Angels Hark About the Place Year After Year…..Bothersome Bethlehem.

On a cold winter’s evening, on a bus bound for nowhere, I met up with a bishop, we were both too tired to eat. So we took turns a starin’ out the window at the darkness… That’s what happened when I drank an eggnog, felt the Christmas spirit, and decided to pen a country song. Apologies to Kenny Rogers, but my satirical lyrics really do describe how last February’s adventure to dinner began. Thaedra and I found ourselves with the United Methodist Kentucky bishop, his son and two exchange students in the private home of a Bethlehem family.

This particular bus happened to be heading south from our hotel near Old City Jerusalem toward the West Bank town of Bethlehem in Palestinian controlled territory. The areas are under completely separate governments: Jerusalem by the State of Israel; Bethlehem by the military force of Palestine. They are also separated by a $14 billion dollar wall. Liken it to the one between North & South Korea or the former Berlin Wall.

Our hostess, Therese, a veritable, Martha Stewart minus “Snoop,” grows lemons, dates and olives in the family garden on their property just outside the home’s lower level entry. I’m rather certain none of us had ever enjoyed truly homemade homegrown lemonade; genuine virgin olive oil (I’m talking first press of the olives) and eaten dates plucked from just out the window. My wife threatened to slap me under the table when I started to ask where they got the chicken (for the record, we didn’t see any running around outside). The lady even sent home with us an emptied wine bottle she’d filled with her freshly pressed olive oil…some of it still sits on our counter. This amazing family extended gracious hospitality to us. It was warm, sincere and they wanted to share their culture and Christian experience as a Greek Orthodox family living in a Muslim world.

Before dinner we stood on their terrace overlooking the landscape of the town; it was beautiful. In fact, almost like you’d expect the modern evolution of Christ’s birthplace to look: seemingly tranquil and peaceful.

Somewhere in the midst of the buildings rose the belfry of the Church of the Nativity…the venerated site of Christ’s birth. It’s grotto beneath the main church protects the place heralded to be the very spot God entered the world as a baby boy on a night, in a cave, among the stench of animal dung, to an unmarried mama who’s fiancé was planning to high-tail it out of there after the drama unfolded. But God had another plan. He usually does…and fortunately, for us, we usually don’t see it.

Who am I to question Christ’s birthplace and what it has become? Honestly, if He knew then His home country would be in an area suffering contentious fighting, then why didn’t He chose somewhere else? Many other “little towns” evolved into awesome places: like somewhere in Manhattan on 5th Avenue ….just down the street from Bergdorf-Goodman’s or something with a nice water view like Sausalito? Seriously, talk about a place just a few miles from Sonoma where Jesus could turn something into wine (wrong millennium…and how selfishly American of me).

The Bethlehem skyline is accentuated with these worshipful, architectural spires all over the place. Extremely bright green LED strength lights illuminate the tops. They’re impossible to miss. As a matter of fact, if you happened to be Captain Sully piloting a 737 over the area, you’d think: “Hey, I better hike this bad bird up a little or I’m going to hit something.” Then it hits you…literally shocks you when this shrill, piercing sound fills the air calling the Muslim citizenship to pray toward Mecca. It’s at this point we realized these green spires weren’t there for pretty, rather the spires reach toward heaven honoring Allah. We were, although in Bethlehem, in predominately Muslim Palestine.

Near the cradle of civilization, in the land of Ramadan, faiths intermix. Ram’s horns beckon Jews to worship not far from where Ramses the Great ruled. Bethlehem is not the fabled place we believe it to be. It hasn’t been still, peaceful and has not afforded much dreamless sleep since that Roman census saw a pregnant virgin girl arrive on donkey with her humiliated fiancé. Yet, back to his ancestral home, the place we sing of and the angels harked about in nearby Shepherd’s Field, they navigated.

To be a modern citizen in the Little Town of Bethlehem here means many things. To our host family it means:

  • Applying for government passes to go through the wall to Jerusalem just a few miles away once per year to shop: for furniture, for clothing, for “the better shops.” I equated what they shared with being able to go to Costco once a year.
  • Living with the CONSTANT threat of having the water supply cut off. It happens with extreme regularity. Jerusalem controls the water Bethlehem gets. Citizens make practice of collecting water; rain and municipal water, in cisterns so that when the supply is cut, people can continue to function until it is restored.
  • Working on the Israeli side of the separation wall means going to stand in line early… so early that they can literally “immigrate” legally to their places of employment daily. Returning home, I got the impression, is not as arduous a process.
  • Waiting until government authorities say you can go see the doctors on the Israeli side of the wall. The Jewish medical system is highly advanced and offers some of the best care available anywhere.

Thaedra asked Therese what it’s like to live blocks from where Jesus was born. She responded that it is an honor—almost unbelievable for a faithful Christian. I have to think Muslim passersby see Church of the Nativity as inconsequential, possibly unnoticed. The story from Bethlehem, 3A.D. is a lot like the story of Bethlehem 2018 A.D. (all you politically correct people can keep your c.e.). People not looking for a savior weren’t going to find Him; they still do not.

The gift and the question of Christmas is: “somewhere not far from here” in this holiest of lands Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?” As His followers we still have the ability to answer this question everyday. To imitate someone is to pay the highest compliment especially if imitating Christ is the focus.

This Christmas I propose an answer by action: Not to live as Victorian age prudes, not to be pious scripture spewing ne’er do wells and hypocrites, but to live reflecting a genuine light of love. Modern Christians are called to produce peaceful-quantifiable action motivated by concern for people and to exist as charitable servants among our fellow brothers using our gifts & resources within our respective spheres of influence to bless the people around us.

He selected this birthplace because over the millennia not much has really changed here. From Roman persecution of Biblical history to the modern tensions this region faces, God’s message resonates through the ages: Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men. Here in the heart of Bethlehem we are reminded “(E)ven the Son of man came not the be served, but to serve, to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).”

Christmas….it all started here.

(Therese has a master’s degree in nursing and works full time in a neonatal intensive care unit at the local hospital, her husband is a local tradesman and is learning English. Their twin high school age children were quite like American age teenagers. We were blessed to spend an evening in their home).

Equal Opportunity Offender: The Gun Control Economy

As my oldest son Alex would say as a toddler: “For you to know” this blog isn’t ultimately intended to express my political opinion and change minds. Alternatively, it hopefully expresses realities concerning market forces behind what happens with regulation. Honestly, I don’t have a dog in the fight. But watching the media is like watching an “adventure in missing the point.” Like you, I want our children to go to school and arrive home safely. Believe me…if I were to attempt to fire a double barrel shotgun, you’d better move the pick up and Google the number for the nearest SafeLite Autoglass installer because that windshield is going down!

Did you grow up in a neighborhood where kids played cowboys and Indians pretending to battle with bows, arrows and guns? Better yet, did you play Cops and Robbers in a more innocent time when police could effectively do their jobs without fear of nearly unlimited repercussion? “Bang, bang you are dead, brush your teeth and go to bed.” Not only is it now politically incorrect for kids to play this way, but it’s going to offend somebody that a Native American Indian is being injured and mocked.

It reads like a rewrite for lyrics from Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Sandy Hook, Vegas, Charleston, Parkland, Umpqua Community College, San Bernardino, Columbine, Pulse Night Club, Bataclan. They’re just a sampling of the the site of the worst of the the worst massacres by gunmen

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t use CNN as a resource; however, its online article dated 2/19/18 gives an excellent summary of (US) shootings that are, sadly, beginning to define our era and this generation. The URL to the article is included at the end.

A couple of disclaimers: (1) Second amendment rights remain vital to American’s ability to (protect) life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and (2) to quote a youth group friend of mine from years ago: “the proliferation of guns is an accelerant; (Trent: I agree)

Politicizing Gun Control— what happened to “family values?”

I sound like a broken record: something needs to be done. Gun control should not be a political issue; it is a humanity issue. But, like everything else Washington and the media politicize it for their selfish ratings-profits gains and get re-elected benefit. Rather than solutions we continue to get rhetoric.

Every single time one of these events occur the cycle repeats: Democrats call for gun control; Republicans defend second amendment rights. The media blow up with coverage. Finger pointing goes on: “(W)here’d he or they get the weapons? Guns don’t shoot people, people shoot people; How did the background check not catch this?; an 18 year old shouldn’t be able to purchase that kind of weapon at Wal-Mart; how’d that nutcase remain under the radar this long; why wasn’t the FBI notified?”

The truth is the answer to any one of OR all of those questions remain irrelevant after a life has been taken. What goes wrong in a human life so incredibly tragically wrong and horrible that makes him or her desire to take the lives of other people in highly notable and prolific ways?

Rather than rehash ad nauseam every detail of each potential cause, we know the ones people point to most frequently:

Substitute Parenting (video games / electronic devices): At the expense of sounding like Ward Clever, it’s true to note most families don’t sit down at a dinner table to connect with their children regularly. Youth are left to fend for themselves, grow up on their own, and figure things out…influencers, quite wrongly, by extraneous factors, where quality parenting and loving guidance once molded preceding generations ahead of them.

Virtual relationships (anything that replaces human touch, interaction and deepening one-on-one relationships; i.e., texting-social media): We Skype, FaceTime, Text, Snapchat, we everything else. What we do not nurture is interpersonal relationships any longer. Lack of connecting eye to eye, heart to heart, soul to soul has led to empty spirits and souls longing to be wanted and accepted. When they are not the consequences prove disastrous.

Bullying—piling on the bandwagon quickly. In A Christmas Story when the kids in the school yard fought it out, and that was it….move on. In Grease when Danny Zucko and “Pizza Face” raced for pinks in Greased Lightening it was actually healthy competition. The current generation has the ability to magnify “the fight” against enemies by employing social media, by screen shoting messages & photos, and creating quasi smear campaigns against kids.

We have nowhere for kids to safely express pent up aggression.

Instant Gratification— we live in an entitlement generation. I know two families both of whom experienced the death by suicide of their young teenage sons. During grief counseling last Fall for one group the lady proposed that the boy who suffered death at his hand was the person MOST surprised not to be among us. A similar concept must be true of the people who commit these atrocious killing sprees. There are some things that once they’re done cannot be undone.

The Government

The political right…or some of it…has suggested arming teachers. Is it just me or is that really rather stupid? Maybe some teachers, but all? I visualize my first grade teacher, Miss Boone, with a gun in her top drawer….whoa!

The political left calls for government intervention.

Where has government intervention substantively worked?

Almost every time it attempts to control markets, the potential for a black market arises. It may be crass, but simple economic principles will ALWAYS prevail. Where there is supply and where there is demand these dirty little X & Y axes are going to intersect. Consider, for example:

Marijuana: It is illegal to purchase it in my home state. Of course I live in the holy rolling Bible Belt state of North Carolina. Nonetheless, I could leave my home at this moment at drive you to any of 20 places within 20 minutes and purchase for you whatever amount of whacky weed (or if you live near the Arboretum heroin or meth) you want.

Prohibition: Charlotte and many cities in the southern U.S. are full of NASCAR fans. What a lot of people don’t know is how the highly profitable sport got it’s start. During the 30’s when the feds banned the production and sale of alcohol, bootleggers needed a way to distribute their good. Cars were souped up and engines turbo charged to be able to outrun law enforcement. This fascinating concept eventually evolved into NASCAR.

As interesting as that history may (or may not) be to you, the fact is that when alcohol was made illegal, people still found a way to produce it; drinkers found a way to obtain it. Had I been around I guarantee I would have had a spot in a local speakeasy…that culture had to be something to behold.

Prostitution: this one may make you uncomfortable, but it is, after all, the world’s oldest profession. I’ve known more than a few myself…umm…let me be clear….finding out after the fact they are in the business, my customers renting property from our property management business. Here’s the point: where there is demand for a service (or good in the case with firearms); then there will be supply. It’s crude and crass I know, but true, nonetheless. You cannot legislate morality. It does not work.

Pharmaceuticals: Who needs a doctor and Wal-Greens? Do you want prescription diet pills, Propecia, Viagara, you name it? A very simply Google search, a credit card and little trust that your shipment will get through Customs and you can be thin, hairy, and….well…you get the picture.

Abortion: Let’s just open up this little can of worms. Almost everyone has an opinion. Pro-life or Pro-Choice. Politicians typically promote their platforms and do not hesitate to share stances regarding this. You either support Planned Parenthood and want to see government funding or you don’t. You either support Roe v. Wade or you don’t. There is generally not a lot of common ground, rape, incest, life of the mother excepted. Throughout the history of human procreation regardless of what the law says women have been able to seek ways to “take care” of unwanted pregnancies.

Murder: now this one is going to be a shocker. All the way before Moses got the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai…it’s numero 6, I believe, it’s been morally wrong and civilly illegal to murder. All the way through now we have laws on the books that say murder is illegal. Big regulation from the Supreme Law maker: Thou Shall Not Kill!

Gun Laws: Codified gun laws exist. Take the training class, endure the waiting period, pass the background check, etc. Guess what? Just like the weed mentioned or the booze decades ago if you want it, then you can go out your door and buy it…completely usurping the domestic law.

Usurping the law. Now there’s an interesting concept. What makes anyone think a person resolute on killing is going to be law abiding. Forget mental instability, forget demographic profiling, forget any box into which we try to force a person when we all, after the fact, attempt to explain and rationalize the most tragic “mass shooting.”

It boils down to this: If a person wants to hurt people, then he or she is going to hurt people. The weapon is not the killer; the weapon is the tool. Disagree?

  • Ask the people of Nice, France;
  • Ask the people of the Middle East who live in fear of car bombs;
  • Ask the people who survived the nut case who drove into the crowds in Times Square;
  • Ask the victims’ families from last week’s FedEx attack.
  • Ask the victims of the Boston Marathon bomb from several years ago;
  • Ask the survivors of the Twin Towers at 911;
  • Ask the family of the homosexual soldier who was murdered by being beaten to death on the streets of Wilmington NC outside of a nightclub (c. 1990);
  • Ask the people who witnessed cars attempting to run them down on Tower Bridge in London; ask commuters on The Tube;
  • Ask…



there are so many I couldn’t begin to name them all.

In none of these cases were guns involved. In all of these cases existed evil and the intent to kill.

The world we occupy is frightening.

Back at you Kevin

Maybe the answer is we as Americans and human beings stop the decay of our societal foundation. The second week in February I posted a response to one of my best buddy, Kevin’s post on FaceBook (I’ve got his link at the end as well—worth the read). I still believe today the long term answer lies somewhere in this:

Rights need to be preserved, entitlement needs be harnessed and curtailed, and people (parents) have got to resume responsible parenting. Media is the Anti-Christ regardless of who is in office. Why the *&%$ do people listen to anything these people say (and I could have said the same thing during the Carter-Clinton-Obama administrations). Guns don’t shoot themselves, news stories don’t broadcast themselves, and presidents don’t elect themselves. WE have empowered everything to be in the status quo we endure presently. A killer will kill if that’s the intended desire (Nice, France; Tower Bridge in London; 911; Times Square New York—-and I just happen to be responding to you from the car bomb center of the universe: the Middle East. I went through 4 security checks & borders patrol crossings <machine gun militia> just TODAY so that we could tour holy sites and say prayers (note: Thaedra and I had ridden in and out of the separation wall between Israel and Palestine twice that particular day getting to and from Bethlehem / Jerusalem).

Gun control doesn’t stop a black market (look at the drug problem). What will make a difference, as you suggest, is when people care about something bigger than themselves: the future, our children; and families as God intended them to be. I’m proud you took the time to author this. You’re hopefully showing a lot of people how to be part of the solution. Thanks, Kevin!”


Consider this incredibly poignant fact: there are more firearms in the United States than there are citizens. (I would cite sources, but there is much discrepancy regarding the numbers. I considered many that counted only the guns manufactured and sold since records have been kept; this completely discounts the tens of millions prior to that time).

Write every law imaginable, but how do written words remove more than

320,000,000; that’s three hundred twenty million guns from our streets?

Florida has taken steps to increase the age from 18 to 21 to purchase a weapon, it makes sense to vet persons through background checks, increase waiting periods and data bases if you want to, conceal-carry permits are great: those measures regulate only law abiding citizens.

We All Help Support Part of the Problem Sometimes

Dismantle the Hollywood elite and music industry that influences our culture with extremely violent film making they call “art” by their profession, and then use personal fame platforms to call for gun control (it is potentially the most two faced thing in modern history….I have absolutely zero respect for most entertainment elite).

November 2012: I picked up my wife and several friends up from the Madonna concert in Charlotte. Only months before (July 2012) a nutcase shot ruthlessly into the crowd in Aurora, Colorado. The United States and the world experienced “shock and awe” that this could happen. As Thaedra and the other ladies climbed into my car they were laughing and commenting and talking about the show, but the one thing I’ll never forget is how they commented about Madonna’s use of stage props in her show…just about the entire show…she theatrically shot faux machine guns toward the audience throughout the show. One of the most politically liberal, anti-gun, vocal entertainers of our age “shot” a mixed message that evening…she typically does (remember—-she’s the one who’s thought so much about blowing up the White House). Yes, we bought that concert ticket…and supported Madonna’s behaviors <for the very last time may I add>)

I close with this Madonna story to say… in the United States we live and die by the market economic forces we drive by consumer decisions (even those that transpire in the black market).

What decisions can we make to positively impact the next generation?