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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dire Circumstances

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Yesterday David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, both 31 year old police officers in Tampa, were murdered.  They were shot after what began as a routine traffic stop developed into more when a warrant for arrest was discovered for one of the passengers.  Everyday police officers must stand ready to confront people who are committing or have committed crimes.  I once had a professor, a lawyer, who said that most crimes are, in one way or another, violations of the Golden Rule:  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  In a more exact sense perhaps, they are violations of the Silver Rule: “Do not do to others what you would not like to be done to you."  The unfortunate fact is that virtually everyone has violated the Silver Rule at one time or another.  In the majority of cases, these violations do not reach the level of becoming criminal offenses.  But they do serve to warn that under favorable conditions humans are readily able to break the Silver Rule beyond the point of legality.  The urge to “do to others what you would not like to be done to you” muscles out compassion.  Once compassion is lost, once the rule of reciprocity is lost, and once the passion of hatred overtakes all fear and judgment, then anything can happen.  It is under such circumstances that police are asked to step in and confront the criminal.  Yesterday two policemen in Tampa encountered mankind at its worst, evil in its glory, and the ancient act of murder pitilessly accomplished.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gifts We Have Not Yet Inventoried

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The saying “familiarity breeds contempt” misstates what I believe to be a common occurrence.  I would rather say that “familiarity breeds familiarity”—the assumption that we know and understand in all significant ways those in our environment.  Sometimes this assumption can lead to astonishment when, for example, someone we think we know well suddenly surprises us at a party by ably playing a musical instrument.  It’s as if unexpectedly our view changes from two to three dimensions.  This person had a hidden dimension that we were totally unaware of although we had been assuming we knew all significant things about them.  Suddenly our old assumption is overturned and we see them in a new light.  The art of living is to remain open to revelatory moments when the familiar and assumed undergo a parting of the clouds to offer glimpses of underlying capacities.  We should strive to see others as carriers of the unexpected and take for granted that they abound in gifts we have not yet inventoried.

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The Ultimate Fail-Safe Response

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Today following a severe systems crash in his lab in which three years of data were lost, Robert Norton said that at lunch he saw a serious traffic accident and observed that in comparison to what some people were suffering that day, his computer problems were not that bad.  He was able to be thankful despite his misfortune.

In the final analysis, I suppose there are no completely fail-safe computer systems.  All systems, no matter how carefully planned and considered as critical, can fail.  I often think of my bank in this regard.  No doubt it has redundancies and backups by the score, and this makes total failure almost impossible.  It is a system as solid as the Empire State Building.  But no matter how all contingencies are considered, catastrophes beyond the most thorough planning can occur.  There is always the inconceivable lurking behind all our fail-safe safeguards.

That is why humans in great wisdom continually keep in reserve the Ultimate Fail-Safe Response.  This response is designed to help humans overcome all obstacles.  It should not be viewed cynically as a rationalization, but as a powerful coping mechanism.  The Ultimate Fail-Safe Response is simply this: when something bad happens, we consider that in the scope of all possible tragedies, our misfortune is not that bad.  It is not so bad that we cannot recover our initiative and begin again.  This addresses a fundamental human emotional need to endure and prevail following great misfortune.  The Ultimate Fail-Safe Response is what humans invoke to redeem an unredeemable situation.  It is a response of the spirit that works to realize William Faulkner’s famous observation: I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Today in Sunday School

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Sunday school today was in part about Nehemiah who rebuilt the wall in Jerusalem.  The lesson asked “What impossible task am I facing today? What walls do I have to scale?”  This introduced a discussion of challenges faced and met.  Kunte told of his guitar lessons and how he has progressed.  I told of the challenges of writing a blog when sometimes there is writer’s block and no inspiration seems to come.  Mitch told of a time in college when after studying for an exam, things seem confused.  But after sleeping on it, things got put in place.  We need to be open to the Lord, have trust, and couple that with discipline.  As often happens in Sunday school, the discussion flowed in various directions.  On considering the blessings we have today that were not around 100 years ago, Bill concluded that we are in a renaissance.  But he mentioned that computers still can’t beat chest masters and it was mentioned that they probably won’t until computers can have fun winning and the drive to win—the emotional element.  Mitch said it was only a matter of time.  I mentioned that I thought DNA research and design would be the major development in the next 100 years.  We moved on to the next lesson which was for Joshua 1:5, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Audrey mentioned that she had been through personal hardships.  Kathy told of her challenge to stay for years in a mental hospital.  Dennis and Kunte mentioned their times in foster homes as youth.  The verse can be viewed differently as you age.  At age 6 you have no concept of mortality—for you or your parents.  As you grow older mortality has greater meaning.  So also, you have experience over time that God will never leave or forsake you.  There is a track record to reference.  

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Why Youth Deserve Compassion

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People find their identity through history.  We know who we are as a people by knowing the historic roots of our past.  We know who we are as individuals by having a personal past filled with failures and achievements. Even our failures can serve to give us confidence as we have moved on from them to other accomplishments.  We find that we are, above all, survivors.  We become confident in our resiliency and our ability to endure.  We even learn to rationalize failures in a healthy way that allows us to cope in the future.  Healthy rationalizations are in themselves positive assets that give us a certain peace and confidence.  Youth lack much of this valuable personal history.  They look to their peer group for assurance that they have substance.  This can be a nerve-racking experience as a sense of worth depends on others finding you cool who are themselves handicapped by lacking past personal references and a tried identity.  The identity search becomes a shark feeding frenzy in the shallows.  For this reason, youth deserve compassion.

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Mental Illness as a Spiritual Defect

A complaint against the mental health staff is that they consider chemical imbalances but do not address spiritual defects of the mentally ill.  The red flag that goes up here is memories of the care of the mentally ill some years ago when they were not medicated but rather imprisoned and treated brutally.  They were treated as if they had fundamental mental defects which were their own fault.  The view that mental illness is the result of impaired brain chemistry that can be medicated has made humane care more possible (I say more possible because the conscientious objectors who worked in mental hospitals in the 1940’s subscribed to humane care even under the most adverse conditions.  My Uncle Calhoun Geiger related firsthand accounts of this in his book Leadings.)  I would like to posit that the brain does what is necessary to cope with adverse conditions.  If reality becomes too unacceptable, the brain takes over and makes it acceptable in one way or another.  Mental illness can be seen as a subconscious reaction to transform the unacceptable into the acceptable.  Like addiction, it is a way to cope with mental anguish.  Depression, for example, is remedied by mania.  Those who are hurting from feelings of insignificance become filled with fame and significance (at least in their own minds).  The spiritual life, among many things, offers the benefit of a feeling of significance.  This feeling can be antidotal to despair.  To know that God is love, and that he loves me, involves spiritual insight.  Unfortunately it is an insight that cannot be foisted on one, but must be perceived quietly and indirectly by the grace of God.  Unlike medication, grace cannot be prescribed—would that it could.  So in the end, to say that mental illness is a spiritual defect (no matter how true) is not too helpful since there is no way to directly treat it.  The perceptual changes resulting from God’s grace does not flow from dogma so much as loving relationships which model that grace, so a doctrinaire approach—the bureaucratic method--would be pointless. Small groups where people practice disciplines of love are promising and are in fact used in many mental health treatments. 

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Why is the In-Law bond so strong almost from the get-go?

Today I spent time with some of my in-laws.  Since Kathy and I have been married only a few years, I find myself wondering why is it that the family attachment is so strong from the get-go.  I sense a mutual trust that it would seem should require years to develop—not just a handful of meetings (we do not live near each other so meet on special occasions only).  Let’s just take one relationship—that between myself and Kathy’s father.  Surely here should be a dicey relationship.  I should be on defensive turf—are you good enough for my daughter, probably not, would seem to be the operative attitude.  But there is none of this.  He has treated me as an equal from the first time I met him.  Not only as an equal, but he welcomed my identity as part of his family’s identity.  In other words, he overlooked the risk I might pose to those he loves.  We accept risky investments only if the payoff seems appropriate.  Apparently, he thought I was worth the risk.  To be the recipient of this attitude is a high compliment.  And I love him because he accepted this risk—while there were many more questions in the air than answers.  And when someone takes a chance on you, appreciation for this is instinctual and deep.  We want to make sure that a person who has faith is us is not proven a fool—which would make us the greater fool.  Being the recipient of trust, we return trust.  We want to reward this solid acceptance with solid returns.  It is worth noting that as trust makes a family, the eroding of it can destroy it.  That is why the trust should not be seen in worldly terms over which fortune can play havoc.  The trust must be in the basic character and integrity of the individuals.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Preparing for Kathy's Birthday Tomorrow

Today I wrote Kathy a birthday poem to include in her birthday card.  Here is what I wrote:

To Kathy on her 50th Birthday

Like a fresh breeze on a stifling day,
You came into my life this very decade,
You brought your kindness and thoughtfulness,
You brought friendship and faithfulness,
You brought your love and gifted me,
With thoughts of you that never leave;
My life is now grounded in intimacy.
Thank God for bringing us together at First Church,
Where we shared smiles in Mitch’s class,
And enjoyed weekend dates like clockwork--and artwork,
And permanently set our relationship in place,
With a divinely guided wedding at North Beach,
Where our vows sealed us into a single family;
For once and always your birthdays will mean to me,
The beginning of everything fresh and free,
The end of paralysis, the arrival of peace.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Father’s Day Warrant

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Today I received a two-page WARRANT FOR ARREST for Father’s Day from Alton.  I responded to him as follows:   

There is a problem.  Yeah, I maybe stole your heart, feelings, and affection in 1988—but you also stole mine.  So it’s more like a trade than theft.  So unless you want me to get a warrant put out on you in return, maybe we should just call it even.  Actually, I really enjoyed your WARRANT FOR ARREST and NATURE OF THE OFFENSE.  It was very creative and it brought tears to my eyes—all the thought and effort you put into it.  I really appreciate this, from the depth of my heart.  (View Warrant)  As for my punishment “to spend the rest of [my] life in the maximum security with your only son until the Lord call you both back home” let me say I am now with you in mind and spirit & will stay with you for the duration.  You have made my Father’s Day with your Warrant.  I did a little research into the Florida Statute that you mentioned.  Here is the result:  Florida Statute § 19.8900 reads as follows: “Theft of the heart will be viewed as a felony offense punishable by life in prison without parole.  The sole defense for this crime will be mutuality in thievery—in which case since both hearts were stolen mutually; it will thereby be viewed as a legal and lawful exchange for mutual benefit.  If a heart so exchanged is ever abused by either party, punishment will be a life devoid of human compassion or happiness—an exile into the wasteland of the heartless.”

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Drop Dead Dates

Drop dead dates as found in deadlines can be a blessing and a curse.  Probably if there were no April 15th deadline on taxes, the whole system would collapse.  It’s impossible to imagine a successful tax system without deadlines; a payment date of when you feel good and ready to pay would never arrive.  Likewise with term papers in college; without a turn-in deadline, there would be classes that never terminated.  The very human tendency to procrastinate about things that aren’t pleasant makes deadlines necessary. But just as deadlines are necessary, they sometimes seem to jinx the course of events.  Warranties are an example.  It seems that products know that to cause the most grief, they should breakdown one day after the warranty expires.  It seems an affront to our sense of fundamental fairness that a breakdown within year is ok, but a year and a day and you’re out in the cold.  In rare instances, companies can find it beneficial to have a flexible warranty period   For example, if you have work done on your home, and it has a one year warranty, towards the end of the year you think, “I need to be super critical now about the work done, for soon I will be out of warranty.  Let me see if I can generate some issues.”  In such circumstances, by assuring the customer that on items where there are questions, the warranty will be extended a year, the customer is put at ease and will tend to live with rather than raise issues.  In such situations, an extension of the warranty date can be beneficial for the company—issues are not actively sought and customer relations shine.

The drop dead date for all mortals is when life ends.  This is a deadline we rather not think about—on January 4th at 2:37 pm I will breathe my last breath, my heart will pump for the last time.  I will be no more.  We look for a flexible warranty period and find that in life after death.  Only when we die, will real life begin.  This satisfies the urge to procrastinate and provides for a friendly course that never terminates but gets easier as time goes by.

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When I Open My Wallet for Sharing (and when I don’t)

The most important factor that leads me to open my wallet for sharing is a sense of relationship.  This relationship can be a family relationship.  It can also be relationship based on a cause.  It is easy to give money regularly to the church because we share basic values and for me a lifetime of association (and even lifetimes, as my parents also gave and set the example.)  In the last presidential election I gave over $600 to the Democratic Party because of shared values and a long tradition of membership in that party.  This begs the question as to what is a sense of relationship in the first place.  Basically it is a strong identity with the receiving person or organization.  I have a feeling that my success or wellbeing is somehow tied up with their success or wellbeing.  After this relationship is established, the next important motivator to giving is a sense that the person or organization has earned the contribution.  They earn it by making a contribution to my life in one way or another.  Obviously family members earn their support by the love they bear me.  Their love brings me self-esteem (including that which comes from generosity) and a sense of ownership (they are, after all, my family).  People and organizations also earn contributions by showing consideration.  They indicate in their manner and approach that they do not expect me to give profligately.  They may carefully detail why I have just cause to give.  They assume a businesslike approach in listing and justifying their needs.  In other words, they show self-discipline by listing reasons why the expenditure is necessary or desirable.  They lead me to understand that the money is really needed and will not be wasted, but put to good and wise use.

This leads to the question, why do I sometimes keep my wallet tightly closed, even for “small change” requests?  First, I feel no relationship with the requesting party. My interests are not seen to be related to the request in anyway.  I share nothing with the party, so have nothing to share.  Next, they have not earned the contribution in that they have nothing to offer me either objectively or subjectively.  Finally, they show no consideration for my need for self-respect in giving.  They seem to expect me to give profligately without any effort to show that the money will be a good investment.  It’s sometimes surprising to me how hard my heart can become to those seeking money that offer me nothing in return or show no consideration of my need for self-respect. 

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Tipping Points

There was a book published in 2000 with the title The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell.  I have not read the book, so cannot comment on it.  But I love its title.  To me it means much the same thing as “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”  It’s that point when one additional “little thing” can initiate a perceptual shift in the consciousness.  Many probably experience this when they are thinking about buying a new car but are putting it off.  They are quietly at unease about the dependability of their present car.  Finally something occurs, maybe an unsettling sound while braking, and the tipping point is reached.  Abruptly there is a confident decision that it’s time to trade.  Overnight, hesitancy becomes certainty.  An irrevocable judgment is made to trade in for a new car.

The tipping point happened with me today when I was expecting a response from someone I know.  I had written them a letter (my response to one of their mailings).  Rather than getting a response, I got another email blast written to many totally overlooking my earlier letter.  This told me they were all for communication—but one-way communication.  I became angry and resolute in my decision to discount further communication from this source.  It may seem petty, but I concluded if they won’t listen to me, I won’t listen to them.  The human expectation for parity comes into play once more.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday School & Afterwards

Today in Sunday school we discussed the importance of getting different perspectives.  Our lesson writer told about the different perspective of a city when viewed from a tall building from where street noises are muted.  Likewise, we can be too close to issues and need to get new perspectives.  It was mentioned that we tend to accept our point of view as the only true perspective.  For example, we view a pond of water and think “how beautiful.”  We are seeing only one reality—for example we are not seeing the microscopic reality which is just as real and valid.  Different realities in human affairs can make communication very difficult.  Vacations can be of value for they get us away from the routine.  We return home refreshed with a new viewpoint.  The biggest perceptual change is the religious one.  When we see less of “me” and more of others we are learning the love of God.  This shift in point of view has significant consequences.  As the scripture lesson for the day put it: “To [God] who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20).

After church Mary had lunch with Kathy and me.  When lunch was over and I was driving her home, Mary asked, “What are you drinking?”  I said an “orange soda.”  She said that she and Kathy disapproved.  She was only joking, but it made me think how social disapproval is a downer for me.  I don’t like to displease or irritate others.  Then I thought that this was a standard occurrence for many politicians.  For a US president, for example, roughly half the country is of a different party and is likely to criticize most of his actions, maybe even consider him a Satan.  I wonder how this must feel from the president’s point of view. He would have to focus, I imagine, on what actions he thinks are best despite the criticism and be somewhat fatalistic regarding his success or lack of it.  (I’ll do the best I can, and what happens, happens.)  He would have to live with the thought that some people hate his guts no matter what.  Nothing he could possibly do or say would change this.  He does not, will not, and cannot have their best wishes.  Yet, to be a statesman, he cannot put them on an enemies list.  He must respect their right to have their own point of view.   A statesman views the opposition as the loyal opposition—loyal to the country and loyal to the truth as his opponents see it.  He assumes they are being guided by their best lights.  This is active goodwill, and surpasses all human understanding.  That is why, when we say “God bless America” we should ask it for ourselves and for our opposition.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

No Secondhand Religion

"What could define God [is thinking of God] as the embodiment of the laws of nature. However, this is not what most people would think of that God," [Stephen] Hawking told [Diane] Sawyer. "They made a human-like being with whom one can have a personal relationship. When you look at the vast size of the universe and how insignificant an accidental human life is in it, that seems most impossible."

When Sawyer asked if there was a way to reconcile religion and science, Hawking said, "There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works"
(June 7, 2010:

Very few reject the benefits or technological innovations (the works) that have their base in objective, critical observation and non-fallacious reasoning.  This is true of the religious and the nonreligious.  This can be seen at my church where very quickly new technologies are adopted to facilitate services.  Science, in this sense, is not seen as antithetical to religion.  Where the religious disagree with Stephen Hawking is with his statement “They made [God] a human-like being with whom one can have a personal relationship. When you look at the vast size of the universe and how insignificant an accidental human life is in it, that seems most impossible."  The religious strongly disagree that human life is “insignificant and accidental.”  But they do so not primarily based on authority, but on firsthand experience.  It is an inner conviction based on experience with a life dedicated to love and empathy which seems to gather a whole definitive body of attitudinal and perceptual characteristics.  There is a strong conviction—one almost can say a good paranoia—that we are not alone.  There is a God who loves us and has a personal interest in us.  This is primarily based on firsthand experience and a straightforward look at honest conviction, not at church or scriptural authority.  These have a weak and tenuous hold as compared to firsthand experience.  The nonreligious seldom appreciate this.  They assume religious people are dupes of authority and essentially its fools.

John Wesley wrote: “I Felt My Heart Strangely Warmed”
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

What would kill religion is to substitute firsthand perception and conviction with secondhand hearsay and authority.  That has seldom happened without dire and tragic results.

Science and religion are alike in their regard for self-control and respect for nature.  The disciplines of science (objectivity, integrity, truth, and beauty) are also the disciplines of love embodied in religion.  Very little separates science and religion except mutual misunderstandings of the essentials (whenever the misunderstandings exist, and they frequently do not in a practical matter).

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Hanging up the Jockstrap

Once upon a time I was lean and hungry.  I worked overtime to acquire three masters’ degrees.  After personal computers came out, I bought computer books three inches thick and studied them with a passion.  I took computer courses at night and felt deeply that I had to learn all I could to prepare myself to serve.  I couldn’t force someone to give me a job or promote me, so I would do all I could do on my side to be ready just in case.  And my work paid off.  I eventually did get promoted and got a job working with computers.  Today, I was offered an opportunity to take more courses without additional charge to the organization.  All I would have to do is apply myself and do the online equivalent of reading three inch thick computer books.  I could study most anything pertaining to computers or Microsoft software.  The opportunity to learn more is vast.  But I find myself reluctant to take on the challenge.  I am not 33 with a career before me; but 66 with retirement looming within four years.  I am meeting all work related requirements now and don’t feel challenged to do more.  I am, in a phrase, fat and happy.  There was a time I would view such an attitude with some disgust.  I further would see it as sad that a person had given up on life.  Well, in a sense, I have given up.  The fire is not in the belly.  I do not feel the compelling urge to achieve greatness.  Maybe I’m just getting intellectually flabby.  On the other hand, maybe I’ve learned to be content with life as it has developed.  I am ready and willing without embarrassment to plead ignorance on a whole host of issues.  This ignorance is vast but not daunting for I have found that it is widely shared by everyone in one way or another and is kind in its capacity to realize a degree of humility.  Sometimes there is a compelling decency in hanging up the jockstrap, in saying “no” to more and more.  I am not the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.  That attitude was fine in theory and may even have proven a bit beneficial in practice.  Now, however, I am content to be a sojourner upon a sea of shared responsibility.  The achievements of others will be my safety net, my golden parachute.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Weak Excuses

Yesterday I wrote with the belief that there are no small responsibilities.  Today I would like to elaborate on the consequences of thinking one occupies a small job with small responsibilities.  This viewpoint, which discounts the importance of the job held (as compared to the large, important jobs of top tier employees), tends to lead to an almost reflexive deferring to higher powers--my job is small, my responsibilities are small, what I think or say cannot possibly matter anyway.  I don’t need to think critically or creatively, develop firm opinions, and have the courage of my convictions.  My stance becomes one of meekness, weakness, passivity, and increasing fatalism—even to the point of feeling victimized.  Why bother, just let those responsible decide.  Besides, this lets me off the hook.  If things go badly, then I am not to blame.  Effective responsible action often requires close proximity to the task to get a realistic picture of requirements.  As a practicality this means that there are no unimportant workers, no small responsibilities.  To think otherwise is to risk losing touch with the real situation faced by the organization on many fronts.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

No Small Responsibilities

The phrase “small responsibilities” is an oxymoron.  There are no small responsibilities as the nursery rhyme indicates:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

If all the facts were known, no doubt the recent Gulf oil well disaster could be the subject of a similar lyric.  There is great mischief in viewing some responsibilities as larger than others.  When we discount the bad effects if we don’t do our jobs well (whatever those jobs are) we demean the jobs and ourselves and raise the prospect of dire consequences.  If you ask, “What is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t do my job well?” the answer is never obvious, for a sloppy practice not only affects the product and the consequent negative ripple effect, it affects your habits of moral discipline as well.  This line of thought can’t avoid raising the matter of justice—why should a king make more than a blacksmith if there are no small responsibilities? If getting things wrong at any level can have dire consequences (especially in this litigious age), how do you justify paying the hourly waged food handler less than the salaried restaurant manager?  The quick answer is of course that the manager has larger responsibilities.  But ill handled food could cost millions in law suits.  Since there are in fact no small responsibilities, at the very least it behooves the self-important with large titles to appreciate deeply those doing smaller jobs with big responsibilities.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Bad Thing about Being a Good Boy

Several kind people when I was a young adult in my early twenties advised me that I needed to "come out of my shell."  The shell was real and did some damage.  Here's how it developed.  When I was a teenager, I had a fixed idea that I should be "a good boy."  This did not mean good in the sense of Godly righteousness, but it meant being in conformity with respectability and telegraphing to all comers that I would not be a troublemaker in any way (or mischief maker, show off, or wisecracker).  I was to be outstanding only as a "good boy."  Even though teenage hormones were raging, I was to deny this and make no public indication that I was interested in sex.  I was severely curtailed in social activities with my peers (other than the controlled environment of school--where, in any case, I was ironclad self-controlled and inhibited).  This encouraged a stymied situation in which growing up with increasing expressions of independence, responsibility, and assertiveness was tightly repressed.  In college at a Wesley Foundation meeting we freshmen were going around the table and introducing ourselves to the new chaplain.  A young lady from my hometown who attended the same church as me back home said that "Wayne was the type of boy that all the old ladies in the church loved."  Since I had a secret crush on her at the time, this stung--but I sat silent.  The "good boy" concept had triumphed.  And the shell was uniform affecting not only sexual relations but all social occasions.  College speech classes (in which assertiveness is an asset) were menacing threats to my tightly controlled censorship and reserve. Since I offered nothing real, I began to think that I had nothing real to offer.  The problem with being a "good boy" is that it is phony--it denies reality, including the reality that we have a need to be genuine and occasionally conspicuous.  Self-expression becomes perverted into a constant inward focused policing repression of the social, assertive self.  Perhaps the contrary assumption of a "bad boy" mantle (rather than the "good boy" role) is just as bad or worse since you can hurt others while hurting yourself.  But the "good boy" also can do much harm through sins of omission and an uncomfortably stiff insincerity.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

A Poem to My Son

How do you identify a son?
By genetics, yes, but that is hardly the last word.
A father and son have a bond that transcends listings,
There are the times spent together, the fond memories,
And memories of occasional strife,
Yet past any transitory breach there is a rock-solid hold,
Firmly grounding two mortals of separate generations,
Binding each to each with intertwined memory, method, and madness,
The solidifying convergence of shared experiences and kept promises--
Only the greatest test remains: Do they, in love's way,
Take each other for granted?

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Take on Natural Law

This evening I want to write briefly about my take on natural law.  The fundamental question is does a fundamental, unalterable law exist that is not subject to any variation because of the epoch or the culture?  Another question is, if it exists, is it a human or divine creation?  The last question is a matter of faith, if you believe that man is a divine creation, then any fundamental law can be attributed to the divine.  If you don't believe in the divine, but still believe that humans must or should obey fundamental principles, then you can say that humans must be in harmony with certain fundamental principles that have a natural foundation, much like the law of gravity.

For me this is the law of love.  What I mean by this is that for man to be effective he must abide by behavior that creates the fruit of the spirit--"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5: 22-23).  "Against such things there is no law" because this represents the fundamental natural law.  The natural law must be a positive coping mechanism for humans to deal effectively with nature and each other.  Natural law could not be natural and at the same time set against the wellbeing of humanity.  Only the law of love sustains the enrichment of man and his efforts.  Love can be seen on a fundamental level as a stance of empathy (both emotionally and rationally) for other humans and human processes and for nature itself.  Love is respectful, yet objective.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Residual Fare

Today I got a lesson on how the traditional theories of sunk cost bear little relation to human behavior.  Sunk cost represents investment (time and money) that has already been spent on a project.  In theory, this cost should not influence your current decisions.  Only the best future course should be chosen, no matter what your past investment.  Human nature seldom operates with such Spock rationality.  A staff member from ICS demonstrated two ways to convert a desktop to a virtual terminal.  In one of the methods, he had personally invested much time and effort.  The other method used commercially produced software that cost $15 per license.  The method he had developed was complex, time consuming, and evidenced some hiccups in operation.  The commercial product was fast and apparently very reliable.  As one would expect, he focused first on the method he had developed and showed some preference for that method.  From my point of view (and I will be doing many of the conversions) I prefer the relative ease and speed of the commercial method.  But of course I have no sweat and toil already invested.  It's easy to be Spock when you've got nothing emotionally to lose.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Recurrent Journey

Friday we plan a trip to see Alton,
Way up by the Georgia line,
A four hour trip of road and speed,
Rest stops and sun among the trees--
It will be a joy so see our son,
Yet a little sadness will cloud the fun,
For razor sharp fences and steel doors,
Make severe security number one,
A gated community without the glitz,
Fortified to keep inmates in, the public out,
--A twisted haven that chills the marrow,
For the service of prisons is an old, old story.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

In a Jiffy

Today's labors got me to asking myself why is it that we so often underestimate the time it will take to complete a job.  A major reason is the fact that we greatly underestimate the individual steps required and the time each step will take.  This is an experience common to most everyone.  So, with this knowledge, why do we continue to underestimate?  I think it is because we believe in spin--"to cast somebody's remarks or relate a story in such a way as to influence public opinion in a desired way" (Encarta Dictionary).  We not only seek to influence other's opinions, but our own as well.  We give over-optimistic completion dates to persuade ourselves and others to commit to the task.  Once commitment to the task is attained, we have acceded to something much more burdensome than a date-certain, we have introduced the factors of trust, responsibility, and integrity.  It becomes clear as the job proceeds that timeliness is virtually always trumped by other factors, such as workability, safety, and facing emerging reality--rather than reaching an unrealistic, makeshift, even phony completion.  Is the answer never to give a completion date or commit to a certain price?  Of course, in the real world of work, both of these are simply required.  Nevertheless, we should always be aware that we are creating something of a fiction. (Unlike a product on the shelf in a store with a price based to a degree on past activities.)  I had a contractor redo my bathroom.  We reached a contract for a certain price and completion date.  Then emerging reality set in.  The contractor presented me with a choice, continue as agreed but end up with a product that would cause more trouble later (like not replacing my old zinc plumbing, not installing an exhaust fan, etc.) or negotiate further to include these items.  Perhaps his original price included a measure of spin.  It brought commitment.  But after commitment--after the wedding, so to speak--we had to deal with an emerging reality.  What I found myself committed to was getting the job done right, even if it cost more and took more time.  It would have been foolish to "be a man and demand my rights" under the original agreement.  Now, the bathroom is the best room in our house.

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday Services

Sunday was the first Sunday of the month therefore we had communion--a meaningful time of commitment.  The sermon was on the Holy Spirit as it guides us in decision making.  We saw a clip from the last in the Indiana Jones trilogy (The Last Crusade) in which the Nazi antagonist Uber makes a wrong choice, or as the guardian knight put it, "he chose poorly."  The antagonist chose an ornate cup rather than the correct cup (the Holy Grail) and was quickly destroyed.  The point of the sermon was to choose wisely we need the leadings of the Holy Spirit.  In Sunday school we discussed how God's timing is not always as we would like.  The basic difficulty here is that our awareness or perception of a problem can be sudden; and since our awareness is quick, we expect a quick solution.  The difficulty is that problems usually develop over time in a process frequently below our awareness, and their solution more frequently than not will require a process.  We need to appreciate that miracles often come to us with a human face with skills, knowledge, and tools often developed over a laborious, time-consuming process.  Immense background can be brought to bear on our problem immediately and with dispatch; and this suddenness can have the form and substance of miracle.  Again, we discussed how we need to appreciate our blessings.  We also discussed how the Lord's yoke is light, not because we don't have to work hard, but because out of love for God, we want to do the job required of us.  We follow him willing and joyfully, not driven by threat of punishment.  In this way, responsibility becomes liberating rather than an onerous chore.  And this can be true of "little" big things, like washing dishes.

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Holding On - To Be Never Alone

Where does the human desire for greatness or significance come from?  Why do we want to make a name for ourselves?  Why do we fear dying and consequent oblivion--leaving without a trace, as if we had never been born?  Why do we want the world to be different because we have lived?  Why do we yearn for at least a type of immortality in this world or the next?  Why do we fear nonexistence with a fear as elemental as the fear of falling?  Indeed, it can be seen as falling from record without a trace, all alone in the pit without a thread of social connectivity.  We grasp desperately for any shred of social tie so we will never be alone, never forgotten--never, never; because the contemplation of deep and total isolation is too great to bear.  Vague, half-baked recognition of past generations bears witness--better to be alive today than to be the honored dead.  For while a living human being, we chance can contribute; which is another way of saying we can lay claim to a perennial social nexus on earth or by faith in heaven.

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Friday, June 4, 2010

An Extra Special Situation

Today my observation refers once more to the new printer I got Wednesday--a printer that I really didn't need for I already had a good one.  I have learned a lesson from this acquisition and old product dispensation.  I have learned that if you want a good deal on something, find an Extra Special Situation.  An Extra Special Situation is where someone has had loyal service from a product and they are feeling guilty about parting with the product before the end of its useful life.  They identify with the product and consider how they would feel if so abandoned.  Under this Extra Special Situation, the owner feels that he owes something to the product--something reflective of the valuable service it has already performed and respectful of its remaining potential.  As the old product has been sacrificed by the owner for something new, so now a sacrifice from the owner is rightly due to insure that the product finds "a good home."  The asking price, if there is one, will be a discounted price reflective of the service rendered by the product and the sense of guilt felt on the part of the owner.  Mark, at work, said he would be willing to take my old printer.  I, of course, could not ask a price for the printer--one does not sell an old friend.  But I did have with the printer two black and two color high-yield unused ink cartridges worth some $165.  I first told Mark I would give him the package (printer & ink) for $117.  Then I got to thinking about what a good home this would be for the printer, and I reduced the price to $50.  Mark said that if he considered the deal much longer, I would be offering him money to take [care of] my old printer.  Clearly, Mark was encountering an Extra Special Situation.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart

Wednesday I wrote about getting a new printer--just because I wanted a change.  It was hard to identify valid reasons beyond that.  I think we look for good rationales when we face change for several reasons.  With change there is usually some risk.  The change may bring additional sometimes unexpected difficulties and problems.  Good rationales assuage some of the misgivings we have about change.  By emphasizing the potential positive factors that may result from change, our fears can be allayed or covered over.  Another demon that afflicts us when we feel the urge to change is guilt.  In my case, I was abandoning a perfectly good machine for a new one.  There is a measure of guilt here.  We could again refer to the colonists as they rebelled against the land of their origin.  Deep down, there may have been a measure of guilt even among the most revolutionary.  To counteract this guilt a strong rationale for change was needed--focusing on egregious wrongs, or in my case, devising woeful inadequacies.

I have been dealing here with human motivations and emotions.  We should never drift too far from acknowledging the foundations of our high minded, high flown ways.  Or, as Yeats put it, "I must lie down where all the ladders start/ In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart."

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Just Because I Felt Like It

Today I bought a new color printer even though I had and old color printer that worked.  The new printer has many new features, but was not really needed as the old printer did a good job.  So why, really, did I make the purchase?  Of course, it had to be within budget.  It was on sale, an added inducement, but not the deciding factor.  The reason I bought the printer was because, for whatever reason, I thought it was time for a change--this despite the absence of a long list of egregious wrongs.  It reminds me of the Declaration of Independence where a long list of egregious wrongs was listed.  The breach with Britain had to muster reasons; it couldn't be because the colonists just felt it was time for a change.  But my guess is that largely was the real reason.  Of course, you can find this or that rationale--you can always find a rationale when one is needed to support what you feel you must do because of a feeling of restlessness.  Yes, it's time to turn the page, get to the next chapter, complete a series, get a sense of closure, and replace it with a fresh start.  I would not want to underestimate the importance of this as a human motivator even though it is based in the end on a vaguely definable feeling.  Trash all the rationales and tell the truth--it just felt like it was time for a change.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Keeping One's Head

There are people that I work with that I feel have exceptionally good judgment. What do I mean by this?  I mean principally that their judgment is validated by good results.  They seem to do or say just the right things that have positive outcomes.  And this judgment is generalized in application, not just centered on one activity or specialty.  They are, in one word, capable.  What I find interesting is that while I recognize this quality, I disagree with them in one specific area--politics.  I question their political judgment.  It's a mystery to me how my basic evaluation of their judgment doesn't change despite this significant divergence of views. Yet, in a surprising way, I have come to feel that since I trust their judgment overall, then their political stance must be profoundly right for them (though not necessarily for me).  I respect their right to hold their own opinions. This approach is widely held.  This seems to me very American and one reason I think that God continues to bless America.