of our high school adventures and misadventures, to get caught up with what's been happening in our classmates' lives over the past 60 years.  We thank you especially for those who have worked hard to make all the arrangements for this affair.

Tonight we'll be doing a lot of comparing - weight gains and losses, wrinkles, hair loss, aches, pains and illnesses, the latest meds.  Help us not to be proud or ashamed of our physical condition.  Forgive us if we are.

And we thank you Father that you love us.  We thank you most of all that you loved us enough that you sent your Son to die for us. We thank you too that you approve of our having a good time with old friends.  When your Son Jesus was on earth, he seemed to enjoy eating and drinking.  He even provided wine for a wedding!  We might even imagine Him here with us, digging into a good meal and enjoying a drink or two.  Perhaps we can even imagine Him putting in a few rounds on the dance floor.

So we ask you Heavenly Father, to bless this party.  For some this may be our last.  Bless the food, the drinks and the fellowship.  We pray that all we do and say here would be pleasing to you.

We pray in the name of your Son Jesus, our Savior.  Amen

Later a few people commented on the prayer and/or thanked me for it.  One comment I really loved was, "It was like you were inviting Jesus to join the party."  I guess I was.

We ate, had a few drinks and Uni and I danced a bit.  Most of the dances were slower than at previous reunions, though I did do The Twist with Diane (or was it Joanne; I still can't tell those twin sisters apart).  Dancing was supposed to be till 11, but when the one-man band came back from his 10 o'clock break, most of us were gone.

The next day was our picnic.  Few showed up.  Guess it was just too much excitement.

We're looking forward to Uni's reunion next summer - class of '56, same High School!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


There was this white, red-state Christian going down from Oklahoma City to Dallas.  And he was pulled over by robbers who beat him up, stole his car and left him half dead along the side of the freeway.

Now along came a presidential candidate, who when he saw him, stopped his car, got out, made a speech about the need for stronger penalties for criminals, then got back in his car and went on down the freeway.

Then along came a televangelist who saw him, stopped his car, got out preached a sermon on the need for seed faith to be healed, then got back in his car and went on down the freeway.

But then a gay, black, Muslim, undocumented alien came up to him, stopped, felt compassion, got out of his pickup, gave him first aid, put him in his pickup and took him to the ER where he forked over 2 days' wages to get him taken care of, promising to settle in full when he returned.

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the guy who got mugged?  Luke 10:30-36 (Bill's Loose Paraphrase).

Monday, July 6, 2015


The following incident occurred 15 or so years ago when I taught at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston.  CBS is a college that was originally founded to give Biblical and Theological training to African-American ministers and other leaders in the black community.  Though it has diversified since its beginnings, the majority of its students is still African-American, though ironically many of the faculty and most of its wealthy supporters are white.  (While my memory may have failed me on some of the details, I believe the story is basically accurate.

Anyway, I'm sitting having coffee with 3 or 4 students; I'm the only white guy at the table.

One of the students cheerfully informs us, "They asked me to give my testimony at the fund-raising banquet."

"Wow, that's great!" replies another.  "What you goin' to tell?"

"I'm goin' to tell how the Lord saved me and I'm goin' to tell about how this school has been such a help in my spiritual growth."

"Make sure you tell 'em about the drugs," says another, older student.  Smirks appear on the other faces (including mine).

"Drugs?" says the first.

"Yeah," says the other.  "You got to tell them how you were saved from drugs."  The smirks turn to grins.

"But I ain't never done drugs!" was the indignant reply.

"Look" says his self-appointed coach.  "That don't make no difference!  There's two things them rich white folks want to know about us black folks.  First, that we been saved from drugs, 'cause we all are on drugs!  And the other thing they want to know is that we ain't goin' after their daughters!"

Well, this white guy almost choked with laughter, as did the others at the table, except for the deflated young testifier.  However, later as I pondered the conversation I'd heard I was deeply saddened at how true the "coach's" insights were.  For quite some time I had recognized the truth of what was so cynically expressed, though I was hesitant to admit it.

On a previous post, AMERICA IN DENIAL, I spoke of the racism that permeates not only our white American culture, but also the church.  I spoke of how we all can find ourselves somewhere on a continuum of racism.  I spoke of our need as the church for repentance, not only of the racism within us but also of its accompanying twin: denial.  I mentioned some of our trite ways of excusing ourselves.  After posting this I learned of some new ways, not only of denying one's personal racism, but of denying that racism even exists.

In my own experience I have found some of the most ludicrous denials of racism coming from those who are most involved in ministry across racial lines.  I am speaking as one who has spent many years attempting to cross racial barriers, as one who has sought to bring about what used to be known as "racial reconciliation."  After all, we might say, aren't we white people the ones who are making an effort to cross these lines?  To "minister" to these people in their need - for the Gospel, for education, for whatever else?  Yes, but what is our motive for this service?  Does our service reinforce our feelings of racial superiority?  After all, aren't we the ones with something better to give?

I have heard my white co-workers, my white fellow ministers making of-the-cuff racist remarks or using racial stereotypes, often unwittingly.  And I suppose that I have been guilty of the same.  I have also heard those of other races express their distrust of white people, as the above episode illustrates.  Is our racism more obvious to those to whom we minister than it is to us?

As I said before, I am pessimistic of any real change in America's situation.  Though we must continue to work for social justice and racial reconciliation, we must also recognize this fact. However, we as the church, we who claim allegiance to Christ need to rise above the racism of America.  If there is to be change, it must begin with us.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves some pointed questions:
-- Do we really believe that Christ died to reconcile us to God and to our fellow human beings?
-- Do we really believe that in Christ "there is neither Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free" (Colossians 3:11), that "there is no Jew or Greek, there is no male or female" (Galatians 3:28)? How about black and white?
-- Do we really believe that we have an obligation to love our neighbor as ourselves?
-- Do we really believe that Jesus commanded us to make disciples of ALL the nations?

This is not and should not be a matter of political preference or regional upbringing.  This is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

The Second Person of the Trinity stepped outside the comfort zone of Heaven to become one of us.  If I may say, He crossed racial barriers to become one with those who were his enemies.

The Apostle Paul apparently felt that as a follower of Jesus, he needed to cross those barriers as his Lord had done. "For though I am free from all, I made myself a servant to all that I might win the more ... I have become all things to all that I might same some" (1 Corinthians 9:19, 22a).  He lists those he has "become as".

Are we willing to confess our racial pride and fears and become a "servant of all" even of those who are different, who may be suspicious of us, even hate us?