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Monday, January 31, 2011

Wizard at Work

Today I was a computer whiz.  My work was on a computer that both my co-workers had attempted to fix and failed.  A computer at Azalea Adult Center was not opening up Oracle—the accounting software for the City.  We had tired multiple things to fix the problem without success both at the center itself and all of us remotely from the office.  From the office, Ryan remoted in and tried to fix the problem but was unsuccessful.  Mark had worked on the problem extensively several days ago without success.  I recognized that it would be quite a feather in my cap if I were to be the one to solve the issue.  I tried to remote into the computer using PCAnywhere but for some reason had difficulty.  I quickly switched to Altiris Deployment—another way that we can remote into a computer.  I began working on the problem and lo and behold the computer started opening up Oracle.  I attributed the solution to the most recent thing I tired—turning off pop-up blockers in the browser.  Naturally, I immediately told Mark and Ryan about my success (being gracious enough not to mention that they had overlooked the obvious).  They looked at me with some wonder, and I perceived maybe even a little envy.  After celebrating for a bit, it came to our attention that I had mistakenly remoted into a computer I had worked on in the morning at Frank Pierce Center. I had “fixed” the wrong computer—a computer that had always opened Oracle.  My stunning discovery turned into a dud.  Being a computer genius has its drawbacks, especially if it glitters with the illusory brilliance of fool’s gold.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Press as an Institution of Society

The institutions of society are the family, the church, government, and the creative sector.  The more I see happen in the world, like this week’s unrest in Egypt, the more I think that a part of the private sector—the free press—deserves to be recognized as a separate institution.  It is centrally important to a society and its health; it is a good barometer of the society’s health and inner strength.  The free press is not a luxury; it is not expendable.  The free press, like the family, the church, government, and the creative sector has an inherent sanctity and legitimacy all its own.  A stifling of the press (really what now can be understood in a larger sense as free communication) by one or more of the other institutions indicates that contrivance rather than natural law is the underlying source of authority—the institutions have been commandeered by the unrighteous.  Such contrivances lack fundamental legitimacy and hence will not thrive or endure.

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Whatever Time May Take Away

Once when I was in the spirit I heard this song. It moved me deeply. Surely time and vision have changed, but “Whatever time may take away/ It cannot change the way we feel today.”

Glen Frey - Part Of Me, Part Of You

I felt it when the sun came up this morning
I knew that I could not wait another day
Darling, there is something I must tell you
A distant voice is calling me away

Until we find the bridge across forever
Until this grand illusion brings us home
You and I will always be together
From this day on you'll never walk alone

You're a part of me, I'm a part of you
Wherever we may travel
Whatever we go through
Whatever time may take away
It cannot change the way we feel today
So hold me close and say you feel it too
You're a part of me and I'm a part of you

I can hear it when i stand beside the river
I can see it when i look up in the sky
I can feel it when i hear that lonesome highway
So many miles to go before i die

We can never know about tomorrow
But still we have to choose which way to go
You and I are standing at the crossroads
Darling, there is one thing you should know

You're a part of me, I'm a part of you
Wherever we may travel
Whatever we go through
Whatever time may take away
It cannot change the way we feel today
So hold me close and say you feel it too
You're a part of me and I'm a part of you

I look at you your whole life stands before you
I look at me and I'm running out of time
Time has brought us here to share these moments
To look for something we may never find

Until we find the bridge across forever
Until this grand illusion brings us home
You and I will always be together
From this day on you'll never walk alone

You're a part of me, I'm a part of you
Wherever we may travel
Whatever we go through
Whatever time may take away
It cannot change the way we feel today
So hold me close and say you feel it too
You're a part of me and I'm a part of you

part of you, part of me, part of you
part of me, part of you

Retrieved from: Sing365.com.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Laws of Power (6)

My son Alton and I are reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and sharing our responses to the readings.

Robert Greene’s 6th law of power is:  Court attention at all cost.  Everything is judged by its appearance, what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion.  Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost.  Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious than the bland and timid masses. 

The person who seeks to court attention at all cost yearns to be a leader—to stand out of the crowd.  But what is the essential quality of a leader?  A leader stands out as being either a good leader or a bad leader.  When discussing leadership always take it personally—what sort of leader would you want to follow if that person were your boss?  Would you really want a boss who courted attention at all cost, who judged everything by appearance, who fastidiously crafted an image of mystery and yearned to be exotically important?  I think in short order you would be thinking “cease with the theatrics already, this job is not about you—there’s work to do.  Stop with the mind games and eternal attempts to appear better than us—the bland and timid masses who do the work and who would like to trade you in for a plain and plain-spoken servant leader who thinks at least half as much of us as he does himself.  The best of the American national character includes the trait that looks beyond a juvenile fixation on appearance and seeks simplicity and reality.  There is an underlying respect for and sense of equality with one’s fellow citizens that runs counter to attempts to appear larger and more mysterious than the next person.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

My 67th Birthday

Feeling good in every way
Except for small lick and promise pains
I have left behind midlife crises
And young man pressures
And the intimidations that afflicted me in youth—
People have said it before
And it holds true for me
There is a second childhood of happiness
As responsibilities and ambitions subside
Most especially as daydreams relax their strict exigencies
Or at least lighten up a bit
I sense once again the freedom of wild horses
With provisions provided by God and the bountiful plains,
I need not relentlessly contemplate the future so much
As to appreciate and celebrate each given day.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Comfort in Knowing the Lay of the Land

In order to get into the MBA program at USF I had to take the GMAT exam.  I dutifully took the exam.  The result was not good.  I made 494 (only 60% of examinees made lower than me).  The school requested that I retake the exam.  This time I purchased a GMAT study guide.  The key advantage this guide provided was not answers to exam questions—of course none of the preparatory questions appeared on the actual exam.  But what it did do was to get me thoroughly familiar with the sorts of questions and their format that would appear on the exam and the typical instructions that preceded exam sections.  So when I retook the exam, I was not in strange territory.  I had become thoroughly familiar with instructions and questions similar to those on the exam.  On retake my score was 621 (or 93%). 

In other words, the only real difference between the first exam and the second was that I knew in advance the lay of the land—I knew what to expect so could use all my time actually addressing the questions and not instead trying to figure out instructions or getting comfortable with a strange question format.  Getting to know the lay of the land is more comprehensive than just gaining experience.  One can amass tons of experience without positive results.  Experience is only important if lessons are learned.  Recognizing familiar territory requires that one has been there before, that one has learned from the experience, and that pattern recognition is elicited leading one to feel comfortable and familiar with the fresh situation—a sense of imminent mastery.

On my first encounter with the GMAT exam, I was much like a capable but disadvantaged youth.  The native ability was there, but a facilitating sense of familiarity with the environment was not.  To be free to perform, one cannot feel like an alien befuddled by a strange land.  For successful performance the tremendous importance of an underlying sense of comfort brought on by recognition of the familiar should not be underestimated.  

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Concord City

Tonight I watched the State of the Union Address.  I delighted in the unity portrayed.  Certainly there were vast differences in opinions present.  But one thing was clear.  Love was there.  Love for the American idea, and love for those who live and espouse the American idea.  Deep reverence and respect for individuals and institutions of government and society were evident.  Creativity and imagination triumphed over contentious thought.  It was for me a “spot of time” to be remembered when debate will seem to suggest that we live in a house divided.  There will always be lots of noise in our democracy, but no, the house is not divided on the essentials of liberty and the love for it or for the disciplines required to keep it vital.  

From Wordsworth’s The Prelude (1805 edition):

There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence–depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse–our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Gun Control Is Good

Until today I have struggled to understand the pro-gun position and have left any political action up to others.  That ended today with my contribution to the Brady Campaign.  I have watched the last public servant attacked without my protest.  Two Saint Petersburg police today were killed by gunfire.  The shock and sorrow encountered by others in other cities was brought home to me.

Throughout my life I have watched in silence as political leaders have been assassinated.  I have heard very few arguments on their behalf or on behalf of thousands of other public servants who are open daily to the lethal unhappiness of others.  And it’s not only public servants in an official sense, but also for those who serve the public in the private sector.

The time has come to end the Wild West romance with guns—the perverted belief that we will all be freer if we all pack heat.  I will say for the first time without hedging or compromise—that is a loony, silly, crazy, bizarre notion entertained only by the violently conditioned.  Justice is a product of the state, not of the heat carried in the pocket.

Yet the political fight to end a plethora of guns will be fierce.  The reason is that the Wild West view of idiosyncratic justice is touted most by “law and order” disciples.  The disingenuousness of this position must be made plainly evident.  Justice enforced by me out of the barrel of a gun short-circuits what can only be attained through a legal process.  Vigilante justice is the preference of the unhappy, the angry, and the impatient.  I will impose my will right here, right now—to hell with anything that smacks of a process. We see “justice delayed is justice denied” turned on its head—justice this instant is justice denied.  Vigilante justice while as satisfying as the satisfaction of a child throwing his dinner plate on the floor is not in any way productive of real liberty based on real justice.  Guns are rightly for the province of the state to protect freedom and ensure justice, not for individuals playing at being mini-states.   

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Today at Moody

Today I listened to Moody Bible Institute as it streamed messages delivered at various conferences over the years. (Moody streams these archived messages from a site called Proclaim.  I get them over an internet radio.)  There were three messages by Vance Havner: (On This Rock I Stand (1967), Prickly Problems of this Existence (1977), and Sanctified Extravagance (1980).  There was one message by Winfred Neely: Is there a word of the Lord for the depressed among the redeemed (2006)?  Vance Havner is a delight for he is unapologetically skeptical whether much touted modern progress represents any progress whatever in the fallen state of human nature.  His sermons are sure to get under the hide of those who celebrate modernity as the portal to man’s salvation. Winfred Neely’s message dealt with depression brought on by events.  He used Elijah’s story in 1 Kings 19 to lay the basis for practical steps to overcome depression.  Sometimes ministers stop preaching and go to meddling (when they get too close to one’s own weaknesses).  He got to meddling with me when he said that we need to let go of any “personal savior-complex, and remember that you are a valued, but expendable link in God’s chain of purpose.”  Too often I have felt deep down that I am an indispensable link—this being clearly a symptom of grandiosity.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Laws of Power (5)

My son Alton and I are reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and sharing our responses to the readings.

Robert Greene’s 5th law of power is:  So much depends on reputation—guard it with your life.  Reputation is the cornerstone of power.  Through reputation alone you can intimidate and win; once it slips, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides.  Make your reputation unassailable.  Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they happen.  Meanwhile, learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputations.  Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them.

Reputation: “Something that somebody is known for—the generally accepted estimation of somebody or something as having particular qualities or attributes.  The new manager has a reputation for being a stickler for details” (Encarta Dictionary). 

Reputation is a good thing, so long as it does not become the tail that wags the dog.  In other words, man is made to be free.  He must have freedom at every turn to do the right thing.  Sometimes reputation can be a hindrance to freedom.  Say I have a reputation for being a “nice” person—I “go along” to “get along.”  This can become a tail that imprisons me—the tail that wags the dog.  It is a reputation that can enforce a silence upon me when in fact my conscience challenges me to break the mold and insist on another contrary action. (A decision that Rosa Parks faced on a bus in Montgomery when in 1955 she was challenged by her conscience to no longer uphold a subservient “go along” to “get along” reputation.) Another reputation is respectability. This ties my hands if I should be called upon to do the unrespectable. Just as “good reputations” can unacceptably limit freedom, so can “bad reputations.”  The Mafia boss can have a “bad reputation” that must be lived up to no matter how high the costs.  The boss is constrained to do bad things—he lacks the freedom to choose another course of action because he has a reputation that must not be compromised.  A reputation should flow from the actions of man and not vice versa.

It really comes down to what anchors you—the “generally accepted” opinion of others or your own conscience?  Should we be a slave to generally accepted perceptions of the past or instead should we evaluate new options presented to us on their own terms with a fresh and new light from Providence?  Consistency can foster conformity rather than excellence.  While reputation is founded on the past; God asks, “What have you done for me lately?”

This week I had an appointment with Dr. Brady, my primary care physician.  I have a reputation for being overweight.  I have been overweight for years.  But Dr. Brady insists that I forsake this reputation and claim a new identity—one that has me weighing 90 pounds less.  Now reputation is a real drag on this change—I have a reputation (a concept of me shared by others) that abhors change.  I am the jolly overweight Uncle Wayne, not the lean and hungry Wayne.  One should not underestimate the inertial force of reputation—of this past concept of me which I like despite its drawbacks.  To lose weight I must deny this old image and take on a new identity.  This change requires effort, discipline, and a new perspective.  Dr. Brady recognizes this and provided me a discipline—I am to regularly weigh and record my weight on a calendar.  I am to lose at least one pound every week.  For this plan to work, it must have one essential ingredient—my willingness to forgo a comfortable and perversely attractive reputation based on the past and change my thinking in this regard.  Since God loves me and abhors self-abuse, the time to choose an alternative reputation has arrived.  It is time to destroy an old reputation and replace it with another.  Only time will tell if I am a slave to the past—if I am driven to indeed guard the old overweight reputation with life itself.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

A Skype Moment

Goodbye, and again, goodbye
Although I wish not to go
I want to stay and visit
Until there is no distance between us
Till brothers in spirit we have become
Till sweet sorrow has lost its sorrow
But such is a treat reserved for immortals
Not spent on grownup boys at play
Bound in memories and roles that stay.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Saying It Right, Getting it Right

There is a saying:  “It’s not what you say, but what you do that matters.”  In reality, clearly both matter.  Words like money can be subject to inflation.  Words can lose their value when neither action nor character matches the onslaught of words we are hearing.  On the other hand, words plainly matter.  They can relate not only the facts of the present and past, but they can also form an essential pathway for projected actions.  The Preamble to the Constitution is an eloquent example of where words lay out a clear pathway for future actions.  Was the Preamble necessary?  Isn’t it just a bunch of words before getting down to the business of the Constitution?  The Preamble reveals purpose and intent—the special province of words.  It is replete with abstractions; yet reliable abstractions that help guide the formulation of reality.  It can almost be said that unless one says it right, one is unlikely to get it right.

The Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Do a Few Things Well

Once, our church (Trinity) was planning community outreach.  At a planning session Anne Hines was there and gave advice that struck me as having wide applicability.  She said that we should not try to do everything, but to do a few things well.  Often we are tempted to become scatterbrained.  I feel that way when I sit at my desk in the evenings.  I have a computer monitor/TV combination.  At the push of a button, I can go from the internet to over 100 TV channels and back again. Additionally, to my right sits an internet radio.  Like at a buffet, I want to get my money’s worth—I want to try portions of everything.  I become emotionally spastic as my attention bounces from one thing to the next.  Anne’s advice comes back to me—do a few things well.  Christianity has long claimed exclusivity—it is the only way to salvation.  As narrow minded as this claim can seem, I find myself at home with the idea that man is better off being faithful and thoroughly versed in one religion than trying to be expert in a dozen without being solidly grounded in any. I am thankful that throughout my life I have been anchored in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  From childhood, I have shared biblical heroes with the youngest and the oldest in our congregations.  I have believed that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life.  Surely this background, like being raised on a Midwestern farm, becomes an inseparable trait in one’s character.  An appreciation of pluralism may bring wide knowledge, but can lack the provision of spiritual power requisite for life.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shared Thoughts on Law 1

My son Alton & I are sharing thoughts on Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power.

Alton, I received your letter in which you wrote your take on Law 1.  You state that it means that when those in a higher position do something for us, we should not get the bighead and feel we don’t need them anymore—in short, we should not be ingrates.  After we get on our feet with help from those in power, we suddenly feel we no longer know the people who helped us.  We have short memories when it comes to honoring those that helped us when we were down and out and in need.  Getting the bighead, in your view, is an instance of outshining the master.  What you describe is a very real situation—surely even generous people react when they are faced with flagrant ingratitude.  Hardly anyone can blame them from reacting with the attitude “It’ll be a cold day in hell when I help you again since you show no appreciation.”  Why is appreciation so important?  I believe it is for the reason that often when we help people we are put out in some way.  A demand is made of our time, attention, or resources—all limited assets.  In other words, we have gone to some effort—effort that could have been directed towards other needs.  When people are ungrateful they seem to assume that they are the only fish in the pond—“there were no other needs but mine” seems to be the galling attitude.  In fact there were many other needs and those needs went begging when the requests of the ungrateful were met.  The Law “Never be an ingrate” is certainly a more important law than the one we have studied as Law 1—cynically flatter your boss by damping down your own abilities.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Laws of Power (4)

My son Alton and I are reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and sharing our responses to the readings.

Robert Greene’s 4th law of power is:  Always say less than necessary.  When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control.  Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you me it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike.  Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less.  The more you say, the more like you are to say something foolish.

I call this the “Size matters—(in talk) small is always better” law.  The emphasis of this law is entirely on quantity, not quality.  With fake diamonds it’s always wise to understate rather than overstate.  To make the fake diamond believable, it must be smaller rather than larger in size.  But what if the diamond is no fake?  If it’s the real deal do you want it to be less or more?  No, when it’s real, the more the better: the same with talk.  Say a scientific genius has studied energy development all his life.  Approaching death, he discovers a process to produce an unlimited supply of cheap energy.  Knowing that he will soon die, he wants to share his discovery with humanity so he produces a recording explaining the process.  Now, do we want some sphinxlike recording?  “My child, the answer is right before you, seek onward.” No, of course not!  We want as full an explanation of the process as possible with exacting detail: the more revelatory information the better.  Robert Greene’s approach assumes that what you have to say will be unwelcomed news to the hearer—so better keep your mouth shut.  This is clearly not always the case.

In my observation of human relationships, I often have observed that being able to make conversation is a great asset.  The successful and powerful often have this characteristic.  With their proactive approach in conversation, they have the ability to “break the ice” and put shyer folks at ease—they can “take control” of awkward situations.  For them, no one is a stranger.  Being a quiet person myself, I have often wished I were more vocal.  I think my career would have been greatly helped by this ability.  Never being “at a loss for words” is a great asset.  Say in a televised Presidential debate, clearly the candidate who is terse or frequently “made speechless” would be no match for an opponent who is a friendly and confident communicator.  In fact, we are sometimes suspicious of the quiet ones—as if they have something (maybe ignorance or malevolence) to hide.  With this in mind, we avoid them and if possible deny them power.  The 4th law, while sometimes applicable, on the whole seems to miss the mark.

Being Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I remember the resounding words of Dr. King (for some reason I always want to call him Martin).  Surely his words helped form and reshape a nation at a critical juncture. His words were testimony to the power of words (and their ability to reveal inner character and strength).  Sometimes the innermost soul of a man is to be greatly welcomed and not to be shunned or hidden.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Today in Sunday School

Mitch called this morning saying he couldn’t teach today because of the flu.  I taught the lesson and led discussion using the following blog entries (after reading several selections from Psalms):

1st Reading:  Quiet and Content (10/28/10)
2nd Reading:  Heaven Is in the Details (07/14/10)
3rd Reading:  Getting a Fundamental Sense of the Candidate (10/30/10)

Dennis closed with prayer.  After church, Dennis, Kathy and I had lunch at Arby’s.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Attraction of the War Analogy

Sometimes the war analogy is inappropriately used in peacetime pursuits.  It is fair to ask the advantages gained from this misuse.

War is a special case indicated by the phrase “all is fair in love and war.”  Not only are usually unacceptable things seen as fair and acceptable, they become the preferred course. War is a singular competitive situation in which the object is to kill and destroy the enemy.  The human trait of calculation is turned to the pursuit of deception.  The use of dirty tricks typically considered fallacious such as the use of red herrings or smoke screens become valuable parts of the arsenal.  Particular dangers such as prejudicial thinking and demonization (robbing common humanity from your enemy) are delightfully engaged in.  The normal virtue of empathy is turned on its head and becomes what must be called no less than pleasurable sadism against the enemy. The enemy’s failure and suffering—seeing the enemy fry—becomes highly satisfying.  In short, all of the ethical provisions that normally restrain us are abandoned.  In a bizarre sense we are at last free—free from the usual ethical restraints that serve to bind humanity together.

With this in view the attraction of the war analogy in peacetime is evident.  It confirms our world view and philosophy that all competitive situations are warlike.  The sense of fair play does not hinder us; deception and deviousness become our daily bread; sadism replaces empathy (we totally enjoy every setback of the enemy); any accommodation is seen as appeasement; discipline within the rank and file becomes easier to obtain; facts become far less important than propaganda; inflamed passions serve to fuel and energize the home front; freedom from normal restraints gives us the appearance of being gutsy, courageous, decisive, and expeditious; leaders assume a high status and become important field commanders.  There’s no doubt about it, executing a war can be an emotional high.  The temptation to transform all situations that have competitive elements into warzones is great. Doing so helps meet fundamental social psychological needs. That this practice is not helpful in solving a wide gamut of peaceful competitive tasks and challenges can seem a weak consideration before the rich and roaring bonfires of passions that war rhetoric represents.

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The Laws of Power (3)

My son Alton and I are reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and sharing our responses to the readings.

Robert Greene’s 3rd law of power is:  Keep people off-balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions.  If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense.  Guide them far enough down the wrong path, envelop them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your intentions, it will be too late.

The 3rd law I refer to as the “Deception is Always Good” law.  Using con artists as an example, Greene holds the con artists up for admiration and approval.  He even rationalizes the actions of the conmen as perpetrating a victimless crime since the mark was greedy and deserved being artfully fleeced.  Another example Greene uses is love and war.  He affirms the saying “anything goes in love and war” especially deception.

First, I readily agree that calculation is an ingrained part of human nature.  A frequently used aspect of this is the concept of timing.  For example, at work I may want to take Wednesday off as a vacation day.  I go to work Monday morning planning to ask my boss first thing if I can get off.  When I arrive at work, however, I find my boss deeply engaged in solving a critical computer issue.  I decide that now is not the time to ask to get off.  To ask now would be inconsiderate of the current situation.  In fact, to ask first thing with this new reality present would show disregard for my boss and the situation he is dealing with.  Deep down I realize that if I show such disregard for his present concerns, he might in return show disregard for my concern to get time off.  So I calculate that it would be best to wait to ask until after the problem is solved and my boss takes a Dr. Pepper break. Such calculation is not intended to use or exploit my boss.  To the contrary, it is based on consideration and empathy.  It’s treating my boss like I would want to be treated—the golden rule.  But, of course, not all calculation is the same.  Some calculation is intended to harm others (the opposite of empathy and the golden rule).

Robert Greene’s tendency is to point out a human trait (calculation) but divorce it from the ends sought.  He seems to say since calculation is a part of human nature it doesn’t matter if you use it ethically or not.  It doesn’t matter if you use it to harm others or to help others.  The calculations of a misanthrope and a philanthropist have equal merit.  This suggestion gives an air of worldly sophistication to his writings—an air of “this is the way it really is.”  To the contrary, fortunately it makes a great difference how a human trait (a tool for action) is used.  Like any tool (say an ice pick), it can be used for good or ill.  Never should we conclude that since it’s an available tool, it doesn’t matter to what ends we use it.

Now let’s turn to love and war.  I think of D-Day when allied troops stormed Normandy.  Elaborate calculating efforts were made in the preceding months to mislead the Nazi military as to the location of invasion.  Certainly this was good deception.  I think of love and courtship.  Though cupid has ultimate motives to continue procreation of the human race, the first date does not usually feel the right time to contemplate intercourse.  Love is more than lust, and love and intimacy usually develop over time.

Finally, the 3rd rule seems to assume we are always dealing with an enemy.  You are trying to get the enemy to act contrary to their desires or best interests.  You are out to get your way no matter at what expense or loss to your mark.  This is a view of human relationships that seems to take an instance—war—and extrapolate it to all relationships.  This I totally reject.  War is a special case.  War is the exception.  Peacetime is where I live most of the time.  Seldom are relationships entirely competitive.  I recently had to purchase a heat pump for my home.  The contractor and I were in some sense competitive—he sought the higher price, I sought the lower price.  But we were also friends—I represented a needed job for the contractor; he represented needed technology and heat for me.  There were many things we could discuss and clarify that indicated we had a shared interest.  It would have been nonproductive for either one of us to take the 3rd Law as a guide for negotiations.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

The Unfathomable Costs of Fantasy

I look upon the book of Revelations as in the genre of mysticism.  It hints at knowledge that is beyond human comprehension.  It is my belief that mysticism is an option for all.  All of us can hint at truths we in fact do not understand—as in the recitation and interpretation of dreams.  But we are called upon in daylight hours to be realists—to shun mysticism and the status of preternatural insights.  The daylight hours while capable of creativity and awesome talent are contained within the practical.  The soul of creativity is adaptation to and exploitation of the practical and possible.  Fantasy and imagination must in the end pass the test of realism.  We often don’t like this.  We wish to rebel and live out our fantasies—we wish to be children all our lives and have a parent stand-in ready to pay all costs and save us from excess.  We wish to fly from responsibility and not pay the price.  Often we hear of the need to escape from reality while in actuality the larger need is to escape from our far-fetched fantasies.  Fantasy indulgence has truly awesome personal and societal costs.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rites of Initiation

If I were devising rites of initiation a key ingredient would not be hazing but instead serious demonstrations of trust.  I would place the novices in ambiguous situations so that the only way they could proceed would be through trust in the yet unknown.  This would require action, effort, and commitment while in a state of ignorance.  Such an initiation would mimic the necessity of spiritual trust required to move forward in daily life.  The faltering of this trust is destructive of the benefits of cheerfulness.  Instead, where there is doubt, self-doubt and negativity begin to curse and weigh down our lives.  Trust and faith bestow God’s favor for such is the doorway to Heaven.  It encourages honesty and forthrightness and is the only victorious antidote to fear.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Law of Focus Strikes Again

Tuesday I gave Mark and Ryan cans of Bumble Bee tuna for helping me with desktop duties.  With their help we were able in a matter of hours to remove old computers and install new ones at the Sunshine Center computer lab.  Doing this alone would have taken several days. I was especially thankful to Ryan for volunteering to do wire management (organizing and tying together multiple wires beneath desks).  As is often the case when a task with multiple dimensions is performed, we focused on some things but not on others.  Later in the day we received word that the internet was not working.  On return to the lab, our initial efforts to get the connection working were not successful.  We will all meet there first thing Wednesday morning to resolve the issue.  The installation Tuesday brings me to the conclusion that there is surely a law of focus—concentration on some things inevitably brings about the neglect of others.  Time and again I have seen this law at work often leaving what would appear to be “obvious” elements unattended.  It is striking that this law operates under individual as well as team conditions.  A team, like an individual, applying focus to some things excludes attention to other things.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Time for Sanity

It will be for the courts to determine if “Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old suspect charged with the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a rampage that killed six people and wounded 13 others…”  in Tucson, Arizona is insane.  (Quote of David Lohr)  It is for the U.S. public to decide if it is insane.  The National Rifle Association has politicians so cowed that they dare not ask the obvious question:  isn’t it time for more stringent gun control?  I discount some of the more pronounced current commentary—that emotional political talk is the problem or that the U.S. is just getting more violent.  Millions of armed Americans do not shoot politicians with different viewpoints and the U.S. has a history filled with violence.

The essential problem is that guns, especially concealable handguns, can kill many almost instantly.  It is difficult to imagine what procedures could have been in place to prevent Loughner from purchasing a gun.  He displayed dangerous instability—but that is not against the law.  There are many who display such a quality and it is impossible to in advance determine who will snap.  With this reality—and it will always be a reality in the human family—it is essential that gun control be enacted to secure the family.  Making guns available to everybody for “self-defense” does nothing to enhance public safety and is really a bizarre notion that by everyone packing heat we will all be safer.  Would you want this for your own family unit—with your spouse and all of your children (including 2-year-olds) armed?  You say that is not a fair question, we don’t arm children.  No we don’t and for good reason.  But neither should we arm unstable adults.  The next time you go to Wal-Mart ask yourself if you would be willing to bet your life on the conjecture that every adult you see will be stable and mature. The fact is you do in fact bet your life on this.  Consider if you were a public official, say a mayor or a member of city council, would you not feel unease that some unstable person might have an irrational call to gun you down.  The public is not constituted uniformly of stable adults.  If for no other reason, we owe it to our public servants to enact sane gun control laws.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Childhood Jealousies

Today in a sudden configuration of emotions I surrendered to childhood jealousies.  It was the jealousies of a younger brother who sees his older brother getting something that he didn’t.  It happened this way.  Ryan, a relatively new hire who happens to be in fact less than half my age, began to receive a lot of attention from our boss, Mark.  Even though I didn’t know the circumstances, I began to suddenly get a little jealous from this extra attention.  Then it became clear that Ryan was getting something special, something I did not have.  Someone, I assumed our manager, had requested that Ryan get “up to speed” in some job dimension not offered to me.  I tried to quash the jealous feelings by reminding myself that I was, after all, an adult.  Such feelings had no place in my mature life.  Needless to say, such self-talk had limited to no effect.  Later in the day when we were alone, I confessed to Ryan the feelings of childhood jealously that suddenly swept over me.  At first he was a little bewildered at what I was talking about.  Then he laughed and said, “Oh, you mean getting me virtual access.  You can have it if you want it.  This access is for me to handle emergency trouble calls on the weekends.”  Suddenly the clouds of jealously vanished for I seriously cherish my quiet, duty-free weekends.  Confession, like freedom, is good for the soul.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Today at Church

David Miller’s sermon was on the theme of new beginnings.  He asked if we have made Jesus the authority in or lives (rather than ourselves or something else).  Next he asked if we are seeing signs of growth—are we seeing the fruit of the spirit in our lives.

In Sunday school I led today as Mitch was absent.  I first read scripture with all readings praising the Lord and worship such as “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Pas 122:1).  I read Psa. 42:1-2; Psa. 5:7; Psa. 29:1-2; Psa. 95:6-7; Psa. 99:5,9; Psa. 138:1-2; Eccles.5:1-2.  The final scripture included the following: “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”  I indicated this scripture kind of hit home as I would be reading several of my blogs for the lesson.  The blog readings were as follows (discussions followed each reading):

1st reading: Notes to Teico on the Essential Character of Love (7/17/10)
2nd reading: Another Conversation with Teico (7/17/10
3rd reading: The American Idea (7/1/10)
4th reading: Flotsam and Jetsam of the Mind (10/14/10)
5th reading: Uncensored Video (10/7/10)
6th reading: In the Wesley Tradition (11/8/10)
7th reading: A Regular Party Animal (7/23/10)

Dennis closed with prayer.

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The Right Place to Be

This evening I watched the film Radio (2003) which “is based on the true story of T. L. Hanna High School football coach Harold Jones (Ed Harris) and a mentally-challenged young man James Robert “Radio” Kennedy (Cuba Gooding, Jr.)”  Wikipedia.  In the movie, the question is repeatedly raised as to why the coach despite opposition is going out of his way to help Radio (at first an isolated and socially cautious person).  There is no ready answer other than “It seems the right thing to do.”  After a critical incident in the movie brought on by the death of Radio’s mother, coach Jones relates to his own teenage daughter an incident that happened when Jones was delivering papers as a twelve year old boy.  Jones said that he had never told anyone before about this.  On his route he heard a noise at a house and investigated.  The house had a crawl space under it covered with a wire mesh.  Looking out at him from under the house through the wire was a boy.  The boy had some disability and the family kept him penned up under the house. Jones continued his paper route and passed the house daily.  But he never did anything about the caged boy.  His lack of action weighed on his conscience.  From this revelation it became apparent that Jones never wanted to make that mistake again.  In a sense, his action towards Radio was an attempt at redemption.  Many benevolent acts done throughout the world may in some sense be done for redemption of past deeds or lack thereof.  It is a good thing that people can make good on their promise that “this mistake will never happen again.”  Redemption is a good thing for the doer as well as for the receivers.  We should celebrate this possibility of exercising redemption in very practical ways.  Renewed commitment is the right thing to do, the right place to be. 

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Green Mile

This evening (Friday) Kathy and I saw The Green Mile (1999). [Wikipedia summary]  This was a story about goodness vs. evil; intelligence vs. stupidity.  The key ingredient of goodness and intelligence was empathy.  The key ingredient of evil and stupidity was the lack thereof.  Percy, the evil prison guard, had not an ounce of empathy.  (Paul Edgecomb and the other corrections officers in contrast demonstrated great feeling and respect.) John Coffey, the miraculous prison inmate, was the epitome of empathy.  Coffey was distraught at the sight of others' suffering; Percy enjoyed it. (Sadism is the perverted opposite of empathy.)  Coffey was described as a “simple” man intellectually meaning he probably had a low IQ.  Nevertheless he was shown to have keen even preternatural insight.  Percy, a regular smart ass, was reduced in the end to a simpleton in a stupor.  The central desire of Coffey was to infuse life; the central desire of Percy was to sensationally enjoy watching people fry in the electric chair.  This film’s central affirmation is that empathy represents a life force that seeks to bless; its absence represents a death force that seeks to curse.  Ironically, the brightest person is not always the smartest.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Laws of Power (2)

The second law in The 48 Laws of Power (Robert Greene) states: “Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies.  Be wary of friends—they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy.  They also become spoiled and tyrannical.  But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove.  In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies.  If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.”  I call the 2nd Law the “Law of Friendship Misconstrued.”  The key issue to consider here is the definition of “friend.”  It is obvious that one can make poor choices in friendships.  Desperate, lonely, and isolated individuals may look with favor upon anyone who shows them attention or a hint that their loneliness and isolation will end.  The “friendship” may be based purely on exploitation.  I cannot help but think of marriage here.  People can jump into a marriage based on all the wrong reasons.  The marriage soon breaks up or is a living hell for the marriage was based on desperation and selfishness and not on mutual friendship and giving.  In fact, a crucial test of the common sense reasonableness of the 2nd Law for me is a simple question:  who would you want for a spouse, a friend or an enemy?  It would indeed seem bizarre to prefer the constant stresses and exploitations of an enemy to the love and charity of a friend.  Another key assumption regarding “friend-enemy” is that of identity—a friend is on our team; an enemy is on the opposing team.  Thus, in a gang, the police are the enemy while members of the gang are friends.  Now consider, is it not possible that a policeman might have more of the best interest of a gang member at heart than the individual’s own fellow gang members?  In short, the policeman might be the true friend while the fellow gang members are just using the individual.  In short, we cannot assume that people who associate with us in a gang (even though on our team) are in fact true friends.  So, a problem with the 2nd Law is that is does not discriminate between true friends and false friends or friends merely of convenience.  Likewise it does not discriminate between true enemies and enemies based purely on opposing team membership.  Should we attempt to make friends of enemies as President Lincoln wanted to do?  The answer must surely be “Yes, but certainly not at all costs.”  Friendship must mean something to be real—it must be true friendship based on the disciplines of love.

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The Application of Ashes

Today (Wednesday) was the opening of the 112th Congress.  C-SPAN was my window into some of these proceedings.  What I find remarkable in American politics is that nothing seems sacrosanct.  One side will stand and recite their deepest beliefs; then the other side will rise to give their deepest beliefs.  The views are separated by country miles.  What is sacred doctrine to one side is seen as profound error by the other.  What becomes evident in all this is the obvious fact that perceptions of the same reality vastly differ.  It is remarkable that this is so.  John Boehner in his talk before the House mentioned the religious application of ashes to the forehead reminding us of our mortality.  Certainly the mystery of perception should remind us of our mental vulnerabilities.  We can ask—how do these vast differences in viewpoint arise?  Yet, there is no definitive answer.  We try to lay down a few rules, but it seems there are exceptions to every one of them.  The vast differences arise even though basic cultural values are shared.  The means to practically bring fundamental values to fruition is what is endlessly debatable.  In the last analysis, when viewing the workings of perception we confront the great unknown.  It is the humble appreciation of this fact that gives life to charity and goodwill.  The absolute character of our own belief is due to our perception—the very thing that drives our loyal opposition to their position.  We worship the same God and share the same basic values—that is not an issue.  The Gordian Knot of human relationships is first and last the twisted multiplicity of perceptions—the solution of which is honesty, tolerance, humility, equality, charity, and democracy.  All of these represent in a secular sense the application of ashes. 

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Outflank the Opposition

Don’t take “no” for an answer,
Simply do not listen to fearful voices within
Saying you can’t;
Override them
Proceed as if you can
Step forward, and then step again
Listen to the affirming voice of God
Don’t worry if your efforts are not picture perfect
No effort will be wasted
Step forward in assurance that your life will count
Faith brings in tow its own reality
Making a difference in what would have been
Without your sense of right
Without your gutsy fight.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Challenges Met

Today a software installation did not go successfully.  Yet I am confident that eventually it will do so.  Mark, the head of our IT Department, simply will not give up on a solution.  He will patiently confront the problem until it is resolved.  I feel the same way about situations generally when they seem to run into intractable problems.  What is required to overcome them?—the same as required to overcome problems in our department—realism, patience, confidence, determination, and skill in problem solving.  Too often we presume that knowledge means we already have the answers, when in fact the keynote of knowledge is that it presents an opportunity on which to build on old insights to solve for freshly presented unknowns. Whether in scholarly pursuits or national politics, controversy is frequently the companion of research in all areas.  It simply means that different solutions (choices) are presented.  We should not be surprised or discouraged by it.  Controversy is our friend.  In any situation seriously grappling with new realities, controversy is a vital sign of health.  Sometimes (like in our IT Department) choices can make for sweaty palms as possible actions are contemplated to rescue a dicey situation.  Yet, lack of action (complacency) is not an option.  We must move forward.  “Cool heads” are not “Vacuous heads.”  “Cool heads” accept reality and make discovery possible; “Vacuous heads” unrealistically deny that importunities exist.

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sunday Lessons

Pastor David Miller preached a sermon based on Luke 2:22-32.  The key verse was Simeon’s praise “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised….”(NIV). His sermon topic was that God keeps his promises.  In Sunday school we covered five lessons from the Upper Room.  The first lesson taught from Mathew 11:28 (NIV): “Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give your rest.’”  The scripture for the second lesson was from I Corinthians 3:7 (NRSV)” “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”  The scripture for the third lesson was Ephesians 3:20-21 (NSRV): “Now to [God] who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine, to him be glory.”  The lesson taught that “God takes our efforts and blesses them, bringing results far richer than anything we can possibly imagine—and certainly far beyond any specific outcome we might narrowly envision” (UR, 12/29/10).  The fourth lesson taught “As the seed must die in order to become a living plant, we too must die in order to enter fully the kingdom of eternal life.”  The fifth lesson was based on Colossians 3:17 (NRSV): “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

After lunch Kathy and I viewed the film Good Will Hunting. This film showed that bravado can be a cover for deeply rooted fears.  The essential fear is that closeness with any human being will uncover one’s underlying unworthiness (even blameworthiness) and will inevitably result in one being yet again rejected and hurt.  This was the story of a young man who had been abused in his childhood and had come to feel that he was to blame for the abuse.  He began to gain freedom from slavery to this belief only after a trusted counselor told him “It is not your fault.”  It is a good movie to see for anyone who may feel that if people get to know them too well, they will be disliked and rejected—a not uncommon fear.  The key to overcoming this fear is the realization that ironically the real you—with its imperfections—when honestly presented is much more acceptable to others than a carefully tailored fragile and defensively phony fa├žade.  Such honesty tends to build trust and love while phoniness tends to produce distrust and wariness.  It is best to assume that people have a sixth sense about this—antennae that can sense defensive unease.  Based on our own feelings and experience with others, we should know which approach is preferable.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pillow Talk

My wife (Kathy) and I have the great good fortune of living within one another’s love.  Tonight we had over 1½ hours of pillow talk—talk in which we could be completely honest in recounting our experiences and thoughts about them.  The cleanliness of honesty conquered the smutty threat of deceit posed by an absolute worship of respectability.  Such honesty derives from an understanding that righteousness and respectability occasionally part company.  Respectability sometimes does not countenance the truth.  It is a tremendously freeing experience to realize you will not be isolated and rejected simply for being ruthlessly candid.  My belief is that if you feel you must be constantly circumspect even in your intimate conversations with your spouse, then you are missing out on one of the greatest benefits in being loved—the possibility of revealing your innermost thoughts and feelings without fear of recrimination by the gods of respectability and social or political correctness.  This brings about an assurance of personhood that is fundamentally profound.  Thus strengthened one can face the world confidently and fearlessly.  One has been tested in the crucible of love—the most critical crucible of all—and found worthy.

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