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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In for the Ride

Today I thought about the minor surgery that I’m having on my left knee this Thursday.  (The walker for use after surgery arrived today.)  I hope that after my surgery is over, the long term after-effects will not be worse than current symptoms.  Knees can be notoriously cranky.  I feel about the coming medical procedure much like I did when I committed to ride the Georgia Cyclone at Six Flags Over Georgia outside Atlanta in August 1998.  I can remember the unease I felt, yet the firm commitment to go ahead with it.  The promotion material listed what I was in for: Rocket through dizzying drops and turns; Take high-banked turns at nearly 50 mph; Thrill to the deafening roar of classic wooden track.  I still remember well the jarring ride—much more jarring than experienced on a steel roller coaster.  But feeling ambivalent in the face of a new experience is familiar ground.  I have felt it before committing to a lengthy course of study at a university, for example.  Obviously in such instances, some type of pain will be involved. A completely smooth ride is not guaranteed, in fact it is unlikely.  But there is faith that the prize at the end will be worth the pain and anxiety.  An important element of the experience simply is the rewarding satisfaction of knowing that I’ve been put to a test, and didn’t shirk in the face of a challenge.  (One learns as much about oneself in such trials as any external knowledge gained.)  From this point of view, the ups and downs help make the experience worthwhile--without them there would be no disquiet, but not as significant a learning opportunity either.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Tone Savvy

When I consider the loss that age brings--
The memory like a pen running dry
The agile movements gone with youth
I think how will I face ageing--
With laugher or with tears?

Today a friend showed me the preferred course.
When I came to her office at work
I said I was there to give her new memory
(I meant for the computer, but she didn’t care)
She laughed and laughed
And made it plain
Laugher is the best medicine.
When faced down,
Cornered and trapped by age and mortality,
Choice—man’s constant companion--
Offers laughter or tears
Acceptance or rejection,
Victory or defeat.

By choosing laugher man becomes the master
Of the tone of life’s later chapters,
Happiness chosen deliberately in the end
To overcome the dour tone of time with contagious notes of laughter.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Today at Church

Today’s sermon topic was: “The Hidden Idol of Racial Pride.”  It is easy to see how racial prejudice can become the ruling god of one’s life.  A little more difficult to understand is that racial pride can also become an idol.  The first lesson from the Upper Room in Sunday school was that God has a purpose for each of us.  The scripture was Philippians 1:6 (NRSV) “Paul wrote ‘I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.’”  It does wonders for our self-esteem and assiduousness in daily living when we realize that each of us has a purpose.  That we are in this time and place is no accident.  The second lesson began with scripture from 1 Peter 25 (NIV) “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”  Like an old house that is restored, Christ Jesus “Can heal the scars caused by life and repair our wounded spirit.”  The third lesson referred to Samuel’s interruption of Eli’s sleep because Samuel thought Eli was calling him--when actually Samuel was being called by God.  Interruptions in our lives can be a call from God.  Interruptions, while they can be an annoyance, can be a call for us to serve in new and unexpected ways.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Suck It Up

Suck it up: Some definitions from Urban Dictionary:

1. To endure a period of mental, physical, or emotional hardship with no complaining.
(I don't care if you're sad, get out there, suck it up and deal with it!)

2. To cope with something unpleasant without complaining--usually because you have no choice.

3. Quit whining, suck it up and drive on.  Military slang meaning to just deal with it and quit complaining.
(Suck it up private we have 10 more miles to go!)

Definitions from (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=suck%20it%20up&defid=2690)

I think there is something remarkably Christian about being able to suck it up.  Jesus set a good example.  He received flack and criticism, even crucifixion, but he sucked it up and endured hardship.  He complained remarkably little about his own circumstances.  He was a redeemer, not a whiner.  He showed strength (and lifted us up) rather than weakness (pulling us down).  Jesus brought encouragement—he revealed God’s love.  He sent the Holy Spirit as advocate and comforter.

The problem with being a chronic whiner is that it is remarkably ineffective.  It tends not only to weaken and discourage the whiner; it at the same time drives others away.  Jesus revealed “admirable patience and endurance shown in the face of adversity.”  In this sense he shared some qualities with the Stoics (quotation from definition of Stoicism, Encarta Dictionary).  But his relation with God made him anything but impassive.  He sought not only to accept, but to overcome—to realize heaven on earth (thy kingdom come; thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven).  Whiners see themselves as weak and victimized.  They constantly seek to place blame rather than accept responsibility.  To suck it up means that one makes do with what one has, and stops always wanting more.  We can all imagine better, even ideal circumstances and think we deserve them, can’t live without them.  The phrase “sucking it up” means that we accept current realities as given, at least for a time.  We decide to make peace with them and live with them until faith, effort, time, and fate bring changes.  The irony is that even possibilities inherent in current realities cannot be seen so long as victimization is one’s perceptual attitude.  Getting out of the whining mode allows one to see possibilities otherwise hidden.  So “suck it up” is good, even freeing advice.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Setting a pattern

Mark, my boss at work, has a laid back style.  Under great pressure, he remains cool.  Yet he is far from lackadaisical.  He works assiduously to provide the best computer experience to the staff.  This takes a lot of trouble and effort, and time and again he just buckles down and does it.  That this is a character trait is evidenced by how he also applies the same assiduousness to projects he undertakes outside of work.  He has accomplished many weekend projects that most others would call in a contractor for.  Yesterday he showed me a PowerPoint presentation he had developed at home for a Fantasy Football League that he heads.  He had gone to considerable effort to isolate and pull out a league logo from another image and tailored it to his particular league. The presentation will be displaying on his wide screen TV when the league gathers at his home this weekend.  It will be a simple way of introducing this year’s rule changes.  He also has created a computerized graphic chart for assigning draft picks, made arrangements for trophy presentations, and created a large presentation poster-sized check for the winner of last year’s league.  In short, he works for the league as if he were on stipend when in fact it is all done as a volunteer.  Mark’s efforts call to mind the following scripture: Matthew 25:23 (NIV) “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”  The master’s charge affirms the principle of character consistency—from a known pattern of actions future often unconnected acts are presumed.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

One Year to Live

The other day Kathy and I were watching a program that dealt with terminal illness. Kathy asked me what I would do if I had one year to live—what would I do that I’ve always wanted to do? My answer came quickly—to do what I’m doing. Let the remaining year be pretty much like the last. Why don’t I want to go to new places, do new things, and meet new people? The answer lies in my believing, first of all, that God has called me to be where I am. The second explanation is that I am a firm believer in the universal character of human nature. I appreciate that anyone I meet can disclose to me the heart of humanity—there is no need to search for strangers, the distinguished few, or celebrities. The third explanation follows from the second—since human nature is essentially the same; the major differences in life reside in accouterments and trappings which can fluctuate with the wheel of fortune. The underlying principles for successfully coping with nature do not change. The fourth explanation derives from an appreciation that I am (and always have been) greatly blessed. To require that my last year be a year of prime rib rather than spaghetti would be seriously unappreciative of the many advantages I’ve enjoyed. Perhaps I should wish for my last year to be lived in a place that’s pure hell (I’m confident that such places and circumstances exist). This would lead me to die even more appreciative of my previous circumstances and simultaneously realize a degree of cosmic justice. No thank you. If I have one year to live, may it be in God’s abiding love and in these green pastures.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hope and Safety—the duality of human nature

Uncertainty fuels hope. Where there is certainty (as in insured funds in a bank account) hope is not prominent or even necessary. If instead of insured funds one has stock investments, then the exercise of hope is very necessary and real. In this sense, risky behavior can be seen as an addiction to hope—hope as an emotion is so valuable to a person that they intentionally choose risky portfolios. In this sense, risky behavior can be an attempt to experience hope. Often underprivileged youth are condemned for risky behavior, when in fact that behavior can be seen as an attempt to keep hope alive. In this case, the adoption of risk can be seen as a generator of hope. Certainty, in this case, represents the current nailed-down reality and the acceptance of despair. To shun despair and experience hope, risky sometimes illegal behavior is adopted. This, of course, does not only apply to the underprivileged or to youth. When we observe risky behavior anywhere, we should ask is this an attempt to keep hope alive. Now we must ask: is hope a basic human emotional need? To say “yes” would mean to admit that humans are inherently risk takers. The existence of the insurance industry testifies that people, if they are sometimes risk takers, are also concurrently risk adverse. In my view this duality is the real human condition—we want enough risk to experience hope, but enough certainty to experience safety. My plea is that when we confront law breakers, we ask if the basic human need for hope is a fundamental motivator. We should ask: what other options for hope present themselves? It’s easier to shake our heads than use them to help find solutions. Common sources of hope include education, sports, politics, and religion.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Contagious Divinity


What does it mean to say that humanity has the divine spark?  Certainly we see in Michelangelo’s Creation that man before the touch of God lacks passion.  Adam before the divine touch recalls the following passage from Revelation 3:14-18 (NIV):

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:  These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Without the divine spark there is no passion, no creativity, no vitality, and no hope.  The divine spark gives humanity these things.  One of the saddest sights ever beheld is to look in the eyes of another and find there a vacant, dark, oblivious gaze into dead-end despair.  Then, like God at creation, we yearn to instill a fresh spirit for we know that we are witnessing a tragedy—the death of the divine spark.  Then we yearn greatly and instinctively to offer a human touch informed by heavenly grace.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

I wouldn’t want to be any Trouble—Baloney

It’s funny sometimes how dense it’s possible to be.  I’ve sat at dinner tables and when asked if I would like another serving said “no thanks” when I’ve really wanted it.  I’ve sat at a supper table wanting a little pepper, but rather than asking someone to pass the pepper down the table, I’ve done without.  All of this reluctance and reserve was because I didn’t want to be any trouble—to call attention to my needs.  Never mind that someone worked several hours to prepare the meal and that my reserve, in view of all the work they put into the meal, was petty and ridiculous.  The whole idea that I can live out my life without causing any trouble is preposterous in the first place since I have required service in one way or another from before I was born.  The trouble I caused my parents started before diapers and lasted, in one way or another, until the day they died.  The fact that I so seldom thought of all the work and effort they did for me just shows they never complained about it.  In fact, in most cases with perhaps the exception of the diapers, they were happy to do it—even got a sense of worth and value from doing it.  And my being trouble and a burden can be seen as true for all those my life has touched, however remotely—those involved in the social system providing me with education, health, and welfare.  So if I have any hang-ups or false modesty about not wanting to cause any trouble, I should get over it since in one way or another I’ve been trouble all my life.  It’s pure fantasy to think I am, or ever have been, self-sufficient.

So at 66, it’s not too late for me to see the obvious—I can’t live without requiring help from others--it comes with mere existence.  But by making demands on others and concurrently providing service to others a mutuality of effort and rewards exits.  It becomes a nexus of service that helps hold together human relationships and society itself.  In fact I have come to see it as an offense if I refuse to give others the opportunity to serve.  Following the Golden Rule, I would not want my efforts at help and service to be rejected or even obviated—I get too much sense of self-worth out of being able to give a gift or to offer a hand.  Likewise, I should graciously accept help or gifts from others--not overly agonizing about my dependent role.  To so agonize can be seen as a little silly if not downright selfish.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Today at Church

David Miller’s sermon today was on the idol worship of self—when we try to play God.  The first Sunday school lesson was on the amazingly personal love of God: “The Bible says that God knows when a sparrow falls to the ground.”  Each of us is in the palm of God’s hand.  The second lesson celebrated those who work with youth in positive ways.  The lesson observed that it is “hard to imagine anything more challenging than being a Christian teenager in today’s culture.”   The third lesson taught that as Christians we need to act passionately to help bring abundant life to others.  The fourth lesson was summed up by Mitch in observing that God is in the recycling business.  (“The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” Luke 19:10.)  God finds the broken and discarded then gives them new life.  When we see someone scavenging through a refuse bin, we should remember that God is in the same business. 

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Shrek in Me


Today I watched the first movie of the Shrek series.  The Shrek movies are known for their universal appeal.  The appeal of Shrek derives from the movie’s superb craftsmanship and from the celebration of the many comic elements in human experience—including among them the scatological.  Like that of humans, the ogre’s bodily functions (which some would try to wish away or find beneath recognition—certainly not finding them a subject for amusement) are celebrated as an indicator of the comedy of life and respect for the real.  It is an optimistic movie in that it rests on requited love.  Given humanity at its most real (the ogre in all of us), we see existence ennobled by the experience of honesty, love, and friendship.  In fact, whether or not to voice the feelings of love and friendship becomes a test of simple honesty and character, and we rejoice when the feelings are expressed for we find in that way lies the promise of happiness.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

The Ethical Implications of Self-Confidence

Today on the news was the story of an accident in which an older classic car was rear ended. The impact caused the car to catch fire. The driver was not able to get out of the car. Several people, two in particular, came to the driver’s aid. After working for about two minutes (though it seemed a lot longer) they were able to pull the driver out of his burning car. The driver suffered some injury from the collision itself, and also some burns from the fire. Obviously, without the assistance of the two strangers, he would not have survived at all. The two men who came immediately to his aid displayed solid self-confidence in their ability to assist in the aftermath of the accident. Certainly, the men’s action can be considered ethical behavior of a high order—behavior that would not have occurred if the men lacked self-confidence. In this light, it can be seen that acquiring self-confidence is important not only to accomplish work, but also in responding to ethical imperatives. (Jesus without self-confidence is unimaginable.) Thus, instilling self-confidence in people has great moral significance since it has implications for ethical action.

Since self-confidence is vital for ethical growth and action, it is worth considering how self-confidence is instilled. It is instilled by positive experiences of many types—at home, school, work, at social encounters. Specifically, the self-confident person comes to feel that they can make a positive contribution. Obviously, self-confidence can be distinguished from selfish pride, egomania, and self-righteousness--all self-centered characteristics. Self-confidence (odd as it may seem since it is a form of personal empowerment) is not self-centered, but as the rescuers after the traffic accident demonstrate, it elicits service to others—it is other-directed. It is in society’s interest to cultivate individuals with strong self-confidence for the sake of the individuals’ own happiness and for society’s good.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Swamp of Mental Stasis

We could all look like geniuses if it were not for the swamp of mental stasis.

So much of appearing sharp has to do with the timeliness of the observation made.  For example several days ago at work we were discussing a new software update that we will be installing for our department.  Several years ago I participated in an earlier update of the same software, so it is plausible that some questions would immediately come to mind regarding changes that now might have to be made--was there anything we had to do last time that we might need to consider now?  But I didn’t ask that question; I was in the swamp of mental stasis assuming everything could go on pretty much as usual with the focus centered on the idea of software, nothing else.  Today we got the computer spec requirements to run the new update.  Sure enough, new memory requirements necessitate our adding memory to many department computers to get them up to spec.  How I wish several days ago I would have offered up this question: “I wonder if we will need to upgrade memory.”  With that question (and with today’s specs and confirmation of the question’s relevance and importance), I could have appeared prescient.  Instead, when we were discussing the installation several days ago I sat like a bump on a log in the midst of a hazy swamp.

Objects at rest tend to stay at rest—and this includes mental states.  It makes me wonder what can be done about this mental lethargy.  What could I do next time (and there will be many of them with variations) that would make me more incisive?  I think questions like: What am I focusing on—is that focus too narrow? (Take for granted that it usually is.)  What ramifications does a wider focus area bring to light?  What will be needed given this broader view?  I have hastily gone out on a job with the focus on one thing, only to find once I get there that I need this tool, switch, or cable that I’ve left behind because it was outside my narrow focus—but the need could have been easily anticipated with a broader viewpoint.  For repetitive jobs, checklists with a wide compass can be devised.  But often jobs are unique and transient enough that checklists are not created or consulted.  In these cases one should always ask before setting out, am I acting like a bump on the log or a genius at work?  A genius at work will have a wide viewpoint while appreciating the importance of detail; the bump on the log will have a narrow focus on a fixed idea, with only hazy regard for broader detail requirements.  The genius anticipates and envisions; the bump on the log rests content with a restricted view.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

You Are Driving Me up the Wall

Allan Burry was Chaplin of the Wesley Foundation when I was an undergraduate at USF in 1964.  He said once that if you love someone, you need to tell them when and if they are “driving you up the wall.”  That remark has stuck with me all these years because too often it seems the definition of love means we must lose all objectivity and even honesty.  We must suffer all offenses—no matter how egregious—to show our love.  “Walk all over me as much as you please,” is the attitude mistakenly assumed.  What is wrong with this approach?  Basically, it undermines a relationship because hypocrisy and insincerity become the modus operandi of the relationship.  Issues that obviously are important become covered over, resulting in resentment.  Maybe in small matters of courtesy, insincerity is not overly serious, but in recurring matters that are “driving you up the wall” they obviously are important and need to be addressed.  Not to speak up when called for does not show love or tolerance or patience, it shows a misunderstanding of love as subjective “touchy-feely” stuff that totally leaves out the most basic form of truth—objectivity relating to direct experience.  This undermines love as a serious approach to meeting the challenges of life.  It cheapens love to a syrupy greeting card sentiment completely cut off from real interactions.  Such sentimentality becomes a haven of cowards.  It no longer is an important tool for navigating human relationships.  In the end, it may even show a patronizing attitude—the offended one is too elevated and strong and the offending person is too low and weak to merit dealing with the truth on a sincere and straight forward level.  A high regard for the concept of love as a discipline of human behavior requires due diligence to prevent the concept from becoming a cheap, tawdry imitation rightly reviled as a means for meeting the requirements of reality.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vacation Lessons

Vacation days are almost over. Once more it’s time to settle in to a school routine—to hold in the land of memories the family vacation. What lessons were learned out of school?--that your family can be clearly defined as a unit in a car on the open road (that getting the car serviced and checked is important); that your fate for a brief time was clearly and dramatically cast with your family; that meals together and other activities in strange places can claim the strange places as your own special and familiar memories; that even distant relatives are loving and reliable; that mom and dad are not completely defined by work and chores but can be seen in a new light as adventurous and fun loving; that the world looks different in different places—but that’s ok. You can survive the new and unfamiliar; that special times are important; that when you leave home, you can return and your own town, your own home, your own room, and your own pets will be waiting for you; that it’s safe to leave home and be adventurous; that leaving the nest of home somehow portends the future; that life is a long and winding road; that good things outnumber the bad; that change is worth the risk and effort; that faith and trust are required for any worthwhile undertaking.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

The Will to Connect

The will to connect is a matter of careful focus, active listening, and informed response—when communication is not sold out to the polite conventions of discourse.  The polite conventions of discourse are very powerful.  I had a linguistic professor who admitted to a long-standing temptation—on leaving at the close of a tiring party he would like to meet the host at the door and in a very polite and conventional tone and inflection say, “I had a perfectly miserable time.”  It was his guess that the host would hear only the conventional tone and inflection and not the literal content and duly respond, “Thank you very much.”  The conventions of discourse can give us a free ride in social engagement, and that’s why we so frequently engage in them.  We can be barely listening and appear to be carrying on animated social discourse.  We tend to remember as archived snapshots in time our encounters with those who have an earnest will to connect.  I remember some years ago waiting in a long reception line for the new Resident Bishop of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church, Timothy W. Whitaker.  It was at a conference held at the Lakeland Center and the line snaked around several large rooms.  I stood in line for over 30 minutes.  When it came time for me to shake hands with the new bishop and his wife I rather apologetically introduced myself.  He immediately mentioned working with my brother and nephew.  I was stunned.  He actually, after meeting all these people, was still listening—not merely going through the motions of polite conventional discourse.  He impressed me immediately as being a very capable person—not so much that he recognized my last name, but because he was still listening at all.  The will to connect precedes rather than follows real communication.  The bishop did not tire, but maintained an active will to connect.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Today at Church

David Miller’s sermon today was on the worship of success.  At one point he mentioned that sometimes he has thought about getting a doctorate.  But he questions his motives.  Is the real reason for getting it so that people could see the diploma on his office wall—the desire for status and success?  He said he was discussing it with someone this week.  They told him he should get the PhD only if he would get it even if no one ever found out he obtained the degree.  It struck Pastor Miller that this was a good way of approaching it.  This would be getting it for the right reasons.  In Sunday school we were able to cover two lessons today.  The scripture for the first lesson was 1 Corinthians 12:4—“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.”  The lesson was written by Carol Nyborg. She wrote: “We are all given a spark of the Holy Spirit that ignites when we engage in a work where our passion lies.”  Mitch said that everyone needs something that they can be passionate about—where their mind and emotions are engaged and where the Holy Spirit can find expression.  When people lack this outlet, the need for passionate engagement can take unfortunate turns—for example in irrational prejudices that can be harmful or in the worship of idols.  The second lesson by Dean Williams stated that “…God will be reliable when our world crumbles, righteous when others fail us, our rock when fear of the unknown grips our hearts.”  This lesson dealt with the challenges that everyone faces—no one is exempt from misfortunes.  When--not if--they occur, we need to be ready to meet the trials with a firm faith.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Components of Insight

                                                            Illustration by W. Heath Robinson


We are all familiar with the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes.  The plot of this short tale by Hans Christian Andersen follows:

An Emperor who cares for nothing but his wardrobe hires two weavers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or "just hopelessly stupid". The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position or stupid; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime and the Emperor then marches in procession before his subjects. A child in the crowd calls out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself up proudly and continues the procession. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emperor's_New_Clothes)

This short tale reveals to us almost all we need to know about insight.  The intelligence to see clearly into situations is often not the problem.  But confounded by tradition, inhibitions, and fears we constrain ourselves.  Consciously or unconsciously, we shackle our perceptions.  When we consider men like Luther who shook the world, we find that intelligence contributed to their insight, but no less did courage, passion, and belief.  It is a major mistake to think of insight as primarily intellectual and a product of IQ rather than the result of innocence (to full consequences), humility (before facts), and the (uncalculated) candor of a child.  The next time you meet someone who you feel displays insight, note if they do not have a childlike quality—a sense in which they have refused to “grow up and calculatingly toe the party line.”

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Starting Over

Today was Jeff’s last day at Leisure Services.  He applied for and got a job with the City’s ICS Department working primarily in computer support for the Police Department.  I have worked with Jeff for about four years now, and consider that he presented me with a great gift.  All my life I have looked at controversy as a negative—something to be avoided, not at all cost surely, but as much as possible.  I suspected that friendship could not withstand the test of controversy.  How wrong I was.  Jeff, who loves to “keep it real,” showed me that honest disagreement can, on the contrary, strengthen a friendship.  By not fearing to handle snakes (as the Bible might say), truth and integrity need not be sacrificed on the altar of concord.  Quite to the contrary, by exploring honest disagreements, respect and trust are strengthened and friendship is deepened. Were we always fair and enlightened in our political discussions?  No, but that doesn’t matter.  In a sense, it would have been dishonest.  When one is passionate about something, objectivity and evenhandedness are sometimes trumped by emotional truth.  Friendship affirms rather than denies the full freight of human nature.   


Starting Over

Polar opposites in politics
We had our days of fire and smoke,
But allies in life and work
The broad light of day brought us close;
You supported me, I supported you,
You liked my writing; I liked your style--
Your intrepid ability, with a little mischief, to “keep it real;”
Now you go on to bigger things,
Another time another place
Another room filled with people and machines,
Humming away in peace and quiet
Not realizing (like I do) soon they’re in for a special treat
A little reboot from the mischief seat.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Most Critical Juncture

I heard a history professor say one time that every age tends to think of their age as a most critical and special time--never before has humankind faced the crisis or opportunities that now confront us. This brings to mind the line of a poem: “Christ has no hands but our hands.” Of course, there’s no stopping God. He is going to accomplish His will despite what we may or may not do. Nevertheless, from a human viewpoint I think it is most useful to consider the following poem as a mandate for considered action and the assumption of responsibility. There is, after all, a sense in which it simply holds true for our moment on life’s stage (the “today” when it is our turn to act).

Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today

Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way
He has no tongue but our tongue to tell men how He died
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.

We are the only Bible the careless world will read,
We are the sinner’s gospel; we are the scoffer’s creed;
We are the Lord’s last message, given in word and deed;
What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred?

What if our hands are busy with other work than His?
What if our feet are walking where sin’s allurement is?
What if our tongue is speaking of things His lips would spurn?
How can we hope to help Him or welcome His return?
—Annie Johnston Flint

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Medical Impressions

Several weeks ago in the morning I arrived at work limping.  My leg was sore and swollen.  I informed my supervisor that I had injured it while playing football the night before with some teenagers at Bartlett Park.  He looked at me for a long moment with some admiration, yet solid disbelief.  Then I told him the real reason for the limp, I fell off the bed while asleep the night before, landing on the hardwood floor.  He said, “Oh, you were playing football in your dreams.”  In any case, the swelling in my leg remains, so today I went to an orthopedic surgeon.  It turns out his practice is sports medicine—so my “football injury” turned out to be not too far off base.  In his consulting room he has framed football jerseys of the Tampa Bay Bucs.  The staff immediately x-rayed my leg and found no broken bones.  What was most impressive was the total lack of pretense by everyone in the office.  The doctor came up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Brian Burke.”  I said, “I’m Wayne Standifer.”  He was dressed in a casual white shirt and was wearing tennis shoes.  The lady who did the x-rays was also friendly and straightforward, as well as all the office staff.  I thought to myself, these people are not out to impress me by being a cut above me or acting like I’m due a distant and cautious respect; they just are providing service in a friendly straightforward way.  It turns out by their not trying to impress me; they impressed me all the more.  It was a treat, this lack of ceremony and being treated as an equal on human terms.  I have to get an MRI of my knee next week (to check for cartilage damage), and am scheduled to return to the doctor’s office the Friday afterwards.  Despite my usual controlled enthusiasm over a required office visit for medical attention, I can’t help looking forward to a second visit to this virtual den of amicable equity.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When Turkey Is Served

Whenever my father preached a sermon that he thought was a dud, at the Sunday dinner table (we called our noon meal dinner) he would say with a grin and chuckle that his sermon that day had been “a turkey.”  I feel the same way about my blog.  Now and then I hope the reader will find some good things, but now and then also the reader is sure to find some turkeys.  When this occurs I hope besides the wince, the reader will be able to chuckle at my foolishness and hopefully, on second glance, I will chuckle too.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

The Assumption Dilemma

The simple truth is that nothing would get done if we didn’t make assumptions.  We would literally be frozen in our tracks if it were not for assumptions made relating to our physical world, as well in the world of human relations.  The relevant question is not whether or not to assume, but rather how confident are we in that assumption.    Not only is it a matter of calculable risk, it is also a matter of faith and trust in unknowns and intangibles.  A very important question is how much faith can be put in people.  Friday the head of Hewlett Packard stepped down for falsifying an expense account.  As an investor I had assumed that character in the top ranks of the company would not be an issue, partly I guess because I calculated that top executives made sufficient salary that it would be in their self-interest to be honest.  But human beings are not rational calculating machines.  They are subject to irrational behavior.  This means that character assumptions must remain tentative.  Yet, any effective action requires trust; hence, an awesomely fundamental dilemma.  The only way out of this dilemma when dealing with human beings is:  “Trust, but verify”—a favorite saying of Ronald Reagan.  Even in the family unit this is done in an informal way.  Human behavior is not isolated to the corporate, national, and international levels.  (I might also add that trust and verification are common necessities in physical systems and processes as well.)  So how would I answer the child’s question: “Don’t you trust me?”  I would say, “Yes, I trust you.”  (I will err on the side of trust.)  “Just don’t push my hot buttons.”

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Today at Church

David’s Miller’s sermon today was on the idol of money—which it turns out is a way station idol—the drives for transcendent success or significance are the idols which finally fuel a desire for wealth.  We saw an amusing video about a guy who claimed to be content, but always compared his relative sparse possessions with the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by his neighbor. Whether it was the pool, the riding lawn mower, the vacations to Hawaii, or the Ferrari, he always seemed to come up lacking.  He had many advantages, but he focused on his lack of advantages compared to his wealthy neighbor.  The drives for success or significance can cause us to spend money on ourselves when we should be thinking of the less fortunate.

In Sunday school as usual we used lessons from the Upper Room.  The first lesson was about worry and was based on Matthew 6:34—“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  We focused on the human tendency to fixate on the future and to exert ourselves climbing the ladder, achieving ambitions, gaining possessions; and all the while discounting the value of a more humble focus on daily gifts and opportunities for service.  The second lesson was from 1 Timothy 4:14—“Do not neglect the gift that is in you.”  Here it was mentioned that each of us has talents and gifts unique to us.  God does not expect the same from all of us, but takes into account our unique abilities.  The third lesson began with Psalm 46:10—“Be still, and know that I am God.”  This lesson emphasized the need to have times of quiet and peace—not cluttered by distractions—where we can contemplate and derive divine inspiration.  The forth lesson was introduced by Ephesians 5:1-2—“Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”  The lesson was written by Jeff Matthews who has been incarcerated since 1990.  Another inmate started to hassle him about his faith.  For months he was the subject of derogatory remarks about Christianity.  One day while under attack, he interrupted the speaker and said “My friend, nothing you ever say to me or do to me will stop me from loving you.”  The attacker stood speechless and Jeff walked away.  A few days later Jeff met him in the hallway.  He told Jeff “I haven’t slept since you told me you loved me the other day.  That’s exactly what Jesus would have told me.  You’re a real Christian.  Please forgive me for the way I’ve treated you.”  The lesson here was that we must always be ready and willing to invest our love even though we are uncertain as to the outcome.  All the facts of a situation may be unknown and unknowable, but even with incomplete knowledge and uncertain outcome; we know that love is the right investment to make.  We should give it our best, and trust God with the rest.

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Tribute to that Stringent Balm--Mischief



Mischief maker: “somebody who causes or enjoys causing harmless trouble” Encarta Dictionary.

Today I had the great fun of watching mischief makers in action.  Our manager (a city guy) recently went on a vacation to a rural area and came back with stories of his prodigious accomplishments in skeet shooting with a rifle (never mind that he was actually using a shotgun).  The two mischief makers decided to create a photo with Photoshop fixing the head of the manager on the body of Annie Oakley.  The resulting personage is dressed in frontier clothing and comes replete with a rifle at the ready.  The picture was then printed out (poster size) and presented to the manager who at the time of presentation, by good fortune, happened to have his boss present.  The pursuant consternation was enjoyed by all, though the manager did suggest as a solution he might remove Photoshop from our department.

I think that mischief making is a gift from above.  Look at all the good it does.  It brings surprise, laughter, happiness, and fresh perspective, all in a framework of loving goodwill.  It shows spunk and spirit, wit, talent, and a benevolent intelligence.  Surely Dennis the Menace’s neighbor, Mr. Wilson, would be the poorer without the incorrigible mischief maker next door.    Thank goodness for Dennis the Menaces of all shapes, sizes, ages, and sexes, who bring penetrating originality to a sometimes too routine and stuffy world.

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Endpoint We Come to

Is the worship of God really the worship of the individual--a positing of a sacred being to guarantee human freedom; to allow the individual to appeal to a higher power and thus become ultimate boss themselves? Is it a cloaking of egotism in a false mantle of humility—I am, while claiming humility, beholding to no one but God, who it turns out is a mere projection of myself?

No doubt people who feel they are God exist. But the preponderance of the faithful that I’ve known feels deeply within themselves their own imperfections. They appreciate that others accept them despite their limitations. They believe in a loving God for they feel forgiven. They feel that God is perfect, and they know only too well that they are not perfect—that they are not God.

Religion can be used as a vehicle for abuse especially when self-righteousness predominates. But a believer in God who is at once humble and repenting is prima facie evidence that God is not a self-projection of egotism. The endpoint we come to is that human freedom when based on the worship of God is not slavery to self.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Just so Conception Comes

Brilliance would be all that’s needed,
If the world and all its processes were readily tractable,
But the world, we find, is often very set in its ways,
It challenges us, like a game, to find the key that unlocks
Not the final solution, but merely a door to the next level,
And we learn there are sufficient rooms to test not only our wits
But most importantly, our perseverance--
Our curiosity, imagination, hard work, and passion--
Together these form the essential structure,
To puzzle it out with purpose,
Anticipating that the good idea will come in the end,
Perhaps from sharp intelligence, perhaps from yeoman’s luck;
It doesn’t really matter which,
Just so conception comes.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

We Discriminate (Against Bullies) Here

Today a supervisor from a recreation facility came by the office late in the day. He was expressing some dismay in that a customer demanded a refund which strictly by policy should not have been made. But because the customer made a loud protest taking it higher and higher in the organization, a refund was finally given. This raises the question, is the customer always right? The answer clearly has to be “no.” Some customers can be macho bullies foisting their intimidating tactics on the organization until right caves-in to bravado. I remember one time when I was hyper; I went to a Wal-Mart late in the evening with an item I wanted to return. Customer service was closed. I demanded a refund right away from a line of employees until finally reaching a manager. She heard me out (“I bought it here, I’m going to get a refund here and now”). But she rather sternly said, “No, you will need to come back when customer service is open.” I am now grateful that she maintained company policy despite my ill-mannered behavior. I have greater respect for an organization that simply realizes the customer is not always right and stands by policies essential for operating their business. “The customer is always right” approach rewards bullying, selfishness in its ugliest forms, and outright dishonesty. We hear a lot about entitlement culture. Surely this is a form of it. The attitude “I’m a customer so you owe me anything I want and you’d better smile and like it” is surely not the way to develop a society with strong moral character or respect for organizations. Both the organization and the customer have their respective duties.

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Convergence

Photo Essay mostly of Saint Petersburg:

Monday, August 2, 2010

Why Being Macho Is Irrelevant to keeping one’s Cool

I remember a quote about Yul Brynner from one of his admirers---he had “an extra quart of champagne is his veins.” I don’t know exactly what was intended by the compliment, but to me it meant he was cool under pressure. I greatly admire people who are cool under pressure—people who have the right stuff. You recognize it in people who keep their heads in situations that would fluster many others. For me a prime example would be getting a flat tire during rush hour on the Howard Franklin Bridge. Some would almost panic, but there are a few who would remain cool even though their driving skills were comparable to those with the first reaction. What lies behind this composure and continued sound thought processes and judgment under pressure? What keeps the cool from losing it and becoming flustered—what causes some to take rash actions that create more problems than they solve. Is it in the genes or is it a behavior that can be acquired? What lies behind “keeping one’s cool?”

I have a blog entry July 17th called “Notes to Teico on the Essential Character of Love.” Like a litany of the fruit of the Spirit I mentioned that lovers respect their material (and the reality it presents); they accept ownership of problems (and the effort and risk it may entail); they realize that approaching the problem in the right way has fundamental even eternal significance—they respect and honor the long term; they have patience when handling a problem (no elixir is likely to magically solve problems instantly—there will be a series of steps); they have patience to tolerate complexity. In my view, being a disciplined lover (filled with the Spirit) in this way is the secret of keeping one’s cool.

Take our flat tire on Howard Franklin Bridge as an example. When the flat occurs, some will initially want to deny reality, perhaps even with frustration or anger. The next aspect of the flustered response is to deny ownership of the problem. They simply don’t want to accept that a problem has occurred and that they are the lucky one appointed to deal with it—they don’t want to accept the work or the risk; they act irresponsibly. The flustered also focus on the short term and want an instant escape. The flustered have no patience with the complexity a safe outcome will entail.

Compare this with one keeping their cool (the spiritually healthy person). When the flat tire occurs they accept its reality and realize they must enter a problem solving mode. They accept the problem as a challenge they must meet (they quietly accept the work and risk required). They realize a total solution will require many steps, so they set about prioritizing what must be done, and proceed to act responsibly (in the right way). They recognize that even a flat tire can offer complex things to deal with. They accept this as a matter of course.

From my point of view “keeping one’s cool” essentially derives from one’s spiritual health—from a deep appreciation for the disciplines of love and fruit of the Spirit. One can be macho and be cool, or one can be macho and be a fool. It is irrelevant. What truly matters is one’s spiritual tenor. Someone who cannot be troubled or bothered by circumstances and is above dealing with reality may appear cool, but they are merely the cousins of the flustered putting on a bland facade. True coolness, true inner peace is always a spiritual matter and is evidenced by real world results.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Today in Sunday School

Today several in the class expressed concerns about living in an assisted living facility (ALF). One member, who is blind, had his dentures stolen during the week. He blames it on staff. He said the staff is inconsiderate—speaking loudly in his room and banging drawers and going through his personal things. Another resident (and member of the class) was drowsy today because of medication. He said staff wanted to control him so gave him extra medication—a chemical straightjacket. It gave me pause to think behind the Pleasantville fa├žade of some ALF’s is a great deal of unhappiness and even (like in an Agatha Christie mystery) a measure of danger.

Our first of five lessons today discussed fear and the ways that we can conquer it. Mitch discussed fear as a self-fulfilling prophecy—we expect the worst so get it. We can remember that friends and family like a great cloud of witnesses can give us encouragement. We can also look to the support that God offers. Our second lesson called “Mistakes in the Bible” gave me a new way of looking at the Bible—not only is it the inerrant Word of God it is also a reliable take on errant human nature. The mistakes in the Bible are human mistakes like the mistakes of Adam, Cain, and the rich young ruler. We should be thankful for this divine instruction manual that incorporates human nature as it is. Our third lesson was on hope. The lesson suggested that we keep a prayer journal not only of our petitions but also of blessing received. Our fourth lesson was from 1 Peter 2:2-3: “now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Like fresh peaches from a fruit orchard where a first taste calls for more, Psalm 34 calls us “to taste and see that the Lord is good.” The lesson points out that “when we live as God asks—our lives are improved.” The Psalmist is confident that our initial experience of God will call for more as our lives are improved. The fifth and final lesson was from Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” This lesson taught the enduring nature of Christian hope, despite temporary setbacks caused by a broken world.

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