Tuesday, December 22, 2015


"Adoration of the Magi" by Rembrandt

G. K. Chesterton is almost exclusively known by his prose, not his poetry. Yet he wrote a lot of it, and much of it as sublime as his novels and religious works. I would love for him to be known to you as the author of this poem, Nativity.

The thatch on the roof was as golden,
Though dusty the straw was and old,
The wind had a peal as of trumpets,
Though blowing and barren and cold,
The mother's hair was a glory
Though loosened and torn,
For under the eaves in the gloaming
A child was born.

Have a myriad children been quickened.
Have a myriad children grown old,
Grown gross and unloved and embittered,
Grown cunning and savage and cold?
God abides In a terrible patience,
Unangered, unworn,
And again for the child that was squandered
A child is born.

What know we of aeons behind us,
Dim dynasties lost long ago,
Huge empires, like dreams unremembered,
Huge cities for ages laid low?
This at least--that with blight and with blessing
With flower and with thorn,
Love was there, and his cry was among them,
"A child is born."

Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
Dark fancies that fret and disprove,
Still the plumes stir around us, above us
The wings of the shadow of love:
Oh! princes and priests, have ye seen it
Grow pale through your scorn.
Huge dawns sleep before us, deep changes,
A child is born.

And the rafters of toil still are gilded
With the dawn of the star of the heart,
And the wise men draw near in the twilight,
Who are weary of learning and art,
And the face of the tyrant is darkened.
His spirit is torn,
For a new King is enthroned; yea, the sternest,
A child is born.

And the mother still joys for the whispered
First stir of unspeakable things,
Still feels that high moment unfurling
Red glory of Gabriel's wings.
Still the babe of an hour is a master
Whom angels adorn,
Emmanuel, prophet, anointed,
A child is born.

And thou, that art still in thy cradle,
The sun being crown for thy brow.
Make answer, our flesh, make an answer,
Say, whence art thou come--who art thou?
Art thou come back on earth for our teaching
To train or to warn--?
Hush--how may we know?--knowing only
A child is born.

I love how the tense changes after the first stanza, from past to present. And the author addresses the Child directly in the last, as if some awestruck rabbi nattering in the corner of the stable, trying desperately to figure it all out. But he is interrupted by the Mother, who reminds him simply:

Hush--how may we know?--knowing only
A child is born.

-Wayne S. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hiking fashion

Late this summer, my wife, Cheryl, and I spent a week near Asheville, North Carolina. The reasons were the usual—to get away for some alone time, to eat well and browse artsy shops and places, and to see some mountains. I think we both would agree that perhaps the most enjoyable part of the trip was driving twisty roads up into those mountains, marvelling at the dramatic vistas that swung into view around each corner.
As we were visiting a waterfall, we saw another sight we weren't expecting.
Upon returning to the parking lot, a late model Jeep Cherokee pulled into the lot. A 40-something couple emerged from the front seat. The back door opened, and first appeared a well-turned female leg, with a five-inch black stilleto shoe. It was attached to a maybe late teen girl who was wearing a tight black dress that was as short as it could possibly be and not be called a shirt. I am not sure where such a dress would be acceptable, but it seemed laughably inappropriate for a gravel walking path. In fact, that's what we did: laugh.
But then I was reminded of something in my life. Cheryl and I had visited Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi, a few days earlier. Seeing the sign proclaiming that fact, I was taken back to a visit I and my family had made there in the 60's. It was the height of popularity for The Beatles, and I was crazy about them. So, naturally, I did my best to emulate them, as much as an adolescent could. So how did I dress for my trip to Mt. Mitchell? In a Nehru jacket, of course. Never mind that it was Summer. Never mind that my pants could have crossed a river and never gotten wet. I was cool.
When we returned, I found that original picture, from the summer of 1968. It is posted to remind me that youth is indeed a squirrelly time.
(click to enlarge)
And here, Cheryl and me, in 2012.
(click to enlarge)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Spiritual, but not religious

Why are alcoholic beverages called “spirits”? Because when you drink them strange “spirits” rise within your mind and body. That’s all that “spirits” are: intangible feelings we don’t fully understand and the emotional experiences that go along with them. Understood in this way, “spirituality” is just another way of saying “emotionality” — or learning to understand and interact with one’s strong emotions.
Thus, the danger of “spiritual but not religious” is that a practitioner engages with spirits (strong emotions and religious rituals) without having any guidance for how to interpret them.
Someone who is “spiritual but not religious” doesn’t know if the spirit they’re invoking is an “angel” (symbol of God, our higher nature) or a “demon” (symbol of death, our animal nature) because they don’t have a religious foundation to guide them upward. They’ve ignored the collective wisdom of humanity and decided to just set their own course. They’ve made themselves their own god. And they reap the consequences: unhappiness.
 —Dave Swindle at PJMedia.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What if government owed its success to business people?

In the five years I have contributed to this blog, I have written about politics less than five times. The reason for that is, as important as citizen action is, personal action trumps it all. As important as a political world-view is, a proper spiritual orientation is primary, and informs all other aspects of your work in the world.

But I want to comment on a recent statement by President Obama, because I believe it to be so wrong-headed it must be addressed. On July 15, he said the following:
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business. you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."
While most of the media have sought to downplay the comment, saying he was referring to "roads and bridges" and "infrastructure," it still seems pretty clear the President meant that successful people are successful because of the largess, beneficence and help of government. But if the media are right in their interpretation, it seems they, and the President, are wrong in their facts.

What if it is actually the other way around? What if government owes its success to business? Using the President's own examples, consider the following:

  • ROADS: When Henry Ford started his first assembly line in 1913, there were no wide, smooth roads waiting for cars to travel on them. Most roads in America were nothing more than rutted wagon trails, which wreaked havoc on the Model T. The flood of inexpensive cars created the demand for better roads.
  • BRIDGES: There were bridges in Roman times, but bridge-building in America was driven by private enterprise, first the railroads, then the automobile. There was no Brooklyn Bridge before the train. There was no Golden Gate Bridge before the automobile. Modern bridges owe their success to the steel industry, which made strong, long spans possible, as well as the locomotives and the cars and trucks themselves.
  • POWER: Thomas Edison, an inventor, came up with the process of electrical generation and distribution. That made manufacturing on a large scale practical. John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil led the way in fueling America's movement, as well as the boilers that heated our buildings, and now the natural gas that powers it all. 
  • INTERNET: Yes, the Internet began as a defense project (never envisioned as a profit-making enterprise, as the President claims—private business did that), but it would have been an abject failure had not Alexander Graham Bell paved the way with his vision for communication by wire, and if IBM and others had not furnished machines to harness it.
  • EDUCATION: Andrew Carnegie, who made his fortune in steel, built 1,795 public or academic libraries, and helped others with 1,419 grants. Harvard University, the nation's oldest institute of higher learning, and where the President attended Law School, was named after its first benefactor, John Harvard, a clergyman. John D. Rockefeller, the "infamous" oil baron of Standard Oil, founded The University of Chicago, where the President was a Senior Lecturer. Even The Punahou School in Hawaii, where the President attended before college, was founded by Christian missionaries. While the President speaks often of the value of public education, he himself is the legacy of the hard work of successful men and women who did not depend on the government.

So, would it not be more accurate to say that America—the government and the nation—owes its success to business men and women, and not the other way around? A case can be made that all of those listed above, as well as others, like Bill Gates, built the machines and made the tools that made the much-touted "infrastructure" possible.

And let us not forget some other great businessmen. George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson weren't in the colonies to make a government. There were here to farm and to practice law. But when the demands of the King became too onerous, they and others took time from their lucrative trades to win a revolution and give us some real "infrastructure"—the Constitution of the United States. 

Wayne S.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The importance of a grandson.

In the late 18th century, two teenage brothers, Rubin and Adam Stedham, left Ireland with a very wealthy family (not their own, mind you) and landed in New Bern, North Carolina.

Rubin was my great-great-great-great-grandfather.

The family exploded from there:

We don't know how many children Rubin had, but one of them was my great-great-great grandfather, William Addison Steadham, whose family now resided in eastern Alabama. William, we know, had thirteen children, including seven sons, two of which died in the War Between the States. Jacob Newton Stedham, who was born June 9, 1852, was the first son too young to fight in that conflict. He was my great-great grandfather.

Jacob's first wife, Adeline, gave him six children before leaving him for another man. Alice Littlefield, his second wife, evidently felt the need to outdo her predecessor, delivering nine children. But it was one of Adeline's sons, second-born William Henry Steadham, who was my great-grandfather. (As you can see, William Henry added an a to the name, for reasons unknown.)

William Henry had eleven children, six girls and five boys. The fifth born, in 1901, was my grandfather, John Croley Steadham.

At this junction, my branch on the family tree narrows to a thin reed.

My father, John Wayne Steadham, was an only child, born in 1933. Perhaps one reason for that was his diagnosis of childhood diabetes at age five. Both his mother, Hazel, and his father had siblings who either suffered or had died of that same disease, and perhaps felt that their devotion should go exclusively to their son.

The branch strengthened again in the next generation. My father and mother, Joyce, brought into the world three sons: me, in 1954, Charles in 1958, and Jeff, in 1961.

Then the branch thinned again. While I have two sons and two daughters, my brothers have none. Charles married late in life (and even later again after the unexpected death of his first wife), and is blessed with wonderful daughters by marriage, but no one with the Steadham name. My youngest brother, Jeff, suffered a brain injury at age sixteen, and has never married.

While my daughters, Sarah and Hannah, may someday help to fill our house with children's laughter, the task of carrying on the family name falls to my sons. Joe, the eldest, is not married, though we assume  it is probably in his plans. James, our second-born, married in 2004, and in 2010 blessed us with our first grand-child, Adeline Grace, a bright and delightfully precocious girl, who most assuredly is NOT named for her traitorous great-great-great-great grandmother!

But the name will survive. On June 21, 2012 (my wife Cheryl's birthday), James and Bernnie gave the Steadham family some staying power, in the little form of Callum James Steadham. Callum, originally from Latin, is a Gaelic (Irish) name which means "dove." It is a nod to his Irish great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather.

Welcome, Callum James Steadham!
My son James, his wife Bernnie, granddaughter Adeline and grandson Callum. (Click to enlarge)

--Wayne S.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Consistently Pro-life

Sometimes we long feel the need to speak up on a particular subject, yet wait for a defining moment. For me, it was the shock I felt when I realized I agreed with Jimmy Carter.

This is something that does not often occur. In fact, I am not even sure I agree with the former President on Christianity or the Bible. But I do agree with Carter on this, even though my reasoning is different:

It is time to end capital punishment.

Carter says so in an opinion piece published online at the Associated Baptist Press. While I encourage you to read the article, I will summarize his reasoning:
  1. The majority of people and police chiefs are against it.
  2. The focus is on punishment, not rehabilitation.
  3. The death penalty is not a deterrent to murder and other violent crimes.
  4. The cost to defend and offer appeals for death row inmates is "astronomical."
  5. Scripture leans more towards mercy than punishment.
  6. Capital punishment is biased towards the poor and minorities.
Here are my comments to Mr. Carter's points:
  1. Polls from people and police chiefs should not determine policy. Laws should. If there is a case to change the law, make that case.
  2. Rehabilitation may feel good, but it is rarely effective.
  3. This point is mostly true, but not for the reasons cited. Many capital punishment states may have a higher rate of homicides, but there are too many other factors (population, wealth, even weather) to make that a valid statistic.
  4. This statement is definitely true.
  5. Scripture decidedly leans towards mercy, but it also promotes justice.
  6. This statement is true as well (at least statistically). The quality of defense is greater for people of means.
So, I agree with President Carter on some reasons (racial and economic bias, lack of deterrence, the legal cost of appeals), and not on others.

As inferred, I arrived at my conclusion both before reading Carter's article, and from a different direction. My reasons for opposing the death penalty are--
  • It buys us nothing. There is no societal benefit to the death penalty. Yes, it may bring closure to a grieving family, but it does not lift the nation or the people. In fact, it may have the opposite effect, creating a subtle "blood lust" in people who want a criminal to get his "just deserts." Finally, it has been proven that it is no more a deterrent than life without parole. 
  • It cost us so much. Not only in terms of perhaps doing damage to our national psyche (and our spiritual health as well), but also in raw financial terms. The main losers are the taxpayers. As one law professor explains: "What we are paying for at such great cost is essentially our own ambivalence about capital punishment. We try to maintain the apparatus of state killing and another apparatus that almost guarantees that it won't happen. The public pays for both sides." The complete process of conviction, appeal and habeus corpus in a capital conviction  is often reported as 2 to five times greater than a sentence of life without parole. Even if the cost were equivalent (and they can be in long incarcerations), LWOP is still as effective as capital punishment, a severe, effective and permanent solution. 
  • It usurps authority that belongs to God. Carter makes an interesting comment in this regard: " We remember God's forgiveness of Cain, who killed Abel, and the adulterer King David, who had Bathsheba's husband killed. Jesus forgave an adulterous woman sentenced to be stoned to death and explained away the 'eye for an eye' scripture." I would take it a step further. God said "Vengeance is mine." (Romans 12:9). This lust for revenge, either individually or corporately, is a wresting away of a right that belongs to God. I realize there are many scriptures that may be used to justify capital punishment. Yet historically, the practice was most used (and abused) by totalitarian, amoral and God-less societies, from the Romans of Jesus's day to the Nazi, Soviet, Chinese and Middle Eastern governments of our own time.
  • It may kill/have killed innocent people. No doubt this was more true in the past, before improvements in forensic science and DNA testing. Yet wrong decisions are probably still being made, and many are being reversed. In the final analysis, a wrongly imprisoned person can be released--a wrongly executed person cannot be resurrected (at least by the state).
  • Finally, as a Christian, consider that as long as a person is alive, he or she has the chance to allow God to perform a work of real redemption. Read the stories of Karla Faye Tucker (executed in Texas in 1998), Jeffrey Dahmer and Manson cult killers Susan Atkins and Charles "Tex" Watson, all who seem to have genuinely embraced Christ. Thanks to saints like the late Charles Colson, prisons are full of such stories.
I am a peace with this decision. It has come with a lot of prayer and thought. But I do have a regret. In the past, I have challenged several people who were pro-abortion, yet anti-capital punishment, by saying that I would become anti-death penalty if they would become either pro-life or pro-death penalty, and thus we would both be consistent. I have lost that leverage.

And I have one interesting conundrum. If it weren't for capital punishment, Jesus would never have died on the cross, and I would still be lost, with no hope.
--Wayne S. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bumper Sticker Theology

This saying was sent to me by my old friend, Don Newby. It's an interesting twist on a very familiar line from a song. 
I replied I wish I had it on a bumper sticker. 
Well, I do have Photoshop.
(click to enlarge)