Sunday, October 16, 2016

Oct. 16, 2016, column:

Wheelers' faith: An Amarillo legacy

By Mike Haynes
            You might say that Roy Wheeler built Hillside Christian Church.
            Of course, he would say the Lord built it, and he’d be right. But consider this:
            Many years ago, Amarillo residents Jim and Laura Sims had visited Paramount Terrace Christian Church, the forerunner of Hillside, a few times. While on vacation, Jim was involved in a gas leak at the house where they were staying, and his hands were burned badly. Jim was taken to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where he was treated and began recuperating.
            Meanwhile, Paramount Terrace Senior Minister Roy Wheeler was on a church trip. While at
Roy and Elnore Wheeler
the Dallas airport changing planes, he called in to his assistant, Pat Strickland, who had heard about Jim Sims’ accident, and she told Roy about it.
            Roy skipped his connecting flight and rushed to Parkland Hospital to see this man who had been visiting the church. The relationship was strengthened, Jim recovered, and before long, Jim and Laura Sims were members of PTCC.
            Fast forward to the mid-2000s. PTCC leaders had decided to leave the location on Mays Avenue near Western Street for the corner of Hillside and Soncy and change the church’s name to reflect the move. Architect Jim Sims was the primary designer of the new building.
            The physical structure is one thing, but Roy’s visit to an injured man who wasn’t even a member of the church is just one of a multitude of personal connections he made that resulted in a small, independent Christian congregation growing into a megachurch. The senior minister from 1966 to 1999, he remained active in ministry until his health started declining. But during those 33 years, he was a go-getter.
              “I would make two or three appointments three or four nights a week for him,” Strickland recalled. “Roy would go to their homes and meet people, and many of them joined the church. They felt the love he exuded from the pulpit, plus his personal contact with them.”
            Roy and Elnore Wheeler, both turning 85 next month, quietly left Amarillo this summer almost exactly 50 years after they arrived from Missouri. Because of health issues, they moved close to their son, Rick Wheeler, who leads a church in Derby, Kan. Another son, Randy, is a minister in Michigan. Oldest son Ron preached for a while but would up doing work such as designing an operational system for Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
          Of course, Hillside had a going-away reception, but the Wheelers’ exit didn’t get the community attention that, for example, the late Dr. Winfred Moore did at milestones in his life. A friend told me he thinks Roy’s influence on Amarillo for half a century rivaled that of the First Baptist legend, bringing “a church that wasn’t going anywhere” into the status of a megachurch.
            Ironically, what made the megachurch was the personal touch.
            Longtime Sunday school teacher Jim McKee said his wife, Lana, remembers she always got a “Roy hug” every time he saw her. The McKees first visited PTCC in 1985, looking for “a nondenominational church that was soundly Bible-based,” Jim McKee said. “We immediately wanted to join, so Roy came to our home to speak with us and answer questions. We joined the next Sunday.”
            Another former assistant, Diana Schmidtman, and her family preceded the Wheelers at PTCC. She was a charter member in 1955. “The way he endeared himself to my family was when my brother, a jet pilot, had his plane shot down in 1968,” Schmidtman said. “Roy was just so wonderful to our family. If we didn’t like him before, we loved him after that.”
            “Roy’s idea of the church was that it’s a hospital for the hurting,” Strickland said. “It didn’t make a difference what your background was or where you came from. He loved people and wanted to tell them about the Lord.
            “If he was in the pulpit and saw somebody in the audience he didn’t know, after church he would go through the guest cards. If they didn’t fill out a card, he would tell me to find out who they were the next time.
            “He loved to know everything about everybody that he dealt with.”
            In some ways, Elnore Wheeler was a typical minister’s wife, supporting her husband and leading church activities. But she really wasn’t typical.
            “She was such a caring, people person,” Strickland said. “Her heart was in missions. If she couldn’t go, she sent money. She taught in the women’s prison, and she went to Russia several times with Roy. I think she helped in an orphanage at Chernobyl.”
            Anyone who spent much time at the church between Sundays knew Elnore’s impact.
            “We always knew Elnore to be a quiet servant,” Jim McKee said, “reaching out and helping kids and the downcast. She always worked behind the scenes. Things would get done somehow, but if you backtracked to the source, very often you would find Elnore Wheeler at the beginning.”
            Roy Wheeler has been well-known across the country, especially in independent Christian circles. He was a frequent conference speaker and in his heyday, he preached at two or three revivals a year in other churches. Strickland said he did mission work in Belarus 17 times, often with Elnore by his side. He baptized the parents of his Belarussian interpreter, Luda. He visited Jamaica many times to help minister friend Vincent Graham.  
            Roy’s fluid, measured speaking style, solidly scriptural but non-threatening, attracted thousands to the gospel – and to PTCC – over three decades. He said he favored “a positive approach to Christianity” but constantly challenged the congregation of his “undenominational” church with the idea that “God calls us all to be ministers if we’re Christians.”
            A factor in his 1999 retirement was his voice, which had begun fading with a rare vocal cord condition. But when his preaching became rare, he kept his eyes and ears open for people who were hurting.
            “There’s no one like him,” Schmidtman said. “If you were ever in trouble, he’s the one you wanted. He was a great shepherd.”
            “He was a lover of people and wanted them to know the Lord,” Strickland said.
            Roy and Elnore, those of us whom you’ve touched thank you.  

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sept. 11, 2016, column:
There is healing in remembering
By Mike Haynes
            Just before last Christmas, my wife, Kathy, and I stood in line with hundreds of people, most wrapped in coats, warm hats, gloves and scarves, in cold New York City. We waited to enter a gleaming new building. Reassuringly in this age of terrorism, New York police officers in black helmets were stationed nearby, each with both hands on his military-style weapon.
Photos of and information about all 2,977 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001,
 attacks – in addition to the six people killed in the 1993 bombing at
 the World Trade Center – are on display at the National
 September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York.
(Photo by Mike Haynes)
            One of many signs directing foot traffic toward the building was an orange one that said, “9/11 Families, 9/11 Rescue & Recovery Workers and Museum Members … Enter Here.”
            The National September 11 Memorial and Museum has been open since May 2014. Now we’ve reached the 15th anniversary of the horrific events of that fall day in 2001, and I miss the unity America had after three airliners struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the two massive World Trade Center towers where Kathy and I were standing last December.

           It also is disappointing that the opening of the memorial and museum and of the shining new One World Trade Center that pierces the sky next to it in November 2014 have received so little attention.
            Yes, both events were in the news, as was the opening of the glitzy World Trade Center retail mall just last month. But how much notice have we given to the triumph of rebuilding compared to the continuing fear of terrorist acts and the focus on U.S. racial issues?     I’d bet that average Americans know more about which celebrity is dissing whom or which football player is disparaging the national anthem than they do about New York’s comeback from 9-11.
Steel girders from the base of the original World Trade Center
stand tall  in the underground National September 11 Memorial
 and Museum in New York City. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
            That isn’t true of our 19-year-old niece, Maria, and her friends who toured the 9-11 museum shortly after it opened. As Kathy and I did later, Maria found deep significance in the artifacts and displays – from a damaged, 30-foot U.S. flag displayed in the below-ground facility to huge steel beams from the original towers to a pair of Winnie the Pooh earmuffs that belonged to a sixth grade girl who was on one of the hijacked planes.

           That day 15 years ago was an event, like Pearl Harbor, that shouldn’t be lost to future generations. In the Old Testament, Joshua thought it important for the people of Israel to mark with stones the spot where the Ark of the Covenant had crossed the Jordan River. “These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:7)
            But we can’t just look back. Life goes on. After the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem, the Israelites eventually rebuilt the temple. Nehemiah then noticed that the city’s walls remained in ruins, and he organized their reconstruction. “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no
The Winnie the Pooh earmuffs and the red library card, left,
belonged to sixth grader Asia Cottom, who was on one of the
9-11 hijacked airplanes. The Peter Rabbit doll belonged
to 2-year-old Christine Hanson, who also was on one of the planes.
(Photo by Mike Haynes)
longer be in disgrace.” (Nehemiah 2:17)
            Sept. 11, 2001, didn’t bestow disgrace on our country. But rebuilding showed our resolve. The memorial makes sure we won’t forget the 2,977 people who died then or the six who died in the 1993 WTC bombing.
            The rise of One World Trade Center, glassy and futuristic, proved that business and tourism would return to lower Manhattan. And the new mall, which on the outside looks like a white, soaring eagle and on the inside offers upscale shopping from Apple to Michael Kors, puts American capitalism on display again in lower Manhattan.
            But the memorial and museum take us from the materialistic to the human. They remind us of American values – first responders rushing into buildings that are about to collapse, a husband’s phone message to his family as he suspects he won’t survive, a survivor praying for others as he makes his way down flights of stairs to safety.
            Some have tried to keep the most important American value – trust in God – out of the memorial as much as possible. But it’s there, whether in a cross-shaped metal beam or in trinkets people have left in their grief. On a Statue of Liberty replica covered with small items such as a red, white and blue bracelet and a little Texas flag, I saw a wooden, ornamental cross. A few inches away was a piece of paper on which it appeared a child had drawn a U.S. flag and had written, “God bless
us every one.”
            People of all races and beliefs were killed that day in 2001. Let’s remember the unity that followed.  
One World Trade Center, 1,776 feet high,
opened in 2014, 13 years after the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks took down the two
World Trade Center towers.
(Photo by Mike Haynes) 

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Aug. 7, 2016, column:
Missionaries transform hearts, find joy on other side of the globe
By Mike Haynes
            Charlie Webb grew up on a Texas Panhandle ranch. She played sports at a small school, made great grades, was a regular at the Methodist church and has a loving family. She’ll be a sophomore horticulture major at Texas A&M this fall.
            Yet one of the most meaningful moments of her life so far happened on a bus ride through
Charlie Webb of McLean
makes her way down a
Ugandan street in May as a
group of motorcyclists passes by. 
Uganda in May.
            Charlie is one of many examples of church members young and old who have stepped out of their air-conditioned buildings to spread the Christian message in various ways, serving and learning on mission trips in what has become a small world. Or to her, maybe a big one.
             After two days of travel from Amarillo to Gulu, Uganda – including an eight-hour flight to Amsterdam, another eight hours on a plane to Entebbe and six hours on a bus to Gulu – the McLean native emailed her supporters, “The world is gigantic, y’all.”
            She was the group’s designated reporter and sent updates a few times during the two-week trip sponsored by Antioch Community Church in College Station. Because she was perceptive and descriptive, she gets much of this space:
            “On the bus ride to Gulu we bonded over the sights of the big city, Entebbe, and the rolling plains/jungle of Africa. Our bus ride was punctuated with many laughs and many naps and one adventure of buying pineapples and mangos. …
            “We are specifically looking for people of peace (Luke 10:1-12) and people who are seeking something more than money or good health for their life (Matt. 13:1-23). We want to try and help these people develop a personal relationship with Jesus so that when we ... leave, they can effectively share and spread the gospel with the help of the Holy Spirit. …
            “We are not trying to share the gospel 20 times a day. We aren’t trying to get five people a day baptized. We aren’t having 15 people say the prayer of salvation. My point is that we aren’t after a
McLean's Charlie Webb in Uganda
certain number of bodies to simply say they believe in Jesus.
            “We are trying to transform hearts. And since we are after people’s hearts, it could very well mean that we only spend our entire time here pouring into a very small handful of people. … If the people here have shallow faith, they can’t effectively share with others after we’re gone. … We want to create something here that will last in the long term. …”
            Charlie sent reports from co-missionaries Abigayle, Jonathan, Tyler and Margret, each of whom touched the heart of at least one Gulu resident. But Charlie herself summed it up well to her email recipients:
            “I wish you could know what it’s like to dance in the rain and have this realization that you’re in Africa. I wish you could experience the joy of dancing with a little girl for Jesus. … I wish you could see the miracle of healing. … I wish you could understand how precious water is in other cultures. … I wish you could taste the foods of the Ugandan culture.
            “I wish you could know what it’s like to walk down the street and have everyone stare at you because of your skin color. … I wish you would understand what it’s like for all items to be secondhand. …
            “I wish you could experience being immersed in a different culture but coming to the honest conclusion that we’re all just human beings and that no matter how different we look or act, we all
Charlie Webb, fourth from right, poses on top of a bus
with some of her Uganda mission teammates from
College Station in the African nation in May. 
experience the same thoughts and feelings. … We share the same big blue planet, the same moon and the same big bright star; we’re all just trying to live this life as best as we can and hoping that it will be worth it in the end.”
            The group took time out for a safari where she and the 16 other young people saw elephants, giraffes, warthogs, monkeys, crocodiles and a lion. But it wasn’t the sights of Africa that made the biggest impression on Charlie.
            “On the bus ride back we had this random sing-along/dance party. We had the windows open. The sun was setting. And as I was sitting there basking in the cool, humid, evening wind, I looked around at our group and had this overwhelming sense of love and joy. …
            “It’s a moment when your heart is so full of love or joy that it feels weightless. … It’s a moment when there isn’t a trace of fear or worry or stress. … I don’t know that I’ve ever felt such a sense of family and community from people I’ve only really known for a little more than a week. … And six months ago I had no clue that I would be in Africa with 16 other amazing, godly people who I’ve known for less than a year. …

            “Now I have 16 people I can truly call brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Saturday, July 02, 2016

July 2, 2016, column:
Sometimes all it takes is faith in God
By Mike Haynes
            Iris Warneford had finished business school and landed a bookkeeping position at age 16. For her job in London, she took the train from her family home in Harrow, 30 minutes northwest of the center of the city.
            Her father and brothers were painters and decorators, and her mother worked hard at chores such as stirring the clothes with a wooden stick as they boiled in a pot on the stove.
            Iris was in the habit of attending dances and occasionally going to the cinema when, in 1939, newspapers and radio announced that England was at war with Germany.
            “And then the bombing started,” she recalled last month just before leaving Amarillo after half a century to live in Bryan, closer to her children.
Iris and Wayne Houghton are shown just before their marriage
in Harrow, England, in the World War II era.
            Iris was a war bride, one of many English women who married American soldiers. She became Iris Houghton when she wed Coloradan Wayne Houghton, and they wound up spending most of their lives in Amarillo.
            Iris saw firsthand the Blitz, Nazi Germany’s sustained bombing of London and other British cities. “They did an awful lot of damage,” she said in her still-strong British accent. “They bombed Buckingham Palace – not a lot of damage. They bombed Westminster Abbey.
            “That’s to break the spirit of the people; that’s what that is. But it didn’t work, of course. It was the other way around; it just toughened you up. It was worrisome at times, but I never was frightened.”
            The suburb of Harrow wasn’t spared. “We lost all our windows,” Iris said. “Our front door was blown off. One block over – you know, the houses are connected – it took half the block.
            “Every night before it got dark, the air raid warden would come over to see if you had a visitor or if you were not there.” That check was in case a bomb fell. “They didn’t want to dig, take manpower, if there was nobody there,” she said.
            Faith in God and in the nation’s resolve kept citizens calm and carrying on. Iris’ family was Protestant. She was married in the local Church of England parish, and her parents are buried there. But meeting Wayne Houghton put her on course to an Amarillo church she attended for 45 years.
            Wayne was a bombardier in the U.S. Air Force, stationed near London. Laughing, she recalled her father’s advice: “He said, ‘Iris, you can go with the Canadians, you can go with the Australians, even the New Zealanders, but don’t go with those Yanks.’ I looked right at him and said, ‘Don’t worry, Daddy, I won’t.’”
Iris Houghton thanks her Sunday school
class  at Hillside Christian Church in
Amarillo in April 2016 just before
moving to Bryan.
 (Photo by Mike Haynes)
After rudely, according to Iris, asking only her to dance and not her friends, she and Wayne dated and were married in Harrow. After their daughter, Marykay, was born in England, they moved to Grand Junction, Colorado, and eventually to Amarillo, where Wayne worked for the post office and Iris for Pioneer Natural Gas. They later had a son, Bob.
Looking for a church in the 1960s, the Houghtons heard about a new one meeting in a school, Paramount Terrace Christian. Minister Roy Wheeler and his wife, Elnore, were giving it a growth spurt, and the Houghtons joined within two weeks of visiting. Iris stayed through this April (Wayne died in 1995), having seen the church’s move and name change to Hillside Christian.
“We loved it. Still love it,” she said.
At age 92, she’s adjusting to a new home in Bryan. But Iris has been through the Blitz. She’s heard the overhead buzzing of “doodlebugs” and wondered where those Nazi V-1 bombs would drop. She has moved to a new country where she was welcomed but where the tea isn’t made properly and she waited 18 years to become a citizen in order to avoid offending her parents. She’s still  keen on the queen – 33 months younger than Iris – but she’ll appreciate the fireworks on July Fourth.
Leaving Amarillo friends after decades of church and community activity is hard, but no worse than having a brother with PTSD after he was evacuated from a French beach in 1940, a brother-in-law killed in Africa in that same war, losing a faithful husband and grieving a Marine grandson who died in the Middle East in recent years.
And she certainly knows the upside of life. Scores of Hillside Christian friends hugged and laughed with her before she moved downstate. Even remembering that European war, her face brightened as she described its end 71 years ago:
            “People were dancing in the street, the flags waving – oh, we were so glad it was over.”                                                                      

Saturday, May 21, 2016

May 21, 2016, column:
Blessed are the meek...
(Not sure the headline fits the topic exactly, but close enough. I don't write the headlines.)
By Mike Haynes
            Three alma maters are on my resume now even though I never took a class at the third.
            The first two are McLean High School and Texas Tech University. The third is Amarillo College, where other than taking a country and western dance class with my wife, I’ve never been a student.
            But after 25 years on the faculty, I consider AC one of my schools.
            I’ll try not to name names here; there’s too much danger of leaving someone out. But my niece who graduated at McLean last night says we’ve both been seniors this year. Yes, the AC commencement May 13 was my last time to wear a cap and gown to honor the outgoing Badgers.
            The morning after hundreds walked the civic center stage, I woke up at 4:45 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. I was uneasy but wasn’t sure why. Really, I’m OK with retiring, because I have plenty of other challenges ahead. But I think it relates to the blog of another retiring faculty member who said he’ll miss not knowing next year’s crop of students – and the next – and the next…
Group photo No. 1: Amarillo College journalism students
and advisers, February 1992.
            In my case, I’ll miss the students I didn’t get to know well but wish I had – such as the young woman who, in her end-of-semester presentation, mentioned in passing that her husband had died in a car wreck a few years ago. I suspect returning to school was part of her plan to rebuild her life after tragedy. It made me think of James in the New Testament urging Christians to take care of widows and orphans.
            Of course, I’ll miss the students I do know well, some from decades ago and some from this spring. Newspaper people know the satisfaction that comes after the last page goes to press, and I’ve had student editors and their sidekicks saunter into my office late at night to savor the work they’ve just completed and to get me to tell them honestly whether I thought it was good.
            Sometimes those talks would morph into the students unloading their worries on me or tentatively revealing some of their dreams.
            And I’ll miss co-workers from across the campuses, from night custodians to teachers in other departments to those journalism colleagues I got to know best. One reason I’m OK with retiring is that I’m leaving the Matney Mass Media program in the hands of a professor who’s talented and energetic – better at the job than me – and who will have good people to help her lead and counsel next year’s crop.
            I started at AC as a journalist first and a teacher second. I hope I grew in the second role as I kept up with journalism becoming mass communication and now mass media. I love technology, but I’ll be happy to back off from the 24/7 digital news cycle.
Group photo No. 25: Amarillo College mass media students
and advisers, December 2015.

            If there’s anything I’m good at, it came from my grandad. I grew up seeing him treating a native American manual laborer the same as he treated a congressman. That belief in personal equality runs through my family, and I hope I showed it at AC as I interacted with first-generation students who couldn’t afford textbooks to talented writers who needed little from me to maintenance men to the college president.
            It’s simply the Golden Rule, affirmed in the Bible by Matthew, and I believe my family’s faithful church background has much to do with any success I’ve had with students and with fellow educators.
            I’m not the exception. It’s just tradition in the Texas Panhandle, including at Amarillo College. I’ve experienced 25 of AC’s 86 years, and for the most part, the school has been a place where people support each other and put students first.
            Before leaving, I made sure to secure copies of 25 group photos, each taken a year apart, of our journalism students and advisers. I wish I had the same for the seven years I advised Texas Tech publications. I’ll look at the pictures occasionally, never completely letting go of those people. And I’ll keep watching for their successes.
            Kathy and I haven’t done much country and western dancing since that AC class. But she’s the other reason I’m OK with giving up a rewarding career. She helped me write that chapter, and I’ll need her to proofread the next one.
                                                              * * *
            Mike Haynes taught journalism at Amarillo College from 1991 to 2016. He can be reached at the Amarillo Globe-News or Go to for other recent columns.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

April 16, 2016, column:

Zacharias' message more pastoral than apologetic

By Mike Haynes
            All the time, people ask Ravi Zacharias questions such as, “Why does God allow suffering?” “Why does God allow disease?” Although the world-renown preacher and author has many philosophical answers, his brief response during a sermon at Hillside Christian Church was more speculative:
            “Cancer. Medical issues. How do we know God did not send someone to help us with all of this by the brilliance of their mind and their capability, and we aborted those individuals right in the womb?”
            Addressing the questions of doubters wasn’t his main intent in Hillside’s Saturday night service April 2. The native of India, head of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, is known as an apologist, which means he presents logical reasons for the truth of Christianity. But as Hillside pastor Tommy Politz noted, Zacharias’ message in Amarillo was more pastoral than
Ravi Zacharias at Hillside Christian Church April 2, 2016
            It also was inspirational. I had heard Ravi – in evangelical Christian circles, he almost has first-name status – on the radio and had seen the white-haired intellectual in online videos, but he was new to my wife, Kathy. Her reaction was, “Wow, I’d like to hear him again.”
            This message didn’t deal in sterile, hard argument but in informed kindheartedness. Zacharias recalled that his daughter, Naomi, couldn’t find her keys a few months ago and said, “I must be losing my mind.” His 3½-year-old grandson, Jude, replied, “Mommy, whatever you do, please don’t ever lose your heart, because I’m in there.”
            After an “awww” from the congregation, Zacharias made several pastoral points. Drawing from the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25, he cautioned parents not to favor one child over another. He urged communicating with family members whether it’s at a baseball game or a restaurant. And he warned that the way to succeed is not through deception.
            Zacharias said while the greatest strength of his native India is its brilliant minds in science and other fields, its greatest weakness is corruption, including in business and government. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the late D.D. Davis, an Ohio businessman who gave Zacharias a large donation to help start his ministry.
            When the evangelist asked Davis what he wanted in return, Davis said he wanted only one thing: integrity.
            “When you’re living a duplicitous life, you’re running” from God, Zacharias said.
            He recited a long passage from the 1893 poem by drug addict Francis Thompson, “The Hound of Heaven.” God pursues us even as we flee from him, Zacharias said.
            Yes, even poetry was compelling in that slightly hoarse but soothing voice, dramatic but genuine. And though Zacharias’ sermon was by no means academic, you left knowing he is both a fervent believer and a solid scholar. I later had to look up F.W. Boreham, who Zacharias called one of the greatest Christian essayists in part because of “The Sword of Solomon.” The visiting preacher, pointing out that “each individual is indivisible,” quoted Boreham on the laws of math: “The two halves of a baby make no baby at all. … No man who has once fallen in love will ever be persuaded that one and one are only two. He looks at her and feels that one plus one would be a million.”
            In addition to his overt message, Ravi Zacharias gives the impression that Christianity is so multi-faceted that all its glory can’t be experienced in a lifetime. Literature, family, struggle, joy, healing, humor, integrity, trust, scripture, transition – all those and much more bring meaning to lives touched by Christ.
            “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good,” he said. “Jesus came to make dead people live.”
                                                  * * *
            Ravi Zacharias’ Amarillo message is available online at

Saturday, March 12, 2016

March 12, 2016, column:
Justice Scalia was not silent about his faith
By Mike Haynes
             You would think neither supporters nor detractors of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would be surprised at his views on religion and government.
            The devout Catholic talked about both in September 2013 at the massive Stone Chapel on the grounds of the Lanier Theological Library in Houston. The chapel, a replica of a 1,500-year-old church that once stood in Cappadocia, modern-day Turkey, has physical mass that was appropriate for the presence of a Supreme Court justice who had such influence on American society and whose
Stone Chapel at Lanier Theological Library
(Photo by Kathy Haynes)
death this February still hangs heavily over U.S. politics.
            Mark Lanier, the Lubbock native and Houston attorney who built the library and chapel, hosts several speakers a year, mostly Christian scholars. In 2013, he lured Scalia to Texas to address the question, “Is Capitalism or Socialism More Conducive to Christian Virtue?”
            I wasn’t there, but it feels like I was because my wife and I toured the chapel last summer, and video of the 48-minute lecture is available at
            Anyone slightly familiar with the justice knows his answer to the capitalism/socialism question, but some might be surprised at nuances of his reasoning.    
            “The first thing I wish to say about it is that I do not believe it is terribly relevant,” Scalia said. “I do not believe a Christian should choose his form of government on the basis of which would be most conducive to his faith any more than he ought to choose his toothpaste on that basis.”
            Those who think Scalia would have favored a theocracy would be wrong. “A Christian should not support a government that suppresses the faith or one that sanctions the taking of innocent human life,” he said. “But the test of good government … is assuredly not whether it helps you save your soul. Government is not meant for saving souls, but for protecting life and property and assuring the conditions for physical prosperity. Its responsibility is the here, not the hereafter.”
            Scalia pointed out Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:21: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (RSV)
            But he said socialism is not as conducive to Christianity as capitalism. “The churches of Europe are empty,” he said. “The most religious country in the West by all standards – belief in God, church membership, church attendance – is that bastion of capitalism least diluted by socialism, the United States.”

Justice Antonin Scalia portrait at Lanier
Theological Library in Houston
(Photo by Mike Haynes)
           Scalia distinguished between government aid and private charity. “No one, not even the most conservative American, argues that there should not be a safety net for our citizens,” he said. “The issue is not whether there should be provision for the poor, but rather the degree to which that provision should be made through the coercive power of the state.
            “Christ said, after all, that you should give YOUR goods to the poor, not that you should force someone else to give his.”
            Scalia said Jesus didn’t preach eliminating hunger, misery or misfortune, but “the need for each individual to love and help the hungry, the miserable and the unfortunate.” The judge believed that when government handles charity, “it deprives individuals of an opportunity for sanctification and deprives the body of Christ of an occasion for the interchange of love among its members.”
            He said the negative consequences extend to those receiving aid. “The governmentalization of charity affects not just the donor, but the recipient. What was once asked as a favor is now demanded as an entitlement,” he said, which “has produced donors without love and recipients without gratitude.”
            He contrasted 19th century charity, which included efforts for “moral uplift,” to modern social workers who legally can’t address a person’s virtue. He lamented the “coldly commercial terminology” in which people in need are called “clients.”
            Scalia said for capitalism to work, traditional Christian virtues are essential. Because people have more freedom under capitalism, they have more opportunity to do evil. “Without widespread practice of such Christian virtues as honesty, self-denial and charity toward others, a capitalist system will be intolerable,” he said.
            “The burden of my remarks is not that a government of the right is more Christlike, only that there is no reason to believe that a government of the left is. I do not think Jesus Christ cares very much what sort of economic or political system we live under.”
            Asked what is the greatest miscarriage of constitutional justice he has seen, Scalia said it’s the recent use of the First Amendment clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
            “It’s the clause that’s always invoked whenever people want to tear down a cross that’s been put up on public land or remove a crèche that’s in the city square or take down the Ten Commandments,” he said.
            Unless something hurts a person, he said, that person has no standing to complain to the
Justice Antonin Scalia signed the guest book Sept. 6, 2013,
at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston.
courts. He believed most lawsuits claiming establishment of religion do not involve actual harm and are “silly cases.” More logical to Scalia were cases in which someone’s free exercise of religion was restricted.
            He certainly exercised his religious rights, including singing in Catholic choirs. A lover of opera, he preferred the formal and traditional. After singing Mozart at Rockefeller Chapel in Chicago, he often would attend another service.
            “I would go down the street to Mass and hear some clown strum a guitar and sing, ‘God is love, kumbaya.’”
            This Supreme Court justice surely was not the touchy-feely type. But from his speech in Houston, it’s obvious he had a sense of humor and a hearty faith.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Feb. 6, 2016, column:
There is no 'evangelical' vote
(That headline was on the column in the Amarillo Globe-News. It doesn't exactly reflect the column. --Mike H.)
By Mike Haynes
            With the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses behind us and the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary coming up, a term we’ve heard a lot is “the evangelical vote.”
            Most pundits said it was an important factor in the Republican race in religiously conservative Iowa but won’t be as crucial in New Hampshire.
            You hardly hear the term in relation to Democrats.
            I asked members of my Sunday school class last week what they think “evangelical” means, because I believe it’s thrown around a lot with a simplistic or hazy definition.
            Some replies: “Churchgoers.” “The Christian vote.” “Nondenominational, independent, Christian person” and “Born-again Christians who have a relationship with Jesus.”
            In a brief discussion before we dived into I Peter (amid jokes that Donald Trump would call it “One Peter”), we agreed that many people, educated or not, lack a clear understanding of the word, “evangelical.” One man pointed out that questions about the evangelical vote usually come from news people, many of whom have little first-hand involvement with religion.
            “They don’t know what they’re asking,” he said. “They think evangelicals are non-enlightened people.”
            Indeed, I contend that most Americans would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between “evangelical” and “fundamentalist.” The latter term often is used in a derogatory way, and I believe many journalists and political experts lump “evangelical” into the same category.
            One of my classmates said he believes fundamentalists are seen as “staunch, rigid, by-the-book, the people who don’t take their kids to the doctor.” If that’s a common perception, I think many outsiders would say the same about evangelicals.
            I dug up a 2004 column in which I quoted Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary defining “evangelical”:
“Member of a Bible-based Protestant church emphasizing personal salvation solely through being born again and through uncompromising commitment to the person of Jesus Christ. Emphasizing the doctrine of sin, repentance, grace, salvation and saving faith.”
Back then, I pointed out that a fundamentalist probably would agree with those positions and that the main difference is in practice, not belief.  Fundamentalists seem to preach more of the “don’t’s,” while evangelicals tend to focus on the “do’s” of the Christian faith. I proposed that in my view, Jerry Falwell was a fundamentalist while Billy Graham was an evangelical.
Last week, our Sunday school teacher said he had read that evangelicalism is a flexible middle ground between fundamentalism and mainstream churches, which tend to have a more liberal approach to Christianity.
So what do the definitions tell us about who will vote for whom? Not much, but they reveal that there may not be a solid evangelical voter block. When Jerry Falwell Jr. endorses Trump, who identifies with the mainline Presbyterian denomination and seems to mention religion only because he has to, who can predict which candidate “evangelicals” will support?
Someone in my class last Sunday guessed that half of our church membership will vote Republican and half Democratic. Our church is solidly evangelical (see definition above), so I’m not sure about that prediction. Not many Democrats call themselves evangelical, although some, such as Fox News’ Kirsten Powers, do.
However the election turns out, I like what a woman in our class said:
“I want us to be known as people who trust God, have faith in his Word and know that it’s real.”

I don’t know whether a president has to have those qualities, but for me, it would be a plus.     

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Jan. 2, 2016, column:
Pray to be less selfish
By Mike Haynes
            I know it’s naïve, but starting a new year, my prayer is that we would be a little less selfish and a little more forgiving of the things other people do that we don’t like. And as simplistic as it sounds, how about trying to find ways to achieve that peace on Earth and good will toward men?
            We can start by seeing people as individuals instead of as stereotypes. Traditional barriers do not have to keep us apart.
            Take sports. How many times have you seen black and white athletes hugging each other, laughing together, consoling each other? The intimacy between ethnic groups may lessen sometimes when they leave the locker room after the game, but those team-oriented moments tell us there is potential for lasting trust.
Kathy Haynes at Strokkur geyser in Iceland
            Residents of small-town Texas tend to be wary of fast-talking, big-city people. Catholics and Protestants sometimes hesitate to fully accept each other. From a distance, we’re wary of people who are different. One remedy is familiarity.
            In December, Kathy and I flew 4,100 miles to Reykjavik, Iceland, hoping to see the Northern Lights. It had been on Kathy’s bucket list for a long time, we found a discounted rate, so we joined a group for three nights in freezing weather in the North Atlantic.
            It was cloudy the whole time. No Aurora Borealis for us. But we saw a waterfall, a geyser that erupts every five minutes and the culture of Iceland.
            Plus, we met people. Three nights isn’t time to really get to know anyone, but our small group included fellow adventurers from California, Houston, Chicago, New York and New Jersey.
            Two young nurses from New Jersey were on the tour, one black and one white. They were friendly, and Kathy and I worried about them when we thought they might miss our tour bus.
            After we had witnessed the Strokkur geyser shooting 30 yards into the air a couple of times, I was walking toward our tour bus when I slipped on a layer of ice. Boom, I hit the ground but managed to keep my camera and limbs intact.
            The two nurses were at my side immediately, pulling me up. I made jokes to lessen the embarrassment, and they laughed more with me than at me.
            I still barely know those girls, but I now have a soft spot for two New Jersey nurses.
            On the way home, our flight from Dallas to Amarillo was canceled without warning, resulting in a five-hour delay on Dec. 23. A woman trying to get back to her family by Christmas Eve didn’t know what to do. But when we all had the option of flying to Lubbock, a couple from College Station offered her a car ride for the last 110 miles to Amarillo.
            Such instances of camaraderie usually are short-lived, I realize. But the key is everyone having a single focus. Football players work together for the sake of the team. People in tour groups have similar interests. Travelers sometimes have a common purpose, which may be sharing information on how to get home.
            For me, the ultimate purpose is the Good News that Christianity offers. Those who follow Jesus have a built-in team – or tour group – and a common goal, which is offering that Good News to others.
            Christians are human, so unfortunately, we allow ourselves to be divided. But that isn’t the plan. Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name … so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)
            I believe if allowed to grow, the Christian message can bring all groups together. The forgiving response of the survivors of the Charleston, S.C., church shooting is a prime example of healing that comes with true faith.
            Clouds covered up the Northern Lights while we were in Iceland. But the New Jersey nurses stayed one more night, and they let us know by email that they got to see the colorful display in the sky.
            If we couldn’t see the lights, I’m glad those Jersey girls did.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Dec. 5, 2015, column:
Show a better way to live
By Mike Haynes
            Listening to oldies radio in the car, Kathy and I saw “Love Child – 1968” pop up on the dashboard display and heard the familiar voice of Diana Ross singing, “Love child, never meant to be, love child, by society, love child, always second best, love child, diff’rent from the rest.”
            I told my wife that song would be unacceptable today with its theme of a woman who was born out of wedlock and doesn’t want to bring her own child into the world the same way:
            “No child of mine’ll be bearing the name of shame I’ve been wearin’…”
            Yes, with 40 percent of babies today born to unmarried mothers, it would be seen as
insensitive to imply that any woman should feel guilt or shame for having a child without a marriage license.
            But it’s just one of the societal changes in recent decades that have many Christians worried that our culture is sliding down in the proverbial handbasket. In the wake of possibly the most jolting blow to traditional values, the U.S. Supreme Court’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, two writers have suggested how orthodox Christians should respond to the changes.

       I use the word “orthodox” to indicate Christians who still hold an interpretation of the Bible that, midway through the 20    th century, most believers agreed upon: basic, traditional Christianity, the “Mere Christianity” that C.S. Lewis explained.
            Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, both newspaper columnists, wrote a cover story for the November “Christianity Today” magazine in which they admit that “By many accounts, orthodox Christians have lost the culture wars.” They describe three responses and endorse one they say can allow Christians to flourish “in a time of retreat.”
            One reaction is the knee-jerk one we see on Facebook. Lots of committed Christians are vocal about issues where social conservatives have lost ground over several decades. Gerson and Wehner list several: divorce, abortion, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, gender roles and same-sex marriage.
            While they don’t say Christians should retreat from the public square on every issue, they don’t believe a militant response will be helpful in the long run. They especially discourage too much emphasis on that recent court decision:
            “Making gay marriage the centerpiece of Christian opposition would be foolish because it would overshadow all the other priorities of the church.” Instead, they urge a focus on building up traditional marriage. In their eyes, most Americans still support historical marriage, and allowing the small percentage of people practicing gay marriage to set the agenda is a mistake.
            The writers say Christians should avoid being known primarily for defending their own institutions: “It would mean constantly fighting defensive battles on terrain chosen by others.”
            A second option, promoted by author Rod Dreher, is for Christians to pretty much withdraw and operate within their closed communities. Dreher calls it the Benedict Option after Benedict of Nursia, who organized a monastic withdrawal from the decadent society of Rome.
            Gerson and Wehner don’t think Christians should hide but become even more active – in a positive way. They call it the Wilberforce Option after William Wilberforce, the British activist who helped rid his country of the slave trade.
            They define their option as “the relentless defense of human dignity in the course of human events.” They point out that for 2,000 years, Christians have lived in societies that didn’t reflect their values but that they nevertheless have had great influence. Paul didn’t write his first-century letters to try to influence political leaders but to advise church members on how to cope with day-to-day challenges in light of Christ’s teachings.
            The Jews, Gerson and Wehner observe, always have been examples of how to be devoted to their beliefs but not expect everyone around them to share their values.
            Christians shouldn’t always give in, the writers say, but should pick their battles. Of course, they declare, “religious liberty is vital.” But they believe Christians who oppose gay marriage might be more effective for God’s kingdom working on a food bank project with a same-sex couple than they would protesting that couple’s relationship.
            The Wilberforce Option involves working with other Christians in areas of common ground.
            Historically, Christianity has attracted seekers because of its compassion and love. Jesus said in Matthew 22, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
            Gerson and Wehner put it like this:           
            “Rather than lecturing the world, we need to show a different and better way to live in the world.”

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Nov. 7, 2015, column:
Don't judge a book by its author
By Mike Haynes
When my wife, Kathy, and I decided to take a short vacation to Savannah, Georgia, last year, we did our usual Googling to find out what would be on our must-see list.
Having grown up Methodist, I was interested in the statue of John Wesley that commemorates his missionary work in Savannah in the 1730s. Wesley didn’t stay long, considered the effort a failure and returned to England to become known as the founder of the Methodist Church.
We wanted to see the southern mansions and the Spanish moss draped from trees around the history-drenched squares. Savannah was witness to Revolutionary War action. It was the end of Sherman’s devastating Civil War march to the sea.
John Wesley-Savannah, Ga.
And I ran across the name Flannery O’Connor, one I knew little about but had seen referred to as a “Christian author.” I thought we’d visit the now-public home where she lived from her birth in 1925 until age 13.
            The home on a leafy boulevard in the Savannah historic district was closed on the only day we had to visit it, but Flannery O’Connor books were front and center in the city’s bookstores. I bought her short story collection, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” published in 1954. She died in 1964 of lupus but had established a reputation as one of America’s finest writers.
            Based on her soft-sounding name and the fact she’s called a Christian writer, I expected some intelligent, perceptive, inspiring short stories when I opened the book in our historic district hotel. Man, did I get a shock.
            The title story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” starts with a nice family deciding to take a vacation to Florida despite news reports of an escaped killer in that state. The parents, grandmother and children pile into a car, the kids read comic books, and they stop for barbecue sandwiches. It’s like watching an episode of “The Waltons.”
            Then the car runs into a ditch, they’re stuck in the country, and the grandmother flags down a car with three men in it. One of the men eventually expresses his doubts to the grandmother about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, they talk about life, and … well, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but when I closed the book and turned off the light to go to bed, I told Kathy the story was “disturbing.”
Flannery O'Connor home-Savannah, Ga.
            The second story, “The River,” is about a preacher baptizing in one. Except … well, its ending was disturbing, too. By the time I had finished all 10 stories, I was not a Flannery O’Connor fan. She was a talented writer, insightful, with Christian themes lurking underneath, but I didn’t like her approach of showing the need for redemption by illustrating the dark side of humanity.
            Luckily, I also had picked up “A Prayer Journal,” which she wrote privately in 1946 and 1947 while in college in Iowa. It had been published in 2013, and it redeemed my estimation of this southern writer.
            Whatever seediness and evil O’Connor dispenses in her stories, her prayer journal makes it clear that she based her worldview on a holy God, specifically from a Catholic perspective.
            In her early 20s, she wrote, longhand, “My dear God, … Please let Christian principles permeate my writing and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate.”  
            A few pages later, after mentioning that she’s reading Franz Kafka, she prays that she won’t let “the psychologists” influence her away from faith: “Dear Lord please give the people like me who don’t have the brains to cope with that, please give us some

Flannery O'Connor
kind of weapon, not to defend us from them but to defend us from ourselves after they have got through with us. …
“Please give me the necessary grace, oh Lord.”
            The 40-page prayer journal abounds with humility from an ambitious writer who certainly was an intellectual. She writes to God about love, her disdain for romanticism and her belief that hell is easier for us to imagine than heaven because it’s closer to what we see on Earth.
            O’Connor uses the same prayer model that a Methodist pastor taught me: ACTS – adoration, contrition (I learned it as confession), thanksgiving and supplication. And as she never intended for it to be published, her journal seems to be a true picture of the struggle she was having with herself and with God.
            I still don’t like reading her sordid stories. But I’m glad I ran across her journal. I can identify with pleas such as, “If I could only hold God in my mind. If I could only always just think of him.”

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Oct. 10, 2015, column:
Author sheds light on harsh history
By Mike Haynes
            The bread keeps coming back to me. Dry bread, 300 grams. Eaten in a wooden shack on a dirt floor with freezing temperatures and blowing snow outside.
            The 300 grams was the amount of bread a 15-year-old girl would get for the day if she had done her work digging useless holes in the mud or drawing maps for Soviet officers. Same amount for her little brother, same for her mother, same for each of the Lithuanians living in their dirty Siberian hut.
            With any perceived idleness or failure to obey a command, the 300 grams was reduced. People who had been librarians and teachers and wives of college professors were starving.
            My empathy for these regular people in unbearable circumstances is stirred by a fictional story: “Between Shades of Gray,” by Ruta Sepetys. But the hell she describes, which includes the separation of families and executions of those who resist, really happened. Sepetys interviewed survivors of a little-known World War II tragedy to fill her novel with true-to-life incidents.
            The book is Amarillo College’s Common Reader for 2015-16. New students are given copies, some instructors use it in their classes, and the author will be in town Oct. 29 to speak on campus and to the public.
            Sepetys’ main purpose is to bring to light the extermination, mostly by shipping people to labor camps and starving them, of anyone Joseph Stalin considered “enemies of the state” after the USSR had annexed the Baltic countries between Poland and Russia. Those
Ruta Sepetys
“enemies” consisted primarily of local political leaders and anyone who was educated enough to possibly question Stalin’s policies.
            In the novel, Lina Vilkas, the 15-year-old getting ready to attend art school, falls prey to the NKVD – the Soviet secret police – because her father is a professor and her parents may have helped others escape the roundup of “undesirables.” In June 1941, her father is taken to prison while she, her mother, Elena, and her 10-year-old brother, Jonas, are loaded onto filthy railroad cars and transported across the Soviet Union, ultimately to the Laptev Sea north of the Arctic Circle.
            Those who survive do so through faith, ingenuity and bonding. Becky Easton, an assistant professor of English at Amarillo College, pointed out that Lina and the people she is thrown together with exemplify Ecclesiastes 4:12: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
            In the book many are broken, but not quickly. Elena keeps her children alive by giving up her own food, her body slowly deteriorating. Easton said this mother lives out John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” – and family.
            Other characters, even a young NKVD guard, put themselves in danger to help others, revealing some inner compassion even as they follow orders.
            We know about the tribulation that millions of Jews suffered under Hitler in the Holocaust. We’re not so familiar with what Stalin did. He starved millions of people, yes, but that’s just a statistic. Reading about a small group of townspeople toiling by day, eating scraps of food by night, hacking at frozen soil to bury their dead, we learn how Stalin’s crimes played out.
            One of the few moments of joy in the story is a sparse Christmas Eve celebration when a group of sufferers gathers in one shack. In a labor camp, a stolen potato, a few biscuits from a nearby village and a small package of chocolate are a feast. The captives sing carols and remember happier Christmases with family members who now are missing or dead.
            But on Christmas Day, Lina says, “They worked us hard.”
            Still, there is grace. Easton reminded me how, in Sepetys’ book, Elena puts “love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44) into practice by handing a potato to Ulyushka, a self-centered woman who has hoarded her own food. The mother also defends a Soviet guard when Lina wishes illness on him: “Lina, think of what your father would say. A wrongdoing doesn’t give us the right to do wrong. You know that.”
            Writer Sepetys is successfully uncovering a harsh period of modern history. The book has won prestigious awards, and the film version of her story will be released in 2016.
            She also reminds us that people can be strong even without their daily bread – especially when they join together in faith. Near the end, Lina says, “We’d been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean. I realized that if we boosted one another, maybe we’d get a little closer.”