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Monday, December 31, 2012

The Insidious Side of Oppression

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. -Martin Luther King Jr. 

If we direct an attitude of self-denial (or fasting) toward social action, where will our "pointing finger" be likely to point first? Are you guilty of any forms of oppression to others at work, church or socially? (Serendipity Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition page 1042).


In Bible times slavery was an accepted institution. Sometimes even St. Paul seemed to be okay with it. Now I think we will all say thankfully it is seen as quite otherwise, and we can pause in wonderment that it could have ever seemed right to enslave others. 

I often think of our society and wonder what people from another era will look back upon as shameful oppressions that we tolerated and did not even perceive as such. My prayer today is that God will allow us to think outside the box and see clearly our world and its institutions within the convicting light of truth. Certainly there is no hope of us ever getting out of the box unless we exercise kindness extensively in our everyday lives. We must come to understand that the evil of oppression is obdurate and freedom from it requires eternal vigilance and God's holy light.









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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dichotomies of Evaluation

What is your first reaction to TV or newspaper reports of homeless people: "They probably are just too lazy to work"? or "We ought to do something to help"? Why? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1042).


When Kathy was deathly ill, some good intentioned people put tremendous pressure upon me when they would express their belief that Kathy would be healed if only we (translated—I) had enough faith. The inevitable corollary to that belief was that if she did not recover, it would be the result of a deplorable lack of faith (primarily mine). In other words, at a time when I was stressed to the point of desperation because of her critical condition in intensive care, I was served an additional measure of stress and guilt that was almost unbearable. I mention this because I find it related to our attitudes regarding the homeless. We tell the homeless (and unemployed) “If only you were not lazy you would have a job”—we tell this to people already under unimaginable stress, especially those with families to provide for. We tell those already feeling guilty as hell regarding their situation and struggling with feelings of tattered self-worth that if only they were not lazy all would be well. Human insensitivity—even cruelty—at times can be almost unbelievable. To the homeless and the chronically unemployed I would simply suggest that the next time someone makes this allegation about you, that you respond simply "Offer me a living wage job right here, right now, and see how lazy I am." Why is it that we insist on heaping pressure and blame upon others, rather than asking how we can best help? My belief is that it is because we know only too well the vulnerabilities of our precarious self-righteousness and the unearned advantages that belie our insufferable pretensions to merit.





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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Perceptual Obstacles





What “obstacles” (v .14 [below]) are hindering God's work in your life? What areas of your spiritual walk are in need of repair? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1041). 


And it will be said: 
Build up, build up, prepare the road! 
Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
(Isaiah 57:14 NIV).


I don't consider myself "handy" to do many chores about the house that I know some others are willing to tackle in their own homes. I always call a contractor. This is because early on in my life I got the idea that I was not "handy". Consequently, I have not accumulated the tools nor the skills necessary to do such chores. In other words, in many ways the child was the father of the man. My feelings of inadequacy have only served to compound them. Just so, I think the biggest obstacle hindering God's work in my life is the restricted perceptual field that I have in many ways self-inflicted. 

The obstacles that I can readily name in my doing God's work are probably not the biggest ones. These big ones include all those potential areas of service that I have precluded from being even options open to me. The basis for all of this probably arises from feelings of inadequacy and fear. I simply "don't go there" in thought or action. Some things are inconceivable to me because of my self-inflicted and unduly limited perceptual vision.

Here, the encouragement of others can be decisive. Some years ago I would never have even considered taking up the almost daily task of writing a blog. But a friend of mine encouraged me to do so. I thought to myself, if he thinks I can write maybe I will be able to do it. Now after several years I have gained much confidence in my ability to daily contribute to a blog. Being an encourager is something that all of us can do. The fundamental task of an encourager is to expand the perceptual field of a friend—to open up to them heretofore inconceivable possibilities. The encourager serves to allay fears and help remove blinders. Self-talk and self-encouragement can never equal in importance nor impact the wider vision made possible by the helpful contribution of others.



The Ugly Duckling - Disney Story


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Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Current Stresses in American Life



The current stresses in American life can be largely traced to one idea—to one philosophy—one based upon the notion that every man (person) is and must be out for themselves. It gets some of its credibility from American individualism and the shameless perversion of the notion of individual responsibility. It gains momentum from the silly notion that every man is an island entire unto itself—as obviously false as this is. It is a notion that is underwritten by the false god of capitalism, heartless competition, and the absurd idea that one solely earns every penny of their wealth. The philosophy also leads directly to the idea that everyone must be armed with guns and that the sword of the state is somehow illegitimate when applied to American citizens. The sacred role of the state as regulator and arbiter of justice is thereby usurped by individuals. The goal is always for weaker and weaker government. The abject result is rather than having true freedom we are enslaved by guns in private hands and quite rationally fear and insecurity are the inevitable result. The other day the murdered victims of gun violence were children. This is problematic for the gun lobby and for its underlying philosophy because (though it is true in all areas anyway) it is especially clear that the young and the elderly do not and cannot fit easily into the mold of tough hombre's without the need of others. Here it is starkly clear that true security and tranquility derive from social support and enabled government and not from individualistic chauvinism. And as always, the cry of the gun lobby to solve the nightmare such a philosophy propagates is a strident cry for more—more guns, more toughness, more meanness, more individualism facing down the world alone. My hope is that American people will come to see clearly that this is more than stupid, it is essentially treasonous to the great promise and sacred mission of America.






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The Nature of Temptation



In the positions of leadership you have held (at home, work, school, in the community or church), how have you felt the temptation to pursue your own goals regardless of the effects it could have on others? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1040).


The question here is “how”, thankfully not “what”. I don't feel inclined to parade the “what” of my temptations, only to testify to their strength and the workings of temptation on the mind. When I am tempted, it strongly affects me. I am highly motivated to assume the act and clothe myself in an attitude that dresses it up in finery. Without doubt, the drive to rationalize away the wrongness of an act or attitude has immense power. Then it becomes clear that there are no limits to what rationalization can justify. Rationalization is a treacherous form of escapism in which we are tempted to focus on selfish gratification and hide from our consciousness the fact that we are hurting others—the latter aspect is an inevitable part of the deal as, of course, is the additional factor that hurt is also of necessity self-inflicted for it can never be in our interest to engage in escapism however dressed in deceptive phantasmagorical delights that shield us from reality. I once heard that clothes hide a multitude of sins. It is deeply ingrained in us to hide from reality and take the “cover story” as truth. Thus, it becomes our duty in times of temptation to look at facts head on—not yielding to a clouded mind, but righteously—striving for Godly vision—seeing truthfully past all human delusion to the flotsam and jetsam that befoul and pain our world due to self-indulgent escapism and the desire for power.


 

That Old Black Magic

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What's My Line?



How might you pursue justice and love this week in your family? Your work place? In an area of social concern? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1039).





These are questions I can advantageously seek input from others on rather than trying to answer them solely myself. If I asked my family and friends to help me with such questions they would likely be taken aback. This may constitute the first time ever that I have asked for their input regarding such matters. By doing so I seem to be asking for more work and effort in areas in which I in the past have carefully mapped out as functions of my own personal prerogative and initiative. Yet it is certainly possible that others can have clearer perceptions than me as to outstanding needs and my abilities to contribute to them. It is always good to ask God and oneself what needs to be done in the way of justice and love, but this bias should not exclude asking for the frank opinion of others. 

I am reluctant to invite evaluation from others for I fear they might come up with answers that are wrong or perhaps dead-on right. I am afraid that they will arrive at suggestions I do not like—requiring more work and resources or in other ways putting me on the spot. Perhaps I fear that they will attempt to exploit me or present me with challenges in which I feel incompetent. I have viewed my pursuit of justice and love as creative acts that are best guided by my own perception and conscience rather than those of others. My self-directed advice today is to break free from this pattern—rather to begin soliciting and considering others input regarding how I might more effectively pursue justice and love. As I plan to retire in about a year, I can usefully get suggestions regarding volunteer work, for example. Often times God speaks most clearly to us through others.








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Monday, December 24, 2012

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!



 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
neither are your ways my ways,” 
declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8 NIV)


 Glory to God in the highest. Christ's birth is announced by heavenly angels. Angels in Shakespeare's plays also appear, but they may well have two legs and walk pendently upon the ground. It is my firm belief that angels are on earth and help realize the mysterious operations of God Almighty—operations forever outside the understanding of men. We are to trust in God (in God we trust) and not worry about figuring out the extent or subliminal means of divine operations. In fact to try to figure them out in over-analysis will indubitably indicate a lack of faith and trust in God—as if man were in control of operations rather than God. Jesus said: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 NIV). I believe quite literally this was (is) the case but as to the precise nature of these heavenly forces I entirely lack understanding nor wish to speculate about it. I only know that it is true.







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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Turning a Blind Eye and Escapism

“I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, 
“and they are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 32:9


One of the most frequent means of escapism (which I have described as the basis of all sin) is to turn a blind eye. This is particularly relevant to the behavior of the comfortable. It is as if kindness were needed only in our closely contained universe and stopped at the doorstep of us and our closest associates. We tend to see kindness as an intimate and personal thing. Indeed it relies on personal behavior and perception. But a public kindness must also be recognized as essential. That is, we need to appreciate the existence of the family of humanity. The other day I mentioned the meaning of kindness as respect, dignity, compassion, and humility (which by the way I borrowed off the inscription on a coffee mug gotten from www.kindnessusa.org). As my friend Angleo suggested, it appropriately can be listed in reverse (or as the cup is filled from the bottom)—humility (first), then compassion, dignity, and respect. In other words, to view humanity as one family requires first humility, then compassion, which lead to dignity and respect. I love in the Bible where God refers to people as “stiff necked.” That precisely describes the common affliction of the comfortable (and not only the comfortable).

It is obvious that turning a blind eye is not only a sin against humanity, but is also a sin against nature itself. We turn a blind eye in our creation of pollution of one sort or another. In economics this is referred to as externalizing cost. Individuals (starting with myself) and organizations often do this. We need to recognize it for what it is—a sin against God, or as David said “Against you, you only, have I sinned...” (Psalm 51:4).







[Brackets indicate not included in this music video.] 

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light. 

[Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.] 

By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth. 

[Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.] 

Words: James R. Lowell
Music: Ebenezer, Thomas J. Williams





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Saturday, December 22, 2012

My Adamant Belief


Does knowing of God's approval give you courage to serve, even when others turn against you? How so? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1036).





The other day I wrote a blog about my view of alcohol (click here). This is an area in which I have received deepest assurances that I am within God's will. Therefore, even though I may be ridiculed for my position, the ridicule has no effect. I think the same regarding gun control. It is unthinkable to me that it is good or desirable (or that security would be increased) if everyone carried firearms. In my view, such weapons of absolute power should only be within the purview of the state thereby constituting the sword of the state. The suggestion was made today that armed guards be within view of small children at school. To me this is lunacy and would indicate that our society had deliberately chosen darkness over light. When I was a child we left the doors of our homes open when running to the store. In my view, such days could come again. Nothing stands in the way of this but the cruel turn our country has taken. “Every man is out for himself” is an attitude that is a betrayal of the spirit of our nation designed and devised to establish happiness. (The provision for a militia, after all, was communal not individualistic in intent.) To the extent that this ugly attitude prevails, I truly believe that we have relinquished our birthright to cultivate and maintain a land of comity and peace. No amount of ridicule to the contrary will faze me at all.







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Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Innocence after Experience

Kathy (center) my brother Bob & wife Linda
 
There is first childhood innocence. It must be protected by parents from the cruelty of the world. Next comes experience that introduces one to the adult life and all of its hard lessons and themes. Next comes the innocence that follows experience in which one feels again for those one meets the fondness one had for playmates. There is a renewed belief in goodness, but it is now not tentative for it comes with the assurance that love is stronger than the games people play while navigating experience. This second innocence shares in a sense the blessedness of heaven. It is a relief to find one's motives less complex and mixed than one once thought. My wife Kathy was key to moving me past experience towards this second innocence. This is the major reason my life is divided into two parts—the sometimes gray days before I met her and the sunny days afterwards.








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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My View of Alcohol

Waterjug by Jan Vermeer

Drawing either upon personal experience or empathy for others, what is the one of the most unpleasant things about being drunk? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1033).





The other day I wrote a blog (click here) in which I discussed idolatry as a means of escapism. Escapism is at the core of idolatry, and likewise is at the core of the use of drugs or alcohol. When one considers it carefully, escapism can be seen as the ultimate basis of all sin. It is thus for me this symbolic nature of alcohol and drugs as an avenue of escapism that makes me continue to hate them almost as much as their physical effects. You may say, but a good book or movie can be escapism. That may be true, but it is often the case that stories—both tragedy and comedy—offer powerful glimpses into reality. In fact, a central characteristic of creativity is that it drills down into the core of reality. 

But, you may say, I accede this is the case with drunkenness but surely “social drinking” is exceptionally exempt—at this stage addiction to escapism is no way a factor. I once was picnicking with family at the beach and next to our table was a table where alcoholic drinks flowed freely. There were children at the table and the tipsy adults hugged and joked with their somewhat subdued children. I felt great sadness and sympathy for the children who could not know whether the embraces were of love and for real or were born of escapism.

I have attempted many times, since I have family and friends that use alcoholic beverages, to rationalize away my negative feelings towards this substance. But all such attempts are never in the end successful. I have come at times to say that I may be wrong in this as it applies to others, but as for me the will of God is clear, adamant, and unchanging.








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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Nature of Betrayal


Fairness requires that those we trust repay that trust. The sense of justice or basic fairness is deeply ingrained arising ultimately from the need for safety and the drive to survive. When someone cannot be trusted, the question is raised the lengths to which that perfidy might go. For example, a business owner trusts his comptroller, meets and greets him as a friend every workday. Then, the businessman discovers that the comptroller has been embezzling funds—in this way lying to his face daily. The reaction can be almost primordial for in a sense the survival of the business itself has been threatened. If the comptroller would do this, what might not he do? It would be the exceptional case indeed in which the victim did not pursue recourse through the sword of the state. 

In the Bible the crucifixion of Jesus involves a betrayer. He could have been crucified without it, but betrayal is a natural precursor to death itself and follows logically, ineluctably. And how did God retaliate for the death of his son? Jesus' resurrection was a redemptive form of retaliation and as such stamps upon creation for all time the divine response to betrayal. God outflanked natural man and provided a way out of retribution through belief in eternal life. 


 




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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Today in Sunday School


For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV





Today in Sunday school our conversation took several interesting turns. Several times during the class we discussed particular challenges faced by class members. Mitch (our teacher) always allows ample time for such discussions—allowing them to take priority over the lessons. In regards to the lessons, we discussed Emmanuel as the great light of God. A diverse variety of applications does not deny the absolute nature of this light. Rather, the realities of different epochs refract that light differently. Thus, Moses faithfully applied the light of God as he devised the ethical code (rules and regs) which included numerous stipulations that are not in force today. Likewise, faithfully applying God's light as it applies to us today may not apply to later epochs facing different realities. In other words, the love of God is not locked-in to any one epoch's unique refraction of it. In fact, to strive to so lock it in can be a form of idolatry. In this sense one continuing aspect of salvation can be fresh understandings of what constitutes holy structures. One lesson from the Upper Room discussed how Joseph initially considered divorcing Mary. We discussed briefly what would have been the implications if Jesus had been raised by a single mother. Would the Lord's Pray begin “Our Father (Daddy)” or some other way?








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The Way It Is


Often I've heard the saying “The Way It Is—Is the Way It Is.” Today I would like to shade that crisp saying a little. For we are confronted constantly with matters that are unsettled. For example, we can all agree that “Kindness is respect, dignity, compassion, and humility.” This is something we can all agree on. Where we find unsettled areas of disagreement is exactly how in given situations respect, dignity, compassion, and humility can be effectively conveyed. For example, when Jesus in anger overturned the tables in the temple, was he devoid of humility or filled with it? Beyond this difficulty in which human behavior is driven yet sometimes divided by abstractions, we have the limitations of human insight. A way of putting this is to remark: “The way it is—is the way it is...but no one fully comprehends the will or workings of God.” That is to say, we never exist within a closed system—it is always open to the unexpected and indeed is currently replete with the unexpected and unknown. Finally, of course, all of us are called upon to do our part in changing the world. We are all fully enlisted in this effort. But even with this firm calling, does any of us have a clear picture of where exactly this will take us? Or what precisely is called for, or much of an inkling of what will be the results, or the chain of unintended consequences that will follow? While we have a firm commitment, we must always be open to phenomena concrete and abstract—or to put it another way, immersed within the world we must always be open to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Thus, no doubt “the way it is—is the way it is.” But no man dare venture the notion that he has other than a partial and often paltry comprehension as to what it is.







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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rational Hope and Joy


 When feeling discouraged, what event in your personal history can you look back upon and call on God to do again? (Serendipity Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1033).


My life is so replete with redeemed lost causes that going into specifics would bog us down into so many details that the essential point would be lost. And that point is simply this, my weaknesses and depressions are never the final word—a loving God redeems my worst messes while simultaneously forgiving my stupidities. That is why I have come to view that he has a purpose set that is inexorable. He is dependable and steady, reliable and true. He is the source of what otherwise would be irrational hope and joy.









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Friday, December 14, 2012

Beatles Envy


 Envy defined:
  1. A feeling of grudging admiration and desire to have something that is possessed by another
  2. Spite and resentment at seeing the success of another (personified as one of the deadly sins) –WordWeb Pro
  3. painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same –Merriam-Webster


Envy is something I encountered in spades as a young man in my late teens and early twenties—for this was the heyday of the Beatles. Why couldn't I have all their talent, their fame and fortune, their ability to make girls swoon while performing on the Ed Sullivan Show? Compared to them I thought my existence paltry in the extreme, almost detestable. 

What is the core problem with the sin of envy? It is that we reject ourselves and wish to be the clone of another. In other words we completely discount the unique person that God made us (with our unique talent, abilities and mission) and instead want to be like (perhaps more truthfully—to be) someone else.

Often we hear Christians ask “What would Jesus do?” Perhaps the better question is “What would Jesus have me do?” For it is destructive to desire to be a faded clone of Jesus. Rather, we are to fulfill our mission using our own talents and abilities. Only Christ was given the mission to save the world. We are given the mission to do our part to change a small part of it.

When we look at the progress of life on earth, especially human life, we can see that survival itself depends upon a diversified portfolio of contributors. We should reject envy and rejoice in our unique calling.








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Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Final Arbiter

Ed Standifer with sons Wayne (8 1/2) and Bobby (13)
Lake Junaluska, NC  1952
How would you describe your current relationship with God: (a) Casual date? (b) Going steady? (c) Engaged? (d) Married? (ed) Divorced? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1032).


I view God as an authority figure with great love. Jesus called God Daddy and that's the way I too most think of God. I call him Daddy rather than Mamma because in our home daddy had the final say as to what might be called up-in-the-air debatable matters. I quickly must add that mother was a key, essential and indispensable part of all such decisions; it's just that she in the end realized that some issues which might come to a draw simply needed resolution after all, and she loving gave this call to daddy. I really don't know the final reason for this abeyance to father, I only know that it was a solution that she graciously embraced. I might add that in my marriage to Kathy the same pattern prevailed, and in the end truly up-in-air decisions were seldom encountered and accommodations were virtually always made before this point occurred. In my life the church was key, and women played a high-profile authoritative role in it. It never occurred to me to consider whether men or women were more important or more equal—it was absolutely clear to me that I was to show respect and consideration to all and if I did not, I would disappoint my mother and certainly hear from my daddy. 

My current relationship with Daddy is a loving one. I know he has my best interest at heart and his perspective is more reliable, incisive, and right than my own. As with my daddy, I want to please Daddy because I love and respect him. His love makes rebellion despicable.








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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hurts Compounded in Absence of Compassion


When hurt as a child, did you normally run to mom, to dad, or to whom? Why? What was the best way they could help you feel better? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1029).





This short question gets at the heart of much that is conflicted in human experience. The matter of trust, for example, is raised when a parent must discern if the child is truly hurt or just attempting to manipulate parents. In cases where the child is obviously hurt (say, after cutting their foot on glass on the beach), it is of utmost importance that the parent genuinely feel and show a high measure of empathy. Otherwise, the child learns a terrible lesson—no one gives a damn about me and the pain I suffer. And due to the principle of reciprocity, the child can grow up inflicting pain intentionally upon others—for this is quite literally what the parent did by not showing empathy when the child was hurt. Hurt can also be inflicted when the child is joyful and looks to their parents only to find indifference or hostility. It is the same lesson, just the flip side of it. 

I was most fortunate as a child for both my parents shared in their children's pain and joy. I came to understand that this applied not only to me, but to people even on the other side of the world. Therefore, it is important that children observe their parents and other adults contributing to local and worldwide relief efforts and exercising other expressions of compassion and empathy in joyful times and sad.






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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

If the people of these isles have one unifying characteristic that
stamps them indelibly as British, it’s the rock-solid,
unshakeable, ongoing conviction that this must surely
be [Andy] Murray’s year.
(Source)
 

 [Speak softly, and carry a big stick:] The idea of negotiating peacefully, simultaneously threatening with the "big stick", or the military, ties in heavily with the idea of Realpolitik, which implies an amoral pursuit of political power that resembles Machiavellian ideals. [Theodore] Roosevelt first used the phrase in a speech at the Minnesota State Fair on September 2, 1901....
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Stick_ideology).



Typically the phrase “speak softly, and carry a big stick” is used in reference to national policy. But I would like to ask not what the phrase means for a nation, but what it means for an individual—for you and me? I suppose the free availability and use of handguns can come to mind, but this needlessly curtails the usefulness of the phrase. So, other than the threat of violence, what can it mean? 

Framed in this way, it can refer to personal power (be it wealth, knowledge, or skill) or power of character. I would like to focus on the phrase as it applies to character. Strength of character can come from honesty, courage, conviction, steadiness, faith, hope, and love. In a brief phrase, this boils down to tenacity of conviction. Give me an individual with strong conviction and all other attributes mentioned can follow. Without conviction, all else becomes nugatory. Conviction defined: “An unshakable belief in something without need for proof or evidence” (WordWeb Pro). “A strong persuasion or belief (certainty)” (Merriam-Webster's 11h Collegiate Dictionary). In the end conviction comes to mean absolute and unassailable certainty regarding what can be called “last things”. By this phrase I do not mean the end of the world, but the ultimate end we live and sometimes die for. As a Christian this is not in any way esoteric or intractable, but based wholly within the love of God.

So while conviction resides in the hearts and minds of individuals, it can have national implications. A country that thinks “carrying a big stick” only means wealth or military power has in a sense lost direction—has in a sense lost its soul. Without a firm anchor of personal belief set within the love of God, all things disintegrate or as William Butler Yeats wrote in “The Second Coming”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.....








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Monday, December 10, 2012

Manifestations of the Power Drive


 My wife Kathy was one of the sweetest, gentlest souls I've ever known. So I would occasionally cause chagrin on her part when I would say she had a strong need for power. She would demur. I would remark that every human being has this need in common. She would demur. I said, “Ok then, tomorrow I'm throwing away all your Beanie Babies plus I'm going to completely rearrange the house.” Quickly she would concede that she had some power needs after all. 

In the 60's it was common for “flower children” to berate those in authority and the establishment as power driven. It is obvious that the flower children's drive for perfect freedom from authority and the establishment was itself a profound drive for virtually limitless power.

The sacredness of private property is also testimony to the need for power. We feel personally raped (over-powered and violated) when private property is taken from us without our will whether legally or illegally.

When a child is forced to go into time-out or a toy is confiscated because of an infraction of rules, the consternation of the child in this loss of power can be severe.

I was distraught last month when Kathy passed away. Grieving is a complex phenomenon and I don't want to oversimplify it. Nevertheless, a large part of grief is losing someone who endowed us with the considerable power that derives from loyalty, love, respect, and the important factor of being needed. When Kathy passed, I lost much such power and this was a significant part of my grief.

Of course in the political world the loss of power is often striven to be avoided as death itself. This equation with death releases homicidal violence in desperate efforts to retain power.

Much human behavior can be usefully studied as being driven by power needs.








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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Thoughts at Bok Tower

Bok Tower Gardens

I have a good friend of many years, Angelo Lundy. Today we visited Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, FL. After a stroll through the gardens, we sat in the restaurant there and Angelo shared with me some statements that have helped him structure situations in his journey through life. One set of statements comes from observations by Dale Carnegie in which he addresses simple facts of human relationships. When we meet others, we will (perhaps even despite ourselves) evaluate and classify them—as they will us. Therefore in attempting to relate and connect with others, four things are very important: 1) What you do; 2) How you look; 3) What you say; and 4) How you say it. People who attempt to be absolutely assessable and welcoming to all may find these observations a little arbitrary and restrictive. But I think when one honestly considers how one truly reacts when meeting others, these observations hold. In my view, these observations can be extended to not only how we connect with others, but how we connect to things or situations. For example, when I consider whether to buy a new smart phone, I ask—what does it do, how does it look, what does it say (or what does it mean to me), and how does it say it? 

Angelo next shared how he effectively approaches moving on in life. His action list includes to: 1) Set goals; 2) Make necessary adjustments; 3) Cope with aspects beyond one's control.

The beauty of these observations is that they are helpful and are readily retrievable from memory whenever meeting others on the one hand, or confronting tasks on the other.






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Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Greeting

At work we have a little contest on Christmas door decorations. In our office (the IT Department) each person contributes something to the project. It was my job to create Christmas cards out of card stock paper that will be placed in a little container on the outside of the door. Each passerby may take one. Here's the card. The image at bottom I got off the internet, but the poem and design are mine.






































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The “Light of the World” Metaphor


Jesus said that believers were “the light of the world” (Mt 5:14). From this passage, what did he mean by that image [quoted below]? How might the promises in this passage apply to you when you feel as though your efforts to follow God have little effect on others? 

It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:8 NIV). (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1029).


When we ask what Jesus meant when he said the believers were “the light of the world” we must first look to the life of Jesus himself.  He did good works such as healing and encouraging, but he absolutely refused to assume a role that would summon immediate widespread power results—such as becoming a military or political leader.   In a real sense, we must conclude that Jesus wanted to effect outcomes indirectly, or to put it another way, he wanted to change man's perception first and thereby alter his actions.

I think of The Sound of Music when I consider this.  The children were controlled by their father with a strong military hand, but Maria controlled them indirectly through their hearts.  Her object was to affect their perception first and thus have impact upon their actions.  She declined to use the direct “military action” and stentorian whistle of their father.

There is great realism here, for to change behavior over the long run and to ensure real stability, and to do so within a context of happiness, people must want to do rather than be forced to do.  Thus, the signal importance of shifting perception and not just forcing behavior.

The perceptual shift that Jesus desired is aided by throwing light on a situation or “turning on the lights.”  Light does not force one to see, but it does allow one to see.  And in this regard God's grace is important because it is observable that we have very limited control over our perception.  In our present understanding of the matter, salutary shifts in some sense remain a mystery.  The complexities of perception still are largely unknown and beyond direct control or manipulation.  Perhaps that is as God intended when he made us ethically responsible beings.  In any case, it is arguable that “little things” can have great impact upon perception as they mount over time and help bring about perceptual change, and thus the absence of immediate obvious results in Christian witnessing (bestowing light) need not be and invitation for despair.  Jesus acknowledged the necessity of patience and process when he compared the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed which is tiny, but when planted eventually yields a tree in which birds alight (Matthew 13:31-32). 






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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Heart of Structure and Hearts of Blame



It is intensely bizarre the extent to which we often gain much satisfaction out of sitting in judgment and placing blame.  Not infrequently we completely overlook structural causes for mishaps and freight the victims of those structures with blame.  It's much like if I had a guest in my home.  I summarily took all his socks and shoes and locked them up in an inaccessible place.  The next day, my guest must walk to town so must do so barefoot.  On his return, because of injuries to his feet during the walk, he tracks blood on my new carpet--whereupon I roundly reprimand him for soiling my carpet and being careless.  The eagerness with which I place blame upon him suggests I gain much pleasure and a remarkable ego boost from feelings of superiority.  One way of understanding this is to say that I suffer from myopia.  I focus entirely on symptoms and not more indirect causes.  The symptoms are very concrete and immediate—even sensational—while the causes are more indirect and remote and require some complexity and abstraction to understand.  Something in this way happens countless times daily in human affairs.  We often count as character defects (again from a highly superior perch) what actually have structural causes.  For example, in the absence of democracy, people too often become despots and we heap opprobrium upon them for it—never seeming to realize without the blessings of our form and structure of government the same could happen here—that despotism is the result of the absence of a structure favorable to good government.   In this regard structure is much more important than rules.  One can have codes of ethics that stack a mile high, but if the organizational structural is not favorable to ethical behavior, no amount of rules will compensate for it.

Today I find America cruel in many ways.  It seems to be inherent and we look to character degeneration and decay to explain it.  I think our focus is misdirected and should instead be raising questions as to root causes in basic organizational structures (the handful of umbrella institutions that are the fundamental building blocks of society).  I am no scientist—that's for sure—but even I realize that atomic and chemical structure forms the genesis of stability and integrity in elements and compounds and without such structural integrity no other ramifications of it would be tenable or even conceivable.






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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Easter in Christmastime

Illustration by: Jacob Thomas

What examples can you think of in Jesus' life when his speech was gentile...? When it was cutting like a sword? Why the difference? When is it best to be gentle with people? To be strong and cutting? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1029). 

Following quotations from the Gospel, NIV translation.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.” 

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying: 

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.





It is clear that Jesus had kind words for the humble, spiritually innocent, and those who conceded they were vulnerable (with no record unblemished) and harsh words for those with hard self-righteous hearts even though possessing a clean legalistic rap sheet. It is certainly true that it is much more rewarding to work with humble individuals behind bars than prideful pillars of society sure of their own superiority. Jesus' modulated approach made sense because the humble and vulnerable are easily hurt and do not misconstrue kindness whereas the self-righteous ensconce themselves in a maddening shell and see kindness as a weakness and hurt those who live by it.

At Christmastime the gentle Jesus is greatly emphasized. It is well to remember at this time that Jesus did not get crucified for being a wishy-washy wimp. He regularly made people mad—very mad. No fury can match that of spurned self-righteousness exercising unchecked revenge.

We, it must be remembered, are to follow the example of Christ—not only in our gentleness, but in our strength and crazy courage—for it remains always crazy to poke a stick at coiled self-righteousness.

Some Christians panned the movie “Jesus Christ Superstar” and found it profoundly unbiblical. Not so me. It is worrisome to me that Christ can be so abstractly conceived as gentle and sweet as to make his crucifixion unthinkable. Anytime we find this to be the case, we can be assured it is a fictional characterization born of a Pharisaical heart within a steady state of wishful thinking.

 




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