Pogo, the Pilgrims, and Us


Back in the day when a strange, wood-pulp-based communication device landed on our doorsteps daily, Americans enjoyed their “funnies.” At least that’s what I called the comics section of the newspaper. I would usually be the one to run out to gather the paper, then open it up and follow the adventures of Charlie Brown, Marmaduke, and Beetle Bailey. And sometimes, if I got ahold of the afternoon paper in Cincinnati, I would read Pogo.

Walt Kelly was a brilliant artist and a barbed wit, and he embued his opossum character Pogo and his animal friends with biting observations to match their lovely woodlands surroundings. Pogo beat Doonesbury to acerbic political commentary status by decades. The strip ran many years, and in 1970, an Earth Day edition gave us what became Pogo’s most well known quote:

We have met the enemy and he is us

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

I recalled that strip the other day when responding to a friend on Facebook. I was commenting about what has happened to America as a country. Today, a thuggishness seems to pervade our country, especially when it comes to dialoguing about ideas. Whereas Pogo was distraught over pollution, we have become people who cannot abide ideas that are different from our own, whether those ideas are polluted or as pristine as a clear, babbling brook.

Here is where we are:

We Americans have become the very people from whom the Founders of our country fled.

When I see American corporations, politicians, and loud, angry citizens wielding their power as a club to beat down anyone who does not bow down to their ideas, then I think back to the Pilgrims, to a bunch of brave men wondering if they would all hang separately if they did not hang togther, and to the reasons this country came into being in the first place.

From what did our forefathers flee? What drove them to pack up, brave a cruel ocean, and come to an unknown land filled with equal measures of uncertainty and freedom? How is it that we no longer recall our own country’s reason for existence? How is it that we have become the oppressive autocrats from whom our forefathers fled to find freedom?

Consider those boldfaced words above. And may God have mercy on the USA.

Word to an Elder–And to Us All


I’ve been going to our church’s Sunday evening meeting rather than to the morning one. My son enjoys the teaching for teens more because it allows for interaction that a one-way sermon lacks. (Churches, take note.)

During the adult teaching, one of our church elders sat beside me. Afterward, he asked me a question:

“So Dan, what’s the word?”

He may have been asking how things were going with me, but I’d been ruminating on something all day, and it seemed like now was the right time to share it.

“I think we need to love people where they’re at,” I replied. “Not by some standard we impose on them or by our hopes for where we want them to be, but just as they are in that face-to-face moment with us.”

Men huggingEarlier in the day, I was thinking about a wonderful, Spirit-filled man who has since gone on to glory. He always wanted better for others, but he never approached people with that as his primary touchpoint. He met them where they were. In whatever sin they were ensnared. In their sadness or in their joy. In their fullness or in their need. He loved them in the moment, and he was loved by them for that reason.

Later that day, during worship time before the teaching, I thought about where we are as a society and how many people miss out on a relationship with God because they see Christians as a group of people with impossibly high standards. They don’t see Christians as capable of loving people in the moment, with no other expectations.

This elder and I are both in our 50s, with life experience similarities. Right now, I know a lot of men our age who are dying inside because circumstances weigh on them. Today, no demographic commits suicide at a higher rate (and increasing exponentially) than middle-aged, white males. It’s not hard to see why. Many have been laid off at that point in their careers when they should be stepping into the next level of career success; instead they find themselves unwanted, reduced to flipping burgers to make ends meet, and not even succeeding at that. Others are dealing with illness, either in themselves, their spouse, or their parents, and trying to be a caregiver and work a 60-hour week is grinding them down to a nub. Others grabbed for the brass ring and not only missed it, but they fell off the carousel entirely and can’t find a way to get back on. Others struggle with understanding what God put them on earth to do, especially if their map to purpose dried up and blew away, and they see nothing on the horizon except infirmity and uselessness.

These men often feel no one cares about them. That they’re used up. Done. Finished. Kaput. And no one tells them otherwise. Or they feel they need to be a fount of knowledge and wisdom, but they can’t immediately answer the questions they’re asked or meet the demands of others. Everyone expects something great now, and sometimes being great is for another day and not this second.

I looked at this elder, and I wondered if this is how he felt in that moment. I wondered if my word was for him.

Then I realized it’s for us all.

Love the people in front of you for who they are. Not for what they can do for you. Not for what you want them to be.

Husbands, wives, children, coworkers, bosses, cashiers at the grocery store, mailmen, garbage collectors, politicians, neighbors, strangers–hope for the best for them, but love them where they are.

None of us is good enough. Even in those rare times of greatness, peak performance may exist only for today or for this week. Tomorrow, we may only rise to the level of middling. Next week, we may utterly fail. Or not. Neither failure nor success should matter.

Love people for where they are right now.

Your unconditional love and mine may be what another needs to become what God hopes he or she will be.

How Western Christians Succumb to Disappointment with God and to Fear


Steve Bremner of the Fire on Your Head Podcast posted this graphic, and it got me thinking:

Spirit of Fear quotation

I was immediately struck by a one-word answer: disappointment. Christians in the West become disillusioned when we anticipate or expect an outcome and it does not meet expectations. The next time we confront a similar situation, heightened fear results.

The following passage bedeviled me for decades:

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
—Luke 11:9-12 ESV

I once had someone confess to me a lack of faith in God specifically because of me. How so? Because it made no sense to that person that someone who sought so hard to follow after God could have so many rotten things happen to him at the worst possible times as I did. That person had personally witnessed faithful, God-loving Dan asking God for eggs and getting what he thought were scorpions instead. Why serve a God who treated His most ardent followers that way?

What is behind that thinking? A Western view of entitlement and middle class privilege.

Jesus, a little later in Luke:

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
—Luke 12:22-34 ESV

The Psalmist adds this:

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.
—Psalms 37:23-26 ESV

That said, when I look through the Scriptures, what I do not see is any promise of God that those who love Him should have a material expectation beyond God providing food and clothing. The Father promises not to let His children starve or go naked, but He makes no promises—for this life at least—that they will inhabit mansions.

Oh, and let’s make sure we look at all of the Luke 11 passage to understand what really matters most:

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
—Luke 11:9-13 ESV

Read that concluding sentence again. What is God most concerned about giving us? His Holy Spirit. Him we can have without limit.

It’s not about stuff. It’s about God giving us more of Himself.

The problem for us in the West is that we’re not satisfied with more of God.

Truth is, we’re not even satisfied with our daily bread. Or with enough clothes to keep us from being naked.

Back in Jesus’ day, and throughout most of human history, if one had food and clothing, that was enough. Because too often, those items could not be assumed. Sieges during war rendered even a crust of bread a luxury, and war was a way of life. Enemies burned fields and stole livestock. Armies laid siege to walled cities for months and years until the people inside broke.

God tells us in His Word that His children should not worry about this. He will provide food and clothing.

For those of us in the West, though, that’s not enough.

Basic needs met? Pishaw! At minimum, we must have what the other guy has. Or more. Because having more than the other guy proves our smarts are better than his. Shows how we’re better all around. Wiser. More successful.

In the case of Western Christians, having more than the basics says that whatever we’re doing religiously, we’re doing it right. We are holier. We are more committed. Our doctrine is the right one. That poor slob of a failure over there? He’s reaping what he sowed. His doctrine was bad. He sinned. He let God (or in all too many cases, the pastor or the local church) down. The loser.

So if we have less, we get disappointed. If we think we’re doing this Christianity thing right and God does not marvelously fill our material coffers, then He is being a grinch. Even if we’re not living up to some “Christian” standard, we’re mad at God anyway for not dishing enough grace to help us keep up with the Joneses.


That disappointment with our perception of God’s provision leads to fear. Fear that we’ve sinned somehow. Fear that our doctrine is wrong. Fear that our entire faith has been in vain. Fear that perhaps God is not there. Fear that if God is not there, then life is all on our shoulders, and it looks like we already screwed up that life or will do so in the future.

Fact is, the myriad fears we see in the Church today have basis in whatever past disappointments with God we let fester. Despite what God may think is best for us, we think He didn’t come through. Ultimately, it’s a complete breakdown in faith.

This is rampant in the American Church.

In some sectors, it’s prosperity gospel teaching that breeds this problem. In other sectors that consider themselves above prosperity gospel teaching and who look down their pious noses at any fool who believes such things, it’s the pride of American Dream living that breeds it.

Envy and pride. Unrestrained, that pair will always lead to disappointment, which leads to fear.

In the end, all you and I can do is be the person God has made us now. We turn to Him and can expect Him to give us food, clothing, and—without measure—His Holy Spirit. Comparing our reality against anyone else’s is wrong. If anything, I think the Bible teaches that material things only serve to weigh us down, to become the very worries that choke the seed we read about in the parable of the sower.

It’s not so much that we ask our Heavenly Father for an egg and He instead gives us a scorpion. It’s that we want a factory filled with eggs and want almost nothing of our Father Himself. And we get disappointed with Him when we see evidence that God might have something different for us. Then we become afraid that we will never get our egg factory and the world will think less of us for that “lack.” Suddenly, everything looks like scorpions.

More of you, Lord, and less of everything else. Let us eat our bread and wear our clothes with glad, thankful hearts, and a deep, profound love for you and for others, while we treat everything else we may receive in this pre-eternity like gravy. For where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.