Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Corrupted Data

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 25, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I rode the elevator down to the motel lobby and walked into the breakfast area. The few options on the breakfast bar were mainly mediocre-tasting carbs. I tried to make a meal even though the selections were minimal. I was heading to the airport and wanted to avoid the overpriced food there. As I was eating, I looked at the television on the wall. The morning news was playing with the sound muted. The headline on the bottom of the screen read, "FAA Grounds All Flights From Taking Off."

I almost choked on my cereal as I read the headline. We were supposed to be at DFW for our flight to Portland in an hour. "What is going on," I thought. I took out my phone to see what I could find out and soon learned that there was an outage of an FAA computer system that sends safety notices to pilots. The outage triggered the FAA to halt all US departing flights. As I read further, I found that the FAA planned to resume flights in about an hour. I checked with American Airlines, and it showed that our flight was still on schedule. Maybe this would still work out okay, but I felt anxious as we headed to the airport.

After going through the TSA checkpoint with only a minor delay, the TSA agent couldn't tell what our selfie stick was on his x-ray screen; we made our way to our gate. We learned that the airline had delayed our flight for one hour. "That's not too bad," I thought, "I feared it might be longer." We contacted our family in Portland, that was going to pick us up at the airport, to let them know of the delay.

When it was five minutes from the new boarding time, and passengers were beginning to line up to board the plane, the information screen at the gate flashed a new departure time. Everyone sat back down to wait for the new time. Two more times, the airline pushed the departure time forward at the last minute. Each time we contacted our family in Portland with the updated information. Finally, after a couple of hours, the boarding time came, and the information screen didn't change. In a few minutes, the airline employees announced that it was time to board the plane. We were finally able to board the plane and find our seats. In a few minutes, we were in the air, headed for Portland.

That evening, I was curious about the cause and severity of the nationwide stoppage of all plane departures. As I read, I learned that over 10,000 flights were delayed and over 1,300 canceled in the first national grounding of flights since 9/11. I felt fortunate that even though we had to wait several hours, we still made it to our destination the same day. Our trip to the Oregon coast the following day was not affected.

The computer failure that led the FAA to halt all US flight departures was caused when a data file was damaged. According to a Fortune article, "unspecified personnel" were responsible for corrupting the file, which led to the outage of an FAA computer system that sends safety notices to pilots, the agency said in a statement. That triggered the FAA to order a halt to all US departing flights, causing thousands of delays and cancellations Wednesday.

The preliminary indications are that two people working for a contractor introduced errors into the core data used on the system known as Notice to Air Missions, or Notam, according to a person familiar with the FAA review. A complete shutdown was required to restore the system, leading the FAA to halt all flight departures for roughly 90 minutes Wednesday morning."

As I read about the computer shutdown required to repair the issues caused by corrupted data, I thought about how much data we consume and dispense daily. When we receive corrupted data, it affects our actions and decisions. All too often, we disseminate corrupted data. Sometimes it is accidental, but many times it is intentional.

It seems to me that lying has become acceptable in our culture. Every day, newscasters put their spin on stories; adults cheat on their spouses or income tax forms; students cheat in school. Many people tolerate or even applaud lying if it benefits them or their agenda. As our culture has accepted lying, so have many Christians. I have felt the sting of fellow Christians spreading lies about me. But God has made it very clear how he feels about lying. In Psalm 34:13 (NLT), the Bible tells us to "keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies!" And in Proverbs 12:22 (NLT), we read, "the Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth."

Proverbs 19:5 (VOICE) teaches us, "A false witness will not escape punishment, and one who breathes lies will not go free." Knowing this, it is incredible that we, as Christians, would continue to lie and promote lies. It seems that we don't only lie but dismiss it as if it was not a sin at all. 

Lies are like masks we wear to conceal the inside, and we all do it! Sometimes we think that it is to our advantage to lie. But we all have been a victim of deception, fooled by other people's lies. We don't like it when others deceive us. We live in a distorted world where we lie to others, and they lie to us. But what can we do about it?

To begin with, be honest. Stop deceiving yourself and others. Lies will make you feel good for a moment but, eventually, become a heavy burden. And be careful about the information that you choose to pass on. Are you sure that the juicy story you heard about your neighbor is true? Is the social media post that you are sharing factual? Remember, "liars take no pity on those they crush with their lies, and flattery spoils everyone it touches." Proverbs 26:28 (VOICE)

Gentle Reader, let's make sure we are not disseminating corrupted data. Sometimes that corrupt data can have widespread consequences. We need to listen to the advice of the Apostle Paul; "stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body." Ephesians 4:25 (NLT)

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Tide Rises. the Tide Falls

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 18, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

As soon as we parked the car in the condo parking lot, I got out and headed down the path to the beach access. Steep wooden steps led down the cliff to the ocean below. It had been forty eight hours since we drove away from Mena towards Dallas to catch our flight to Portland. After flight delays caused by a FAA computer malfunction, we were finally on the Oregon Coast.

The ocean looked angry as huge waves created an almost deafening roar. I was looking forward to walking on the beach, but the tide was high and occasionally the water and foam would roll in all the way to the cliff banks. As I was standing on the cement landing at the bottom of the stairs to the beach, a huge sneaker wave crashed ashore, and I realized that the water and foam were going to cover the landing. I headed up the stairs and although I made it up several steps, the sea foam licked at my heels.

When the water had receded, I watched as my granddaughter climbed off the platform, down onto the beach while keeping a wary eye on the ocean. She wanted to touch the sea foam and play in it. But it wasn’t long before a wave chased her back up onto the platform and up the steps. Playing on the beach would have to wait for another day. 

Early the next morning, I headed back down to the beach to go for a walk, but the tide was so high that I wasn’t able too. Many of the waves came all the way to the towering cliffs at the edge of the beach, leaving no place to walk. I went back to the condo and checked the tide chart. It was only an hour after high tide, but the tide was receding. Maybe I would be able to I walk the beach after breakfast.

I was at the Oregon coast for a family reunion. Family was here from Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Louisiana, and Arkansas. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law provided condos for everyone and there condo was the central meeting place. All off us crowded into their condo and where they served a delicious breakfast. After everyone had finished eating I took out my phone and began looking through my photos to choose some to post to Facebook. As I opened the app, the first post I saw sent a shock through me.

A friend had posted, “Today we struggle to find much joy. Our little family that we have formed in Polk County took a hard hit last night. We lost a pillar of the crew in a motorcycle wreck. Jason Bird Moga, or Uncle Bird to our kids leaves a big hole in our hearts.” Over the last few years, Bird and I had become friends. I had talked to him just hours before I left for Oregon. When I read the horrible news, I blurted out to those in the room, “My friend passed away last night.” A wave of emotion rolled over me and I couldn’t stay in the room.

I grabbed my coat and rushed outside. I walked down the path toward the ocean access with thoughts swirling in my head. I remembered first meeting Bird and being intimidated by his size and appearance. But when I got to know him, I found him to be a gentle giant. Our mutual love of cars brought us together, but his kindness and willingness to help others was what made want to be his friend. 

When I reached the top of the stairs leading down to the beach, I stopped and just looked out over the ocean. As the waved crashed into the shore over and over, I barely saw them. My mind was filled with thoughts of Bird as my eyes filled with tears. I remembered all of the discussions we had about the project he was going to help me with. We had planned to resurrect the 1967 Toyota Stout that had moved my family to Mena in 1981. The old Toyota was in rough shape, but Bird had a plan to get it back on the road. It seemed that every time we planned to start, his health issues postponed the project.

As I stood lost in my thoughts and blankly staring out over the ocean, my nephew came by on his way down to the beach. As I spoke to him, telling him that my friend had died, it has like a dam broke and I couldn’t hold it inside. I broke down and cried, and it seemed that I couldn’t get my emotions in check. When I was finally able to speak again, he told me that he was going to scout location for surf fishing and invited me to go with him.

We walked along the beach as a light drizzle kept us wet. My nephew explained to me what he was looking for in the wave formations that would indicate a possible place for surf fishing. The tide was still high enough that the occasional wave would send us scrambling up the rocks at the bottom of the cliff side to escape the water. As I walked along the beach, I could hear The Moody Blues singing in my head. “I’ve been searching for my dream a hundred times today. I build then up, you knock them down, like they were made of clay. Then the tide rushes in and washes my castles away.”

When the waves were once again chasing us up onto the safety of the rocks, I thought about the tides as a metaphor of life. One minute you may be excitedly visiting with family you haven’t seen for several years, and the next minute the tide rushes in and the news of a tragedy cults your legs out from under you. There is a cycle to life, and sometimes it seems that the tides are going to drown us. Even David felt this way when he wrote in Psalms 42:6,7 (NLT), “Now I am deeply discouraged, I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about this cycle of life; “The tide rises, the tide falls, the twilight darkens, the curlew calls; Along the sea-sands damp and brown the traveler hastens toward the town, and the tide rises, the tide falls.” In his poem Wadsworth contrasts the travelers journey with the endless, ongoing cycles of the natural world. Our time on earth is so short compared to the vastness of eternity. “The little waves, with their soft, white hands, efface the footprints in the sands, and the tide rises, the tide falls.”

Gentle Reader, we all witness the tide rising and falling in our lives. There are times in our lives when the surging tide rushes in and sweeps over us. Sometimes circumstances overwhelm us and leaves us gasping for breath. But God has promised us that there will come a time when that cycle will be broken. Revelation 21:4 (NCV) tells us, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain.” I long for that day.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Dont Be a Sea Lion

 My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 11, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I will be traveling to the Oregon coast for a family reunion in a couple of days. My brother and sister-in-law provide the family with beautiful condos on the ocean. I have been to several family reunions at these condos at Gleneden Beach. I always enjoy my time on the beautifully rugged Oregon coast.

One day while we were there, we visited Newport. We spent our time in the Historic Bayfront district. Bayfront is a working waterfront that services Yaquina Bay, home to Oregon's largest commercial fishing fleet. The turn of the century historic buildings of Bayfront house shops, art galleries, chowder houses, restaurants, and tourist attractions. I enjoyed taking a step back in time and trying to imagine this bustling port in times past.

My favorite activity of the day was watching the sea lions that completely covered the docks. Sea Lions can be loud and raucous or adorably lazy. Many sea lions tried to sleep while others were barking to show dominance. A small juvenile was swimming in the water near the docks. He kept trying to find a place to haul out of the water onto the docks, but every time larger males kept him from getting on the docks.

He kept trying and trying to find a place to rest on the docks, only to be rebuffed at every turn. Finally, he could haul himself onto a cable between two floating docks. Once on the cable, he kept slowly and carefully inching his way onto the attached dock. After a while, he could get his front flippers onto the dock. He could get most of his body onto a corner of the dock by carefully maneuvering. As he was trying to get enough room to lie down, he drew the ire of a couple of occupants of the dock, slowly moving closer to the edge and forcing him back into the water.

As I watched the little sea lion trying to find a resting place, I felt sorry for him. The rest of my time watching the sea lions, he could never find a place to haul out of the water. No one would make room for him. 

Watching the sea lions and their interactions with the youngster who wanted to join them reminded me of how I have seen many people act. Many people feel shut out from society. They don't seem to be able to get a seat at the table. Sometimes Christians remind me of the sea lions who had a place on the docks. They want to keep certain groups of people from joining them. They won't associate with them.

Almost everyone remembers being excluded as a kid; I know I do. It seemed like I was excluded more often than I was included. I was the weird kid, the chubby kid, the unpopular kid. But exclusion doesn't stop as children grow into adults. People of all ages exclude others from acceptance, love, and affection. But Jesus was different. He went out of his way to extend love where it wasn't expected; to society's outcasts. Jesus consistently included the people the religious leaders had left out.

In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells three stories: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. If we read the first three verses of the chapter, it tells us why Jesus told the stories. "The tax collectors and sinners all came to listen to Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to complain: 'Look, this man welcomes sinners and even eats with them.' Then Jesus told them this story." Luke 15:1-3 (NCV)

With these stories, Jesus wants us to understand that He loves and cares for everyone. He demonstrated that all people are welcome at the table of God's kingdom. When you study the life of Jesus, you see that no one ever opened a wider door of hope and love to the human race. In Jesus, the outcasts of society have hope. Those the religious community marginalizes can find Jesus extending a hand, inviting them back into the community with dignity and affection.

"Come to me, Jesus said, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT) No invitation could be more inclusive, more welcoming. Those who customarily feel shut out are told they are welcome to come to Jesus. The love of God is inclusive. God's salvation is offered to everyone, no matter what their background is or what they have done in the past.

Henri Nouwen wrote, "For Jesus, there are no countries to be conquered, no ideologies to be imposed, no people to be dominated. There are only children, women and men to be loved." Paul wrote, "In Christ, there is no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and free person, male and female. You are all the same in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:28 (NCV) The kinds of divisions between people that are normal in human society should not be found in the church of Jesus Christ. Neither race, ethnicity, economic status, gender, or any other human distinction should exclude people from the church.

Gentle Reader, if you study the example of Jesus, you will see that he was a champion of the oppressed. His example was unconditional love, and He was against all exclusionary practices. He did not follow his society's exclusions. He often surprised those who were familiar with being excluded. When Jesus talked to the woman at the well, "the woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, 'You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?'" John 4:9 (NLT) Don't be a sea lion keeping others from joining you in your resting place. Be like Jesus, inviting everyone to rest.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The Best is Yet to Be

My An Arkie's Faith column from the January 4, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

John sat at the piano in his bedroom. Pressing the record button on his cassette recorder, he started to play. After playing several measures, he began to sing. "Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be. When our time has come, we will be as one. God bless our love. God bless our love."

John and his wife appreciated the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Browning. One morning, she suggested he write a song using Robert Browning's poetry as a stimulus. That afternoon, John was watching TV when an old movie came on about a baseball player. In the film, the baseball player's girlfriend sends him a poem by Robert Browning. The poem was "Rabbi Ben Ezra," which opens with the lines, "Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made."

John was struck by the coincidence and sat down to write. He penned a simple love song with the final verse: "Grow old along with me. Whatever fate decrees. We will see it through, for our love is true. God bless our love. God bless our love." He sat down at his piano and made a simple cassette recording.

John's simple love song was written for his wife and featured religion, romance, and commitment. Even though the only recording he made was that simple cassette on that November day in 1980, the song Grow Old with Me has become well known and is a popular wedding song. It is a very romantic song that's not about passion but about caring and commitment. When I made a CD album of love songs to give to guests at my daughter's wedding, I included John's home recording of Grow Old With Me.

John planned to record Grow Old with Me in the studio for his next album. He envisioned the song as a standard that they would play in church when a couple gets married, lushly arranged with horns and strings. But John wouldn't get the chance to record Grow Old with Me in the studio. His lyrics, "Spending our lives together. Man and wife together. World without end," would not be fulfilled.

I still remember hearing the news on that cold December day in 1980. Former Beatle John Lennon was shot to death late last night outside his luxury apartment building on Manhattan's Upper West Side, police said. Authorities said Lennon, 40, was rushed in a police car to Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving. I, along with millions of fans worldwide, was in shock. John's death was less than a month after writing Grow Old With Me. 

John wrote many love songs in the forty years he lived on this earth. My favorite words he wrote are "love is real, real is love. Love is feeling, feeling love. Love is wanting to be loved." Another favorite love poem he wrote says, "From this moment on, I know exactly where my life will go. Seems that all I really was doing was waiting for love."

We all want to be loved, but not all of us find love. The Bible is God's love letter to us, and the greatest love poem in the Bible is John 3:16,17 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."

"God so loved the world." What beautiful words. Notice that it is the whole world that God loves, not a single nation or race. Not just one denomination. Not just the "good" people, not just the people who love God back. He loves the lovable and the unlovable, The popular and the unpopular. He loves those who love Him and those who never think of Him.

Some people find it hard to accept that God freely gives His love and grace. They prefer to think that God only loves the same people they love and that God hates the people they despise. They want to place limits on God's love.

To put it bluntly, these people are wrong. God loves the world, including those who are just like us and those different from us. If Jesus didn't come into the world to condemn people, why should we? Jesus came to lift people up, not to put them down. Jesus didn't come to condemn us; Jesus came to offer us eternal life. We should follow His example.

Pastor Ty Gibson wrote, "I undergo the ultimate shift consciousness when I cease perceiving God as an authority figure who wants control and begin perceiving God as a husbandly figure who wants mutual love. Love alone is the agent God uses to expel sin from the heart."

In Romans 8:37-39 (NCV), we find these beautiful words. "But in all these things we are completely victorious through God who showed his love for us. Yes, I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

No matter what circumstance you find yourself in, no one can separate you from God's love for you. God wants you to know Him personally. He wants to love you and be loved by you for eternity. God says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you." Jeremiah 31:3 (HCSB)

Gentle Reader, Jesus says to you, "I have loved you as the Father has loved me. Now continue in my love." John 15:9 (ERV) In Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV), He tells you, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." And He promises that "I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." John 14:3 (NKJV) It is as if Jesus is saying to us: "Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be. When our time has come, we will be as one. God bless our love."