Monday, December 26, 2016

Dec. 25, 2016, column: Step out of your comfort zone and meet your fellow man

Step out of your comfort zone and meet your fellow man

By Mike Haynes
            As soon as I knew I would retire from Amarillo College and would have time for an early December trip, Kathy and I booked one of those Viking river cruises that you see advertised with enticing pictures and seducing words on Panhandle PBS.
            We planned it for more than a year to celebrate what I consider a significant milestone for any married couple: our 25th anniversary.
            I suppose one reason we’re compatible is that we’re perfectly happy to do things just as a pair. We don’t hate group activities, but we tend to be more comfortable, for example, watching “Poldark” on … yes, Panhandle PBS, than being “social.”
            But on a cruise, you sit with other people for three meals a day, and we’re not socially inept (at least Kathy isn’t), so over 11 days, we did manage to make some friends.
The Christmas market in Old Town Square in Prague,
Czech Republic, has the gothic Tyn Church
and baroque-style buildings as a backdrop.
The church structure dates to 1385.
(Photo by Mike Haynes)

            We certainly recommend travel, and I could write pages about the wonderful sights and sounds we experienced: the beautiful parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, that you see in the Viking commercials; four young singers recreating “Sound of Music” tunes in Salzburg, Austria; drinking apricot-like nectar at a monastery near Krems, Austria; touring artist Albrecht Durer’s 16th century house in Nuremberg, Germany; and watching the lights on a three-story tree dance to the “William Tell Overture” at the brilliant Christmas market in Prague, Czech Republic.
            Christmas certainly is on bright display in those town square markets across central Europe, although the “reason for the season” is more commercial and cultural than spiritual on a continent that gets more secular every year.
            Our trip was delightful in part because of the castles and cathedrals, sausage and trdelnik pastry, but also because Kathy and I didn’t stay in our two-person cocoon. We were reminded that people who might seem distant turn out to be just as friendly as we West Texans.
            Steve and Gina had New York accents that, if you believe the movies, are supposed to indicate … well, stereotypical New Yorkers. But guess who volunteered to lend his camera battery charger and even trusted me to mail it back to him? Steve from Long Island.
            The two gray-haired women from Pennsylvania turned out to be retired teachers with fascinating travel stories about Cuba and China – one of whom has a son in Midland, Texas.
            After venturing a conversation with another retired teacher from Missouri, we found out she grew up in Brownfield, Texas. Janice from Nashville and Lynn from Illinois take annual trips together since they retired from the insurance industry, and we got to enjoy Janice’s Tennessee accent and goodbye hugs from Lynn.
            Aleksandar, our ship’s maître d’ from Bosnia, noticed my Dallas Mavericks shirt and was eager to inform us that we were just 100 kilometers from the German hometown of Mav star Dirk Nowitzki.
            It’s obvious, but strangers become real people when you get to know them personally. The tall man with the hat who seemed to never smile during a tour of Vienna turned into a retired mechanical engineer from St. Louis who’s been to Amarillo. The ice was broken with the cute couple from Georgia when Kathy complimented them on their attentiveness to each other.
            Maybe that’s one reason the Father sent his Son to Earth 2,000 years ago – so we could get to know him better. As Jesus experienced humanity firsthand, those people who met him in the flesh saw God directly rather than as a name on a scroll.
            Emmanuel – “God with us” – Jesus the Messiah – still is available for a personal relationship with each human being. Christianity is not a religion of just of ritual and going through motions but of a direct connection.
            We can observe God and his creation, but for the real experience, we have to initiate a conversation. We have to talk to him.  

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Nov. 20, 2016, column:
Give me a break, Randy Ray!
By Mike Haynes
            Give me a break, Randy Ray!
            Let’s see: What are some of the topics that have occupied my thoughts and reading for years? Texas Tech sports. The Alamo. My hometown, McLean. C.S. Lewis. The Beatles.
            And what topics did Randy Ray choose for a class at West Texas A&M University and a follow-up trip next summer?
            C.S. Lewis and the Beatles.
            I should be teaching that class.
            OK, Ray, who teaches audio and video production, media management and media history at WT, is the one who came up with the idea. And I’m really not mad at him; I’m thrilled that someone
is taking seriously two of my main interests.
            After first thinking, “What could an intellectual Christian writer and the most famous band in the world have in common?,” I believe it makes more sense than a lot of topics taught in colleges these days.
            The title of the course – which Ray and history professor Dr. Marty Kuhlman will teach next spring, followed by a summer study abroad trip to England – is “A Hard Day’s Night in Narnia: A Study of British Influences on American Culture.”
            At first glance, the only common denominator of Lewis and the Fab Four seems to be that both were British – John, Paul, George and Ringo from Liverpool and Lewis an Oxford and Cambridge scholar. And the Beatles took off just as Lewis left us. He died on Nov. 22, 1963, the same day as John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley. That was only a few weeks before the Ed Sullivan Show appearances that brought Beatlemania to America.
            But both have had huge influences on U.S. popular (the Beatles) and spiritual (Lewis) culture.
            “Even though they’re both very British, they’re very different,” Ray said. “I want to show the polar opposites of the different kinds of British influence that we’ve gotten.
            “Lewis is unique in the way his writing is still so relevant more than 50 years after his death. I think it remains relevant because of the way he made deep thinking approachable to everyone.
            “And without doubt, the Beatles influenced popular music culture more than any other artist ever has or probably ever will. Their influence shook the entire world.”
            Although Lewis died at age 65 as the young Beatles were on the cusp of their global fame, the height of his popularity came after the 1960s reign of those purveyors of “yeah, yeah, yeah” and “Let It Be.” “Mere Christianity,” one of his most well-known adult books, and the “Chronicles of Narnia” children’s books were published in the 1950s, but it was a couple of decades later that a large number of Americans discovered them.
            Lewis has had his largest impact on American evangelicals, but his adult Christian writing also is appreciated in mainstream Protestant churches as well as Catholic circles. Lewis himself attended Holy Trinity Church, an Anglican congregation a half mile from his Oxford home, the Kilns.
            And the Narnia stories carried his influence into millions of American households. The Narnia movies that were hits from 2005 to 2010 expanded it.
            Ray said he expects 20 to 30 students in the class. So far, most of them have expressed more interest in Lewis than the Beatles. His own fascination with Lewis’ writing began in Pampa when he came home from junior high and picked up a book that belonged to his mom and dad.
            “Why do my parents have a book called ‘The Screwtape Letters’ written by some Oxford professor,” he recalled thinking.  “It was just so different. I also love the fact that with Lewis, just a little goes such a long ways. There is so much packed into every sentence. And I think that’s pretty rare in writing – to carry that much weight with every word.”
            Ray isn’t as big a Beatles fan as I am, but he has played bass in bands for years. “In the music industry, you can’t not appreciate what the Beatles did,” he said. “They were a game-changer. You cannot have a music conversation with anyone without it eventually leading to the Beatles.
            “And I don’t think you can go to any church in America without eventually hearing a C.S. Lewis quote. Anytime there’s anything out of the ordinary – the presidential election, 9-11 – people are throwing Lewis in there; what was his take on it?”
            Students in the class have reason to be excited, because the July 17-23 trip will include a tour of Lewis’ longtime home; Magdalen College, where he taught in Oxford; and the Eagle and Child pub, where Lewis and his writing friends, the Inklings, met.
            The trip also will hit the homes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon and the famed Cavern Club in Liverpool and Abbey Road Studios in London.
            To paraphrase a little band from Liverpool, I know the students will be a lovely audience, and I hope they will enjoy the show.

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) 

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.